(u;la la)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Watch my speed...

I have always been a painfully, annoyingly, slow eater. It frustrated my dad no end; my food would go cold and I would lose appetite. Our dinners were a succession of pleading marathons, running on the soundtrack of the micro-wave turning plate.

I grew up to be slow at cleaning, cooking, showering, waking up... everybody passes me out when I walk the dog and I need to book holidays to complete a basket full of ironing. I am generally slow at everything I do and I am not ashamed of it; let me say it loud and clear and slowly: I AM SLOW.

I’m fine with it because I know I can be fast at a few things: reading full novels in one go, getting ready to go out, solving puzzle games and making people laugh with some quick one-liners.

I’m also fine with it because it means I do things with precision, care and real pleasure. Well, in most cases anyway. (I’m a slow cook but my oven is bloody fast, resulting in a few carbonised meals and a lot of swearing).

What bothers me is that I feel a need to justify and protect my slowness in a world where speed is an asset, even a priority: fast broadband, TGVs, speedy deliveries, fast-foods, instant download, quick access... In all areas of our life, we want things now and we want them over and done with, so we can move on to whatever is next.

I know it is not a new thing; Technology has always been about upgrading things to make them faster, from the wheel to the washing machine, inventions compete to make our life easier. Who would want to go back to delivering messages by pony? Please, don't answer that.
But on the other hand, not everything is better faster... (who in their right mind would prefer a “quickie” over a slow, lingering night of passion?) 

In the 90's I read a book that changed my life; the author took 14 years to complete that master piece. I thought I had found my hero. I even got a tattoo for that book. When I read his consecutive books, written and published every year, I felt betrayed. He botched his work. Almost every time.
I grew up with that big word chanted over everything I did: "bâcler". Botching, scamping... My father always scrutinised our activities -from handwriting to tying our shoe-laces to using a carving knife- with some gentle, threatening encouragement: "take your time, do it properly, watch what you're doing, don't go botching it, now!". Every activity apart from eating, of course...
I sometimes feel we come close to breaking the speed limit: can we really work faster, read faster, move faster, produce faster, than previous generations? There is a trend that uncovers the downfalls linked to the amount of information we are subjected to. Yes, it is staggering and I bet more than half of the people who started reading this have already clicked away before reaching the end of this paragraph! It’s not about the lack of interest or value of the content we skim through on a daily basis –if it doesn’t educate us, it usually entertains us- but more about the demands it places on our psyche. Can we truly cope with all that information that we both seek and that is force-fed to us?
The debate is intensifying, but I feel it is often ignoring that element of pace: maybe we could deal with more of everything, if we took the time... 

We never stop. Or when we do, it is because we crash.

Even when we are sick, we cannot accept that our body needs time to do its thing... “We’ll get you back on your feet in no time”. But the body is not like a train or a washing machine: it will only go so fast, no matter how much we have evolved (mutated?) over the years. Sure, we have created a plethora of drugs and appliances to help, but we are still only human, not machines. We cannot get rid of a flu in a day. It's a virus, not an app!

Same goes for the mental aspect of our input/output contribution to the world: there is a stigma attached to people who take too long to think, speak or express what they feel. They are still made fun of, they are deemed inadequate, annoying, bothersome and are ultimately left behind. And somehow, the racers are probably right: if you can’t keep up with the rest of the rat race, you are probably better off sitting it out.

We have been forced to become high achievers and heavy consumers. We want to be promoted to the top before we hit 40, we want to attend all the festivals, see all the films, visit every country in the world and be the first to tweet about it to thousands of followers.

I used to be seduced by that famous Hunter S. Thompson quote about life, you know, the one that ends with "Wow! What a Ride!”... but I know that, no matter how hard I try, I am not fast enough “to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke”...

So I think I’ll stop rushing around, trying to keep up. I'll keep Lady Thouroughness over my shoulder, frowning, whispering "don't botch that job, Delphine!"

I’ll savour my ride at my pace.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 worst things about having Artist friends on Facebook

Chances are, you have at least one -if not one hundred- professional/aspiring artist in your circle. It could be an actor, musician, writer, dancer, painter, or just plain creative day-dreamer. This is good, really good: your life will only be richer for it. However, it comes with exquisitely annoying perks and surprises, which I discovered through the years, scrolling down my daily newsfeed and, let's admit, some of which I have been guilty of inflicting myself onto my poor cyber friends. 

1- Which one are you again?


This mainly goes for actors: the multiple profile syndrome. You joined facebook and used it happily for a couple of years until you realised that your pissed-up party photos could end up in the wrong paparazzi hands, once you are famous. Also, your agent is in your ear about getting your image out there, to network actively, blah-dee-blah. Plus, you don't want that cute future co-star to know you're playing Candy Crush all day long, at least until you get the part. But you love the wrap parties. And Candy Crush. And you'd love to continue bitching about the director in "private" to your 872 friends...

