Different People are Thought to Be Mad

Katie and I both spend too much time pondering the role we play in our respective creative niches. We give far too much credence to the opinions of fork people. All we really need to focus on is doing our best work, and figuring out how to market it to the people that will appreciate it. Everything always comes back to finding your tribe.

“Many creative people have a certain degree of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the established way. If you look at things differently, you are thought of as ‘different.’ In turn, ‘different’ people are thought to be ‘mad.'”

Jim Henson, interview with The Boston Globe, July 14, 1989

When you introduce a new way of doing something, there will be people that automatically embrace it. This is especially true if the old way represented a pain point. It was expensive, or labor intensive. It created barriers to entry, both for creators and consumers. These people are relieved to learn there’s a less complicated, more efficient, and more profitable way. Hallelujah!

You will run into opposition from people invested in the old way. They’ve got millions sunk into the old paradigm, from manufacturing to training to marketing. Changing costs money. Any time you look at a product or service and wonder what they don’t do something differently, that’s the answer. Change costs money.

Others are emotionally invested. They have an expectation that a product looks like this, or it works like that. Even if the new thing is objectively better, they’re being asked to step outside their comfort level. Some folks view it as being told they’re wrong. They take it personally. Change is seen as a personal attack against them.

Different People are Thought to Be Mad

It often comes down to a narrow, ultracapitalist definition of success. If you’re different and you’re making money, you’re a genius. If you’re not making money, you’re just weird. Beyond the surface, though, there’s a little more to it than that. You need to be making money in a way that doesn’t disrupt the status quo too much. If your way can coexist with the old way, and you’re not making people entrenched in the old way feel bad, you can have your niche.

This is why it’s so damned hard to conquer the world.

Ashcan Hubris: 29 November 2020

This is Ashcan Hubris: 29 November 2020 edition, the weekly newsletter where in my foolish self-confidence I believe I’ve written things worth reading.

Explaining the Joke

Starting today, this weekly quasi-newsletter is now officially named ASHCAN HUBRIS. There are several reasons for this change. Most revolve around my odd sense of humor, so I’m more than happy to explain.

First, the more I have to tell people what hubris is, the more I’m going to lean into it. The original iteration of HUBRIS was a zine that carried the tagline “The Journal of Cultural Horror”. It was basically and op/ed rant zine about the damage caused by other peoples’ arrogance and dangerous overconfidence. The tone was decidedly not humorous. I ended up packing it in because the research I had to do in order to write thoughtful and informative essays was affecting my mental health. There is some dark and demented stuff going on in the world, in case you haven’t noticed.

“In reality there is, perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, (1784)

The most recent iteration, the weekly thing here on the site, carried the tagline “wherein I believe I’ve written something worth reading”. I’m keeping that for this latest evolution. This is about my own hubris, the foolish pride it takes to throw one’s words out into the void and expect anyone to care.

Ashcan Hubris

Which brings us to ASHCAN HUBRIS. An ashcan can be a waste container. The rubbish bin. Trash can. Literally a burn barrel when the contents end up as ashes. Ashcan Hubris is a collection of my writings; links in the newsletter, an actual anthology in the zine I have planned for 2021. It is a self-effacing, juxtapositional joke. [HOLD FOR LAUGHTER]

An ashcan can also be a comic, banged out quick-and-dirty with limited distribution to secure copyrights. I have seen some lo-fi zines referred to as ashcans as well. Both of these definitions fit with what I’m doing here.

In Case You Missed It

Ashcan HUBRIS: 29 November 2020

What I Learned from Mister Rogers

My wife Katie, knowing something of my childhood, wonders how I didn’t grow up to be a serial killer. The answer is simple. I had Mister Rogers in my life.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

Fred Rogers, commencement address at Dartmouth College (June 9, 2002)

Not that this was an easy thing. For 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, this man appeared on my television. He told me the world was more than my lived experience. It was going to be okay, he said. There was love and wonder to be found.

Somehow, the fact that I had never met this man made it better. He wasn’t blowing smoke. How could he? He didn’t know what I needed to hear. These statements were broad generalities, that the world was not an entirely horrible place. That fact that he was so sincere sold it. Telling me that I had value should have been a hard sell, but I was so desperate to hear it I accepted it from a TV stranger. Added to the fact that my school experiences were vastly different from my home life, his claims that there was a better world out there felt credible.

What I Learned from Mister Rogers

I credit Mister Rogers with my interest in fantasy. His Neighborhood of Make Believe certainly paved the way for my interest in tabletop roleplaying and detailed worldbuilding. Not Tolkien, or Moorcock, or Howard. Fred Rogers.

