Maybe I got spoiled in Mankato, where everyone was (at the time) small fry and all accomplishments were viewed (hopefully by most) as “shared by the group.” One person’s achievement was an achievement for our tiny community, or at least, that’s how I felt among the members who managed to be pagan without being too terribly fucked up. Maybe all those classes in speech and nonverbal communications ripped off a blindfold and woke me up to all the hostility I’d been oblivious to. It’s been a good eight years, and at this point, hard to say anyway. Still, the first time I mentioned that I published/wrote on magic at a local pagan gathering in Saint Paul the reaction was…nasty. I was completely surprised, and got a reminder that I am still often naive, since where I’d been living, for all its flaws, such endeavors were responded to with “let me see!” and “tell me about it! Now let me tell you what I’ve been working on…”
Instead, these are some actual reactions:
“So what, you’re Silver Ravenwolf?” (People who have met her assure me she’s very much the real deal, but in these parts, she’s a swear word a la Martha Stewart, Hummer and Barbara Streisand.)
“You write for that publisher?” (Yes, because that’s one of the very few publishers publishing on the subject matter I primarily write. I can’t spend my life listing articles of the best ways to wear Spanx.) One person I knew referred to it as “the devil publisher.” But he forgave me, since he thought I was hot. (Pagan men are only as enlightened as their mothers raise them to be. However, in some circumstances a cattle prod or a good left hook helps.)
“How much did you get paid?” The implication being that to be paid anything was just dirty.
I retreated, puzzled and hurt and have for the most part kept this part of my life under wraps from my local community – I almost never tell a person at our first meeting that I’m a professional writer, that I’ve been at it since I was 16 (bringing me very close to the 20 year mark in this career) and that 99% of them are completely wrong about how any writing career functions but most especially they’re wrong about how a career based in occult-writing happens.
I figured out that some of the nastiness was a knee-jerk reaction to my youth. There’s this undercurrent with some but certainly not all members of this community that anyone under 40 has nothing valid to say. There’s not much I can do for this attitude – I try to respect my elders, but sometimes my elders just don’t deserve my respect. Honor is a two way street, and passing an age marker does not exempt you from behaving like a decent human being – and someone being younger than you is also not a valid reason for behaving discourteously. Now, if the young kid is an annoying snot that needs a punch in the nose, gods bless it. But wait to see if an annoying snot lies behind that unwrinkled exterior.
I later figured out – after I mentioned at another gathering I’d scored an interview with Starhawk – that there lies a core of people who heartily resent the famous, and who assume absolutely incorrectly that publishing = big bucks. There is a certain lottery ticket spirit to book writing; you can get it on shelves but that doesn’t mean you’ll win big. There are national releases of many books that have only sold five copies, and occult publishing pays at the bottom of the scale. I don’t know what Starhawk made when she came and spoke at my alma mater, but she sure as hell isn’t spending her money on Gucci loafers.
I think I see the thought process of the angry inquiries, though: some people here think any success or recognition is somehow “wrong.” Not everyone, of course, but a few loudmouths who’ve anchored into the community for quite awhile. Since the only recognized fame/success among most pagans is publishing, that’s where all the resentment gets directed. It’s not just simple jealousy; if we were Christians someone would be twisting some Bible verse to shame the authors, but all the (specifically resentful) pagans get to work with is dirty looks, hostile social behaviors and a non-shared value that people shouldn’t make “money” off their beliefs – regardless of how greedily pagans consume books (and the books would get paid for how?)
In the artist’s way, these people have a tidy label: crazy makers. And they are to be ignored, or simply not shared with. Besides, it’s a big waste of time to defend what you’re driven to do when you could be ignoring the asshats ((for jillithian!)) and writing more stuff, that some of those same resentful people will still consume – as long as they don’t have a face to match their grudge with.