James Waites passed away when I was on my way to Sydney, two weeks ago. When I left Melbourne, he was still alive – in the sense that we didn’t know yet that he wasn’t – and by the time I had arrived in Sydney, the news of his death had become known. The message I sent him on Facebook went from being the most normal thing, to something obscene.
Today at 3pm, in NSW there will be a memorial for James Waites, organised by the incredible Augusta Supple, who has tended to the entire business of concluding James’s life after his death: wrapping unimportant things up and securing the preservation of the important ones. Augusta has been incredible throughout this, and I hope that we will all be blessed with a friend like her when our time comes.
I called Augusta when I realised what had happened, and asked if there was anything I could do; I was in Sydney, after all. She said: “Maybe you can write a little something on your blog. James thought so highly of you. He loved the time when you guys ran Spark Online, he really saw in it the future of criticism. It was a great time for him: he felt he was a part of a community of critics. He saw you as this brave young critic, a young gun, snapping at the heels of Alison Croggon, keeping her honest, the way he thought of himself as snapping at the heels of Harry Kippax, keeping him honest.”
It took me a really long time to write anything about James that felt in any way worthy of him. Or of my sadness. It is the day of his memorial, and I still haven’t managed to write anything I’m not ashamed of. I’m writing this hoping the words won’t let me down, because it would be so unworthy of James to be late to his memorial.
I met James through his blog. I hadn’t known of him, but older critics did. When I met him in Sydney – and I met him many times, because, for a short period of time in 2008-2010, I used to go to Sydney a lot – I was always struck by just how generous he was. James was a kind of mentor to me, because, even though we lived in different cities, I got so much from him: he was generous with his time, with his knowledge of theatre, his knowledge of theatre history, his knowledge of people. I sat in his beautiful small apartment near Belvoir, and leafed through book after book of newspaper clippings, photographs, essays, while James would tell me stories. I helped him with his blog, and he would mention me on it. We discussed theatre across our respective blogs – although less and less, the less time I had to come to Sydney.
James is one of those critics with whom I never disagreed. Everyone has those: people we respect so much that, even when we cannot see what they see, cannot feel what they feel, we wish we could, because it seems like so much fun, like such a great experience. He had a fantastic ability to let himself be swept along by art: and when he couldn’t do it, because the art was a bit shit, you could hear the disappointment in his voice. ‘Why is this not better?’, he seemed to demand, ‘we could be having such a great time right now!’
Blog, I think, was a great medium for James, because he could take his time: to agree and disagree with the artist, with himself, to make lovely little jokes about ‘Glitter and Fluffy’, say (this will forever be my favourite thing James ever wrote), to expand on what he really cared about, without the constraints of the newspaper format to stay on topic. James knew the topic well enough not to have to stick to it.
And now I am stuck in a world in which a piece is inexplicably missing, like that chunk of island in Norway, which I saw a couple of days ago and agreed with completely.
I really loved James. I am so fucking sad he’s gone. I am so fucking sad that I just missed the opportunity to see him. It would have been the first time in two or three years. Maybe, just maybe, some other amazing project would have been cooked up between us, and James would have felt like hanging around a bit longer. But of course we all think that, don’t we?
I am in tears while I’m writing this, and I’d like to think that James would like the honest human drama of it all.