Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Slacker's Tale

You've seen them in action: the celebrities who, when asked to describe their rise to success, suddenly get very cryptic.

"I was working in a video store and was always talking to my friends and going to drive-in movies and then a couple of years later I directed my first successful film."

Oh, really? I'm sure that happens all the time.

Even worse are the writers who claim to have been downing a couple of bottles of bourbon a day and snorting coke while writing beautiful prose. Put that down as a work of fiction.

It is as if these individuals intentionally make the achievement process seem easier than it had to have been. This bent goes against the Horatio Alger stories of pluck and determination in which hard work eventually paid off. These are slackers' tales of achievement and - although no doubt some folks occasionally get unbelievable breaks - such stories of things just falling into place ring false. These celebrities may look like bohemians, but I suspect that there is much more hard and smart work behind their achievements than they let on.

It says something about our society that such tales of achievement are self-edited to leave out the struggles.


John said...

I tend to agree but look at this from an interview I heard yesterday on NPR.

SIMON: Have you over the years ever wondered if maybe you should have done a zig this way or a zag that way to make certain that you did so much you'd be mentioned - forgive the expression - the same breath as Barbra Streisand?

Ms. EDER: No, because I don't think I've ever been driven enough. I'm too happy. I had too happy a childhood. Nothing drove me into show business. I didn't have that overwhelming, all-consuming, 24/7, I got to do this. I had so many interests. I had a lot of ambition but just - I don't think I have ever had the amount of ambition that a lot of the people that make it to the top have.

And also I've had a taste of what that would feel like. When I left "Jekyll and Hyde," all of that was full of people who wanted to talk to me and to see me. And so for a moment there, I realized what it would feel like to be at that upper-echelon level as far as celebrity and I just knew that I didn't want that. I could never live my life with that.

SIMON: What didn't you like about it?

Ms. EDER: Just knowing that there would be never the freedom to walk down the street alone and not be bothered. You know, just to be free, free to be. You know, look around and not worry about anything, just be part of the environment.

I also read that Frank McCourt never expected Angela's Ashes to catapult him into a second life of literary notability.

Michael Wade said...


I see your point. We don't want to become a bunch of driven Sammy Glicks. At the same time, Frank McCourt put in a great deal of time learning how to write. The success of his book may have been a surprise but it is not surprising that he had mastered the ability to write beautiful sentences.


John said...

Despite the wit I found Angela's Ashes to be turgid and dark at times. Too much for my taste. It may reflect badly on my taste but when I got hold of Teacher Man (and later 'Tis) I became an avid fan.
And yes, his skills were honed sharp by years of hard work both teaching and writing.

Michael Wade said...


I enjoyed Angela's Ashes, but it is dark. I'll try the others.

Thanks for the tip!