Sunday, September 23, 2007

23rd September
I don't know, I wonder, if there's ever an end to it.
I had an impulse, put on an old Dylan record. And "Lay lady lay" had me weeping uncontrollably.
Because we used to have a big brass bed.
In Roslin, in the bedroom where the ice formed on the inside of the windows in winter.
But we loved that bed...
I had been going to go out this morning, but the rain looked threatening, so I stayed inside.
I began to feel my heart beating. Palpitations again...
It was hard to move, hard to do anything.
I went downstairs, in the end, and monitored my blood pressure. It was normal. My pulse was normal.
I got dressed and went out on my bike.
I had no goats cheese to put in with the roasted peppers, so I planned to get some.
And then I couldn't bear to come back, and cycled off in a fairly random direction past the Easter Road stadium. Where the crowd was roaring.
Roaring as if there was nothing as unbearable as solitude.
And then into an unknown area down by the docks, which turned out to be a cul de sac, so I had to turn back and be engulfed in memories again.
The time we cycled down here together one Sunday.
The time, a long time befor, when we'd walk our alsatian, Nicky, down to be with Ji,,y Quigley.
The time we.. and I wonder if they ever stop this mocking, these memories, these useless reminders of disappeared happiness.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

23rd September
It's half past midnight on Sunday morning, and I am mortal tired.
Yet I know I cannot sleep.
My heart is too full for that.
My heart, and my mind.
I've just watched A WINTER'S TALE at the Lyceum. I really didn't know the play at all, it is one of those that gets labelled a 'problem'.
Mainly, I suppose, because iut absolutely does not fit the contemptible standards of what is called 'verisimilitude' - but which is, I suspect, nothing but a sad lie.
1610, they say, was when the play was performed. Shakespeare was 46.
11 years younger than I am now.There is this amazing moment when Leontes hears the oracle, which reveals to him that his suspicions of Hermione have been utterly without foundation.
His son dies. His wife dies.
He comes to understand that he has ruined his life.
...And it's as if we have been seeing a whole play: OTHELLO, maybe, revisited... but we also know we are only half way through.
There is more, much more to be said and done and lived through in the imagination.
And we go to Bohemia...
At the very end, Leontes is brought to a secluided house, where, he is told, is a life like statue of his dead wife, Hermione.
It turns out that she had not died; that she has lived secluded for sixteen years in the hope of seeing her lost daughter, Perdita.
And as leontes stands and marvels at how lifelike the statue is, the statue comes to life...
Before she fell ill, Susie made a visit to Bologna, I forget exactly why, but it had to do with her work for Engender. She loved it, and she met some feminists there who came to visit her in her last illness.
She was very tired and fell asleep; before they left, they left a beautiful bracelet on her pillow.
She loved that bracelet, and wore it often.
Sometime I wear it, too, and I wore it tonight.
I'm not sure why, except the last play she saw was at the Lyceum and she loved the theatre.
I wanted to take something of her with me tonight...
And the monet the statue came to life, and leontes was reunited with his wife he thought dead...
I have so often dreamt of this moment.
Not literally so, but the moment when I understand that our seperation is all the result of some absurd misunderstanding, and of course Susie is still alive, and of course wecan be reunited...
These dreams are very beautiful, and very heart breaking too.
To see them enacted on the stage, with such clarity and love.. I wept and I wept.
But somehow I was glad to weep.
And perhaps this is not a dream.. perhaps Shakespeare at the very end of his creative life understood a truth here that he needed to communicate.

And I know, in a still unformed way, that there is something here I need to communicate too.

It was good to bump into Mark Thomson's PA and for her to say "I have a contract on my desk for you".


Friday, September 21, 2007

21st September
A slow week, trying to finish my translation of Lorca's BLOOD WEDDING.
Each week, I promise myself I'll have it finished by the Friday;
and each week Friday comes and I still am nowhere near the end.
At the moment I'm working on the wedding scene of act two.
The difficulty with this scene are the songs. The endless, endless songs.
In the Spanish they are very beautiful: they evoke a timeless world of fecund connection with nature.
In English, I find myself grappling with:
"The bride cannot sleep in the grapefruit groves"
"Wake white dove!
The dawn clears away
The deep bells of shadow"
"Let the bride wake up
For the wedding is coming
Snaking through the fields
Leaving trails of dahlias
And loaves of glory"
Every page now is criss crossed with crossings out. And new versions. Also crossed out.

