Monday, November 30, 2009

Yesterday was Advent Sunday.
Yesterday was the anniverary of my mother's death.
Yesterday was about preparing for new birth; they mark it in Anglican churches by reading texts that speak of universal death.
Yesterday I attended a meeting that voted unanimously for the dissolution of my church.
Yesterday i made a recipe that promised to be delicious but ended up looking like mud.
Yesterday something really crucial happened between me and my lover.
Yesterday I helped complete a grant application for a project that is about (I think) the frontier between life and death.

A good day.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our last morning's visit in Cracow was not accidental at all.
Years ago i saw a performance in the Edinburgh Festival by a Polish company called Cricot, led by their director, Tadeusz Kanotr.
It was called "Dead Class" and though I cannot say it gave me any pleasure, it made the profoundest impression on me.
My companion, who also saw it, and saw it as one of those profound and powerul theatre experiences one never forgets, remembers it in 1983.
Or when i was so crucially and painfully engaged in finding my voice.
After his death in 1990, the theatre ceased to function as a creative force, and the space remains as a clearly seldom visited museum. Our arrival seemed to be a source of some surprise; a young woman had to go down and open the space up for us specially.
It turned out there was very little down there: a video of Kantor directing a rehearsal, with a look of profound suffering.
And what might have been a stage set: 3 of four plain wooden doors, mysteriously ajar in a twilight.
I loved this space, and spent a long time sitting in it. feeling utterly at home.
At the entrance to this museum was a quotation from one of his writings, which perhaps was chosen because it summed up his values and his search.
It could certainly also sum up mine:

"Nightmarish malls have become the temples of a new deity of consumption and materialism.

I am listening carefully to that inner voice...
My creative work, whose roots are grounded in the subconscious, "understood" this inner voice and command much earlier and quicker.
The intellect goes through and becomes aware of a different and NEW STAGE OF COGNIZANCE

Tadeusz Kantor


Friday, November 27, 2009

We wandered into the oldest building in Cracow university.
At random, as you do, and bought tickets for the tour.
The old university building is full of clocks.
It begins with the one above the library entrance which has figures processing in and out (and you can buy a CD of the tunes it can play); and every room has its special clock, some disguised as landscapes, one that plays Mozart operas, one that plays the Polish national anthem...
and I think back to the late Renaissance, when the university was founded, and Cracow a centre of alchemy and magic, and the magic that clockwork represented in all its fantastic forms.
It seems like a thread that runs through the university's history, like its nationalism, its sense of being central to the country's identity through all the invasions and partitions and disasters it suffered.
In this last calamitous century when the Nazis deported its most independent minded professors to German death camps and closed the whole place down; its re-opening after the war, only almost immediately to be shut down as an intellectual centre by Stalin.
And the constant resistance, the constant assertion of intellectual freedom.
I think that is something I love about this city.. it so feels like a place where it is still possible to be an artist.
Or where artistic and intellectual life is valued and understood.
That's why i feel at home here...


Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's an okd building, in the ancient city close to the old Royal Castle, and the sign outside promised an exhibition of religious art.
We went in on one of those impulses I so enjoy following on holiday.
There was religious art, yes, but it was art owned by, or donated to, the late pope John Paul II, who was the real focus of the museum.
There was the football shirts presented to him, the bicycle he owned, and the canoe. The gorgeous gowns he wore while saying mass, and wall after wall of photographs of him.
What a beautiful man he was when he was young: how full of life, how charismatic...
And I could feel a play coming: about the transformation of someone so full of hope and beauty, such a fierce and important focus of resistance to oppression, to an implacable defender of an ironclad reactionary, backward looking and utterly destructive tradition.
It gave me a kind of mischievous pleasure to be there, too, in skirt and boots: doubly condemned, as a transsexual, and the perpetrator of an apparently blasphemous play condemned by the catholic archbishop of Glasgow. A spy in the enemy camp, gravely receiving the attentions of the no doubt deeply pious custodian as he showed us a cross that came from Scotland, following his insistence I write something pious in the visitors book...
There was one piece of amazing religious art.
It was a replica of a 13th or 14th century figure of a Madonna and Child. She was holding the child in her arms, loving, serene, and could also open out to reveal the figure of the father within, bearded and crouched and a little anxious looking...
So touching and beautiful an image of the primacy of the Mother and the androgynous nature of God. Right there in the Holy Father's house, in the heart of the traditions of the church, and so tragically ignored by both.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There was a picture on the ticket of trees in the sunshine.
Small knots of leisurely visitors passing under an ornamented gateway.
The lettering above the gateway read: "Arbeit mach frei".
Because this was ou ticket for Auschwitz.
And i wasn't prepared for this at all: extermination as part of the tourist industry, which was absurd of me, because this excursion is one of the sights of Cracow.
And on the way out our coachload was appropriately subdued. And we were shown a film with crackly sound, a film of staggering incompetence, featuring footage shot by a Russian cameraman who spoke about it all, his chest heavy with medals.
we'd had to get up early to catch the bus, and I kept falling asleep and feeling vaguely guilty about it. I didn't properly wake up until we had reached the coach park, with the pizza restaurants opposite, and we'd filed in to pick up our headphones which allowed our guide to speak softly and gently into our ears.
And so introduce us to horrors...
The heaps of shoes, forty thousand shoes, she said, ever so gently, and asked us to imagine that each shoe represented a life, and still this enormous heap only represented a tiny proportion of the utterly monstrous numbers of deaths.
And the massive heap of human hair, which sold for fifty copecks a bag, and was then, I imagine with a certain difficulty processed into the lining of men's suits, and was it also made into blankets? i was distracted at the thought of the work of the entrepreneurs who engaged themselves into developing the processes that would turn this unaccustomed material into something that could be turned into a profitable enterprise.
And the kitchen implements - the pots and pans and cheese graters.
And the heaps of clothes that were all stored in the warehouses called 'Canada' because Canada, at the time was considered a place of immense richness..
and it was this, i suppose, that struck me above all: that evil should wear such a banal face.
And the evidence of the routine... even the faces in the photographs staring at us along the corridor, with the dates bearing witness to the curelly short itme people were in general able to survive in that place... the photographs until at least partly the sheer numbers of the people being processed in that place overwhelmed the photographers and they took to tattooing the prisoners instead.
And there was the prison block, with the cells in the basement where they starved prisoners to death, or suffocated them, or made them stand without rest... and the same basement, too, where they carried out the experiemnts with the gas, to try to find the right substance, and then presumably the right dosage, and filled out evaluation forms until they were satisfied and were able to build the gas chamber and crematorium that our guie saved up to the very end.
And there we were in this horrible horrible place, staring up at the holes in the ceiling they dropped the gas canisters down, and trying to imagine, most inadequately, the horror of the place, with the ovens next door, and if I understood the guide correctly the ovens were clearly inadequate because it took two days to dispose of just one single killing.
And besides, it must have taken a while to check the corpses mouths and extract the gold teeth.
And no doubt forms were filled out, and committees met to discuss the matter, and the appropriate lessons were learnt and put into practice in the second, so much huger camp just down the road.
And there she showed us the barracks, that were originally designed for horses, and the bunks, and had us imagine the overcrowding and the stench and the cold, and then showed us the 'sanitation' hut where the latrines were, and up in the guard tower you could see the vastness of the samp...
And there was the really quite pleasant looking house in the first camp where the commandant lived, and his wife apparently grow the most beautiful flowers... and i would do the same, in her place. The guards drank a lot, I think i read somewhere, to try to numb their distress, which I can also easily believe, as i am drinking a big mug of cherry vodka and hot water just now to try to numb the horror of all i have seen today.
because how can we live with ourselves? How can we live knowing what we are all capable of? Quite easily, perhaps to judge from the couple laughing as they posed for photographs in front of the famous guardhouse and gate, or the guys talking football on the bus on the way back to the city.


Monday, November 23, 2009

23rd november
it was an old synagogue, and the sign outside said: "I knew their faces". An exhibition of photographs of Polish Jews from just before the second world war. In the Jewish quarter of Cracow.
It was a collection of photographs that had been preserved, mostly, by accident or sometimes as desperate acts of defiance.
That each had the most extraprdinary story to tell... of villages where a third of the people had disappeared... families in their time of prosperity. School photographs where Jews and Poles were side by side. the captions spoke of the friendships between them, of the families who were lost, of the families and individuals who were sheltered and hid.
Some cruel - a man, out of focus, waist deep in water with hats bobbing beside him. The SS liked to drive Jewish men to the Vistula, take shots ach her through the crowd. at them.
And photograph them.
Another of Jews being forced to pull each other's beards to entertain their oppressors. Mostly they look down in deepest fear and shame: but one is looking out at us. Looking out at his tormentor.
Another, tiny, much creased one, of a survivor of Dr. Mengele, who hid the photo in her shoe during inspections. And survived.
Another of a young girl who was hid by a gentile family. They kept her photo too; and then lost track of her once the war ended.
Until the mother saw the young woman in a bust street.. and was unable to reach her to talk to her. And never spoke to her again.
A collection of photographs that had been hidden in a house in a village... and the photos were discovered by accident long after the war.
The man who found them displayed them in the town hall, desperate to find out the names of the people in the photographs.
But no-one could tell him: everyone had completely disappeared.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

14th November, and I was at a conference this morning called "Changing Hearts, Opening Minds" organised by the Equality Network.
I was due to speak on a panel to do with the arts. The chairperson began by asking us about a work of art that we had experienced and that we felt had been life-changing.
The others all spoke in a very beautiful and moving way about films they had seen, mostly, which had helped them discover and celebrate their gay identities.
When it came to my turn I realised I had not had a similar experience as a transsexual.
I had seen pantomime dames - where I learnt I was actually ridiculous.
Or I had occasionally seen a thriller (like "Psycho") where, to convey the idea that the villain was unspeakably and appallingly perverted and sick, they had put him in a dress.
And that was it.
Which made me understand something really important about what i am trying to do.

