Shakespeare, Spacey, and the Sublime

A review of documentary Now: In the Wings on a World Stage

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At first the idea of Hollywood denizen Kevin Spacey helming a world Shakespearean tour seems slightly self-indulgent, if not rather absurd. And few besides Spacey would have the audacity to film the whole experience for a limited-release feature-length documentary. However the result, Now: In the Wings on a World Stage, is more than surprisingly fresh, it’s a moving and, dare I say it, inspirational reminder of why theatre is one of the oldest and most enduring art forms.

Many critics of the film have majored on the self-congratulatory nature of such a project for Spacey, or the lack of focus on audience response and the small amount of live performance included in the final screening. These reviewers have wildly missed the point of the whole endeavor (ahem, Mike McCahill), which was never to be a screened version of the play, nor a sociological examination of the reception of Shakespeare throughout different cultures. The film exists to demonstrate the human quality of bringing an ancient text to life and at this it exceeds magnificently.

In an age when it’s easy to roll your eyes at the excessive celebrity and attention-seeking antics of those in the acting profession, this film serves as a reminder that actors essentially love their craft, surely a human right to which we are all entitled. Away from the glimmering screen realm, theatre throws performance back into the raw essential nature that makes it such a vulnerable exposé of human experience. A touring production is one of the most intimate and exhilarating collaborative experiences an artist can have, and it is the wide-eyed wonder seen on even the most weathered of faces in this film that reminds us of the simple, unifying power of doing something great together.

NOW-DVDI quickly found myself desperately wishing to have been amongst the fortunate audience able to share the Bridge Project Company’s ambitious production. The documentary, directed by Jeremy Whelehan, follows the trans-continental cast and crew of Sam Mendes’s Richard III production as it tours from London’s Old Vic Theatre, across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, finally landing for its closing week in Brooklyn’s BAM theatre. Revealing beautiful moments of cast and crew interaction, the complex mechanics of hosting a world tour, and the magnificence of Richard III itself, the film is both intimate and grand; a fitting tribute to what must have been an incomparably unique performance.

The cast is a surprising mélange of well- and lesser-known thespians. A particular delight is English screen monarch Gemma Jones in the role of the murderous king’s mother, Queen Margaret. The documentary reveals her not only to be the esteemed matriarchal veteran of the tour, but also one of its most risqué party girls, at one point referring to actor Isaiah Johnson: “…a magnificent piece of manhood. I’d like to see him without his clothes on.”

These backstage antics enhance our wonder at the actors’ onstage transformation in the small glimpses of performance that Whelehan includes in the film, providing just the right amount of detail to demonstrate the tone and impact of the live production. The diversity of the cast is particularly exposed through the bold decision for actors to maintain native accents. While the idea of Shakespeare through a North American twang is mildly offensive to any English-speaker, the resultant blend actually creates a strange sort of dialectic harmony that enhances characterisation and stage chemistry.

And the chemistry is surprisingly taut, as the actors bring to stage deep reserves of anger, fear, lust and desperation. While Spacey flits back and forth throughout the film like a benevolent omnipresent deity, it is refreshing to see Whelehan focus on some of the more obscure tour members, extracting personal anecdotes and demonstrating without much effort the vast emotional impact the production is having on all members of cast and crew.

Spacey has more than proved his mettle in an array of screen triumphs, further cemented by his Best Actor Oscar for 1999’s American Beauty (also directed by Sam Mendes who likewise received an Oscar). While his eccentric oeuvre lacks the consistent brilliance of actors such as Gary Oldman and Dustin Hoffman, he has nonetheless brought vibrant life to some of the most unique and captivating roles, notably in LA Confidential and The Usual Suspects.

Lately his work on the acclaimed Netflix show House of Cards has reinvigorated his silvering career, and it is the same beguiling barefaced ruthlessness seen in Francis Underwood that suffuses his portrayal of the crippled King Richard with breathtaking aggression. Critics of the production were unanimously impressed, though the more astute noted the absence of that particular shade of self-exposure that truly masterful Shakespearean actors bring to such roles. Despite the brilliant savagery of his delivery there was still that underlying Kevin Spacey-ness in his performance. But you do forgive him for that every time he smiles his trademark conspiratorial twinkle at the audience.

