The phrase “It takes a village” is often bandied about, in reference to child-rearing, running a business, just about everything. But if you’re anything like me, you may not be a natural born collaborator.
In 2014, how could you explore what community means to you?
It might be a question of sharing the load, asking for help or signing on someone with a complementary skill set. Or it could be about a creative collaboration that pushes you to explore new ideas and media.
Where might the alchemy be?
‘Not a natural born collaborator’. Indeed. One of my aunts, having her hair done for a children’s party in 1961 or thereabouts, said, ‘I’ll do it myself, and go with it wrong’; which is fairly well representative of the whole family’s attitude to life. We are a large family, but we are a bunch of loners. We do things ourselves and, often, by ourselves. I can’t speak for any of the rest of them, but for my own part it’s down to a combination of fear of other people laughing at my thing, and the conviction that nobody else could possibly know how to do it anyway.
At the moment, community means a hangover: the inevitable result of going straight from my new team’s Christmas party to my old team’s Christmas party. I very much enjoy the social side of work – by which I don’t just mean the post-rally pub sessions. Even in the alternate universe where I am a best-selling author or have won the lottery I can’t see myself not having an office job of some sort, so that I can go to and talk about Star Wars or Kerbal Space Program or the zombie apocalypse. I like other people more than I think I do, and being unemployed would drive me bonkers in a very short space of time.
But. I still like being the only one who does X, because everybody else will Do X Wrong. My new manager is aiding and abetting me in this approach. The responsibilities of the two administrators on the team, previously one glorious stew, have been divided neatly into two parts, to be crossed over only when one of us is away. My own feeling is that this is going to work nicely, and everybody will know what everybody else is meant to be doing, and that’s how I like it. Time will tell.
Having said that, there is one part of my life where I have always been a willing collaborator, and that is in music. My estimation of my own abilities is skewed the other way when it comes to music – cello, particularly, which I never practised enough to be really good at, but I’ve also always had singers in my life who are ‘better’ than me – my mother, my husband, my best friend. This has never mattered, because for me music has always been about being a very small part of a very large whole.
I realised a while ago that I never enjoyed playing cello solo anyway. It bores me. I’d much rather be part of an orchestra. Similarly with singing: while I’m now a considerably better singer than I ever was a cellist, while I do have the odd solo at church, while I’m happy to lead raucous parties in Goodnight Irene, Clementine, The Last Thing On My Mind and similar, while I’m confident enough now to know when I’m right and the person next to me is wrong (even when it’s Tony), and to ignore them, I still prefer being in a choir to singing on my own.
And music is instant social life. Even for shy retiring types such as myself, music gets you talking to people, and learning who’s who, and discussing over coffee or wine how horrible that entry before letter C is, and why don’t the basses ever watch. I shall miss my current choir horribly, because they are so very good and so much fun, and also I wanted to sing at Norwich Cathedral and now I won’t get to. There will be choirs in Cambridge (ha, that’s an understatement!) and I will find one to join. Maybe there will be some kind of amateur orchestra that plays stuff just for the hell of it. (Here is the advantage of playing cello: you can be completely rubbish, and people will still take you, because there are never enough cellos.)
So that’s one alchemical set-up, and there’s nothing really surprising there; this is really reprising tactics from all my other progressions. My other major creative activity is writing, and this is where community and collaboration are harder to find, and, indeed, possibly counter-productive. After all, every evening I’m discussing the brilliance of Firefly in a pub somewhere is an evening I’m not writing. I’m not Jane Austen, writing in the morning room between callers. I write by turning on the computer and shutting the door. And God forbid anybody ever sees what I’ve written.
Except that’s not true at all. The quantity and quality of my work has increased dramatically since I started taking part in Picowrimo, where one not only talks about writing but shares snippets of one’s writing. Three months of Pico and I have the best part of a novel, as opposed to six years simmering resentment and the constituent parts of a novel sprayed haphazardly across at least twenty different ODT documents.
Two scenes to write, about fifteen to finish, at least three very thorough reads-through which will undoubtedly see much changed, and then comes the terrifying part, where other people read it. At least, I suppose they have to. Not much sense in its sitting on my Dropbox forever.
It will be the better for it. I know that. It takes more eyes than mine to pull out the faults, the glitches, the inconsistencies; but this scares me. I have no idea of any strategy, only, finish the damn thing, finish it properly I mean, and then start prodding things, and trust that the right people will appear.