Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I took Jean to her out-patient appointment today.
She is under the care of an eminent professor, an acknowledged leader in his field, who impresses me hugely each time he sees her.
He listens with the greatest respect; takes time to explain with the greatest clarity; and even though there is surely a limit to what he can actually do, always, and invariably does it.
he has the humility that a really grounded expert usually possesses; he explained today that some of her symptoms are beyong his expertise, and so would take advice from a cardiologist.
She went away reassured; and also with a sense of understanding what is happening to her better. And so better equipped to live with it.
It seemed to me he exemplified everything that is good about the NHS: a generous commitment to give everyone the best treatment, no matter the expense.
Tonight I went to the Traverse to see THE GOAT by Edward Albee.
I generally find contemporary plays so difficult, because they force me to con front my own arrogance. And because so often i find myself rewriting the play in my head as i watch it, generally with the assumption i could do a better job of it.
But not here. The writing was so utterly superb. Beautiful dialogue, beautiful structure, a fearless aesthetic.
And staged with the same kind of values that prevailed in our encounter with the consultant: a passion for excellence. A love for the art.

meantime the media are obsessed with an utterly trivial slip made by gordon brown, something entirely understandable given the pressure he is under, and something which should, in fact, never really have come to light.
A triviality; while the major issues are being utterly ignored.
Among them, the suffering being inflicted on the people of Greece by the failures in the current economic system that will as surely strike us the moment this election is over.
And which threaten to end the very beautiful and reinforcing kinds of experiences I have had today.

I try not to go to bed with my being full of dread.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday began with me finally managing to investigate my state pension.
I have been putting this enquiry off, because it is unpleasant to admit the onset of age, and even more unpleasant to negotiate the Department of Work and Pensions criteria.
But I did not have to wait long on the phone; and the two people who answered it were pleasant and straightforward and helpful.
I found that because I am a widow, my late partner's stamps also contribute to my pension in a way i simply do not understand.
Fortunately, i do not have to; but to make the calculation, the officials needed Susie's date of birth, the date of our marriage, and the date of her death.
Finding this information threw me into a state of grief that overwhelmed me all the more thoroughly because it took me so utterly by surprise.
For a while, i simply could not think.
I could neither remember the dates nor find the way to discover them.
Susie's mum rescued me when I phoned her.
And so mid morning ended on a note of minor triumph.
Then it was off to the institute to try to discover more about Hume; engage in fascinating and random conversations over lunch; attend a lecture on the rise of photographic portraiture in 19th century France and the corresponding influence of biographically based criticism; and then back to my desk to keep discovering a voice for GOD'S NEW FROCK in prose.
Then home, and a lovely supper, and then to dancing.
This was a difficult journey, preceded by a time of fear and loneliness.
There is something about the positive energy of a Biodanza class that can make it a painful thing to face.
And as the dance began, and I began to surrender to my need for movement, to re-discover my capacity for pleasure, pleasure in my body, pleasure in the dance... I began to understand what a dark and dangerous place I have had to enter this past 6 months as I bring JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN and EVERY ONE to being in the world.
(A thick wodge of reviews arrived the other day to remind me just how exposed I have been)
And to slowly open myself up to that space where, even if only just for that moment, I could know myself fully accepted, was hugely healing somehow.
And as I review all the various textures and places of this day's journey i feel profoundly grateful for its richness.


Monday, April 26, 2010

I met someone in the Institute today who had seen the play and spoke about how much she loved it.
She spoke with particular warmth of the fact that at the very beginning they had so little space to manoevre, as if they were hemmed in by their life.
But that when death entered the scene, and the screen went back, then it was as if it was only then that life opened up for them.
This struck her as extraordinarily profound.
And I was weak enough, or vain enough, not to disabuse her and say that that was an effect i had not predicted.
But i was right in my way: because a huge part of the skill of writing a play lies in allowing scope for such moments...


Sunday, April 25, 2010

A friend's sixtieth birthday party today.
We started talking about the gap between the fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays...
...and all of a sudden that kin of positioning process that happens in birthdays, when you think of where you were then, and where you are now,
that process that never really happened at my sixtieth because what with the play opening and all, there was no real space for it
suddenly kicked in and I found myself thinking back to my fiftieth.
Me still living as a man, finding it more and more difficult.
Writing to all my friends, telling them i was "polygendered".
Which for me, then, was an enormous step.
And Susie still alive, and the girls still at home.
It feels like a different world.
Somewhere far far more distant than a mere ten years.

