On Female Friendships

My friendships with women have evolved over the years, and are still evolving. I am incredibly grateful for what they are becoming, not least because they have been shaky at times. I had a series of ‘unfortunate’ friends whom I may have mentioned before; the people who I found myself closest to in my new schools, who bullied me in ways both crass and complex.

At college I found myself in the unique position of being ready to finally say, “Fuck you” to one of these friends who was treating me poorly, and got to trot off and choose myself a whole new bunch of friends who excited me and cheerlead(? Past tense…) me, and began a whole new chapter of experience in my life.

Throughout university I struggled to find people I connected with on a fundamental level. I flew the nest in the biggest way I could imagine at the time and left home comforts far behind me. I regret that sometimes. The small northern town and the very small northern campus I ended up at did not yield the open-minded liberal microcosm I had hoped for. I spent these years quite lonely.

Following graduation I formed the most intense friendships I had had for years. Living in each other’s pockets, we literally co-habited, ate almost every meal together and made creative work together, and shared dayjobs. That inevitably burned out.

Since then, I have felt slightly adrift, having invested every energy in this insular dynamic and finding myself now without a permanent home, a best friend I have known all my life whom I talk to every day. This seems to be something everyone has – a default, a backup, a safe bet.

When everyone you know is having children and getting married, you feel this all the more. Guest lists really drive things home.

I don’t always have the tools to honour my friendships properly. I have found myself on the end of a few very one-sided friendships over the past few years that have ultimately fallen apart. It was frustrating thinking I was giving all I could, using my years of focus on communication, and still not finding a compromise that worked. Which really shows how little these friendships were meant to be.

However, I’ve been looking around me recently and noticing that I have a pretty super support network of women who are respectful, loving and accepting, who make the effort to maintain our friendship. I can’t express how much it stands out to find these types of people in your life – people who actively listen, who tell you openly that you are worth their time and that they’re happy to see you, who regularly get up out of the house with no excuse for meeting other than enjoying each other’s company. There’s no need for themed events or activities.

Maybe the others could have been saved with some kind of mutual nurturing practice. I joined feminist newsletter Lenny Letter yesterday and the first email they sent me included this article. It’s about exercising timed conversations as a way of developing your listening skills and making space for both people in a relationship to speak and be heard. It’s used in couples counselling as well as by friends, and it’s a really valuable tool for anyone wanting to better their relationships, or indeed even just to further their own communication skills. I highly recommend it.

It’s ever-more important to value and celebrate our female friendships in this time of violence and oppression, to raise up women’s voices, to ‘build each other up’. Write a postcard to your female friends today. Start a group chat. Share the love. Keep it up.

Acting is the lifelong sting of not being chosen

I wrote the following passage a few months ago now, and it felt a bit too ripe to publish in the heat of the moment, but the sentiment stands, and is, I imagine, something that recurs for other actor-creators too, and perhaps sharing it now it is at a safe distance can be of some worth.

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It’s been a while since I had something to say. It’s been a while since I had something to say that meant something to me. Since this blog has been less anonymous, I’ve also been less carelessly candid. It’s been a dry spell. But pain and writing have long been intertwined in my life, and right now I’m kinda hurtin’.

An actor dating a director, I’ve developed a nasty habit of typecasting myself. I am constantly hearing actors being ruled out for being too comic, too straight, too camp, too hulky, too silly, too homely, etc., etc. I’m sure this doesn’t make directors bad people, it’s just how they’ve learned to function efficiently. Conversely, in acting training I’ve always believed (was I taught to believe it? I don’t remember) that any great actor can perform any role. THE MAGIC OF THEATRE. If you believe it, they believe it. Etc. But… I’ve started to internalise the typecasting, physical and otherwise. Actors beware; if you’re going to put yourself on that side of the table and keep up the acting too, the perspective will take its toll on your ego.

Instead of being the go-getting ambitious actor I was a few years ago who created her own roles, writing new scripts every week for the fun of it with the tireless belief that each piece might be the next exciting project I got to act in, I’ve written less and less, and mentally cast myself in less and less roles. Why? I’m hearing myself say things like “So-and-so would be really good at that actually.” “I can’t do ____.” “My nose is too round.” “I’m not Hollywood enough. You want her instead. She’ll enjoy that.” Which is very selfless of me, bravo me. But no fucker else is going to be doing that for you, and they shouldn’t be either.

