The Art of Vulnerability

An Interview with Alabaster DePlume

Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström shares a conversation with wordsmith Alabaster DePlume in the sound booth of a tiny theatre in Stockholm, speaking about happiness and vulnerablitity, artistry and self-appreciation. Somewhere, behind the rapid exchange of words, a connection between the two individuals might have been made.

Meeting British spoken word poet and saxophonist Alabaster DePlume is a marvellous experience, from beginning to end. The first thing he says to me, when we finally find each other right outside of the sound booth in Stockholm theatre Pygméteatern, is an enthusiastic »Hi boss, how’s your spirit today?«. Thus, I am faced with a decision to make: Should I take this rather unusual greeting as a joke and, as one does, laugh it away – in that way starting our interview without taking in who Alabaster is, instead instantly deploying ridiculous human defence mechanisms unfit for a conversation of this calibre? Or, should I accept his words as a gift for my eardrum, and evaluate a proper response to it – in that way commencing the interview on Alabaster’s spiritual frequency. I choose the latter, and answer: »It is grand, thank you, how is yours?«.
        Alabaster seems pleased with my reply, as we enter the sound booth to seek silence and privacy from the waiting crowd outside, impatiently slurping away on canned beer and box wine poured in plastic cups. These people are about to witness Alabaster in action, on stage in the city’s very smallest culture venue, and from where we’re sitting, we can see this particular stage from above. To make the discussion we then dove into justice, I have chosen to write it down exactly as it was; no cuts, no interruptions for my solemn written thoughts about what’s been said, no more crisp recollections of the environment and no tampering with the dialogue itself. As long as you keep up with who’s saying what, darling reader, this here piece of interview will be no trick at all. You’ll devour it like a piece of pie and come out the other side as a new and improved person, if you only manage to navigate accurately.

»I'm a difficult man.«

- Alabaster DePlume

Half a second after we have placed our behinds on two clear surfaces in the dark sound booth, Alabaster opens the door to our conversation:
        »So, tell me, what’s it like being you?«
        »Being me, at the moment« I say, after a brief contemplation, »is actually fantastic.«
        »Is it?« Alabaster says. »Are you recording? Good. Tell me what it’s like, being you.«
        »I am coming more and more into myself.«
        »Are you being more yourself?«
        »Yes, I am finding myself more and more.«
        »That’s fucking great.«
        »I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks lately, but I’ve landed in a space of safety and love, which I think most people would consider a positive thing.«
        »Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe so. Do you think there’s any particular thing that has led to you becoming more yourself?«
        »Well, I ended the longest relationship I’ve ever had, which of course was heart-breaking, but created some sort of a rebirth« I blurt out, without really considering that I’ve only known Alabaster for about 30 seconds.
        »So, people ask me ‘Are you happy?’ and I’m like ‘It depends on how you define ‘happy’’« Alabaster states. »For some people, happiness involves being comfortable, quite a lot of comfort. In that case, I would say I’m not happy. My definition of happiness is being more myself, and so you can be uncomfortable and in fact experience quite a lot of pain but still be very much yourself. I would consider that how I define happiness.«
        »So you see more happiness in freedom than in comfort?«
        »I don’t know if it’s about freedom…«
        »Because, now when I have stepped into a place of freedom, I have fallen into an image of myself that I really enjoy.«
        »I’m so happy to hear that, boss. There is one thing that I would like to go around telling people, well, there’s lots of them but one of them is ‘Be as much yourself as you possibly can. Everyone needs you to, but no one knows how to ask you.’«

»And people ask you a lot, if your happy?« I ask Alabaster.
        »They don’t ask me a lot, but certain people who do care, do ask.«
        »Because I do get the question quite frequently. I don’t know if it depends on the way I look or the way I behave, but I do get asked, and now I can actually say that I feel happy.«
        »I think it’s really good that we have our own definition of happiness, it’s more interesting and it makes it less like a competition.«
        »Yes, because this is the way we were raised; we have to be happy.«
        »Yeah, that we have to be content, and that we have to have certain things, certain qualifications, certain facts need to be ticked.«
        »And, as you say, the definition of happiness is common. The monogamous…
        »…the heterosexual…«
        »And the nuclear family stuff.«
        »Yes, but I think we’re escaping that in some way, step by step. Finding our own ways to happiness. At least allowing others to do so, that’s the first step.«
        »The first step is allowing others?«
        »If you judge people according to your rules, then you can’t allow happiness in any form.«
        »It can be to do with listening to someone, sincerely, about what they’re experiencing and what their value of it is. I’ve been working on being vulnerable, making myself vulnerable.«
        »You haven’t been that before?«
        »No, I’m not supposed to be vulnerable, I’m a man.«
        »According to who?«
        »According the way we’re brought up. I’m supposed to keep myself safe…
        »…and strong.«
        »Yes, but there’s different kinds of strength. Vulnerability is a strength.«
        »I see it that way, but the traditional way of seeing strength is the opposite. It’s not being vulnerable, and I have had troubles with that myself as well.«
        »Have you?«
        »Yes, I’ve been extremely frightened for anyone to see me as weak.«
        »Me too. I’m not even comfortable with anyone seeing who I am at all.«

