Talent

Yesterday, I was having this same conversation in three different iterations, basically about how someone who did something really detestable in the course  of his job, is now doing something else in the course of his job that seems like it needs to be engaged with and should we engage with it or not?

Like, imagine if Jame O’Keefe discovered some government corruption. Does anyone have any obligation to keep checking back in with O’Keefe to discover that this time he was right?

I say no.

But one thing that I find really striking and, I admit, very confusing is that part of the reason it seems like bad actors never go entirely away is this idea that there’s no one else to take their place. Like, it’s better to have a shitty, toxic writer who occasionally writes the things we want written than to not have him or no one will write the things we want written.

Even at lunch yesterday they were playing this interview with this guy who wrote a biography of Richard Pryor and, even though it was obvious that the biographer adored him, Pryor comes across like a nightmare jerk. And I get it–really. Because he was a genius. And his nightmare jerk-dom cost him some. He’s not in Blazing Saddles, for instance.

Eh, maybe Pryor’s a bad example because racism does keep the number of opportunities for black people limited.

But here’s the thing I have learned living in Nashville. Everybody has talent. A lot of talent. The best guitar player you ever heard is not even the best guitar player you might here that night. Being able to do the thing you want to do is just the bare minimum requirement. You need to be lucky and work hard and show up and be lucky some more. Because there are always ten other people who have as much talent as you–but maybe they’re sick today or hungover (or still drunk) or too scared to show up or don’t have the support they need or whatever.

I genuinely don’t get why the media doesn’t seem to get this. You don’t want to work with that Johnson guy because he seems too intense and loose with the facts? There must be fifty conservative young people who can write who would love his opportunities. I mean, I think I could find fifty and I have almost no connections to conservative young people.

I don’t like a world in which people get cut at the first sign of wrong-doing. But every conversation I had yesterday with this in the background, it seems like a lot of editors believe that there’s just not that much good writing out there–that no matter what the issues with person X are, no matter how big and prolific their fuck-ups, if person X is a known quantity, it’s better to work with person X than to not have anyone who can do it.

But there are other people who can do it. I don’t think I’m wrong about this. I see so many fucking talented writers in my life every day. There are at least five of you who comment here regularly whose books, which, as far as I know you’ve not written and maybe have no intention of writing, that I want to read and be able to fan-girl out about. But I believe, if you turned your attention to it, you could write a kick ass book, because I see your talent here.

There are an almost  unlimited number of guitarists. You wouldn’t believe a band in Nashville who couldn’t find a guitarist. And being a guitarist has start-up costs–you have to get a guitar. To be a writer, you just have to write.  The number of writers out there is enormous, mind-bogglingly enormous. If even only a fraction of us are talented, that fraction still represents a sizable number of people.

It simply can’t be true that there’s no one else to do the work. But the assumption that there aren’t enough talented writers seems pretty wide-spread.

(I need to get in the shower, but I find this attitude especially frustrating when you stop to think about how grossly underrepresented women and minorities are in writing. It’s like, dudes, stop looking for writers in just this one place and you will find a ton of them.)