Thursday, July 31, 2008

31st July 2008

I was looking out poems to send someone and stumbled upon this:

LOVE WOUNDS (after Lorca)

"love wounds with light
love wounds with fire
the fire devours me: greyness surrounds me
love’s wound obsesses me
love’s wound that I cannot escape
that fills each inch of the sky
each blade of grass each minute of each day

I weep tears of blood which fall
on my poetry and stick
like enamel on a broken guitar
like rancid fat like grease which covers everything
my pulse has a heavy beat
the ocean weighs on me
a small stinging scorpion has taken over my brain

I live like a patient in a hospital bed
love decorates with a fever chart
I pass sleepless nights dreaming you’re with me
like an invading army encamped
in the ruins of my chest
where my heart was

I don’t want this. I want mountains
I want to wear sensible shoes and walk on the hills
but your heart drags me down a dark valley
a valley of bitter knowledge
and of poisoned flowers"

At the bottom I'd put a now unfamiliar name: John Clifford.

It started life as a translation of a sonnet, "Llagas de Amor" ("Wounds of Love") and I remember solemnly trying to make it into a sonnet in English, and failing, because although I could reproduce the form, just, I could never manage both the form and the poem's deep sense.

It got published in a book "Fire, Blood and the Alphabet" that was mostly the published proceedings of a "Lorca Fiesta" organised by the Playhouse in Newcastle to commemmorate lorca's centenary.

So that would be 1998.

I performed a long piece there called "The Night Journey" and (more or less) outed myself as a trans woman, which frightened me.

Nothing bad happened, of course.

And then when the book came out I performed "Love Wounds" at the launch party. It happened the same night as the televising of the opera based on my "Ines" and I felt quite high at the time; and I remember as I performed in the crowded bar I felt the audience totally with me.

It was the first time I'd felt that.

I'd related very strongly to the poem at the time, and I couldn't really think why, because I had no memory of ever feeling like that before.

Now, as I rediscover the poem, I find it expresses really powerfully what I felt years later - after Susie's death - in about 2005.

Sometimes I think the part of us that creates, down in the subconscious, inhabits an entirely different time zone. Where time doesn't go forwards, tick tick tick, but just, somehow, IS.

But I don't know.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

29th July 2008
Bruch's 1st violin concerto on the prom tonight.

It brought back a memory: of my stepmother's first entrance into my life.

My dad remarried very soon after my mum's death, so I must have been about 14 or 15, desperately unhappy and lonely, living in that enormous Thornbury castle. Just me and my dad and the live-in housekeepers, Jim and Joyce.

The castle was Tudor, and very gracious, and filled with my mother's family's traditional, heavy, English furniture. There was a grand piano in the big drawing room, probably out of tune, that had been donated by some distant relative, and no-one knew how to play it. I loved to play random notes and chords in my completely unskilled way that i would imagine made some kind of hitherto unheard music. But only when I thought no-one was listening, because I was embarrassed.

But there was no classical music in the house of any kind. My dad liked what he called 'a good tune'. So there must have been Gilbert and Sullivan selections, and musicals of the Rodgers and Hammerstein variety.

Jane bought a whole collection of classical LPs: and this piece of music was one. Which we listened to together.

And my love of the music was all tied up with my love of Jane, and my delight in the energy and optimism and youth and good taste she brought into the sad and stifling atmosphere on the gloomy, mourning house.

And for that I'll always be grateful.

As the dear man says:

"The good you do is never lost,
Not even in dreams".


Monday, July 28, 2008

28th July 2008

A dear friend sent me a lovely email today.

She sent me a warm embrace, and all kinds of heartfelt wishes for my welfare, and I was very touched; and she also told me she was catching up with her tax return.

And I felt very envious.

Of all the detestable jobs in the universe, the tax return has to be one of the worst; but I was struggling, again, with the script I'm working on and a tax return seemed almost desirable. At least it's clearer.

I tried to explain to her, a bit self-pityingly, that i was writing a scene in which my main character visits her demented mother in a nursing home. And that meant I had be there, too, and feel the guilty exhaustion of the daughter, and the angry confusion of the mother, and this was all a bit upsetting.

And then, as it happened, it all started flowing, and I'd done it, and soon after that I was on another scene.

This time my main character and her husband are making love, and it flowed very easily, and even though i was inhabiting a very pleasant and lovely place, that was the scene that started me crying.

Because, I understood, the happiness the couple were feeling came from meories of the happiness me and Susie felt, and all the pleasure we felt in our sexual relationship, and it was just all reminding me how much i was missing it with her gone.

And that thought made me howl louder than ever.

And then suddenly it was gone. i realised I'd written the scene, it was a good one, and I suddenly felt incredibly happy.

At that moment I wouldn't have wanted to exchange my work for anything in the world.

