Friday, 5 July 2013

A Cock of My Own

In the first chapter of A Room of Ones Own, Virginia Woolf walks around Oxbridge to formulate ideas for a talk on Women and Fiction.  She absently wanders off the gravel path and excites a black robed beadle to fly at her.  Grass is for men to walk on, as if women secrete acid from the soles of their feet.  Later she muses about Charles Lamb and Tennyson, goes to the library to check the manuscripts and is refused entry lest her female eyes burn the manly words from the page.  She has an opulent lunch in the men’s college, a miserly dinner in the women’s and concludes that the mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers of all women have squandered their resources so that their daughters and granddaughters and great granddaughters have dry biscuits after tea.

You have to love Virginia Woolf.
Virginia, not on the grass.

This week, the Butler and I finally got to see a play we’ve been hearing about for months, although it’s been around for a few years, both in the West End and on Broadway.  We had trouble booking two seats together but managed a place in the belfry.  I won’t mention the title, because it’s a bit of a Holy Grail and I didn’t like it.  Rather than a script, it was a collection of diatribes interspersed with the repetitive artifice of an educated person not understanding the English of a working class person.  The dramatic arc had the pitch of the fens before they were drained; the burden of sentimentality nearly made me turn down the offer of chocolate ice cream at interval.  Nearly, but not fully.

And I thought to myself in my luscious-biscuit deprived female brain, I am so tired of the reverence for the two-dimensionality of male writers.  It’s not a room of my own that I need as a female writer, but a cock of my own.

After the curtain call, one of the actors gave an appeal for another actor who'd played his role previously.  The man in question had suffered a stroke, couldn’t walk or speak, his pittance of allotted medical treatment expired and the only way he could have more was by the cast begging us to contribute to his care.  This, in the week where Cameron said he could do nothing about the proposed £7500 pay increase for MPs.  I thought I might vomit, had it not been the chocolate ice cream that would be sacrificed for the sake of outrage.  How do we consider ourselves civilised?  We should not.

The upside of all this – and there will be an upside because it’s me writing, rather than Virginia Woolf who believed that truth always wins out in fiction, while I tend to like a bit of self delusion.  So the upside of this is that the juxtaposition of my misandry with the neglect of the stroke victim made me, in good Catholic fashion, examine my sin; I’d forgotten that we’re in this together.

The Butler teaching Calypso to cook in his absence.
Down the Appalachian boreen to the room of my own now.  I write at home in front of a bay window, a display for the villagers who pass on their way to buy a paper.  The Butler calls me for lunch on the days he’s not working, does odd jobs, takes Big Nose for a walk and is greatly unappreciated, for the most part.  Once when he pointed this out to me, I, who am the repository of impeccable logic said to him, if the room of my own were outside the house, he wouldn’t feel his arguments had merit.  A few days later, the Butler found me emptying the dryer during the day and said if I worked outside the home, I couldn’t empty the dryer, so get back to work.  It’s amazing that living with a cock of his calibre, I can manage even a quiver of misandry.  I’m gifted, I suppose.

The point being, when we don’t get what we need, we sometimes fall into the trap of saying it’s because someone else has better biscuits.  And that’s what keeps the imbalance of it all going.  You hear the story of the stroke victim and say, isn’t it great that immigrants are going to be charged £1000 so they’re no longer drains to the NHS!  You don’t think that immigrants can only be in this country to work or study.  The workers pay taxes.  The students pay tuition fees.  You just think, the actor can’t get what he needs because someone else has taken it.

The Butler butling.
I’m not saying inequity doesn’t exist.  It’s all around us in everything we do.  Women may be able to walk on the grass in Oxbridge now, menstruating at will; I hardly know.  But you have to be totally deaf, dumb and blind, perhaps on some very lovely drugs if you think women writers are treated equally to men.  Or Black writers to White.  Or Muslim writers to Christian.  Or gay writers to straight.  What I’m saying is that it doesn’t solve the problem if women take from men, Blacks from Chinese, Muslim from Jews, Gays from straights. 

There was an article making the Twitter rounds this week, written about cuts to the arts.  The writer figured that cuts should reflect the ‘fact’ that the primary audiences for theatre were in London.  Up here in the north, people didn’t take that attitude lying down and rightly so.  In the comments to the article, someone wrote that he wasn’t going to cry because the government wouldn’t fund people to have fun.  The arts are frivolous, I reckon, and that person obviously never benefited from a book or a TV program or movie.

Both the writer of the article, however, and the person who commented on it, made value judgements which said, I am better than you are.  I am in London, so I deserve more money than Northerners.  I have a serious job that contributes in a quantifiable manner to society, so I deserve more money than the arts.

Neither said, these are our tax pounds.  Stop building duck houses on someone’s private property at the cost of a four digit figure.  Stop waging war.  Educate.  Provide medical treatment.  Create wonder.  Take care of all of us, not just the group I belong to.

You and I, we are both human, which means we’re prone to human frailty.  But we are also people of the arts.  Even if you don’t write or act or dance or sing, you are creative.  And that’s what’s needed.  Not self advocacy.  Not more interest groups.  Not a cock of my own, but creativity.  Creative solutions to the problems our frailties have caused.  Let’s no longer silence voices, be it through lack of funding or lack of medical care after a stroke.  Let’s see our commonalities rather than our differences.

The Butler creating wonder.
A long time ago in a Catholic Church far away, a priest said that hell was a banquet where guests sat at a long table covered with the finest foods and drinks, but they couldn’t bend their elbows to reach their mouths.  Heaven was also a banquet where guests sat at a long table covered with the finest foods and drinks, and couldn’t bend their elbows.  The difference was that in heaven, people reached across the table and fed the person in front of them.  Let’s try making a little bit of heaven, if just for today.  Reach across the table to the person in front of you, whomever it might be, and feed them what’s on your plate.  If we each do that, the solution for all of us begins.

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