Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Category: reading (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Long Street Delight

I have just finished reading Banquet at Brabazan by Patricia Schonstein and it has left me feeling really strange, and delighted and uncomfortable and sad and oddly uplifted.

Banquet at Brabazan could not be more Cape Town. It is set in and around Long Street and the City Bowl, but also touches on the suburbs and townships of Cape Town. It is another weird mix of fantasy and reality, images and characters from her previous book A Time of Angels.

Obvious references to existing people like Graham Weir and Not The Midnight Mass, or Pieter Toerien and Pretty Yende, to name a few, as well as actual buildings, streets and places, are interweaved with imagined characters, places and spaces and it’s strange and confusing and delicious and unsettling. It is also underscored with a weird nostalgia, abundance, and Italian decadence too odd to explain properly.

The characters are beautiful, and strange and awkwardly special. There is an angel who lives at the YMCA. There is the real dwarf who often stands at the robot in front of the Engen in Orange Street, only here he has an imagined wife and life. There is a cross dressing Jewish business man who has the most beautiful affair with his secretary. There is the Long Street we know, and the one we kind of know, or at least suspect, and the magical Long Street we wish we got more glimpses of, and the Long Street we fantasise about.

There is the disturbing reality of child trafficking and muti murders, of drugs and xenophobia, of the Angolan war, of Mozambican horrors. There is politics, and poverty and nasty human stuff. There are beautiful costumes, romantic paintings, beautiful light and music.

It is a really, really strange and totally haunting read. I want to be in the movie.

Hooked and Sitting Man – Two great reasons to be in Kalk Bay

It started with a beautiful drive from hot, sunny town straight into a wall of mist on Boyes Drive to get to Kalk Bay Books. Of course Big Friendly and I overshot the traffic by an hour and we got to Kalk Bay early enough to have cappuccinos in The Annex, a gorgeous restaurant behind Kalk Bay Books. Melinda Ferguson was also already there. It was the launch of her second book, Hooked, that we were attending. Melinda is one of my oldest and dearest friends so there was much love to go around. I am deeply proud of her and how she has actively and consciously made her life beautiful and meaningful. The bookshop was packed to the rafters and Melinda spoke straight from the hip and heart. She was entertaining, frank, outrageous in the most charming way, and she was patient with the many recovering and not so recovering addicts who had a million questions.

Armed with my very own, signed copy of Hooked, we marched down the road to what felt like home! The Kalk Bay Theatre. Man, I love that place. Honestly, I stomped up those stairs into the warm, loving embrace of some of my favourite people in my favourite spot. Now, I absolutely have been a bit theatre-phobic the last while, but I was amped for this show The Sitting Man, written, directed and performed by James Cairns. I saw and loved James in Brother Number, at the Kalk Bay Theatre a coupla years ago.

The Sitting Man is a fantastic one man show. With only a chair on stage to fill the brief of the title, James, by performing a series of characters who are linked by action, slides into a world of South Africans that are immediately identifiable, hilarious and tragic. He is so good at them it almost feels like he is channeling this weird bunch. His accents are spot on. His hands! They change subtly with every character. His face! Now, James has a distinct face, plus his head is totally clean shaven, but every character looked different. He is so adept at playing these human creations of his that he fills them with a rich emotional context, even though we spend so little time with each of them. The story, about a parcel that needs to get taken from Jo’burg to Cape Town, is a teeny bit convoluted, and there is a big, fat loose end that prompted Big Friendly to exclaim “It can’t be over! What happened? What was inside the parcel?” But it is a wonderful vehicle for stringing together these fringe, loser, weirdo men. My favourites were first, the drunk pool player, whose perfect Sotho accent was classic, second, the daggahead, a reminder of more than one smoker from my youth, and then, the poor farmer. James is brilliant, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I was sad when it was done! The Sitting Man has a three week run before James switches over to his other one man show Dirt. Do. Not. Miss. This.

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