I'd ended up on the sofa, more or less randomly, where I'd been jotting everything down, and I happened to look up.

And I saw a left over plastic pint glass left over from my daughter's party, which happened 4 weeks ago.

And I'd only just noticed it.

It is a real hazard of living so much in the imagination. The inner world takes up so much attention there seems very little left over to pay attention to the outer.

Susie was like that, too - we married very unwisely - which was why trying to live tidily, and sometimes even hygienically, was often a lost battle.

On Radio 3 this morning they told a story of Beethoven. He wrote a piece of music for some aristocrat who enjoyed it so much he gave the composer a horse as a token of his gratitude. Beethoven rode the horse a couple of times, and then promptly forgot about it. His servant had to buy the animal's provender, and groom it and take care of it; and he rented it out to make a little money to compensate.

The horse was quite a good little earner, and the servant didn't want to remind him of it. But he did run up a pretty huge bill for provender. And when he couldn't get any more on credity, he had to give Beethoven the bill and remind him of the existence of his horse.

I think Beethoven took it quite calmly. Probably, like me, he had money lying around in improbable places. He said: "Oh yes, the horse", gave the servant some money and then no doubt forgot all about it again. He was probably writing a symphony at the time.

And a play is quite trivial by comparison. But writing this has reminded me that the glass is still up on the bookshelf. I forgot all about it.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

27th July
Last weekend I went to a dance workshop whose theme was THE TREE OF DESIRES.

One of the many curious things about the world we live in is that we are trained from a very early age to mistrust our own desires....

It's in the story of Adam and Eve: Eve, wickedly, desired the fruit of the forbidden tree and so did eat....

And in the confession I used to have to repeat in church every sunday for most of the sundays of my young life:
"We have done those things which we ought not to have done
and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done.
We have followed the devices and desires of our own hearts, and there is no health in us."

"Want doesn't get', I was told endlessly. And children who got what they wanted were apparently 'spoilt" which was somewhat mysterious but undoubtedly A Very Bad Thing.

But desires tell us who we are; desires are a kind of star that helps us navegate through all the mysteries of our amazing and confusing selves.

I loved the story of how the mother of Achilles learnt that her son was going to be a great hero and would be killed in battle. She didn't want him killed in battle, so she did two things: one she bathed him in the waters of the river Styx to make him invulnerable. But she had to hold onto him by his heel to stop him being swept away in its black waters: so his heel was never dipped in the stream, and remained vulnerable.
And the other thing she did was disguise him as a girl and have him/her hidden away on the island of Skyros so no-one would find him.
But the wily Ulysses discovered where he was hid, and travelled to the island, disguised as a pedlar.
Ulysses was completely indistinguishable from the other girls,a nd Ulysses couldn't tell which one was him.
So, in disguise, he unpacked his bundle of jewellery and scarves to tempt the girls with. But among these feminine things he also had a sword: and Achilles wanyed it.
So that was what gave away his identity.

When I read the story I always envied Achilles being free to be a girl; and felt very sorry that Ulysses found out who he really was.

And so my desire to be him, disguised as a girl, revealed who I was.

But also, as I look back on things, I realise that my story was a bit like Achilles in reverse. For my mother feared very deeply for me and had me disguised as a boy, and brought up in a very male environment, and surrounded only with male playthings.

(There is one so-called 'expert' on transgenderism who claims he can "cure" transgender boys by using this method...)

And the one time I came across a doll, I wanted it so desperately I stole it....

The difference is that whereas Achilles' 'core' identity as a warrior was recognised as encouraged, my equally core, identity as a trans woman was concealed and repressed.

Achilles went on to kill many people and cause much grief before finally meeting a violent death.

Thank the Mother I have gone in the opposite direction....


Saturday, July 26, 2008

26th July
I was on the way to the beauty salon yesterday and I heard a thump on the road beside me.

It's a strange kind of noise a car makes when it strikes human flesh.

I turned round, and there was a woman lying on the road. She'd been hit by the big four wheeled drive that had come to a halt just in front of her.

We were on the five lane road that leads to Haymarket station: she must have been crossing with the lights against her, weaving through all that traffic, and hadn't quite made it to the pavement.

I went to her to offer help, but she was on her feet already, looking shocked and frightened, and would only say:

"I'm allright. It was my fault. I'm allright"

Before taking refuge in the pub doorway. While the man she was with was yelling abuse at the driver, who was sitting there, shocked and pale looking, in the driver's seat of his enormous, gleaming, brand new four wheel drive.

The woman's companion was burly and muscled and covered in tatoos and he was shouting at the driver with truly frightening violence.

"Come on out you stupid fucker! Come on out your fucking car!"

The man obviously had huge amounts of aggression stored up in him, and he was desperate for an outlet for them.

