Some things go wrong when you write at this pace. You say Powerpoint when you meant to say Excel. You write bare instead of bear. You find you’ve ended all of your chronicles with a word in Dutch that you never defined for your readers in Spanish or in English. (Gezocht, my friends, means ‘wanted’. Sorry for the delay.)
But some things turn out unexpectedly well. You make mental connections that only improvisation could allow, and you’re more open because there’s no time to hold back. Writing quickly brings us closer to the experience of being on stage: to the vulnerability I talked about in another chronicle, but also, even more, to the presence. Facing an audience, like facing a deadline, means you are where you are. Here and now, and no getting away from it.
Since we’ve come this far, my inner grandmother (who considers holding back as irrelevant as pairing socks) is pushing me to tell you about something.
It happened four years ago. We were asleep, and some laughter woke us up. It was my laughter, I understood, surprised. Laughter so impossible to hold in that it soon turned into sobs. I left my husband half asleep, still chuckling to himself at my laughter, and went to cry in the bathroom. (This exotic flourish, I should clarify – if my inner grandmother will allow me the modesty – is something I have only done once.) Then I spent a long time sitting in the bath, analysing the dream I’d just emerged from, and I realised something.
(Something possibly untrue but extremely revealing, in the way only fiction can enlighten us.)
In the dream, an estate agent had been showing me and three strangers around a flat that was up for rent. Suddenly, a load of lights came on and someone called for a break. I was the only one who was surprised. The fake strangers went outside together for a cigarette, and I noticed long rows of seats arrayed in front of me. The flat was only a stage set. The viewing was a rehearsal. This realisation made me laugh for so long I woke myself up.
After the catharsis, still in the bathroom, I made the mental connection for the first time – flats, theatre – and started counting years. On my fingers. And this is what I learnt: my addiction to real estate began when I gave up the theatre.
During my childhood and teenage years, writing and acting in plays was the most important thing in the world to me. Something, I was sure, that I would do for the rest of my life. But I gave it up when I discovered narrative. I wrote a story and right away I was hooked: I didn’t need rehearsals, directors, other people’s egos… I could do it all myself! Build worlds. All by myself.
To write fiction is to be in character all day long. (Or at least during the hours when you manage to block out the internet and concentrate on living other lives.) And, in my humble opinion, no work in the world is more fun. But it has serious flaws. It’s practically unpaid, for a start. On top of that, it does without two things that the theatre, in contrast, depends on. The body is one of them. Creating things with other people, working as a team, is the other.
I think a scheme like The Chronicles is valuable not only because of the wonderful trip to the festival, but also because it briefly infuses our work (and I include the translators’ work here, since they’re writers even if they won’t admit it) with what it most needs: payment, of course, but also a body – moving around, meeting other people, dancing together – and, above all, a team.
Stage presence is also about being constantly aware of the presence of other people. You have to use your peripheral vision. Over the past few weeks, that’s how I’ve been writing: with Annie McDermott and Heleen Oomen in the corner of my eye. And I’d like to thank both of them, for being as obsessive as me about the different layers of each word.
And now I have a hunch about something.
(Something possibly untrue but extremely tempting, in the way that only hopes can entice us.)
I have a hunch that if people carry on translating me or inviting me to festivals, I might just get over my addiction to real estate.
Attention, my grandmother and I announce: uitnodiging gezocht.