Sunday, 19 September 2010

De Profundis

The title is self-indulgent enough for such a blog post I guess. Having been too busy at gigs in festivals, hosting workshops, or in the few times one was free, doing the coastal path or getting away for a holiday on the beach, there's been no time to write a entries for a fourth blog.
But this one isn't going to be work related.
How does one interpret the matter when it looks as though one has lost one's oldest friend? Not an argument or a disagreement, nothing so certain, just a falling away - an ill tempered exchange, a making up, leading to a half-promise that turns out to mean nothing in practice, seemingly. What does it mean when you know no one from school (actually I'm grateful for that!), but no one from any phase of life until university, and then this was that person - not that they even went to your college! but visited it at least, and you spent a lot of time at theirs.
What does it mean - to try to reconstruct everything good about them or what the friendship consisted of? To take up history yourself, to try and stuff yourself with Batty Langley and Issac de Caus instead of their Gladstone and Disraeli, to try and remember what you knew of the Fabians in the name of his Peel. To tear off strips of history and immerse yourself in them to recreate the thing you had in common. Except the C19th is too painful now, for you it will be the C18th.
Country houses and gardens - but you always preferred the dramatic and went around in a dream, whereas they stalked about reading inscriptions forgotten tomorrow. One thing you had in common was being cherished youngests of the family. You hated it, fought a war to shake it off. He relaxed into it, swimming in the warm bath of a gentle selfishness a preciousness so at odds with one so kind, so compassionate, such a good and loving friend. You understood each other yes, but it was something you despised and he seemed happy to live with. That preciousness that can cripple a life - that looks on a small boat as a danger instead of as nearer where the action is.
Gardens - no hanging around sedately sniffing flowers for you, but a dashing off down the steps, or up the hill to seek out all the hidden and forbidden corners. The lawn means no shoes and a run, not sitting down to admire it from a bench. Remember you might have loved the same things, but in such a different way!
Classical music - and was it just that you knew only two other people who did, and one of those you saw so very rarely! For you, it meant endless looks of surprise at concerts - yes, you were under a hundred, and no, you - oh well, never mind. Someone else who liked the stuff, and hymns, and old churches, old buildings, organ music, stained glass, the Pre-Raphaelites...actually you do now know one person who likes the latter. Morris, Tiffany...pianos and keyboards...
Old films and actually you'd grown away from them, much more into live theatre...the remnants that remained can be filled by the ever-marvellous YouTube. Into some of your favourite films? Not really, you'd both changed, and you'd come to think of ones he still cherished as bucolic; the ones you loved, passed him by.
Politics - there are more of those, but current affairs junkies...well in a sense neither of you were. I think you had a fantasy he listened to a lot of Radio 4, I'm not convinced he did. Or even Radio 3. Michael Wood historical documentaries were a big shared phenomena - but you vaguely know others who liked them, though perhaps not with the collector's passion.
An understanding of how you felt about the 'popular' music you cared about? Understanding - or just a willingness to engage and commit to being bored by a friend for the sake of the friendship? There was one other, but he also is gone. Too private strangely to share with other 'fans' (you even dislike the word) on sites like Facebook...and you're oddly convinced that though they say some things you think, that trying to really communicate with them, or worse, meeting up, would lead to blows. Just an uneasy feeling you have, and one which means you will not risk it. What is a 'favourite band' but a cohort? an atmosphere of a set of moments dear to some at a time of change? How could you, not having been there together at the time, now share what you each deemed to be crucial later in adulthood? It couldn't work, surely?

And of course, beyond all this 'running with the common notion', all this stripping out and attempt at salvage, you know that nothing will replace the lost shared past - the referring to events at which no one else was present, the remembrance of places that can no longer be visited, the old shared jokes, the times you spent together, the faith you thought they had in you, the faith you thought unshakeable in them. How do you replace all that?

The only thing you really can be sure of is that things will go on. The seasons don't stop turning just because you've lost some of your shared past. Being really busy and knowing a heap of other folks will take your mind off it, I suppose, even if nothing like a remedy seems at hand. Drowning out the silence with noise is the best way I have found. If anyone has a better....

