Saturday, January 14, 2006

Eric at Home. On Not Throwing Tantrums

Early this week I got an email from my editor at Sourcebooks, the publisher of my forthcoming The Ten Second Pause, which read in part that “for various marketing reasons we are changing the book’s season, title and cover.” If you have only one thing happening in your life, this sort of news is a calamity. If you have many things happening, it is hard to even take notice. The moral: work intensely on the thing right in front of you and have many irons in the fire.

You will have noticed in the way my editor worded her news that I was not being invited to discuss the matter. In fact, she did invite me to give her a call, but the clear unsaid message was, “When you call, I will just repeat this news.” I often wonder if it would be better for me to be a sociopathic, hysterical, narcissitic writer—known as “difficult” in the industry—who throws plates, threatens murder, vanishes for a year, doesn’t meet his deadlines, lies through his teeth, and is one general menace. It’s an interesting question.

If you watch the reality shows—the celebrity hair cutter, restaurant owner, new designer, faded star shows—you will be struck by how downright difficult so many of these folks are. They brazenly lie; they brazenly cheat; they brazenly sell out their friends; they are remarkably brazen and shameless and interestingly indifferent to the world seeing them for who they are. They really don’t care: and they are the winners.

Is unhealthy narcissism a prerequisite for winning in America? (Doesn’t that sound like a line that Carrie would pen in Sex in the City?) This is a very interesting question. If the answer is yes, what should an individual ethical artist do to have a chance at success? What should creativity coaches be suggesting to their clients?—that they practice throwing tantrums and threatening lawsuits? There is the potential for a deep pool of depression awaiting creators at the bottom of this investigation.

The only saving grace is that there must be exceptions to the rule that grandiosity, arrogance, and unhealthy narcissism are prerequisites for success in America. I have said before that the goal of each creator is to prove the exception. It turns out that we must prove the exception in this regard, too. It is exceptional but true that the occasional nice guy and nice gal can manage to succeed in this personality-disordered universe.


Denbe said...

Eric: I don't think those of us who are ethical and honest should be otherwise. But one thing I've learned to do in my day job is play the game to the best of my ability, and to the extent that it will not leave me feeling ill. Another popular way of operating is do what you can get away with, again leaving a feeling of peace within oneself as an implicit qualifier.

In your case, I would think your degree of success would give you a significant amount of bargaining power. I.e., couldn't you say "No, I am not happy with your decision and if you pursue it I'll have to change publishers"?

P.S. No birthday related words on the blog today? I hope you're having a great day (besides pondering things like rampant narcissism in our culture) and I certainly wish you many, many more.

Jed Diamond said...


Your experience resonated with me, particularly since two of my books were published by Sourcebooks.

I agree that the only way to handle this kind of craziness and remain sane and ethical is to have many creative (and hopefully money producing) irons in the fire.

Having just celebrated 40 years working in the field of men's health and celebrating my 62nd birthday with Carlin on a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand, I take life much slower and let fewer things upset me.

Although I don't ride the emotional roller-coaster as much as I used to (Good thing, since I'm manic-depressive and that particular ride has been very destructive in my life), I do find that its helpful to "act as if" I'm a raging maniac sometimes. It can be quite effective in a world where quiet honesty is often mistaken for weakness.

Although I rarely take time to write you, I enjoy following your work and appreciate and respect what you are creating in the world and the support you give to so many.


Rahti said...

