Amongst all the other weird and wonderful things that have been going on recently, I’ve been thinking about two things that I keep coming back around to. The first thing on my mind has been the role of an artist, the impact they have on the world around them and the impact that the world has on them. The second thing is Iain Banks, or more specifically, the recent passing of Iain Banks. The latter is something that I’ve mostly put to the back of my mind, because, quite frankly, the thought of it makes me feel sad. I didn’t know the man, I was once lucky enough to meet him, but it was a moment just like thousands of others for him and on no level do I claim the right of grief that people who actually did know him will be experiencing. But I can’t escape the fact that Iain Banks was, is, one of my literary heroes. If you have ever read my blog before you will know this well enough. So, because I don’t see it as a personal loss or upset that I have to bear, I’ve just opted not to think about it. I thought this was the best way to deal with it, or not deal with it as the case may be.
But then this happened. I noticed that I’ve been actively avoiding mentioning his name recently, or when I’ve been reminded of one of his stories, I’ve got a bit annoyed by it and made a point of thinking about something else. After a while I realised that I recognised this pattern of behaviour, mild though it may be, it is avoidance, it is denial, it is an aspect of the grief that I have experienced when I have lost a loved one. But I have no right to grief, do I? That’s what I thought. This man could have been a total dick for all I know! Although I will say that the level of respect and admiration expressed by his peers in recent weeks does imply that this was far from likely. But still, why should I feel sad for the loss of a connection that I never had? It was only in thinking about the first thing, what it means to be an artist and share your passions and talents with the world, that I kept coming back to Mr. Banks and my unanticipated reaction to his passing.
The truth of the matter is that it is a loss. I’ve lost one of my heroes. I’ve lost a voice that I admired, empathised with, whose words influenced the person I am and gave me moments of connection that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Even though the connection was only one way, it is a loss, it has affected me emotionally, and I can now see that I was naïve to think that it would be anything other.
In coming back around to the role of the artist, I genuinely feel that to be an artist is one of the hardest professions there is, even though it might seem like one of the most glamorous and sometimes, effortless professions, from a distance. But what you do, as a creative person, is put the products of that creation out for the world at large to judge, whether it be a film, books, television, or physical pieces of art. And what you are asking from everybody is investment, investment in an idea, a feeling, not something tangible or necessary to existence. People do not perceive art as an essential part of living, although I strongly believe it is. It’s the honey on the porridge, the sugar in the coffee, and lots of other food type metaphors, it’s the bit that makes the necessary parts of life more bearable and worthwhile. But ultimately, artists aren’t building houses, they’re not fixing boilers, where is the tangible, applicable worth of the item they are providing? What artists are asking you to buy into is a connection, a reaction, a point where your perception of what is beautiful or moving, meets theirs. This is hard on many levels. Not only are artists trying to produce something they love, but they are trying to make as many individuals as possible to fall in love with it too. Furthermore sometimes artists have to deal with an understandable and natural response from others, jealously. Or at least a sense of, why in the Hell should you be able to earn a dollar from doing this, when I have to do the 9 to 5? It is fair? It may only be a vague feeling, and it’s not always relevant, but I myself have felt that jealously towards artists at points. It has only been through recognising that it is just an impulse reaction, and that when I lay it bare, I am happy that people are out there, creating these awesome things, that I have been able to move past it.
We all need an outlet, creative or otherwise, a sphere through which we can express the part of us that is truly ours. The part that is not defined through our relationships or our jobs, it’s not a label we are given, but a part of ourselves that we have personally carved out. Having a hobby really helps with that because it allows you to focus on your own passions and not to feel jealous of others that are talented in various other beautiful and amazing ways.
The artists that I know always invest in their work. They express themselves in as honest a way as possible and they put part of themselves into it. Which is why they find it hard when people don’t make that connection with their work, it is perceived as a rejection of them. This is when I realised that Iain Banks, just like all artists, is a part of the relationship I had with him, that the connection was not just one way. Because he was doing what we all do in real relationships, he made himself vulnerable. Not just to one person, but to the world at large. He opened himself up to all the criticism and the praise, all the ego knocking ups and downs of the waxing and waning of other people’s feelings towards him. He shared his world view, and asked you to love his characters. Whether an artist’s audience is 5 or 500,000, this is very hard and inevitably personal thing to do.