Now, I’ve long been in the habit of pretending I care less than I do, because it’s not cool to care. Not in interviews, not in auditions, not in relationships. “Oh, you care how this turns out? Um… O-kaayyyyy…” *Makes ‘help me’ and ‘crazy’ gestures at someone behind you, as if you’re so blind with crazy that you can’t see them.* I’ve been taught over and over that I’m not welcome at the party if I want the thing at the party.

Recently I discovered a TV series which made my heart sing and my brain buzz and I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to be doing.” It crept inside me and I started singing out loud and practicing accents and expressions and seeking out auditions and acting classes and agents again. (Don’t get me started on the endlessly deflating catch-22 of needing drama school to get an acting job to get Equity to get Spotlight to get an agent to get an acting job to get Equity…)

I suggested it to my partner while cat-sitting at a friend’s house, we watched it together, and it was all great fun and dreams were ignited. Kittens literally gamboled. And now that friend is making something in the vein of said musical wonderment, and they’re making it for someone else. And they happened to mention to my partner that they discovered it because he had watched it on their TV. So, not only am I not  in the running for my dream roles, (not putting myself in the running?) I’m being written out entirely from my own mini tale of self-pity about it. What am I left with? My own fucking ideas?  Have you forgotten what my brain’s doing to me? No thanks, I hate that guy.

I’m all for loving one’s own company, and building one’s own dreams, but fuck pretending not to care. I am fucking burning with want. It feels ridiculous to even have to say. I’m an actor, of course I want all the goddamn roles that have ever been written. I want to perform every classic as a one-woman show in downtown New York unused fire stations, I want to be shimmying across Broadway under the spotlight, I want to be standing next to Spielberg in photographs where he’s explaining how he wants me to do something emotionally complicated. I want all the lead roles, now and always, all the best and most demanding ones, all the ones that show range and give me a chance to be loved and hated  by committed audiences. And the funny ones.

And I will hunt those down. But it would be nice for the phone to ring sometimes too.

‘For a Kiss’: a postcard poem

Another poem written for my penpal, inspired by a vintage book cover postcard, though drawn from a real experience that lingered with me. There are tons of these postcards in my local Amnesty bookshop, for 30p each (or 5 for £1), which makes me happy. I go foraging there in my spare time with another writer friend.

I am currently really enjoying writing just for the fun of it, for myself, and to make someone smile briefly, and with no pressure to be technically (or at all) perfect, but letting go and writing anyway.

kisskiss

You can have it for a kiss, Miss
That rare, special issue of National Geographic
from the year and month of her birth

For a kiss

All she wanted was to hand over some change
in return for this treasure; a simple exchange

She looked at the grizzled banterer before her
She had not expected a challenge
to be noticed
to be put on the spot

Go on
urged her friend
It’s only a kiss

She shook her head
ready to turn away defeated, hands empty

The man relented in mock hurt
and gave her the treasure for nothing

‘Teapig’: a little bit of prose

The teapig has evolved to understand her position in the office. It is a position of tea-maker, but not tea-drinker. She knows how to create the perfect medicine for every situation. Monday Morning, Broken Heart, Last Minute Late Finish Disappointment.

Her name is Mills.

She passes unnoticed behind desks that are taller than her stout mass unfit for digesting the refined delights that that which she creates has to offer.

Greg-in-booth-29 is the only person there who feels a pang of conscience at his lack of attempts to socialise with her. The rest of them are indifferent.

Except for Annie.

Ever since Mills set trot in the office, Annie has been watching her. She leans over from her booth to breathe through the hairs on Mills’ back, rustling the fibres of her self-consciousness like the wind pushes dry leaves from their settlements. On one occasion, she held Mills’ gaze as she poured one of the teapig’s cups of perfection very steadily onto the carpet. No one else bore witness to the incident, but the stain remains, undiscussed, but scuffed at by the feet and furrowed brows of all who pass.

Annie has been known to move booths.

Mills has accepted Annie’s alpha status over her and the other females in the office, if there are any. All that can be seen on the route to the kitchen is mostly the tips of black shiny shoes and sparse bits of hair from men’s heads poking out from the booth boards. Sometimes a pair of glasses will also emerge, and then snap back out of sight.

Where others plug in ipods or swing pens through their fingers, Mills needs no distraction from the miniature boredoms occurring on small routine commutes. She is aware of her surroundings, of her connection to the universe, and the acute tragedy of everything. She made this decision herself, long ago, and, as she concocts her perfect medicines, she knows that she is truly living life to the full.

