Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Learning how to saunter



This afternoon I needed to get some shopping from the supermarket. It's no distance; at most a ten minute walk; and once upon a time in my life I would have walked it without a second's thought.

But for the past ten years arthritis and heart trouble have combined to make the journey into an expedition.

Lately, my new right hip and my two new knees and my new pacemaker have begun to turn things round. I have to walk slowly. I have to let my hips move. I have to think about the way I place the soles of my feet on the ground.

The gift of walking, which I once just took so carelessly for granted, has had to become a conscious achievement.

Not unpleasantly so. I read in my grandfather's letters to his mother once how he saw Oscar Wilde in the foyer of a West End theatre. He loathed Wilde, and the way in which Wilde moved his hips "like a woman" struck him as especially degenerate and disgusting.

Walking with my hips rigidly facing the front became an important part of my disguise as a man. I know it damaged me.

Letting my hips move is a gently sensuous means of revolt against my grandad and my dad and their rigid masculinity.

But I have to keep aware: or I revert back to it. I have to walk slowly: or I start to get out of breath.

I used to walk so heedlessly fast everywhere. I remember when I first became ill. Sitting on a doorstep with my heart hammering and my breath short in a cold sweat of terror: and an immaculate young man racing past me on the way to the parliament. How I envied him. He was free, while I knew instinctively I had become a prisoner.

But walking slowly back with my groceries admiring the beauty of the sky, I think:  I don't have to walk fast any more. Now I can saunter.

And that is really no hardship

Monday, February 19, 2018

Living in a heartless world



This morning when I get to Glasgow there's two beggars just outside the train station. The first one is packing up, maybe handing his spot over to someone else. The second's hand is shivering so much it's hard to put the coin in her paper cup.

I cross the road to the cash machine. Someone has written on it in marker pen "Please do not encourage begging at this ATM". And I want to write "Please organise to end homelessness".

But I don't have a pen.

The taxi driver tells me he had a phone call from his daughter last night saying "Please come and take me home" and when he got to her he found standing in the street in her dressing gown holding her one year old son. Her husband had just thrown her out the house.

I'm on my way to a day long meeting about how to make me and Chris Goode's EVE easier to perform and so more accessible to a wider variety of audiences. And I'm thinking, for instance, of the finding that more than a third of trans students have attempted suicide. That only 20% felt safe on campus.

I'm thinking of how at the very least art must be necessary. Must, even if indirectly, lessen suffering rather than increase it. How it needs to have a light carbon footprint.

Of what me and Susan Worsfold, our director, and the National Theatre of Scotland can do to make this happen.

There's a different beggar on the same pitch outside the railway station on the way back, and he's so weary he's falling asleep where he sits.

And I wonder how the pitches are organised, and I suspect that some unscrupulous individual makes money from them. These being the skills that valued in our cruel world.

When I get to Edinburgh I walk up the steps to Market St., knowing there'll be a beggar at the top. And there is, but I have a coin in my hand, and when I walk across to give it her she shows me a face full of dread. Fearful, I imagine, at what suffering the night may bring her.

I don't want to hear any more stories. On the way home I close my eyes.

https://trans.ac.uk/Portals/88/TransEdu-Scotland-Report-2017.pdf?ver=2017-10-31-142716-560

Sunday, February 18, 2018

LGBTQI History Month and the beginning of lent


It was lovely that my church today was acknowledging and celebrating LGBTI History Month.

It was as lovely as the wee girl who had just learnt to walk, and so was walking all over the church in the middle of the church and loving it. And who obviously took a liking to Fiona, the minister leading the service, and offered her a half eaten biscuit. And Fiona very simply and directly took the biscuit, tanked her for it, and went on with whatever she was talking about. Which was the temptations in the desert, it being that Sunday.

These two simple and natural things just so beautifully contradicted the way I was treated in church as a child, and so helped to heal the hurt of that.

Afterwards I took the bus to Duddingston village for the first rehearsal of the Duddingston Passion Play.

I play the part of the Angel who announces to the truth of the Resurrection to the grieving women who have been with Jesus on the cross. And as we read it through together,  I was so forcibly struck by the grandeur and the tragedy of the story.

A grandeur that really doesn't allow space for the petty anti gay and anti trans prejudices that so often the church has expounded so much futile energy trying to defend.

