I’m just a middle-aged lady, sitting on top of a little mountain in regional Queensland, tap-tap-tapping away at a keyboard. I’m not famous, I’m not a celebrity and if I venture beyond the village post office, it’s almost certain no-one on the street will tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey! Aren’t you Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear???”
Still, I’ve never been one to be star-struck. Even when I met Cat Stevens when I was just 15 years old (oops, was that a name I just dropped?) I approached him calmly, complimented him on his previous night’s concert, and engaged in a discussion with him about how his music reflected his philosophy on life. Sure, he bought me an ice cream and I kept the cone in a jar for over 20 years before my mother threw ‘the dirty thing’ out, but I think, one on one with Cat, I handled things pretty well.
This weekend I had the rather surreal experience of meeting someone else I admire: comedian, columnist, writer, novelist and television personality, Catherine Deveny. We had met once before. I approached Catherine at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention and she branded my arm with a ‘black ink’ ATHEIST stamp. We chatted briefly, but at that time I imagine if she gave me any thought at all it was to think, “Who the fuck was that?”
Later, I wrote an article, Defending Deveny, about the Twitter storm that erupted after Deveny’s appearance on Q&A with Archbishop Peter Jensen.
We became Facebook and Twitter friends.
In preliminary discussions about the 2013 Reality Bites Non-Fiction Literary Festival I mentioned that it would be great to get someone like Catherine Deveny to attend. Festival director, Melanie Myers responded enthusiastically. I passed on Dev’s details and voila, this weekend at the Reality Bites festival, Catherine performed at the historic Majestic Theatre at Pomona and spoke about “Destroying the Joint” on a panel including Anne Summers and pornography writer, Krissy Kneen.
During the weekend I got to spend quite a bit of time observing Catherine. And, when her festival obligations were finished, we spent two hours in the car together as I drove her back to Brisbane to catch her plane.
In “Defending Deveny” I included a list of the names Catherine was called on Twitter following her Q&A appearance. Here’s an edited version:
“Ugly, extremist, stupid, unintelligent, idiotic, thoughtless, self-righteous, self-centred, self-absorbed, nasty, confused, frustrated, bitter, twisted, humourless, un-funny, unreasonable, unrespectable, disrespectful, sarcastic, mocking, catty, hateful, boorish, blustering, bullying bitch.”
I think, after spending a considerable amount of time with Catherine over the weekend I can strike out every one of those criticisms as uninformed bullshit.
Here’s what I found.
On occasions when Catherine was given the opportunity to comment about someone she didn’t particularly like, she was honest, but never put the boot in. In fact, on one occasion in particular, she showed a remarkable insight into why the person being discussed was rather difficult to deal with. Sure, there was dislike, but it was offset by compassion.
In person, when she could have been rude, she found a way to be honest without hurting the person’s feelings.
At a party, held in her honour, Catherine didn’t ‘work the room’ or ensure she was talking to ‘the cool people’. Instead, all night, she stood quietly, at the side of the room, and spoke quite happily and at length, to some of my friends who – although delightful – are far from famous.
I have met some celebrities (Bob Ansett, Kamahl and Prince Philip take a bow) who on meeting you, will shake your hand limply, quickly register that you’re a ‘nobody’, then look frantically over your shoulder, trying to catch the eye of someone more important to speak to.
Catherine didn’t do that. What’s more, she was genuinely interested in people’s stories. She looked them straight in the eye and asked questions – and she listened, really listened, to the answers. She didn’t always agree with what people said, and she said so when she didn’t, but she certainly didn’t do it in a self-righteous, self-centred, bullying way.
In the panel discussion, Deveny was passionate and talkative, but very conscious of the need to give equal time to the lesser-known Krissy Kneen. When Krissy spoke, Deveny listened attentively. When the moderator called a halt to the session before I could ask a question, Deveny (having seen my hand raised) asked specifically if I could be given a go (on which I passed, the session having run well over time). She also made sure to mention my work from the stage – although she could quite easily have focused exclusively on her own considerable contribution to the “Destroy the Joint” debate.
In the car, Catherine chatted away about life, the universe and everything – just like a normal person, which is what she is. She wanted to meet my mum, because I talk about her sometimes on Facebook, so we detoured via our little mountain abode and found Daphne pottering about in the garden. Catherine was charming, kind and genuinely interested in this 89 year old lady with Alzheimer’s.
Later, Daph said, puzzled, “She was lovely, but why did Catherine Deveny want to meet me?”
On our way to Brisbane we talked about my writing, my career and my life, not hers. She offered inspiration, tips and good advice.
In person, Catherine was warm, generous, witty and, surprisingly, NOT LOUD.
She was far more interested in the people she met than in pushing her own considerable celebrity.
She was professional, well-prepared and provided an energy to the event that continued long after she left the stage.
And when Catherine did talk about herself, she talked about the people she wanted to help, not about how she could land her next big celebrity gig.
It’s funny. The Catherine Deveny described on Twitter during the Q&A Twitter-storm simply didn’t show up at the Reality Bites Festival.
I have a feeling that, just like God, THAT Catherine Deveny doesn’t exist.