Saturday, 25 January 2014

Creativity, Privilege, Ethics

That young woman was not a happy puppy.

At a reading of my play Cats in a Pipe, a young female actor in the audience asked why the characters were all male.  While I explained my creative decisions, her expression said I was another Man With Tits.  As soon as I stopped talking, she challenged me again.  The director jumped in and supported the gender choice.  The actor let it go, but the expression on her face didn’t change. 

I don’t find fault with her.  She wants the right to creative expression in a field where each minute that passes makes her less employable.  Dehumanising, to say the least, but I don’t back down from my creative choices for that play.  This is an And-Both situation.  A female actor should develop her craft through all age brackets and a female writer should write male characters.  But the former is not the case, so if I do the latter, do I stop another creative’s work?  If I don’t do the latter, do I stop mine?

Years ago, Paul Simon made an album in South Africa during apartheid.  What’s your initial reaction to that?  Did he exploit black South Africans, steal their music, make money from them?  Or did he give black South Africans an international stage?  Should art sidestep politics?  Can it?  At the time, Simon said that if Stevie Wonder had made the album, everyone would’ve cheered.  Now what’s your reaction? 

Last month in this blog, I wrote that we should metaphorically give the Rosa Parks of today a seat on the bus.  One of my good friends privately called this into question: in terms of using privilege to help, we may deny individuals the right to perform their own personal revolution.  Which isn’t to say privilege should never intervene but that we assess that intervention.  In the real world, a Rosa Park is more in need of support and protection for her revolution, than she is of being offered a seat. 

But in the creative world, are our decisions the same?  Am I responsible for female actors having more opportunities when my creativity develops in another direction?  Should Paul Simon have bankrolled a black musician to do what he wanted to creatively explore himself?  Do we have the right to censure other creatives for their choices? 

I don’t think we have the right to censure the creative choices of others, unless they move into illegal areas.  I do think it helps everyone to discuss these choices. 

I listened to both the actor and to my friend when they disagreed with me.  I thought about their perspectives but I thought about my friend’s perspective longer.  Certainly, because there was more at stake in a friendship than in an audience Q&A, but also because the actor didn’t appear to want to have a discussion. 

Maybe that's because I didn’t let her know that I heard her point of view.  Or maybe I actually didn't hear her point of view.

Her question was, as a female playwright, should I have written an all male cast.  When I didn't answer that question, what could she do, but challenge me again?  In effect, I silenced her. 

If instead of explaining myself, I’d asked her, 'Do you think a female writer should never write a male lead?' she may have entered into discussion with me.  She may have understood my creative decisions and I may have considered ways to develop creatively AND respect her need to create as well.

I missed my chance with her but today I’m saying to you, let’s have this discussion. What do you think about how creative development and social responsibility interact?  Even if we feel we're being silenced, let's not give up.  Let's discuss.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Take Your Time

What do you think of the advice that writers should spend 20% of their time writing, 80% marketing what they’ve written?  I would find that soul destroying.  There it is, in a little heap of glittery ash in the shadow of the abacus on my desk – my soul destroyed.  Now that my soul’s gone, what do I have to write about? 

Buy my wares!
Someone who spends 80% of her time marketing is a salesperson.  Writing is her ware.  Fair play to her, her wares will sell.  They may even be good wares.  She might be the one person who can write kick ass prose in two hours, then spend eight more selling them. 

Once upon a time, Irish pipers served a 21 year apprenticeship, starting at age seven and not becoming a master piper before they were 28.  Wow, eh?  Who’s got time for that malarkey?  Well, if you’ve got one minute and one minute only, watch this video:

Those of you in the UK may’ve seen an abridged version of this video with less music and more words as an advertisement on the telly.  I saw this linked version of the video before I saw the ad and to be honest, when the ad starts, my soul goes WHEEEEEeeeeeee . . . ick, because the narrator in the ad starts talking and the video isn’t art anymore but an ad to suck me in, get me to spend my money.  Poop.

I know, I know, I know.  The publishing business is a bitch.  You have to be out there flogging yourself or no matter how much talent you have, you go nowhere.  In fact, I recently read that on average, writers in the UK make about £600 per year.  We’re expected to give our wares away or in some instances, dig in our pockets to pay our own expenses to do author events promoting said wares.  Why would anyone put years into something they give away for free?

If your goal is to be a successful salesperson, then don’t.  Go out there and market to your heart’s content.  That in itself is a worthy skill and be proud.  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re actually developing yourself as a writer.  To do that, you have to spend time writing.  Butt on seat, words on page, stares into space, lost sleep, mindless pacing, frustrated self doubts that don’t bend to deadlines, butt back on seat, more words on the page.  Rinse.  Repeat as needed.

One pair of socks, lovingly made.
Life isn’t fair.  That’s what’s real.  Each writer needs to decide for themselves the ratio of marketing to writing.  If you want to market, don’t let me dissuade you.  If you want to write, then take your time, listen to the music of your desire and write.