The Gifts of Obscurity

Famous – Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

Right now, I’m famous in the way this poem describes. Famous to myself and Sally and our friends and family. Famous to my laptop and my drinking glass and my space heater. Famous to those of you who make it to my blog, or have read my book, or have watched our documentary, or who encounter me, even if briefly, on any of the many social media I sometimes make an appearance.

I’m not famous in the way it’s generally understood in our culture. No cheering crowds. No television spots. No magazine covers. No major awards. Not even a scandal to my name, at least so far as most people know. I don’t seem to get many likes or comments or shares. My book is not flying off the shelves. And my stats, which I tend to ignore, look pretty flat.

Now, I’m not averse to a greater sort of fame. As I’ve said, my compelling vision is to be one day sitting with Gillian Anderson and Robert Downey Jr discussing the Netflix series for All of the Above. I think I might be good at that sort of fame, simply because I’m so naturally reclusive that there’s no danger that I’ll get sucked into it. And, hey, that level of fame means my writing has found its readers.

But it occurs to me that my current relative obscurity comes with a great gift. Without a huge crowd watching my every move, I can pay no attention to the demands and burdens so often associated with fame, and experience the freedom to simply be myself, write from my heart, explore the far reaches, and, as Natalie Goldberg says, “go for the jugular.” This is not to say that I won’t continue to do such things once greater fame finds me, so much as that, right now, I can find that freedom more easily than I imagine I will once the fame sets in.

Time will tell whether that’s true or not, but for now, I can enjoy my obscurity, and use it to write as freely as I can. It may be, in fact, that this obscurity, and its attendant gift of freedom, are essential to the process, since it may be the freedom and openness of my writing that propels me to finding my audience.

Whatever. It seems to be what’s so. I’m gonna just revel in it and keep my vision in mind, and see where that takes me.

I’ll end with one of my favorite Genesis songs, one that always moves me. Because I am free to just be moved here.

Duchess – Genesis

Times were good,
She never thought about the future, she just did what she would
Oh but she really cared
About her music, it all seemed so important then,

And she dreamed that every time that she performed
Everyone would cry for more,
That all she had to do was step into the light,
And everyone would start to roar.

And on the road,
Where all but a few fall by the wayside on the grassier verge,
She battled through
Against the others in her world, and the sleep, and the odds.

But now everytime that she performed
Oh everybody cried for more,
Soon all she had to do was step into the light,
For everyone to start to roar.
And all the people cried, you’re the one we’ve waited for.

Oh but time went by
It wasn’t so easy now, all uphill, and not feeling so strong.
Yes times were hard,
Too much thinking ’bout the future and what people might want.

An then there was the time that she performed
When nobody called for more
And soon everytime she stepped into the light,
They really let her know the score.
But she dreamed of the times when she sang all her songs
And everybody cried for more,
When all she had to do was step into the light
For everyone to start to roar.
And all the people cried, you’re the one we’ve waited for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *