Playing With Myself

Tuesday: Sunny.

Recent events: The crowded state of the street is no excuse to touch anyone’s crotch.

Messiest crowd: The Hunger Games

On my mind: In this phase of soul-searching, one thing has rung out loud and clear: I need more alone time.

Working two very different jobs that both revolve around teams of employees running a co-operative, co-dependent business has taught me a valuable life lesson. You can always get too involved. Stifling describes pretty accurately the recent surge of politics and confusion that has hit both my jobs at once. On the one hand, (at the one job) I partake only in tasks I deem worthwhile, exciting, productive, and a relieving kind of personal gratification comes to me at the end of a day. On the other hand (at the day-job, or ‘time off from your real job’ job) I perform whatever tasks necessary, for a certain amount of time, mostly mindless, habitual ones. At the end of a day I go home and leave the work at the door.

In both cases (and communities) it seems like change is lingering around, waiting to take the driver’s seat. Long-hoarded personal grudges, disembodied self-serving memories and Mexican waves of fight-or-flight responses (some getting angry while others casually detach themselves) are rife; and on one of these hands, none of it seems to be going anywhere without massive changes getting a look in first.

The most jarring problem with this hand is that everyone is living in each other’s pockets. This is true of both jobs, but at one, it’s something I want and know how to work with. You can’t always rely on this as a long-lasting system, especially when the work relies on everyone pulling together. Get too close and you will fall prey to personal problems – everyone’s. It is not in your contract, it does not make you a better human being, and it will certainly not make work any easier, to make your workmates your future best men and bridesmaids. Giving people the privilege of opening up your compassion to them beyond the little social niceties that make work more bearable opens the door to being taken advantage of. People will appeal to your ‘better nature’ by feeding you stories (true or false) about their woes and their better-than-anyone-else’s reasons to be off work on a certain day. You joke around with each other past dinner-table etiquette, spend time with them outside work, you give your permission for them to treat you in a particular way. This can work for some. But it can bite you. Why? Because some people are bullies.

This is enough argument for me to distance myself. If I feel a relationship is getting a bit tenuous or fair-weather, that someone is making assumptions about me, or me them, I take a step back and remember, it is just work. Don’t take anyone for granted, and certainly don’t just trust in people’s ‘better nature’ where contracts, money and the ever-increasingly-valued Time Off are involved.

Speaking of which, my time off has become very important, and very productive. I am re-evaluating everything I do, how I feel, what habits I have fallen into and how well they serve me, and feel like I am changing for the better. Time alone with my thoughts is doing me the world of good. In retreating like this I am able to see more clearly what really matters, and to organise the company I surround myself with even better, to ensure my relationships are more healthy and are keeping me refreshed and inspired.

Here’s to friendship without context, and to playing with yourself.

In the succinct words of this here fella, “Your job is not your life.” (I choose to ignore the second section, but lap it up if you will.)

In search of my MA

I am at a big fat metaphorical crossroads, to put it lightly. I have pressed pause in order to take stock of where my life is at and where it is headed, and to remember if nothing else but for nostalgia, where I wanted it to be when I was younger. Except, I don’t want to just reminisce. I want to evolve. I want to change my life and live it to the fullest, in a way I feel is more ‘right’ for me. I want to truly hone in on my principles, my priorities, my beliefs, and allocate them the time and devotion that they deserve.

I am considering going back to education because a) my friend is and is quite pushy, b) it would give me time out from the misery of working life taking me away from my creative practise, and c) I feel I am missing direction at the moment, and would like to invest my time in something that will give me a qualification or some other kind of reward at the end. I had an encouraging chat at my university about their Performance MA course, which not only sounded quite positive in terms of what it could offer me (“time out to exist and develop your own individual creative persona”) but also reminded me of other MAs that have sparked my interest; namely, creative writing at Bath Spa. Both of these courses accept applicants on the basis of an impressive portfolio; which I believe I could deliver, more easily in the former case, but probably not both at once if I’m to give it my absolute best effort. And if I’m applying for the latter, (something I hold in high regard due to hearsay of respected opinions in my life, and perhaps, ahem, partly due to the fact that it’s in the South…) I will need to give it more than my best effort if I’m not to die of mortifying embarrassment and regret.

I am taking the time to step back and analyse things, to read up, check myself, and to keep an open mind always. I am saying yes more, even if only to the initial stages of at least finding outmore before I reject possibilities.

I am keen to hear from others who have completed MA courses and have something to say on how they benefited from them, what they learned, what they might recommend. From anyone working in my field I would be most interested to hear what approach, what area of study, what voice and imagery came out of your practise. What kind of initial research questions did you go in with, and how helpful was it over the course of your projects?

Part of me is simply hoping that this will make me more eligible one day for a PhD, whatever that means, so that I can be “Dr.”.

What is most important to me? What am I good at? Do I really want to take what feels like a step backwards and consign myself to the same city and views for the next two years? What will it ultimately do for me? And is that worth my money and time? I have, after all, been warned already that, “It won’t get you a job.” What am I really seeking? In relationships, in work, in my home, my body, my future?

What have you learned from your studies, or your life? What is important to you? What are the wisest, most enriching, rewarding thoughts or lifestyles or habits or beliefs that you have ever come across?

Letters I Should Have Sent #3

Dear anonymous fitness centre,

Tonight, I attended your establishment in the hope of engaging in your (by my previous experience, very rigorous and rewarding) circuits class. (Perhaps this tremendous assault of hormone release would turn my life around?)

Going by the times on your website, I arrived for 6pm on Tuesday. Oh what facetious error! On arriving at this time I was told, quite abruptly, by the lady at the front desk, that the information on the website was wrong and that ‘the sign on my desk’ was correct.

Now, forgive me for being simple, your kind humblenesses, but I do believe it would have been impossible for me to see said sign on the desk had I not physically come into the centre. And I don’t believe it was my fault that the information on the (your) website was different. And I can imagine that anyone looking up your veritable institution as an outsider, perhaps one visiting from, say, Worksop, may not have the opportunity to physically be in your reception area in advance of their actual visit for circuits class.

Are you an exclusive (members only) institution? Must one be born into a line of relatives allowed access to the centre? I have never heard of such a place, though I can imagine that they may exist. (Anything’s possible, isn’t it?) This might have accounted for the spiky nature of the aforementioned lady of the desk. If this is the case, I do apologise – I have never been one to trespass onto private property. Not once have I stepped on the grass when instructed not to.

I was however dismissed in confusion as to what had gone wrong and what could I do about it next time?

… And so I would like to suggest, as a progressive step, in order that you don’t have any more hassle from strays like myself wandering in and naively asking to join your circuits class, that perhaps you might post a notice to that effect on your website, or make it password-protected or something. Yes, that’s a good idea. Perhaps that.

Happy Thursday,

Just a little update…

My second lot of inspired notes, written on the train to Hyper Japan, and the actual script on screen.

… on the writing commission. I have a couple of angles I am very happy with for approaching the journey these characters are embarking on. I sadly have to attribute the intended ending to my housemate-friend-fellow-writer’s imagination and not my own, but it is very fitting and satisfyingly bizarre for me and the script.

I have written five scenes today before 12pm, sent to the director for approval and feel on a roll.

I have made a schedule – I know, Mum – for the rest of the writing process, putting my mind at incredible ease by reassuring me that this is completely possible and within my grasp.

Excited for where this is going.

Sad work times

Last night I recorded my first ever video blog. I tried to upload it, but it had turned into a sixteen-minute rant and wouldn’t FIT ON THE INTERNET. I took the hint and decided to hone it into a concise, articulate and (hopefully) constructive prose version. This face and voice are obviously not destined for international familiarity. So here we go.

I am having sad work times. Really sad. And it’s not just me. Everyone is sad. Last night my friend said the words, “My soul is dying,” without a hint of irony. I work in a busy public sector building where there are a large group of staff constantly flowing around each other, talking, sharing life troubles, socialising; the full-timers pretty much live in each other’s pockets. And at the moment, that is a dangerous thing. Such bad vibes are going round the place, and what with the traits of our daily ebb and flow, they are constantly getting exaggerated, recycled and passed on. Chinese whispers doesn’t cover it. Even a customer came up to the bar last night having heard a rumour that some of our equipment was broken. BAD VIBES.

Anyway… I am getting worried. For most people there, the job is just food and clothes and a roof over our heads. I haven’t actually heard a word from anyone on what they love, or even like about the job, at least for several months. At some post-shift drinks the other night revolution was discussed, and mutiny is present in everyone’s fluttering hearts. We are subdued, anxious, downtrodden and depressed, and nothing seems to be changing for the better yet. People are bullied and bitched about on a daily basis. A recent staff meeting descended into a destructive subtextual outburst of petty grudges and personal tensions, managers and staff included, and as yet no apologies or disclaimers have been issued as reassurance. Those who were involved are just dealing with the fact that their opposition are ignoring them a bit more, and those who weren’t speaking out on either side are just feeding off the passive aggression that’s flying in all directions. I have worked at jobs that feel more like playgrounds/sleepovers than work before, but we are an older group of people here and should be past that. It shocks me that (especially since this has apparently happened before and reached an extent that required external help) this place is running so loosely, hairy balls and warts hanging out. No one seems to care how they come across. The managerial team are failing miserably to keep up staff morale; indeed things that have been said in a ‘private’ meeting (which I’m sure they know always reaches us before their official ‘news’ or memos) indicate that they barely know their staff at all. No one is keeping it together. I feel itchy on my feet, and dread going into work. Having experienced some tension first-hand for the first time recently, I even feel watched and untrusted on shift. It is very uncomfortable.

