Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Loneliness and Other Adventures.

Five months ago I plunged once more into the murky depths of anxiety, which slowly began to sink my mood further and further into the ground, or the sea, or the bottom of a deep lake, or wherever this metaphor is going. In short, I felt awful and afraid and exhausted. Right at the moment I felt myself tip over I decided I needed to do something big that would pull me out the other side. I decided that I was going to take a play to the Edinburgh Fringe, I was going to make myself write it, and I was going to perform whatever it was that I came up with.

The biggest, most overwhelming fear I had at the time, and had had for a long while, was the fear of loneliness, or perhaps I was just feeling loneliness itself. And so since this was the most dominant feeling I had, and the only thing I could really think about, I decided that the play would be about exactly that. And in writing this play, in pulling out everything I was feeling onto the page and forcing myself to confront it I was going to heal.

I kept joking about it at first, that this would be an "elaborate healing process", but secretly I was hoping that it would come true.

I had the idea for the play over a weekend, and the next week I had a venue space in Edinburgh confirmed. The more I committed to, the less I could turn back on myself. I needed to find a team, and I needed to write it, and sign contracts and pay money I didn't have and then find a uni society to fund the money I didn't have and sign contracts with them and then I would be locked in and I wouldn't be able to get out until the end of the very last performance in five and a half months time.

The one thing I knew about this play was that I wasn't going to do it alone. I was going to surround myself with likeminded people and let them help me with what I had to do. I thought that perhaps I was being a bit hopeful about the type of cast I was going to find; that I was going to bond with them emotionally, that I was going to go on some sort of journey with them, that I would be forever grateful that they were there by my side the entire time. That's what I was picturing anyway, that's what I wanted.

Last week three of the loveliest, kindest, most beautiful women I have ever met came to stay in my house and we spent hours in sweltering heat rehearsing for this play about loneliness. And no matter how long it was taking on one tiny scene, or how tired we were, or how far away finishing felt, I did not doubt for one second that it would come together eventually. I have never felt that for a play, I have never felt so sure and so calm. I have never felt so safe in the presence of people who, until five months ago, I barely knew anything about. Two of them I only met in the auditions.

This play might not be the best thing I will ever write, or the best thing I will ever perform. People might not like it, it might get bad reviews, my parents might regret that they had to come all the way up from Buckinghamshire to see it, but I will not mind whatever the response may be.

When I decided to fully throw myself into this ridiculous project I did not know how much emotional recovery I was about to go through, I did not know how bad I was going to feel, I did not know, truly, how much I needed to do it. But now I am here, five days before opening night, feeling more at peace with myself, the universe and everything in it than I have done in a very long time. And even if someone tells me never to step on the stage ever again after this, at least I can tell them that I really, really gave it my best bloody shot. And that I am happy, and less lonely, and that's all I was really asking for.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Check your privilege, for crying out loud.

Today at work - a small coffee vendor on a station platform - a nice man, probably in his 40s or 50s, came up and told me about the best coffee he'd had there with an "exquisite" mix of syrups. Unfortunately he could not remember the exact recipe, and I couldn't help him since he didn't have enough cash to give it another try. We worked out it had been my sister who had served him the exquisite coffee but she didn't remember either. The guy stuck around to have a chat instead.

He told me he loved the area I lived in, that it seemed like one of the best places in England. No one is usually that enthusiastic about Buckinghamshire, but I happen to agree with him. He asked if I was born and bred Bucks, I said I was, and he asked how I'd enjoyed growing up here. I told him I'd loved it and that I'd been very lucky to have done so. That every school I went to was considered excellent by Ofsted, and that having beautiful countryside and London just next door was, to me, the perfect combination. He remained enthusiastic, nodding along to everything I said. "It was very different growing up in Hackney, you know?" he said. I told him I could imagine, but really my white, middle class existence in a home county is a million miles away from a black man's upbringing in the roughest parts of Hackney. There was no bitterness in his description of how he had to become streetwise very quickly, only a longing for things to have been easier, perhaps to have grown up in Buckinghamshire with nice schools, and nice families, and nice middle-class things to do every which way you look. Before he left he joked and asked if I was posh. I laughed and said, sheepishly, "probably". And then he grew serious and told me that it didn't matter, there had to be different types of people in the world, and that I shouldn't be embarrassed about it. I was a bit taken aback, but I told him I thought that even if having privileges wasn't itself a problem it is vital to acknowledge what I have and how it effects other people. He said "I guess" and then his train arrived and we said goodbye.