So you un-friend all your professional contacts, make your profile private and create a brand new, public, clean one. Except you kept some of your friends on both profiles because, let's be honest, you work with most of them. Then you also create a page for your "public figure" for us and non-friends to follow/subscribe to. And another one for your character in your latest play/film. And another again for your band/company/group/collective, etc.

Then you post the EXACT. SAME. STATUS. from all 6 profiles. Said status will appear six times in my newsfeed of course.

And to which of your profiles should I send an invitation to my birthday bash?

Which brings me nicely to my second observation...

2- Sorry I can't make it, but break a leg!

Unfortunately, I cannot physically attend every concert/recital/public reading/demonstration/opening/première/screening/revival/exhibition/launch/wrap party/award ceremony/festival in my Facebook calendar. I really want to. It's nothing personal. Don't be offended. I receive about 50 invitations per day. At first I was all like "oooh look at me, I'm so popular, people want me at their thing" and then I was like "oooooh look at them, they send me hundreds of invites and they won't even come to MY thing". But the worst is that, most of the time, I really dig the events you send me. Sure, otherwise you wouldn't be my friends right? But I just can't make it...

My bro constantly invites me to his concerts in Paris. I even receive invites to events in Japan. I swear! Let's all take a deep breath and learn a new word together... TARGETING. Everyone ok? Should I go on? Now, let's slowly move our event-weapon AWAY from the friends who are artists themselves and therefore too broke/tired/depressed/busy to attend your wonderful piece. Away also from those who have kids and live outside a 10km radius of the event.

No. Only kidding, actually... *sigh* keep them coming as I'd hate to miss anything. And we all know by now: only artists actually attend cultural events...

3- Sorry I can't make it but break a leg! (#2)

Unfortunately (again) I won't be able to give a single penny to your fundit/ kickstarter campaign/16th pub quiz/5th cake sale/3rd gala fundraising concert to support your project. I won't be able to attend the show that you're putting on to finance the other, bigger show that you'll put on a month after that. I really want to. It's nothing personal. Don't be offended. 

However, I can lend you a few costumes, a stuffed ferret and a big vase that catches the light nicely. I can also click "like" under your picture so that your art piece/play/film/single/photo wins that coveted prize offered by that multi-national drink company that will not use your talent for promotional reasons but solely to help YOU, the artist, to realise your dream. And I will click tomorrow too. And the day after that again. Oh, I'll click all day until the kids come back from school and at night again after they're gone to bed. Sure, that's the least I can do. 

Unfortunately, that's all I'm doing too. I'd rather go and see your show.

4- Where the heck is your stuff?

This one is for the Visual Artists, with the exception of photographers: you are never on Facebook. I added you thinking "ooooh, chucks! Here's Pablo!! My newsfeed will be nothing but an endless scroll of shimmering colours, provocative visuals and stunning sights for my irises!" 

Except you Visual Artists never post any of your stuff on Facebook. Or rarely. And usually it's not taken from the right angle, or under the right light, because you didn't take the picture yourself but it's your auntie Maureen who uploaded it and tagged you in it. You discover this about two months later and curse about copyright and the fact that she didn't rotate the image to appear "landscape" size.

Then you proceed to unfriend her and invite everyone else to the launch of your exhibition, where there will be cheese and wine. And your auntie Maureen.


5- Does anyone have a Vocas MB-250 Mattebox in Finglas in the next 20min?

Or a stuffed ferret in Ballivor before we open on Tuesday? Or can anyone do stage manager for me next week on Annie because I'm suddenly not feeling very well but don't worry I wrote everything down and, sure, the 200 kids in the cast are only lovely? Can anyone play the drums, tonight 9pm in Whelan's, bring your own kit (we had another row with Max, this time it's REALLY over)? And who is up for driving a bunch of us through the bog at 2am with the boot open so that Damo can film Jody running away from her attacker in that gruesome scene in our next horror flick (In your car by the way, replies in PM only, no pay but great exposure and credits)?  Sorry to bother you again, but any luck with that Vocas?? 

I can do miracles, lads, but you'll have to help me a bit. 

Repeat above requests every 20 minutes or so, every day, in my newsfeed, on my wall, in my inbox, in CAPS, then in a text message to my own phone... 

I forgive you, love, I've been there. One day, I WILL say "yes, my friend, be at peace, I can help."  

I call it techie panic. And you don't have to be a techie to have techie panic, nor to find the help online... because that's what it's like to have Artist friends on Facebook: without each other's support, we wouldn't be able to produce Art. 

And that constant, sour reminder gently beeps away in our newsfeed...


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A conference, a company and a reflection on business & survival

Really miffed: I am not going to Theatre Forum Ireland conference for the first time in years. It used to bring me the necessary inspiration and renewed breath of life that kept me going, despite all... The networking, the exchange of ideas -new ones discovered with amazement, old ones revisited with passion- the debates, the questioning, the self-evaluation, the parties, the contemplation, the trying out stuff with our bodies (!), the thousands of ideas jotted down on notebooks... 