I never mentioned all this to my friend: somehow it seemed all too big a thing to put into words.
But we agreed what a good thing it is to feel you have changed and moved.
How dull and sad thing is stasis.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An old colleague of mine, a drama specialist, was asked a while ago to teach English literature.
She responded by saying that English literature was a different academic discipline, and one that she was not qualified to teach.
Just as you would not reasonably expect a physics lecturer to teach undergraduate courses in chemistry.
She was dismissed; and because I was still at the time a functioning professor, i wrote a letter in her support.
She took her case to an employment tribunal; and, after months and months, the judgement has just come out against her.
"The outcome document is lengthy and complex; but – in a nutshell – the view of the tribunal was that it was reasonable for a university to require that a lecturer in Theatre Studies teach (with no HE qualifications in the subject) English Literature courses; and a refusal to undertake such teaching amounted to misconduct, punishable by dismissal."
She writes, with a very characteristic and elegant use of academic understatement: "As you can imagine, this outcome is deeply disturbing for me, both personally and professionally; and the implications for our subject discipline and, more widely, for academic standards in HE in general, are – I think - serious."
As the social crisis deepens, it confirms my sense that a lock down of academic freedom of thought is going hand in hand with the curtailment of more and more of our freedoms.
That happen by stealth.
The Institute where I work (IASH) feels like such a haven from this brutal academic world. I am so grateful for it.
While it lasts.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Just back from a few days on the edge of the world.
Actually, it was the Isle of Skye. But it felt like the remotest edge of everything.
To get there, the road became narrower and narrower, right down to a one track lane precariously skirting the edge of the sea.
The house was at the head of a beautiful bay: it was comfortable, well built, well appointed, with solar panels and a wood stuff.
And cut off from the rest of the world. No landline, no mobile reception. No internet, no television.
All you could ask for, really.
Of course we could hardly bear it.
As the poem says:
"Human kind
Cannot bear very much reality".
And it's as if we need to be trained up to bear happiness.

Coming back to discover that all flights in and out of Britain have been grounded.
By a volcano. In Iceland.
The travel industry call it a catastrophe. Which from their point of view it is.
But such an opportunity too for us to gain a better perspective of our place in the world.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Today, somehow, feels like a day of freedom.
Finished the "Seagull", and sent it off.
(Noting, in passing, the uncomfortable resemblances to Trigorin)
So no deadlines.
(Though I start work on turning GODS NEW FROCK and JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN into a book)
I so revel in cycling; in the spring air; in not having in some strange way to guard myself from over-exposure.
Someone teaching Queer Studies in California State University wants to use JESUS as a set text.
The Conservatives come out with an utterly ridiculous manifesto that surely no-one will believe in for a minute.
The Pope's Foreign Secretary (forget his proper title) says in a press conference in Chile that priestly paedophilia has nothing to do with the vow of chastity and everything to do with homosexuality.
Apparently unaware that the greatest sex scandal currently causing rage in Chile is about a priest who was a serial abuser of young girls.
And, yes, protected by his superiors for years and years.
Finally listen to Edi Stark interviewing me [] and actually enjoy it.
Get more evidence that, yes, people do read this blog, and still find that surprising and a bit disconcerting.
Pack for a wee holiday in Skye.
Where I will be out of touch with email and internet...
Reflect that Joe's obsession with newspapers in my play is actually already a bit dated.
But someone is now reading the play in Finland...