God knows why....

http://augustine.org.uk/index.php

https://duddingstoneasterplay.weebly.com/

Saturday, February 17, 2018

When we dream of a loved one who's died



My heart is still full of last night's dream.

I was in a bathroom the colour of avocado. It was a new place for me.

And I heard Susie's voice from the bedroom: "I'm back", she said. And I knew we were going to spend the night together.

And I was so happy, because it had been so long.

It'll soon be thirteen years. I remember when I first had these dreams they used to make me howl in pain because I dreamt them very soon after she'd died and they seemed so cruelly to make worse the dreadful pain of losing her.

But when I woke last night from that dream, it must have been about three or four in the morning, it somehow didn't feel sad any more.

It felt more like a confirmation that our love lives on.

Friday, February 16, 2018

To deprive a child of music is to commit a crime


On the bus home tonight after my music lesson, and I'm singing to myself in my seat.

"Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon
   How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?..."

It was the last song we'd looked at in my singing lesson, and it filled my heart with joy.

They all did, in spite of my stumbling through them, partly because I hadn't completely overcome my intense resistance to practice the week before.

It seems so miraculous to me, this capacity a good song has to tell an intense and complex a story with such economy of means. The way the lyrics can tell it in just a very few lines, and then the feeling that the lines express can be so beautifully and economically richened and amplified by the melody.

I love listening to music. It can move me so very deeply.

But to be creating it... To be singing it... to have this music with its beautiful vibrations in my body... This truly is a profound and wonderful gift.

And I think again of poor Mr. Fowler, that unhappy man who was the music teacher in the first boarding school I was sent to at 8 years old. The man who made me feel afraid of him, and then humiliated me so painfully in front of all my class mates.

The man who set off a train of events that silenced the music in me for so many years ever since.

To deprive a child of music is a terrible crime. One that our cruel society thinks nothing of.

A crime that happens each time music funding gets cut in schools...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

furious with the world


This morning I woke up furious with the world.

Maybe it was the latest outbreak of hideous carnage in the USA. Maybe it was the shameful, deceitful, disgraceful speech from our Foreign Secretary. Maybe it was the cruelty and self-destructive stupidity of factory faming practices. Maybe it was...

The list could go on and on.

The anger isn't a bad thing in itself; I'd have to be insensitive and self deluding not to be feeling it.

It's what comes with it that's so destructive and so difficult: the sense of helplessness. The sense of despair.

These feelings are addictive somehow. It feels easier to stay sunk in them. It hurts to try to climb out.

Luckily this morning there's so much beauty in the air. It touches me. It makes me move.

I do the washing up from yesterday. I pick up notebook and pen.

I start to climb.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Today's brief romance of swans


The swans came in the morning's sunshine.

From today onwards they tend to come and congregate in the pool outside my window.

And the male swans fluff themselves up like battleships, and bear down endlessly on the females, who make their escape. And then who, eventually, in response to unknown signals, give their mates their assent.

And afterwards they really do this beautiful dance, their necks often meeting each other in a sign of the most perfect harmony.

And they often really do make the heart shape that features on the front page of Mr. Google's search engine.

Usually it all goes on for hours and hours, these endless sexual advances, and the males in particular seem inescapably obsessed by the need to procreate.

There's something both grotesque and touching in this constant, inescapable urge to keep life going, and I wonder how much it spurs on our own inexhaustible urge to creativity.

And how it became perverted into an equally inexhaustible urge towards self destruction...

But today it doesn't last long. Clouds soon cover the sky, the air is filled with fierce snow flurries, and the wind endlessly torments the surface of the water.

And now in the gathering darkness the pool is deserted. The swans have gone.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Silencing of thought....


I hadn't meant to write anything last night. It was a full day. It had started early getting on the train to Glasgow to do an interview going out live on radio Scotland.

Then preparing for a lecture in Strathclyde University that evening, and supper afterwards.

It was coming up to midnight by the time I left the railway station, and I thought I had made peace with the resolution making part of my self. That super-ego of mine is a relic of the time I was so insecure in myself, so afraid of making people angry, so determined to be good.

So in the circumstances it seemed OK to miss my daily blog, just for once.

But then these sentences began to form themselves when I was in the taxi, and the only way to get rid of them was write them down. Just inside the deadline...

And now this evening I'm still thinking of everybody's reluctance to ask questions in the lecture hall. I remember when I was a student being pathologically unwilling or unable to talk in class.