A few days ago I commented on a Facebook post about Dominic Raab and his views on "feminist bigots". I joked about the tough lives of straight, white, super-privileged men for never having had to face accountability before now. My comment was ironic, and I felt, as I always feel, the necessity for adding "not all men" was entirely redundant. Nevertheless a straight, white, middle aged man I do not know and have never met commented that he felt "judged". I restrained myself and told him I was sorry he self-identified as the "middle-aged white man" everyone seems to be so aggressively attacking and was sensitive enough to believe that what I had said had anything to do with him. I could have told him that the fact he felt judged probably pointed towards his subconscious guilt of being exactly one of the men I was joking about, or that his individuality as one of the "good guys" doesn't work if you wade in with your own pity story in a conversation you weren't in any way involved in. I could have told him to go and do something profane, as I felt angry enough, or I could have just told him to check his privilege. I held back not wanting to embarrass the friend whose post it was, but had it been my own I could have said a lot worse.

This is not my own analogy but imagine you're in a meeting in a job you've worked hard to get to.  Imagine the position you're now in gives you a lot of leeway and a platform for speaking out. Say you're a white woman from a privileged background but you still had to wade through the shit of office sexism and of everyday sexism to get there. You look around the room and take in everyone else sitting around the table. You give yourself a private pat on the back for doing so well, and then you take a note of every person in that room who is not being represented, who could be there doing a good job. Now you have the power, now you've used the privilege you got given in life to get where you are, it is your job to hold the door open for everyone else who needs to come through. Once you are in a position of privilege you have got to acknowledge it and you have got to use it for good. I don't see any other way around it, I don't see any better thing to do. Open the door and keep it open. Whoever you are.

Check your privilege over and over again, check who needs a helping hand, check why you are where you are, keep out of conversations that aren't about you, let people be angry who need to be angry. Except if you're a straight, white, privileged man in which case you can sit down and keep your anger to yourself because this has been a long time coming, my friend. Just look around you, look at the lives of other people, and try your hardest to keep going in the right direction. Because we are going in the right direction, I promise. I promise.

Monday, 2 July 2018

My unashamed love for Love Island.

I have watched this entire season of Love Island so far without any sense of irony. I've enjoyed every bit of it and I'm not remotely sorry.

I have been absolutely compelled by the sense of intrigue, the clash of personalities, the betrayal, the female friendships, the unwavering dedication to a narrow standard of beauty, the unwavering pursuit of fame and money.

I love the ironic voice over which constantly acknowledges the producers' obvious manipulation of the islanders' terrible behaviour, like some meta-theatrical technique. I love feeling quietly happy with myself when I've chosen a favourite islander whose actions and behaviour remain impeccable despite adverse conditions (Dani), and I love believing that some of the couples have found genuine love on this show designed for fakery and juicy gossip. I actually love immersing myself into it despite its consumerist, ageist, ableist, sexist, homophobic and vaguely racist tendencies because it never lets you forget it is any of those things. It is like a Brechtian form of theatre where the audience is constantly reminded of the unreality in an attempt to make them think harder about the content...

Okay, I'm not going to pretend this show is in any way intellectual, but it is, without a doubt, some sort of brilliant social experiment with some of the vainest, most beautiful, most dense (and strictly heterosexual) people this country has to offer. It's like after years of reality TV they finally perfected it into something truly awful and delicious. Like a sugary dessert, it's not doing anything good for your insides but the process of eating it is entirely enjoyable.

I was going to write something about the judgement of other people's tastes and the false sense of intellectual superiority for not watching it but, frankly, Love Island probably isn't worth it. It is what it is, take it or leave it, but I will be having the dessert and eating it, in this case.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Long, romantic bus journeys

I always find long journeys an exciting prospect. I await them eagerly, making plans for all the productive and romantic things I will do on them: write in my diary, sink into a new book, listen to a new album. Sometimes I really do achieve such levels of obnoxious activity on transport such as trains, but the reality of bus or car journeys, somehow, are never quite as active. 

Usually, I end up staring out of the window watching the landscape rush by as my eyelids grow heavy, letting myself slip in an out of consciousness in awkward but pleasant slumber. I find the hum of an engine, its white noise, makes me feel like a baby who’s driven around to stop it from crying. I find myself unable to fight against the helpless sleepiness of the long hours spent watching the world literally go by. 

I often berate myself for this, for spending 6 hours on a coach in an unthinking stupor. For staring out of a window for the best part of a day. I’m never sure what else I was supposed to get out of the journey, but rest and the cocooning safety of the vehicle is apparently not one of them. It’s something I find deeply pleasurable, and yet I battle with myself to actually enjoy it. Why do I do that? Why do I spend 80% of my life annoyed at myself for not doing something else? Why can’t I just sit here, on this bloody bus, and take it all in?

I just find it interesting how the enjoyment of life, of any part of it, but mostly the mundane parts, is a force of effort. How I anticipate much greater emotion, a much greater memory than one of snoozing on the sunlit motorway. And when that great romantic bus journey doesn’t come about the way I wanted it to, when something equally as lovely does, I kick myself for not getting more out of it. What a ridiculous thing, what a funny little mind I have. Because I’m sitting here, in the blanket evening warmth of my Gran’s back garden, after a long 6 hours on a coach, thinking how lovely today was, how rested I feel, how many small things I noticed as hours slipped by which I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. 

It’s just interesting, isn’t it. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

My dad and the concept of gender.

I rang my dad the other day, just for a chat. Our chats are always long, spilling over excitedly into new topics as we go along: new books, articles, podcasts; interesting things we saw in the day, conversations we had with other people, new people we've met.

The other day I was surprised, although I shouldn't have been at all, that he brought up the topic of gender neutrality. An article about a Canadian academic explained and discussed their credibility, which brought up why their views about gender neutral pronouns, or gender in general, were problematic and dad had shared it on Facebook and was telling me about the response. It was coincidental because I had just watched a Youtube video 10 minutes before about bringing up children as gender neutral in Finland. We both said it was interesting.

Dad talked about the comments on his Facebook post expressing views and arguments against gender neutrality, to which his response was: it's all bollocks anyway. Here I was having a spontaneous chat with my dad on the phone and he's telling me, confidently, that gender is a construct.

He wondered what he would have been like earlier on in his life had he not been brought up in the dichotomously gendered society of 1960s Scotland. Despite never knowing my dad as fitting into any convention of restrictive masculinity, he was wondering how the development of his identity could have been better, less moulded, more fluid.

Our understanding of gender identity is slowly and labouriously untangling itself from the centuries of its limiting construction. It can't be that simple, but maybe it is. My dad is a no bullshit kind of a guy. I said to him that maybe people resist this shift in our perception of gender because they see it is as a threat to their own identity. He said that it was a good theory, but that seeing as there is no legitimate threat to identity people should probably just get over it. I paraphrase him, but there he is; a mountain of self-assurance with a constant river of evolving human compassion and understanding. My dad is a man with the greatest perception of "live and let live".

