The poet Rumi has a great story about a traveler who was about to put on his shoe when an eagle swooped down and snatched it.
"Goddamit!" said the traveler, shaking his gnarled fist. "Stinkin' eagle stole my stinkin' shoe!"
Just then, he watched as a poisonous viper fell out of the shoe the eagle had snatched, and realized that the loss of his shoe had prevented an even greater calamity, namely being fanged on the toe by a poisonous viper.
Sometimes things that feel like setbacks are actually benevolent eagles swooping down to stop you from doing something really, really stupid. And sometimes things that feel like successes are actually tests of your ability to wrestle with the viper on your own.
Sometimes, INTERN feels like each person has a different question dominating his/her life—"Am I a good person?" or "Am I living right?" or "Am I striving hard enough in my art?". And sometimes you freak out and instead of those big questions, your life gets taken over by small ones: "Do I have enough Twitter followers?" "Am I popular enough?" "What if that eagle comes back and steals my other shoe?"
INTERN read a short article in the New York Times yesterday by author Thomas Glave, weighing in on Amazon's push into the publishing world:
And now, as things become more dire for writers who want to develop into actual artists, Amazon, the behemoth that fears no one, enters the fray. Can Amazon’s profit-centered forays provide a healthy space for writers?
Amazon aside, this left INTERN's skull ringing: What DOES constitute a healthy space for writers who want to develop into actual artists? And to what extent do any these shiny things we dabble in—blogging, online writing forums, Twitter—actually hinder our development as artists?
Sometimes, INTERN frets that her writer-friends who toil in internet obscurity are somehow purer as writers than INTERN can ever be. They must be so much less distracted by superficial worries or equally superficial victories. They must really, truly worship at the altar of literary Quality, in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sense, in a way that INTERN is terrified she slips from. The internet provides writers with such a lively and supportive community—but are we helping each other ask the big questions? Or unwittingly fueling an endless parade of small ones?
Now, more than ever, writers can bombard themselves with comparisons. All you have to do is jump on Twitter to see who just got an agent, who just signed a mega-deal, who's having their novel turned into a play turned into a movie turned into a video game turned into a McDonald's toy. You find yourself thinking, "I NEED to get HUGE!" instead of "I need to work humbly for as long as it takes." And when you see the eagle swooping down out of the corner of your eye, you jump up and say "Fuck off, eagle!" And you tell yourself whatever viper's coiled up in there—vanity, emptiness, losing sight of the big questions—is worth keeping that shoe on your foot.
INTERN worries about these things. She worries about them all the freaking time. But she also believes that we CAN create a healthy space for one another to become true artists, no matter which technologies we're using, or else she wouldn't be writing this.
We can help each other ask the big questions, and we can help each other strive to be better artists, and we can help each other shake the vipers out of our shoes.
And we can do it in the digital age.