My shyness was very strong. I had an instinctive impulse to stay silent, and never draw attention to myself.

And I was so struck, and dumbfounded, by being in the presence of a roomful of articulate and intelligent people who so obviously felt the same.

Then while I was cooking supper this evening I remembered those dreadful conferences I sometimes had to attend when I worked in universities.

And the unspeakably dull talks people gave in a language that was not meant to communicate, but to impress. To intimidate the audience with the speaker's use of specialised language.

And that the questions that were invariably asked afterwards were not genuine requests for information or invitations to debate. But expressions of ego and attempts to put down and humiliate.

No wonder that lecture hall was not a safe space. And how sad...


Monday, February 12, 2018

So afraid to ask questions



Tonight I gave a lecture/performance in a university.

They were a lovely audience, but I was so struck by how afraid they were.

Still haunted by the traumas of school, and encountering the strongest difficulty in coming to sit close to the front.

These highly educated people, who had clearly succeeded in the school and university system, still afraid to ask questions...

Sunday, February 11, 2018

To yourself be true



For most of my life, church was somewhere I was supposed to be good.

I knew I wasn't good, but everyone told me I was a man, and I knew was wrong to want to be a woman.

Nobody told me that. Nobody needed to. I just knew.

And also, like everyone, I knew that from the church's point of view, I wasn't good anyway. I was a sinner. We were all told that. All of us sinners.

So I had to pretend. As everyone did.

So there were at least two layers of pretence in there, and a whole load of profound confusion because the desire to live a spiritual life, or rather to live my life in a way that was true to its spiritual dimension, was not a pretence at all. That was real.

That was why it was moving to go along this afternoon to Our Tribe, the LGBTIQ bit of my church [http://augustine.org.uk/index.php], which was relaunching itself after a time of reflection.

The most moving part of the service was the time when four people came up in turn to describe their process of coming out: a gay man, a lesbian woman, a bi woman, and a trans woman.

They weren't telling their stories of how they discovered Jesus, or anything like that. They were talking about the process of coming to be true to themselves.

And it strikes me that behind this is a profound truth about the spiritual life. That it's not about pretending to be good, or even trying to be good.

It's about finding one's true self.

And that's where the journey begins.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The struggle to get up onto the stage



Getting old is strange.

Horrible in some ways. Things that have always been so simple suddenly become complicated.

There's four steps that go up to the stage in cinema one in the Filmhouse.The kind of thing I would never have thought twice about. But these days, because they don't have a hand rail, getting up them is difficult, and getting down them is worse.

The last couple of films I've had to introduce have involved this somewhat perilous climb to and from the stage. And doing it in full view makes it worse.

There's really no reason for me to be ashamed of my struggle to get down. But I am.

And writing about this makes me question why I've never spoken about it to the management. Or asked for assistance.

And I guess that, just like me, as they watch me struggle, the audience turn away.

Another less than helpful habit to become aware of. And then, hopefully, break.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Promoting the brand


It was Tuesday, and I'm just about to go to Manchester when my agent calls.

Could I do an audition? In London? On Wednesday?

For a TV commercial. For a well known brand of confectionery. They're looking for an older trans trailer trash mom.

I'm a bit lost for words.

They're like despots, these film and TV companies. They seem to imagine us just hanging around waiting for their phone calls. Like courtiers in the palace of some dictator, they must imagine us loitering in the outhouses. Waiting for their summons.

So I was taken aback by somebody imagining I could just drop everything and rush to London and rustle up some look of bad taste ugliness.

And after I'd thought of it it was just obvious there would be nothing positive and almost certainly something transphobic in the commercial and I would so humiliated even if I did ever appear in it.

But none of that occurred to me at the time. I just thanked my agent - whom I'm very fond of - and found myself saying

"It wouldn't be very good for the brand, would it?"

And realising that yes, I am a brand now. Among a million other things...

As for the well known confectionery:

I have to admit I rather hope it does them harm.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The simple joys of programming a season of arthouse films


Tonight was the fifth of my 6 films I chose as a "House Guest" at the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

I chose the films I did because they were films I loved; one of the luxuries of my position was that I didn't have to pay a second's thought to any concerns about them being popular or not.

Box office returns were absolutely not a consideration.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of sharing films I love with an audience, and then getting to see the films again myself, there's been a huge satisfaction in seeing how well the films have actually sold.