Obviously he had to bear some responsibility for what had happened, for being so stupid to cross a five lane road. I guessed he had made the woman do it too: and some sense of guilt and of his own stupidity, which he simply could not acknowledge, was fuelling his rage.

And that probably the woman was more frightened of him and than of the car which had so nearly killed her.

And the driver just sat there, pale and shocked and silent. Safe in his enormous vehicle.

He was well off; they both looked poor.

The whole incident was a kind of emblem of the madness and the violence of our times.

As was my response to it.

I didn't know what to do: and I just walked away.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

23rd July
Yesterday was a strange day.

The day began by my going to the occupational health doctor for an assessment of my fitness to return to work.

What I had realised the night before was that my thinking about this before - "I'm basically OK just so long as I can get away from working at that awful place" - was actually based on self-deception.

In the sense that even if by some miracle I got offered an equivalent job at another instititution I would not be able to hold it down.

I found this very distressing. As if it made me some kind of failure.

And when after running through the catalogue of real disasters that have befallen me since my breakdown in 2003 the doctor asked me, straightforwardly, not unkindly, what the obstacle was that prevented me going back to work, I burst into tears.

Because, when it comes right down to it, I couldn't bear the strain of it.

If I remember right, my dad used to make jokes about people who said things like that - "It's my nerves, doctor" - and assume that the problem with them (with us) was that we were just workshy.

And I remembered how when I had my breakdown, a kind of feminine complaint, in a sense, that involved having to admit to incapacity and weakness, i felt very ashamed and guilty at "letting my colleagues down".

But when a few years later I was off work because I needed heart surgery - a most respectably male complaint that could be measured and monitored on all kinds of high tec equipment and could be solved in a high tec manner too - I didn't feel the slightest shame.

And now perhaps the fact that I can back up my incapacity through "emotional weakness" (to paraphrase my dad) with concrete evidence of physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and palpitations weirdly strengthens my position.

For we do live in a world that utterly devalues the simple fact of emotional misery.

And I think there was another dimension to it also.

For yesterday, seeing that very straightforwardly male doctor, and me dressed in long skirt, strappy top and light cardigan, I found myself utterly unabashed and unafraid of him. As I knew i would have been had I still been presenting as male.

Not ashamed to cry in front of him, either.

And felt at the end of the interview that he was actually, beneath that male demeanour, a very understanding man and that we had got on well.

But even though he recognised I could not return to my job; nor would be able to hold down an equivalent job at another institution; he still thought it highly unlikely that my pension fund would accede to my request for early retirement on health grounds; or release to me my pension (which I have, after all, paid for out of my earnings).

Their policy, as he put it, is "robust".

Because granting my request would entail them in extra expenditure, they employ a panel of doctors to refuse all requests, except the most glaring emergencies.

By their logic, I should return to work until the demands of work wreck my health completely and reduce me to a state of more complete incapacity.

Which is just another example how we all accept living in a society where the demands of money override every consideration of humanity and common sense.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

19th July
What a week it's been:
struggling to find the words
and find the form to contain the words
that will somehow create something as yet apparently unknown,
that may (or may not) resolve itself into a satisfying evening in a theatre.
In the middle of all this aridity I went to a creativity workshop,
which seemed ironic as it felt as if i didn't have any.
We met and we danced together a while
then sat silent, meditating a while,
and before each opf us was placed a lump of clay.
When did I last handle clay?
I have no memory of such a thing.
I didn't know what to do with it, but I knew I didn't want to see it
So I just sat there, eyes closed, kneading it
waiting to see what shape would emerge.
it was a kind of nest, I suppose, when I looked at it,
and felt a sudden urge to fill it with eggs.
It was kind of elongated,
so I put a vagina at one end,
at the other a penis and balls,
and I kind of trimmed the edges.
and there it is, on my windowsill,
not a pretty thing
but one
filled with possibilities.


Monday, July 14, 2008

14th July

There's a song going round my head:
"Please don't wake me
Please don't shake me
Leave me where I am.
I'm only sleeping..."

It's because I don't want to get out of bed...
I'm sleeping in the house of old friends.
He directed the very first play I ever had on, in 1980, and it's to him I owe the discovery I could write plays.
And she constructed the set.
And over all the intervening years , in spite of all kinds of vicissitudes, they've constructed a really remarkable joint life together.
They both do work they enjoy, and is of use to the world.
He runs an agency that promotes and supports artistic activity in the Highlands; she skillfully and lovingly restores antique furniture.
They live in a beautiful house with an exquisite garden they take great pleasure and pride in.
The house is comfortable without being ostentatiously so; it exudes pleasure, contentment in the act of being alive.
I don't want to suggest they've created paradise; and certainly, if I wished, i could also list their difficulties and problems.
If i were to write a novel according to the current aesthetic, or a play or a film, it would be of the "placid surface of an apparently happy marriage shattered by the arrival of a stranger" or "a chance event that exposed the ruin underneath..." or some such shit.
And how dull that would be.
Really what interests me far more is their state of contentment, and how they achieve it.
That, and their generosity and kindness.