He doesn't get everything right, no one does. But I realise how privileged I am to have a dad who can call me up and tell me to check my feminism, who I can do the same back to. I have a dad who reinforced my belief in the performativity of gender, in the instability and fluidity of identity. In short, I lucked out, as far as dads are concerned.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Crying in the smoking area.

In the early hours of Friday morning (1 am, although I'm not quite sure) I left a club because I couldn't stop crying. I had drunk far too much wine and I was far too tired and I hadn't cried properly in about two months. They were hot tears and I couldn't do anything but let them stream down my face, trying to look away from my friends, hoping the tears would stop and the night would carry on. But I couldn't and eventually I had to say, in the kind of desperate way when you think you're about to be sick or you feel trapped in somewhere, "I'm really sorry, but I just can't stop crying." And then it all came out and I did that ugly sob crying where you're trying to catch your breath but it's also an enormous relief to have such an outpour of emotion after a long period of stress and tension.

And in the busy smoking area of a club night in Leeds one of my best friends in the whole world took me in her arms and told me we were going home, and I cried some more and said okay and also 'I love you'. We bought cheesy chips on the way and made cups of tea and got into bed and watched Sex and The City. I thought how lucky I was to have such an extraordinary friend and then, finally, we fell asleep.

It's funny because the next day I felt quite deeply embarrassed about what had happened and spent a while cringing over the events of the night and now here I am writing publicly and in detail about it. But on the train from Leeds back to Cambridge, my hangover finally waning, I thought about how often I build up emotional expectations for myself and get confused when it doesn't happen how I wanted it to. I thought about how I say to myself that I will feel better, free or exceedingly happy when X happens, when I'm doing Y. I thought about how, because everyone else always looks like they're having the time of their life on a night out, I must also be having a great time even when I probably should be tucked up in bed watching Netflix. I thought about how we put pressure on ourselves to always be in a good mood, to always look like we are in a good mood even if we're not. I thought about how unforgiving we are of "bad" emotions and never appreciate the fact that they are just as unpredictable and real as the "good" ones.

I thought about how I wanted that night to be exciting and endless and full of adventures. And I thought about how I couldn't have predicted having an enormous cry on a night out in Leeds but it happened and it wasn't good and it wasn't bad. But I felt relieved and I felt loved and now it's just another story to tell. And it's funny, isn't it? Because that's just exactly what I want life to be about.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Contemplating life without the act of writing.

The blog has been quiet for almost a month now which has, sadly, been fully intended. But I haven't left a month empty for 6 years, so I won't let it happen in the midst of relatively unimportant exams.

My life for the last few weeks has consisted of a selection of deathly quiet libraries, coloured pens running out on me, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, terrible coffee, good coffee and, if I'm lucky enough to be in bed by 11, old episodes of The Great Interior Design Challenge on Netflix.

Amazingly my thoughts have still been whirring away. On the cycle back from the library to my college I can still work through more than just what I'll be having for dinner. I'm thinking things still; big things, small things, working myself out, working the world out as I spend hours robotically writing notes in bright pink, and then in bright blue when the felt tip dries up.

I have realised, however, that I have nowhere for my own thoughts to go when I'm not writing them down somewhere, anywhere. Two weeks ago I was busy with more than just revision. I was rehearsing for a show I'm working on, I was meeting cool people, having interesting conversations, collecting stories to tell. I scribbled some of them down in my diary before I started these monotonous hours in the library. But somehow it still feels like there are thoughts and memories still floating above me, floating higher and higher, harder for me to anchor with the act of writing them down.

Sometimes I secretly worry that I'm pretending to myself that I like writing. I wonder if I've accidentally told too many people and I can't go back on my word. I didn't realise I needed a month without it to really miss the sensation of ordering and crafting my thoughts into something coherent for no one but myself, but anyone who also may be curious.

I feel good now. Expunged some of the disorderliness in my head, forced a creative outlet. I'll sleep better, a weight's been lifted. You should try it, maybe.