Saturday, November 3, 2012

My greatest challenge: Battling the mediocrity monster

Bill Murray and Chevy Chase in Caddyshack

One of the most infamous anecdotes in Saturday Night Live's turbulent history occurred during the 1977-1978 season when the notoriously-contentious Chevy Chase returned to host the program after bailing on the series early in its run to pursue a movie career. Bill Murray had replaced Chevy in the cast by that point, and the two comedians did not get along well during a stormy week of rehearsal. In fact, they came to blows backstage. During that altercation, Murray made one of show business' all-time great retorts to his cleft-chinned rival: "Medium talent!"

Ouch, Bill. That stings.

Gossamer a.k.a. Mediocrity
Mediocrity is the fate which ultimately frightens me the most. I realize that only a tiny fraction of the world can truly be "great" and that there are only so many "geniuses" out there, but I don't know how the rest of the population deals with that fact. It scares the hell out of me. In fact, I think of Mediocrity as being a big, hairy monster following me around. If you want to picture him (yes, Mediocrity is male), imagine the character of Gossamer from the old Looney Tunes. That's the creature hovering over me every time I try to create something or accomplish something of significance, constantly reminding me that I simply do not have the talent, the drive, or the ambition to be included among the greats. It's a fear which I have already discussed indirectly on this blog, incidentally in a way which also referenced SNL. Check out this November 2011 post in which I discuss the relationship between Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and compare it to that of Mozart and Salieri in Amadeus. What I didn't say at the time was that those stories resonated with me because I'm secretly worried I'm the Salieri/Piscopo to someone else's Mozart/Murphy. Even my spellchecker agrees here, because it recognizes the words "Amadeus," "Mozart," and "Murphy" but not "Salieri" or "Piscopo." Sorry, Salieri and Piscopo, you lose.

My one anthology appearance.

I have been a musician (my instrument, the euphonium, was chosen for me in elementary school) for two-thirds of my life, and yet I don't have to look beyond my own section of the community band to find people younger than I am who play better than I do or ever will. I've done sketches and cartoons since childhood, and I have a big portfolio of work in a drawer of my bureau, but there are literally small children who can out-draw me. As a blogger, I have amassed over 800,000 page views, but most of that is random Google traffic rather than people specifically visiting this blog for me and my work. As a writer, I have produced reviews, scripts, plays, essays, and stories for the Internet since the mid-1990s. I even have one terrible, unreadable novel to my credit. (And when I say it is "unreadable," I mean that I myself cannot make it past the first chapter.) I felt for a while that my niche might be in creating short stories. To date, I have exactly one such story in a published anthology, the rather obscure and disreputable collection entitled First Time Dead 2. I contributed a few short stories to the now-dormant Unloosen website a few years ago and generated a smattering of interest there, but when I re-edited and repurposed those stories as entries on this blog, the silence with which they were greeted was deafening. To date, they're among the least-viewed articles in this blog's history. If you'd like to read them, I will add a "short stories" tag to the bottom of this article. Just click on it, and you'll find them all.

Thirsty Lad
Incidentally, I made my own crude stab at doing a wholly-original comic strip a few years ago, just ball point pen on notebook paper and strictly for the amusement of my coworkers. It was called Trolleytown Frolics, and the original main characters were two talking animals: the hard-partying, often-crude Rabbit Sam and the eerily calm and evil Uncle Penguin. The basic idea was that Rabbit Sam would come to Uncle Penguin for advice, and the nefarious penguin would intentionally steer the rabbit's life in the wrong direction. My initial concept was to draw it once and then just change the dialogue each time, but I wound up abandoning that plan very quickly. The cast soon grew to include a number of human characters, largely based on my own coworkers at the time. There was Rabbit Sam's impatient girlfriend, Maxine, and her best friend, Sadie Nightingale (who moonlighted as a super-heroine called The Sylph), officious wunderkind Skippy, and Thirsty Lad, a hapless mascot for a line of off-brand paper towels. Thirsty was my surrogate in the strip. Ultimately, Skippy and Thirsty took over Trolleytown Frolics, forming a kind of Bert & Ernie comedy team. By then, though, most of the people on whom the strip was based had either transferred to other departments or left the company entirely, so the strip came to an end. Like everything else I've done, it fell well short of greatness. I still have a big folder of loose notebook pages with old strips on them, and it dwells in the same bureau as my portfolio of sketches. The one lasting legacy of the strip is that I've used "Rabbit Sam" and "Thirsty Lad" as aliases at a few online forums.

Maybe I have not found my calling yet. Maybe I never will. The work should be and often has been its own reward, but I cannot help but want to make some kind of permanent mark on this world I inhabit. I want something which will say, "JOE WAS HERE!" Who knows when I'll find it?

P.S. - I was supposed to "get out there" and experience some of that famous "fresh air" and "exercise" today, but instead I spent nearly the entire day in bed. Whoops!

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