Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jekyll and Hyde and the power of the unconscious mind

I did something today I've never done before: I asked for disabled help to get me on the train.

I've been getting horribly breathless on the least exertion, and it's been frightening me.

Te last time this kind of thing happened was when I was entering heart failure; and it tends to be accompanied by the hugest fear.

Because it brings you up short. You cannot take another step. And you wonder: will I die?

It began last week, when I was working with Chris Goode on developing a theatre piece about being trans. It was especially bad going to and from the rehearsal room: but when we were actually working there were no symptoms at all. And it didn't stop me sleeping at night.

Also my heart was beating emphatically but not madly fast. The main difficulty seemed to me the most intense tightening of the muscles of my chest; as if my chest was being gripped by some profound and powerful terror.

Which, come to think about it, it was. Only the terror did not belong to the present, but to the past: to the time when I first dimly understood, through all my denials, that sooner or later I would have to live as a woman.

To the time when I feared for my sanity: and feared for my life.

This morning I had myself checked out by a kind doctor. And my blood pressure us normal, my heart beat is normal, my oxygen levels are normal, there is no sign of any abnormality or infection in my chest....

So these horrible symptoms are actually a tribute to the destructive power of the mind. Probably, left to myself, I would have put up with them; but my wise friend, Sam Rankin of the Equality Network, insisted I ask for assistance.

And I am so glad I did. Because the polite young man who wheeled me from the taxi rank to the train platform saved me so much suffering and distress.

(I cried after making the phone call. But that is a different story....)

And all the way down, whenever I had a spare moment, I reassured myself that the fear all belonged to the past. That I am safe now, and have no need of it in the present....

All the way down to Middlesbrough. Where I wanted to catch my JEKYLL AND HYDE for what I expect may be the very last time.

Middlesbrough theatre must be one of the very worst placed theatres I have ever encountered. Out in the suburbs, apparently in the middle of nowhere, it's very hard to get to and I cannot think of a single reason why it should be there at all.

The staff were friendly and devoted, the audience small, non-demonstrative, but very thoughtful and attentive.

I watched them going out and wondered what on earth they had made of it all.

And then clambered up onto the stage and said goodbye to the set and goodbye to the actors, who are so gifted, who work so hard, and of whom I am so very fond. Goodbye to Nathan Ives-Moiba, so extraordinary as Jekyll and Hyde. Goodbye to Lyle Barke, so touching and devoted as Utterson. Goodbye to Rowena Lennon, so amazing and multi-faceted as all the women in the story. And to Emma Nairne, the company stag manager, who has worked so hard and so devotedly to hold everything together in an incredibly gruelling tour.

And then I went outside and waited for my taxi and reflected on what I'd seen.

And realised I had every reason to be frightened of this play too. Of what it reveals about our capacity to disassociate, to refuse to accept responsibility for what we've done. Of our cruelty. Of the mad masculinity that continues to so destructively rule our world.

Of what it tells me about myself.

And I thought about Jekyll, with Hyde growling and muttering in his subconscious, in his murderous rage... and understood how in an unexpected way he was an image of myself.

Of Jo, struggling with the terror deep in my subconscious mind, which I am struggling to bring up to the surface and embrace and make a beautiful piece of theatre out of and so set free.

And then the taxi came and the driver told me a long story about someone he knows called Jan, who cannot stop herself stealing to feed her vodka habit. She'll steal anything from anybody and walk round the park for hours and hours talking to everything and everyone. To the trees to the ducks to the people she meets.

And she stole two big bottles of vodka today and because it's her birthday they let her keep them and she's at home now. Drinking them. Neat.

And nothing to do, really, except bless the poor woman and hope she finds the oblivion she is craving.

And go to my room and write this piece and then go to Manchester tomorrow. For the last technical rehearsal and the first dress rehearsal of my beautiful ANNA KARENINA at the Royal Exchange.

And sleep happy, knowing there really is nothing to fear and much beauty is waiting for me there.....