Film number four, Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev, was shown in cinema 1, and almost filled it. Tonight's film, Kurosawa's "Ran" was originally going to be in cinema 2, sold out, and so was moved to the much larger cinema one, which it also almost filled.

There's a very simple joy in that.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A wee bit of self congratulation...


It's getting close to midnight. It's a crazy time to be writing up my blog.

I'm obstinately sticking to my new year resolution to write once a day. I took it as a kind of exercise to strengthen my writing muscles, which seemed after months of neglect to have grown flabby and weak.

I'd just had to put aside an important commission because I couldn't complete when I said I would. That made me feel so wretched. I wondered if I would ever write a play again.

And I just have. Not a long one, just under fifteen minutes for the Woman's Hour slot. The first in a series of five. Two thousand five hundred words.

I've just written "ENDS" at the bottom of the page. I love that feeling.

And here I am in my hotel room in Manchester, after a day of meetings, and the night before chairing the post show talk of a lovely good hearted show called "Dancing Bear" on the stage of the Palace Theatre.

And now I'm looking forward to starting Episode Two on the train home.

My writing muscles must be getting strong again...

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The beauty of the world



The train slowed down this afternoon just by Carstairs State Hospital. It used to be such a place of dread for me. I once nursed a patient called Jimmy Redpath who, it was rumoured, had murdered someone in Dingleton Hospital grounds and had spent some time in Carstairs.

I wasn't quite eighteen and i was a volunteer in that extraordinary institution, that had once been a very conventional lunatic asylum and by then had become a therapeutic community.

Jimmy couldn't speak any more, as fas as I can remember, and looking back at him his infirmities had filled him with a frustration which emerged sometimes as a murderous rage.

He didn't have any teeth, but that didn't stop him trying to bite you, and I always had the feeling that if he could get his hands around my neck he would do his best to choke me.

But he was the one that choked, usually; turning blue and suffering horribly as I did my best to dislodge the food that was stuck in his throat.

Knowing him had left me with a horror of Carstairs, and what I imagined as all the suffering and murderous rage pent up in there.

But this afternoon was so beautiful, the light so exquisite shining on the snow covered fields and the distant hills.

Really the beauty of the world should be more than enough to remind us to take good care of it.

And take good care of ourselves.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Open letter to David Leddy



Dear David Leddy,

I just wanted to send you and your company some love and support for your latest show.

I'm writing to you publicly because it seems important at this time we show solidarity to each other.

And because, when I think about it, this could be a letter to all of our colleagues whose funding has been cut. My heart goes out to everyone.

It's just I know you, and like you, and totally respect your work.

I see you open on Saturday, so you'll just be going into production week.

Production week is stressful at the very best of times, and these must be the worst of times for you.

I find Creative Scotland's decision to cut your funding completely incomprehensible. I admire your work profoundly: it's humane, totally creative in its use of form, not afraid to take crazy artistic risks, and it consistently matters.

I can't really deal with funding application forms; I find it profoundly humiliating, somehow, and trying to fill them in always makes me feel very ill.

It's silly of me, I know; and so I always admire people like yourself who can keep their integrity, consistently produce good work, and somehow make the system work for them.

You absolutely must be a model client of Creative Scotland. Which makes their decision all the more absurd.

But I will not simply abuse that organisation. The people I know who work there are devoted, intelligent, committed and eager to help. The fact that they so consistently come up with such bad decisions I suspect has to do with the fact that what they are being asked to do is impossible.

When it was set up, the Arts Council was a progressive and immensely beneficial organisation. But it no longer works. Partly, as we all know, because it is never given enough funds to get any near meeting the demands made upon them.

But I suspect also because we all need a new model of support. The reason our kind of theatre needs support is not, as so many people seem to think, because we are muddle-headed artists who have no idea about money. Quite the opposite.

Our problem is that we are a labour intensive craft trying to operate in a capital intensive economy.

And so if we priced our services in order to cover our costs our ticket prices would be so high that no-one could afford to come and see us.

Doling out inadequate grants to meet the shortfall simply no longer works. We need to start thinking about ways of changing the economic circumstances under which we operate. We could perhaps start by looking at the tax system; we could perhaps start by thinking about a form of universal basic income for arts workers.

Let's hope we can use this debacle as an opportunity to get together with each other, and with this government that seems to value what we do, and see if we can work out something better.

Meantime, my dear, this is scant comfort to you.

