Notes on the Artistic Egotist

There is a type of person you encounter in every branch of the arts who believes that he is too cool or too good or too big or too important to deal with the peons, with “peons” often broadly defined as anyone else. We are not talking about people who are harmlessly lost inside their own heads, who may be initially misperceived as egotistical but who you come to know, once you get talking, as essentially bighearted neurotic oddballs. We are speaking here of the artistic egotist.

You see this with some midlist writers in publishing. You see this with certain flailing actors. You see this with some people on social media who have a large follower count. You see this with bestselling authors and big time performers who are never satisfied with their success and who don’t seem to comprehend the concepts of humility or plenitude. An artistic egotist may actually believe himself to be an artist even when he isn’t producing any art. A real artist will reach out to other artists and find beauty in their work. An artistic egotist never looks anywhere but inward. An artistic egotist will often prioritize money and audience reach above all other concerns, but the real artist will sometimes be baffled when he is compensated. Because he’s going to be making art no matter where he’s at or what the world says about it.

An artistic egotist almost always sees the worst in other people and often masks this with a sanguine or “nice” disposition, but the ego is pretty easy to suss out. What are some of the artistic egotist’s tools of the trade? Microaggressions, gaslighting, the casual slandering of other struggling artists who would never harm a fly, the wholesale denial and condemnation of entire perspectives and even new ways of making and creating and thinking about art. An interpretation of a difference in opinion as a threat rather than a possibility to have a healthy conversation. A failure to offer the common courtesy of a response or the dignity and grace of a polite consideration. You’ll see that look in an artistic egotist’s eyes as he coldly assesses you within minutes, ranking you on where you stand in the pecking order, performing swift calculations on just how your work and presence can be advantageous to him. Because in the mind of an artistic egotist, his way is the only way.

Don’t be this person.

If you are this person, don’t think we can’t suss out your solipsism. Don’t think we aren’t paying attention to the way you behave. Don’t think we’re not talking about it with our peers — not out of malicious gossip, but because we really do care and are truly baffled by your unfathomable deportment. Wondering why your career is stagnating? Look in the mirror. Wondering why you keep getting passed over? Look at the signature on your rent check and you may find your answer.

The one thing you learn very fast in the arts is that there’s always someone out there who is better than you. The artistic egotist sees such a person as a force to be stubbed out. The smarter type sees that person as an opportunity to learn and know and understand and be more connected. If the smarter type becomes a serious artist, he will usually be perspicacious enough to understand that wisdom comes from every corner and from every level. The smarter artist who endures realizes that every other artist is a person and treats him not with dehumanization or contempt or derision, but with the decency and respect that all human beings should be afforded.

You are not here to be praised. You are here to make art. You are not here to be the best. I can personally guarantee that there is someone out there who is better than you. You are here to hold your work to very high standards and, once those standards have been met, you must find new ones. And then, only after years of hard work and limitless passion and care to craft, you may very well be a serious artist.

Ego has no place in this journey. Connection, however, does. If you’re connecting with other artists because you want to make yourself feel better, you’re doing so for the wrong reasons. If you’re connecting because you think another artist and his work are pretty cool, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not an artistic egotist.

But if you rebuff connection because you think you’re above it, then I urge you to reconsider your priorities. I beseech you with every fiber of my being to seek and court possibility. Every career trajectory, no matter how successful, is marked by ups and downs. You may very well be crushing it right now, but if you cleave to this temperament, then there will come a day, maybe tomorrow or maybe years from now, in which you will very much need other people, big and small. And they won’t respond. Because they remembered how you treated them.

Hold yourself to high standards, but never be an artistic egotist.

An Open Letter to Carey Purcell


I was in love with a Jewish woman for nine years. I am also a goy. On behalf of my many Jewish friends, who have claimed me “an honorary Jew,” I am thoroughly repulsed by your detestable anti-Semitic Washington Post essay, which says far more about you than it does about Jewish men.  It memorializes you indelibly as one of the most unattractive women in New York City. As Frank Zappa once said, the mind is the ugliest part of the body.  And yours is a very ugly mind indeed. I don’t give a fuck how strong your martini is. (Oh, did I offend your quaint Miss Manners temperament disguised within a intuitively hateful core by using the word “fuck”? I am so fucking sorry!) You’ve revealed so much ugliness about yourself that I would never want to date you. If the attitude you carry is truly reflected in your essay, then I’d venture to say that most men, whether Jewish or not, would not want to date you. “Interfaith relationships,” as you so deem them, are the most normal, indeed perhaps the most commonplace, relationships for many who date in this region of the nation. By your logic, the two women I dated in my twenties who married men after dating me (and who I am still friendly with) are part of a vast conspiracy of dark-haired women who have it in for me. It is, in short, a diseased fallacy.

