‘Three Kisses’: a work in progress

A short story I am having trouble continuing, about three girls who grow to confront their darkest fears. I’d love to hear what you think is going to happen, or what you’d like to happen next…

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In one world, one lifetime, three girls grew up towards three kisses.

 

Alone, they each discovered, over the length of their young lives, their deepest, darkest fears.

 

They thought this was probably quite an important thing to know, as things go; something that might come up.

 

Nira feared big ears, grey hair, short legs and cats, and stayed away from knitting. She never brushed her teeth or bathed, or sat up straight at dinner. Her mother told her these were things that made a girl a woman, and Nira wanted none of that. This little girl was afraid of old age, in all its wrinkly awe. This thing affected everyone, and held their hand till death. What good was womanhood if that was where it went?

 

Fara followed friends around, all morning, day and eve. She jumped up at the crack of dawn and swapped a teddy for a mum. Saying goodbye, to Fara, meant hello again to someone new. You never saw this girl alone, for money, food or sleep. She seemed a happy child to most, chatty and alive. Fara didn’t care for silence, or boredom, or doing things for yourself. Loneliness was the storm cloud hovering near Fara’s heart.

 

Cold was a more complex child. Cold made footnotes of her post-its. She bracketed in birthday cards. She wrote letters at dinner, giving thanks to the host. Her mother just smiled her thanks. Cold made phone calls twice a day to those she’d just seen, to check and double-check they’d heard and understood everything she said. Cold was keeping track of life by making sure they knew how every word and comment she uttered was really intended. The worst thing that could ever happen to her was to be found in the grey place between grateful and expecting, tired and uninterested, or ill and injured. So she still wrote to tell people, even if she was uninterested.

 

One day these three lives merged under one sun; one that was arching its back over sleepy lapping waters that could have been put there just for this.

 

One carpet saw too many greens one night, and one dish smashed too many. One girl was fed up with playing by the rules. Nira ran away from home, and away, and away, and away.

 

One hand got sweaty and sick of holding onto another. One hand pushed, and one belly felt the weight of one hundred worlds falling into one place. Fara decided to find new friends somewhere else.

 

One letter too few came to one room in one house, and one tongue spoke a final full stop. Cold went turkey on her notes and calls and took a vow of silence. Her words weren’t welcome here.

 

Tired feet worked through a day and a night, while tired lips awaited.

 

One head cocked across a clearing, made of sugary, spicy trees, while… nice things… hung about above.

 

Brown eyes stared right into green, and blue eyes joined right in.

 

Nira reached out first and made the bravest steps of all. Nice things moved out of the way, and sugar sprinkled down.

 

Fara sheltered in the spice, aching for that hand.

 

Two minds grazed under that sun, green troubles and brown shared.

 

One heart stood lonely on but watched how tears were left unsaid. Then wandered off for a little while, through icing in silence.

 

Later, later more, Fara was lead by brown-eyed hands. They told her happy things were close, though she could feel that they were really talking to themselves. Green eyes and brown felt the uncertain warmth of another as they looked up through flossy snow to see a low thing sitting.

 

Warts and straggly hair turned to see them, through eyes that knew about slugs and snails and other things from under rocks.

 

Nira gasped. She had never seen anything so terrifying than what sat before her, gripping the ground it sat on as if it might otherwise float away. Fara felt her place was somewhere else right now, and went to find it.

 

“You’re old.”

 

“I am.”

 

The answer seeming to satisfy Nira somewhat, she approached the thing and started pulling at purple ferns growing conveniently close by.

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To be continued…

Living

It’s funny how affirming it can be just to get on a bus and go somewhere new, on a week night, before going back to work a slightly different person, even before the weekend. Somehow, that’s a win, and a reminder that I am active, and interesting, and grown-up, and capable. Because before, I was just stagnating. Monday-Friday, doing “nothing that finishes too late”, taking no chances, gaining nothing, avoiding activity out of a needless commitment to routine safety. In getting on this bus, going somewhere I need the driver to tell me I have arrived at because I don’t already recognise it, I am growing. I am adding to my experience, my repertoire. I am changing, I am moving, I am living.

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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.)

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!