I don’t know what to do or who to talk to. I am reluctant to do anything because action seems to be met by disdain or some other kind of reaction that makes your work futile. Not least, my attempt to resolve the problem that was the excuse for a catfight at the meeting has been humbled by a new plan that COMPLETELY IGNORES the reasons behind the problem that made it an issue in the first place. The managers are making out they are giving us something special, while taking away the resolution we had found ourselves. Which, I might add, was with their permission and by their suggestion. So it does rather seem like people are throwing their weight around in a vain attempt to reclaim their thrones.

If anyone has any helpful advice on situations like this it would really be appreciated, because things appear to be in a stale state of “check”. I feel like speaking out will be met with aggression and disrespect only. It is hopeless and out of control, and it’s following me home at night.

Oh, and I kind of resent the fact that this job has become such an issue as to drive me to write my first ever blog about it. Work is boring, let me talk about something else.

I have to paint on my smile each day. Picture courtesy of, bizarrely enough on another post about sad work times.

How to Overcome Stage Fright

Working in theatre, I am often falling prey to, and witness others experience, crippling stage fright. I say crippling – come on, I work in theatre. The delicious terror that descends upon everyone scrabbling about in the mole-tunnel wings, shuddering and cuddling and staring wide-eyed at each other for brief moments as acceptable substitute for normal communication. I have even been known to rock silently on a chair, myself.

Why? What purpose does it serve? How does it come up? And is there a way to lessen this ever-recurring crisis that strikes us down in our final moments of preparation before we give the audience “what they are waiting for”? Is it to do with the audience, or is it entirely about one’s individual performance.

Personally, I take a lot of life in my stride. I am a sensitive soul and it serves me well to channel emotions and situations as they come, and to accept the transience of things. A nice (if a little cheesy) line in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, it is not the end.” And I like to think there is something in that. If you are experiencing some unresolved conflict or stress, it will surely work itself out in time, because everything runs in waves. Everything will move up and down for the all of time.

Knowing this allows for a certain amount of mental freedom. My biggest flaw and my biggest gratitude is that I am able to let go and move on, sometimes even before something has happened. I may be living a rather numb existence because of this and other factors, but I want to invest in this ideology. After all, freedom is something I deem very important to living a full, enriched life, and thoughts and feelings can trap you just as tightly as less abstract limitations.

At this point in my life, the dreaded moment at which stage fright is at its worst tends to come about two minutes before curtain-up. I sometimes get butterflies earlier in the day or the week before opening night, but it really hits me when I have no way out. I am here now, it is already happening, and I can’t do anything about it. I think this is ultimately freeing. To go through these feelings when you are powerless in a chain of events already set in motion frees you to carry out your duties while channeling the fear; often told as the cause of some of the world’s best performances. So many times have I heard of insane-sounding pre-show rituals carried out by famous, renowned actors, that it seems almost ridiculous not to lose all reason on opening night.

I have tried alcohol, rescue remedy, group huddles, solitude, pacing, meditation, herbal tea, squealing, abstaining from food, abstaining from work, going to work amongst other things. The focus on the pending doom only makes things worse. So here’s what I have found works best…

Keep a positive attitude. Send out good vibes of love and trust, and you will have an impenetrable sense of community that will make you feel like you can walk on water. Which is useful, because you are playing Jesus in the mystery plays, after all.

Do what you need, individually. There is no right or wrong answer, no ‘should’ about it. Find your own routine, space, habits that make you feel comfortable and allow yourself that. Don’t get hung up on what others have done before or what you are being told to do. What your body tells you is usually right. Once your mind is free of these hang-ups, your body can let go too.

Eat and sleep. Don’t deprive yourself of basic bodily functions. This is a form of self-harm and is unnecessary. You will feel worse in the long-term because you are priming yourself as more vulnerable than ever, and so you will be overcome by thoughts and feelings that might not normally feature on your radar.

Read something. Play something. Have another goal or interest running alongside the show. Not only a distraction; this reminds you that there is more to life than this show, and you are a part of that too, so if you make a mistake here, it is not the end of the world because you can go home and collect more Mario stars than the number of people who didn’t laugh at your soliloquy punchline.

Meditate on how the fear benefits you. Yes, it is bigger than you right now, but that is a good thing because it is able to teach you something/get you somewhere that you couldn’t otherwise access.

Warm ups. The most obvious and fool-proof ritual I have ever used.

Don’t invite your parents. (It may be mainly about how happy you are with your method-developed behavioural traits, but you can’t truly marry the idea of mummy and daddy’s pride with your speech about how sore your legs get when you masturbate, within your comfort zone.)

And in all honesty, that is all that springs to mind. I hope some of you find some use or interest in this. As for the why, I’m sure there are many factors involved. Who’s watching you, what you want out of the show, how the rehearsal process has been, how long you’ve been doing it… Whether you’ve had sex today. Who knows. It is different for every performer, but it is universally accepted that opening night backstage area pretty much looks like a cage full of animal rescue centre newbies. Each one of the utmost importance and talent, of course.

Thanks to Sam Freeman, who suggested the topic.

Good ol’ Sam writes scripts, comedy and blogs. Check him out!