Friday, 23 March 2012

Selling Your Boyfriend: the art of stealing for art's sake

I read once that people write in order to overcome an obstacle; there is something within that needs unpacking. There is a fence, a rock, a brick wall between one’s self and the self one wants to be, and the fastest route to the improved, aware, expressed self is to write stuff down.

If this is true, the obstacle for me was loneliness. I moved around a lot as a kid and the first year of every new posting was often friendless. Hugely lucky in the love of my family, I was encouraged to read and sing and I was left alone, for hours and hours, to write.

I didn’t have real friends. I had the friends I made up.  And one of them was a dog.  I’d never owned a dog but I figured the best friend you could possibly have was one who would do everything you asked, miss you like crazy when you were gone and lick you all over when you came back. (These are qualities I tend to attract in men, as well.) (Yes, I’m a lucky bitc - uh- pooch.)

From the age of ten I spent every waking hour, and some hours I was meant to be sleeping, reading about dogs; ‘How To’ books and novels by the dozen. Lassie Come-Home, Follow My Leader, Big Red, The Fox and the Hound are titles I am shocking myself by remembering now, and my night-time fantasy was imagining a shelf above my bed, extending along the length of the wall, full of the novels of Albert Payson Terhune, probably a second-rate writer who sentimentalised the owning of collies, but who was the god of my idolatry and inspired my first novel – Flaxy: The Story of a Dog.

I still have the manuscript. I read from it at dinner parties and reduce my audience to incontinent wrecks, sharing the adventures of Jenny, who is ten when she gets her puppy, and Flaxy, who is 18 when the story ends (Flaxy is shot to death by a babysitter) (don’t ask). Jenny stays an adventure-loving 10-year old girl throughout the 204 pages. It was my father who, hearing me read my juvenilia to a boyfriend at lunch one Sunday afternoon when I was home from University, remarked that if Flaxy was 18 at the end then Jenny should have been 28. She didn’t need the babysitter who ended up killing her dog (the babysitter was a burglar) (I’ll tell you later).

This inconsistency in time had never occurred to me, not while I was writing, not in those eight years since. And it did not occur to me because, primarily, I had been stealing the tone – and sometimes plot -  of all the books I loved. The Master and Mistress of Sunnybank Lad never grew older in Terhune’s books. And Lassie comes home before Joe turns 12.

It was my first experience of all art being theft.

And I’ve been true to the maxim ever since.

Never more so than when I started to write directly about my own experience and put it on stage (or on line) (or on film).  I now steal from myself and change the names to protect the innocent, using my own name because I can never be sure of just how innocent I am.

This risky tendency began on 30th November 2007. I invited my ex-boyfriend out for a cup of tea. My feelings were not straight-forward. He was (still is) a fabulous guy – intelligent, warm, literate, passionate – he understood ice hockey – and although we hadn’t dated for well over a year contact with him was still charged for me.

We admired the lights and the bell-ringers in the Christmas Market on the street where I lived. We repaired to a Lebanese tea shop. He was healthy-looking and energetic. And told me he was seeing someone else.

I wasn’t prepared for the deluge of anger and sorrow that rose up from my ankles. We ended the evening shortly thereafter, I cried all night and went to a party the next evening, where I danced maniacally to soul-rousing music, met a very tall young man and brought him home.

Not having much time to befriend this – tall – young man, I found out at approximately 3:00 the next morning that he whom I’d taken to be ten years my junior - which is, you know, manageable - had been born the year I got married. There were 22 years between us.

I felt Nabokov was watching.

I didn’t see him again.

Not because I didn’t want to. But possibly because he saw me freak so intensely when I found out his age (Me, head under the pillow: No, no no no no!! Him: What, what what, what, what? Why? How old are you? Me: Old enough to cut up my own meat.) that he didn’t think it worth the aggro.

No one wants to convince a lover to love.

Over the next week, the responses of my friends to this story made me stop and consider my motives. He was 25. It was legal. Was I keeping myself single, in some way, in the hopes my ex-boyfriend would reappear? Did I want a man old enough to care for me, because I wasn’t capable of caring for myself?

And what about that soul-rousing music?

All of these questions, questions that felt like obstacles, gave rise to the first play of Mofardin Young Production Company:  Sirens, at the Canal CafĂ© Theatre, a show combining action on stage with live music and film.

All about the night you find out your ex-boyfriend is seeing someone else.

It struck a chord.

Some people obviously have the same questions I have.

We promoted the show with a comedy video about the fact that I seemed to have done nothing more than transcribe the events of my life and sell tickets to watch: my ex-boyfriend had a podcast so I gave his new girlfriend a podcast; we hired the band who played at the party (where I met the tall guy) to play in the play; I cast a tall guy.

We thought the hilarity of this mock interview (entirely scripted and produced by us), in which I was accused of  ‘gossiping’ not writing, was obvious.
I was wrong.

And this is where theft gets dangerous.

My father wrote, full of sorrow that I should be so maligned. He offered support and a veiled implication that he would hurt the ‘journalist’ interviewing me if given the chance (the interviewer is a fab actor, Jeff Mash – reading the lines I’d written for him). A director mate rang, full of umbrage (and, it has to be said, Scotch), outraged on my behalf, a friend from Canada emailed asking who was this interviewer and what kind of irresponsible journalism was he practising?

I had gone too far. The life that had become art that I was promoting as though it were life really looked like life. I had to back pedal, reassure my family and friends and try to understand what it says about me that my comedy face looks like my real face to the people who know me best.

MYPC has launched a YouTube channel and uploaded these videos to finally appear under one company roof. You can see an edited version of our original comedy video -

a previously unseen (also comedy) interview -

and the film that was shown on stage:

This is the film being shown on stage. ‘Stephanie’ is listening to a band and remembering her ex-boyfriend. The band ( is the actual band I was listening to the night I found out my ex-boyfriend was seeing someone else, yes the ACTUAL band – and although that isn’t my actual ex-boyfriend in the film he is an actor I had a huge crush on for yuh-ears and eventually had the great honour to get to – know – so you can see how it is all getting verrrrry, very blurry…
Whether it’s other people’s plots or my own, I haven’t ever cared what I use to get through the obstacles in my heart. If the poignance of life was revealed to me by reading the death of Lad, a Dog, I was entitled to try move other people with the murder of Flaxy (the bullet was heading for Jenny; Flaxy got it - BANG! -  right in the brain pan) (obviously an early penchant for drama). And if narrative truth demands I get together with the Tall Guy when I never saw him again, it’s possible art may lead me to a version of myself that even I haven’t yet dared hope to create.

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