Tuesday, April 29, 2008

29th April
On the way to meditation at lunchtime, and I walked past the Lyceum stage door.
There were two guys outside, having a smoke, that I knew from my time rehearsing there. Very nice, straightforward men who I liked a lot but suddenly found myself feeling embarrassed to be walking past wearing a skirt.
I crossed the road, hopefully unobtrusivively, hoping I might avoid them seeing me.Which was absurd, because they did. And waved at me in a straightfoprward and friendly way that left me treflecting, yet again, how much we make ourselves suffer for no reason at all.
That was an embarrassment coming from ridicule way back in the past...
The meditation was about impermanence. I thought of Susie; obviously we know it is hard to let go of the memory of happy things: but it seems we hang on to sad memories too.
Which is something of a mystery...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

23rd April 2008
Identity is very strange.
The only place in the whole world, it seems, where people still call me 'sir' is the gym where I go for cardiac rehabilitation on Wednesdays.
And it may be because I hardly look glamourous.. trackie top and bottoms.. and it would be ridiculous to wear makeup.. but it's not just about that.
Its something to do with how you think about yourself inside... which is reinforced by how people treat you outside.. and then sets up one of these vicious or virtuous circles...
because I was waiting for the bus with an old man from the soldier's home and when the bus came he ushered me in with a very courteous 'Ladies First' kind of gesture...
I think perhaps the gym was always such a place of fear, where I tried so hard to conform to being manly.. and maybe this somehow shows itself in my face and manner the minute I go through the door.
We are, i think, such victims of the past.
Yesterday I handed in a job application at the Traverse.
I'd been quite pleased with myself filling it in (I do have a lot of experience; I really am pretty well qualified) but when i went into the foyer there were all the preparations for the new John Byrne play that's opening there next Tuesday.
One of his drawings blown up life size.. and the minute i saw it I felt all of a sudden very inadequate and very small...
Its extraordinary his work should have this effect on me.
I remember the first (and only) time I saw the Slab Boys. I was still nursing at the time, and hadn't discovered myself as a writer at all.
His play utterly discouraged me because everyone loved it, I hated and was deeply distressed by it, and I remember thinking: "If this is what people want then I might as well give up trying".
because my vague, fragile, unformed dreams just seemed to belong to a different planet...
There's some horrible bullying goes on in that play, I remember, and we as an audience are invited to be complicit in it. To enjoy the bullying perpetrated by the bully and think more of him as a consequence of it...
Perhaps there's something in his tone of voice that reminds me of someone who bullied me..
I was always so isolated, such a loner, so out of everything.
And his voice is of the one who is 'in'. Absolutely 'in' and part of the crowd everyone wants to belong to...
Perhaps it's something like that. For just the sight of that poster, and the sight of a group of actors in the cast talking together left me feeling small and intimidated. Even though I know at least one of them so well...
Does this ever change, I wonder?
Perhaps at least in the sense that I can begin to look at it and try to reflect on what is happening..


23rd April 2008
Last weekend was the last night of LIFE IS A DREAM in Dublin.
I went to see it... what a happy weekend...
Reflecting on how much has happened since I first went to Dublin for the first day of rehearsals - on 25th February.
I've left my job.
I've started to feel absolutely at ease going to the Ladies.
... and both these things, in a strange kind of way, have to do with the greater confidence and strength Rough Magic have given me.
There's a line in LOSING VENICE where the poet says:
"I have laid the foundations of a new aesthetic"
and at the time I felt very full of myself because I really believed it to be true.
Had I known how difficult the whole process would turn out to be, perhaps I would not have been so full of myself.
And it's not really new: but certainly different.
(Thinking this as I walked past the swim centre in Leith)
For one thing, it's concerned with spirituality and beuty. And truth. And the big stories.
And all this is so way off message when what people seem obsessed with is ugliness, distress and despair and no longer believe there are any big stories any more.
And for another thing (though maybe this is part of the same thing) they're not the product of a male identity (which is without question the dominant voice) or even a female identity, but a trans identity.
No wonder it's felt so endlessly difficult to establish myself.
But there, on Saturday, a full house in Dublin of people so strongly warming to and appreciating this work which is so close to my heart. and to myself.
It's amazing good fortune.