At any time during your essay, you could have pointed to your flaws. You could have revealed yourself as vulnerable. This is what the best essays do.  Essay writing is all about striving to be the most human. But you opted to make yourself “look good” and, in so doing, you made yourself look very bad and very disingenuous indeed. The fact that you are so prissy and intolerant of anyone who does not conform to your loose religious views suggests that you not the “liberal” you think you are and that you are never going to find anyone. That you cannot willfully accept differences or find happy compromises pretty much says to me that you will live out a life of endless and superficial affairs. And your attitude is contemptible. Do you truly not understand that “a lackadaisical Jew” falls into the stereotype of the lazy Jew? The claim that you know more about Jewish faith when you have not grown up in it is the height of condescending hubris. Yes, the friends of your Jewish boyfriends liked you because Jewish folks in general are an incredibly welcoming bunch. For all your talk of raising a family with “an educated and respectful view of the world,” you fail to parse precisely how you have fallen short on that front.

If you truly know more about being Jewish than your partners, how then could you not possibly know that Jewish mothers can suss out the most pedantic intelligence known to humankind?  How could you not possibly anticipate that you would be contacted, interrogated, asked numerous questions, and badgered into arguments? This is the deal when you date someone Jewish. If you’re a good person, you roll with the punches and learn to appreciate the mother. If you’re an asshole, you write in the Washington Post that you “didn’t want this kind of involvement to be part of our relationship.”  Listen, Carey, you have to like the parents. That’s the way a relationship works. Is it any wonder why that man left you? Is it any wonder why you weren’t invited to seders? You essentially spit in the face of your boyfriend’s family. And if you want someone to stick around, you don’t do that. Relatively minor? Girl, you truly have no fucking clue.

It’s extraordinarily rich (and frankly it made me laugh) of you to claim that “not being Jewish was not the official reason either of these relationships ended,” while you remain completely incognizant about your own lack of self-awareness. I can only imagine how these conversations went. Jewish identity, whether one is Orthodox or not, is a big deal. That you wished to secularize (and thus vitiate) it during your conversations with these men says more about your inability to listen
and empathize than anything else.

A pattern you should pay attention to? You really don’t know the half of it. You invent the “last act of defiance” thesis because the truth of the matter is that you don’t have the guts to be honest about what you’re incapable of confessing: that you can’t accept other people who don’t fit within your narrowly rigid definitions, that you won’t find an enduring love unless you become more tolerant and embracing of other people (whether Jewish or not). And if you’re complaining about heartbreak, you’ll get no sympathy from me, kid. One of heartbreak’s great jokes is that it feels so crippling even as it is incredibly common. You can either roll with the punches and become stronger and allow your heart to regenerate and allow your soul to become more flexible and accepting. Or you can blame everyone else but yourself and have the effrontery to write a disgusting WaPo essay predicated on bigotry (complete with your insensitively anti-Semitic cocktail), cash a check, and never learn a goddamned thing.

You need serious help. And you need to stop writing such callow and superficial and subconsciously hateful bullshit. And you really need to take several steps back and accept that the problem here may very well be you and that the beauty in accepting other people into your life usually comes about because one is honest about one’s failings.



[4/4/2018 UPDATE: Carey Purcell has apologized. I think this is a good start. I believe that she can change, but I think she has a lot of significant and honest soul-searching to do about the hate and bigotry she expressed in her vile essay (much as I have been contemplating why I was so driven by a white heat fury in my response, which a few friends have smartly called me on). This is not easy, but it is possible. Let us try to be kind and give Miss Purcell the space to take a very deep look at the anti-Semitism she has perpetuated and that she will hopefully address with thought and genuine compassion.]

