I Know Why The Alligator Hides

Writer Reads Rejection Slip

I began writing INVISIBLE DRIVING in 1990 and ultimately self-published it in 2007 – that was 4 literary agents and 100s of rejection slips ago. I learned that there is something harder than surviving Manic Depression, harder even than writing a book about it – that is publishing a book about it. The torrent of abuse and rejection was epic – at times – even comical. (My step-grandmother founded and owned W.W. Norton – a very prestigious publishing house – even they wouldn’t publish it!)

The process was at once humbling and character-building. I knew what I had was good, I knew it surpassed the competition, I knew these unimaginative, lazy publishers were the ones missing out. I came to truly “get” that life is not a meritocracy, and that acceptance does not flow naturally from quality and hard work. I grew accustomed to the feeling that jazz musicians must experience when they see Kenny G in a Ferrari; a mélange of rage, envy, frustration, mystification and absolute certainty that there is no God.

I Know Why The Alligator Hides

After a long hiatus, I began writing poetry again during this period and was being published in one of the country’s most celebrated – and bizarre – online literary journals – EXQUISITE CORPSE. One day a friend said, “Your stuff is really getting good, you should send it to The New Yorker.” Against my better judgment I finally did send them one of the best. Weeks later I got the obligatory rejection slip. Without a moment’s hesitation I turned it over and wrote, “Dear Sirs: I was saddened to learn of your recent loss. Sincerely, Alistair McHarg” and mailed it back to them.

Childish? Perhaps. Passive/aggressive? Most definitely. But let me tell all of you out there – I know why the alligator hides and I know why he needs his hide. If you are mentally ill, you are going to take some abuse, even if you are trying your best to get better. If you are an alcoholic in recovery, don’t expect a parade. And if you are a committed artist, you can hope for the best – that’s good, even necessary – but plan for the worst and expect it. Remember that the rain falls equally on the just and unjust and the biggest mistake you can make is looking up at heaven and shaking your fist. The answer to the question “Why me?” is always “Why not?”

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Beware of Sellebrity

Celebrity Not Known Many People

When I was in the throes of mania I imagined myself a world-class genius artiste who – if not rich and famous at the time – would certainly be both at any moment. When I had drifted deep into the dark quagmire of depression I imagined that I was neither rich nor famous – and blindingly incompetent in navigating life.

In both cases of course the truth was far less interesting; I was merely a worker among workers, another Bozo on the bus, trying to make sense of an insane world like all the other citizens – and having a bit of a rough patch.

As a young person I had been misled about wealth and fame; and learned at last that neither one is particularly desirable. Importantly, both stand in the way of happiness, contrary to popular opinion. Having “enough” money is essential; having more than enough is a recipe for disaster. Fame is different, even a little bit of fame can be deadly – at the very least it is a distraction from the important things of life.

As a bipolar nitwit I believed that the happiness I lacked could be found outside, elsewhere; in the approval of others, admiration, success, wealth, etc. In my naiveté it never dawned on me that the creative geniuses I admired – like Van Gogh, Coltrane, Beckett – to select three examples at random – were not particularly happy people. Importantly, I had the relationship between art and success backwards – I was looking at the success, not the art.

As my great friend HG said of my bipolar memoir; “The true success is that you survived the events described and that you wrote about them – everything that happens from now on is extra.”

This so called “culture” of ours is obsessed with celebrity, as if being known were an end in itself. But it isn’t, at least not a worthwhile end. One should find what one is meant to do and then do it as well as humanly possible. If you find your audience, and they give you money, we may say huzzah. But the moment you start straying from the knitting and make celebrity your goal, there is virtually no chance at all you will contribute anything worthwhile to a society in need of all kinds of help.

Today I am happy to let my books, poetry, cartoons etc. do the talking for me. I would be delighted to see them earning money and gaining approbation. I did not create them to be shy, hiding from the spotlight. They are old enough to hold jobs, they have much to offer – and they enjoy attention. I will stand aside, like a father, and continue to regard the camera as a succubus.