Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: reading (Page 1 of 2)

The Power The World

I am half way through reading The Power by Naomi Alderman. She wrote this award winning book in 2017 and it is riveting. The premise, in the world that we know, is that teenage girls suddenly, and en mass, discover their power; an electricity that can control, hurt, destroy and kill. They can also ‘teach’ this power to older women.

The premise is loopy and very speculative fiction, but the world, and how it responds, is ours. Religion, gender discrimination, right wing conservatism and fanaticism, power, sexuality, crime, drugs, fear, politics. This is our world with the women in charge, and it is still as broken and dangerous as before. The truth is we have inherited a cruel and dangerous legacy, and colonialism, slavery, war, human trafficking, drug wars, capitalism, rich owned media and corruption are real and will kill us.

I am horrified and drawn to this book like a bible of our times. I will keep you posted.

In Her Shoes

I have just submitted my novel, my second attempt at writing a long thing, to a publisher.

This is the most intense combination of complicated feeling, even though it is not dissimilar to performing a one woman show.

Chapter 1 – There is a feeling when you decide to submit it, and then at least twenty push me pull you feelings arrive to make you question whether you are ready, whether the publishing house is the right one (they are the only ones actively asking for submissions at this time), whether you are delusional and have no talent, whether they have a newbie on the submissions desk, whether the time is right, whether you are too old, whether you are too funny/not funny, whether your work is derivative and if it is, who it derives from.

Chapter 2 – The overwhelm, when you have to make sure you have all the supporting documents they need, and you double check the manuscript and you count the chapters and see a mistake, and get caught up in some internal grammar dispute with yourself, and you suddenly question a character’s name, and you get self conscious that the work isn’t long enough, or that it isn’t original enough, and then you re-read a paragraph and you really like it, but the one next to it seems weak in comparison, and you want to go to an arbitrary page and check for consistency but you are too scared to leave where you are and forget what number you changed the mistake to.

Chapter 3 – You are reading a book, a brilliant book, about a writer in his 50s (like you) and his angst, and self doubt, and disbelief that he was any good, and his bleary neediness, and every brilliantly selected word feels like it is written for you, about you, and reminds you of what you are trying to do, only so much better. (The book is Less by Andrew Sean Greer) , and you watch stuff on TV, and it has your themes in it, from your one woman show you just did, and everything feels like it has been done before, only better.

Chapter 4 – The talking to. The pep talk. You give yourself the lecture, the mantra, the vision manifest, and the whole time you are remembering the criticism of the last thing you did – not all the brilliant things that were said, only the bad, and you get the paralysis.

Chapter 5 – You throw caution to the wind, and, like drunk WhatsApp, you press send before you can change your mind, and then you are deeply, irrationally embarrassed.

Chapter 6 – Five minutes later you are already in anxious waiting mode, even though they completely and repeatedly admitted that they would take at LEAST two months to get back to you.

Chapter 7 – in continuum. You write about your feelings, and publicly declare them on your blog, on the internet.

White

It has been a hard and ugly time out there. Racists like Matthew Theunissen and his defenders make it challenging for lesser known racists and polite bigots to get away with their usual anxious whine, asking someone (read black someone) to tell them what it is they need to do to fix things and to make up for their lives of white privilege. I have watched and listened on social media, our single ‘independent’ option of talk radio in the Cape, Cape Talk, and in comments and on blogs, how white people have started tying themselves in over complicated knots trying to work this stuff out. It is hard. It is hard and sometimes even paralysing. Nobody knows what to do or say, or write, without sounding like something they aren’t, or don’t mean. And it is tiring, thinking about this stuff all the time, and trying to work it out, and trying to find one’s place on the spectrum of racism, because it is virtually impossible to be a white South African and not have a smallanyana white racist skeleton in our cupboards.  These skeletons can be anything, like me not opening my mouth when witnessing an undercurrent of ignorant race shaming while facilitating a workshop, because it was ‘not my place’ to, to walking past when a white employer spoke to his employee in public as if he were a retard. Yes, these moments count.