Theater The Bridge ProjectThe production makes creative use of live-filmed screening, stark lighting and a bare stage that both imitates the brutality of the play and also throws its lush characterisations into sharp relief. When the lights fall and Spacey, costumed like a deranged groomsman, bursts through the central door hunch-backed and lurching violently on a cane, the first word of text explodes forth from his twisted scowl rendering the performance space at once silent and yet alive with a fervor of expectation and wonder: Now! It’s hard not to feel tingles up your spine, even second-hand through the movie screen, when we hear that most venerated of first-lines and we know the true master, the bard himself, has arrived.

The blunt immediacy of theatre makes it tangibly powerful. Almost as soon as that line is spoken it’s gone again and we are left somewhat stunned in the wake of its poetry, savagery and beauty. “It can only exist there,” as actor Jeremy Bobb says, “The fact that you can miss it – is pretty awesome.” This onrush of hyper-awareness is what brings adrenalin to theatrical experience, and this weighty responsibility grows in the cast throughout the world tour as they sense the vast impact such a magical experience is having on all of them. That the tour is now over, that the production no longer exists except in documentary form, makes viewing it through these excerpts that much more rare and wondrous.

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Whelehan wields some magnificent travel scapes, taking us from the peaceful spiritualism of Buddhist temples to the Great Wall of China and the expansive beauty of a desert sunset. One particular highlight, which is tracked parallel throughout the documentary, is the performance in the Epidavros amphitheatre, an awe-filled experience for both cast and audience alike. As night falls and golden lights illuminate ancient stone tiers in an ethereal glow, we see the time-lapse blossoming of the stage area and an immense anticipation arises. After following several of the actors through make-up and preparation, we see the audience begin to fill, eliciting expressions of humility and wonder, and whispers of disbelief from cast and crew. A voice-over from Mendes observes the suspended exhilaration that only live theatre can bring: “It’s like feeling the heart-beat of the world.” This is what Whelehan’s film sets out to capture, and this is what it delivers, with precision, honesty, and a little stage magic.

 

Now: In the Wings on a World Stage can be downloaded from iTunes or streamed online.

 

Elise Janes

 

Is it wrong that my ideal reader is myself?

200px-OnwritingAnyone in the past 15 years who has expressed an interest in writing has no doubt been recommended to read, given a copy of, or gone out and purchased Stephen King’s On Writing. Haven’t read it, been recommended it or heard of it? You can bring yourself up to speed here.

It was given to me as a Christmas present in 2013 by my wife and I devoured it immediately. One of King’s rules for writers that has sat uneasily with me since reading the book is to write with your ideal reader in mind:

If you know the tastes of your Ideal reader at least half as much as I know the tastes of mine, it will be not difficult for you to imagine what he will like, and what – not.”

Stephen King

As has been well documented, King’s ideal reader is his wife Tabitha. I knew straight away my wife wasn’t my ideal reader. We can’t stand each other’s taste in books. So if not my wife, who?

My brother, who has many similar interests in music, film, culture and sports? Possibly, but he doesn’t read a whole lot. He’s a ‘doing’ guy and loves to be active, whereas I’m more into being quiet, observing and mulling things over.

My friends, who again share many similar interests and who I have a history of shared experiences with? Yes, though they all live busy lives with work, family, and children and I know from talking to them finding time to read becomes a precious luxury often passed over for a good night’s sleep or vegging out with their partner watching a good movie or DVD boxset.

So, thinking beyond who I actually know, maybe hipsters are my ideal reader, and as soon as I think that I think, ‘No way’.

cover170x170I want to have a connection with my ideal reader. I want to move in their world, and them in mine. I want to know that they’ve listened to the latest Wilosophy with Wil Anderson podcast and whether they liked it or not, had an opinion on the discussion Wil had with his guest. I want to know that they experience similar struggles to me and find solace, escape and rejuvenation in the pages of a great book, possibly written by Don DeLillo or Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk.

And so I’ve known all along who my ideal reader is, yet I’ve been afraid, embarrassed and too insecure about it to say it out loud.