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Tribute to Ani: a wise and beautiful woman

It was Ani's funeral today.

Ani was the founder of the Wild Goose Sangha in Edinburgh: a very beautiful community of people following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

I loved Ani: earthy and mischievous, she had such twinkly eyes and such wisdom to her.

But somehow I couldn't feel sorrow for her death. I had the sense from her that she was ready to go, had indeed been ready and waiting to go for a while, and I found myself feeling happy for her.

Dying is difficult and I felt glad that for her it was over.

And it was lovely to be back in St. Mark's church, where I performed JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN. Lovely to see the old familiar faces and take part in a walking meditation again.

In general it was a very beautiful ceremony: a blessing to take part in'

And a blessing to have been part of this wonderful woman's life.

At one stage I would see her once a week and she would tell me episodes of her extraordinary life.
The plan was to make them into a performance piece: but somehow the time or the circumstances never quite came together the way we intended.

One day the form will emerge, and so will these accounts. In the meantime, here is her account of

The nightmare or  My First Lama

I seem to recollect that this nightmare may have began around the time when we had the very strong experience of our company’s team mate’s suicide. That could have sparked it. And it was somewhere around 1956 or 57 shortly before I left Buenos Aires. 

The nightmare came up every now and then and it was all about having to be in a performance and not being able to get to the theatre on time. In several chapters of it, which lasted for some 20 odd years, I found myself so far from the theatre that the anxiety born from the idea that I might not be able to “make it “, woke me up every time.

The scenery changed: I could be too far away, or delayed by heavy traffic, or not realizing the time had gone by. The scenery was different but the essence was the anxiety of “not being able to make it”. NOT BEING THERE. I was not going to where I needed to be because there were obstacles on my path. 

But, somehow, along the years, the circumstances changed and I was each time getting closer to the performance place, to the theatre. At a certain point I had arrived at the theatre but I was muddled up, lost in the corridors on the audience sector, searching for a way into the back stage. At times I got there but the obstacle or impediment for me to be in the performance was that I either did not have the proper dress, or the make up or realizing that I could not remember my lines.

Not knowing the text and feeling guilty for it was probably the strongest feeling that came several times once I was on the right side of the theatre: the performer’s side.

At some point I found myself so close to the stage that I was able to hear the dialogue being delivered there, but it was dark, very dark, so I could not see the actors or anyone else.

Around this time in my life I had recently settled in a Dharma Centre in Barcelona.  It was probably 1979. The news was that a Lama would be coming shortly. It would be my first experience of being in the presence of one. When the opportunity was offered to go and pick him up at the train station I was not eager to go and preferred to stay home and have things ready on time for his arrival at the Centre. I had seen his photo and he did not seem very attractive, his face full of smallpox scars.

So when the doorbell rang I went to open it without any real expectations.

 There he was, a bit plump, his belly firmly in front of the rest of his body and with the most warm, joyous, friendly smile he exclaimed rotundly:  “Amma la!!”. 

I didn’t really know what he meant. Later I was told that Amma translated as Mother and La was an honorific particle. But it didn’t matter. 

He completely won me over. 

That night my dream came back to me, But it was completely different.
I was on stage and had no guilty feeling, nothing seemed amiss. The stage was brightly lit, full of colours and filled with actors happily performing their parts. If I forgot my lines someone would discreetly whisper the words I needed to say. So any feeling of guilt or awkwardness had no place to manifest. I was happy and at ease, and so was everyone else. 

So at the end of the play the audience called for the Director, we looked to the side of the stage and…….who other than the Lama was coming to the center of the stage! 

And the shock was so intense that it woke me up only to hear the Lama’s steps in the corridor, he was going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

My heart was beating fast, so I got up and when he came out I went after him and cuddled down outside his door for the rest of the night!

And that was the end of the nightmare  for ever.  

Ani Mavericka. As told to Jo Clifford.

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