Sunday, May 26, 2013

How To Fool Anyone Into Liking The Things You Do

Do you ever feel like you've fooled a group of people so successfully that you just sit back and wonder how it was that easy to dupe so many folks? As an introvert, I experience this more often than is probably socially acceptable to mention. Fellow introverts understand how you have to pretend to be an extrovert in most situations, resulting in no one ever really knowing that you are, indeed, dreaming of curling up in a ball under the covers until two in the afternoon the following day, all while someone else is talking about something you stopped listening to fifteen minutes ago.

I have often wondered if artists and writers feel the same. Do they think they've tricked masses of people into believing their work holds merit? Are they just as confused by affirmation of their talents as introverts are at false identification as extroverts? Then, when asked about their pieces, do they perform the part of artist/writer in the same way introverts disguise themselves?

I ask myself these questions because, as a hobby-writer, I have always said that, if I were able to fool someone into thinking that what I do is of any value, I'd let them have it. Prior to taking a creative writing course, I never showed my wordplays to anyone. The only person that knew they existed were my two best friends, and that's only because they know more about me than I do. I had absolutely no idea what other people were going to say about the pieces, which was a highly unpleasant experience -- remember that introvert thing we discussed? Sure, my friends puffed up my ego, telling me that I could really be a writer, and that I should try in earnest to do so. "If somebody else is dumb enough to pay me for it," I say, "I'll let 'em have it."

Back in March, while I was taking the writing course, a class-wide email was sent. In a most nonchalant way, this little tidbit was slipped between bits of highly unnecessary information.

The deadline for the Freelancer is coming up--April 5th. Each of you, as part of your grade for this class, must submit at least one work to the Freelancer, though the work does not have to be poetry.

I was immediately outraged. Freelancer? That little magazine that the English department deluges the campus with ever year? This was the first that anyone had ever heard of such an assignment -- it wasn't listed in the class schedule, list of work to be completed, in the grading criteria, or the list of due dates. Yet, there is was, dropped into my lap on short notice.

I looked through some of the pieces I had submitted in the class, and decided on two. The first, I was sure, was publish-worthy; numerous people complimented the piece highly, and the teacher suggested I send it in for Freelancer publication. The second, however, did not receive such praise. Phrases such as "off-putting", "difficult to read", and one blatantly put "I do not understand" were used to describe it. The teacher suggested I rearrange the piece, and leave the content alone. I humored him by playing with a different arrangement, but I had absolutely no intention of permanently altering the piece, and I told him so upfront. By this point, we all know that my ornery streak isn't so much of a streak, but my not-ornery streak is considerably smaller, and spiders through the ornery like a feeble conscience; I think that's why I submitted it with my original arrangement, instead of the altered one.

Thirty-five days since the due date had gone by, and the class was drawing to a close. No one had asked or been told if any of their submissions were used in the publication. Once again, I had to take over the vacant leadership role of finding out what had happened to these submissions. The teacher then sent an email back telling me that one of my pieces had, indeed, been published; he offered to send me a copy, and a letter of confirmation.

Since he didn't tell me which of the two pieces were used, I had to wait almost a week to find out if the supposed shoe-in piece was selected, or my obnoxious submission was published. As if it had been planned in a movie, I happened to be at the front window when the postman walked across our yard, large manilla envelope in hand.
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I opened the letter -- which was dated April 16, a full month before I received it -- to read that my rebel piece was the one selected. The one that no one in the class understood, and the teacher said "worked better" after I had rearranged -- more importantly, the piece that I submitted as I intended it to be seen, not what I was told was "better" another way. Also important, I suppose, is that I was one of only two students in the class to have been published.
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The full page.

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The piece itself.

So, the question still remains, then, if artists/writers hide behind a fixed persona when discussing their material. I realized soon after I received the advance copy that I had already answered my question. The person who didn't understand the piece asked if it was a poem, or a statement. Naturally, I felt I had to set him straight.

Put simply, it is a poem stating preferences. There are two elements, I feel, that make it poetry: word choice, and arrangement. The first draft looked nothing like what I have posted here, though it was just as brief. Originally, the word "incongruity" was "juxtaposition"; however, I decided "juxtaposition" didn't fully encompass what I wanted to say, and the form made little sense. There was a second draft, which I added a bit to, but was not entirely happy with; the piece lost the brevity I found charming, and drew out the conclusion reached at the end. Finally, on the third try, I knew I had found the right word in "incongruity", and eliminated the unnecessary additions. I also decided that the poem should feel imperfect, almost to make a reader trip over the words. By arranging the piece as it is, I intended readers to experience that imperfection on the first reading, and absorb the meaning of the words in the second reading.

As for whether this particular piece can be interpreted as poetry by others, I really can't say. I have never shared any of my work with other people, which has left me free to develop how I feel I should write in order to please myself, rather than what others find artistic value in. I hope, with a bit more insight on this particular piece, others might find merit in it; regardless, I am quite pleased with how the work turned out.


The truth of it is, though, that I made up the answer. I did accurately describe the writing process and discussion about word choice, but I didn't exactly tell the truth. The piece is the way it is because that's how I like it, and I cannot explain why I like it, but I do, so don't question my judgement. It's not like you can answer someone's inquiry with that kind of truthful response, so what else was I supposed to do? You can't just tell someone that you did what you did because it felt right.

So, that is the answer. We detrimentally overcompensate when we cannot make others understand. Sure, we can get all philosophical about how we as humans should be more open-minded, or less ruled by societal norms, but, if we're going to be honest about it, we all know we do it as a means of survival. And isn't that why art exists in the first place? To let us express what we ordinarily could or would not? Besides, we can all practice exaggeration when we try to fool people into thinking our work has merit.
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