Swimming the channel

Thinking about the relevance of my current task of learning to channel emotions. As someone who has acted in some way since she was little; put on puppet shows in my grandparents’ house at Christmas, told stories with my new friends on holiday in the Canaries while our parents watched, smirking, I have always been vaguely conscious of the ‘switch’ that we can turn on and off. That chameleon switch that every mentally healthy human being has that lets you adapt to your environment. Whatever company I was in, from childhood, I would learn it and mimic it. I would sit in front of the TV for hours at a time and then wander round the house singing inane bars of advert music that I had remembered, bonding with my little brother when he recognised it and joined in. Our little in-jokes that were accessible to the world, just not our mum.

It goes without saying that acting requires this ability to learn and repeat; to have a large arsenal of developed, detailed emotional memories sitting behind an open door. Sounds kind of dangerous. Of course, the other part of that essential quality is being able to turn it on and off. To ‘channel’, lead those emotions through your body to help it do its job on the outside for a capped amount of time, afterwards letting it go back to its cupboard under the stairs and sitting back down on an uncreased seat of mental stability, unaffected by the power you have invited in.

So, are good actors the healthiest minds the world has? To achieve a state of confidence in my own emotional independence, do I need rave reviews for a Rory-Bremner-style impressionist one-woman show? Do I just waitress, perfecting the fourteen tables’ worth of adapted persona-per-customer? I could just get a dog, of course.

Little Things

At the news of a new arrival in the family, I start to wonder about our existing connections. One of my best friends from school had a baby girl just over a year ago, and I was so excited, so ready to play auntie, but so far away that it turns out I haven’t been very present at all. And I wonder, even considering how much closer, technically, this new little one will be, whether it will actually make life any different. Being at the other end of the country, will I ever get to see it?

I wonder why my mum doesn’t make more of an effort to come and visit me at my home. This is, after all, my home now. I have lived here for roughly  six years and have a base, a house I like, a steady boyfriend, a set of close friends who are on my wavelength (finally), a steady job (and that’s no small thing now) and a burgeoning career. And it’s all here.

I do worry that I will never do all the things I desperately wanted to all my life; travel, make a difference, learn languages, explore cultures. I used to dream that my ‘One’ was a black French boy. Somewhere, some time. Not anyone I’ve ever met. Just an image. I wanted to build schools in Africa, I wanted to go and save wild animals from poachers, and speak Italian as convincingly as any native. I still do. I want to do a creative writing MA at Bath. I want to be alone for a while. I want to have children. I want to do lots of things. How do you choose? And how do you decide when? I feel restricted by the very dream that I am currently living. Can they not all co-exist? I know my friend and business partner would firmly believe in doing it all, and all at once, but I know my weaknesses, and am dubious that I am such a Wonderwoman as she is. And she really is. She represents to me something I used to think I was, something that got replaced with the disillusionments I owe to school and college, and all the lecturers that said, “This is it. Get used to it.” The Maths teacher who showed us about the intellectual ‘plateau’ that became a self-fulfilling prophesy for me. Maybe that’s where all this uncertainty began. Before then I was excited, engaged, nervous, obsessed with things like  women’s chests that were bigger than mine.

It’s not that I want to be shown a bigger picture, have my destiny talked through with a fine-toothed comb; it is enough for me to feel the presence of it, a looming but pleasantly comforting awareness.

I am spending my energy on appreciating the little things. Hugs, human touch, long chats about nothing. Trying new things, to me, at the moment, means buying grapes for a change. I still yearn for more, still have hope that there is more meaning to us being here. Surely beautiful things have been written because there is so much more to life than I have experienced. There is something I don’t understand yet. I would like to think. I am not so simple that I would take the arrogant road and be happy in all I know now. I am hungry. I want to learn. And do. I am, as ever, I suppose, unsettled. Itchy feet.

So, little brother… What I guess I’m trying to say is… I would like to be around more. A lot. I would like to know you. And do everything else as well.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sere_c/4587063126/
(Something that I found in looking for a more relevant image, but that inspired me and made me want to share it anyway.)

Letters I Should Have Sent #2

Dear Darcy,

Things do change in a lot of ways you expect them to, and a lot of the ways people describe. It’s always going to be different for you because you insist on making things yours. Everything you experience has to be more detailed, yet less definable, more uniquely tragic. You make things hard for yourself in kind of a beautiful way. No one else will ever have what you have with yourself. You’re like the cutest couple.

I promise you it doesn’t get easier. It just gets hazier. Enjoy your mind while it lasts, and be louder. And record everything.

With love,

Darcy