I am on a steep learning curve about my own racism. I have to check in daily with what I grew up believing, how it manifests in my impulse behaviour, and the conscious effort I must make to be different. This makes me a racist. I was once hurt when I proudly announced that learning to speak isiXhosa had changed my place in my world (even though that is true) and someone pointed out that my pride was an arrogant, ill gotten pride; one that could be equated to the charity-giver mentality of many subtle racists out there. Think of the Lindt cake giver. It was true. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but one I needed to swallow in order to become more self aware. It is fair to say that isiXhosa speakers are utterly delighted when I make an effort to communicate in isiXhosa and are overwhelmingly helpful and generous with me and my efforts, but does this not reinforce the status quo that I am a rare and wonderful thing; a white person trying to learn another of the official languages?

And here’s the thing. There is so much that is heartbreaking and hellish and agonising about the process of learning how to un-racist your life and your deep inner self. But, it is never ever as heartbreaking and hellish and agonising as being on the receiving end of racism, daily, in big and small ways, in ways that cannot be explained or articulated. This is why it is such a grave offence to ask what black people want you to do.

White people (and please hear me when I say that that includes me) are loud at making their opinions heard. This, I am certain, is a left over from being the voice of authority. Even ‘woke’ whites are very comfortable with expressing themselves, in blogs (yes, the irony is totally noted here) and in phone-ins with talk show hosts, and letters to the editor, and in the comments section, and on those absolutely dangerous Facebook status updates. I have been in rooms, running workshops, where a white person has comfortably uttered the words, “Apartheid is over, get over it.”, to black people who remain brain numbingly silent. Honestly, how do they even begin? So, when there are blanket statements made about whites I sometimes do gasp, before going back to breathing, because of course there are those opinions, constantly reinforced by whites. And if there is only one thing I have learned it is to separate out what I need to take personally and what I am comfortable with saying, no, that isn’t me.

I know too, that writing this piece is its own special brand of navel gazing. I have been unable to write anything for a while now because this stuff has made me writing stuck. This is not writer’s block, when there are no ideas, but writer’s paralysis, where my many ideas seem irrelevant and trivial. it also means that I am deeply critical of others and their opinions, which in turn makes it difficult to express myself unselfconsciously.

A light in my tunnel at the moment is Eusebius McKaiser‘s Run Racist Run. It is a collection of essays, deeply personal, ideological, philosophical and intelligent, all about journeying to the heart of racism. He is very clever. He is able to put all of this hard stuff into gorgeous writing. He is able to make a rational argument for the racist in every white person, without us feeling personally attacked. This is huge. I am only half way through, but the biggest re-affirmation I am getting is that we white people need to stop making a noise and start listening. Proper listening. Not waiting for our turn to speak. We have had that, in spades. “The first test of one’s commitment to be in dialogue with someone else is an ability and willingness to hear them, truly, as opposed to simply waiting to speak and tell them they are wrong.” This is the first huge step in resisting the desire to tell people what to do, feel and say. Hard, especially for super opinionated me.

I am grateful to Eusebius, who doesn’t let me off the hook, and probes the deep recesses of my consciousness, helping me explore my self. I have moved and shifted, from being a loud libtard (what a word) to a more introspective, on the spectrum but aware, recovering (I hope) racist. The biggest shift and the hardest work is going to be in the listening, and listening, and listening.

Freedom

Here is what I have learned. This is my own story, my personal thing. It is a thread through my writing, both fiction and blog. It is not a generalisation, nor is prescriptive. It is what I have learned. I started out not knowing this and through writing I have learned it.

Just because I demand the freedom to say and write exactly what I want doesn’t mean I am always going to do it. I do not vomit out all my thoughts, ramblings, rages, bugbears, furies, criticisms and abusive thoughts endlessly. I could, but I don’t. I choose carefully, like a surfer choosing which wave, waiting for the right one, the best one, the most appropriate one.

This is why. I have learned that I do not want my writing to hurt anyone. I have written to hurt before and it felt terrible. In fact, that’s how it all started. I said harsh and critical things about other people’s work. I believed in what I wrote, and stood by it, and defended it, but I didn’t manage the fallout of it very well. This does not mean that I will stop myself from taking on a battle when I think it is necessary. It means that I will choose my battles like I choose my words.