‘How are you’: a poem

There’s an aftertaste of yesterday’s
sensitive murmurs and concerned, defeated looks,
“Have you heard?”

I haven’t.
All day,
“Have you heard?” “Yes, very sad.”
I develop the habit of dropping my gaze and slipping out of the conversation
without a fuss,
becoming invisible.
I haven’t heard,
and there’s probably a reason for that.
The pace has picked up slightly,
everyone is moving around with an air of caution and maturity,
paying each other perfunctory versions
of the usual passing smiles,
everything toned down in respect.
We swim through the day
like an obsolete cassette player
running itself down through its last hours
into obscurity.
“How are you?”
someone asks,
just out of courtesy, of course,
not seeking deep, thoughtful response.
Well, I’m okay. I’m okay.
We carry on, the hive,
dodging each other as we swing round blind corners of filing cabinets,
pushing muffled trolleys and even typing on mute.
Low, graceful voices teach me new tasks,
leaving me wiser and more useful.
Near the end of my lesson, they ask,
“Do you know, Helen has cancer?”
Well, now I do.
I drift away at the end of the day,
feeling guilty, because, I’m okay.
I go home to my partner and make the usual two calming cups of tea,
and he asks me how I am.
“I’m okay,” I say,
because I am, I’m okay.
I think about what the right answer is,
what one of the mature, concerned voices might say,
what would be respectful.
And I think, well,
this is not my drama,
not my story,
I shouldn’t be infusing my eyes and voice
with what I am only guessing is the
appropriate emotional response.
I wouldn’t drop my face on greeting someone in a wheelchair,
would I?
I wouldn’t downplay my ability to walk,
and run, and make the most of what I still have available.
Of course, whatever the reason they’re in a wheelchair,
it probably isn’t terminal.
And, in all likelihood,
they probably haven’t just heard.
I’ve only just heard,
indeed, so has Helen.
So, that’s, different, then.
It’s not a case of distraction or avoidance, or
showing my respect by using what I’ve got
because I should appreciate it while I can.
This is not news for which there exists
an ‘appropriate’ response.
But this is not my business, really.
We eat.
We watch a drama about a man funding his cancer treatment
by cooking and selling drugs.
We laugh, we make love, we talk, we go to sleep.
The alarm is snoozed the usual three times,
and then we drag ourselves up and out.
Back at the office,
I hear that Helen is going to be away for a while.
They are replacing her,
temporarily,
and would I like to stay a little longer?
Of course, I say, and feel guilty,
because, I’m okay.
I will drift out of this place
with only a shopping list
tonight
and the thought,
“Thank god I’m okay.”

‘Commitment’: a little bit of prose

The cream in the fridge is a slight way off from its usual, acceptable scent, but that does not matter to them. It is slid out from the beginnings of crust on the middle shelf of the fridge, and onto the counter where it waits as they turn to each other. This was never supposed to last.

Apologetic-looking fruit is taken from a plastic bag. Only one bag. The words ‘bare minimum’ are reigning this household. A receipt is crumpled and slipped under the lid of the bin. This was never supposed to be thorough. Or perhaps it was, just not… So serious. So right. So completely fine.

‘Cat’: a portrait poem

Direct, assertive, perfectly formed stories at the ready, should she bump into you
Eyes locking solidly onto yours
Shocking, outstanding, unbelievable
everyday tales
all elevated to what is now
a hobby of mine
stopping on the stairs on my way up to bed from late shifts on a bar,
to listen intently, interestedly, though tiredly and begrudgingly,
to her honed storytelling set.
Pronounced, pursed lips posing like cautious, fastidious serfs to her determined teeth,
delivering vital gossip and anecdotes
Hair pulled behind her ear frequently, and with such superior precision that I can almost hear the hair pass gratingly over her fingernail, her teeth gritted, showing through her mouth and cheeks,
she almost rolls her eyes.
Something in the way she eats:
Food is fast, perfunctory, never relished or enjoyed.
Almost painful.
She champs quickly, rushing every meal out of her way,
like an impatient impression of a horse.
She fiddles also; assembles intricate pieces of feminine adornment
with quirk and delicacy,
but functionally,
with the same studiously poised skin and opinionated fingers – she knows the best way to do it,
and she won’t watch you struggle for long.