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       Volume 11 |Issue 31| August 03, 2012 |


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Writing the Wrong

Self-Praise, No Praise

Sharbari Ahmed

A recent Facebook status of a South Asian American artist—phew that is a long title– got me thinking about a brand of self promotion I find particularly galling. It's the kind that is deeply self congratulatory—even before anything has been solidly achieved- but is masquerading as some motivational message for other artists. It went something like this (I paraphrase): I am a finalist for a huge, prestigious grant for women only. I realise I have not won yet and normally I am much more humble but thought all you fellow warrior (groan) filmmakers (Tagged several presumably embattled filmmakers) would be inspired by my greatness—by the way the grant committee wrote: we would like to acknowledge how great and excellent you are, which is why you are a finalist out of hundreds of other less worthy people, because you are extremely special—and humble.

The finalist went on to say: I am nobly sharing this, not to boast, but because I want to point out, it's not about winning, it's about the journey. Give me a break! Please. And it's an honour just to be nominated. Yeah, yeah, but it's so GREAT to actually win too. I always marvel at that kind of disingenuous humility. Be honest, honey, you want to win, and want to be the best. That is why you are putting this out there—to show off. Admit it. THAT is much more noble than this pseudo- zen crap. And, given how much we all struggle and the rejections we face, utterly understandable. It's human.

Naturally, I am not quoting the status verbatim, but loyal readers, you MUST trust that this was precisely what it was about, patting herself on the back, and in her (understandably) excited state, wanting to cast her benevolent net on other, struggling, fellow filmmakers. However, this, in the end, struck me as arrogant and smug. 66 plus likes ensued by people less easily irked than I am—and I know some of them were not genuine—but it got me thinking about Desi American artists and how sometimes, we, in particular, over compensate with all this nonsensical self promotion. What is that all about?

Self- marketing is a must when an artist is trying to earn a living and gain recognition. I cannot argue with that, but I feel—based on years of working at my craft, and failing a great deal of the time, succeeding sometimes—that this type of PR I am discussing indicates a LACK of true artistic integrity. I fully espouse that dictum: “If you build it, they will come.” There is no need to shout and stomp your feet, like a toddler.

Artists must promote their own work, but do it after the work is completed or the prize is won, and let others promote for you so you do not come off as a conceited heel. If it is good, it will get the accolades—in fact even if it isn't particularly spectacular it will get recognition simply because it was a work that was seen through, from start to finish. No mean feat.

If one's thoughts and energies are geared towards all this back patting, and stomping, how much actual time is being spent CREATING, powerful, true art? One has to live, breathe, eat, drink, dream one's art to gain even a modicum of authenticity. And we have to pay obeisance to the divinity of it—or the atheist equivalent of it. I don't want to leave anyone out. To do that, one must remember how insignificant we, the individual artists, ultimately are in the face of this divinity. I am calling myself an artist; some might disagree. In the end, though, it's about the work, baby. THE WORK. Now, this work I speak of has to be practically, monetarily supported of course. That is part of the process. However, premature self -promotion is NOT. I know I sound self- righteous. I am trying not to, but I think I am failing at that. I just do not, can not , believe a real artist would write something like the aforementioned status. Facebook is rampant with such self-aggrandizement. Facebook, in the hands of upwardly mobile South Asians—a group of people already culturally inculcated to engage in manic levels of boasting because of some deep seated feelings of inadequacy—is the tool of Satan.


I know there is a business aspect to all this, especially in the indie film industry, and this grant I believe was for finishing funds (and no, I did not apply for it, so I am not in competition). What I have noted, however, by my years of mixing with other writers, and artists is that the ones whose souls dwell in their craft, rarely stop and go, look at me, I am great. I am a finalist! Rarely. Just think about it. They are too busy dreaming and working, and pulling out their hair. Now, for all I know this filmmaker could be the next genius, and their work could be worthy, but I doubt it is steeped in greatness, because geniuses do not have the need to boast. Their brilliance is obvious and, if not obvious at once, time and dedication reveal it. It is about looking good on paper, really. Deshis love to look good on paper, part of the over compensation—Facebook is as flimsy as paper– and dedicate a great deal of time teaching their kids about doing this. It starts with school, the SATs, and so on. Now, I ask you, can art ever be about looking good on paper? I know this seems like a paradox, because art is at times defined as things that might be considered beautiful visually, but looking good on paper is not enough, is it?

That being said, I recently sold a short story to a small literary journal and shared that on my status, and I felt the love. How is this any different, you ask? I did it only after I knew they were going to take it. Even then I hesitated. But then I thought, no, I put in the time and some of my fellow writers helped me with the story, giving me feedback and support. I wanted to share it with them, as they are all talented, successful artists in their own right. I revised this story at least 30 times with their help and community support, and as a result am getting paid for it—a pittance, really (though more than I make for this column, ahem) but it is a big deal when writers get paid for their work. Any writer will tell you that. Even the smallest amount spurs one to continue toiling away at their craft. I also was rejected by no less than ten other journals; some of whom were very dismissive, and others, who were gushing in their rejections. It would never occur to me to go, hey look at me! So and so said they gave my story tremendous consideration and feel I am so talented, more talented than you poor sods. I was a finalist! I have not been published by them yet, but aren't I so bloody wonderful all the same. Disclaimer: this message was intended for inspirational purposes only, not to rub in your face how talented I am.

You know what, here's the thing: it was an honor to be nominated (i.e. rejected nicely) but I am pretty happy I finally won. And would like to keep on winning, but in order to do that, I have to work hard—I have to build it first. THEN you will hear about it—if it even deserves to be discussed that is. And hopefully someone—not me—will determine that.


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