Thursday, November 10, 2011

in which INTERN wrestles with a viper

INTERN is bored of Scandalous Revelations (and talking about herself in general) so today let's talk about snakes.

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.


  1. I love this post. Writing can be as supportive or as nastily competitive as your own self makes it to be, but I think the former is better in the long run.

    Besides, I have enough worries with little spiders in my shoes; I don't want to add vipers. ;)

  2. Rock the hell on!

    Technology isn't the problem. Amazon isn't the problem. E-books aren't the problem. Literary magazines aren't the problem. Agents aren't the problem.

    Humans are the problem. Well, human nature, anyway.

    All our sniveling little doubts and insecurities and jealousies. Everyone has them, and that's okay. Those are the vipers. As you said, we just have to help each other wrestle them. (And stop blaming everyone/everything else.)

    I think you do that with this blog, INTERN. And I thank you for that.

  3. Hey, do we lose the indelibly hilarious third person voice when you do the reveal? That's what I'm worried about.

  4. Douglas: Don't worry! INTERN will still be INTERN. The only thing that will change is that you'll have the option of clicking a link to find out about INTERN's other doings. And you don't even have to do that if you'd rather not know.

  5. Kristan: "Technology isn't the problem. Amazon isn't the problem. E-books aren't the problem. Literary magazines aren't the problem. Agents aren't the problem."

    Well said! Writers were certainly distracted by superficial things well before the internet—the internet has just made it even harder to resist or tune out those distractions.

  6. Great post and so true! I'm new to social media in general and struggling to find my place (and a good balance!)

  7. "They must really, truly worship at the altar of literary Quality, in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sense"

    I really love this line.

    -- Tom

  8. Omg, the goodness of this: I need to work humbly for as long as it takes.

  9. Ashley: Welcome (and good luck!) The locals are friendly :)

  10. That they are! For every Viper there are at least a dozen good people willing to help out. Big believer in mutual help.

  11. This is timely - I'm writing my next novel all about this quandary. How do we connect in a way that keeps us sane, as artists and as people? Big stuff; we've had the internet long enough that we're starting to question how we stand within it, how we carve out our little cave or tangle our roots up together. I'd love to read more of your thoughts on the matter.

  12. Hi Intern! I've been absent from the internet a lot lately, which is why I nearly missed the two comments you left on Blurb is a Verb. Nice to see you!

    I too worry about this all the freaking time. When I was writing a contemporary novel, I didn't worry about it so much. But lately I've discovered it's quite difficult to keep your head in the 17th century when you look at Twitter every two hours.

    I'm wrestling too.