By Johannes Helmold
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I have to admit: I have wanted to be famous since I was a child. There was never a time when I was not an entertainer. Since I could walk, I have been giving performances for my family in the form of singing, dancing, playing drums, and reading poetry. You could say I was born a performer. Being famous has many sides to it though: it provides you with respect, attention, and money. The respect and attention part has been important to me, but the concept of earning loads of money has not been on my agenda.
I can understand why I have been seeking respect and attention since my early childhood. I was born in an unhealthy state, to the say the least. In my first year of life, I had to have two open heart surgeries and a hernia operation. I was not touched or seen that much in my first year, as I was living mostly in an incubator in a hospital, with my family (mostly my mother) by my side. This means I lacked touch and the experience of being around people in general. This left in an indelible psychological imprint on my mind. I wanted to be known, to be looked upon, to be given attention. In fact, I think most performers do what they do because of deep-seeded issues from their childhood or adolescence.
Most of my creativity in my childhood was directed towards music. I learned how to play on several drums, was a singer, a dancer, and even made electronic music albums that were never promoted or sold. I made them for myself and showed them to a few people. I have been strange that way: for the first half of my life, I expressed my creativity in multiple ways, but hardly showed it to anyone. Around 20 years old, I started to showcase my creative work. But anyways, early on, I dreamed of being a famous musician, selling out crowds and being appreciated on stage. I liked making strange, bumping beats with chill vocals over them. Kind of like active and passive music at the same time. I thought I might be the new Bjork or Radiohead. But for some reason, even though I had visions of becoming famous, I rarely promoted my work, and was constantly critical of what I was doing musically. I thought that becoming famous would fall from the sky. I naively deemed that the status of celebrity a natural happening after one had done genius work.
Though I remained musically inclined in my twenties, I became more of a writer and poet. I first focused on poetry, writing a few poems per day in my first year of active writerly life. Even then, I got an ego, and thought I was going to be the next Keats, Pushkin, or what have you. I thought I was an amazing poet by all accounts. However, my dreams of being a celebrated man of words was weakened again and again by rejection notices from journals and magazines. But after the first year, I started to get some poems published in small, almost-unknown journals. I continued to write poetry voraciously, and to submit my work now and then to publications, mostly focused on the process of composition itself.
After getting 10-15 poems published in various journals, magazines, and newspapers, I decided to write a novel for the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Once again, my ego was huge, and I thought I was going to write a masterpiece with my first attempt. Though I finished a short novel within one month, after I read through it the following month, I saw I had written rubbish. The novel barely had a plot, conflict, or personable characters. I eventually gave up trying to edit it. Two years later, I gave novel writing another try. I mean, they say your first novel almost always sucks anyways. So, I wrote my second novel in about two months. I was reasonably satisfied with it, but on the third edit of it after about a decade of working on it, my laptop was stolen, and all my editing work with it. I had a second edit saved on the cloud, but at that time and even now I feel too disparaged to work on it again. So, my plans to become a famous novelist went down the drain.
I still had dreams of being a famous writer, though. There are tons of stories of people failing at publishing their books, and then later becoming best-selling authors. I was determined to do the same. I focused mostly on poetry after that disaster with my second novel, and writing about 15 short stories and 20 essays as well. I self-published a few chapbooks of lyrical poetry over a period of about 10 years, and got more poems published in books, journals, and magazines, but I was increasingly cynical about the poetry world. I knew hardly anyone read poetry. It seemed like the only people who read poetry were poets, and academic snobs—but I continued to write for the sheer joy of it.
Around 2,000 lyrical poems in, they became smaller and smaller. I eventually arrived at the haiku (usually three lines each), of which my father was crazy about. I began writing them daily and learning more about the form through various essays. I even got a mentor in haiku and started submitting my work to various journals that focused on this genre. It was a difficult process, as I felt I was starting from scratch. My mentor dismantled all my previous ideas about haiku, and it took me a good while to understand the aesthetics and principles of this artform. But over time, I started to get published in major haiku journals (though the haiku community is large and global, calling a haiku journal “major” is kind of an oxymoron). After collecting my publication credits from about 15 haiku journals, I even became a mentor of haiku online for budding poets.
I think the big turn for my “haiku career” was when I won a Touchstone Award for Best Individual Poem in 2016 from The Haiku Foundation. I was shocked and thrilled that I had won it. It affirmed that I was on the right path and that I had found my niche. I later gathered more awards from various contests focused on haiku, tanka, cherita, and senryu, and published two books that had relative success within the haiku world. One was highly personal to me, as it was a collection of haiku from my deceased father and my own poetry, interconnected through themes. After completing this work, I felt a great sense of fulfillment, as if I had not only achieved something monumental for myself, but also I had elevated the writing career of my father. Further on, I started the Haiku Commentary blog, which is now a fixture in the community for analysis and publishing. You can say I got semi-famous in the haiku world, for whatever that is worth.
And how do I feel? Well I might not be Kanye West or someone in the newspapers constantly, but I do experience a level of respect, attention, and even money that I can live with. The goal of being appreciated, every since I was housed in that incubator in Seattle Children’s Hospital has been achieved. Do I think it is an ego trip? I think yes and no. Sure, on some level, it is an ego-based activity to try to become well-known, but in another sense, I was finding a way to be within society as a viable member. Self-esteem need not be the same as ego. I think landing an equilibrium for my low self-esteem was an essential action.
Do I still occasionally dream of greater fame? Sure I do. In the back of mind, I believe I have what it takes to make it big as a musician and performer in general. I practice drumming and singing every day, and I consistently hold onto my ambition, despite my lack of effort in wanting to promote myself or achieve success as a performer. But having these drives in the back of my mind is enough for me at the moment as a semi-famous poet within the haiku community. My emotional need for acceptance and respect has been granted, and therefore, I can let my musical dreams simmer in my unconscious as long they want to.
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