I have learned that I need to be very clear and unambiguous. Readers need to understand exactly what I am saying. They need to get the message. Even when I am unraveling stuff that isn’t clear. That needs to be made clear. Here I have learned about the how of saying it.

I need to be trusted. I need to be believed. That takes work, and clarity, and choice.

When I am writing I want everybody to read what I have written and know that I mean it, that there is purity of motive, that I am not bullshitting or being clever, or trying to please someone else. I have learned the what of I am saying.

I am still learning. I am learning to keep quieter about the things I don’t understand or know about. I am learning to listen more and read more. I am still learning the what and how of freedom.

Play Club’s The Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

I hadn’t realised that Drew Rienstra had been nagging me to come to listen to the Play Club’s play readings until he came out and said it, at last night’s Play Club reading. I was on ‘the panel’ which just gave me an opportunity to talk a little more about what we had experienced. What that was, was a play reading of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a monologue style epic written (to be performed) by Mike Daisey. Here it was read by 7 actors. And there were tons of people squeezed around a table and then in the room at a shop in The Palms centre around the corner from me.

Drew had organised a brilliant Sunday arvie/evening affair, with wine and chocolate and scripts for everybody. It was a real occasion, and it worked. And my opinion of play readings certainly shifted as we sat and listened to these gorgeous young actors read.

The piece itself is another story. I know this kind of theatre well. It is the genre of message-driven monologue that Peter Hayes has been performing for years. (Get Hard, The Tricky Part, The Fence are just titles I can think of.) What I found the most fascinating here was that the audience, pretty much everyone who wasn’t me and other panel members Marina Griebenouw and Matthew Khalil, couldn’t separate the play from the message. I was much more interested in the question of it being a performed piece, while the audience could only experience it as the vehicle for the content. So interesting.

And of course, it got me thinking, about so many things. it got me thinking about my own rehearsals for my own monologue style performance starting today; Drive With Me, and how I have written it for ME to perform, and how my writing is informed by the WHO of the piece. I got thinking about how people NEED their money’s worth when it comes to theatre, and would rather be bored by a long piece than have something short to tickle, inspire and energise them. (The most constant feedback I got for Song And Dance was that it was too short). I got thinking about how people think that if they hear something, written and told by another human being, about something that exists, then it must be true. And that’s why, in this world, people can believe in advertising, and branding, and lifestyle choices, and why writers know that even a news item is just a story, a perspective, a tool, for writing. This piece is deliciously written for an actor, by an actor, to perform. I honour the writing here, more than what it says about Steve Jobs and Apple. But what is interesting is that a South African audience in particular, ate up the message. We did as we were told.

I loved the event. I will go to more Play Club play readings. I am still so full of questions about everything. Why will people go to readings and not to performances? I got to thinking about how shallow and narrow most South Africans’ experience and understanding of theatre is. I got to thinking how desperate I am to change that, or at least be part of the change.

So, rehearsals today, and improv performances at the usual time this week. I’ll go and see more plays, especially local ones, and try and not get depressed when people don’t come and see mine.

Sunday Crimes

Big Friendly bought a hard copy of the Sunday Times this morning, for us to check out while we ate breakfast on this still, delicious, summer Sunday in Cape Town. Unfortunately, all it did was add fuel to the fiery rage that I have been in since I got back from London and creative arts heaven.

Today’s Sunday Times is a fat one. Yes there are at least 10 pull outs for christmas adverts. There is a whole food weekly and a whole travel weekly AND a whole home weekly. These are not pages, these are baby newspaperlets. And then, on page 3 of the review 2 section there is a page called Arts & Entertainment. At the top of the page are Critic’s choices – one each for Cape Town, Durban and Joburg. These are a sentence or two long. Then there is ONE other article featuring performance artist Kemang wa Lehulere. That’s it. The rest of the page is taken up with a Cape Union Mart ad and a Vodacom ad. It is December. There are hundreds of amazing exhibitions, shows, concerts and art related things to do in Cape Town alone, and the best the Sunday Slimes can come up with is a third of a page. Sies. It is worse than pathetic. It is a proper shame. Shame on you. Shame on us.

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