My first experience of going ‘online’ was going to a ‘cyber café’ with my older sister in about 1996. We paid what seemed like a lot of money, in this backroom down an alley, with a load of computers in it. I was about 14. We ‘sat’ on a ‘chatroom’ and talked to this grown up man, who it turned out lived in the US. After a while he started to rant at us about the Second World War and how we’d be ‘speaking German now’ if it wasn’t for them. He was angry and weird, but I’ve not forgotten what it felt like to be SHOUTED AT from beyond. It felt like a very small abuse. My sister and I felt ashamed. Like a line had been crossed that we didn’t know was there. A threshold. We didn’t want to be abused, but we wanted something to happen.
At school, I was prolific letter writer. I had multiple pen pals – Crystal in the States, I can’t remember how I ‘met’ her. A girl whose name I forget who I met at a caravan park, who would write and tell me about her conquests. Those letters were amazing. A boy, Sasha, in the Ukraine who had trouble with his ‘teknik lessons’, and I sensed was intending to propose. His first letter was addressed ‘a school in England’. It arrived at ours. The teacher wrote the address in Russian letters on the board. I was the only one bored enough to write it down, and then write back. For years. I wrote to my parents, later my sisters, my friends during the holidays, and then I just migrated easily onto email in 1999. I sent long journal style emails from Latin America. Hotmail was my best friend and my portal to home and other traveller friends. Email became my forte, until a boy once told me that I was better on email than in person, at which point I realised I must be a little too adept ‘on paper’, and disappointing in real life. I should be careful.
Earlier this year, I read an article online, alerted to me by a feminist tweeter, written by the journalist Laurie Penny. It made a lot of sense to me: http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/08/laurie-penny/men-sexism. It’s about men who aren’t against women, but equally don’t acknowledge that they benefit from system that does oppress women.
I became a feminist while working in a job after university, inspired by a colleague who fought for me to progress, I feel, to her own detriment. She told me that being a feminist isn’t ‘anti men’, it just means ‘equality’ and women can be just as good or bad as men in this regard. Knowing this, enabled me to call myself a feminist. She has continued to be a voice of guidance and inspiration, through email.
These are some of the ingredients of the play VIRGIN, for Watford Palace and nabokov. Most of the play’s story, is ‘made up’, but I wanted to write it because I felt like all these things are connected and the play, in a way, joins the dots. I’ve made sense of it now for myself as a story, and I’m scared but hopeful in the act of sharing it first with a director and actors, which they will then share with an audience.
After a play goes on, I always feel a burning sense of shame for having exposed myself too much, said too much, been too ‘loud’. The play is in some ways about that sense of shame, what it does. I already feel ashamed for having written a ‘blog’ about writing a play. There is something grotesque about my relationship with the internet, there’s a vanity implicit in my (our?) interaction with it. ‘Sorry, sorry’ that’s what I want to say. And disappear again, but I can’t. This will just sit there, like a question mark against my name. There’s a line in the play where the central character, Emily, says:
“Promise me you won’t make a fuss. You won’t tell them it was me who complained. Please. I shouldn’t have said anything. I should’ve kept my mouth shut about all of it. I can put up with anything really if I try. I don’t need to get promoted or to be able to sleep. I can handle it. Wherever I go I seem to stir things up. I really do… it’s a problem”.
I’m always surprised why people say they go to the theatre when I ask them (impertinently?). It’s never the same response, but always instinctive, and then maybe grasping for a higher register explanation. But perhaps it’s similar to asking why we log in, go online, open windows, new tab, search. Because we’re looking for something in the darkness, and we’re calling out, and we don’t know what strange sound is going to answer us back, but we want to feel it, we’re waiting for some kind of threshold to be crossed.