It’s About the Performance

I have received an astonishing response to my recent article about Isadora Williams, far more than to anything else I have written so far.  Most of the traffic has been, not surprisingly, from Brazil, but elsewhere as well.  It seems that Isadora ran across my article.  That’s an interesting experience for a writer, especially the first time it happens.  You write about a person, perhaps at length, but it’s someone you never met, an abstraction.  In a strange way, there was little difference for me between Isadora and, say, Sally Draper from Mad Men.  A character on a popular TV show.  And, in the US at least, that’s a fair description of the Olympics.

I suspect writers who write about real people regularly kind of need to keep that distance.  Certainly I’ve written about others.  I’ve done little to disguise my contempt for the people who write things like Hunger Games, but I doubt Suzanne Collins loses any sleep over it.  Like Ranier Wolfcastle, she sleeps just fine, on a big pile of money (look it up, kids).

I wasn’t anywhere near as critical of Isadora, painting her as more a hero than the characters in those books, but I didn’t exactly paint her performance, or career, in glowing terms either.  So how would she react?  She liked my article, linking it both to Facebook and Twitter, referring to it as “great,” and quoting a particularly meaningful passage, the one about how making it to the Olympics should mean you get to skate.  And her fans responded, bombarding my site with more hits in a single day than I’d gotten in the entire past year. And they liked it too.  Almost as much as they like her.  I’m not sure they even noticed her ranking.  They certainly don’t care.

And that’s when I realized that, while I think I had a good point in the article, it wasn’t really the right one.  I said I hoped Isadora would get a hero’s welcome.  She already has, ten times over.  Her countrymen love her, and are filled with pride in her accomplishment.  And, I think, so is she.  After the brief moment of disappointment in the box, I see no trace of despair.  Nothing but joy in what she got to do.  I’m sure there were private tears.  But they were ephemeral.

I realize now that the sadness in her face wasn’t from placing last.  The fact that she quoted that one particular passage makes clear that her sadness was from knowing she wouldn’t get to skate again.  She didn’t care where she placed as long as she could skate.  Okay, I’m sure she cared, but not as much as, well, the top finishers.

I’m referring to the high ranking divas who got caught up in the whole conspiracy controversy that was, mercifully, short-lived.  People insisted that Adelina Sotnikova’s gold medal finish was rigged by the Russian hosts, that Kim Yu-na deserved to win.  But a cursory examination of the objective standards showed that Sotnikova had the more proficient skate.  Yet people complained.  Ashley Wagner, of whom I have been a fan, diminished a bit in my eyes by weighing in and demanding a change to the way the judging is done.  To which I can only say, “Oh shut up.”  Take a cue from Michelle Kwan, who said of her second place finish in 1998, “I didn’t lose the gold, I won the silver.”  Where were all these sour-grapers when the Russian audience was booing Isadora’s surprisingly low score?  The commentators agreed she was better than the score reflected.  But in the end, it was the score.  Isadora accepted it with grace.  No one has raised a hue and cry.  Maybe because, perhaps, Isadora has reminded us that it’s not about the medal as much as it is about skating on Olympic ice.  And, ultimately, about skating for the joy of skating.

Just as people tell me I should write for the joy of writing.  But I think there’s a bit more.  I don’t think I’m wrong to want to be read.  I have no doubt skating is fun, but it’s more fun when you are putting on a performance.  That’s the question the skaters should ask themselves.  Did they put on a good performance?  Did the audience enjoy it?  If those are true, how much does the medal matter?  Look no further than the irrepressibly crowd-pleasing Jason Brown for proof that it’s about the audience, not the medal.

That’s why I’m not all that concerned about being a bestselling author.  That would be nice, sure, but what I really want is to get my book out there.  If that means giving up on traditional publishing and looking into self-publication, which I am on the verge of doing, so be it.  I want it read.  I want people to have a good time reading it.  It’s an alternative to all the dark, violent garbage burning up the shelves.  And movie screens.  I know there are people who want what I write, if I can just get past the barriers of agents who seem unable to look past the familiar and easily-marketable.  They say dark dystopias are running their course.  But what’s replacing them?  Not breezy, humorous science fiction like mine.  No, the latest big thing is realistic thrillers.  For teens, remember.  More darkness.  More violence and fear.

Really?  Does the world need more of that?  Don’t we have enough?  I’m sitting here reflecting on Olympic figure skating, and my new favorite skater.  But I can’t pretend the real Olympic postscript is not unfolding right in front of us.  Just look at Ukraine.  If you can bear to.  People being killed for standing up to tyranny.  But they aren’t being put in torture chambers or being boiled alive.  Their children aren’t being pitted against each other in combat.  That’s fiction, and overwrought fiction at that.  What’s happening in Ukraine, and Syria, and Central Africa, that’s all real.  Perhaps not as imaginative, not as cinematic.  But every bit as horrific.  Anybody tuning in to the coverage for entertainment?  No?  Because, maybe, just maybe, that sort of thing isn’t entertaining, and never should be.

In any case, thanks for visiting.  While you’re here, look around a bit.  There’s stuff on all sorts of subjects, from Star Trek to Sinatra, from Disneyland to nudism.  Next time I promise to write about something else.  In the meantime, want to be entertained, to feel good about something?  Watch some figure skating. 

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