All you can do, all any of us can do in the end, is focus on creating the best show you can.

I know it will be good. I can't wait to see it.

Love

Jo



Sunday, February 04, 2018

We all belong together



"Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth."

That's from Ai Wei Wei's beautiful and urgent article about his film, Human Flow.  Please read it if you can

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/02/refugee-crisis-human-flow-ai-weiwei-china

I wanted to write about it today, but I find I cannot. I must keep trying.

Right now, the obscenity of one piece of news seems to prevent me thinking clearly. I cannot see past my rage.

Crops are rotting in Scottish fields right now because of te walls we are putting up to prevent foreign workers 

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15918694.Fruit_and_vegetables_left_to_rot_in_fields_as_Brexit_vote_sees_fall_in_EU_workers/

I haven't the words, yet, or the artistic form that can frames the words that need to be spoken.

I know my Queen Jesus has said some of this already. She says:

"All of us in this together. All of us here to love and to be loved. Remember. Remember. Remember."

But the words bear repeating over and over again.

Ai Wei Wei says:

"There are many borders to dismantle, but the most important are the ones within our own hearts and minds – these are the borders that are dividing humanity from itself."




Saturday, February 03, 2018

The meditation teacher



"the meditation teacher said:

"The breath of life is given us as a gift. As is life itself. And we know it is a gift because we cannot hold onto it. We have to let it go..."

"When we are trapped in the prison of the ego we lose the capacity to gaze."

"In meditating we learn better how to love".

... And that's enough wisdom for one day. He's a quiet, unassuming man, is Father Laurence Freeman of the WCCM (http://wccm.org/) who doesn't look or sound like an important  spiritual leader. But I've a feeling that's what he is.

He speaks very simply of the effect of meditation on primary school children in East Kilbride, of the inmates of the women's prison in Australia who also meditate and pledged to raise a hundred dollars towards a scholarship fund to allow people on low income to go the Movement's new meditation centre in France. A place some of them will never be let out to see....

I jotted down some of his words in a random kind of way, because they are really worth hearing, but I suspect the real gift he brings cannot be expressed in words.

He's one of these people it's a huge privilege to be with, somehow. I can't claim I had a particularly profound experience when we were meditating. But I left with a kind of glow in my heart. I said goodbye to a fellow participant and she looked at me and said, "I feel a great hope. There is hope isn't there?"

We smiled at each other. Yes, there is.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Love and support for our sister brothers in Indonesia



Dreadful news coming from Indonesia, where waria have been publicly shamed in the province of Aceh, which is now under sharia rule.

We have been forced to strip off our shirts and have our hair cut in public. We have been forced to undergo "gender re-education"which includes being forced to wear men's clothing, perform push-ups and sit-ups and being forced to talk in deep "male" voices. And be stripped naked and savagely beaten.

"Waria" is one of the ancient third gender identities that exist throughout the world; the word is derived from "wanita" (woman) and "pria" (man).

So it's not exactly the same as our word, "transgender", but like our word it is an identity that has no formal recognition and can be expressed in a huge variety of different ways.

My heart goes out to these people, who no doubt are being scapegoated to distract attention from far more pressing problems of inequality, injustice, and environmental destruction.

All the more so, I guess, because I was forced to undergo "gender education"of a very similar kind during all the years i was growing up in boarding schools.

I so remember being forced to strip to the waist in gym classes and undergo the humiliation of the exposure of my skinny inadequate body. The regular enforced haircuts. Being forced to wear the vile uniform of a schoolboy. The physical exercises and violent team sports. The constant humiliation of speaking in a high unbroken voice. The constant threat of violence. The bullying and the mockery.

The chronic continual assault on my identity for these nine years when I was at my most vulnerable absolutely failed in its intention. I never became a proper man. I learnt to lie and to dissemble and somehow keep my creative self alive.

So my heart bleeds for my sister brothers in Indonesia. The only meager consolation is that I know the macho bullies will not succeed.

History is with us and we are the ones that will survive.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

the simple beauty of natural things





A dear friend and colleague gave me these daffs on Monday, when they were sad and closed.

So I put them in water, as you do, as they opened.

As they do.

And it's absurd of me, I guess, to get so excited about something so banal.

But I did. And I put them in the window because I wanted to share them with people walking by.

And they won't last long, like our lives, I guess, and that's all the more reason to enjoy them.


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