Friday, February 15, 2008

15th February
I'm just back from seeing my GREAT EXPECTATIONS, which prime productions [] are touring round Scotland.
I saw it at the brunton, in Musselburgh, which was almost full.
It was such a beautiful show.
The actors have been on a journey with it (literally, as well as metaphorically: this is the fifth venue they've played this week) and their performances have all deepened and gained in authority.
That's exactly what i want to happen.
And what was also amazing - and what really filled me with pride - is that the play is so obviously about now. So clearly about the world we live in.
And I wrote it twenty years ago.
I would have been working on it now.
And somehow without knowing it, it looks clear that in the way i selected the material from Dickens' so wonderful and so amazing book, I was using Dickens as a medium to write a play about the world we lived in then and are living in still.
In a way i simply could not have foreseen.
It made me very proud: proud of the Company, proud of the work I did.
And after such a hard day's struggle to write QUEEN ECHINACEA, it's the most amazing source of strength and support.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

10 february 2008
I was still feeling very gragile when i went to see Barry at the Glasgow Citizens a while ago.
James Barry was born a woman, but developed the ambition to become a doctor.
At that stage in 19th century, it was impossible for a woman to study medecine.
But she was helped by a rich patron to change her identity and become a man.
As a man, he was enrolled in Edinburgh University medical School, duly qualified, joined the army as a doctor; and thereafter pursued a controversial and astonishingly energetic career as a reformer.
in Act One, the play dramatised an unsubstantiated claim (discounted by the Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women) that she had become pregnant, and given birth to a son, in secret, which she then abandoned.
She was a pregnant woman, about to give birth, telling her story.
In Act Two she was her male self, about to fight a duel.
I am the worst person to see a play written by another: I become ferociously critical of the writing, and almost invariably end up rewriting the play in my imagination.
And, naturally, knowing the play i could have written would be the better one.
I always feel an affinity with these women who were forced to live as men in order to fulfill themselves.
The fact that their story seems to make more sense than mine is a reflection of our own misogyny. Someone born a woman who becomes a man seems, in our subconscious, still to be gaining status. Someone like myself, born a man and in the process of becoming a woman, seems to be losing it.
But the reason for the journey is the same: to become our true selves.
Perhaps it was my affinity, then, with the main character that stilled the rewriting voice in my head.
But I suspect it was more the astonishing skill of Isabella Jarrett, who played him.
She was performing in the tiny Stalls Theatre of the Citz; and she reminded me just how powerful it is to be sharing a room with an actor of immense commitment and skill.
There were moments in Act one when she switched from being the pregnant Barry and became an old witch/midwive Barry had encountered in the Borders; and then in Act Two she utterly transformed herself into this fearsome man.. and I kept rediscovering that childlike pleasure in watching a fellow human being making herself transform.
In Part Two of my Faust she played my self - the poet transformed into a woman- and here, in some magical manner she helped me understand both the workings of my own deep self and the magic of my art and craft.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

2nd february 2008
for some weeks now, I've been uncomfortably aware of the beating of my heart.
I feel it on and off during the day and night: at the smallest level of exertion or emoional excitement there it is, beating in my chest.
I suppose I could perceive this as the reminder of a friend; but after all that has happened, although I know it is doing all I can to keep me alive, it can feel sometimes like the reminder of the presence of a stranger.
Perhaps an enemy.
Certainly a reminder of my death.
I have been feeling so afraid.
It has felt like a warning; a red light, perhaps, or an empty fuel gage.
Certainly a strong demand to stop. To simplify. To reflect.
And I guess that is what I have been trying to do.
I have had myself signed off one job (the professor at the university) and have only gently engaged with the other (the playwright) when the words have come to me.
Last wednesday I had an appointment with the cardiologist at the hospital.
His name is Dr. Bloomfield: I first encountered him when I was first admitted, and I like and trust him.
He had two students with him, and used the opportunity very skillfully.
He had me explain my symptoms now, and my symptoms then. Also when I was admitted for atrial flutter.
As I reflect on this some days later, I understand that one effect of this was to help me become aware of how different these experiences were. And are.
In itself this was a reassurance.
The ECG was normal, but i don't understand them well.
And he could listen, and the students could listen, to the beating of my heart, and he could tell me he could hear nothing.
He took my blood pressure: and that, too, is normal.
And when I asked him why, then, have I been experiencing these symptoms, he took me down to have a scan.
The students were there, too, and the operator explained it to them in detail.
The pictures on these machines are astonishingly clear, and their sensitivity is extraordinary.
Her explanation, and the sight of the images, helped me understand, too: to look inside the chambers of my own heart and understand what it was I saw.
There is nothing wrong.
The fact that I could see helped me fully understand and believe this.
One of the most frightening parts of the earlier experience was to be there, in the same room, and looking at the same machine, and see the jet of blood leaking from my heart valve and spurting back like a sinister fountain.
I thought afterwards I need never look at another horror movie again. I have already seen the most frightening thing I could imagine.
And this new sight: of the normal functioning heart, with the repair also visible and functioning perfectly, calmed my fears.
And the kind doctor could explain this: but also respect my experience and my desire to understand.

But since then, of course, I need to take on board that it is my own mind that is creating these symptoms.
Because they have not stopped.
And they have not stopped for a reason.
The warning, I suspect, is still as serious: the message to stop. To simplify. To rest.
To try to take care.


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