I, for one, am very appreciative that Mr. Banks did this, because I loved his characters and I loved his voice. I love the way his books challenged me and changed me, and in me, just as with so many others, he found his audience. When you think of it that way, all fans and their heroes have a reciprocal relationship. Hero worship can be a blind and dangerous thing, but just as with all relationships, you may begin by putting these people on a pedestal, but as you grow, when you accept the flaws and failings of the other person, the relationship becomes deeper, it becomes established. You make a choice as to whether this artist, this person, this voice, is one that you are willing to invest in and support in the future. I did this with Iain Banks. I made a connection, I fell in love.
But falling in love is the easy bit. That can happen to any of us at any point. Investing in the connection and growing it until it becomes a part of you is the harder bit. That's where you have to be honest with yourself, and the other party, that’s the part where you take a risk. The relationship between a writer and the reader is vulnerable on both sides. The writer opens their crazy mind up to you and asks you for sympathy, commonality, understanding, and you, as the reader, the fan, you open your heart; you dare to love those characters. Which makes it a form of mutual relationship- they invest and you invest, and the Internet has made that relationship far more mutual. Forums and Twitter and the likes allow the voice of Fanboys and readers to reach the artists more easily, and often they respond to what people want or need from their beloved characters. This can be a double edged sword but isn't every relationship? Always filled with the risk of hurt feelings and judgement, filled with the risk of failure?
That's why writing fiction is so flipping hard I've found. I'm not writing to please the reader per se, more to please me as the reader I suppose. The characters are doing certain things and have certain failings and quirks because I put them there and parts of me have filtered into them. That's the surprising and amazing bit, no matter how much planning goes into it; your mind takes these characters to places you had never planned. Because once you give them life, they have a sort of free will. Their choices have to be realistic and understandable, even if they are bad ones, so the logic part of it dictates the story to a certain extent. To get them from A to C you have to go through B, and B is usually the part you didn't even think about. You can't predict B until you're in it, writing it.
I wish I could share some of what I am writing now with you, but that point is a long way off. Lots, lots and lots more writing needs to happen. Then I need to edit the shit out of it, take the info dump and turn it into a story. This will take a long while because I work full time, and I have family and friends and other obligations. The double edged sword in this case being that these things take me away from my writing but they also give me the experience and understanding to write.
So there you go. We fall in love because it's in our nature to do so, we are looking for validation and community and reassurance that we are not the only one who thinks the way we do, feels the way we do, believes what we believe. We also fall in love with people's flaws because on some level or another we can see similar flaws within ourselves. But staying in love, ah there's the rub.
I still love the work of Iain Banks, even the stuff that's a bit samey or not a patch on him at his best, because I loved his voice. I want to read his last book. But the thought of it feels quite emotional. It feels as though it would be a goodbye. On one level I think this is absurd, this man was not my friend, I didn't know him. And yet, a part of me fell in love with him, the writer part of him, the part he chose to share with the world. When I think of it that way, it doesn't feel absurd, it feels right. He made connections with people through his art, it is presumably what he was aiming for, so I'm not going to apologise for saying that I'll miss that connection, I'll miss him. Thinking of him also makes me want to write as much as I can, because none of us know what the future holds and I don't want regrets. I'm not saying that I want success or whatever else; I just want to enjoy doing this. It's nice to feel that you have made a connection. It makes the truest part of me feel linked to the world. We're different people in different contexts, and it is right that it is so, but writing, creating art, whatever your form of expression is, is the most honest you can be.
I hope that the artists that I know in my life do succeed in their ambitions, they are talented and they deserve to do so. I will support them in any way I can to achieve their goals, especially those that I am closest to because I’m invested in them. For the rest of us, that chose other, equally hard paths in life, I hope we can find our niches, our modes of expression, and take comfort in them and confidence from them. I feel that through writing I have found a hobby that gives me much joy, and I would implore all of you to go out and find that thing that only you can do, and do it, because all that matters is that you enjoy it and take something from it. I would never, ever discourage anyone from following their dreams or finding their passions in life, the people that do it make my life a little brighter every day, and nobody can ever tell you that your expression of self is wrong, because it’s you and nobody can express themselves like you because there can be only one! (Sorry, if I can reference Highlander at any point for even the most tenuous reason, you know I will!)
Thinking of films...I don’t suppose any of you have seen Pacific Rim perchance?... I... Wait, no, this is another story entirely. I suggest in the meantime that you definitely go and see it, and I’ll get back to you on that ;o)
*Quote from Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool by The Editors