I was reflecting on all this on the way back home - to the struggles with the current play, to the provisional experiment also known as my current identity - eating an absolutely delicious cheese and pickle sandwich that had been prepared for me.
Knowing full well that I would be incapable of preparing a cheese and pickle sandwich of any kind - never mind one as delicious as this - for myself for a train journey. Still less for anyone else.

They have two of Susie's pictures on their walls, which touched me greatly, and which reminded me that we often aspired to creating such an ordered and hospitable existence it would be a pleasure to share with others.
And we failed; we were too busy struggling to achieve basic necessities; to bring up our daughters, somehow, in the teeth of both our quixotic adventures.

We achieved so much I'm proud of - I wouldn't denigrate it for the world: but we never managed this.
And will I ever?
It's doubtful, while my identity remains so provisional; and while I have no sooner finished one play when i am at the mercy of the next.

But then I console myself, or try to, with the thought that we all create what we can: and we must value it.

Well (I also think): I hope they value what it is they have created.
And understand how much it matters.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

10th July
I stayed in tonight to listen to mahler's 8th coming live from St. Paul's.
This so-called Symphony of a Thousand is what i remember listening to, night after night, in the weeks immediately after Susie's death.
I bought it because the second movement is mahler's massive attempt to set to music the very end of Goethe's Faust part Two; and my rationale was that i wanted to listen to it to get into tune with it so I could dramatise it.
But I think really what i wanted was to use its massive sound to drown out the massive grief and rage in my poor tormented heart.
It's strange to think of it, but the hugely noisy first movement must have sent me to sleep, night after night, down in my daughters' room because I simply couldn't bear to be in the room where we had spent so much happy time together.
Certainly it was far more familiar to me than the second movement, which is what i was ostensibly supposed to be hearing.
Strangely, it left me quite cold tonight.
The music is, I'm sure, magnificent; but I found myself thinking of the rather cruel image in Steppenwolf where Hesse imagines Mahler crossing a dreary plain pulling behind him the huge huge sack of all the superfluous notes in his symphonies; and thinking, what Goethe wrote is all very well, but dramatically, at least, what i wrote in my Faust Part Two is ever so much better.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

6th July
I went to church today.
I don't go ofter, partly because the metropolitan community church meets at 6 on a sunday, which is when I often invite friends round for supper; but partly, too, because it evokes such memories.
They do a very beautiful, heartfelt service, that always welcomes everybody.
It always brings up in me memories of all those years of compulsory church every day in Clifton College, and the terrified lonely boy I was then.
I want to shut that boy out of my mind, because he still hurts so much: the service at mcc brings him back in from the cold and comforts him
But the comfort brings tears: all those tears that at the time I was too frightened and ashamed to shed.
Today, also, the woman who was leading the service retold the story of the last supper in her own words, most tenderly and feelingly.
And that made me want to rewrite that part of "The Gospel of Jesus, Queen of Heaven".
How beautiful to have so many sources of inspiration.
And the boy will come in.
He will come in from the cold.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

5th July
I've been back home for almost a week.
The wonderful thing about being in Florence was the intense burst of creativity that first week... the feeling of being a channel, in a way, of not having to struggle to find words or feelings... but spontaneously, apparently, being able just to write it down as it came.
And then shape and craft the draft; and then be able to hand it over, on time, as agreed:
I proudly put the title in the signature of my emails; but then, soon after, the reaction set in and I began to panic. It became very hard to deny the doubts that came creeping in; even to resist the urge to obliterate the title from my email signature.
I think the climate here has changed.
I've suffered two expressions of hostility in the past couple of days - both from motorists.
On Thursday night, cycling home from the Buddhist group, a car overtook me sloewly, a young woman leant out of the passenger seat window and sprayed foam all over my face.
It's the kind of stuff that resolves itself into a sticky string like substance: and then they drove away laughing.
Tonight, on my way to supper with a friend, one of those big 4 by 4's deliberately drove into a puddle to soak me.
Is this transphobia? Or is it some weird generalised hostility by motorists against those who do not belong to their polluting kind?
Hard to tell...
Maybe there is a change in the atmosphere...
It's hard after petty attacks like these, to continue to enjoy living in the present.
At least for a while, the world changes, and become hostile in a generalised kind of way.
And then fear becomes harder to resist...
But in spite of it all, Jo Clifford, proud author of the recently completed (and looking for production) THE GOSPEL OF JESUS, QUEEN OF HEAVEN inches her way forward...


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