I learnt this week that the Donmar Warehouse are planning a production of LIFE IS A DREAM, a Calderon play I translated in the late nineties.
They weren't saying which translation they were going to use; so I asked my agent to find out.
They said they "liked the Clifford" best of all the versions "out there".
But no, they weren't going to use it.
They'll commission another one, from a "name" who almost certainly will know no Spanish.
And almost certainly, i say in my (hopefully justified) arrogance, will not produce anything as good.

It is the most frustrating aspect of my working life just now, this lack of a marketable name.

I used to have one. How did it go? How can I get it back?

I remind myself: these things come and go. It's as meaningless as the chsanging of the wind.

I am lucky to be where I am.

I go back to finding an equivalent for dahlias.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

18th September
I've been away - at an academic conference in Bath called "The Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal".
Or DDD8 to its friends.
We all laugh a bit uneasily when I tell my friends where I have been.
Yet I also add that this is one of the best academic conferences I have ever attended.
I came away having attended papers on:
  1. The inadequacy of current medical definitions of ‘brain death’ as the measure of the moment of dying
  2. Clothes for death: croatian women and the clothes they have prepared to die in
  3. Lifting the Lid: description of a ceremonial theatre event in Bristol connected with people’s grieving
  4. Death education in newcastle, Australia: the world cafe
  5. how nursing homes, in theur architecture and organisation, amplify disorientation and increase suffering of the last days
  6. ‘I must hire a lttle room to die in’ the dying experience of the Victorian poor
  7. the loneliness of the dying: their entering a place where empathy is difficult, maybe impossible
  8. biographical pain at the end of life
  9. sacred dying
  10. a holistic view of dying
  11. The provisions of mortuaries in London 1866-89
  12. near death experiences
  13. house shrines in the Netherlands
  14. Death of the people’s singer
  15. public memorials
  16. finding the right place for cremated remains
  17. place attachments for eternity: burial places in brazil france, and spain
  18. Our present cultural discomfort around death and bereavement
  19. Blogs as a means of communicating and overcoming grief....

..each of which in their own way utterly fascinating.

And what's more, all presented in an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual criticism and support.

There were none of the distortions of insecurity and vanity that are so familiar to me from other conferences.

It's as if they all, very powerfully, in their own way illustrated an idea that was actually central to the conference:

that we need to change our culture from one that denies death to one which accepts it,


to learn how to handle death is also to learn how best to handle life.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

9th September
I've been staring at this blank page too long...
Today a friend asked me round to his house. he's a film producer, among other things, and he wants us to make a submission for a new single TV drama strand BBC Scotland want to produce.
We've thought of it before, not got far.
But this afternoon, to my astonishment, i sat down in front of his computer and after a few false starts wrote it to the requirements within 2 hours.
Maybe that's why I can't write anything now: I'm written out for today.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

6th September 2007
I was due go meet a friend this morning, and I couldn't decide whether to wear trousers or a skirt.
This is a common enough dilemma; but today it utterly upset me.
When I got to my friend's house I was terrible company: I just cried as if with a broken heart.
Moving forward seemed impossible.

This evening I went to a Buddhist meeting for the very first time.
I didn't really expect anything, i arrived late, I had to ring the bell to get in, I felt terrible, and then I had to ask the kind man who'd let me in for a chair. I felt I had disturbed the silence and upset everybody.
and then in the sitting meditation I kept falling asleep.
No matter how hard I tried to stay alert and awake sleep, like a cunning infiltrator, slipped past my guard and I felt myself drifting off into dreams.
And then in the walking meditation i found it so slow! And I couldn't keep step with the man in front of me and I kept losing my balance.
However, something must have happened because at the end of that walking meditation I realised I felt happy.

At the end of the session we were invited to "dedicate the merit" to somebody. I don't think i can have acquired any merit at all., but I thought of a poor suffering woman in court today, accused of manslaughter.
Her son kept an exceptionally powerful and dangerous dog, which they generally kept in the garden. Earlier in the evening, her son had been maltreating the dog and now, late at night, it was at the door whining.
It was a cold night and she took pity on it and let it in.
It attacked her wee grand daughter and worried her to death.
"It's my fault" she said in court today. "It's my fault my grand-daughter died".

