When I was young and stupid, I wanted to be a celebrity.
It was the first true “mediathon” of the 20th century, the OJ Simpson trial, that made me rethink this plan. I saw … though I was still too young to understand … just how poisonous a certain kind of adulation can be to the soul. It was the dawning of a gradual realization – since confirmed by countless hours of “reality television,” that the creation of goodness and beauty for their own sake are the only roads an artist has to salvation. Do it for the fame and the glory, or the wealth … oh God, the wealth … and they’ll rip you apart.
So instead of trying to be famous I tried to be interesting. I lived in a Buddhist monastery. I traveled around the world covering global nightlife for Playboy.com during the early days of the internet. I met Russian mobsters and Turkish gangsters. I became a village minstrel.
Since that time, I have added “community” to the list of things worth creating and nurturing for their own sake. There may be more, but I don’t think there are too many more. Life is surprisingly simple underneath chaos. And contradictory.
But I never stopped writing, and apparently I still want to be read. Is that vanity? Is it the kind of ego that corrodes the soul if you want your work to be noticed for its sake, not yours?
These days I write a weekly column for Messenger-Post Newspapers, in Monroe County, New York, that is occasionally syndicated by Gatehouse Media. I provide arts coverage for the San Francisco Chronicle. I’m the bar columnist for the SF Weekly in San Francisco, and write essays for Burning Man’s website under the name “Caveat Magister” (but don’t tell anyone – it’s still kind of a open secret.) I was the Director of Communication for Saybrook University for three years, and its senior writer for four years before that. I edited/co-wrote the amazing Chicken John Rinaldi’s philosophical carnival: “The Book of The Is,” and he swears we’re going to write a sequal someday. I am chair the board of the San Francisco Institute of Possibility, among many other things.
My first collection of short stories has now been published by Strange Castle Press. It’s called “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City.” It makes me feel like a real grown-up artist, and you should buy it.
That’s a lot. It’s too much. What do you think I should give up?
My intellectual heroes are Philip Rieff, Jacques Barzun, Sidney Morgenbesser, and Rollo May. No one will ever write a comic book about them fighting crime together, and we’re all a little poorer for it. But their prescience as thinkers and observers of human nature and culture has me returning to them again and again. I’m very close to adding Camille Paglia and Clive James to that list, and Oscar Wilde lurks beneath it, making bon mots. Culture is just so damn interesting. I hope we get to keep it.
I’m represented by Jennifer Goloby at the Red Sofa Literary Agency, in St. Paul, MN.
You can reach me … should it ever come up … by emailing Benjamin (at) fiction365 (dot)com