The Jonas Brothers Lip-Syncing Video Challenge

Seven years ago, I began The Modern Library Reading Challenge, a series of essays responding to the top one hundred works of fiction, as decided by a few serious-minded literary people on July 20, 1998. Two years into that, when I got stuck on Finnegans Wake, I began The Modern Library Nonfiction Challenge. While I have certainly enjoyed this unique reading journey and I have learned much, I have still felt the nagging sense that something has been severely missing from my life.

A few months ago, I began listening to the fourth Jonas Brothers album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times at around 3:30 AM. I had stumbled upon the record because I had one of those desperate cravings for Red Vines after smoking too much weed. I had tried Googling for a bodega that was open at that hour and within walking distance and that had Red Vines in stock. Nothing came up. But Lies, Vines and Trying Times did. (In hindsight, I may have typed “no bodega open lies red vines trying times,” hoping that the online oracle, which as we all know is never wrong, would give me the necessary guidance to cope with my existential snacking crisis. Using Google was a far better idea than screaming at the top of my lungs and waking up my neighbors over my angst-ridden failure to buy enough mass-produced licorice to accommodate my late night whims.)

Kevin Jonas’s smiling face appeared near the top of my search results. There was something comforting about seeing a grown man with a toothpick in his mouth. It helped that he had an inoffensive leather jacket and a vague squint. Kevin was obviously much younger than me. For one thing, he had hair at the top of his head that I couldn’t grow back due to male pattern baldness. Some men of my age have found spiked hair to be a threat, but I took comfort in the fact that my beard was thicker than his. Kevin could grow his hair and let it poof upward in sexy straight strands, but he couldn’t go the distance when it came to growing a beard. So Kevin and I were more or less on equal hirsute footing. And the way in which Kevin clenched the toothpick between his pearlescent teeth, holding it in place with a casual matrimonial hand, resembled precisely how I wanted to chomp on a Red Vine at that hour.

I learned that the fourth Jonas Brothers album had a very particular philosophy behind it. Nick Jonas, another Jonas brother — and there were four of them all told, three in the band and another named Frankie who wasn’t in the band but who claimed allegiance to Mephisto on his Instagram account — had told Rolling Stone, “Lines are something that someone feeds you, whether it’s good or bad. Vines are the things that get in the way of the path that you’re on, and trying times — well, obviously we’re younger guys, but we’re aware of what’s going on in the world and we’re trying to bring some light to it.”

Perhaps Nick and Kevin knew something I didn’t. As an audio dramatist, I had written many lines. But since I wasn’t working on a script, maybe the fact that I wasn’t feeding myself lines was also something which accounted for my overwhelming desire to eat Red Vines. Red Vines had certainly interfered with my life, in that I couldn’t seem to shake the idea that I really needed a soft red stick to clench between my teeth (much like Kevin!) and felt that I could not get some decent sleep until I did. As for trying times, well, if the Jonas Brothers were as aware of what’s going on in the world as they claimed to be, then it behooved me to become familiar with their songs.

I discovered that the brothers had thoughts on warfare (“No you can’t have World War III / If there’s only one side fighting / And you know / Whoa oh”), that they seemed to be just as tortured as I was (“If you hear my cry, running through the streets / I’m about to freak / Come and rescue me”), that they could be gloomy (“With every stroke of lightning / Comes a memory that lasts”), an unusually specific sense of direction when it came to intimacy (“So turn right / Into my arms”), and were very fond of comparing toxic lovers to poison ivy, feeling so strongly about the metaphor that they had even imbued “ivy” with an extra syllable.

It was clear to me that the Jonas Brothers were the great tortured philosophers who I had been seeking for many years. Why then had the band broken up? You can probably imagine my shock when I learned that Nick had expressed regrets about being a member. This from the same man who had confidently announced his pot-enhanced erection to Jimmy Fallon? And then there was Joe, the other Jonas Brother, who distinguished himself from Kevin by describing himself as a “former flat hair model.” Joe hadn’t been on speaking terms with his brothers during the fractious period before the band split up.

Since the Jonas Brothers have meant a great deal to me, I have decided to take up the challenge of making a YouTube lip syncing video for every one of their songs over the next year. I recorded my first lip syncing video this morning of “Burnin’ Up” and I hope that my performance does the Jonas Brothers full justice:

UPDATE: I have now lip synced to another Jonas Brothers song. “Lovebug” is Video 2 of 111. #jonasbrothersforever!

