Monday, February 15, 2010

An Inner Karl

Karl Lagerfeld, the designer, said that the reason he works so hard is to prove to others that they're useless.

He does work hard, too. Always sketching and changing his mind and ordering people around. Yet the people who work for him adore him. They think he's a genius (he probably is) and treat him accordingly: what he wants he gets.

Fine. Good for him. What I'm really interested in today is his attitude, the one that wants to prove to others that they're nugatory at best.

Kids' writers are an amiable bunch, clement and fraternal/sororal. But what if we each had an Inner Karl, a cool killing machine with a very high collar.

All of us could trade war stories about stupid or mean kids' writers, snotty and fat-headed ones. I don't mean that. Inner Karl would never show himself in workshop or the faculty lounge or anyplace else. But he would be a guy who could motivate us to work so hard our friends and foes would drop their pens and brushes in despair.

Could you stand to have others brought to their knees by the ruthless beauty of your work?

Just asking.



  1. Ruthless beauty ... I wish, but strongly doubt it would happen. The need to be the nice Midwestern girl is so deeply entrenched that I suspect I'd fight my inner Karl every time he began to rumble.

    A friend once told me my characters were all "so nice." She didn't mean it as a compliment, either. Maybe I should pin a WWKD? up on the wall in front of me so I see it each time my eyes lift from the computer, use it as a nudge to show a few more warts and scars on my characters, let it be a reminder of the quest for ruthless beauty.

  2. But what if it's Minnesota nice? Sweet on the outside, utterly disdainful on the in.

  3. The problem with this is that the reader in me WANTS other writers to do superb work. I like a full reading list, dammit.

    Nancy Werlin

  4. Is this the inner Karl or the inner Ron? I'm surprised no one can admit they'd love to blow everyone else away by something perfectly amazing. Whether we have an inner Karl, Ron or someone else-- I think most of us have some voice inside pushing us forward or even above. More than being "better than," I'm interesting in getting to the root of something then making it last forever. As an artist my main concern is, "Is it archival;" as a writer, "Eternity" is probably then my main pursuit.

  5. Okay, Ron, why don't you grab me a latte and then find shoes and bags for my fall line. And make it snappy.

  6. Polly--I'm sure we'd all like to blow others away with something amazing and many people looking in silently and already posting have done just that. But the whole inner Karl thing is, as I spin it, about the conscious pursuit of that ruthless beauty, and possibly about what is traded and what is lost or gained by choosing to be a Karl.

    Does a writer give up some inner Karl when he/she chooses to also teach?

    A sign I've eased up on accessing my inner Karl (if I ever had one) is that at this point, I'd rather read than write. But I want a reading list that is, as Nancy says, suburb. Books that are full of language that was Karled into existence out of the ether.

    So ... back to work, all of you. I'm off to the library. MQ

  7. I love that Marsha has used "Karl" as a verb! I can't wait to tell someone to stop Karling me!

    I wonder--maybe it's not other writers we want to blow away, but our audience? I'm not sure where this Orson Welles quotes comes from originally--I found it on a snake breeder's website--but I love how it expresses the artist's desire to awe the audience: "Don't give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible."

    You know, like a radio broadcast of a Martian invasion!

  8. It used to be others I wanted to blow away (as Andy put it) or bring to their knees by ruthless beauty, now I am far more interested in being able to blow myself away. You know that feeling when you are creating something and you think, "damn I am so brilliant!" It only lasts about a millisecond but it a good feeling, isn't it? Sadly, that feeling of Zeus-like brilliance is but a distant memory for me. I know it was there since I can occasionally see it in my old work.

    But like Marsha and Nancy, I'm equally satisfied to be blown away by what I am reading. (Well, almost equally) and especially satisfied to be blown away by art. I mean there are a few pieces of art in this world that can bring me to my knees. This is why, when I am creating I cannot look at or read anything else--I have to remain in my Zeus-like (Karl-like) state.

    Now I am off to read Molly's packet outloud to my dog...

  9. Andy, your finding that quote on a snake breeder's website makes my day!

    We're assuming that KL-style self-confidence--even call it arrogance--has to be meanspirited. But think of it in terms of the Olympics. Apolo Ono must respect his competitors' skill and achievements (He wouldn't get far if he didn't.), but that's not what gets him on the ice every day. He's there to blow EVERYONE away.

    Nothing wrong with admitting that, every time we sit down to write, we aim to produce something so spectacular it brings the world to its knees. Hey, I'm not here for the money!

    (BTW, why did I think Karl Lagerfeld was dead? Who's the bigtime designer--not A. McQueen--who died not long ago? Anne?)

  10. Since it is the winter Olympic Games, it feels appropriate to reference sports figures. They appear to have the same sort of srive that K.L has. I actually like the idea of boosting my competitive nature, against myself and perhaps even others. I don't think it has to be mean-spirited, but there's a certain drive that I appreciatein sports figures, and fashion figures. They are not hiding their ugly side. We all have it. I think some people control it. And interestingly though, Ron, is how kids love characters and love to read about characters who are like k.L. I think Zeus is a great example of this. Kids love Zeus.