More than ten years ago we were invited out to dinner, to friends. I sat opposite a Rabbi, someone we knew, though we didn`t know each other well. This Rabbi had written and published one or two books, or perhaps three. I had read one of them and really admired it. About comparative religion. I was about to enjoy the rehearsal process and staging of one of my plays. Don`t remember which one. Probably The Song of Deborah or Candlesticks.
Suddenly, out of the general chat among friends, a question was fired at me across the table by the Rabbi.
`Why do you think you write, Debbie?` he asked. `Is it for self-aggrandizement?`
I remember feeling first embarrassed, then surprised. I have no recall of who said what next or why. I never discussed the question again with the Rabbi. But Jeff and I certainly discussed it back home. And our hostess came as near as she dared to apologizing for her apparently intolerant Rabbinic visitor.
`What does he write all his books for, then?` I grumbled to Jeff. `Isn`t that just for self-aggrandizement?`
Clearly there is much to discuss here. That Manchester scene came back to me this morning in London as I watched colleagues and fans of the American rock star Meatloaf, eulogizing him to the high heavens. The last one, just before I switched off, was Suzzi Quatro.`
`What a contribution,` she kept saying, `oh my, what a contribution he made.` And not a word, not one squeak came from anybody about that evil urge that some people have for `self-aggrandizement.`
So now, here I am mulling it over, and asking myself what it all means. Very few people I have come across have succeeded in doing anything simply by either not working too hard at it, or not showing or telling anyone what they`ve done. I am certain that on occasions in the past, when I have turned to watch an audience in a theatre, and that audience is moved by a play, and then they applaud, they are absolutely not showing admiration for the writer alone – if for the writer at all! When someone takes a sharp breath during a surprising moment in a scene – they are experiencing the mood of the character. At that moment whoever wrote the play is of no relevance at all.
Yet we all know there are people, and there is such a thing as self-aggrandizement. So I have worked out a definition. Self-aggrandizement, I have decided, means showing off, or promoting yourself more than is absolutely necessary. And how you work that out is up to you, whether you are the self-aggrandizer or the reader, audience, listener, or viewer. That seems quite clear, I hope.