Friday, 23 April 2010

Poetopoly V

Imagine if you will, an 'opportunity' in an e-mail posting you get regularly...normally it's something you wouldn't touch dead in a ditch with a bargehole - it's a pigeonhole, metropolitan, and ending up almost fascist in its narrow definition of 'diversity'... but you are arm twisted into it by someone whose opinion you trust, to go for it (out of that mixture so familiar to many artists of desperation and recoiling from past missed chances). You get a place on this day long 'workshop' with three full time paid lit. professionals (a writer, a poet and a comedian). With an evening performance at a small theatre in a big city over a hundred miles away. But luckily, you have friends you can stay with there, and so you go. The day - linked to Radio 4 as a 'talent spotting' exercise of some kind is a nightmare. You used to very occasionally write comedy - you did at college, but you haven't for years, and that's not what you do. The day, while open (so as not to upset equal opportunities) to folks from all sectors of society, has a post-colonial brief. Again, you've been known to turn up a piece on the theme, but not for years - again, it's just not what interests you. But you do at least manage to find an old 'comic' piece of writing you can bring along. And when the (incredibly patronizing) professional hosts for the day treat everyone as if they've brought along the best work they can do, when you've just brought along what you thought would fit in least badly - well, don't you regret it! The other participants are reasonably friendly, but the hosts are simply gushing about some work, insincere about others, and don't believe you have just tried to fit the brief, and are not attached to the piece of work. You offer to knock something else up - or (now you've found out they will allow non comedy, though it isn't what Radio 4 or the other big organization represented will commission or pick up) something else that you actually believe in, that you always have to hand. But they make you stick to the piece you've both had to change and cut down, and by the end of the day, have frankly come to dislike.
The evening performance too is a nightmare. Not only do the performers who draw laughs or approval talk about the very matters which you actively avoid as yesterday's news or pigeon-holing in its very ubiquity, but you have of course to perform something you no longer believe in under the critical gaze of not only those who've decided you're no good, but who have active power in large fields of opportunity to make sure certain doors stay firmly closed to you on the strength of it...You perform the twisted comic monologue fine - not as well as you could have done, but then you have no experience of performing comedy, but it was alright. The CD they pack you all off with at the end you don't bother playing until years have past, when you have done comic stuff on stage (although in another artform).
And then of course, once you become an administrator in the scene, ads come to you, even for these hosts whom you know to be patronizing and of whose work at least, you actively dislike...What to do? Just let it go. When folks say 'aren't x great?' just nod. There comes a point in any scene where if you've seen enough, but always had a different take on what you wanted to see and indeed do, but that it was a hard-to-get-commissioned thing, or a lateral take, the danger is that you will always stand outside the scene, and heartily dislike acts which other folks really go for or admire. Don't get bogged down in sounding as cynical as you sometimes feel. Keep that for the stuffed toy on the shelf! And actively seek out acts that you can relate to, that are like what you yourself do (or would have done), to connect with in some way. Always have an 'I prefer' reply, rather than a 'No I don't'.
It isn't easy. No one's claiming it is. Chin up. Minor parking fine.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Poetopoly IV

What sort of countywide arts project says it wants to bring every practitioner of the artform in, and make a great big map and heritage/arts trail (50,000 hard copies thereof) linking past, present and commissioning some future artists...and then has a call for entries on a single website, (and briefly on a single Facebook page)...saying we're putting out this call to 'ensure no one is left out' and pastes up the notification on say the 26th of January...with a closing date of the 5th of February...?

With the project starting in June and the 'public' part of the project (?!?) starting summer of the YEAR AFTER! - and all to make a map and build a network, issue some podcasts and 'new writing', a few workshops in schools, do some recordings and readings ...which could all have been done over Facebook and with the aid of organizations like Daisi or Villages in Action...or is already done by Poetcasting or the hundreds of readings organized by groups all over the county... What IS the £50,000 of funding they've netted going to be spent on, one wonders?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Poetopoly/Artsopoly III