And yet, when I do, it feels so right. I am my own ideal reader. As a writer I’m coming to understand that I’m writing the type of stories that I want to read.

Totally self-serving? Narcissistic? Just plain bloody stupid and a major impediment to ever becoming a published writer?

Who cares? I don’t. I’m putting it out there and it feels good doing it. To echo the sentiment of my great literary anti-hero, Jimmy Rabbitte, ‘I’m my own ideal writer and I’m proud.’

Ken Ward

Sir P Speaks: The Problem of First-World Problems

Dear Sir P

I’m worried that all my travails are essentially First-World problems. I no longer feel entitled to complain, or even feel aggrieved. This has left a gnawing, hollow sensation inside of me. Which is itself, I suppose, a First-World problem. And so I find myself wandering around in ever-decreasing circles of self-loathing. How do I continue to complain without feeling like a bit of a dickhead?

Adoringly,

Terrance V

 

Well, dear Terrance, we can’t have you loathing yourself. However, it is a tiresome thing when people witter about the built-in redundancy of their iFads or how their favourite charcuterie has just been closed down. While it’s true that people in the Third World suffer from bunions at least as much as people in the West do, it would be fair to say that bunions are the least of their problems.

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If First World Problems Could Kill

Meanwhile, the issue for us Westerners is, when does a particular problem become legitimately whinge-worthy? If say, your beloved girlfriend dispenses with you, it is a bad thing and you are entitled to moan about it. But let’s call that a Second-World problem (and, dear readers, please don’t email me explaining the proper definition of the Second World; even baronets go to school).

But what about when your hitherto excellent wife leaves you for a lion-tamer or similar and takes the kids with her, plus half the house and Augustus, your Labrador-kelpie cross on whom you’ve doted since he was a puppy? Now, that’s a legitimate, bare-knuckled disaster wherever in the world you happen to live. Particularly when said wife then updates her Facebook status to: ‘Free at last from that fat, inbred nutter’.

Though I’m not very insightful generally I have noticed that most people get around the problem you’ve raised, dear Terrance, by not even bothering to do so. If you’ve not spent your childhood grubbing about on a Manila garbage dump then premature hair loss or unusually bulbous earlobes will seem very problematic indeed. You will say to yourself, ‘I can only address the problems that are before me, not the ones I might have experienced had I been incarnated as a Mumbai leper’. It highlights in a way how animal we remain. A gerbil struggling for survival in the desert is hardwired, like all animals, to utterly preoccupy itself with the fact that it is hours away from starvation. It is not interested in the plight of other gerbils. Such matters are not its business, even if it had the smarts to comprehend such things. We do have the smarts but we also have the hardwiring, so coveting my neighbour’s 65-inch 100hz flat-screen 3D TV fills my magnificent human brain to bursting.

However, there may be some value in putting our own issues into perspective. You can start by doing the following quiz. Which of these problems are First, Second or Third World?

  1. The difficulty of finding a band-aid large enough to cover a graze large enough to justify a band-aid.
  2. Reconciling yourself to sharing the world with cyclists and horses.
  3. You want to call your son Tarquin because you’re pretentious, but you know the name will humiliate him.
  4. The presence on the road of silver or grey cars that hover in your blind spot on rainy days (it’s possible I’ve raised this vital issue before).
  5. A man-eating tiger lives near your house. Be careful, or one day it will eat you too.
  6. You’re so exhausted packing for your family holiday to Hawaii it’s almost not worth going.
  7. The excruciatingly awkward nightmare that is Skype.
  8. You would like to wear your tiger onesie out in the street but you are a fully grown man and you would be mocked.
  9. Should you have your child’s 4th birthday at home and endure the appalling mess 15 children inevitably make, or hold it at a soft-play centre and endure the deafening cacophony of a billion screeching children smacked up on pink sugar?
  10. The Patent Office refuses to patent your exciting new invention called ‘Comfort-Go’ – for when you get caught short in heavy traffic.

What are the correct answers, you ask? Who cares? The reassuring thing is that no matter how First-World, inane, self-indulgent or deranged your questions are, good bloggoids, I will always give them the attention they richly deserve.

