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Archive for August, 2015

I’m of an age where I don’t watch the MTV Video Music Awards. Of course, I’m of an age that I remember having a crush on Martha Quinn. Considering that, I’m grateful I follow folks on Twitter who were live tweeting the awards. They got me on the internet to watch Kanye West’s acceptance speech for his Vanguard win.

It’s easy to laugh about Kanye. He sometimes wears ridiculous clothes, says ridiculous things, and jumps up on stage to interrupt other people receiving awards. That said, he does all those things because his heart is in it. Whatever the thing is, at the moment, his heart is in it. That’s not something to be ashamed of. That’s something to aspire to.

For those who want to denigrate his “sloppy” or “meandering” speech, or the fact that he was baked, I’d say: imagine being called up in front of a live audience to speak, and being broadcast to an audience of millions more. What would you say? And would you be able to speak from your heart?

The thing I love about this speech, though, is what is in his heart. Yeezy speaks for all artists. Remarking on that fateful awards ceremony where he grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift, Kanye acknowledges that he took a misstep in venting his frustration that the award went to someone he felt was less worthy.

“The problem was, the contradiction is, I do fight for artists. But in that fight, I somehow was disrespectful to artists. I didn’t know how to say the right thing, the perfect thing.”

How many of us do know how to say the perfect thing? I sure don’t, but last night, Kanye came pretty close.

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“I still don’t understand award shows. I don’t understand how they get five people who work their entire life, one, sell records, sell concert tickets, to come, stand on a carpet and for the first time in their life, be judged on a chopping block and had the opportunity to be considered a loser. I don’t understand it, bruh! I don’t understand what the biggest album or the biggest video… I’ve been conflicted, bro. I just wanted people to like me more.”

What he’s talking about is the same thing writers wrestle with every time we ask ourselves, “Why not my crap?” What do I have to do to make people like me more? Why did that writer win so many awards? Why did that book make all the best seller lists?

We’re human. We can’t help but wonder about why someone else succeeds when we don’t. We can’t stop our natural inclination to compare ourselves to others. The contradiction, as Yeezus says, is that in trying to talk up some books, we often talk down other books. Even though the writers of those books have surely had the same doubts. Book awards pit books and writers against each other for reasons that are outside the art of writing, just like music awards are a contest that is intended to promote something more than music.

The industries that sell and promote art, from music to books to paintings to dance, those industries serve the arts, but they serve their own purposes, too. We can let ourselves get sucked into that competition, and obsess about who won and who didn’t. That’s how Kanye ended up embarrassing himself by stage-crashing Taylor Swift all those years ago. He bought into the idea that the award was what mattered, and that artists he loved were passed over to reward an artist he barely knew. We can buy into that, or we can grow and take the new, more mature and paternal advice of Yeezy: “All I can say to my fellow artists: just worry about how you feel at the time, man.”

The art isn’t about who wins. “It’s about ideas, bro, new ideas, people with ideas, people who believe in truth.”

Rolling Stone has the full transcript of Kanye’s speech here.

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Of course, not every girl in my grade school class was named Amy. There’s only one in this photo of my third grade class, but out of a grade cohort of 30 girls, there were 4 Amies and 1 Aimee. The point is: names go in and out of fashion, and if you’re unlucky enough to be named after a trend, you’ll go through grade school with an initial tacked onto your name to differentiate you from all the other Amies. Or Jacobs or Emmas.

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Book titles are a little like this. As this funny piece points out, some trends become so entrenched that book titles are formulaic. The Something’s Daughter. The Art of Something. I joke that if my current novel had been published a few years ago it might have been called The Drug Dealer’s Daughter.

You spend years writing a book, kicking around possible titles, and finally settle on one. Then you discover that another book is coming out before yours with the exact same title. When the title What Belongs to You was chosen for my book, there weren’t any published books with that title, but in January 2016, a novel with that exact title will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

After a brief confab with my wonderful agent and my lovely editor at Thomas Dunne, my book is officially being retitled as All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Now there are marketing and art meetings going on, out of which will come my cover. Currently it’s set for release in August 2016, so we’ve got a ways to go. Hopefully nobody steals my title before then. 😉 At least it’s not like accidentally naming a baby the most popular girl’s name of the decade. You can’t just rename a baby like you can a novel.

(Further notes on that class photo: notice the mishap of the two girls who came to school for class picture day wearing the same shirt, further compounded by the photographer who cruelly seated them next to each other. Also: why were all the girls made to sit, including the very tall girl who then had to hunch over to avoid blotting out the short kid behind her? If you can pick me out of this photo, you’ll also have the answer to why I prefer to wear all black. Seriously, if you’d had a childhood of unfortunate fashion missteps, wouldn’t you prefer the safety of monochrome?)

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