25 February 2009

The recent press on Caroline Kennedy’s awkward bid for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat has me thinking about awkward self-promotion in general.  At a party shortly after CK’s announcement to seek the seat, a guest recalled that, when asked about it, “She folded her arms over her chest…and disappeared into herself—a characteristic gesture.” 

When I encounter other artists who seem perfectly at ease promoting their work — and promoting it aggressively, either in person or via any number of on-line venues — I think wow.  I think how do they do it.  I think, a little, ew.  When I send out an email announcing something — this blog, a reading, a bit of good news — I feel, a little, gross.

I don’t think Caroline Kennedy has low self-esteem — not any lower than your average person anyway.  

Caroline Kennedy’s friends are always saying how normal she is, and it appears that they are right. Normal people do not run for the Senate.

A political consultant who is also a friend of CK’s said, “Most of us have modesty impulses—you don’t want to brag—and you have to learn to defy these basic human impulses and say, ‘I am the greatest, and here is why you need me for this job,’ and do it without any hesitation or any doubt. Which is inhuman.”  Or maybe super-human?  

I think sometimes that, for artists, there are two distinct kinds of ego: the ego to create, and the ego to promote.  If one has the ego to create, but the primary audience is the self, then the ego to promote doesn’t much come into it.

Last week I got my first taste of awkward publicity.  They say no publicity is bad publicity, but… awkward publicity might be the exception to this.  My high school class secretary somehow got hold of a stock bio I use for things like readings or teaching; it includes publishing credits, awards, etc. (I think I’d included him on the e-mail list when I sent an announcement for a reading last summer; attached was a press release, which included my bio).  So that bio got printed, in full, in the alumni class notes.  It read like a commercial.  It read like I’d sent it in to be included in the class notes.  To me, it read like ew.

At some point, self-promotion becomes less about ego and more about survival:  if I do not sell books, I cannot support myself as a writer.  Ms. Kennedy, however, was not in survival mode, because fortunately for her, she had a pretty good fall-back plan: she now gets to go back to being Caroline Kennedy.  

And you know, I begrudge her not; in fact, I’m thinking, if I had had that fall-back plan, I probably would have done the same.  


(quotes source: Larissa McFarquhar’s profile of Caroline Kennedy in The New Yorker)


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