Devotedly

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Passionate Prosings

To avoid dwelling on the release of a certain movie adaptation this month let’s turn our attention instead to some of the truly great novels of passion to have been penned. Whether it’s passion for vengeance, ideology, a relationship, or a quest to reclaim what was lost, these novels will stir your sanguine emotions in as many ways as Valentine’s Day.

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseELIC, Jonathan Safran Foer
A solitary young boy on a citywide quest of NYC to uncover a secret his father left behind after he perished in the World Trade Centre disaster. Less fairytale than his other novel, Everything Is Illuminated, Safran Foer brings the same childlike beauty and wisdom to an otherwise tragic story of determination, loss and yearning.

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
A war narrative about fighting for ideology beyond national identity that presents concepts rather pertinent to our times. The hero Robert Jordan struggles between conflicting pulls of duty and new love, raising questions about the heroism of wartime death versus the loss such death leaves behind.

 

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
A vast and detailed portrait of a bygone way of life that was swept away in the carnage of America’s Civil War. Though the anti-slavery revolution was a long-overdue event, one can’t help feeling some Old South nostalgia while reading about the idyllic Tara plantation. What makes the novel truly enduring, though, is the brutal depiction of Scarlett and Rhett’s selfish, tumultuous relationship.

 

Les Liasons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
An epistolary novel about seduction, manipulation and degradation, it was said to have been written in order to undermine the illusive virtue of the Ancien Régime in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Whether or not this is true, the deception and debauchery of the two central characters would shock even the writers of The Bold and the Beautiful.

 

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
Disdained by critics in its day, this epic went on to become one of the most popular tomes of all time. Spanning more than a decade and a vast array of characters and personal tales, Les Misérables is as much about obsessive duty, loyalty and personal justice as it is about love and loss.

 

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
This novel scarce needs introduction. The tale of a sexually stunted man falling for a much younger girl and the pedophilic scenes that ensue are shocking on their own but the tragicomic irony, pathos and cultural observations that construct its clever frame make this novel one of the greatest literary accomplishments of the 20th century.

 

220px-MusicAndSilenceMusic & Silence, Rose Tremain
A beautifully written and lushly depicted novel set in the 17th century court of Denmark’s King Christian IV. Far from being historical, the novel undulates between various time periods and points-of-view to weave several narratives into a fascinating and semi-fantastical Reformation world. Obsession with music and the elusive ‘perfect’ melody form the driving tension and strongest character thread.

 

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
A story of sexuality and young love in 1960s Japan, it is the novel that made Murakami a household name. Exploring the protagonist’s nostalgic reminiscences on his relationships with two vastly different women, the novel pointedly depicts the Tokyo student protests as ill-aimed and listless.

 

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas
Dumas’s ridiculously famous novel of injustice and revenge, complete with escapes from island dungeons, discovered fortunes, assumed identities, daring deceptions, and classic sword fights. What takes this beyond a simple adventure story is Dumas’s exploration of the wide-reaching effects of one man’s obsessive quest for vengeance.

 

The Godfather, Mario Puzo
The notorious ruthlessness of the Sicilian mafia is distilled and brought violently to life in Puzo’s Corleone family epic. Eccentric characters, short fuses and familial pride lead to fatal power struggles across the five families of New York City. Again, it is the human element that makes this story so good, as we watch the slow mutation of Michael into the Don he never wanted to be.

 

The Graduate, Charles Webb
An interesting and ironic examination of youthful aimlessness particularly relevant to the new college culture of 1960s America. The protagonist is equal parts aggravating and charming as he wavers unemotionally between pleasurable past-times and trying to decide what to do with his life. It is more the lack of passion that sets this novel apart and makes its climax that much more complete.

 

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
The novel centres on Gatsby’s life-long obsession with Daisy Buchanan, but it is narrator Nick Carraway’s compulsive fascination with Gatsby and his lifestyle that keeps us reading and allows Fitzgerald to unpack the peculiar details of Jazz Age depravity that echo at once beautiful and vulgar, and ever so inviting.