And I thought of her today.
And of her son, her poor lost son, who needed a savage dog to prove his manhood.
And then, still in his manhood, needed to mistreat it.
And of the desperate young man who yesterday jumped off the North Bridge, landed on Waverley Station roof, and is in hospital right now suffering multiple injuries.

Manhood. How cruel a god it has become.
The things it demands of us.
And the desperate, desperate measures it takes to escape.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

4th September
I am attempting to change the template.
I'm not quite sure I understand the impulse to publish this, and publish it daily:
which is why I'm writing this through a certain weariness.
The impulse to record has always been there: I suppose this is only an extension.

Monday, September 03, 2007

3rd September 2007
I spent most of yesterday cooking.
I love it: I love the planning of the menus, the buying of the ingredients, and their slow transformation into something delicious.
it's like a present I give to the people I love and cherish.
I made:
malfata gratinata (baked spinach and parmesan dumplings)
Sicilian aubergine salad
Carrots and apricots in the Persian style
avocado and rocket gazpacho
bananas baked in orange liqueur..
and they were all delicious.
But in the end, more of a pleasure to make.
Thinking about it this morning, this was yet another way i depended on Susie. She seemed to possess a range of social skills that I probably lack.
So I could relax about the food; and relax over whether or not our guests were having a good time.
But now I have to work at that; and by the end of last night I felt like a bit of a failure.
On the other hand, i just got a lovely warm email from one of the people whose welfare I was worrying about.
So i am probably being unjust to myself.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

1st September
Some years ago I happened to see Richard Strauss' opera, SALOME.
And happened to loathe it.
To my immense surprise, I found it repulsive and even immoral.
I wanted to shout abuse at the complacent burghers of the Edinburgh festival, applauding themselves for having seen what they'd been told was a masterpiece:
"You're applauding your own destruction!" was what i wanted to yell at them.
But didn't dare. So I silently fumed instead.
Reminded all this watching tonight's Prom concert, which included an amazing American soprano performing the incredibly powerful last scene.
Salome taunts and caresses the severed head of John the Baptist and cries out in the end in poignant triumph:
"I have kissed the lips of Jokanaan!"
And this time I wanted to applaud. I'm not sure why.

That first experience of total repulsion has coloured all my subsequent encounters with his music.
Another of his operas I've always particularly disapproved of is CAPRICCIO.
It was his last opera; it was performed under, and approved by, the Nazi regime.
It's set in the drawing room of an 18th century aristocrat and seems solely preoccupied with which should prevail in opera: words or music?

Solely preoccupied with its own arse, I always assumed, and particularly disatefully in that it also pandered to the Nazis' musical taste.

And I was completely wrong.
I saw it this week in the Festival Theatre, and found myself profoundly moved by it.

The Nazis are an especially convenient embodiment of evil. We can look at them and guiltlessly loathe them in the apparent knowledge that we are so much better.

In my blacker moments I often wonder if there is really that much difference between deliberately setting out to exterminate members of a certain race and deliberately maintaining and living off the proceeds of a profoundly unjust economic system that condemns the majority of the human race to grinding poverty and an early death.

We certainly have no right to judge the Nazis; and no right to condemn them either.
And, as far as I can tell, what Strauss was doing under their regime was exactly what I would have done under the circumstances. Exactly what I am doing now, in fact: trying to survive as an artist. Trying not to be silenced.

It was particularly hard for him because members of his family were Jewish and the Nazis used them, very deliberately, to put pressure on him.
One of his elderly relatives was incarcerated in Terezin: and he drove to the gates and demanded to see her.
The guards laughed at him and turned him away.

A man like that would not write an opera set in Rococo France simply as an act of escapism: but because he needed to escape censorship.
And succeeded quite brilliantly in writing the most utterly moving piece in praise of the liberating and humanising force of art that could be imagined.
And also in praise of kindness.

It was lovely my eat was in the front row because it meant that at the end I could lean over the barrier and applaud the orchestra; and catch one of the cellists' eye and be able to thank him.

I came away grateful to be alive.


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