I wanted to relate to you (and you, and you, and you and you and you) the embarrassing, pleasurable (embarrassingly pleasurable) final fragment of my dream the other night. I was at a coffee shop, a sweet hippie-hipster spot somewhere rural-ish, almost a converted barn, and there was one other person at another table, a man, and a young woman serving. She called out "Rebecca" to deliver a cappuccino to whoever had ordered it, and I hadn't, so I said "I'm Rebecca, but I didn't order that," and she said "Rebecca Wolff?" and I said "yes," and then she and the man began blushing and twittering, kind of communing with each other in relation to me, and saying things like "Wow, I can't believe we have a famous writer in our coffee shop." And I said, loudly and distinctly, with sincere modesty but also blushing appreciation, "You jest!" And then the alarm went off and I woke.

It's been a long time since I've had a dream that wasn't a nightmare or at least an exercise in banal anxiety (first day teaching workshop and I am accosted by someone I didn't let in; reading on stage and I forgot to pick which poems and people start leaving).

Does everyone really want to be famous? I know I did, and when I think about it, my desire for fame was at its peak when I was about 14 or 15, in part activated by my avid reading of the Village Voice, especially Michael Musto's column, and my frequent attendance at New York City's then quite dingy and fun nightclubs, such as Danceteria and Nell's and the Roxy (my second appearance in print, at nineteen, was a letter to the Voice I wrote correcting Musto on a Danceteria doorman's name or something, smarty-pants), where I saw that people became famous in a vague way, for just being them. There was one famous young man in particular with shoulder-length, bleached hair and an aquiline, androgynous beauty who was practically glowing, he was so famous (bully for you, chilly for me). I wanted to be famous for just being me, too, and maybe this is why I didn't get into Wesleyan on my first try (I didn't get into Wesleyan on my second try, either, but that's another story), as I distinctly remember that my answer to the essay question about what I thought I would bring to campus, figuratively speaking, was answered existentially, something like "I'll just bring me, and there's no one else like me, so what I will bring is unparaphraseable." Can you fucking believe that?

They're bringing out the movie Fame again, which made me think about Talent. Those were some talented kids, no? That Irene Cara could really sing, and dance (wow, I had forgotten how ironically sad those lyrics are, for her: "you ain't seen the best of me yet" indeed). Does the concept or trope of talent apply to writing in the same way? In the performing arts "talent," at least in its everyday, Idolatry usage, such as "My daughter is so talented," often means that she can very effectively re-create an effect that she has seen, or heard, and that people will appreciate this ability. Whereas in writing this means the opposite of talent; talent in writing has something to do with the impulse to do something that not most people do, or would immediately grasp as advisable, or favorable. When I wanted to be famous it had nothing to do with desiring to be talented, and I shirked every duty or practice that might have wrought or stoked some recognizable talent in me. It never occurred to me that I ought to seek fame as a writer (though novelists have a better chance of getting famous, and I did finally sell my novel, The Beginners, to Riverhead Books), though I wrote continually, and now to find that I seek it in my dreams--and obtain it!--is deeply amusing. To me.

Farewell to speaking to you, and you, and you and you and you. And farewell to an era. I'm feeling SUPER fin de siecle atm, as Brandon Downing said to me the other day--he said "atm," not fin de siecle, and by it meant, which took me ages to work out, "At the Moment")--with this whole brouhaha at Triquarterly. It's just that weird moment where something that crept up on us disguised as sci-fi (we spend hours a day staring at monitors: Wall-E? It's not even sci-fi, it's a children's animated movie) (and there are many many people alive today who are so unused to eating real food that they become too fat to live and require surgery to remove parts of their stomachs), such as the inaudible transition of book-objects from use objects into artifact objects gets happening, whoosh. A different kind of blink from the Gladwell Blink. There must be a name for it?

Originally Published: September 28th, 2009

Born and raised in New York City, Rebecca Wolff earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She authored Manderley (2001), selected for the 2001 National Poetry Series; Figment (2004), winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; The King (2009); and One Morning— (2015). Her work has appeared in BOMB...

  1. September 28, 2009

    Dream songs? Love and fame? Somebody's been reading Berryman!

  2. September 28, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    (1) Fame: more people know you than you know. – Lew Welch\r

    (2) On getting into Wesleyan, first and second try: thirty years later, my daughter Kia and I were walking across Harvard Yard, and I told her, "you know, if this place had accepted me as an undergraduate (ended up at Swarthmore) or a graduate (Berkeley), you probably wouldn't exist." \r

    She said, "Well, Dad, maybe that's why they didn't accept you."

  3. September 28, 2009
     Rebecca Wolff

    Love Kia!

  4. September 28, 2009
     Barney the Barn Awareness Owl

    Dear Ms. Wolff, I just wanted to say thank you for linking to the Wikipedia article on barns!! Your efforts, both today and in the future, will continue to bring much needed public awareness to the situation of America's barns. Thanks again, and always remember: "When In Doubt, Be Aware of Barns!!" Hoot Hoot!!

  5. September 28, 2009
     Rebecca Wolff

    You can't go wrong with barns.

  6. September 28, 2009
     Teri G.

    I didn't know your work before Harriet, Rebecca. So in some ways blogging has made you more 'famous'! Poetry-famous? How different is that from real-famous? Poetry-infamous?

  7. September 28, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    "Being a famous poet is not the same as being famous."\r

    - John Ashbery

  8. September 29, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    As a grad of the "Fame" high school,which was never actually called that, but rather The High School of Performing Arts--and about performance, and hard training...I have a few musings on the subject, Rebecca. We were trained for high performance, high esthetics, high achievement, not fame, really. \r

    I think the old film, and perhaps the newest one, bought into the same American-dream, Amer-idol-ism that your own dream evidenced. And apart from being a spur to look-at-me-ism, it's also a sharded danger, as I'm sure you know. Kids who wanna be stars don't necessarily know-and so get heartbreaks, same as persons who dream of being "star" lovers to one another in an affair--(as other than hard working ones.) \r

    It's all about the big cigar, big 'Warholian' 15 minutes, etc...The poetry world is just as vulnerable, and the prize systems feed the shark in us all. Not a great thing for the art. Or the hungry-for-applause soul; or the poem, at the end of the night, end of the dream. It's still one word after another, one shiny word, or string or horn-blow or step, tripping over itself on the way to communication. \r

    For fame--glass slippers abound. They fit a few. Who knows why...but that's fashion, not art, we know it and pretend we don't (?) \r


  9. September 29, 2009
     Krista Elliot

    Poetry has its fashions just like anything else and it's way too easy to trivialize them. Fashion is art, right? Can anyone make the case that fashion is less useful than poetry? They're both useless! That's why they're both so awesome! Sure, some people can go overboard with their "hipster" biz (pace http://exoskeleton-johannes.blogspot.com/) but to pretend we all poetry folks are somehow above it with our sackcloth and ashes is sillier than anything on Project Runway. Yay fashion! Yay fame!