»How much of you am I seeing right now?« I wonder.
        »Well, you see an aspect« Alabaster says. »One of the things about me is that I’m very stubborn and I’ll do the opposite of what I’m expected to do. So, by definition, the fact that I’m expected to keep myself safe and not vulnerable means that I want to make myself vulnerable.«
        »And unsafe?«
        »And unsafe, but that’s because I am so contrary. I’m a difficult man. In the past, I’ve tried to not be contrary and difficult. It wasn’t very good.«
        »So you were contrary against being contrary?«
        »Yes, so now I’m doing it on purpose. And, I’m making it a good thing, a useful, positive, progressive thing.«
        »For yourself?«
        »For me and those I care about, and as many people as possible.«
        »But, for me, the vulnerability has been the most difficult feeling – or wait, is it a feeling? How do you define vulnerability, is it really a feeling?«
        »I’m thinking of it as a position; you put yourself in a vulnerable position.«
        »That’s true, you can feel vulnerable, but you are in a vulnerable position. I most definitely can put myself in your position and understand why you are trying to be vulnerable, because I’ve also tried to accept my own vulnerability, and succeeded in some way.«

»I don’t know if this is useful to you or any of your readers« Alabaster says, »but one thing that I’ve enjoyed reminding myself of is that the first ingredient in courage, I believe, is fear. You cannot make courage, until you’ve got fear. So, where you find yourself experiencing fear, you can say ‘Ah, good, now I have nearly everything I need to make courage.«
        »Yes, because courage can’t exist without fear.«
        »People say ‘Don’t be afraid’, but that’s bullshit. Be afraid! We are going to be afraid.«
        »What are you afraid of?«
        »What am I afraid of? I’ve thought about this a bit, and I think I’m afraid of being known.«
        »In the public eye or as a private person?«
        »I’m afraid of the power that people can have over you, once you are known. I’m afraid of what people might do with their knowledge of me. I present, in my show, some of me, but I do it in a way that is quite controlling. I go ‘Have a look at this. Behold how much of me I’m prepared to share with you’. I am still controlling how much of me is known, but if someone else can have knowledge of me that I have not designed, that I haven’t chosen to present – that’s frightening to me.«
        »Has it happened that someone has gathered knowledge about you that you haven’t realised yourself?«
        »That happens, doesn’t it?«
        »Someone can see a potential, or a lack of it, in people without the one being watched knowing it. And that is scary.«
        »It is scary, that’s true.«
        »But, it can be educational as well.«
        »It can be very useful, and it can help you to grow. But it can be dangerous, it can be damaging and used maliciously.«
        »How do you feel after a performance…«
        »How do I feel after a performance?«
        »I mean, how do you feel after a performance if someone comes up to you and shares their feelings about what you just did?«
        »It varies. More recently, especially this past year when things have changed for me in my career, people have been coming with more personal stories. This is one of the things that I want to support.«
        »So you enjoy it?«
        »I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, because it’s not as simple as that. That’s not the end of the story. There is also a great feeling of that I must have left someone out. I must have hurt someone.«

»In the audience?«
        »Someone, somewhere, somehow. In the band, in the audience, wherever. There is a thing about receiving people’s blessings of that kind, that requires a great deal of vulnerability and that is terrifying. It can be a very heavy thing to experience, to do it regularly, every night sometimes. You can feel a weight of responsibility. I love people, I want to connect deeply with them. I want to do something good for them. When they come to me with these messages, I feel like I surely must owe them something. It’s something I just need to get my head around.«
        »You’ve found that this is the ultimate method of doing that?«
        »’This’ being performance? It’s the job I’m most suited to. The way that I’m doing it is constantly under review.«
        »Is that because of the nature of the performance itself or because it’s you doing it?«
        »It’s because of who I want to connect with. Because of how I feel about who I want to connect with.«
        »Any art form is constantly under review. Do you feel like yours will be more judged than, let’s say, the other act performing tonight?«
        »By who?«
        »By the audience.«
        »I don’t know. I don’t think that’s for me to say, because I don’t know if I would be more judged than them.«
        »Any art is always open for an opinion.«
        »When I say it’s constantly under review, I mean by me. I need to see how it’s working and who I am connecting with. I want to connect with people who are different to me. Do you know who you want to connect with, with your work?«
        »I do, yes.«
        »That’s good.«
        »But, I think it differs from your perspective.«
        »Maybe it’s a cowardly move, but I want to connect with people who are like me.«
        »I wouldn’t call one way or the other cowardly. It’s brave by definition, the work that you do and the work that I do. I don’t think we’re here to call anything or anyone cowardly.«
        »I feel safe in kicking myself.«
        »I would wonder about that, whether it feels safe. It might be comfortable for you to say ‘I am cowardly’. I’ve done that before. But, when you do that, you communicate to anyone else who is doing anything like you, that they too are cowardly. Do you want to do that?«
        »I don’t. This is a pure defence mechanism, which I don’t even think about how it may affect others. But thank you very much for that perspective. I’ve always felt like if I kick myself, then no one else can.«
        »I used to do so much kicking of myself, but I really do believe that you’re also kicking someone else. You just don’t know it. That’s not energy well spent. Do you know what I mean?«
        »I do, you should utilize your energy in ways to benefit yourself and others instead.«
        »I’ve found myself doing such things, especially when they’re really easy.«
        »Of course it’s easy, I’ve been doing it for so long. It just fell out of my mouth.«
        »There’s a lot of us doing it.«

And so, my interview with Alabaster DePlume is over. I realise that I have to leave, because I have stupidly enough (see, I’m instantly kicking myself again) double booked myself and do need to take off. I see I’ve learned plenty during the 17 and a half minutes I’ve spent in the sound booth with Alabaster, and I do hope and think that he might have gotten something out of our conversation as well.

December 30 2018