Although I remain a cranky, broken wretch of a human being, I still believe in kindness. He taught me that. If anything, what infuriates me is that we know a gentler path exists and so many people insist on embracing cruelty. Society continues to reward that things that he rejected. That makes me angry. Which is okay, because Mister Rogers told me it’s okay to get mad sometimes when things aren’t just.

Don’t Ever Become a Pessimist

People tell me that I sound like a pessimist, but I’m more of an idealistic pragmatist. You have to see problems for what they are in order to find solutions. That doesn’t mean you can’t have high-minded principles and lofty ambitions. It means you can’t just believe things will work out and wait for it to be so. You need to put in the world.

I know that my disposition right now is colored by seasonal affective disorder. Not only are depression and anxiety my constant companions, but my coping mechanism is to just put my shoulder into it. The Finns have a word for it: sisu. Somewhere between heroically fighting on even though you know you can’t win, and just going through the motions until you get through it, lies the concept of sisu.

Don’t ever become a pessimist… a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events.

Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973)

So if I sound negative, it’s because I’m enmeshed in solving problems. At least, the ones that can be solved. Being pragmatic also means recognizing that you don’t always know the right answer. It also means acknowledging that some problems can’t be solved, and that can be utterly terrifying.

Don’t Ever Become a Pessimist

People buy products based on stories. Since September I’ve been thinking about how to best present the ideology behind my company. I want people to know the reasons why I do things that way I do, and the vision I have for my creative output. My hope was to generate some momentum behind those ideas, and get a real movement going.

At the moment I’m walking some of that back. Not because of pessimism, but pragmatism. I see the state of the world, and the discussions going on within my publishing niche. Factor in how the bits of ideology I’ve presented to the world have been received so far, and it feels like the wrong tack.

People are contentious right now. There are contrarians ready to fight you if you say water is wet. I don’t have the spoons to fight people over stupid shit. Especially when I’m not actually defending my ideals. It’s a waste of time. The ideals are going to be out there. I’m just not going to lead with the lofty ambitions, because at this moment in history people tend to suck. They are not a problem I am capable of solving.

In This Embarrassed Affair

My publishing niche is small and specialized. One of my stated goals is to help reduce barriers to entry for both creators and consumers. This boils down to controlling costs, and keeping price points low. I’m not the only person with this stated goal, but my approach seems to be markedly different from that of others. The philosophy is different. I’m not  part of the community because we really don’t agree on a lot of fundamental points in this embarrassed affair.

“While the characters of men are forming, as is always the case in revolutions, there is a reciprocal suspicion, and a disposition to misinterpret each other; and even parties directly opposite in principle will sometimes concur in pushing forward the same movement with very different views, and with the hopes of its producing very different consequences. A great deal of this may be discovered in this embarrassed affair, and yet the issue of the whole was what nobody had in view.”

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1791)

The best way to explain this is to use the analogy of the music business. We’re all musicians. The bulk of the industry is controlled by a handful of big corporations. If you’re looking for fame and fortune, signing with one of their labels has been the traditional path to success. The tradeoff is that you have less creative freedom. Often, you end up signing away the rights to your own creations.

Up to this point, the other iconoclasts in my niche and I agree: That’s not for us. We want to make what we want to make, the way we want to make it. Fame and fortune isn’t what we’re after. All we desire is the ability to make a modest living doing something we love.

Here is where we part ways.

In This Embarrassed Affair

I pursue my career by trying to book as many gigs as I can. To succeed, I need as many people as possible to hear my songs. That means playing in places I don’t necessarily like, for any number of reasons. I go where the opportunities are, so I can build a following.

I’m continually working on new material, and practicing daily in order to get better. My repertoire also includes covers and remixes, so I can tap into familiarity and show off my skills. When I’m not playing, I’m listening to other peoples’ music. From old classics to new stuff from developing artists, I’m learning. I take every opportunity to understand more about the business side of things.

My “peers”, on the other hand, are busking in front of a coffee shop. They have two or three songs that they play over and over. Sometimes they only have one. They’re not working on new material. The donations people throw into their guitar case are all theirs, though. No club is taking a cut for providing them with a bigger stage. This is a point of pride for them. They don’t earn enough to pay their bills, but they’re completely in charge of their own destiny.

Their inability to make a living is blamed on the system. Not their business model. Clearly not their lack of hustle. Sometimes their one song is, admittedly, a bop and quite brilliant. I concede that many of these musicians are far more talented than I am. They seem to think, though, that their brilliance should have its own gravity, and draw people toward them without having to do anything more than sit on the sidewalk, hoping someone wandering by will stop and listen.