Like one's anus, success smells much sweeter from a distance. I never craved success, and I can only surmise that I've achieved it because God wants to punish me. I must be the victim of some cruel karmic inversion which dictates that success should occur to those least desirous of it. Society's ultimate revenge against me has been to embrace me.
The secret of my success remains an annoying mystery. The fact (and the reason that this article was submitted way past deadline) is that I haven't given much thought to success. Instead, I stumbled upon it through an idiot-savant sense of non-deliberation. As I see it, I've done nothing more calculated or volcano-inducing than saying what I wanted to say in precisely the way I wanted to say it. I published the sort of books and magazines which I couldn't find in my local bookstore. Networking and schmoozing and "zining" had very little to do with whatever success I've found. Marketing niches and demographic spreadsheets and audience-appeasement weren't considerations. I never engaged in self-promotion. The trick is in getting the promotion to come to your doorstep. And then in changing your address.
Success brings with it the inevitable resentment of those who've spent their whole lives trying to be successful, and such resentment affords me a fair degree of pleasure. I get perverse enjoyment from imagining that some people will be annoyed by the idea that I'm gloating. So if you're bothered by the concept that I'm gloating, I encourage you to indulge that fantasy. I can't deny there's a certain unsavory satisfaction in forcing my critics to lose sleep wondering how a talentless, inarticulate shlockmeister such as myself could get four major NY book companies to bid over his writing. Never underestimate the value of petty personal revenge as a motivational factor. Avenging the naysayers has always helped me get out of bed in the morning. Like my grandma used to tell me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, do a zine."
Ultimately, all that success means is that people in malls will hate me instead of people in coffee shops. It means trading a group of familiar assholes for a bunch of fresh ones. Beyond that, little else has changed. I remain as egocentric as a diapered infant, and the reactions of others aren't nearly as important as my immediate bawling needs. If success brought literal immortality or permanent happiness, it might actually be worth something. Success won't postpone my eventual death and total obscurity. Things will be like they've always been-a few darling morons will appreciate what I'm doing, and a large army of imbeciles will misinterpret it. It was probably this way before cavemen first chiseled their zinely angst onto stone tablets.
But what should I tell the aspiring zinester who's reading Factsheet 5 while perched atop the toilet in Topeka? What sort of gumdrop-like blobs of wisdom can I shower upon him or her so they won't make the same mistakes I've made? Will it be a better world for the younger crop of Zine Gherkins?
I hope not. Putting a pen to paper is an essentially dishonest action. There's almost no possibly pure motive for wanting to do a zine, nor for writing in general. It's like wiping your ass and then calling your neighbor in to take a look. I'm supposed to be guiding you down the Yellow Brick Road of Zine Prosperity, and yet I can't even comprehend why you would want to do a zine. What do you expect to get out of it? Why would you want success? Is the darkness so horrifying that you need to be bathed in the limelight? If your motivations are impure or unclear, expect the results to be the same.
But if you really want to be noticed, I'd suggest that you either write about things no one else writes about, or write about familiar subjects in a way that no one else has done it before. Just like a communist stands out in Kentucky or a blue-collar Caucasian sticks out like a sore thumb in San Francisco, a certain amount of attention will be yours merely by resisting prevailing currents like a feisty salmon. But any nonconformist gesture has to be genuine rather than a hollow strategic move. In fact, thinking about the mainstream implies an attachment to it. You should distinguish between your personal instincts and your social compulsions, and then learn to entirely ignore the latter. You should also work with religious-trance diligence at whatever you choose to do, advice which is likely to go unheeded in a milieu of detached cutesy slacker puffball ennui.
Experience has taught me not to be overly optimistic. There's nothing about success which I won't find a way to ruin. Just as I couldn't handle failure, I see no reason why I should be able to deal with success. Temperamentally, I'm tailor-made for the role of cultural scapegoat. I've been rehearsing to play the part since before kindergarten. I was a weird cookie long before I knew what a zine was. For better or worse, my life was meant to resemble an endlessly re-looped videotape of a car crashing into a brick wall. My success is merely a set-up for failure on a massive scale.
To succeed, therefore, you must be unafraid of failing miserably.
The sagest advice I could give is to remind you that you'll be dead in a
hundred years and to plan accordingly. Knowledge of one's mortality seems
an important precondition for the willingness to take risks. You can't play
it safe. Whenever I've blindly jumped off a cliff, it's always been for
(originally published in Factsheet 5)