Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I’m Nobody, Who Are You?

Photography by BJWOK

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog – 
To tell one's name – the livelong June – 
To an admiring Bog!

Ah, Emily Dickinson. A nobody, scratching away in her attic. This is our romantic idea of a writer. Someone who loves writing so much that she does it for its own sake. She doesn’t want to be famous. She just wants to express her ideas, even if it’s to the empty air.

I wish I felt that way. So much of why I write—and why I suffer—has to do with the ego.

“Does it ever bother you that you’re not more famous?” my cleaning lady asked me once. “So—when is that J.K. Rowling-style money going to start rolling in?” asked someone at a party. “How much money do you make?” asked a sixth grader at a reading. (The answers to these questions are, by the way: Yes, Never, and It Depends.)

Yes, it bothers me that I’m not famous. It bothers me that I don’t win awards. It bothers me when some moron on Amazon who can’t even spell gives my novel one star and a review like, “Booooorrrrriiinnnggg!” Those books take years to write and are dismissed in a word. How soul-crushing.

But my mistake is in writing for the ego in the first place. What is an award? Who can really give a piece of art an award? It’s ridiculous, when you think about it. Art is an attempt to express something. And, yes, some things are expressed wonderfully, and it’s great to notice that, and in those thoughts I believe that awards can have meaning. But then I remember that Twilight was on’s list of “Best Books of the Decade,” and I know for sure that awards are nothing but marketing tools. That’s it.

No, I think that the trick is to try to be more like Emily Dickinson, and write for the sake of writing, and to hope to never be Somebody. Because, except for the money, (which is good for everything from socks to swimming pools), being Somebody is nothing but a burden. It keeps you locked in the cycle of the need for approval. The admiring bog, who may have been touched by your work, but probably have just heard your name and want to take a picture of themselves with you to go on their facebook page. Why would anyone want that?
So, to my cleaning lady, I say, “I’m famous enough to keep doing what I like to do, so I don’t really need more.”


  1. Makes me think of how the Buddhists would advocate "No Self" (Nobody). Then, of course, there's good old western psychology advocating "Ego strength!" (Somebody). What I'm fond of saying, in terms of where/how the two meet is "You have to be Somebody before you can be Nobody." In other words, you have to build the tower before you can dismantle it... Good stuff!!

  2. For me, the struggle is in taking in the compliment when the work really does reach someone in a beneficial way. If I get a warm, grateful response from someone who has read a book or a post, or heard a song, I've written, of course my ego gets stroked and might suddenly come up out of a long slumber, hungry for more red meat. And yet, I want to/need to keep nurturing the part of me that does create (because it can be useful to others. And I need to honor that (and I do believe that part of me comes from the divine, as all art does) while not making it all about me and my Somebody-ness.

    1. Nerissa--this is so juicy! I have many thoughts about this...enough for another blog post!