Thursday 29 November 2018

Lover, Mother, Other

I recently met a guy at a conference and he described a lady he was travelling with, incidentally one of the keynote speakers as his partner, then clarifying ‘Life’ partner. Of course, I understood what he meant, at least I thought I did until I ruminated on it. What did he mean? Did he mean partner as in associate, did he mean that they had each tendered their CVs and been selected from a number of applicants. Now, this is not an unusual way to categorise a person with whom you have chosen to spend your life with independent of matrimonial ceremony but this time I found it quite jarring. Maybe it was the clarification. Maybe it was the American accent. It struck me how uncomfortable I am with this word to describe a romantic partner.

For me ‘Partner’ is a business word, it conjures images of contracts, budgets and plans, which may be part of a stable relationship but it is sterile, devoid of warmth and emotion. I found myself searching for a more satisfactory epithet. I was at a loss.
There are plenty of euphemisms for wife; such as ‘My better half’ or ‘her in-doors’ many are far less flattering as are the labels for husbands, such as ‘My ole man’. Boyfriend/girlfriend which is not heterosexual specific are pleasant but feel a little awkward when used by more mature couples, they remain the domain of teenage apprenticeships in love and do not tackle the matter of living together and sharing responsibilities. Fiancé is warm, succinct and French and while it is often used by optimistic couples who have an dream of being married, it should be used when some form of formal engagement is in place. It is a pre-cursor of marriage and along with it carries the religious connotations. Shame, it has all the qualities of a good candidate but as so many others it already has its meaning well-defined.
I like the word ‘Lover’ it is warm and spicy but it can no more be disassociated with its synonym of ‘Mistress’ or extra-marital distraction than ‘Partner’ can from business. ‘Soul-mate’ could be a good contender, ‘mate’ is used to describe couples in the animal kingdom, which I see as a positive but when coupled with ‘soul’ it does come across a little tie-dyed and crystals-under-the-pillow.
We live in a time when romantic models come in so many forms and society it going a long way to catching up with this but language is dragging its heels. You may think that this is not an issue but the words are pervasive and the way we label something affects the way we think about it. Words are a network of semantics which colour our attitudes. The use of the word ‘Partner’ blurs the lines between love and labour, it is part of the same attitude that gave us ‘personal branding’ and brings business practises into the home. In an interview with the writer Jonathan Franzen, I read that he also has issue with this term but he chooses to call his lady a ‘Spouse equivalent’. I think this has more to say for his feelings toward convention than the feelings for his lady.
So, what am I looking for? A word, preferably a single word that encapsulates intimacy, sharing and commitment without the endorsement of any ceremonial rite. It needs to embrace all gender preferences. It could be borrowed from another language, let’s face it, languages are franchising words from each other all the time and just as fiancé serves its purpose well, we have moved on and need a secular word that communicates a simple, natural, mature choice complicated only by the flaws and frailty that make us human.   

Sunday 4 November 2018

The Story So Far... part 1

Recently I wrote a batch of short stories that were different, they were truer, deeper and despite being some of the quickest stories I've ever written, they were hard. I achieved ‘flow’ this is a state that many artists crave and few reach, when it feels like you are a conduit for something that pre-exists, somewhere. After writing them I had to sit and recover, just imagine some flunky old medium after a séance. There is something about these stories that’s different, honest (unlike the flunky old medium). I realised that these were not my stories and they have to be shared but I didn't want to trust them to paper. I had to share them face to face, eye to eye.

My first attempt was My Reward,which you’ll find on YouTube. I had a strong idea of how I wanted to present it but what I didn't have was the skills, equipment or even a decent place to film it. With my phone and a darkened bedroom I produced what you’ll see if you haven’t already. It received very strong reactions from everyone and I've subsequently met people who've seen it and got some very encouraging feedback. The most humbling was when I was with a friend, her phone rang and she told the caller that she was with me. When she hung up I asked who it was and if I knew him, “No, but he knows you!” she said.

It isn't an easy watch and the subject is maybe not the most popular at the moment, men in power are being vilified by the #MeToo movement and barely a day goes by without someone being accused of some predatory act. I'm all for that and I know my kind and we are a flawed species, but I think that the “in power” part is more toxic than the “men” part. You know, many of us are just trying to get on with doing the right thing while the goal posts are dancing around the field.

Anyway, I took another of my stories, Hungry and tried to film it with the help of a friend. It was tough, we both have jobs and families but we worked late into the night trying to realise a plan that wasn't that clear in my mind. And he had only really used his camera to document his kids growing up and the odd social gathering. It is him I have to thank for the name I gave my vision. We were having a few beers after filming and he asked what the bloody hell I was trying to do. I told him that it wasn't poetry, it wasn't monologue, it wasn't theatre, it wasn't...
"Yeah, yeah! Now I know what it isn't. BUT what is it?"
"So, it's literature with performance," I explained. "It's Performance Literature!"
My friend opened his eyes wide and exclaimed, "Oh right!" and that was it. 
The video for Hungry remains 85% complete but I promise I’ll regroup with the experience I've gained and get it done.

There was also the matter of the music, I used a fabulously atmospheric piece for My Reward by a band called This Will Destroy You then I received a terse message from the representatives of the band and a red strike on YouTube. I would need to have original music.      

So, I had a vision, some stories and little else. I organised a storytelling event for World Storytelling day at a local hotel. I would invite people to tell their stories and I would present one of mine. Now, I don’t mind telling you, I was a wreck. I have spoken to crowds, given lectures and seminars, I even did some theatre back in the day but this was different. These stories were different, I couldn't fail them, the stories that is. I took a deep breathe, a big gulp of adrenaline and did it. It wasn't all I wanted but it did make me realise what I wanted. I wanted to do a live show.

I knew I wanted to perform these stories, reclaim storytelling from little kids, they get enough things already. You know storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication. Once it was news, morality, entertainment. Once, storytelling was Netflix. No! storytelling WAS the internet. I wanted a new age of storytelling.

But, I didn't yet feel that I could carry a whole show on my own. I spoke to other writers, one in particular I know could carry a live performance (you know who you are!). I knew I wanted a show, a performance, not just a reading. And, the more I knew, the more I knew nothing!

Until it all clicked into place, I knew exactly what it would be. And all I would need to realise this was, well, just about everything. So, I went shopping for a musician…   

... Part 2  

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY