I woke up this morning thinking about the loss of Nelson Mandela's late last night. I heard the news just before bedtime and went to bed feeling just very, very sad. But this morning, that has changed. Now I am all strange happy sad... Because, yes I am very sad for us, that we have lost him. But I am happy too. Happy and glad that such a decent, thoughtful person was with us for a while. And so loved. And that he didn't just think and feel intelligent heartfelt ideas, but somehow found a way to make himself heard. And so, because of all of this, he was able to do much good in this world. I don't think we need to try & make him a saint. He was a good man. That's good (& hard) enough. I don't expect or need to believe he was perfect. I just know that we are better for having had him around, while we are around... So now, in honour of him and his life, I am going to go grab this beautiful day & try to live it with love and delight and hope and passion and belief, because that's what he did. When we lose such a bright light in the world, the temptation is to say, 'who will fill the darkness now?'. But really, the obligation, our obligation, is to try and burn brighter ourselves. Not easy. But here we are. Onward.
Thursday, 7 November 2013
I received an email from the artists Conway and Young, asking if I would contribute a piece of writing to their 'Free For All' project: Here's the info I got about Free For All:
On the 5th July 2013 it was the 65th anniversary of the founding of the NHS; a healthcare system that is free to everyone at the point of delivery, based on clinical need, not ability to pay. In 2013 the Welfare State, including the NHS, faces many and various challenges that threaten its future. What might a future without a public health service look and feel like? ////// THE YEAR IS 2078 AND THE NHS NO LONGER EXISTS ////// To create a collaborative contemplation on the significance of the NHS, we have invited 65 people to speculate about it’s future; to generate cautionary tales, proffer a warning, invent dystopian visions, and offer practical advice on how to adjust to coping without it. (2013)
Burnt Cottage is the piece I created in response to their email...
20th Sept 2078
Not one sentence into this letter and I realize, I’ve only gone and used your real name. You and Lorraine (there, I remembered to use her code name so that’s something isn’t it?) will be very cross with me. I’m sorry, but I do need to write and I’ve no more paper to start again. I hope by the end of this letter you’ll understand. And you can always burn it once you’ve read it can’t you?
It does feel odd, trying to form words with a pen. I haven’t done it in years. Though I do hear pen and ink are making a comeback with a certain set of young people. The ones who can afford it. I hear they write sonnets about love. Very affected you’ll say, no doubt. But all the same, it’s all the rage. I’ve heard. Love poems written down on paper. For the lucky ones. Well good for them. I mean it. If their parents have enough money to buy pens and paper, so their children can dream words to rhyme with heartfelt feeling? If they can manage that, then we should be glad for them. We should love! I mean it. I know you and your Lorraine think we should all be taking to the streets, throwing stones and goodness knows what else. But that’s not really my idea of a nice trip out and besides, while I know you know a good deal about politics, I really can’t see how the children are the enemy. The parents perhaps, but the children? They’re just kids, love. They cannot all be - what did you describe them as? Over Christshoptime this year? Oh, it did shock me. Didn’t it? That’s right! You said these rich children were ‘all spoilt, spawn of the uber-class, blindly carrying the sins of their parents into the world, propagating death, sadness and class war in a lazy, half-conscious manner, because they choose to close their eyes and know no better’. That’s about the gist I think. Well? Like I said then, that does seem quite harsh. Some of them must be nice. They must. Kindness is natural. I read that somewhere. Some people are good. Even if the moors are burning and the ice of the north is a long forgotten dream. While there is life son, there is hope. The laws of nature say that at least one of those well fed children, strapped into the huge gun turreted tractors their parents drive through the burning streets, speeding them from their violin lessons to their Cantonese-for-business sessions, swaddled in body armour? One of them must be a good-hearted soul who really means well. No matter who their parents are. Do you see? So, bear that in mind before you go planting any of those devices that you and Lorraine were whispering about when you thought I wasn’t listening. As it turns out I was. And I have to say, I do not approve. Though I know you’ll do what you think is best. You always do.
That was not what I sat down to write to you about. This is the problem with marijuana isn’t it? It really helps with the pain but it just makes you feel all floaty and smashing. And then you forget what your point is. Or was. Anyway, this last batch you managed to get for me is excellent. So much better than the sawdust from last time. But I must be ‘coming up’ as you call it, because I don’t seem to be able to keep focus.
Oh but it is nice not to have to worry about my back for a moment or two.
Anyway, getting back to the point before it sails off again.
I don’t want you to get cross. I just want you to sit down and read this all calmly and to try ever so hard not to fly off like you do, with your tit-for-tat violence. The bloodstains I’ve had to try and wash out of your shirts over the years! If you think about it? None of those killings ever made things better Conrad did they? So, for once in your life, just stop and listen to your Mother.
My back is the problem, as you know. And it’s not getting better. So I decided to start saving those coke labels. Do not worry; after you explained things, I never drink the disgusting global-capitalist fizzy muck anymore. I promise. I just went through the bins near that new apartment-blockade. It didn’t take many months to save up. Last week I finally had enough labels to claim my 5-minute introductory session at Medi-Coke. The boy I saw was lovely (I was lucky, I got one who is very close to graduating) and he gave me 10 minutes instead of 5, which was very kind. Remember that, if you do go planting bombs. Don’t you dare do it at Medi-Coke because that boy is trying hard to do what’s right. Anyway, he checked me over. And then he got quite upset. I don’t think he can have got to the bit in his course about dealing with sad news yet. Which is my way of saying that the problem is bigger than we hoped love. And Marijuana isn’t going to be able to help what I’ve got forever. You understand?
I think you do.
I got up this morning and I was thinking about how to tell you. I can’t try and tell you in person. You’ll just get cross and start shouting about how ‘life isn’t fair’ and how ‘the system has to change’ and of course, you’re right, but all that shouting is very tiring when you’re feeling unwell. I would have sent you an email but my free Google account got swamped by junk mail again last week. I’ve no access now until next month. And this can’t wait. Luckily, I remembered I had some Basildon Bond. This notepaper. That’s what it’s called. My dear Gran used to write on airmail. Blue Basildon Bond airmail. I don’t know why. She didn’t know anyone overseas and only ever wrote notes to the neighbours complaining about the excessive level of noise they made while having sexual intercourse. She was a livewire. You would have liked her. When she died I got her pads and pens as a memento. One of those things you don’t know why you keep but you can’t throw away. And then years go by. Lately I wondered if the lot might have become valuable, what with the youngsters going back to paper. But no. ‘Too thin, mildewy and stained’. That’s what the man in the pawnshop said. So the pad just went back into my draw. And then this morning I remembered it. My handwriting is terrible of course. But here we are. Here I am. The moors are on fire, the birds that are left are being shot for pie and your old Mum is dying. They think they know what it is. They think they might be able to slow it down. For all that uncertainty it would still cost a fortune. We don’t have one. And if they don’t do anything, it’s going to be a very slow end. Which doesn’t bare thinking about does it? So, when I say I’m dying. What I actually mean is that by the time you read this letter, I’ll be dead. To be clear, I’m dead. I know you hate it when I get sentimental. So there you are. I’ve said it. I’m dead. And besides, you have wonderful eyesight, so you won’t have failed to notice me hanging from the apple tree in the garden before you got to the cottage and found this note.
Unless of course it’s nighttime when you come round next?
If that’s the case you may have missed seeing me hanging from the branches. The streetlights are forever on the blink with all of these power cuts, and you can’t see a thing out there when they’re not working.
Oh Conrad, I wish I’d thought of that before I started that last paragraph. I’d have built up to it all a bit more gently. But there we are. I only have these few sheets, so there’s no going back now. The fact is, I’m dead and I’m hanging in the garden waiting for you to find me.
So now you know. Please don’t be sad. I want you to know that I went very happily. I’ve got a plan. I’m going to finish this letter, build a huge joint just like you taught me, and then I’ll pop out to the garden and float up the step ladders (the ones your Father used to use for decorating) and then we’ll have done. Honestly, it’s for the best. I’m going with a total sense of calm and well being. I am! And none of this would be possible if it were not for you and Lorraine introducing me to illegal pain relief or a little thing called Die-Easy loan assistance. Which is the thing I wanted to mention to you.
The important thing, which I think you might not like.
The Medi-Coke boy helped me apply for it. And I must say they’re so efficient. I got accepted just like that. So perhaps the government isn’t all bad after all? Conrad, I know you want to change the world and I love you for caring, but it’s exhausting love, when you’re ill. It’s just too much. Trying to imagine how things should be, could be, fighting for this and marching for that, instead of just making the most of the way things are. So the truth is, I know you won’t approve but I’m grateful for the assistance the government’s made available for ones like me and your Father who never saved. Or should I say, did save but who lost it all when Google got hacked and we all had to chip in to get the nation rebooted. Too big to fail said the P.M. and I’m certain he should know. Though I know that’s what you say was your ‘radicalizing moment’. But there we are. Officially it looks like me and your Dad never saved a drop. And that’s not fair but in the end Conrad, you have to just pick yourself up and smile. Dad’s not here to help now. Sometimes you have to face facts. The savings are gone. Deal with things as they are. And that’s what I’ve done. Because the diagnosis I was given last week, well, none of my options were looking very hopeful dear, until the lovely boy at Medi-Coke says ‘have you heard about the government’s Die-Safe Assistance scheme?’ Oh he did well up when he started to tell me about it. I do hope his lecturers help him toughen up a little. I think he’s going to struggle if he can’t say the word ‘cancer’ in his line of work, don’t you? But anyway, finding out about the scheme changed everything for me. I want you to know that it lifted a huge weight.
It means I’ve been able to afford a new dress for the occasion. (Oh it is nice. I got it in a colour and style that I think Lorraine will suit, and I’ve left strict instructions with the Die-Safe people not to bury me in it. So make sure you get it for her, won’t you?) Also, I got get myself a five-year plan for the landfill. (The Medi-Coke Boy says 5 years is plenty. Paying for any longer is just a rip off. Which was kind of him, I think). And they even threw in a free 7-step guide to making a good clean drop, once I’d signed up… So it’s a very, very good deal Conrad. All that, in exchange for my little Burnt Cottage. Which seems very reasonable. Especially as you said you don’t believe in owning property. I thought, well if you’re not going to use it, the government might as well have it.
I hope that was the right thing to do? And you weren’t just saying that to impress Lorraine? I know she’s quite ‘straight edge’ as you call it.
All right then, I’ll start to sign off now. Be happy love. The most important thing in the world to me is that you, Lorraine and the Cats, sorry, the Kids, have a wonderful future.
All my love,
PS. I’m sorry I wrote the Cats instead of the Kids. That was a silly slip.
PPS. Conrad, I may as well just tell you. I couldn’t ever think of the Cats as your children. I know that will hurt you and Lorraine, but they have always just been Cats to me. Very nice ones, but just Cats all the same. I know you worry about breeding more humans into this world and have great faith that animals are the future, I know that. But I don’t think you can blame people if they try to shoot them for food. Times are difficult. I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to get hurt. It’s been worrying me and if I don’t bring it up now, when will I?
PPPS. But that doesn’t mean that just because I don’t understand, I don’t love you. I’m your Mother. I love you whatever. If you choose to have a non-traditional family life it’s no ones business but yours and Lorraine’s is it?
PPPPS. Please don’t go and find the Medi-Coke boy and hurt him. This was my decision. All mine and the Medi-Coke boy, was just trying to help. Sometimes hope comes in a strange package. But it is there. There is truly hope in every situation and I found mine in that young man. So be happy for me Conrad and don’t be sad. And don’t go getting angry and planning anything stupid or rash. And most of all, don’t forget to get the frock back for Lorraine. You may want to supervise me being cut down, just to make sure they don’t snag the material. I hear these landfill boys can be a bit slap dash. But don’t hold that against them, they have a lot of units to deal with. That’s what the Medi-Coke boy said. Try and remember people mean well, even when the best of them is not showing.
PPPPPS. I’m sorry I couldn’t manage a sonnet. I tried but all I could think to rhyme with ‘dead’ were shed and bed. I’ve no mind for such things. But I have got a heart full of love for you.
I’m really going now.
Tuesday, 13 August 2013
Accidents And Emergencies R&D at West Yorkshire Playhouse... Blog 2: Post-It Notes were invented by accident.
I've just finished a weeks long R+D at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Working under the title of 'Accidents and Emergencies' Sarah Applewhite (who directed Freakoid -see earlier posts) and I set out to spend a week playing with the idea of 'what happens when you find yourself out on the boundaries of your comfort zone? What does it do to you as a person and to your creativity?' We wanted to do this work because of our experience of making Freakoid earlier in the year. While making that show was a fantastic thing and while great things have come from it, it was by far the most scary creative thing either of us have ever done. We both had to learn producing on the job. I had to perform. Sarah had to learn lighting design and sound and tech operating... In short there were times, hidden times largely, when we both felt entirely out of our depth... But something amazing happened in those moments. It wasn't always fun but it was interesting... So we thought we would take that thinking forward and explore it more. But this time in a slightly safer setting... The only rule of the week was that we would try as far as possible to work in ways we do not usually work. And we did. We played out. We did stuff we never do. We did stuff we do sometimes but tweaked it to make it feel different. We went into the room and I lay down my playwright hat and Sarah's took her director hat off too... And then we worked... We talked honesty. We did dancing. We made Youtube videos. We played drama games to see if we could find a point for them. We could not. But we did find a way to bring a positive ending to Romeo and Juliet by hot-seating the monk. We did making music, formed a band and created a theme tune. We discovered the world of Prepping. We did things that frighten us. We talked about what we want to do with our work and what we fear might be stopping us from being as good as we want to be. So, yes, we learnt a ton... At the start of the week we didn't know if this work would mark the beginning of a new piece of work or would be something else. It turns out it was something else. We have learnt so much about what we want to do next but it's not a devised piece. We realised that despite the fun/fear/learning there is to be had working outside your comfort zones, sometimes its good to focus in on what you do well and love to do. So we have decided to focus on reworking Freakoid. But this time I'm going to focus on the writing and Sarah's going to get to direct a performer who really wants to be on stage... We think this way we will finally make the play we were always dreaming of making. There will be more on this if we can get the funding. Watch this space as they say. Anyway. Having moments of R+D like this to take time and explore is absolute gold dust. Huge thanks to Amy Letman and West Yorkshire Playhouse for having us for the week...
We did MOUNDS of writing exercises during the week. Here's example 2:
Sarah and I were thinking about happy accidents. Things go wrong but sometimes out of the mess of wrongness good things happen...
Post-It Notes were invented by accident
Post-It Notes were invented by accident. I read that somewhere and I’m sure its true. The act of reading something seems to leave me with the sense that the thing I’ve read is a fact. Seeing things in black and white gives it a power. Which is why I’ve taken the decision to keep away from texts like Mein Kampf.
Having said that. My memory for the actual detail of what I’ve read isn’t great. So here’s what I can remember … The happy accident that brought Post-It Notes to the world.
There is this fucked up scientist, right? He or she, though in most stories he is a he because it makes the story better. More believable. Men you see find it difficult to associate themselves with female characters. They can fear them, be intrigued by them or wish to fuck them, but they can’t make that transition to feel like the thing that is happening to ‘them’ is happening to ‘me’. Supposedly. Meanwhile, women and girls have the ability to associate strongly with all gender characters. They can take on their point of view and feel it as their own. This is why women like stories about men but men don’t like stories about women. Generally. Talking in brushstrokes… Of course it could be that women have simply learnt to find a way to be interested in the vast pile of stories that only have men in them. Or only have women in them with character names like Whore 1 and so on. It could be that it’s a response to the way stories about men have been normalised as universal stories, as relevant stories, as interesting stories (as opposed to women focused narratives which are seen as niche with limited appeal). Perhaps women have just kind of learnt to find the joy they can, in the stories that surround them?
I mean I’m speculating here.
However. Who wants speculation? In this day and age? What we want are badly remembered facts, read in articles and regurgitated as gospel.
Anyway, lets get back to the post-it note and the scientist. Right?
He’s working away on this adhesive. For the motor trade. Or something. I can’t remember exactly what. Something that needs sticking in a new way. But the adhesive isn’t working. It wasn’t working. Right? It was shit. It was a total waste of fucking time. This is his life’s work. But everything was fucked. And his wife was sick of hearing about the glue and all his promises that “This time, this gule was really going to work”…
And his kids were like
“You are a fucking loser, glue-man!”
That’s what they called him. “Fucking loser glue-man”
Imagine that? Your own kids.
And he’s struggling to pay the mortgage and now he’s heard that the car manufacturer is on the brink of trying someone else’s glue because it’s not just his wife, they too are sick to the back teeth of the scientist’s promises about
“This time the glue will really work. It will! It really will stick the bit of the car to the other bit of the car that really needs sticking”
So then the day comes. The day comes when enough is enough and the car manufacturer, the boss of the scientist, right? They/he rings up and says
Because this is all happening in America. All the best stories happen there.
So yeah, they said, he is saying, on voice mail as it happens. They are leaving this message on voicemail. They are not even bothering to tell the scientist this in person. Because this is capitalism in America. This is Capitalism at its harsh, sharpest edge. And so they are screaming at him. They are sacking him. On the voice mail. He said. They say
“Hey Fella! We are outta time here already. Your fricking glue sucks and we are finished with you. Finished man. We are going with Zak Boulder-Heim’s outfit as of now. Period.”
They say period in America. They do not mean a bloody discharge. They mean a full stop.
And then there’s a click. And the phone goes dead…
Have you noticed in American stories how the characters always have names like Zak Boulder-Heim?
I like that.
Anyway. Our scientist, he hates Zak Boulder-Heim. He hates this fucker. He is his arch nemesis and also his wife’s former lover. And possibly the real father of his eldest son. I mean the thought crosses his mind. It does. It did. His eldest kid. He’s called Randy. Obviously. His eldest son. He looks just like Zak. I mean he really does. The eyes. Everything. And it’s Randy who started with the ‘fucking loser glue-man’ thing. They’ve just never bonded. Failing to bond. It’s the story of the scientist’s life.
So, on this day, hearing this voicemail. Hearing that he has lost his job to the man who is still sniffing around his wife and probably the father of Randy. It’s the last straw. He looks at his life and he thinks
“What the fuck is it worth? Really? What the fuck is my life worth?”
And so the scientist decides to end it. I mean he’s been thinking about it for a while. On and off. It’s not a new thought. But now. Right now. Then. The thought becomes possible as something that could become an action. He realises that he really could put his colt 45 in his mouth and squeeze the trigger. Because he obviously has a gun in his top drawer. This is America. Of course he has a gun. All American’s in the best American stories have a gun.
So he decides to write a note. He’s not certain why because he’s not certain if his wife or kids will even miss him. But he’s a traditional kind of man. A decent, traditional man who’s tried all of his life to do the right thing. And this attempt to write a note feels like the right thing to do. So he writes, wrote. He writes:
“ Dear Mindy (Mindy is his wife), Randy, Bradford Jnr (That’s his middle boy) and Summer (his youngest girl. She’s 5 and loves her Dad and never calls him a fucking cunt, douchebag or loser glue man), I love you guys with all my heart. I tried stepping up to the plate but that plate? Well that plate was a hell of a step a way. And? Well guys it turns out your Dad’s not a real man after all. You’ll be better off without me.”
And then he’s pretty much ready. He’s pretty much ready to blow his brains out. He just needs to find a safe secure place to leave his note…
The fridge would be the smart place. The place where the family would be sure to find it and see it and read it before coming into the living room where he intends to blow his face off. He doesn’t want Summer to see that. He needs to be certain that his note will be seen before Summer reaches the living room and starts looking for the TV remote and instead finds her Daddy with his brains all smushed into the carpet and all over the wall…
Only, he’s looking and he just can’t find… No… It looks like there is no tape in the house… And the blue-tac all got used up at Christmas and "Damn it all, for sweet Jesus sake!" There is nothing in this damn Condo that will stick his note to the fridge… Which is when he, the scientist, gets the idea, got the idea, to use his glue. He has a little pot of the latest formula in his basement lab… And then, you guessed it… On applying his glue to the note, he can’t help noticing the excellent tacky quality. The light touch stickiness of his note. How it peels on and off the fridge so easily… This weak bond quality, so disappointing and so looked down on by his bosses and Zak when it came to gluing car bits together, now seems/seemed excellent. So there he was. Is. Standing. Sticking, unpeeling and sticking again and again. Over and over.
And then for the first time in months. He smiles.
That’s how it happened. That’s how post-it notes came to be. Or. That’s the gist anyway. A happy accident. Not that it saved the scientist’s marriage. But at least he was alive to see Mindy return to Zak. And at least he was alive to finally notice that Randy so had his oddly shaped toes, so must be his. And at least he wasn't dead so got to spend time with Randy, Bradford Jnr and Summer every other weekend, enjoying soda and shooting hoops or targets at the shooting range. Summer is a sniper in the making. Makes her daddy proud. And in short, he got happy. Or happy enough.
And that’s the truth. And if you don’t believe me? Google it.
I've just finished a weeks long R+D at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Working under the title of 'Accidents and Emergencies' Sarah Applewhite (who directed Freakoid -see earlier posts) and I set out to spend a week playing with the idea of 'what happens when you find yourself out on the boundaries of your comfort zone? What does it do to you as a person and to your creativity?' We wanted to do this work because of our experience of making Freakoid earlier in the year. While making that show was a fantastic thing and while great things have come from it, it was by far the most scary creative thing either of us have ever done. We both had to learn producing on the job. I had to perform. Sarah had to learn lighting design and sound and tech operating... In short there were times, hidden times largely, when we both felt entirely out of our depth... But something amazing happened in those moments. It wasn't always fun but it was interesting... So we thought we would take that thinking forward and explore it more. But this time in a slightly safer setting... The only rule of the week was that we would try as far as possible to work in ways we do not usually work. And we did. We played out. We did stuff we never do. We went into the room and I lay down my playwright hat and Sarah's took her director hat off too... And then we worked... We talked honesty. We did dancing. We made Youtube videos. We played drama games to see if we could find a point for them. We could not. But we did find a way to bring a positive ending to Romeo and Juliet by hots-eating the monk. We did making music, formed a band and created an 'Accidents and Emergencies' theme tune. We discovered the world of Prepping. We did things that frighten us. We talked about what we want to do with our work and what we fear might be stopping us from being as good as we want to be. So, yes, we learnt a ton... At the start of the week we didn't know if this work would mark the beginning of a new piece of work or would be something else. It turns out it was something else. We have learnt so much about what we want to do next but it's not a devised piece. We realised that despite the fun/fear/learning there is to be had working outside your comfort zones, sometimes its good to focus in on what you do well and love to do. So we have decided to concentrate on reworking Freakoid. But this time I'm going to focus on the writing and Sarah's going to get to direct a performer who really wants to be on stage... We think this way we will finally make the play we were always dreaming of making. There will be more on this if we can get the funding. Watch this space as folk say. Anyway. Having moments of R+D like this, to take time and explore is absolute gold dust. Huge thanks to Amy Letman and West Yorkshire Playhouse for having us for the week...
We did MOUNDS of writing exercises during the week. Here's example 1:
Sarah and I were thinking about things that make us feel safe. We both realised that we put great store by certain people out in the world that we have never met, but who feel like friends to us. And then, being us, we started to worry about what would happen if those people were taken away...
People Who Are Going To Die:
It’s difficult to think about, but Tony Benn is going to die. One day pretty soon. He’s going to die, partly because he’s a million years old now, which isn’t his fault. But also, he’s going to die because he’s a pipe smoker. It’s part of his brand isn’t it? Though he would never use that kind of jargon. He would hate that. But anyone who loves Tony Benn knows he’s a pipe man. He smokes. It’s part of his M.O. And yet. It’s a problem.
And I don’t want Tony to have a problem. I love Tony Benn. I have done for as long as I can remember.
I have a recurring fantasy about him. It goes like this:
We meet in a hotel room in Morcambe bay. It’s a single room with a purple nylon bed coverlet that sits on the little single bed. There is 70’s wallpaper. A teas-made. Some cheap mahogany veneered furniture.
Tony arrives. I arrive. We don’t speak. Tony just lies down on the bed. He then removes his pipe from his lips. I take off my glasses and then Tony opens his arms and I get onto the bed and cuddle in. And we just stay like that. Cuddling for the longest time. Nothing else happens. Sometimes we might hear the seagulls crying outside the room…
Eventually of course we have to part. Tony picks up his pipe and I know its time for us to go.
I find this fantasy very comforting…
Anyway. The point is. Anyone who loves Tony Benn knows that he has smoked his pipe forever and that he loves a cup of tea on the hour every hour and that he has a peculiar form of Leukaemia that is slowly killing him. And I can’t help feeling livid with Tony. Because smoking kills. And it probably kills more if you have leukaemia already. So I want to find him and say ‘Tony! Stop smoking! Stop helping the leukaemia spread. We need you!” You are our talisman. We don’t have the vision or passion or commitment to actually attempt to do anything about the shit-fuck-mess that we are all in. What we have is our love for you. And our knowledge that you are out there fighting for us, dictating your diary and basically being alive and brilliant. Simply by being alive you are making the world better, more bearable place. And if you go and die on us now? If you die on us? On me? Then I’m going to have to start thinking about doing something about all the shit-fuck-mess myself.
And that is avoidable.
You are a selfish bastard Tony. Stop fucking smoking and don’t die.
This can be read out by anyone. They should read it while being stood up... A piece from 'The 7.30 News Bulletin' which was performed at Theatre in the Mill on Saturday 4th May 2013
I wrote this piece for a show curated / led by Daniel Bye called 'The 7.30 News Bulletin' which was performed at Theatre in the Mill on Saturday 4th May 2013.
The show was made / performed by Dick Bonham, Evie Manning, Dermot Daly, Iain Bloomfield, Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lizi Patch. I did some writing as did Dominic Grace. The set up consisted of folk coming together (I wasn't even meant to be there but, happily, got kind of dragged in) reading 3 days worth of newspapers and then responding by making a show...
On the night, the piece that follows below was performed by Dermot Daly. I wish I could have seen him do it. I hear he was fantastic, but for reasons that will become clear, I couldn't be there...
Dermot Daly (photo by Jonathan Turner)
This can be read out by anyone. They should read it while being stood up
Hello there. I’m Emma Adams. I write plays and I’ve been working with the 7.30 news team over the last few days. So, just to let you know a little about myself, I’m 43 years old and I have lived around Bradford and Leeds all my life.
Also. To put all of your minds at rest. I’m white. And I don’t mean the Eastern European kind that is becoming such a worry for people writing in our papers. I’m absolutely the right kind of white that has always lived upon these shores. In so far as I have Scottish ancestry and so have a bit of Celtic blood. Probably. Anyway, Celts are white and have always lived upon these shores. Though it’s also probably fair to say that my DNA may have Norman and Viking tendencies too. Normans and Vikings were white but they invaded these shores. Plus, I have a great grandmother on my paternal side who was a Native American. But I think you’ll find I’m at least as white as all the other white people worrying about the over abundance of non-white and/or the wrong kind of white people who are invading our country.
I say this because context is important. In the news. Isn’t it?
Anyway, I’m here, possessing the body of Dick/Evie/Dan/ Iain/Dermot Josh or Dom because I can’t be with you in my physical form tonight. This is because, at this very second I’m watching a different theatre show called ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ by Red Ladder Theatre Company at The Lantern Theatre in Liverpool. This isn’t because I got kicked off Dan’s show by the way. Going to see the Red Ladder show is a long standing engagement. I wasn’t really even meant to be in this show. 3 days ago I came to Theatre in the Mill on a different errand but then got sucked into Dan’s evil web of creativity and never left. Until now. Obviously.
Anyway, what else can I tell you? That’s important? That’s news?
Because Dan asked that I write something for you. A news flash from a female perspective. Most of the people who applied to come and do the show with him this evening were, by coincidence, blokes and so he thought a female voice, here on stage could be important.
So what else? What’s news? From where I’m standing. As a woman.
Well, having read the papers over the last few days, I’ve realized, that the most important thing you’ll want to know is that I’ve got frankly enormous tits.
I wouldn’t usually mention this in conversation, but it feels only right to put this out into the room. My juicy jugs are fucking titanic. And just to put all of your minds at rest, I’m going on record here tonight and am saying categorically that my great big hooters are all natural and have not been surgically altered. Though because I’m a lesbian these lovely big handfuls are all of course going to waste.
That’s the headline dealt with. Is there anything else you need to know about me and the news? As a woman?
I have a fang. A weird tooth. It sticks out a bit. I quite like it. Mainly for the following reason. My fang means that in every single primary school I have ever visited doing creative sessions, at some point, a little group of children has gathered around my ankles and asked ‘Miss? Is it true? Are you a vampire?’
I don’t believe in lying to children so I explain as calmly as I can ‘Yes children, you’re very, very observant. I am a vampire. All artists who rely on subsidy are fucking vampires, sucking the life blood of productivity out of this great nation of ours, destroying the entrepreneur spirit and weakening the gene pool.’
That’s what I tell them. Word for word. Apart from I don’t say ‘fucking’ when I’m really talking to primary children. I just put it in for you, just now, for effect, so that you’ll think I’m cool.
And also so you’ll be distracted and not notice that the bit above, inspired by the Maria Miller speech from last week, was strictly speaking, old news. And old news is rubbish. But if you say fuck or fucking a bit, it freshens it up. Makes it feel more now.
What else? What more can I flash at you from my personal female perspective?
Because having said yes to Dan. Having said yes, I will do this piece for the show. The thing is, now that I’m sitting down to write. And to be clear, I am sitting. I know I look like I’m standing. But I’m not. I really am sitting down. But it probably just looks better to stage it this way, with me standing. And that’s fine. Isn’t it? To change things a bit. If it makes things look a bit better. I think so. Anyway I digress… The thing is, that now I’ve sat down to write, it’s all feeling like quite a big responsibility. I mean I may not have the skills and experience to talk for all women. And I don’t want to fuck this mission up. Now that I’ve accepted it, I want to get it right. You can understand that.
Or that’s how I felt when I was sitting down to write the piece. But of course now I’m sitting over in Liverpool. Watching Red Ladder’s show. And from what I can see here, I’m beginning to realise I needn’t have worried.
Because here in my audience, I notice that there are many, many women in the theatre. And if you look around yourselves, well look! There are many, many women sitting in the room here in the Mill too. Being silent. Watching. So instead of writing something on everyone’s behalf, I thought we could turn the lights on the audience and ask some relevant, pertinent questions of the women amongst us.
So lets get started. Ladies in the room, lets get right to the heart of it. Because it’s time to find out what everyone wants to know.
Have you started getting your bikini body ready for the summer yet?
Monday, 12 August 2013
Reflections on meeting scientists researching Alzheimer's Disease at Kings College London, 10th July 2013
I wrote some reflections for Freedom Studios and Entelechy Arts after we returned from our week of R+D for 'The Home' (the play I am currently working on) in London (8th - 12th July)... During that time we had a chance to meet Professor Clive Ballard and his team who are working on Alzheimer's Disease. Here's what I wrote...
The chance to meet Professor Ballard and some of his team members was magic. It was a chance to enter an entirely different world and just for a moment be part of it, see how it works, notice how language works differently. How words are used differently. How life is thought about differently. That for a writer I think is an amazing opportunity. As was having the science and understanding around Alzheimer’s Disease explained. As was the opportunity to ask a million questions and not to have to worry about whether they were stupid questions or not. The whole team was incredibly open and I’m thankful for how generous they were, giving us their time, sharing their knowledge and letting us see into their world.
I was probably however most grateful for the things that happened that I wasn’t expecting. Because I suppose I was expecting the scientist’s world and my world to be different. But underneath all of that, the thing that surprised me was the similarities in our experience. Walking through the reception doors and seeing the plaque commemorating that Keats once studied at the University, reminded me that actually our worlds are not so very separate. There are unexpected resonances. Of course there is a level of particularity that is distinct and endlessly intriguing between ‘art’ and ‘science’. But the meeting with Professor Ballard and his team just made me think - We are all attempting to understand what life is, what it is doing to us and what we are going to do about it… Artists take ourselves down one route and Scientists take another, but we are all on the same journey. So, yes, on all these different levels the meeting was great.
Three Things That Have Really Stayed With Me…
Where does the person reside?
I am not a religious person but neither am I strictly an atheist. I have a kind of grey unclear muzzy set of half beliefs. Personal heresies no doubt, that I have constructed. A vague sense that while religion perpetrates much that is despicable in the world, it also holds up much that is beautiful. A belief that God does not exist but that the idea of God might be a reflection of the best parts of what human’s might be. I contradict myself all the time. I absolutely reject the concept that God could have created our world and yet carry a gut feeling that family members and friends who have died are somehow ‘still with me’. I often feel their presence. So clearly, I have a confused botch of compartmentalised thinking and feeling that I have found a way to make sense of… But the meeting with Prof B shook this up quite a lot. As Prof B started showing us slides of brains affected by AD there was this thought in my head that was visceral and unnerving. I suppose I had to confront some of my contradictions. I just thought, if my person and personality is absolutely and totally contained within the tissue of the brain then that really is that. And an AD brain pretty much shows us that doesn’t it? That we really are just the sum of the nerve endings and chemicals in our brain. When Prof B said that he understands why it is comforting but it’s inaccurate to portray people with AD as if they are simply cocooned behind a symptom of confusions and that it is possible sometimes for the curtain of confusion to lift and for that person to be ‘revealed ‘again if only briefly (as so many drama’s dealing with AD do)– that hit me for six. Because I realised that that is how I have thought about the disease. In my mind I have imagined that the person with AD is still there, it’s just that the disease erases their ability to communicate their person hood anymore… So in that room with Prof B, suddenly I was confronted with the actuality that the disease is not a shroud on personality but a relentless attack on the essence of a sufferer’s person hood. When you see a brain utterly ravaged and laid bare by AD there seems little else to conclude. I found that chilling. But galvanising somehow. It made me feel that the work they are doing to try and understand AD is even more urgent somehow. But on a personal level, it also made me think, all of that stuff I experience as ‘extra rational’ is just me. All that contradiction. All of that stuff that I separate out as intellect, soul and heart – its all the same. It’s just my brain, working on a million different levels at the same time. It’s just my brain carrying around all of these different experiences of myself and the world and what I think and how I respond simultaneously. WOW BRAIN! That is incredible. I’m doing all of this stuff to myself. I’m creating that inexplicable, occasional presence of loved ones that I get. I’m doing that to myself! WOW WOW WOW… And strangely, I’m OK with that. I don’t mind that it’s not real. I’m actually just pretty impressed with my brain. With all of our brains. What incredible creatures we are! I wonder whether we will ever definitively know ‘exactly’ where the personality/soul/heart (or whatever word best describe the essence of us) actually resides? I wonder what we will gain and what we might lose when we get that understanding?
The necessity of science to discover meaning by delineation – how storytelling does the same.
Listening to the scientists talk, I was intrigued by the way they create methods to hone in on the material they wish to understand. The hypothesis and then the path that is created to develop an experiment that rules out unnecessary or contaminating /confusing data. Everything is done so that a particular question can be put under a spotlight and a truth can be seen. This has made me think about what happens when one writes a story. How you start off with a huge lump of material, but then to try and find a universal truth, in the end you strive to hone in on the particulars of a situation. You create a hypothesis. You say to yourself ‘what would happen to this character if they were put in this situation?’ And then you make what you have imagined happen to the character and the story is basically what you discover about that character. You basically do an experiment on your characters to find a story. And I really like how there is that mirroring between our two worlds. I do however wonder though how far that kind of ‘isolated, finding meaning in the particular’ type thinking can take humanity? I have been thinking lately about how the next step in human evolution (if we can get there) will be to find ways to create a rigorous yet holistic way of looking at the world. We are drawn to using one detail at a time to reflect / understand the world, but I wonder if that kind of thinking can only takes us so far? I wonder if there is a whole level of development that comes from finding ways to understand many things in a multiplicity of contexts? The CIA talk about ‘blow back’, the idea that for every action that American foreign policy makers take, to right a situation, there will always be an event that occurs in direct response to the action that was not expected and which undermines the aims of the initial action. I wonder how much science and art is held back by ‘blow back’ and what would come from being able to see truths in their bigger picture, more clearly?
The increments of change / building a body of knowledge
When we were talking to the PhD students about their work, it really struck me how they very much see their work in context with the body of knowledge that other scientists have, are presently working on and will perhaps work on in the future. It was clear that they feel that they are contributing a tiny part of knowledge to a new understanding, which others will then be able to take on and develop. What that development is not their concern – they are immersed in their own tiny chunk of endeavour. But the knowledge and interest in other people’s work, being aware of the frontiers of understanding that are being pushed at all the time - I really got the feeling that this team of people, working in their different ways with their different expertise, are engaged in this way. And I found that very inspiring. I think sometimes the arts is a world where practising artists can be quite guilty of not being so interested in what has gone before and what is already known. Art historians of course are a different fish all together, but practising playwrights – how many of us (myself included) really know the lineage of our art. Or where its frontiers are? We are very focused on ‘what we are doing’ but too often I think we don’t see ourselves in the greater ecology of what the world of art is doing. I wonder how many times we reinvent the wheel because of that tendency? Perhaps it’s the nature of artists to be more inward looking? I’m not sure, but this has inspired me to double my efforts to read and see more… And also to take stock. We have to dream a better world in detail I think. We have to dream large and dream widely and bravely. But then we also have to kind of find away to accept that in our lifetime, we can only be part of an incremental tiptoe towards achieving the goal of that dream. One day, there will be a vaccine for AD. One day there will be more humanity in the way humans live. Our job is not to hold our breath, or to get frustrated that this day has not arrived, but to contribute a step in the journey that will get us all there. Which is frustrating if you’re an impatient person like myself, but there we are.
These are the things that came to my mind during and after our meeting with the scientists.
Yabba Dabba Doing Words / 11th July 2013: A Person Prone To Worry Tries To Find Total Peace of Mind But Discovers Something Else Instead
I was excited to be asked by Ben Webb to contribute to a night of new writing / experiments on the 11th July 2013 at Tara Arts in London. I read out the piece that follows below (alongside new work from Ben, David Marshall and Amelia Stubberfield). It was a good night...
My name is Emma Adams and I am a playwright from Bradford, West Yorkshire. Which is somewhere in the north. Which is somewhere that you'll probably never visit because there is a good deal to keep you occupied down here. I understand and I don't take it personally. So here I am. A Playwright from the north. However, what I am going to share with you this evening has nothing to do with wool, urban decay, hill walking or rain. It's not even going to be a play. Instead what I've created is a kind of bundle of thoughts, loosely gathered under the title of: A Person Prone To Worry Tries To Find Total Peace of Mind But Discovers Something Else Instead. I suppose, this could be described as a reading. However I decided to end the whole shabang with a song, which means I have muddied those waters too.
The reason I’m explaining this to you is that I know, that knowing what is about to happen, is important. Most people like to be able to plan ahead with certainty, without the fear of getting a shock. And I don’t want anything to upset you. Or more precisely, I don't want to upset you before I get to the upsetting bit. Because there is a mildly upsetting bit coming. But it doesn't last long and it all concludes happily in the end. Especially now I've written the song... Anyway I think it's important you know what you're getting into before we begin, because shocks - along with the concept of a vengeful god/corruption/lack of money/nihilism/an inactive sex drive/a loss of equity in ones home/sex addiction/food addiction/single mums in general and working class mums in particular/the atom bomb and/or a failure to save for the future - all seem to be major reasons why so many people are failing to achieve total peace of mind in our day and age.
So now we are almost ready to begin. But before I start I'd also like to say thank you to Ben for asking me to write something for this evening's 'Yabba Dabba Doing Writing' event. I’m delighted to be here with you. That feels important. That we’re all here. I’m glad that we all made it. I’m feeling optimistic. Though it has to be said, I am what's known as a bit of a worrier. Mainly I think because I'm hopeless at small talk and at pretending that the bad things that I notice happening in the world are not really happening. Sometimes this means I depress people by talking about climate change during nominally joyful social situations like, say, a wedding reception. I am trying to learn not to do this, but it does appear to be who I am .
So I am a worryer.
That said, even by my standards its been a worry-tastic time of late. 2 weeks ago my Mum quite suddenly became very ill. She was hallucinating and it was awful. At one point my sister and I began to fear we were going to lose her. That’s a euphemism for fearing that she was going to die. I don’t even like writing it. I don’t want to think about that... Now of course she survived and is much better now, because if she hadn't I wouldn't be here obviously. Even so, my Mum is high in my mind at the moment. I feel uncertain about what the future holds for her and me and I hate that.
So. What with my Mum, trying to write something for tonight and the state of the world in general - just about all of my time has been taken up with worry of late. And that's not good.
Which is how I came to start thinking about actually, actively going out there and searching for 'total peace of mind'... I suddenly realised, I could kill two birds with one stone. I could write about my adventure to find peace of mind and also benefit from the discoveries I made.
This is how I came to find myself googling the words 'Where do I find total peace of mind?'...
The search brought up thousands of links leading to page upon page of on the Internet. I didn't read them all. I took a representative sample. All promised a way to find total peace of mind. Or to be exact I found a gazillion businesses and religious types advertising ways to obtain total peace of mind. The businesses said they could sell it to me (be that Emirates Holidays or Peace of Mind Pet Care in Surrey). The God folk said (ignoring the small print that they disagree about incessantly) that I could get total peace of mind but only after an age of prayer and living right.
Neither of these options seemed acceptable to me.
So then I thought - OK total peace of mind looks like it's going to be out of reach for me. I am not eligible to apply, being both cash strapped and also a filthy lesbian who god hates. Now I know I didn't mention that I'm a lesbian at the beginning and I apologise if that has come as a shock to any of you. But I looked in the mirror this morning and I thought, on balance, baring in mind that the Tara Arts crowd are almost certainly an arty set of urbane people with a sophisticated experience, would the idea of me being a lesbian really come as a shock to them?
I decided that you would have guessed by now.
So anyway, since I am not able to buy TPOM as i like to call it and since I am not prepared to denounce my girlfriend and go seek a cure so that god might allow me into his popular club, I realised I was going to have to start thinking outside the box....
Which is when I thought, ' Hang on! What I need to do is write a list of everything I am certain of. If I'm not eligible for TPOM, perhaps I can build a 'Rational Peace of Mind', built up from what humans rationally know to be true. That seems reasonable. To this end I decided to take stock of everything that is certain in the world, with the intention of using the data collected to build a new sense of rational calm.
This stock taking process didn't however go as well as hoped. Unfortunately, far from creating a rational peace of mind, the data collected turns out to be very unpromising material that could far from be something to aid a worry free existence in fact arm the need for more worry. Which I'm very sorry about. Even so, it's important that you know what I discovered:
The only real absolute, rational certainties that I could pin point were the following:
1) Everyone is going to die.
2) Almost every thing we had in place in this country that might have proven to be a foundation to build a rational peace of mind from, has, when you stop to think about it, been lost or stolen...
We lost the battle for human rights. I know we were on the right side when it comes to ww2, but that was a generalisation ago. These days Britain is synonymous with words like Extraordinary rendition, GCHQ snooping, sexed up dossiers, repeated calls by our leaders to weaken the human rights act... the list goes on...
