Attention must be played

March 20, 2012

My get up and go, got up and went last month, which is part of my excuse for not completing my last blog post. I didn’t add the links until now. Part of my excuse. Really, I just felt fraught about the post and kind of hoped no one would read it. Because I still feel fraught about the subject: families.

But just now I finally put the links in. This means, from what I gather, that Rona Maynard, Marni Jackson, Susan OldingIan Brown, and Kerry Clare will get more of something. Clicks, I think. And I want that. I admire them and want to acknowledge their wonderful work. I want other people to know about their work, and to know that I admire it.

But the whole clicking enterprise is part of my reason for feeling fraught. Last month (yes, in February) we went to see Ronnie Burkett virtuosic, dystopian marionette production, Penny Plain (which – while I’m in the business of admiring people – confirmed my belief that Ronnie Burkett is a genius and a national treasure).

The friends we were with wrote about it, or statused about it or whatever you do on Facebook, which promptly sent an invitation to my husband to put our whereabouts on his Facebook page. He ignored the request and we all enjoyed our evening. Except that the haunted, dystopian feeling lingered just a little longer when I thought about our being – albeit automatically – tracked that way. What preserved our privacy was that everyone all over the place is doing the same thing.

I’m not saying anything against our friends or anyone else who posts their location on Facebook. It’s really just a way of reinforcing ties with friends, the cyber-equivalent of a refrigerator-note saying “gone to a brilliant, dystopian marionette production.” It says you want to make your schedule accessible to the people you feel connected with, and allows you to enjoy the fact that you have people who care about where you’re going for the evening. It’s also a way of letting people know about the show.

But last month (yes, in February) I was also reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. This book chronicles the life of an American diplomatic family stationed in Berlin through the rise of the third Reich. They arrived with open minds and what was then an all-too-common anti-Semitic mindset, and gradually came to see that that they were among – well – beasts. The warnings they sent back were downplayed. The book is chilling because it takes place just before the evil that was germinating in that country showed its true colours. Back then it was only too easy to justify, normalize or mock what we later learned fear and deplore.

I started to think about what all that surveillance could become, in the hands of a less-than-scrupulous government – or indeed anyone with unfriendly intentions who wanted to track your whereabouts. It gave me the creeps. And I started to think about my personal need for privacy. The need to hide myself away is part of the creative process, for me. Yet making myself seen and heard is part of having the career that will let me have the process.

I’ve also been thinking that this blog — which is supposed to be about body and language — has turned into a meditation on publicity. Indeed, it’s become an organ of publicity. Where’s the body in all this?


But besides tired.  I’ve been circling around a point for some months.  It started here – thinking about what it costs me to promote myself.  I have come to suspect that something about concentrating on the outer image, takes away from the inner sense of self.

Self: please define.

Later, I’m too tired.

Last month, I also took an excellent Writers’ Union seminar by Elizabeth Ruth on how to be your own publicist. Among other smart things, she told us that she consciously separates her SELF from the person she’s promoting. In preparing for the seminar, she had informally polled a group of authors about promoting their own work. Many felt resistance, either through lack of confidence, or the belief that a writer should be above self-promotion, or a sense that it’s an admission of defeat to promote oneself.

We all have those thoughts circling in our heads and it was great to hear them articulated at the very start of the session. I found myself better able to listen to practicalities when the big subterranean issues had been brought to light. I started to wonder what it would have been like if my grandmother had been able to take Elizabeth’s seminar. (Well, she could have taught it.) But what if she’d lived in a time when it was socially acceptable for a writer, particularly a woman writer, to admit to promoting herself. I wonder if she would have been able to speak to me more frankly about what she went through, building her career. Probably. Things are going in a good direction, I thought.

Yet it was sobering to hear Elizabeth read those quotes. We live in an age when we share everything from our family history to where we’re going on a Saturday night. And yet are we any further ahead when it comes to hang-ups or I dare say shame, about being seen and heard?

And even if she had told me different stories about the past, would the bottomless hunger for attention I found so disturbing in Mona’s middle age have been calmed?

After weeks of watching me stare out the window, interspersed with diatribes about the Nazis among us, my husband took over the cultural programming for our household. We hunkered down for the weekend with Kung Fu Panda II. The main character, Po, experiences flashbacks to being abandoned by his parents, which cramp his style as a martial artist. I cried. And I thought about the deeper issues behind all of this. What kind of a world creates Facebook?  What does that say about our need for attention, and in what form? Are we really that far removed from a world where leaders jackboots and beat people up for not saluting them?  What I mean is, I still don’t think we have it right.

Seems to me there’s some kind of deeper sense of abandonment, a very vulnerable, abandoned or at least abandon-able self underneath the surface in all of us. And our very public life takes us further from integrating it.

At the beginning of this month I did a talk at the Arts and Letters Club. I worked hard to make it a good performance. It was well received. Someone in the audience told me I was a natural. I told her no. Everything you see here is studied, practiced and chosen. “Your speaking ability was inside you,” she said. “All the work you’ve done just brought it out.”  I’m not even sure if I disagree, but a took a stand for perspiration rather than inspiration, as I do every time.

In all my blog entries, I’ve yet to write about my voice work with Richard Armstrong and Fides Krucker. This work that has allowed me to be whatever degree of public person I am, right now.

I think back to the first class I did with Richard in which I confessed my fear of making a wrong note. He told me to make a big wrong note. As big a wrong note as I could. It’s hard to describe how I got to the point where that was possible (take a workshop with him if you want to find out) but at that moment I felt an absolute joy in making noise just for its own sake. Sure, I was breathing deeply and feeling all the pleasurable vibrations that come from making sound, but I was also being noticed in the way you get noticed when you make a lot of noise.

I felt joy in flouting the convention that says one sound is good and another bad, and enjoyed the kind of attention you get when you do that. I’ll never forget that moment. I think it’s something I have taken metaphorically into my writing. It’s also something I’ve taken into promoting my book and if I’m sane through the past year it’s because I know that desire for attention is in me, and so is the ability to shout for it.

In case you haven’t noticed from reading my past entries, I don’t believe that there’s anything trapped inside us that comes out when we make a big cathartic sound. That was not years of pent up bellowing for attention I did in Richard’s class. To borrow an idea from Moshe Feldenkrais, I believe that different forms of behaviour have to be practised for us to feel fully – to quote his word – potent.

There are times, when you need to get attention. When you need to scream for it. If you go around in the world feeling that this behaviour is not available to you, there’s no way you can feel good.

So I can do it. But why am I so tired? I still haven’t figured out whether shame and fear are still curled up under the surface and hit me in the wake of a performance situation. Or whether it just takes a lot of energy.

Either way, the sun is helping.

2 thoughts on “Attention must be played”

  1. Terri Favro says:

    I don’t know where to start. First of all, thanks –– I always come away from your posts feeling “full” (dumb phrase but it’s early). Self promotion has always been a necessary evil, but social media can start to become too much of an end in itself. There is immediate gratification in posting on FB and Twitter (and Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+ and whatever’s coming next) and getting someone to ‘like’ you/retweet. It’s seductive compared to waiting eight months for a rejection letter (happened to me yesterday). It’s like trying to do just a little bit of heroin. First I forced myself to do it; now I can’t stop doing it. Is it actually getting me anywhere? Pffttt!

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