 

the-red-and-the-blackThe Red and the Black, Stendhal
Another little-disguised satire on French culture in the 19th century, Stendhal’s Bildungsroman follows Julien Sorel from a peasant upbringing through his attempts at overcoming the social restrictions of the time. Littered with superficial love affairs, the narrative is distinct in its dealings with social hypocrisy and political manipulation.

 

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The immortal story of Heathcliff and Catherine set amidst the desolate moors of northern England is stark in its obsessive brutality and the almost animalistic behaviour of the central characters. A novel of painstaking vengeance and misery with a lost, twisted love story at the centre. Satisfying on so many levels.

 

Elise Janes

Taking a Dump

Dump. It’s a simple word, isn’t it? Whether noun or verb, it’s wholly descriptive and the meaning is clear. Not sure? Look it up. But at some point in its otherwise inoffensive history, that meaning was extended (twice over) to include not only the ridding of a person, but also the expulsion of human waste. ‘Just gunna take a dump.’ Used so often it’s almost a catchcry, all who hear it understand the speaker’s intent. Glances are exchanged, a few brows furrow and the announcement is mentally filed under Ew! TMI! Is it a peculiarly Australian idiom? I don’t know. But having grown up here, it’s easy to appreciate the symbolism — when it comes to dumping, a person can be (and often is) accorded the same disdain with which one might regard a piece of shit.

We’ve all been there: the noisy playground filled with energy and spite, kids laughing and crying, rushing and huddling, pushing and shoving, bitching and arguing. And amid all that tumult a single voice still manages to be heard, from fenceline to dingy brick building, even carrying across playing fields and through closed doors to the inner sanctum of the toilet block: ‘You’re DUMPED!’

Oh, the humiliation! The noise mutes to a startled silence, before curiosity kick-starts a murmuring, a muttering, a windy whisper: ‘Dumped? Who’s dumped?’ And all heads crane to see. The Dumper, backed by a gang of supporters, is cross-armed, defiant and always triumphant; the Dumpee stands dejected and alone, the focus of pointing fingers and smirky smiles, before bursting into tears and running off to sob in a quiet corner. Yes, we’ve all been there. And we all know there’s no easy way to take a good dumping.

I was always the Dumpee. At least at school. Of course I learned my lessons well, and applied them in later years with all the gleeful aplomb of a master Dumper. But at school I suffered. Even now I can recall the ignominy of being rejected in fifth grade by Cyril. [No, that wasn’t his real name. Had it been his real name, no such ignominy would’ve transpired. It’s rare — though not impossible — for a Cyril to be hailed as the school stud.]

It goes without saying Cyril had a girlfriend: Ethel, the school babe. The two of them would saunter and strut together, lip-locked and holding hands. And it was fitting that they paraded their youthful (if somewhat overt) sexuality before us lesser beings while we sighed our approval in their wake; they did make a fabulous couple. As only fifth-graders can.

But one day there was a falling-out; a faint rumbling in the Heavens, and Ethel was cast down. Not dumped, per se, but put aside, ‘on hold’ if you like. Punished. Except, being merely mortal and just a little desperate to be adored, I wasn’t attuned to the playful antics of such demi-gods. So when Cyril, with a casual crook of his finger, a head flick and a lazy smile, summoned me over and told me I was ‘next’, I took him at his word. For four glorious days Cyril held my hand, locked his lips to mine instead of Ethel’s and I heard the approving sighs as we floated among the less fortunate. But Ethel didn’t sigh. Nor did her cohort. And on the fifth morning, when I bounded into the school playground with unleashed-puppy eagerness and saw her once again restored to her rightful place, I stared, miserable, while Ethel and Cyril and their hangers-on all sniggered.

‘Oh yeah,’ Cyril told me, with as much concern as he might’ve paid to an untied shoelace. ‘You’re dumped.’

There it was. I’d been rejected. Ejected. Dumped and wiped and flushed. Like shit.

Nope. Even then, aged ten, the symbolism wasn’t lost on me.