And perhaps, too, helps me understand why I should end up feeling so exposed as I try to do it.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This has been so mad a time.
This morning, when I had a massage, was the first time I have been able to be still and try to reflect on & process what has happened.
I have known Cindy a long time - at least twenty years - and the minute she put her hand between my shoulder-blades, in just the right place, as always, she started to release some of the terror I've been carrying.
A lot of the work in rehearsals and in the first performances has been about trying to overcome fear - the fear of performing, the fear of being disliked, the fear of being exposed and disliked as a transexual...
And that basic panic was so reinforced when I turned up for the first performance to find the street filled with protesters.
Or a couple of days later when a friend texted me to say: "You're on the front page of the Glasgow Herald". And i was.
Or Steven, who runs Glasgay, told me there are 135,000 blog entries about the play on the web...
I started to read some, which was a mistake, perhaps, because they tell me I am "an open sewer" that I am "filth" that Jesus is not a "pervert", that my play is disgusting. Someone, bizarrely, writes to call me a "cowardly, twisted piece of anthropoid garbage. You are a talentless pervert, a dullard deviant and your disgusting posturing deserves a terminal case of AIDS".
I am responsible, I also discover, for society's spiral into moral decline; and for Islam taking over the United Kingdom. I am part of a conspiracy to mock Christianity.. and hundreds of thousands of dreadful things besides.
I must redress the balance, of course, by getting round to quoting some of the very beautiful letters of support I have also been reading....
but I suppose I must be a very naive kind of person because i simply refused to consider the possibility of inspiring so much protest.
It seemed so unlikely.. and because I knew so strongly my intention was never to mock or deride i assumed everyone would see that, somehow.
I had really forgotten how much prejudice someone like me still inspires.
It is such an odd feeling being thought of as an object of disgust... does all that negative energy have an impact, I wonder...?
And all the positive energy too...?
Am i in some kind of battleground between the two?
Meantime I take care of Susie's mum as best i can. An odd occupation for an "open sewer".
She is suffering from palpitations at night; her heart jumps, and sometimes even stops beating for a moment, long enough for her to wonder if it will start again...
It gets worse because until now she hasn't had the right pillow to allow her to sleep upright and because she is alone at night.
I've lent her mine, and between us we are making sure someone is sleeping in the house with her.
I remember that feeling before my heart operation: the sheer terror of knowing there is something wrong with your heart and you have to face it alone...
"We will all hang on our cross.." the play says, and poor Jean is hanging on hers.
Meanwhile, for all the exhaustion, I feel so deep a pride about the play and what we all achieved in it.
And somehow I shuttle between the two worlds....

Monday, November 02, 2009

2nd november.. and a message from the theatre at lunchtime to say that some poor self-hating souls are planning a demonstration outside the theatre tomorrow night.
i was frightened for a while; and then the Daily Mail called me.
This paper has been running a vile homophobic campaign and I knew theoretically I should have challenged the man about it, or maybe put the phone down... but he was pleasant enough and, as ever, i found myself unable to resist a conversation.
Probably to my disadvantage; after I put the phone down i made a resolution to really learn how to handle the press.
And as i was talking to him i suddenly felt so sickened by the whole affair and so disinclined to be involved any more...
but then i ran through the script in my head and as ever it strengthened me.
This was reinforced wheen I got to the theatre today.
The space is beautiful and I feel absolutely at home in it.
I have the strongest feeling that all will be well...


Sunday, November 01, 2009

1st november.
Somehow I wandered into one of these discussion groups last night where they were, or had been,discussing JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN.

Someone had just done a new post: to say he had seen the play. That it was dull and that I had no talent whatsoever. Don't go and see it, he advised his readers. Don't waste your time.

He sounded so authoritative i would have been half tempted to believe him if I didn't know in the most absolute way imaginable that he is lying. Because the show doesn't open till Tuesday. So no-one has seen it.

We have experienced it, the three of us: me, Adam the composer, and Rachael the director, in the empty cold Roxy art house where we've been rehearsing, and it's been a good feeling: exploring and creating the piece together.

It was silly of me to go to that bulletin board and be left wondering why on earth someone should choose to lie like that. What's in for them? Or wonder how much of the content of the web, and the media in general, is composed of such misinformation and blatant lies. Or how much of it is believed.

Better to focus on the joy of creating: and the huge leap into the dark we're about to undertake.


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