Riding on the Coattails of Fame

I heard a radio advertisement yesterday that the great  great (great?) grandson of Charles Dickens would be presenting a reading of A Christmas Carol somewhere, creating different voices of all the characters.

Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street.

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting? Perhaps, but it got me thinking about how many people get opportunities to publish, to speak, to act, to . . . whatever,  simply because of their relationship to someone famous. They may not have a single talent in their own right, but a distant link to a distant relative gets their foot in the door like nothing else can.

I suppose the children of writers, artists, actors, great politicians (if there is such a thing), speakers, etc. have it in their blood,  but talent doesn’t necessarily get passed down from generation to generation. They may have access to incredible teaching, and opportunities to absorb the craft of whatever it is through observation and interaction, but that does not guarantee  the same skill and ability will resurface.

Still, in our world of aggrandizing movie stars and putting people on pedestals, talent seems less important than having a famous relative. There are almost too many examples of this, and whenever you walk into a book store you can easily find a book published by a name, not a famous writer but someone who is writing because he/she is famous or related to someone famous.

Perhaps if I could trace my lineage back to someone famous, I too would be able to ride the coattails of fame. Or, better yet, if I could prove I was, indeed the REINCARNATION of William Shakespeare or Charlotte Bronte, or anyone else with creative chops that I admire I could simply walk up to a publisher and say “here is my manuscript, you will publish it errors and all.”

Charlotte Bronte

Lisa Bronte Kramer

Sadly, my grandfather on one side was a butcher and on the other a salesman (insurance I think). I cannot simply use my name for fame.

Now I have not heard this descendant of Dickens perform, and he could be a perfectly talented storyteller. But here is an interesting observation from Louisa May Alcott quoted in the Cheever’s biography I have been quoting from so liberally lately:

. . . [S]he excited went to her Dickens read and came away bitterly disappointed in the man and his performance. “Youth and comeliness were gone, but the foppishness remained, and the red-faced man, with false teeth and the voice of a worn-out actor had his scanty grey hair curled.”

It just goes to show you that just because your name is on the book, doesn’t mean you are the best person to perform it. ;)

I would argue that most actors nowadays get their big break because of their connections with someone else. If you look at some of the new stars of stage and screen, you nearly always find “daughter of so and so” or “nephew of what’s his name.”

It is almost impossible to make it on talent alone.

And that, my friends, is one of the biggest problems with our society. The rich get richer, not because they are more deserving than others or work harder, but because they are related to the original founder of that fortune. People get to write books and have them published traditionally, not because they ar the best wordsmiths on earth, but because they were born to someone famous. Performers get their opportunities to perform because Daddy brought them onstage. A woman whose claim to fame is only a big booty and a lifelong friendship with the daughter of someone rich and famous can keep herself plastered in the news with fake marriages, reality television, as well as “running” her own business (I wonder who really runs it). A man, the son of a former president, maintains a presidency by manipulating a system and leaves chaos in his wake which he then blames on the upstart who dared to step into the presidency without any family connections.

I wish we were in  a world where truly talented individuals could make their marks rather than a world dominated by people riding on the fame of their more talented ancestors. Don’t you?

Dependent on Technology

Have you ever thought about how dependent we have become on technology?

As we drove the last leg of our journey last Tuesday, we went through town after town affected by Hurricane Irene, with power outages and flooding. We only had to back track two times to avoid flooding, but we did have to pay close attention to availability of gas and/or snacks. We also looked forward to spending the night at my parents house, sans electricity. (By some miracle, their power came on about 30 minutes before we got there, so we were actually able to eat something).

Before we headed there, however, we dropped the truck off at the new house to leave overnight, only to discover the power was also out there, with a tree fallen on the line.  The powerless house would not be a problem, we decided, when it came to unloading the truck, thanks to the help of many wonderful helpers and the lovely weather post-Irene. It would have caused problems for our first night in our new home, but luckily the power came back on late in the afternoon.

Post move-in feeding frenzy.

Unloading the truck.

What would we have done without that power? Probably headed back to my parent’s house and then gotten up really early to get Sarah to school the next day. Not that we couldn’t survive without electricity. We could have camped out, in a way. But we have well water and the heating comes from the oil furnace, all of which require some electricity to function.  No running water or flushing toilets would lend to an uncomfortable night.

We are dependent on technology.

That stuff was easy though. I truly became aware of my utter dependence on technology when I found out my home internet will not be available until September 13th.


That means blogging regularly, as well as searching for jobs, requires hunting down access in different locations. Hence the gap in posts, and my lack of response to comments.

While I do have limited access on my phone, we don’t have huge data plans, nor do we have phones that are very internet friendly. So I am suffering technology deprivation.

Now, of course I could rant about why it takes nearly two weeks to link me up to the system, when as far as I know all that is required is the addition of my name to a list in some system. But we will chalk that up to the mysteries of bureaucracy that leave everyone puzzled on a regular basis.

What really concerns me is how lost I feel without regular access. Sure, I could still write posts, preparing for times to come, but I can’t seem to get motivated without the immediate satisfaction of posting and reading other people’s post, responding and reading other’s responses.

Sure, I could work on figuring out a plan for finding work, and I have done that to some extent. But I still feel like I need access to possibilities to figure it all out.

