Small Audience

Procrastination sometimes has its own benefits. Given a free morning (daughter to ballet, wife to shopping) I decided quite decisively that I too would be productive this fine sunny morn.
And then I opened up YouTube. Which had exactly the effect you think it would. The clocks are about to strike noon as I write. And why shouldn’t I, after all? It is Saturday and I am entitled, am I not, to some form of leisure? Besides, it’s not like there are millions of subscribers waiting to read/watch my latest output. Most of the things I write are applications for funding read by four people at most and when I do get to be creative then it is for the dozen(s) readers of this blog or perhaps ten people who will read the first draft of a screenplay. It’s hardly a pressing concern now is it? So I should be allowed to relax I think. But I didn’t.
The morning was productive I tell you – and I can see my wife’s face even though she isn’t here. Eyes widening as she nods in mock agreement. What have I been doing? I have been learning I tell you, I have been inspiring myself so that I in turn might inspire others, I have been… watching Stewart Lee on youtube. Not the funny bits, not excerpts of shows but a talk at the University of Oxford… about writing and not writing. And yes, since I watched it to avoid writing in the first place I am fully aware of the ironic potential thank you.
The video is a tad under an hour long and so, in this modern age of multi-media, it took me a good ninety minutes to watch it (facebook alerts, emails, daughters searching for water bottles). I do not recommend you watch it unless you are interested in writing in general and comedy writing in particular. It is for a very small and niche audience.
What it did for me (at least at first) was make me feel decidedly inferior. Not just at the ability and erudition of Stewart Lee and others but also at the commitment shown.
As I started to watch I reminded myself that he had the chance to go to Oxford only to then remind myself that he was clever enough to go to Oxford.
I reminded myself that a younger me was a good deal cleverer than the current version and had he applied himself then I could also have gone to Oxford.
Then I reminded myself that I didn’t.
All of which sounds very depressing. It wasn’t. I found it to be perversely inspirational. It was once possible to try for a few years using government funds. It was once possible to go to the Fringe and put on a show without engaging a boutique venture capital bank in your endeavour. He names people you have never ever heard of (and some that you have) and how they pursue a life in regional theatre or playing to audiences of ten or twenty. He talks about artists and writers and performers who just work at it because they want to and how even people like himself and Alan Moore end up lost at sea when it comes to the new marketplace of ideas. But the point is that he talks with such enjoyment about art and culture and reading and performance that in telling a story of how he was asked to develop characters who might become internet avatars he mentions the Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens…
Likely still won’t read it though
” Charles Dickens never had to think about letting the audience decide what happened in Little Dorrit”
And I felt ashamed at not having read the damn thing but also energised by the possibility that I could and soothed by the fact that the media types are even asking Stewart Lee to do ridiculous amounts of work on nonsense: In the same way that my stuff seems to get rejected or dismissed for not being “quite what the marketplace is looking for”.
You could say that misery loves company but it is good to see that there are others out there – working away and getting similar results to you – just because the work of writing and creation can be very insular. It becomes easy to think that you are just wasting your time. Looking at the lives of the successful and thinking it is always easy for them is like looking at your friends on facebook and feeling bad because they are all having a wonderful time and you aren’t. They aren’t always having a wonderful time, it’s just the magic of editing.
Lots of people didn’t go to Oxford.
Lots of people don’t have big audiences.
This is not how I should be judging things. There are better ways of looking. I shall give you an example.
Yesterday I spent a whole day learning to do something. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken that long but I ain’t the young Edison – it takes me a while to get my head around new things.
I was trying to teach myself something so that I can offer students better options when we do a horror project later this summer. Specifically I was trying to learn how to change eye colour without making them wear contact lenses so we could get a horror effect. The image above is an example of a simple project of that type. It took me ages to do it.
It might look like I did it with a facebook or instagram filter ( I have no idea how those work either) but beneath that 5 second clip is hours and hours of work and frustration at my inability to take on board new ideas. I did it in the end though and was overly proud of the results as you can tell. Hours and hours of work – for an audience of a few dozen at most. I am never going to be an effects specialist. That requires dedication and talent I do not possess. Moreover I do not enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing.
But I wasn’t wasting my time. I am in my fifties (same age as Stewart Lee, roughly) and he only started making a living about ten years ago. The knowledge and the effort is an end in itself. As he describes in the video you can put a play on above a pub, or you can do Macbeth with little ninja toys (It’s in the video near the end) – these things have value.
If a dozen or more people read this blog then I truly do appreciate it. They don’t have to and I am sure there are other ways they could be spending their time. More important things. But popularity does not equate to value. Your struggle through life has value even if it doesn’t get loads of likes on facebook.
An audience of one (yourself) is enough.
As it happens my audience was larger than that. The daughter in the video liked it and so I sent it to my other daughter via email and got the response.

That’s so freakin cool. Teach me!

And if that is all the audience I ever get then it’ll do for me.
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