(Note: there were so many thought provoking comments in response to this post that it generated a second-round of ideas. You can read the follow-up post here.)
I have a confession to make. I want to be famous.
Well, sort of. I don't want to be famous, famous, and ride around in a limousine and have to hire security and that sort of thing. I just want to write a book, have it published by somebody other than my mother, and bought and read by somebody other than my mother, and maybe even sign a couple of autographs along the way.
Mom can have one autographed, too, if she wants.
It has to be a spiritual book. A really moving and truthful book, that makes people want to look deep inside themselves, and then they come up to me and say something like, "It was all because of that book you wrote! It changed my life!" And I would say, no, no, really, you did all that, you and God/the gods--I'm a little fuzzy on whether the life-changing book is for Pagans or for Quakers--and I would mean it, too. Because, even though I had become famous, I would definitely still stay humble.
I want to be famous.
I have this particular set of feelings every time I talk to my Famous Writer Friends about their books, and about the workshops and travel they do related to their books. This is especially true of my Pagan friends who became writers after I got to know them. Something about my having known them before they became Famous Writer Friends makes me feel in a hurry to go and get famous, too.
There are pieces to this craving that are legitimate. I do love books, and I do love to write. I have had the experience of meeting people who have read something I've written, and it often creates a wonderful bridge to deep and intimate conversations. (I married one of those readers, so you know it's been a good strategy for me, this connecting by writing stuff.)
I think it's natural to want to write more, and maybe have something I write... go somewhere, both in terms of being a more developed piece of writing (like a book) and in terms of publication. As in, not self-published, or published in a zine, but published by, like, a publisher, you know?
However, there's also something that's a little off in my craving for fame through writing. I can joke about it, but I know it's there. When my friend K. is talking about his latest writing project, or the interaction with the organizers at a festival where he's presenting, I think, "I want that!" I don't just want to write for the sake of the writing, or publish for the sake of communicating with an audience. I'm attracted to the shallow, superficial aspects of it, too. I want the sense of being Important, and having people act like they agree with me.
It's very adolescent, really.
And it's also very, very Pagan.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't Quakers who feel the same kind of superficial thrill I'm craving, around presenting workshops or seeing their name in print, be it under an article in Friends Journal or over a chapter in a Quaker anthology. But Quakers are very cagey about this sort of thing. I've never yet seen a Quaker writer stage a hissy fit over their book table not being sufficiently prominently positioned, or met Quakers who refuse to visit or consult with other Quaker groups unless they are offered a high enough stipend for it to be a profit-making weekend for them.
Maybe that goes on in the Quaker world. Maybe Quaker retreats and gatherings are in a mad, politicized scramble for important Headliners, and maybe Quaker authors and speakers take a strategic view of networking for career advancement.
But it's a way of life in the Pagan world. In the Pagan world, all too often, you can tell exactly who the Big Name Pagans are by how they walk into a room. And those of us with friends who are Big Name Pagans--or even passing acquaintances who are Big Name Pagans--are under a constant temptation to puff ourselves, at least a little, by name dropping.
Results can be embarrassing. I vividly remember accompanying Anna Korn, one of the founders of the Covenant of the Goddess (who for the sake of full disclosure, I should admit I know only through email correspondence, and cannot claim a close friendship with) on a courtesy visit to the local occult store. The woman behind the register didn't let Anna so much as introduce herself though, before she began a heavy campaign of name-dropping. Turns out she had once taken a workshop with someone who had taken a workshop with Starhawk herself! As someone who knew Starhawk as a mere human, with a full set of both faults and virtues, Anna can't have been especially impressed, but she smiled and nodded and left the store politely... and without dropping her own name.
See, you can do things like that--be classy like that--when you're famous.
With all this crazy, status-seeking stuff going on among Pagans all the time, why does at least part of me want in on the action?
I think it's partly because Pagans don't really have any other way of keeping score. We do not acknowledge any gradations in that quality Quakers sometimes call "weight", and so the sixteen year old third-degree High Priestess in the Tinkerbell Tradition of Vampire Wicca feels fully empowered to speak with equal authority with men and women who were running covens and training students decades before her birth.
Of course, by saying that, I'm implying that age is the crucial factor in who should be attended to, and that's false. Many a time I've had my breath stolen away by listening to some elder-in-years-but-not-widom condescend to someone new to Paganism, whose words and actions reflected real seriousness and depth. It's not age that's the difference, or not age alone. And, yes, the gods can inspire any of us.
If we're listening. But so often, we are not. Pagans so often act as if there is only one scale in which to measure spiritual worth or development...
I've known at least one local elder to state the case in nearly those very words. At one point, that elder was organizing a networking group for Pagan leaders and teachers--a good idea, and one that ought to help us develop our depth, our weight, in dialog with one another. But her plan was that only those with "national or international reputations" should be invited to participate.
You can't cultivate wisdom if all you select for is fame.
What about the quiet, competent Priests and Priestesses who are just serving their local communities, raising healthy Pagan families, nurturing caring, rooted covens, hofs, temples and groves? I asked. And the answer that came back was that, if they really had something worth offering, they would be famous.
Quakers may get confused about that some times. I bet they do--Quakers are at least as human as anybody else. We're all surrounded by our fame-obsessed culture 24/7, and it wears down our common sense and makes us all foolish at times. I bet there are Big Name Quakers out there, and people who drop their names for a little frisson of importance, too.
But the Pagan world has no other stock in trade. We don't know the difference between fame and wisdom. Fame is the yardstick by which we measure worth. And even if I don't measure you by that means, I think perhaps I measure myself that way.
I want the respect of my peers--Quaker or Pagan. I want to be taken seriously--seriously enough to be heard and disagreed with when I'm wrong, or guided deeper into an idea when I'm right. This kind of discernment is something Quakers are at least seeking to give to all members of the Religious Society of Friends, however often we may fail.
Pagans don't even recognize the need, yet.
So, either because my Pagan heart has stunted roots from the years I have spent in that community, or because I live in a fame-mad culture, there is a part of me that doesn't just want to write a book for the ideas it might contain, or for the connections it might foster with readers, or even because I love books.
Part of me wants to be famous, because part of me doesn't trust part of you to care about me unless I am.
I think I ought to work on that, don't you?