We lost the battle for politics and now live in a post truth world. A post truth world! Such is the hypocrisy and corruption infused into our everyday lives that non of us believe anything anyone in authority says any more. And we're too exhausted to try and keep up with bringing all the powerful people to book. Which leaves them all free to keep on doing just what they like.
We lost the battle to save the NHS from privatisation. Most people haven’t noticed yet, but we did.
Our schools are being privatised so that they can be run by venture capitalists for profit. Having said that, at least they all do now have a copy of the St James' bible with a fwd written by Michael Gove, on one of their soon to be sponsored by tesco book shelves. So I suppose we have something to be thankful for.
Our local government’s powers are being spayed in the name of greater localism but all that has been achieved is greater centralism.
Higher education is now out of reach for everyone but the most privileged in this country. The Russell Group says its trying to find poor children to educate, but its awfully hard. Which leaves me thinking that if the likes of Oxbridge folk can't work out how to hit inclusion targets then one has to wonder who can.
Putting clever poor children aside, who are deemed worthy of at least the elite's hot air; the poor are by and large now acknowledged to be the harbingers of their own downfall. Lazy people. Dishonest people. Feckless people. People who deserve what they get.
And don’t get me started on the fucking disabled! The disabled are now well known to be malingers who asked for whatever the fuck it is that’s wrong with them. If there really is anything wrong with them, because we all now know that most disabled people are liars and scroungers.
Though, I will give you this. The old are still respected. So that's something to build on isn't it? Yes. Always respected. Well not exactly respected all of the time. But at least on red poppy day and red nose day, old people are wheeled out and respected then. As are the deserving disabled come to think about it. The boys with all their limbs blown off. Because we know those ones, those type of disabled are not fucking with us and taking the piss don’t we? We can see that those kinds of disabled people are at least for real and are not stealing our alarm-clock-Britain-hard-won-cash. We know that these kind of disabled boys and sometimes girls but mostly boys, who have 4 limbs blown off or 3 limbs and half of their brains blown out. For us. All for us. Makes you proud. We know that they are really really for fucking real and so we can respect them on red nose and red poppy day along with the old ones. But for the rest of the time we will not remember them. We will forget them. We will actively go out of our way to forget them. Because it’s so depressing. We will forget them at the setting of the sun and in the morning. We will not design buildings that incorporate them easily. We will not provide adequate care or money or time. Don’t the charity Round-Table-Heros-For-Hope or whatever they're called, do that? Not sure. Anyway… Not sure. But it’s clear we’ve lost something there. I just can’t put my finger on it. But something important has been lost.
The list goes on... When you do a stock take of things as they really are, enmass, it's clear we have lost so much that might mitigate life's harsh edges.
And that's all quite depressing isn't it?
I'd go so far as to say that this discovery severely damages the concept that TPOM or indeed RPOM could ever be achieved. It's made me conclude that the concept its self is not fit for purpose or a basket case or a total crock of shit. Depending on the terminology you prefer...
And in early drafts, that's where I was going to leave things.
But then I thought, that might feel a bit bleak.
And besides by then I had had a new thought...
Just as I was thinking that this reading / performance was going to end on a really miserable note, I noticed some things, which, while not certainties do all the same seem to hold some truth...
1) By and large, however shit and compromised we all are, we do all at least want to care. Even if we can't quite manage to find the time to care, most of us would like to if we had the time. Most of us. Somewhere inside our heads and hearts...
2) It struck me that we've found a way to make sense of being on a piece of rock that is smashing through space at stupid speeds towards the total unknown.
As a species we have actually normalised this pretty impossible situation and that takes huge courage. Further more, if you think about it, this ability suggests that as a species we have the capacity to make sense of the impossible and live on the results. We find patterns of regularity in the murkiest places. We find reason where little exists. We search for reason where it doesn't exist yet and make it up if we need to. In short we are beings that desire a happy ending even when logic says it can never be so. Indeed, sometimes, when we all agree to desire something together and we all want it very very much, we as a species have an shamanistic ability to actually create new realities. Most people want God to exist, so god does exist in our world.
Which is quite uplifting really isn't it? That we can create new realities out of just a heartfelt desire for the reality to exist.
Now of course this ability has it's dangers! Of course it can lead to delusion / god fixations / believing a fast car makes you look cool / believing money is real etc. Even so! Think about the positives! This ability to conjure new realities from nothing, means we are genetically predisposed to being able to make anything possible on this planet. Imagine that! That means anything really is possible. So OK, we are never going to have total or indeed a rational peace of mind, because all of this doesn't add up to certainty. But it looks like we do have the raw material to begin exploring how life could be better if we embraced the idea of 'A Chaotic Peace Of Mind' or CPOM as I have named it.
The key seems to be being brave. If we can be brave we can have Chaotic Peace of Mind. We don't have to buy it or pray for it. Its ours already. Its in our genes. And millions of people have been quietly getting on with embracing CPOM as a way of life, all along. It's CPOM that allows people to be amazing. It's CPOM that allows every day people to do incredible everyday acts that create hope and further love. Its CPOM that allows everyday people, in the face of almost certain defeat to smile and say no to human rights violations, to say no to racism and sexism and vile inequities. These people say no to them. They write to their MP's. They take to the streets. They volunteer. They fund raise. They smash windows. They chain themselves to railings. They go on hunger strike. In the face of almost certain failure, with most of their friends and family not understanding why they do it, they do it anyway. And the wonderful thing is, that the laws of chaos means that sometimes their acts of love and hope add up to moments of change.
I realise that this is not as water tight a pitch as life insurance or the promise of heaven. But this is what we have. That's it. It's not a lot but its joyful in its way. Embrace the chaos. Often the world will crush our dreams but, because hope and love exists, we will keep on keeping on. And that means sometimes love and light must win.
So there we are. The point is that a life spent shoring up against all the things that could go wrong, in the end is a lifeless life. While a life spent living may have some chance of having a point.
Or put another way, its time to stop worrying and sing.
So with that in mind I set myself the task of writing you a short uplifting song to end on.
Here it is. Its called the consolation song.
The Consolation Song
Clouded skies / still have stars
Hidden sparkles through the night.
Wasted time / tock ticked in vain
Holds hidden value wound in tight
When all the frustration feels full to burst
When all of their harsh words reveal the worst
When you're holding on with a heart of hurt
Blunted knives / Still thrill to blade
The job in hand is find a stone.
Neglected hearts / will beat for life
If we could shout 'you're not alone'
When all the frustration feels full to burst
When all of their harsh words reveal the worst
When you're holding on with a heart of hurt
All you sex workers
Farm hands and surfers
squaddies and butchers
The mental health workers
Grocers, sheep herders
the artists and brewers
in the constellations
and genes to survive
On this mad green earth.
We'll never be perfect
But love makes us worth it
Face the fear and just live it
And be consoled
Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Here's a blog I wrote for Freedom Studios about the process of writing my 2nd draft Treatment for 'The Home'. This was first published on the Freedom Studio's site on 17th June 2013...
Process and Product
I’ve just finished writing the 2nd draft treatment for The Home: What Are We Doing Here? I say treatment, but it’s unlike any treatment I’ve ever written or submitted before. It runs to almost 60 pages and contains about 10 pages of questions and provocations. It even has some diagram flow charts! It does contain character biographies, sample scenes and test monologs but none of the 7 characters outlined is guaranteed a place in the final piece. Everything is still in play.
Or put another way, I’ve not really been writing a treatment at all. In reality I’ve been creating a kind of mapping document. A mapping document made for a gang of people who want to go on an expedition up an enormous, alluring, hugely challenging, unconquered mountain. A mapping document that suggests several different routes that could be used to reach the peak, with notes and sketches of particular views and vistas that could be seen on the way.
I didn’t find it easy to write.
Treatments are usually all about nailing something down, outlining a story and beginning the process of honing…. When I’m writing one I’m usually aiming to produce a pithy three-line summation of what the story is, then a fuller outline that’s about a page long, plus descriptions of things like tone, style, target audience and so on. Sometimes treatments work as a selling document, attempting to lure a busy producer into reading a full script. Other times writers use them as a creative tool; a planning document which aims to iron out problems before diving into the full-on process of writing a script. I’ve written treatments for both of these purposes many times before, and to an extent what I’ve just written for The Home does have elements of both these things about it, but at it’s heart it is very, very different…
So why the different approach for The Home?
The short answer is:
The Home is unlike any commission I’ve worked on before and so requires a massive shift in my thinking and the approaches I use when I’m writing. I guess I’m trying to alter the process of how I work to engage with what we’re attempting to achieve with the project.
The long answer goes something like this:
The Home is shaping up to be one of the most interesting / challenging / quite extraordinary projects I’ve ever worked on. The process of making it has everyone involved scratching their heads and tipping their toes over the line of what their ‘normal roles’ might be, in an attempt to find a way of working that allows us to produce something extraordinary. Something that genuinely melds a professional cast with community performers, which changes each time the show moves venue so that the production properly reflects the experiences of people who are aging in the places it will be performed. A show that makes room for (not just lip service about) the many different people who are coming together to make it. At the same time, we want it to be a cohesive experience that packs a punch. We have dreams that this show will be theatrical, fun, thought provoking and moving. In short, we want it to look and feel different to all the things you’re expecting it should look and feel like. Because be honest, as I explain that the show is about aging, you’re already beginning to find yourself thinking ‘Ah yes… It will be well meaning. It’s got a community cast, so there will be some funny little moments, not very well performed of course, but it will be sweet. Yes, a bit like ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ but with a few serious bits too. And they’re bound to throw in a few sad bits where we all put our serious faces on as the person with Altimeters gets rolled out. Yes. Very sad… But by and large it’s going to be gentle and fun and not too taxing and we’ll have ice cream in the interval and…’.
OK I’m being a little bit mean. But you were thinking something along those lines weren’t you? That’s OK; you’ve every reason to. That’s how most work about older people is presented, but with The Home, you’re going to have to think again. For a start off there is no interval, and you’ll be in the thick of the show, with the performance happening around you and just about everything you thought will happen, won’t. We are aiming to blow your mind with science, emotion, performances by exceptional older emerging artists, magic realist fantasy, fun, sex, revelations, explorations through dance and projection, juxtapositions, sound instillations, circus skills, drama, direct address and more. It’s going to be a massive experience. I mean a properly, properly MASSIVE experience.
Which means we’ve gone and set the bar quite high!
Which is great, but it does mean that a lot of the processes I would usually use to write a show just don’t feel appropriate in this instance. And while that’s exciting, it’s also at times quite scary and demanding. Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean. A few weeks ago I went down to London to meet with Deborah from Freedom Studios and David from Entelechy. They wanted me to meet Allison Walker who is going to be the designer on the show. Specifically, they wanted Allison and I to meet before the 2nd draft of the Treatment started to be written so that Allison’s ideas could inform what I wrote next… Do you see what I mean? It’s unheard of for a writer to meet a designer at this stage. Writers rarely meet designers until it’s model box time. So how incredible to be given the opportunity to be sitting in a café in London talking to a designer about what the idea of the show could be and how design ideas could influence the structuring of the story rather than a designer simply being given a script and told to ‘go do something good with that’.
As soon as Allison started talking about how decisions in her house are made by playing thumb wars I knew I was going to like her brain. AND BOY! DID I LIKE HER BRAIN… Anyway in the course of our meeting, she made some suggestions that pretty much revolutionized my thinking about what the show could be. I’ve been struggling with the overarching structure of the show and how to make it work… With the use of some straws, milk pots, sugar bags and coffee cup lids, Allison created a diagram on the table at the South Bank center and went ‘OK, the structure could work like this? Or (shoving some sugar this way) like this. Or (shoving straws away from the sugar and toward the cup lids) like this. Yes?’ I looked at David and he was nodding, grinning and saying ‘yes!’ and I was looking at the adhoc diagram thinking ‘OK! Yes, I think I get that’…
And that’s when I started to rewrite the treatment (which has become affectionately known in my house as ‘the monster’)
During our meeting, Allison talked about such things as ‘nudge design’ and ‘modular design’. Things that are probably very familiar to you if you are a designer but which were / are news to me. She comes from a really interesting background. She has worked in museums before moving into performance work and this means she’s interested in finding ways to get audiences to move and flow in certain ways. One of the big headaches I was having with draft one was working out why / how the audience might move at certain times. Suddenly watching Allison create her adhoc diagram on the table, I understood that there are ways to write that allow the designer to not just ‘facilitate’ the story but to have a hand in ‘creating’ the story. That was quite a revelation. In truth it’s something that in practice I’m finding hard to implement on paper, but I saw the possibility at this meeting…
Usually when I write, creating the form and structure of a narrative is something I would consider to be ‘my job’. Form and structure is something I love to play with. It’s something that I think about a lot because I don’t want form and structure to simply support a story I’m telling, I like it to be an essential part of what the story is. So for example ‘Brimming’ a play I’ve written which is touring the North of England this June, has an excruciating family meal at its centre. I wanted to find ways of exploring that unease in ways that went beyond the dialog. So I set the story in an absurd world. This way the meal becomes literally unswallowable. The food is plastic and the wine is set resin in giant wine glasses. … You get what I mean then? Usually I use that kind of thinking about the way a story develops. I’m not just interested in ‘what happens next’. But with The Home, what I’m exploring is sharing that process of discovering the form. I’m not giving up the passion, but I am trying to let down my guard and see what happens when I invite other artists into sharing the creation of the shows structure and so it’s narrative. At times this feels very exciting at other times it feels quite alien and difficult.
So you start to see how the process being different is effecting what the show might be? It’s not easy but wow is it exciting work. I’m in the middle of a process, which I’ve genuinely a lot in love with but also a little frightened of too. And I think that’s true for everyone involved in the project. None of us have tried working in this way before. It can be (on bad days) pretty frustrating. It can feel sometimes as if we are going around in circles and circles. I’m used to making a decision, pushing forward and getting on with it. In this process, we try things and take tiny steps back and forth, back and forth, testing out the possibilities. I’ll be honest, this way of working is not for the faint hearted, but it’s also (on good days) bringing me a glimpse of something that feels thrilling. Something that feels hugely collaborative. And we really are putting our money where our mouth is. We really are attempting to work differently so that the performance that we make will feel significantly different, be richer and more meaningful than your average show. To that end, before I write another word for this project we are going to have a week of workshoping down in London. We’re going to meet scientists who are doing research into dementia, we’re going to workshop the sample scenes, we’re going to host a meeting between members of the Bradford community cast and the Deptford community cast. I’m expecting that the treatment will be picked apart, that bits of it will be thrown away and bits expanded upon. I wouldn’t be surprised if something entirely new and un-thought of comes to the fore during this week of exploration. I’m half excited and half pretty nervous. Still that’s how it’s meant to be when you’re on a proper adventure isn’t it? Onward!
Here's a blog that I wrote and was first published on the Enough Project Tumblr site on June the 9th 2013...
Lamb and Johnny (Terence Rae) in Rehearsal. Picture by Sara Teresa
The C Word
There is a part of me that thinks the reason I write plays is that I feel more comfortable writing about stuff that I care about in a way that allows people to decide whether they care about it for themselves. I’m not so keen on the idea of telling people what to think or feel. I went through a period of blogging a lot about the process of writing my work and then realized I didn’t much like doing it. Now I tend to blog about the work after its over. That feels more comfortable for me… But I’m also living and working in a world which is cluttered and noisy and where it’s hard to get people’s attention. It’s hard to find ways of letting people know about shows and it seems that for a lot of people the idea of knowing what a play means (or what a playwrights intentions in writing a play are) is important. Important in the decision making process they have in deciding to go see the work or not. And obviously I’d like your bum to be on a seat watching my play. I spent a ton of time writing it. I care about it. From a darker point of view, I’m also aware that we live in a world where the value of a piece of work is usually measured by how many people pay to come see it. If it sells out it’s ‘good’. If it doesn’t it isn’t. So you see my conundrum? I’ve been asked by the fantastic Fran Graham, who is working her arse off to get you to come see The Enough Project, to write a blog about the work to help her help sell it to you. And I want to help her to do that. But writing this has been a bit of a struggle… Because it is a conundrum… And it’s a conundrum created in no small way by capitalism. Which is pertinent I suppose since this post turns out to be a lot about that damn C word. Though don’t worry, it’s mainly about love and it’s got tons of stupid bits in it and some gratuitous swearing so overall its really quite readable. Though you may need to do it in a few sittings because it’s rather long. It turns out that even though I’m not really into writing about the plays I write, once I get going you can’t stop me from fucking gobbing on. Anyway here is my blog/essay/post. If you’re busy and don’t want to read the whole thing then why don’t you just come to the play and find out what we’ve been up to with the Enough Project. It’s a ton of fun and it’s thoughtful work. Something for the heart and brain. How can you lose? If that doesn’t convince you, read on…
One of the things about capitalism that on good days makes me wryly smile and on bad days makes me want to weep, is that however much one loathes it as a construct (I do), we're all part of it, and to a lesser or greater degree, dependent upon it. That's how massive capitalism is. It's a great big blancmange of sticky goo filling just about every imaginable hole and crevice in our existence. As people seek to find ways to destroy, damage, mitigate, realign or simply critique and re-imagine capitalism (depending where one sits within the mind boggling spectrum of thinkers and activists who wish to put capitalism on the naughty step) all of us have to use tools and pathways of thinking that Capitalism deems suitable and supports to exist. Every thought I've ever had about what the world could be like has been thought about through the prism of Capitalism.
In wrestling terms that’s a slam dunk to the Neo-Cons isn't it?
Which is why Capitalism is such a tricky fucker to destroy/damage/mitigate/realign/critique or simply re-imagine.
Yep, within the Top Trump 'Powerful Shit' pack, Capitalism is a pretty golden card to have in your hand.
Nothing beats capitalism. Ever.
There is one thing. Capitalism does have an Achilles heel. Yep, its big weakness is its people, the very capitalists at its heart. Capitalists have created capitalism because they wish to convince us that the world can be run best if we pretend it’s a rational, emotion free place. That way we can all focus on making them profit. But they are all dreaming! No one on this planet is as objective, rational or focused as the capitalist ideology demands. Not even the capitalists! We are all far too driven by emotion / whimsy / moments of inexplicable madness etc etc.
Now you might say, 'Ha! Capitalists have that covered! They know that we're all just Darwinian nightmares of hormones and selfishness and capitalism helps us maximize that dark side and make… well… make…. Um? Helps us make profits. Yeah! That’s right. Profits!'
To that I say 'hold on there and listen up'.
Sure, people are led by greed and all the selfish crappy things that make life harsh. But the double-whammy-ker-zammy trumping these negative aspects is that humans are even more mad for love. All of us. You dress up with a silk tie and get yourself an MBA from Harvard if you need to, it doesn't change this truth: Capitalists just like lefty do gooding eco pinko lesbian art cunts (like myself) and everyone else in-between, are suckers for hope and boss eyed for sentiment. We all want to believe in a happy ending. That's what keeps us breathing.
Love beats Capitalism. Everytime. For Real.
And there dear reader lies the 'in'.
Anyone who is opposed to capitalism has this truth tucked tight inside their wrestling leotard. We know that deep down all these people who wreck damage on communities, exploit, rig financial systems to benefit the few, justify wars for profit and exhort over-consumption so they can have jam today and fuck tomorrow, yes? We know that these very same folk, deep down, (OK really deep down) just want to be loved too. They just want to feel good about themselves and be understood and and and...
But here's the thing. Just as real love cannot exist in an unequal relationship neither can it fully flourish in an unequal world. Real love has its foundation in equal give and take. I'll say that again. Everyone instinctively knows that when love works best and we are at our happiest, its happening in an environment that is defined by the word equality.
You heard me!
SMASH DOWN FOR LOVE and EQUALITY!
Human beings existing in co-operation, valued for who they are, advocating their own power but respecting the needs of the other.
And what stands opposed to equality and therefore cannot exist in an equal world?
That's right! Capitalism!
Capitalism sells the good life, but the good life is destroyed by Capitalism. It’s a kind of logic vortex that makes the whole ideology vulnerable. Love is poison to Capitalism. So all we have to do is focus on love and keep focusing on love until the Capitalist walls fall in…
Some might say ‘How can you say Capitalists are opposed to love? My aunt does the stocks and shares and she’s a lovely person and wouldn’t hurt a fly and does ever so much for the spastics. You are a monster for being so judgmental.’
To which I’d say ‘Hang on! I’m not quite finished yet. Listen up’
Capitalists are people who so want to do good. They do. Many of them really want to do good. They think about how to promote social mobility. They do lots of charity stuff. They often go large for Jesus or Allah or what have you and really really do good works for their community. That’s because they’re human and are mad for love. But however they dress it up, the thing they have at the centre of their ideology is the concept that 'competition is good for you'. And competitions have to have winners and losers... So if those of us who want to put capitalism on the naughty seat are right (and we are) here's the double-head-lock-rope-bounce beauty of a conclusion:
As real, true equality is not possible within a capitalist system then we must conclude that capitalism stands in total opposition to love. If that's true (and it is) then who in their right mind could truly believe our capitalist system is the best we humans can achieve?
If you're a capitalist, trying to do good in the world, that's not an easy truth to look in the eye. And most capitalists choose to fudge it so they don't have to, but it doesn't mean it's not true.
Ever wondered why MP's get to have a free vote on matters of 'conscience'?
Ever wondered how free marketers can get away with arguing for subsidy for the banking industry because its 'too big to fail' while in the same breath justifying slave labour wages because 'the market has decided'?
Ever wondered why we have the concept of 'personal politics' full stop?
It's all to allow the compartmentalisation of emotion away from the brain. It’s to allow capitalists off the hook so they don’t have to confront themselves with the illogical nature of their own behaviour. Because Capitalism does not and will never add up in any human beings heart. Even the capitalist's own hearts.
It’s not that Capitalists are bad people, it’s that they’re addicted to self-harming. They’re looking for love in the wrong place. So, all we have to keep doing is holding the mirror up and forcing the capitalists to acknowledge that their ideology is built on irrationality and eventually every one of them (or at least those who are not psychopaths) will have to succumb to the truth that love beats everything. And when that day comes, Capitalism dissolves. You see? Yes? The seed of capitalism's downfall lies within the capitalist’s own confused, self-hating, irrational, all too human hearts. Because not even they really believe in the logic of the world they are creating. Apart from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. They really do. So you want to watch out for them because they're quite dangerous.
But the rest? The rest are kittens baby. Kittens! Ozzy, Nicky and Dave? One day they’re going to roll over and let us tickle their tummy. Donald Trump? One day he’s going to find himself throwing open the doors of Trump Towers and letting everyone, everywhere play golf for free. If we can just find a way to show them the reason they are unhappy self haters caught up in a mega institutional illusion / addiction / self harm phenomena, they and everyone else are going to start turning their back on this nightmare and start coming home safe.
OK. It's the long game but it can work. Hearts and minds baby. One at a time.
And that's part of the reason why I write plays. To create stories that find new ways to look at the world. It’s why I love dark comedy, fantasy, absurdity and the like. Its fun, but its also gives a chance to find ways to disrupt things and look at the world with reality specs on... And that's why I wanted to be part of the Enough Project with Cathy and that’s why I wrote Brimming. Not that it’s 'about' capitalism. But to my mind, if you set a story in a world can it help but comment on the environment it's set within? Every character in my play has had a million mini hits of hurt and made a million hurts back of their own. Are they responsible for themselves? Yes. Absolutely. But has who they can be, been limited by the boundaries of our world of transaction and patriarchy? Of course! We all are. We all make choices trying to survive in the world we are in. Those tiny moments where we decide to buy a GAP T-shirt to cheer ourselves up after a stressful day at work, pay for sex because the wife is lovely but just not exciting any more, binge on food then feel guilty and plunge into buying the latest diet book, do a line because getting high takes the edge off the world for a moment?.. Are we marked by the sum of these moments? Are we? Are we all marked by all those millions of decisions/transactions that also happen to keep the capitalist world ticking over? That keeps people stitching clothes in unsafe Bangladeshi factories? That gives reason for people to abduct young women into the sex economy? That allows companies to continue to push unhealthy foods into our food system and profit twice? That give reason for billions to be spent on a war on drugs that can never be won but which delivers massive profits non the less? Are we, in the act of trying to find ways to survive in our world, our capitalist world, fucking ourselves and other people with a million tiny shards of disappointment, compromise and despair instead of daring to try and find a way to live life with dignity and love? Are we? I'd say so. We’re humans. Of course we are! We’re all just doing the best that we can in a world set up to make most of us fail. And the irony is, we do all of this because we are all seeking love, but looking for it in the wrong places. That's what capitalism does to us.
You won't hear the word capitalism once, not once during the 45 minutes Brimming lasts. I promise. You can come to this show and immerse yourself in the dark comedy, the story of a woman escaping abuse by reaching her moment of ‘enough and no further’, the surreal surprises, the rush and shove and the heartbreak and hope of it all. But, now you've read this blog, you'll know, it's a little bit more than that for me. Brimming is my attempt to land a mini-lefty-left-hook-smack-a-dooby in the long (very very long) battle to change hearts and minds. Because I am (and so my plays) are obsessed with what is absent. Brimming is a great adventure, but in following it, I ask an audience (very very quietly) to think about what is missing in our world and why. Why do we put up with glimpses of love seen now and then, somewhere over there, glowing just out of reach in our lives (personal, local, national and international)? Why are we surprised that humans do terrible damage to one another when we don’t focus on love? It’s my way of trying to be part of a conversation that leads to change. Do with that information what you will. Just come see the play because however you choose to engage with Brimming (and Cathy Crabb's fantastic play 'Something Right') is OK by me. But if you do come and think about Brimming in terms of it as a provocation in the ongoing conversation about capitalism, I will be made up. Not because I want you to agree with me (OK I do, a bit). But (mainly) because every time people of all kinds of opinion think about this stuff, talk about this stuff, argue about this stuff, you know what? The possibility of a world existing where true love and equality rule gets just a little more possible. And if real love rules, really for real? For proper real? If that day ever comes, the capitalists are going to be out of a job (and they'll be happy about it).