The ABCs of Fame

Earlier this week I had laid out a very loose theory (and by “theory” I mean “rhetorical device”) about dancing sprites as an inducement to disquiet. My weekend having been consumed with a trip to East Lansing and back, I had plenty of road time to refine my thinking on the subject.
My original consternation hails from a single source: The recognition that I could be Excellent — capital E, and lauded on the national stage — were I simply to try. When I see people who are Excellent finding happiness and success, I’m not envious of their position, but I am reproachful against the inner demons who conspire against my own success.
Modern-day excellence comes in one of three flavors: Achievement, Beauty or Connection. The connected people are perhaps the easiest to identify; were it not for her sister-in-law being a future queen of Great Britain, for example, no one would know of Pippa Middleton or her shapely derriere. Wealth or family ties foist some people into the spotlight whether they deserve it or not (looking at you, Paris Hilton). So, also, does beauty. Models, musicians, artists, actors — there’s a reason why so few ugly people travel in those circles, and those who do are usually elderly veterans or “character” types who fill a niche. Being of pleasing appearance opens many doors that remain bolted for the merely average.
The achievement category, though — there’s the rub. The ugly and the unconnected can still find success through hard work. A lot of writers fall into this category (cf, “Martin, George R.R.”). So do a lot of folks who wield political or economic power. Bill Gates wasn’t pretty or connected, for example, but he managed to grow a software empire that left him the richest man in the world.
Think of the baseline level of fame it’d take to get automatic VIP treatment at a Vegas nightclub. It’s not terribly high — a B-list actor, a DJ, a model without the “super” status — but there’s nevertheless a bar below which a clubgoer is just another schmuck waiting behind the velvet curtain, and above which you’re acknowledged as being “someone.” This base level of fame is an ABC mix. If any one of the three — achievement, beauty, connection — are high enough, you’re in; if not … the bouncer will check your I.D. in 45 minutes. Maybe.
When I examine my own fame level, I note that although my achievements over the years may put me in, say, the top 10 percent, it’s not enough. You need to be in the top tenth of a percent. I also know that although I’m not ugly, on the “beauty” front I’m fairly average. So no dice there. And connections? Not so much, really.
But the interesting thing is that the formula can change. I can ratchet up my achievements. I can maximize my appearance to be as beautiful as genetics will allow. I can network like crazy, building connections that make future accomplishments that much easier to rack up.
I know all of this. So when I examine what is, and reflect on what could be, I am simultaneously confronted by the excitement to achieve and the lingering fear that it won’t matter no matter how hard I try. Thus the Scylla and Charybdis of Fame: No matter how carefully you set the stage, it’s still a roll of the dice whether you’ll sail through to the other side.
It comes down to one directive: Be excellent. Regardless of the outcome.