Sure, I could focus on unpacking and organizing, but what do I do when I need a break?

Tomorrow starts the regular schedule, with Nathan and work and Sarah at school.  Technically they started last week, but the first week is always quirky. Tomorrow is the beginning of a truly regular schedule, and my new life . . . but I have to begin it without regular access to the internet, without regular access to technology.

Will I survive the horror?!

Pursuing Passion and Creating a Life in a World Gone Mad

I have never really followed a traditional career path.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had tons of jobs, and have been successful at each one. Give me a challenge and I live up to it and surpass that challenge. Most of my employers would hire me back in a second.

But I’m not really a  9-5 kind of gal. I can work 40 hour weeks, and I often work more than that, but I function best in jobs that offer variety and flexibility. When I do have full-time office jobs with regular hours, I tend to fill my other time with other kinds of work to fulfill this need for diversity. At the same time, I try to go above and beyond expectations at the job itself so that I get interesting tasks assigned to me and get diversity in my regular work.

In academia, I’ve never had a tenure track position. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, as I’ve been nominated for teaching awards, given classes and opportunities based on my work, and very rarely receive negative evaluations. Yet, when it comes to interviewing for tenure track positions, even if I make the cut of the top three, I don’t usually get the job. Why? I think it’s because people can sense that somehow I function better in a more fluid type of position, where I follow projects with passion because I choose too, not because I have to. Of course, this usually means that I work as hard or harder than many of the faculty who are tenure track–for less pay, fewer benefits, and less recognition. I do it because I care about my work and the people I work with–and at least I usually don’t have to attend quite so many meetings. That is a definite plus. I mean, meetings with a purpose I’m all for, but meeting to have meetings–not so much.

Why am I talking about this? As you know, we are planning a move to Massachusetts, which has its challenges. Finding housing seems to be the biggest one, so we are looking at the possibility of buying again. We have good credit. We have a down payment. Nathan has a job. But, as of yet, I don’t and that could limit the possibilities of what we are able to buy.

So, I spent the morning updating my LinkedIn profile, creating an on-line portfolio, sending letters to a few people, working on expanding my network, and trying to establish a more professional presence as I search for work to help us with this move. [I've been working so long on this computer that I just had to scrounge for a replacement battery for my mouse ;)] Of course, working on this project forces me to think about what I really want out of employment. Do I want the traditional regular hour job that comes with a secure paycheck and benefits? Or, do I want the gypsy lifestyle of a freelance worker that comes with no security, a smaller paycheck, and no benefits– but does allow for options, a flexible schedule, and projects that I choose?

The truth is I want both. But, I may not have a choice in the matter. Trying to take a little break from the work, I wandered over to Facebook only to stumble upon this thrilling news “‘Unemployed need not apply’” from PBS. Now I’ve never been unemployed (except for a few months after I graduated from my MFA program, and for a semester after having Sarah) or collected unemployment–because I’ve never been fired or downsized. I’ve always walked away from jobs because of moves or starting school or something legitimate. I’ve always left a job without burning bridges. But, ever since I graduated from my doctoral program, I haven’t had a traditional contract either.  I have worked full time for the most part, sometimes teaching more credit hours than tenure track faculty while directing shows and teaching outside classes. I have been given year-long contracts that can be renewed yearly. But I have not followed a traditional path of employment, so it looks like I’m a scattered gypsy that might be an insecure risk–even though anyone who has ever employed me would probably sing my praises.

Yet, today we live in world where people lose jobs while the rich get richer and get tax cuts. Then those same jobless people cannot get jobs because they have been unemployed, or because they have passed an invisible age line that seems to get younger and younger. In a ridiculous reflection of American society, which values youth and beauty over wisdom and learning, the system gets tougher as you get older.  Life-wise, 40 may be the new 20, but job-wise 40 is closer to retirement and redundancy–somehow out of touch with the fast-paced changes of the world.

I am not out of touch. I learn and I grow and I challenge myself on a daily basis. But on paper, I am someone who has gaps or a non-traditional resume.

So what is one to do to help secure a life and a home for a family while also living a fulfilling life in a world that doesn’t seem to want hard workers to work? Only time will tell in my situation, but the adventure is going to be an interesting one.

I’m Not Old Enough

This is my response to the fabulous Tori Nelson’s post called “old enough.

I’m Not Old Enough . . .

. . . to give up my dreams in the face of other people’s sense of
what is appropriate;

. . . to sit in a corner gathering dust
while younger generations act like my time has passed;

 . . . to fade quietly into an existence defined by other’s

and yet society wants to make that so.

I’m not old enough . . . 

. . . to live without the joys of childhood
like ice cream on a sunny day
or conversations with stuffed animals.

. . . to live without singing and dancing
for the pure joy of song and movement

. . . to be afraid of getting dirty
with paint stains or clay pieces
as I create an imperfect piece of art

and yet the world resists the joy,
insisting that money and success are all that matter.

I’m not old enough . . . 

. . . to stop fighting for what I believe in
or hoping for the world to change

. . . to stop learning from others
and helping others along the way.

I’m not old enough  . . . 

And I NEVER will be!!!

Photo by Mehmet Akin