23rd April 2008
I was walking down the hill last night after the dance clas when someone stopped me.
"Sorry" he said, and "Please" (he was very polite) "I saw you on television" You were speaking to a man in a bar. You're a writer and you work in the theatre".
And all I had to do, really, was confirm that to be true.
"I saw you on television in Mexico and then i see you here on the street corner".
And that was enough. After that he was gone.
He was a very good looking young man with a young blonde woman who I suppose he was trying to impress... It was strange.
I did a TV thing for a Spanish TV company who were producing a kind of 'Rough Guide' travel show and needed someone who could speak spanish to appear on their programme about Edinburgh. And exchange inanities with the presenter.
I felt embarrassed about it and a bit ashamed for taking part.
And I assumed they had ditched the item.
But obviously they hadn't... so-called 'primitive' people apparently believe that when you photograph someone you steal their soul. Being on TV seems to give other people certain rights over your identity.
Because in a real sense our conversation was meaningless...
There's a line in LIFE IS A DREAM when the Soldier says to Segismundo:
"Great events, my lord, always come with premonitions
and that’s what that was, if you dreamed it first."
Which came into my head as I was reflecting on this.
I wonder if it's true....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

There's a moment in "Life is a Dream" I always find intensely moving.
It's towards the end of act two: Segismundo has been drugged and returned to his prison cell.
The idea is to deceive him into thinking that everything he has experienced in the palace was a dream.
The old man who has been his jailer suggests to Segismundo that he tries to behave better, perhaps even be kind in the future. Because
"The good you do is never lost.
Not even in dreams..."
It's possible to read that very cynically; but, romantic as I am, I've always taken it to express a profound truth.
After the firat night of the Dublin performance, Olwen Fuoere, the wonderful actor who was Rosaura in the first production, told me that Selina Cartmell was sending me greetings.
She had directed Olwen in an amazing production of 'Macbeth' everyone was talking about.
The name rang such a bell, but I couldn't remember who she was.
And then after the second performance, Ronan Leahy, who's a very wonderful Astolfo in this production, told me the same thing.
"You taught her, apparently", he said.
And then I remembered: it was at Glasgow.
It was a brief and for me pretty horrible time I was a lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at Glasgow University.
I'd gone for the job out of desperation because I simply could not get enough work to keep my family (I'd become chronically unfashionable) and then when it came down ot it, I just hated it.
I hated travelling to Glasgow, I hated teaching Theatre as an academic subject, and above all I hated setting and marking exam questions. (That summer I'd marked more than 300 exam essays).
But the one thing I had enjoyed was teaching this small group of first year students.
And we'd devised, if I remember right, some performance based on Rumpelstiltskin.
And Selina, I'm sure now, was in that group.
She was really gifted, and I'd felt a real pang on leaving that job that i was also leaving her.
Ronan said: "She said you taught her to hold out for what you really believe. And always be true to it".
I don't remember doing that at all, but if I did that then somehow I managed to communicate something good.
And while dreaming: a bad dream, a nightmare. When life seemed pretty senseless mostly, and I was doing what i hated.
That was another of the gifts being with Rough Magic gave me.
I remember coming to the conclusion then, as I have just had to come to the same conclusion now, that I had to get out of the job because it was damaging me.
And that something better would turn up.
Which it did.
I need to remember that, too, just now.


13th April
It's strange how hard it is for me simply to enjoy and celebrate success.
I was in Dublin for the opening of "Life is a Dream" at the Project Arts Centre.
The company putting it on (Rough Magic) are so kind; the space is great for the play; the production and the actors are all fantastic.
I had such a good time there.
Yet it's taken me almost a fortnight to even acknowledge that; and far from taking the time to enjoy the success - because audiences love it, the reviews are good.. this is a success... - I come home and embark on the next impossible struggle.
And reproach myself because it's taking me so long.
And I'm driving myself again. Driving myself relentlessly forward.
I owe so much to this play.
So much to Calderon for teaching me who I am.
So much to this play, which has re-emerged now, in the midst of such a crisi, as if to encourage me and reinforce me and strengthen me in what I am trying to do.
So much to the cast and company and crew for working so hard so brilliantly to make it happen.
And taking such good care of me.
The story is of a father who imprisons his son in a tower from the moment of his birth.
I remember learning segismundo's first monologue and performing it in the big Traverse for Amnesty, I think it was. It was my first formal experience of performing a monologue for ever so long (and alerted me to the fact I could become a performer).
Afterwards someone wrote to me and said: "You were performing your own experience. Of being a prisoner in your transsexuality: a prisoner of shame and guilt".
In the play, the king is imprioning his son to prevent him understanding who he really is.
It's only now that I've begun to understand that my parents, too, tried their absolute utmost to prevent me understanding who I am.
And they knew. In their heart of hearts they knew: although they were not able to openly acknowledge it.
Because it was as impossible for them to accept it as it was at first for me.
But this intensely male atmosphere in which I was brought up; this sending me to schools were there was such emphasis on making 'men' out of the boys sent to them; this seperating me from the theatre, even... (I must have been 13 or 14 before I was taken to the theatre!)
And yet it completely failed, as it does in the play.
I have become the person they feared I would become.
But (also as in the play) that becoming is a huge triumph.