Jane Abbott   

On “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”

If you distilled Baudrillard, Derrida, Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky into a band, chances are you’d get Talking Heads. They weren’t the first band to sing about consumerism or the media or the meaninglessness of meaning but they did it like nobody else. More Songs About Buildings and Food. Fear Of Music. Talking Heads were a virtual New York of the imagination, all skyscrapers and horns and fast-talking street vendors and cabbies. Like New York, geographically located in the United States but not completely of it, Talking Heads may have been associated with Punk and the New Wave but they were always tuned to a slightly different frequency, David Byrne fronting the band like he was hooked up to an ECG machine telling listeners about a van loaded with weapons and the sound of gunfire in the distance and the diminishing shelf life of identity and possessions.

this must be the placeThen in 1983 they released their fifth and most commercially successful album to date, Speaking In Tongues, with the single “Burning Down the House” peaking at Number 9 in the American Billboard charts. Despite this mainstream popularity, Speaking In Tongues lacked none of the groundbreaking edge of previous albums, with the band trashing the traditional verse – chorus – verse conventions of the song for more hypnotic signatures and beats normally found in gospel or jazz. And no better is this illustrated than in the final track of the album, “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.

“This Must Be the Place” is a love song. Its simplicity – the enchanting, happy, catchy riff played simultaneously by both guitar and bass providing no counterpoint to the melody – verges on an asylum soporific, or a lullaby, with David Byrne singing the word ‘home’ over and over again as a kind of refrain. But its simplicity is deceptive. There’s a bewilderment to the song, a constant reassuring that home is where we are, where we’re supposed to be, and nothing’s wrong because one thing means the other. But it doesn’t. Not always. Everything about “This Must Be the Place” is slightly uncertain, vulnerable, baffled, reaching out for something to grab on to as we guess we’re OK, we guess we’re at home, we guess nothing’s wrong but not sure. It’s a lullaby sung to a newborn, with all the puzzled fear and apprehension a newborn has gazing out at a world full of colours, shapes and sounds. Being told it’s safe. Whispered. And you’re holding this newborn. A child you’ve participated in creating. Their tiny body slung over your shoulder as you lull them to sleep, burp them, their little head attached to their neck by a ribbon, their diffident creaks and yelps, now looking up at you with deep olive eyes saying…

You got a face with a view

I’m just an animal looking for a home

And share the same space for a minute or two

And you love me till my heart stops

Love me till I’m dead…

Byrne with lamp 3There’s a beautiful moment in Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s concert film of Talking Heads live in LA, where the lights go down, and the band begins “This Must Be the Place”. David Byrne turns on a ‘50s-style floor lamp with a pull cord, as a bookcase is projected onto a screen behind the band. Home. As the song ends, David Byrne invites the lamp to dance, and at one point reaches out Byrne with lamp 1with both arms and takes the lamp into his embrace and holds it there for a moment before releasing it to topple precariously on its stand as if finding its feet. Which it does. And the song ends. But Byrne’s dance with the lamp remains. There’s something going on here, like a coda that both closes and accentuates the meaning of the song. This awkward dance with the lamp, this fragile song about love, is as simple and hard as it gets. You make it up as you go along. Like the newborn asleep in your arms. You’re their shelter, their food, their answers, their love, their laughter, their safety, their home. It’s bedtime. You swaddle them carefully in a white muslin wrap, as David Byrne sings:

Never for money, only for love

Cover up and say goodnight

Say goodnight…

   Sean Macgillicuddy

  • “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” (1983). Label: Sire. B-side Moon Rocks. Lyrics by David Byrne music by the band from the album Speaking In Tongues
  • Stop Making Sense (1984) concert movie directed by Jonathan Demme shot over the course of three nights at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.

Harry

Sean has just welcomed his new son Harry into the world. 

What Social Science Can Teach You About Dating

arcade-card-unknown-publisher-woman-sitting-on-beach-set-with-arms-gracefully-over-knees-and-holding-hat-1920s

Never underestimate the importance of your internet dating profile picture.

For many years, friends have asked me for dating advice. At first, I wasn’t sure why. But eventually I realised: I had spent too many years studying the social sciences, and they wanted my evidence base.

