Thursday, April 29, 2010

Opinions Are Like...

"If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist. If a man does the same, he’s describing the human condition. But people seem to evaluate your work based on how much they relate to it, so it’s like, well, who’s the narcissist?" 
-- Emily Gould, via Curtis Sittenfield, New York Magazine

One of the things I find odd about being a writer is that people think just because you’re putting it out there, that you’re asking for people’s opinions. I can tell you right now, I read/see/watch a lot of artistic work where a writer is involved and NEVER EVER did I feel I had the authority to personally critic the writer to his or her face. Or even really express them in a public forum. I tend to get very upset when anything is dismissed as “terrible” or “amazing” as a whole, particularly without specifying why, which parts, what about it. Because typically, what  “amazing” or  “terrible” really means is “I liked it,” or “I did not like it.”

Which is to say, we’ve built a certain amount of (to me, nauseating) arrogance into our own opinions (of which, certainly, I have many.) As though we are the standard bearers of taste. So I try to be at least constructive in my opinions about what didn’t work for me.

The ability to comment on things on the internet has made everyone a critic.

No such time was this MORE evident than this past summer, when Steven & I premiered our musical, VOTE!, at the Minetta Lane theatre downtown as part of FringeNYC. They put us in this massive theatre, we had an uber-professional cast, a great website and marketing campaign (it is, after all what I do for a living.) But behind the front we put up, it was still just me and Steven and all the lovely folks we could get to help us for next to nothing.

So while the public seemed to think we were some ready-to-go big guy musical, we were, like everyone else, just a musical in development. My company is not called littlewow productions for nothing. It’s just me, running my little empire from my computer (command center alpha).

I read a great article in New York Magazine this week about a pair of “controversial” female blogger/authors Emily Gould & Meghan Daum. Think what you want about them, or whether the points they make actually apply to them personally, but I think the points they address are valid. Particularly when it comes to the public commentary that arises from people’s writing—especially if it’s in any way personal. Gould said,Or if you write about personal experiences, it’s like people think you want advice about how to live, like you’re holding a public referendum. Recently I read reactions to Sandra Tsing Loh’s Atlantic essay, “On Being a Bad Mother,” and some of the comments were cowardly, bullying, and also weirdly normative and conservative. What on Earth gives people commenting on a blog under aliases the right to judge Sandra Tsing Loh’s parenting skills?”

Here’s the deal—at least with me—and writing: While I am not ruling out a conversation, (Indeed, some of the best things blogs and other pieces of writing have ever done is build a sense of community and dialogue around issues) I don’t write for that reason. I write because I literally cannot stop myself. I don’t do it for your consideration, approval, pity or empathy. Particularly from “people commenting on a blog under aliases.”

Now, I mean this more when it comes to non-internet based endeavors. (On this blog, I most certainly welcome commentary—though it is odd how when I talk about relationships, people seem to want to console me, write to me and tell me that one day, I’ll find the right person—which is certainly not the intent of my discussing relationships at all.)

What I mean when I say non-internet based endeavors is my theatrical works. Sure, we use the internet as a conduit to spread our work to people who wouldn’t normally be able to see it. But it’s not based in the internet, (like a blog) it’s based on the stage. Yet, people use the internet to completely trash things while they’re being developed.

Other than blogs (which are still relatively complete by the time you post them—it’s not like each word you type appears in real time on your blog as you’re typing it) I can think of no other artistic medium that is subjected to criticism so intensely by the public WHILE it’s being developed. Think about if you had post on the internet for everyone to see each chapter of your new novel for every bored/entitled/perhaps well-intentioned, but (probably) ultimately unqualified person to evaluate.

That’s insane. And damaging to the artistic process if you ask me.

Artists create because they HAVE TO…not because they want to know what you think about it. Unless they ask you, in which case, by all means. I do write for fellowship in some way (ah, fellowship, one of my favorite words!) But here's the thing-- if I DON'T LIKE a piece of work, I walk away and leave it alone. I don't call it "AWFUL," I don't go online and smear it, say it's terrible, talk about the writer personally or call them untalented. Who has that kind of energy to spend so much time getting pissed off about what they don't like. I'd rather spend hours and hours articulating what I found AMAZING or what I did like about a piece and why I liked it. If there's something that didn't work for me and I can't walk away, I think of fellowship and try to come up with a great solution using the resources the piece already has available. 

I don't root for anything to fail. Only that the really good stuff be duly rewarded, and that everybody works hard together on the way up and learns a lot. And that's why I like everybody. At least a little bit. 

1 comment:

  1. additionally: It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out where the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could've done things better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena who's face is marred by blood, sweat and dust, who strives valiantly. Who knows the great enthusiasms the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails whilst daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat - Teddy Roosevelt


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