The French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923, aka “The Divine Sarah”) was one of the most famous figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She became an international celebrity even before movies were popular entertainment. When the Paris Universal Exposition opened in April 1900, a gigantic statue modeled after Bernhardt decorated the ‘Triumphal Gateway’ entrance arch in the Place de la Concorde (a strange art nouveau monument that looks like a cross between a giant slice of wedding cake, the Taj Mahal, and a garish fairground attraction. By the time the exposition ended in November 1914 almost 50 million people had passed beneath her frozen image.
My maternal grandmother collected this quote from Bernhardt: “You ask me my theory of life. Life is short and we must live for the few who appreciate us. You ought to hate very rarely, as it is too fatiguing, remain indifferent a great deal, forgive often, and never forget.”
We must live for the few who appreciate us. Great advice, Sarah. That is why I so value the folks at Making Connections on Goodreads, who are featuring my book, The Betelgeuse Oracle as part of their ‘Blog Tour’. Several bloggers have kindly offered to review the book and post interviews with me about my work. This is a great example of the supportive online communities that have become such an important part of writing and publishing.
One of the interview questions dealt with the issue of how I handle ‘the submission process’: going through the rigmarole of submitting work to publishers. My answer: ‘the submission process’ sounds ominously like a prison rite of passage designed to break the spirit of new inmates. I say “Screw the ‘submission process!’” I refuse to ‘submit’ to anybody! Thanks to groups like Goodreads and many others, writers are no longer obliged to beg publishers (and agents) to please!, please!, please! make money from our hard work. That absurd rulebook has been torn to shreds. Now there are dozens of ways to publish your work your way for free. Let’s call it ‘the DIY process.’
Sure, there are disadvantages to the DIY process. Free publication often translates into zero revenues. I am very thankful for my teaching career, which provides a fantastic standard of living, freeing me to write and publish what I please. (What price would any of us place on being free?) Also, without the backing of corporate public relations (read: propaganda), the writer has fewer opportunities to reach a mass audience. But who cares what the masses think? I’m a writer, not a politician.
Fame is toxic to the human mind. Look at the corrosive effects of fame on “celebrities” like Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain. Look at what fame (infamy?) is doing to Justin Bieber, who is little more than a product. I have no desire for adulation, or to make a “great impact.” I only want people to enjoy and react to my work; to change how a few readers think or alter their approach to the world. At heart, I am what I do for a living: I am a teacher. I seek to do my best, but I am ultimately indifferent to the trappings of censure or approval.
I suppose it’s fair to say that if Sarah Bernhardt had never achieved her fame, I would never have been inoculated by her wisdom (with my grandmother as the vector!). Then again, according to the historian Margaret MacMillan, “almost everyone hated the giant statue” modeled after Bernhardt at the entrance to the Paris expo (The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, p. 3). So fame, image, idolatry cashed out as the spite of millions. Big deal! And by 1923 “The Divine Sarah” took that ultimate trip. No matter how loudly the critics chatter, all of us must travel that road. As the Romans advised, Mors ultima ratio. Death is the final accounting, baby! (The ‘baby’ is my own addition!)
Further to Ms. Bernhardt’s advice to live for the few who appreciate us, I’m now off to do the vacuuming. Hardly glamorous, but my family needs it done. They are the people who appreciate me the most. Unless I really screw the pooch, they will still be there at the end. They deserve my dedication. What greater ambition could I have for my short life?
Here are the dates for the various blogs that have agreed to review the book, interview me, or include me as a guest blogger:
- August 4- Interview and Giveaway with Making Connections Blog
- August 5 – Featured by Judith Leger
- August 6 – Review on Mallory Heart Reviews
- August 6- Interview with Giovanni Valentino
- August 7 – Review by Diary of an Eager Reader
- August 8 – Review by The Avid Reader
- August 9 – Featured by Shut Up and Read
- August 10 – Guest Post on Cult of Me