Oh it's enough to make anyone cynical. You ring up festivals and they say yeah sounds fine, but sorry we only go through big promoters like.... one who shall remain nameless. (This isn't Private Eye after all.......yet.) And yet the promoter in question is a charity and claims not to be a promoter - in fact they claim to be an arts development agency, and not a booking agent...Do they not realise that they've sewn up many events so that they can no longer be approached by independent smaller organizations and loose confederations of artists? Forget individual artists altogether.
And for all you folks who hope that small zines to big zines to small press chapbooks to poetry publisher spined book is so long and hard that it's better to go for the performance route instead, then well - it's easier in some ways and tougher in others. Certainly applause is easier to come by than payment from zines, and open mikes are all over the place. Some paying gigs (but not anything to write home about) there are too. But of the big festivals, the online application forms are a job in themselves ('be good at admin' is a law of existing in the arts), then there's the big ones you can work your way into by offering them something quirky or something they needed done cheaper and you offered it cheaper...or if you're good at networking (even more important than admin!) getting to hear about who to contact, a name that isn't on the website in question often, lateral searches to find out the buried staff page they don't really want you to find... Some will give in. Some will even make you feel it was all worth it. But don't expect to be paid on time - most think free tickets should easily be enough. Two festivals from last year still owe our group (both of which I also won't name) promised expenses. Then there's the big guns, and if you get a recommendation from someone else, that will help. But some of them - without an agency like Better Chemistry or Plush Entertainment or whoever - and it'll be harder than you imagine.
Even if you do get the gig you were after, don't expect the promoter/festival organizer to turn up and see your shows, they'll be rushed off their feet. And don't expect any thanks unless you're a famous author (lit fests), a well known band (music and mostly-music mixed arts fests), with a well known publishing house/performance agency (poetry fests), or the head of a large company of warriors or soldiers (re-enactment events)...unless you've got to know whoever booked you in the meantime.

Some experiences have been good - of course they have, or I/we wouldn't keep going to stuff each summer/autumn and keep sending out our publicity and info.. But this time of year is when to bother the May to Octobers, just as September is the time to bother the March to June bunch, and I always find it soul-destroying...

We are always angriest on other's behalves - perhaps because we see our own troubles reflected in their own, with pity thrown in. But today I found the website of the artist who first inspired me and made me know for certain what it was I wanted to do (though it took me long enough to figure out how). And he still says that he is waiting to make money. For all that he has given to the many that have seen his shows, that man deserves to live in comfort on his own land for good. And he works harder than I or most artists do, simply because his art involves so many other artforms and hard graft with mechanical engineering.
Life in the arts? Don't even think about it unless you can do no other.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Poetopoly II Part 2!

After you've three missed turns, you land on a square and pick another card. Guess what? The job for which you were interviewed has been interestingly filled by...someone who already worked in the building where the office was based. Why DID they bother with a selection procedure? Or was that just one of those ghastly big hoops that poor old big organizations have to jump through?

Reminding one of the episode a while back when a truly sensational gallery with a truly gifted curator - wholly independent and existing only on selling magnificent works of art...who never got any funding, was finally closed down by a local council who wanted to sell the venue the gallery was in to some developers...who then in the recession left it to rot anyway...
The curator then went for a job in a nearby gallery as the manager's post had come up. It was a no brainer - this curator was staggeringly gifted. But of course the job went to the assistant manager of another nearby gallery that's regularly funded...Of course.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Poetopoly II

Throw the dice and pick a card. It says 'interview for a high profile job'. Let us say you are an experienced arts administrator, in touch with your field and region, and that a post comes up for a regional manager of a well known arts development agency which you've always known about, and which has been expanding of late from its London base.
You send off your application, and get an interview... At the interview it seems that they are uninterested or at least surprised by your vision for outreach in the relevant artform, given in the presentation which you have prepared. You don't get the job, although they claim to be impressed by the work you already do and have done, and also that they didn't choose you because they have a 'brand' and needed someone who would fit their specific 'strategy'.

You then meet up with another artist who has experience relevant to the job - of programming this time - who also went for it. Four people gained an interview, and as two of them, you swap stories. He too felt that he delivered his presentation well, that they weren't however interested in his special talents or his own experience, but that they wanted someone who would fit their 'brand'. (Leaving aside the question of whether an arts development agency with charitable status should really be ignoring regional distinctiveness in favour of a metropolitan brand...)

A few days later, their website (which has remained static for some years, as well as London based) suddenly has new pages for each region. You look at the region for which you applied. The page seems very familiar...those weren't some of the points and the spiel you made in your presentation were they...????! Miss three moves.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Film Moments

Recently something prompted me (perhaps talking to an old friend?) to go back and review some favourite films or film moments. My favourite film has to be the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from 1920, like many who are interested in Expressionist art. Although the hand tinted colour version is harder to get hold of, and is definitely more striking, and it can be seen with a variety of different soundtracks.
But on going back to YouTube, I found some fine moments which I had either forgotten or not seen before.
Among them was a dream sequence that Dali designed for Hitchcock's 'Spellbound' at;

and a fantastic trailer for Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet at;