Our guest post on the ‘On Culture’ blog: “This week’s cultural inspirations”

Anyone who reads this blog knows we often follow the lead of our friend Aliceson Robinson, who has a business called Nine Muses which serves as a “cultural concierge” for personal and business clients. In other words, she does this for a living, so she knows what she’s talking about.  I would say that we also have the same taste, but the fact is it’s her job to recommend things that match the taste of the recommendee, so if we liked supper clubs or Zombie LARPs or 20th century opera, I’m sure we’d be getting a different set of recommendations that were equally good.

In any event, she asked us to do a guest post on her blog this week, as part of her series on cultural inspiration.  It’s below.  (CW was just back from several weeks of travel, and spent her writing time this week on her Incredible Thing review, so CF did this one himself.)

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This week’s cultural inspirations: A guest post from C+C Culture Factory

When Aliceson told me she was inviting guest posters to talk about what inspired them that week, I for some reason took it very literally. I felt charged to think about what I saw in the past week that changed me or elicited something new – going beyond stuff I merely enjoyed.  It seemed like a not-uninteresting thing to focus on when looking back on a week, or looking back on a cultural event: Did I just think that was good (which is fine), or did I have a thought or feeling that I want to do more with?

Now, I know that Aliceson was taking it less literally, and these Friday posts have turned out to be more of a catchall for her glamourous weeks.  And I’m sure that if I had the weeks she had, I would just be trying to just keep up with the experiences rather than musing on what it all means.  But I’ve just had a normal-person week (albeit a good one) and I was able to keep up with it, so I’m going with my initial conception.  What cultural artefacts did I experience this week that caused me to a) resolve something new or b) to take an action I might not have otherwise?

Moment at the Bush Theatre
This was just a fantastic show, written by Deirdre Kinehan and with a really stunning performance by Maeve Fitzgerald and the whole company of actors that make up the Tall Tales Theatre Company.  It’s an Irish family comedy drama, set entirely in their kitchen; it has closed now, so there’s no point in getting you too excited about it.  When I saw it (which was a few weeks ago, I’m cheating with this one), I had just seen a few bad shows in large West End theatres, and I was so glad to be back in a theatre where you could see the actors’ faces; where they could act by using inflections and expressions, rather than shouting and gesturing so that row QQ didn’t miss anything.  I got more excited afterwards when I found out that the Bush focuses all its attention on new writers (their mission is to encourage and produce new playwrights, and they read and respond to every single play that’s submitted to them.)  I’m into that. 
Resolution:
Go to more small shows, support the Bush, and do more to keep track of who’s good in small theatres so I can see them while they’re still playing small theatres.
Action: In looking up how to spell Deirdre Kinehan for this post I discovered that she is writing one of the plays for the Bush’s “Where’s My Seat” trilogy in June and got very excited about that, so I bought two tickets.  Action inspired in real time, and you were here to see it.

The Ask, by Sam Lipsyte
I finished this last Sunday.  Hotly tipped “comic” novel narrated by not-very-smart, ascerbic misanthrope.  Not my thing, I disliked it from start to finish.
Resolution 1: Don’t read writers who aren’t sympathetic to their characters.  I’ve quoted this elsewhere before but Jonathan Dee, author of the excellent The Privileges, recently said something like “It just seems to me that making up characters and putting them in situations in which they make bad decisions, so you can then make fun of them, doesn’t sound like a job for a grown-up.”  I have pinned down the fact that many writers I like – Fitzgerald, George Saunders, David Nicholls – always write with sympathy for their characters, flawed though they may be.  (It’s not an ironclad rule – Franzen is not always nice to his protagonists and I like him a lot.)  Henry Sutton’s Get Me Out Of Here was another novel recently that got great reviews but that was somewhat unpleasant to spend time with.  That one was at least funny in places, though.
Resolution 2: If you haven’t liked the first two thirds of a book, as in if you actively dislike the lead character, and you don’t have any reason to believe it’s going to get better (e.g. someone you trust has said “the first two thirds are terrible and then it gets great”) then finishing it will only annoy you. From now on I will just quit, and I will imagine that in doing so I am relaying feedback to the writer that he should take a different tack next time if he wants to reach me.

35 Up – The Michael Apted documentary series
This documentary series started in 1964 by filming interviews with 20 English schoolchildren who were seven years old.  That show was called 7 Up.  Every seven years since then, those same people have been interviewed. They grow up before your eyes and it is fascinating.  Some seem to be the same core person they were at seven; looking back, you can see it even then.  Others have unexpectedly flowered.  Others have inexplicably and heartbreakingly faltered.  This Tuesday we watched 35 Up; we still have 42 Up and 49 Up to go. 56 Up will be out (I now know thanks to a quick Wikipedia search) on May 13, 2012.
Resolution: Use moisturiser.

The crowd at Sadler’s Wells last Saturday night, for The Most Incredible Thing
I loved the show, and you can read the review on our blog, but that’s not what I’m resolving about.  Sadler’s Wells was a well-dressed crowd of people our age, and I was warmed a bit by that after spending the previous weekend in New York jostling for entrance to a speakeasy amongst 26-year-olds.  It was good to see people in their late 30s looking cool.
Resolution: To look like a stylish man with greying hair, consider chunky knit sweaters and dark frame glasses. Thankfully for my sensibilities, jazzy trainers are not required (I know they’re acceptable on grown men here) though they apparently remain an option.

My bedtime reading this week is Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
It’s supposed to be one of the best biographies written in the past few years, and I haven’t read a biography for a while.  It is a slow start so far, but not unpleasant; Ben just retired from being a printer at 42 so he could focus on experiments.
Resolution: Don’t expect too much, try to stick with it.  Maybe he has a son named Cabe and that will mean *I* can retire at 42 to focus on experiments.  Of style.

Major League Baseball
I will count broadband media as culture; today, I bit the bullet and paid for MLB TV so I can watch baseball games live while living in the UK.  Caroline says I “light up like a little boy” when I work on my fantasy baseball team, and so I’m going after that experience more often.  
Resolution and Action:
Balance the worthy reading of biographies with things that give simple pleasure.

Wednesday night we saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Donmar. 
It was good, lightweight fun…though having heard about it for years, it was hard to be surprised and charmed by it.  Seeing it for $8 in the East Village seven years ago it would have seemed like a treat. Now, after it having been on Broadway and gone through a transatlantic transfer, it’s hard to ask it to produce the same stumbled-on, serendipitous delight – but you still want it to.  
Resolution:
See things early in their hype arc or not at all.  See: Bush Theatre; above.

Sunday we went to a pub for dinner and a singalong at the Duke of Kendal which was remarkable but I think Caroline’s going to write about that on our blog so I’ll leave it at that for now.

I wish you all a great weekend, whether it’s deeply inspiring or just plain simple fun.

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Here is the link if you’d like to check out Aliceson’s site:
http://alicesonrobinson.com/blog/books/this-week%E2%80%99s-cultural-inspirations-a-guest-post-from-cc-culture-factory/

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