Take Your Lumps Like the Rest of Us, Hal

There’s a minus sign in front of that one star rating. I’ve stayed out of writting [sic] negative reviews but this was just terrible. Stay away from this show! I haven’t a clue as to who wrote the positive reviews. There was not a single moment in the entire eternity of this enterminable [sic] 60 minute “show” that I enjoyed being there. 15 minutes in I couldn’t figure out what the point of doing this show was nor did I any longer care. The Buddah [sic] in me cries out for compassion for someone who would allegedly unknowingly and unwittenly [sic] be the cause of so much pain and suffering ……..but the Charles Bronson in me screams out, “Screw that crap , off the bastard before he ‘creates’ again.”…I probably should have cooled off before writting [sic] this but……..As a friend of my wife’s was told by her church choir master , “I believe the Lord has other plans for you.” Or at have someone evaluate what you are doing before attempting this again. Please , for our sake.

That’s one of the audience reviews I received for Wrestling an Alligator, a play that I wrote and directed for the 2004 San Francisco Fringe Festival. Of course, I was pretty quick to dismiss it and to assure my remarkable cast not to regard it. (The review came after an unfortunate afternoon show attended by churchgoers, an audience that did not get the play and regrettably the only performance videotaped. I had rented some rehearsal space in a church which thankfully matched the stage dimensions and my limited price range. But I didn’t expect the church to publicize the play and have a good deal of its squeaky clean congregation experience my dark and uncomfortable satire.)

Besides, can you really trust a reviewer who misspells “writing?”

I bring this up not to boast, but to respond to Hal Niedzviecki’s ridiculously whiny article, which reads as if a more narcissistic Ed Muskie were campaigning in the age of the blogosphere.

Now I liked Niedzviecki when I interviewed him last year. But his call here for a safe and sane blogosphere is the telltale mark of a passive-aggressive. I would counter-argue that the blogosphere’s sometimes vitriolic timbre has risen in response to the overly safe and bland musings of the mainstream media, with critics who tell us why we should like things in terms that are frequently insulting to our intelligence. But sometimes it’s necessary to articulate intense emotion to get to the more rational part of an argument. And if the blogosphere can get the blood pumping, particularly for relatively obscure cultural critics like Niedzviecki, then how is this a bad thing?

Besides, any good writer who is fiercely devoted to what she does is not going to be stopped by what some opinionated blogger has to say (least of all, me). Speaking for myself, it is often the negative reactions that I value the most. To take the above review, framed as a borderline death threat, it did have me considering that my play may have been too baroque for some to understand its intention. And if I had to do it again, I would have clarified some of the character intentions to help my audience. I should also point out that some of the writers who I’ve raked over the coals here have, in turn, emailed me, and we’ve respectfully disagreed (and sometimes the writer even changes my mind; I’m opinionated, but not inflexible) and we’ve found common points of interest on other subjects. It helps to have an open mind towards one’s detractors. And even when someone completely disagrees, is it not a good thing to know that at least one person gives a damn about your work?

Of course, Niedzviecki will have none of this. Turning to one of the apparent “vitriolic” critics of his radio show, one doesn’t find a mean-spirited Niedzviecki takedown, but a lengthy essay on why Subcultures reflects a current CBC trend of listless irony for the sake of listless irony. This is the stuff of mincing words? This is the stuff that has the enfant sensible calling for mommy?

Niedzviecki asks bloggers to “please pause to consider both your reputation and the fragile ego of the artist.” I couldn’t care less about my reputation because I don’t have much of an ego and I accept who I am, warts and all. I’m genuinely stunned and delighted that anybody would be reading or listening. I’m honored and surprised any time I get a paid writing gig and I work my ass off in kind. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lifetime of rejections. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lifetime of being misunderstood. Or maybe it’s because I know that the only people concerned with writing 1,500 word articles about “fragile egos” are those who possess them. The rest of us toil on because we must, because it’s who we are, and because we can’t stop doing it. And there’s nothing that will stop us.

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