Is assholism a prerequisite for aritstic (or corporate) success? This is a question I often ask myself. I try to think of people I know who've 'made it', which to me means that they have garnered public recognition and make at least a decent living in their chosen field. Very few are accessible any longer, perhaps because they are so busy. Very often the ones that still are tend to be neurotic, two-faced and allergic to real intimacy (honest friendship.) Very often, they are alone in life; their work is their one, monolithic source of passion. Yes, I'm depressed about it. Thank goodness, I also have the capacity to write myself out of it, and lose myself in the support I give others in manifesting their creativity as a coach. "Lose myself" is the wrong phrase, actually. Enliven myself is more like it. I intend to prove that you can be selfish in a loving way, by expanding the definition of self-satisfaction to include the happiness of others. For me, meaning, which is the impetus for art, is generated by the desire to represent truth in the service of freeing others to be fabulously unique, to create with out, as Bruce Lee put it, the need to shorten any one else's line on order to make one's own seem longer. If this can become a stronger aspect of the collective unconcious, then I think we can begin to erradicate assholism (hurtful selfishness, narcissism) as a requisite for success in this culture.

quinn said...

It's a fascinating question . . .is narcissistic, "it's all about me" behavior something we point out to clients? And if we point to it, is it to discourage it or to encourage it? It's clearly something that helps us 'win' in our culture. Do we tell our clients its OK to act that way until they become famous, then quit? Tell them that it doesn't work in the long run when it clearly does? This diva-like behavior is not limited to celebrities. I've seen it in writers, artists, show promoters, teachers, customer service workers, managers in corporations, mothers, and in young children who seem to be encouraged in star behavior by their parents--at least in public. As a person who is happy in the background, I often wonder how many of us are ignored, overlooked and derided because we don't have super-inflated egos or the stomach to throw tantrums and behave badly to get what we want.

Dee Renee said...

Sometimes it helps to have an attitude of learning and question the actions of the other instead of having a tantrum. Why is there going to be a design and title change? How is this going to help the sales of my book? Are you being honest with me so that we can have a productive and profitable business relationship? It is not a tantrum if you are learning how to have a business relationship with them, and it need not be a tantrum if you find out enough information that tells you that they are just stringing you along. I hope that your practice of ethics and honesty will help other people decide that it can work for them too.
Dee Renee

teri springer said...

Dr. Homer Stryker was a very nice, humble man and he was incredibly successful. His granddaughter, Ronda, is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and she is the only woman listed on the Fortune 500. SO, no, you don't need to be a royal PITA to succeed.


Christina said...

Yes, every field has its Royal PITAs. Being positive and making the positive matter is important to us all. In some fields you can walk away from the PITAs. Gravitate toward the positive people. I found a doctor who treated me like a pouting infantile girl and I walked out of his office. The effect of his arrogant behavior stayed with me for a long time even though I found a calm, unflappable surgeon instead. None of us should strive to put that type of negative energy into the world. Perhaps it becomes reinforced because people do remember you if you are over the top and push lots of buttons. Standing up for yourself or expressing your dispapproval of a certain treatment does not mean acting badly. I have several visual artist friends who are among the nicest people on earth and they are successful. They may not be overly rich, but they are successful financially in a difficult field. Plugging away, commitment, and focus are the traits they have in common. Their work is also rich and deep.

david k said...

I like what teri wrote.

I understand that you experience pain sometimes when things don't go the way you hoped. And that pain is aggravated when you see other people immensely rewarded for behaviors that go against your own personal values.

Your values matter. Your work matters.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of a book I read back when I worked in Corporate America titled -- "Neanderthals at Work - How People and Politics Will Drive You Crazy . . . and What You Can Do About It". The book described 3 categories: the believer who works hard, does everything asked, and think (expects) to be recognized for it; the rebel who is great at fighting fires, but bucks the system (hates paperwork); and the competitor who only does the things that will bring recognition, always thinking only of him/her-self, and as a result does very little but gets promoted. Your suggestion of needing to throw a tantrum to get what you want, when you want it, reminds me of the competitor type. People who act this way definitely get ahead in the world. Maybe we should look at why this is the case, and encourage those in power to alter their behavior?


Eve said...

My daddy taught me that just because everyone else is doing something does not necessarily make it right. For me it is a good thing to get all the information I can for a situation and then make decisions authentic to myself. This generally means that I do not emulate narcissism. Everyone has to deal with tough things, and perhaps ethical people need to deal with more tough things than most people. I suspect they have the capacity to do so.