Video 3: “Paranoid” for Lost in Williamsburg‘s Phillip Merritt

The full 111 songs performed by Jonas Brothers (and thus soon by me) are listed below:

“6 Minutes” (2006)
“7:05” (2006)
“A Little Bit Longer” (2008)
“American Dragon” (2008)
“Baby Bottle Pop Theme Song” (2008)
“BB Good” (2008)
“Beautiful World”
“Before the Storm” (2009)
“Black Keys” (2009)
“Bounce” (20089)
“Burnin’ Up” (2008) (Lip synced April 1, 2018)
“Can’t Have You” (2008)
“Chillin’ in the Summertime” (2010)
“Critical” (2010)
“Dance Until Tomorrow” (2011)
“Don’t Charge Me for the Crime” (2009)
“Don’t Say” (2013)
“Don’t Speak” (2009)
“Don’t Tell Anyone” (2005)
“Drive” (2010)
“Drive My Car” (2010)
“Eu Não Mudaria Nada em Você” (2010)
“Eternity” (2010)
“Fall” (2010)
“Feelin’ Alive” (2010)
“First Time” (2013)
“Fly With Me” (2009)
“Found” (2013)
“Games” (2007)
“Girl of My Dreams” (2007)
“Give Love a Try” (2008)
“Goodnight and Goodbye” (2007)
“Got Me Going Crazy” (2007)
“Gotta Find You” (2008)
“Heart and Soul” (2010)
“Hello Beautiful” (2007)
“Hello, Goodbye” (2008)
“Hey Baby” (2009)
“Hey You” (2010)
“Hold On” (2007)
“Hollywood” (2007)
“I Am What I Am” (2006)
“I Wanna Be Like You” (2007)
“I’m Gonna Getcha Good” (2009)
“Infatuation” (2008)
“Inseparable” (2007)
“Introducing Me” (2010)
“Invisible” (2010)
“Joyful Kings” (2008)
“Just Friends” (2007)
“Kids of the Future” (2007)
“L.A. Baby (Where Dreams Are Made Of)” (2010)
“Let’s Go” (2013)
“Live to Party” (2008)
“Love is On Its Way” (2009)
“Lovebug” (2008) (Lip synced April 1, 2018)
“Make a Wave” (2010)
“Make It Right” (2010)
“Mandy” (2006)
“Meet You in Paris” (2013)
“Much Better” (2009)
“Nada Vou Mudar” (2010)
“On the Line” (2008)
“One Day at a Time” (2006)
“One Man Show” (2008)
“Out of This World” (2007)
“Paranoid” (2009)
“Play My Music” (2008)
“Please Be Mine” (2006)
“Poison Ivy” (2009)
“Pom Poms” (2013)
“Poor Unfortunate Souls” (2006)
“Pushin’ Me Away” (2008)
“Sandbox” (2013)
“Send It On” (2009)
“Set This Party Off” (2010)
“Shelf” (2008)
“Should’ve Said No” (2009)
“Sorry” (2008)
“SOS” (2007)
“Still in Love With You” (2007)
“Summer Rain” (2010)
“Summertime Anthem” (2009)
“Take a Breath” (2007)
“That’s Just the Way We Roll” (2007)
“The World” (2013)
“Things Will Never Be the Same” (2010)
“This is Me” (2008)
“This is Our Song” (2010)
“Time for Me to Fly” (2006)
“Tonight” (2008)
“Turn Right” (2009)
“Underdog” (2006)
“Video Girl” (2008)
“We Are the World” (2010)
“Wedding Bells” (2013)
“We Got the Party” (2007)
“We Rock” (2008)
“What Did I Do to Your Heart” (2009)
“What Do I Mean to You” (2013)
“What I Got to School For” (2006)
“What We Came Here For” (2010)
“When You Look Me in the Eyes” (2006)
“World War III” (2009)
“Wouldn’t Change a Thing” (2010)
“Year 3000” (2006)
“Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” (2006)
“You Just Don’t Know It” (2006)
“Your Biggest Fan” (2010)
“You’re My Favourite Song” (2010)