Writing event thing
Children with good sense make their parents happy, but foolish children make them sad. Sweethearts you make your mommy and me very happy. You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much, so be sensible and watch what you say. I will have to confess to my colleagues that is not an encouraging proverb for someone in the midst of a filibuster. Kindness is rewarded, but if you are cruel you hurt yourself. Try hard to do right and you will win friends. Go looking for trouble and you will find it. Good people are kind to their animals, but a mean person is cruel. We trap ourselves by telling lies, but we stay out of trouble by living right. It’s wrong to hate others, but God blesses everyone who is kind to the poor. Kind words are like honey; they cheer you up and make you feel strong.
For the writing event in February I will be performing a filibuster. The premise is simple: to fill the allocated eight minute time slot with rhetoric. Filibusters are a political tactic used to ‘talk a bill to death,’ where a single politician-performer will attempt to speak for as long as possible in order to delay or defeat a vote by preventing others from speaking. Filibusters are only possible within certain political systems, such as in the USA, where the structure of the Senate allows for a senator to talk for as long as they want and on any subject - it does not have to relate directly to the piece of legislation being debated. Filibusters in the US have been known to last as long as twenty-four hours. These efforts become exercises in endurance, with senators taking measures to empty their bodies of moisture in order to prevent the need to take a bathroom break. Topics discussed vary from the mundane to the absurd. The intricacies of a particular piece of legislation are followed by discussions of children’s books, food, twitter and television shows. Senators may take questions from the floor, and these are often used by colleagues, who will go on at length in order to give the filibusterer a break.
Q: Where do Chinese gooseberries come from? A: Chinese gooseberries actually come from New Zealand. Q: Can you tell me what part of the world the Panama Hat comes from? A: Ecuador. Q: A camel’s hair brush, do you know what it’s made of? A: Squirrel fur.
I wanted to respond to the format of the event in terms of its restriction on duration and its consideration of public speaking. The idea of filling eight minutes of time led me to think of filibusters as dealing with time in a very specific way, by filling a space, or suffocating a potential conversation. The form elevates an individual’s power, through a heroic act of endurance, above the supposedly collective nature of a political body such as the United States Senate. The surreal phenomenon of a single person talking continuously for twenty-four hours is accentuated by the deployment of arbitrary subject matter as spam rhetoric or pure filler, its only aim to eat into the time left before the Senator can stop performing. In this way, power and politics become ridiculous, or are revealed in their absurdity. There is a fundamental weirdness at the heart of the political process that is laid bare. What is said is not completely without consequence though. Ted Cruz’s choices of material in his famous 2013 filibuster against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are potentially revealing. The use of biblical material, particularly proverbs relating to binary moral choices, obviously plays to a Republican religious ethics, and the decision to read a bedtime story to his children live on C-Span reinforces the desired image of a family man who has the next generation’s best interests at heart. Cynicism aside, there is something strangely touching and entirely apt about the patient rendition of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham with its simple, child-friendly tetrameter and whimsical surrealism.
What content should I use? To what extent should it be scripted, and to what extent improvised? How explicit should I be about the text being a filibuster, what clues should I give the audience? Should I use devices such as plants in the audience?