Monday, April 12, 2010

The show ended on Saturday.
I felt very sad about it ending.
It IS sad: all the work and the intensity and the suffering, and the whole affair so ephemeral.
I want my shows to go on for ever.
Especially when I am as proud as I am of this one.
But at the same time: today, I must confess, it's something of a relief not to have my stuff being exposed up on a stage.
And a part of me with it.
I feel i can even relax a little.
But then today i have finished my adaptation of "The Seagull".
It never ends.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Finally today I got my bike back.
I haven't used it for so long. The shop I bought it from insisted on calling me 'sir', as I remember, and I hadn't the courage or the confidence then to set them right.
and then I had surgery, and went to france, and when i came back it was all impossible.
meantime the tires went flat, and I had this absurd embarrassment at being unable to fix them.
But a new job has opened just round the corner, East Coast Cycles, i think: a lovely young man whose job was noticeably fuller when I picked the bike up today than it had been when I left it there on Friday.
and what a good feeling to get on it again, even if it was just to go to the supermarket...
but then i went to my office in edinburgh uni, and as I left the rain had just stopped falling and the air had that delicious smell of new rain.
someone wrote to me to say how positive and life enhancing the play was to them, who recently lost their father.
someone else wrote to the lyceum to say how thoroughly depressing it all was and that's not why they want to go to the theatre...
and i am sorry they felt that.
But I am so glad people disagree.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I went to the show on friday night. I wanted to take the person I love.
So I paid for house seats in the centre of the stalls quite close to the front: and it was a joy.

Because something I love to see is how shows grow. How as the actors become more at ease in their roles, they fill them out, somehow, and the whole show takes on a new and beautiful life.

Liam was sitting in the row behind us; and at the interval my neighbour turned to the woman who was sitting next to him and asked: "Did you get a fright?". She nodded. She looked visibly shocked. And my neighbour said synpathetically: "It's the Lyceum. Things like that aren't meant to happen".

But they have. And they did.

And I feel very proud of that.

And then today i was travelling down to Edinburgh from Dundee. Using my bus pass.

It was amazing. I hope I find ways to use this really rather wonderful freedom.

There was an old man started to prepare himself to get off as we were getting into the city centre. And he asked the man behind him, "Can you tell me where St. John's church is?" and I ended up telling him.

And then just before he got off, the neighbour so unexpectedly turned to me and said "Jo." and I was astonished, because I really had never sen him before, "Can I have your autograph?".

Not a young man. In fact, maybe like me using his bus pass.

So I signed, a bit flabbergasted, and thought, "So am I famous?"

It was a strange place to find out...

And then i had a meeting at the Traverse, a lovely meeting as it turned out, and there was a lovely man from the National theatre of Scotland, and he is seeing the play tonight, and some people from a big London arts festival, and I vaguely thought I should asy hello to them and wish them well.

But when it came to the moment I felt too shy and nervous.

Some things perhaps never change.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Sunday.
I became a member of the church today.
There were two of us: myself and Fiona, who also, strangely enough, became a member of the MCC at the same time I did.
We stood up in front of everybody, made our promises, were welcomed by the head of the church (who has a nicer title, I think, which I have forgotten) and then once the bread and the wine had been consecrated, served communion.
Everyone clustered round in a circle, and we handed out first the bread and then the wine.
And afterwards there were many affectionate congratulations and welcomes, that included me and also dear Marie.
It was very touching; I felt profoundly moved; and I couldn't stop myself from thinking how five a years ago, even, such an event would have been unthinkable.
I simply could not have come to church in a skirt at all, never mind dressed in one I especially liked, as I did today, in order to be welcomed, formally and publicly, but also individually and warmly, by the congregation.
Each Sunday, part of the service is for the children: but the message, which Fiona, the minister, communicates with such warmth and clarity, is also for all of us.
She was speaking about the message of Easter, and she invited the children, all of us, to remember that although life gets very dark and painful and difficult sometimes, there is always hope. Always the possibility that something good and beautiful may emerge.
And me and Marie felt this with especial force in the current events of our lives.
And then walked down the Royal Mile together full of deep joy.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

It was extraordinary to go into the theatre yesterday for the last ten minutes of the matinee.
There was that silence: that silence I love when everyone is listening.
It was just at that bit when the Mother is telling Mary about her dad, and how she's going off to find him and take him home.
And then there was the swing, and I was aware the silence was being punctuated by sniffles from all over the stalls as people wept. And there were men just along from me wiping their eyes.
And when the play ended, and the stage lights went out, there was not the usual applause.
Instead there was a profound silence.
And then the stage lights went back on, and the applause began, and I ran out.
Aware more than ever of the responsibility I have as a writer.

Last night I dreamt Susie was alive again.
She was happy and animated and talking excitedly of the correspondence she was having with Michelle Obama, who of course in life she knew nothing about but who in death, now, she greatly admires.
And the dream did not torment me as I woke with the most agonizingly acute memory of my loss.
As such dreams used to...
Instead I woke up full of happiness and joy.


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