Saturday, February 14, 2015


Success is "not about fairness. It's not about talent."
--Sting, in 20 Feet from Stardom

"I thought if I gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star."
--Merry Clayton, in 20 Feet from Stardom

"... financial success in front-list publishing is often very random ..."
"It is my strong impression that most of the really profitable books for most publishers still come from the mid-list--'surprise' big hits bought with small or medium advances ..."
--Daniel Menaker, My Mistake

What are we to do with the unpredictability, the role of randomness and chance, in success in the arts? (Perhaps in any kind of success.) Hard work and talent can increase our chances of success; laziness can ruin our chances. But we generally can't wrestle destiny to the ground and bend it to our will.

The older I get, the more I see how big a part chance plays in our lives--a much bigger part than I was led to believe when I was growing up, and was taught the Horatio Alger-esque narratives of hard workers reaping rewards.

Yet, would I say there's no point in trying?

No. There's every point in trying.


  1. In very important ways, randomness determines everything in our lives--as I've often said, the randomness starting with our very conception. Talk about random! What if your mom (or dad) had had a headache or even a "headache" that night? Or day, for that matter? In a radical and extremely important way, everything is random. Which is a reason to make peace with ill fortune, and to enjoy some very gpood coffee in the morning, to say nothing of having a decent upbringing (if you did have a decent upbringin) and to live in a society with at some measure, however small, of order and relative peace. I remember, after I visted Nepal for the State Department, having dinner with a young Nepalese immigrant and his wife. How they got here I don't know. I started complaimnign about some politician or some traducing of our laws. My new Nepalese friend interrupted me and said, "Yes, I understand. But what you Americans don't understand is how lucky you are to live in this society, however unjust and unfair it may seem to be or even actually be. You were in Kathmandu. and you saw what havoc domestic and linguistic and political and regulatory chaos can cause. So complain away, but also take into account the luck of being born here, living here, and having the necessities of life."

  2. Here's to good coffee (or orange juice) in the morning. Little is certain but what's in front of us now.