Sunday, August 24, 2008

Farts on planes, festivals and facial hair

So Saturday was spent at a Melb Writers Festival workshop with Kate Rowland, the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing. Is it bad that the most fascinating elements of some of these activities are the kind of people who attend them? Like the guy who somehow managed to ask a question of Kate but also slip in that he is on the ethics committee at one of the universities … I mean, who cares? What did it have to do with story structure? Plus there was the ex-arts editor of one of the major daily newspapers here who shoved her CV down my throat too. Okay, okay, I get it. You're very, very clever and, in fact, could be teaching this class rather than attending it.

You know what my theory is? (I’m going to give it to you anyway.) My theory is that these middle aged people are often VERY proficient in their original fields of work but are now dabbling in the area that every second person thinks they can excel in – writing books or movie scripts – and they can’t really cope with being back at the starter’s block professionally speaking.

Because of this, and because they are once again being spoken to as students or newbies, they feel practically violently obliged to ensure everyone knows that they are, in fact, incredibly respected in another field. I say “Fantastic! Now stick to that field and let the rest of us try and learn something here from this tutor.”

It goes to the core of the growing phenomenon that so many people, regardless of how worthy or interesting their professional field is, just don’t seem to think it compares to success … making a name for oneself … in the media. I mean, is this the 50-year-old’s version of ‘Australian Idol’?

Suffice to say these classrooms are great gathering points for mankind’s archetypes so, if nothing else is gained, characters for stories could be.

There is always the over-the-top IT genius who has consumed every episode of every obscure British and US television show in the past 20 years and is now ready to shop his 1"13 ep" - he always uses jargon - idea to unsuspecting network staff.

Then there is the girl with the nerve rash. There is ALWAYS one of these.

There is also, often, the incredibly careworn 60-something woman who looks like she’s struggled out from underneath a library desk somewhere to pop on her orthopaedics and make it to this class … where she will say NOT A WORD from 10am to 4pm.

And then there is the me … too much liquid eyeliner, aviator glasses and a penchant for the Kingston bickies that are supposed to be shared but just keep calling their Siren call.

Probably more genuinely intriguing was the crew at the memoir writing class. I’ve never been interested in this genre but went for a sticky beak and it was magic. Elderly Indian brother and sister, a man who clearly used to be a woman (‘he’ told me he ran his own self publishing business and then proceeded to talk about Snap Printing ... um puhlease), the guy who’d grown up in an Italian community in regional Victoria and wanted to capture the spirit of those times for posterity, the philosophy student who wanted to apply mythical archetypes to a family history (okay, I vagued out during her 10 minute description) but you get the picture.

The weekend finale for me was David Sedaris' reading at the Capitol Theatre last night. As well as his most recent book, he read excerpts from his diary. Now that was a treat. It’s amazing how people confide in him about everything from farting on aeroplanes to eating monkey’s brains.

I’m trying to keep my eyes and ears open now to see how day-to-day life can be transformed into witty anecdotes. Sadly, though, since last night I’ve only dealt with the guy that brought my car up from the hotel’s valet parking, the girl who made my coffee on the way home, my ginger cat and my Mum on the phone. Of course Mum did tell me about the most recent visit she had from my brother.

He came to her house to pay her back some money he’d borrowed. He’d been to the doctor for migraine medication which seems kind of redundant when he then proceeded to pour two cans of no name vodka and orange into the bottle that Mum calls “the baby bottle” which he carries everywhere in his back pack. Surely if he eased up on the voddie the headaches might take a backseat. But, hey, I’m no doctor. In the end the poor lamb handed over $50 to Mum, took $10 back ‘cause he had “no money now” and also walked away with a loaf of bread and a nice serve of smoked ham the pensioner had just bought on special from the supermarket.

See that’s just not as funny as farts on a plane.

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