12th April
I saw a film called "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
It was a beautifully made film; an inspiring human story... and anything else I say about it needs to be understood in that context.
Part of me was very moved; part of me was very cold.
One reason for wanting to watch it is that it's a film about a man paralysed following a stroke. The play I'm writing now is about a woman who has suffered a stroke.
Watching this film has helped me understand what I intend.
It could not be more different.
The main character in the film was suffering from a very rare and extreme condition.
My main character is suffering from one of the most common causes of death in the world.
His was the story of an individual: mine is the story of something general.
And my ultimate aim is to have the audience think about death.
Their own death.
Our own death.
And not necessarily as an evil, either...
The main character in the film was a man.
And the film's viewpoint was necessarily exclusively male.
In a strange kind of way, it was such a male fantasy.
He was horribly damaged; and he had a whole succession of beautiful women taking care of him.
I want not only to write it from a female perspective; but also to help the audience feel for everyone else , to fully understand them.
Because again, this is not about an individual experience: it is about a collective one.
I'm so grateful to this film; and my appreciation of it as a fine and beautiful piece of work is not affected, somehow, by the simultaneous realisation that its aesthetic is something I utterly reject.
But dear God, i can't help thinking, hard I make myself work. How difficult I make my life.


Sunday, April 06, 2008

6th April
Last Saturday, I lost the key to my mother-in-law's flat.
Which doesn't sound like too much of a disaster: except that she is 83 and frail, fariler still since her recent stay in hospital. She suffers from diabetes, brittle bones, failing sight, failing strength in her hands, and painful arthritis.
And it's important for her to keep her door locked; she is frightened of being invaded and robbed.
So when I lost the key, her imagination got filled with images of the key falling into the wrong hands, and then people using it to invade her house and harm her.
So she got frightened.
I got frightened too. One of my nightmares is that she falls and breaks a bone, or falls into a diabetic coma, or somehow becomes too weak and helpless to unlock the door and let help in.
I lost it soon after doing her shopping. I'd cycled to the supermarket, come back with her shopping in my rucksack and my shopping in the bike paniers. I'd unloaded her shopping in her kitchen after letting myself in with her key, and then gone back home.
I always put her key on a hook just inside the door; but that day I thought, for some reason, "I don't have her key on me" and intended to find it and hang it up later.
Only I couldn't find the key. I searched my panniers, my rucksack.. all the likely places, and no end of unlikely places too.
But no key.
And then I had to endure her anxiety and reproaches.
And my anxiety and reproaches, too.
I stille them by telling myself: "It'll turn up."
But I didn't really believe it.
I didn't really believe that it would. Turn up when it was ready. Or I was ready.
Until yesterday, exactly a week later..
The day got off to a bad start. The cat had done a huge smelly shit in his litter tray. The house was still in chaos from the joiner mending the windows. The yard was noisy and full of smoke from the painters in ther spider contraption lifting them up so they could do the paintwork. I really didn't want to get up. Still less get up to give Jean her breakfast.
And I set off in a furious temper.
... which i did my best to conceal from her. As i started to make her some soup and left it gently bubbling as i cycled off to the supermarket.
Just before going, I asked what she thought she needed, and made a list.
On the little spiral notebook, and was touched to see she'd done a drawing of the tulips on her table. Done it on the little bit of paper I'd used to reckon up the last supermarket bill.
I tore the new list out the notebook, went to put it in my pannier bag...
... and there was the key. Exactly where it should have been all along.
Where it must have been: only, for some reason, my mind absolutely refused to see it.
I wonder how often that happens.
How often we convince ourselves that what we need is lacking from our lives: when in fact it is with us all along.
How often?
Maybe all the time.....


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