“I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of respect for people who try to drag some credibility out of an imaginary hardship,” Mark admitted. “It’s just so patronising as well as fake.” I hadn’t meant it to come out like an outburst, but my irritation at Andrew and this whole sycophantic setup had raised my voice beyond its normal volume. “Can people who really have had to cope with poverty and hardship not be trusted to tell their own stories?”
“You see, this is why we have to move away from capitalist hierarchy to a co-operatively run, non-hierarchical, cohesive and constructive societal model somewhere along the midpoint between Marxism and Stalinism on the left-right political axis spectrum.” I was quite sure that Richard’s sentence made absolutely no sense. But Mark latched on to something in it and before long the two men were debating political theories from books they’d both read, full of long words and seeming to have about as much relevance to the real world and the real struggles of real people as the Teletubbies did.
Which left me with Tami. Great. “So, what do you do?” I asked. “I’m an artist.” I knew I should have been impressed, but I wasn’t.
“I’m waiting for inspiration at the moment.” I thought creative people were supposed to be full of life and energy, but Tami was putting a lot of energy into appearing listless. Did she think it made her seem much more discerning and talented if she refused to be impressed by anything around her? She reminded me of the Garbage song “You pretend you’re high/pretend you’re bored/pretend you’re anything, just to be adored.” She really was a stupid girl. “So what medium do you use?” “Oh I don’t use conventional mediums, they’re too restrictive…”
She rambled on in her artificial, sulky voice about convention and nobody but her being really creative anymore because everything had been done before. I would have pointed out that the world’s greatest artists had taken years to develop and perfect their craft, and that we could do far worse than to learn from them, while she, with her “I’m unconventional and won’t be restriced” act, was doing little but stringing a series of well worn clichees together. But Tami didn’t seem to have a full understanding, or indeed any understanding, of the give and take nature of a conversation. I didn’t expect her to be interested in me but I thought that for the sake of being polite she could at least end one of her self-absorbed monologues with a “What about you?”
The next time she lapsed into silence I decided I couldn’t be bothered trying to be polite anymore. So I took a leaf out of Tami’s book and started talking about myself. “This exhibition’s going to be interesting. I’ve got a few boxes of dinosaur cartoons now and I’m hoping the exhibition will give me some idea of what I can do with them.”
“Oh yeah. I remember you from the pub. You never went to art school, right?”
“Aw. So you draw in your spare time.”
She looked at me with a` mixture of pity and contempt, like I was the slowest kid in the class.
The boys had run out of bullshit to discuss and had rejoined our conversation.
“I was just saying it’s cute that Annemarie draws in her spare time. And it’s cool SPACE even gives people like her who aren’t committed artists a chance to hang up their work and tell their mam they’ve been in an exhibition.”
“Are you in the exhibition?” Mark was polite, but his voice was cold steel. I was glad he’d never spoken to me like that.
“Oh, I’m not in the right space for an exhibition right now. I’m waiting for the right kind of inspiration for my next project.”
“So no.” Mark again, like a rottweiler. “My guess is that you’re unemployed, and you’re too lazy to actually make any art, no matter how much art school your parents paid for. Marianne has to work and manages to find the time to do her art as well, and has a picture in this exhibition, which is more than you have. So I don’t think you’re very well qualified to say she isn’t a committed artist.”
Tami looked furious. She opened her mouth and shut it again, and again, looking like a goldfish with too much make-up. Richard looked like he was about to cry. I felt a sudden rush of affection for Mark for standing up for me, but also a little bit embarrassed that he’d been so aggressive. Thankfully, Flash the MC had gotten up to introduce a “spoken word artist,” whatever that was when it was at home. Did some people get up to perform at these things and not say anything at all, making them “unspoken word artists?”
A woman who looked like she’d spent the day in beauty salons and wearing a very low cut top had gotten up beside Flash and was simpering at him like a pre-pubescent schoolgirl, but she was at least in her mid-thirties. Must be the token woman of the night, I thought. And it was a good thing she knew how to apply make-up and simper, because although her performance was polished, her writing really wasn’t very good. Spoken word appeared to be a hybrid between poetry that didn’t rhyme and a short story that didn’t have a plot, and every word had to be repeated two to three times. Her story went on forever and was about how she was walking to a date in high heeled shoes and she kept tripping up on cracks in the pavement, but then her boyfriend turned up in his car to drive her there, and told her how attractive she looked in the aforementioned shoes, and all the pain and hassle was worth it. We were supposed to think this was really cute. I thought she’d just let down her entire gender.
This poetry gig was teaching me invaluable lessons about what made a successful relationship. Apparently you needed a man who made you feel you had to wear stupid and painful shoes because all that mattered was how aesthetically attractive you were, and you just weren’t compatible unless you used the same brand of toothpaste. I’d tell Mark he had to start buying the 17 cent Tesco own brand stuff as well. I looked around the audience, thinking, I hope no one is taking this shit seriously. No one was. Absolutely everyone was surfing the internet on their phones. “Should we just leave?” I whispered. “It’s rude to leave during a performance,” Tami said, without looking up from her phone. “You’re supposed to pay attention.”