On Monday night I saw Soulpepper
's production of David Mamet's play "American Buffalo
." This dark comedy (or was it a drama? I don't really know, but they played it for laughs - chuckles of apprehension and discomfort) is about three Chicago gangster guys with a lot of schemes, a lot of conflict, and a lot of swearing. I interpreted it as an exploration of trust, honesty, and loyalty in friendship; perhaps a twist on the proverbial notion of "honour among thieves". The script also dealt with the frailty and the absurdity of human relationships, and illustrated how easily and rapidly our interpersonal dynamics can go awry. I think that is a testament to the tightness of Mamet's language, and how distilled and intense the dialogue is. He was also subtly examining the concept of intuition, and essentially what happens when it is ignored or unrealized.
As I was waiting afterward for the King streetcar, thinking about the show and visualizing the stage, I understood that the set and lighting perfectly reflected the feelings of claustrophobia and chaos depicted in the characters and in the plot. Not generally considering myself a visual person, I don't always think about sets and lighting, but what seemed like a jumbled mess of junk store clutter in a dark shop was strikingly apt for the events involving Don, Bobby and Teach. That's why I like going to theatre and movies alone; you can extend that silence, that intensity, that contemplation a little longer when you don't have anyone to talk to, which sometimes allows you to gain a little more insight.
I liked this production much more than Soulpepper's last production, Panych's rewriting of Gogol's "Government Inspector
." While very well acted, this adaptation struck me as goofy, irritating, and over the top; plus when I went to see it, I had somehow forgotten that I don't like farce!
On Tuesday night I went out to the Lexiconjury reading series
where my pal Sandra Alland
gave a stellar and evocative reading, as she is wont to do! She read along with John Lavery and Stephen Collis. The latter was unfamiliar to me, but I read with Lavery in Montreal last year, and his writing intrigued me then, but I had not since read any of his stuff, despite intentions otherwise. In Montreal, he'd read a piece from "You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off
" which was written in a female voice, essentially about a miscarriage. The style and linguistic play and point of view were so bizarre and inventive that, unlike the bevy of enraged female undergrads in the bar's bathroom during intermission, I did not react to the "appropriation of voice." As I'd said to him afterward last year, the way it was written was so fresh and creative and just plain weird that for me it transcended any appropriation and gender issues. Ironically for me, he read that same piece in Toronto the other night, again eliciting shocked reactions. This time I bought the book, and look forward to reading the entire collection of stories, with the passage I heard in context. I'm curious how the segment I heard will fit into the rest of the book.
Appropriation of voice. It's a tricky one, isn't it? I mean, I went to York U in the '90s! Probably the most intensely politically correct time and place on the planet! You know how sometimes when you learn a new word, suddenly you immediately hear it five times that same day? Apparently that is not coincidence, nor aliens bugging your brain, it is merely that you are more attuned and susceptible to noticing that word, since it's fresh in your mind. Similarly, I was contemplating voice appropriation, particularly those who have conventionally held the balance of power over those who have not, like a Forest Hill white guy writing as a black southern slave, men writing as women, etc. etc., is it okay when it's done well, but wrong when it's crappy writing, is pure creative liberty always acceptable no matter who you are or what your experience is, or, in my preference, is assuming points of view other than your own laudable when you write it with authenticity and respect? My point is that tonight I attended Marnie Woodrow
's "Story Talk" about moving beyond autobiography in fiction at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, and she commented at one point that worries about appropriation of voice should have stayed back in the '90s when they were such a hot topic.
But ultimately I believe it's a fine line - I'm not going to pretend that I know what it's like to be an Arabic and Muslim man in the U.S. right now, for example, and I'm not trying to create characters who do. However, I wouldn't let being a white gal from small town Ontario town stop me from writing characters from other contexts. I will just make damn sure I know what the hell I'm talking about, and I'll do it well!
Another thing we talked about tonight in Marnie's class was ethics and stealing stuff from other people's lives for our writing. I won't get into too much detail since you should just take her classes, because she's a good teacher and funny and smart and insightful, but I wish I'd considered these issues a little more when I was younger. While I felt entirely justified in examining issues and stories that I believed were important and needed to be told in my first book of poetry
, I realize now that I could have been a little more considerate about my almost-cavalier retelling of other people's experiences. Yes, poetry is often more autobiographical than fiction, and yes, I stand by my poems and their intentions, and yes, the themes and issues in that book are relevant and needed to be written, but I do regret some of the discomfort and even hurt that my stealing of stories has caused. At that time, I didn't consider the impact on others, and ironically, that probably made the poems better, untouched by self-consciousness or guilt, concerned only with writing the best poem I could write, about topics that need to be addressed.
I guess that's age for you. No regrets, but thoughts like "could I have acheived the same thing differently?"
There are other things I wanted to write about in here tonight, but I think they'll have to wait until next time. I'm nervous about a lunch meeting tomorrow, and it's after 2 a.m. at this point. More on other stuff later, depending on how it goes!
by the Talking Heads