Social science can teach us many important things — from tackling poverty to helping people to make better life choices. It also offers a lot of insights about dating. Here are four of the most useful.

1.  Grow your sample size

In the 90s, a group of men calling themselves ‘pick-up artists’ formed an international ‘seduction community’. The goal: to maximise their dating success with women. They coached each other in a series of seduction techniques — many of which were slammed as misogynistic, but continue to be promoted and taught today. Some techniques were straightforward, for instance improving the men’s self-esteem, social skills and appearance. Others were more complex, such mastering the backhanded compliment in order to gain the attention of a popular woman. Many pick-up artists reported significant numbers of conquests. Yet I suspect a large part of their ‘success’ was due to increased sample size. The pick-up artists encouraged each other to bust a move on lots of women, and not to take it personally when they said no. This increased their chances of eventually getting a yes.

2.  Recognise that humans are superficial

Dating sites can tell us a lot about our dating preferences — and it’s not always flattering. The OkTrends blog crunches the numbers from the OkCupid dating website, with some interesting results. When assessing another person’s ‘looks’ and ‘personality’ based on their profile, most people focus almost entirely on the photo, rather than the text. OkTrends therefore provides instructions on how not to be ugly by accident. In short, use a good camera, don’t use flash, emphasize the foreground, and take photos in the afternoon or at night.

3.  Know when to stop looking

Economist and politician Andrew Leigh found that people who marry in their teens are a lot more likely to split up than those who wait until at least their twenties. He attributes this to the optimal-stopping problem. Basically, nobody is a perfect match for you, but some people are definitely better than others. You need to get to know people before you know if they are right for you. Time is scarce, so it’s better to make a decision with limited information than no decision at all. In short, you need to choose a time to stop looking in order to get the best outcome, factoring in the need to allow time to gather enough information. (Leigh does acknowledge that this is not the most romantic of theories, and suggests not busting it out on the first date.)

4.  Get some perspective

Research suggests that people who are married or in stable relationships have better wellbeing than others. But relationship status isn’t the only aspect of wellbeing. So if a relationship isn’t happening for you right now, it might be smart to switch your focus to other aspects of wellbeing: exercise, eat well, spend time with friends and family, and make a positive contribution through work or volunteering.

Penny Jones   

Letting Go (or, Did I ever really have a grip?)

How bound together is my writing and me?

And by writing, I mean my actual output, ideas shared in the form of reflective opinion pieces (like this one) or short stories (like this – wow, what shameless self-promotion) or my novels (sorry, no links yet). At times, I have been consumed by the belief of how entwined and inseparable we are.

As I see it, my writing is my possession. Where I go, it goes. Where it goes, I follow.

What am I trying to say here?

My writing (my form of passionate expression) will lift me up, will be my golden ticket and my Wonkavator all wrapped into one. Doors will open. New and exciting connections will be made.

We are not separate. How I live my life and how I perceive the world will influence how I express myself as a writer. We come together – we’re a package deal.

Except, what if we’re not?

searching-for-sugar-man-dvd-ukA couple of weeks ago a friend recommended a 2012 documentary by Swedish film maker, Malik Bendjelloul (1977-2014) called Searching for Sugar Man. The film tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was.

Virtually unknown in America, the Dylan-esque Rodriguez’s two albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality vanished into obscurity. However, 8,000 miles away in South Africa, after a bootleg copy was brought in from the States and shared amongst friends throughout Cape Town, the music resonated deeply with the country’s youth who were experiencing the confusion and fear of the violently oppressive Apartheid system.

Unbeknownst, it seems to anyone outside of South Africa, including Rodriguez and his record label, over the course of more than 20 years, his albums combined sold more than half-a-million copies.

And thus, the journey documented in Searching for Sugar Man begins.

That an artist could be so removed from the life of his art was hard to accept. This remarkable story was a slap to my face. I can’t hold my writing so tightly and be so bound to its outcome.

For my writing to become whatever it’s meant to be, I need to move beyond it being mine.

The expression and craft is my own but the product is wholly its own thing; needs time and space to develop its own voice and character.

So, is it a case of me learning to let go, or realising I never had a grip in the first place?

Ken Ward