Well, this year I cannot even afford a trip to a single play in Dublin or even locally.

Yup, things are not all roses and glitter in show-business and I want to be brutally honest about it. Although I have to be grateful for the projects that mean I’m still here: I still produce theatre, once a year, thanks to community groups who fund me. I still get to use my creativity, skills and experience in other ways, through video, film, youth workshops, arts & crafts, festivals... these are either funded by the local Arts Office or by clients from the Tourism & Hospitality Sectors. They mean I survive as a cultural entity. But for how much longer and at what cost?

It’s a bitter-sweet memory of a past conference, a few years ago, where we were told to start thinking/acting as businesses. Valid points were made, guidance was offered, conversations ensued. I left invigorated. 

I tried. Real hard. (I still do). I even did an evening Business course for 6 months; didn’t miss a class! Did all the homework, even though I had 4 projects on the go and not many more hours of sleep per night. I still have the heavy ledger of paperwork to prove it. But I am not a business person. That’s the sad conclusion. I’m a creative person, if not an artist. I should have known; after all, I had done 2 years of Business School after my Baccalauréat... it didn’t work then, (I dropped everything and ran away with the circus), so what made me think it would work now? Ambition? My believed sense of entrepreneurship? Maybe I thought I had become more mature to learn the necessary skills. Maybe I rode the wave of new businesses that rippled from the Crash... But, you see, the one important thing I learnt that year (apart from opening a separate tax account and how to file my returns) is that business sense isn’t a skill that you learn. Or at least that I can learn.  

I believe I have at least 1 brilliant idea a day. I used to have 5 of those back when I wasn’t worrying myself about running a business. Worry is the key: the stress of finding the funds to run that one project, about filling the forms for the insurance, the Health & Safety, the application to the arts council, to the arts office, to local businessmen, to funding bodies, filling risk assessments, permission slips for the local councils, drafting the Child protection policy, devising the marketing strategy, negotiating with the venue, with the bank, etc. (I won’t add the trips to and from the school, the meals, laundry and hundreds of other activities relating to your own children, household, etc). 

That stress, these hours slowly creep on you and choke your creativity until you are left with nothing but a big pile of paper and a niggling sense that, maybe, your idea wasn’t that brilliant after all. Even if other people tell you it is. It would look fabulous. It sounds fantastic. It’s so exciting. It would bring so many people to the area. The children would learn so much from it. Shit, the adults too. But all you feel is a really strong dislike for whatever you came up with, because deep down you know that it’s too expensive. Because you wanted to pay the people who work for you, this time. Because you cannot bring yourself to ask for favours anymore. For hand-downs. Because you are fed up having to justify everything you do. Or justify the simple fact that you work in the Arts. 

Yet, you keep going because you cannot do anything else. 

Well, I could but I won’t. For the 10 brilliant ideas that I don’t get to do, there’s still one relatively good one that gets done. Sometimes it doesn’t get done to the standards I wish to achieve and that kills me; because I know what I am capable of with other means, with more time, with other professionals working with me. I cringe every time I get the unavoidable pat on the back “Jaysis, that was brilliant, considering...

I have to admit that I feel terribly jealous when I see others succeeding with their own brilliant plays and films and writing... Not jealous because I’d think they don’t deserve it; they usually totally DO! Their art is vibrant, fun, moving, original and so on. I lap it up. Every time. They succeed for a good reason! No, I’m jealous because people believed in them. Because, often, there’s a business person at their side, willing to support, guide and provide. (As for the artists who are brilliant business people, well, these just piss me off.) I’m jealous because I have books full of ideas that will never see the light of day. Ideas that would have been great 2 years ago and that are not any more. Their time has come and gone. Sometimes, I feel like mine too. It’s a pity. I’m going to waste. The worst is to think that I’m not the only one who could benefit from these ideas, but others too. Wasted. Not only the ideas but the talent and the skills too. I'm not shining my own armour, here; but I'm getting too old and too tired to belittle my qualities and putting humility before self-awareness or self-worth. (That goes for my flaws too, btw).

Once again, I’m not ungrateful: I have plenty of people believing in me for all kinds of stuff. I’ll never thank them enough. But I’m talking about Theatre. About Film. About Writing. And I know I’m not alone and it depresses me even more... to see amazing companies and writers having to use Fundit!!! WTF? And I can’t even help them there! Is that the modern version of the troubadour begging from door to door, asking for a bit of bread and one night shelter in the barn in exchange for a poem or a song? 

This is how I see it: without support from the Arts Council, from family and friends online and on seats, from private sponsors, or generous philanthropists (where are they all?) we simply cannot be sustainable. The tickets won’t pay for the show. Never did. Stop telling me that I have to think like a business, because this is not a business. Not for me anyway and, it seems, not for many.

I wish I could go to the conference to be proven wrong...

All illustrations by the brilliant Patrick Sanders