Sunday, March 18, 2018

Remember kindness

I'm walking
I'm slowly and silently walking
Walking through a dead land
The fruit is rotting on the tree
There are no birds singing
Nothing moves
Nothing will ever move
Nothing will ever move again
All the windows are open
All the windows sag open
All the windows and doors
And the only sound
Is the windows
Banging in the wind
And I ask
What's happened?
And I walk through the country of the dead
and the dead lie where death has caught them

Young men.
Old men old women
children. babies.
babies and their mothers!

Who could do this?
And I come upon a child
Lying as if asleep.
And the spirit child
The spirit child opens her eyes and speaks

It didn't happen suddenly
It wasn't a flash of fire from the sky
Or a machine exploding on the earth
It didn't happen the way we'd been prepared
The way that we'd prepared for our defence.
It happened bit by bit
Birds began falling out of the sky
But one by one so no-one noticed they had gone.

And then we started losing colours
All the deep reds and the indigos
Bit by bit and one by one
And no-one, ever, noticed them go.
And everyone stopped listening to each other
But little by little
And bit by bit
And so we never noticed what we'd lost
And when we started not to feel things
And when we started not to think things
No-one noticed because we'd lost...
Because we'd lost the capacity to notice
And when we forgot
We'd soon forgotten what it was
We had forgot
And when we died
mostly we didn't notice that we'd died
And she takes my hand
And we walk on together
There is a kind of beauty in the stillness
And I don’t feel afraid
She is silent for a while,
And then she summons all her strength
All the strength of her brothers and sisters
the strength of all the dead!
And I hear them
I hear them very close

Don't settle for the easy option
don't settle for the "there is no other way"
Don't believe them when they tell you
human nature's just like that
and things will never change
I feel pity for you
setting out so full of strength and hope
setting out on so dangerous a road
don't be afraid remember kindness
its kindness that banishes all fear

This comes from a play I wrote in 1994. One called "Dreaming".

I wrote it for the Edinburgh Puppet Workshop, who are now called "Vision Mechanics"

They were lovely to work for, and I was so proud of the play. But this was before anyone had really considered writing ofr young people as a serious thing to do. We were way ahead of our time, did terrible business, and I almost bankrupted the company.

I am so glad I didn't. They are still producing beautiful work. You can find out about it here

The phrase "Remember kindness" came into my head yesterday in this blog, and I'm I've looked up its source.

I was writing in an oddly prophetic way about a process that we are now living through.

And must unite to resist....

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thinking about the 312 Tory MP's who voted to end free school meals

I'm thinking about the 312 Conservative MPs who voted to take free school meals from one million poor school children.

And did so knowing that malnutrition among school children is a growing and intolerable problem.

We know this used to be a terrible scourge in Britain. Hungry malnourished children. Presenting with rickets and other utterly preventable diseases.

We live in one of the wealthiest societies in the world and I thought such things were gone for ever.

I'm thinking of the prison warders in a California jail who strapped a man to a chair for 46 hours. Every so often they came in to move his arms and legs, as regulations demanded. He was not allowed to go to the toilet and so peed and shat himself in the chair. When the smell became unbearable they moved him to another cell.. They left him on the bare floor with only a blanket. He covers himself with a blanket. He appears to suffer from tremors. He stands up briefly, then collapses. He stops breathing.

Paramedics enter to try to revive him, while a couple of sheriff's deputies idly watch. Laughing and chatting.

His name was Andrew Holland. He had been in jail since 2015. He was known to suffer from schizophrenia.

We know that in the 18th century mentally ill people were neglected and tortured and that their sufferings were thought of as entertainment. I thought such mistreatment had gone for ever.

Forgive me for distressing you if you have read this far.

It seems to me sometimes that our societies are in a state of regression. That we are returning to the brutalities of an earlier age.

We need to know this. We need to be aware. We need to resist.

I am not condemning the perpetrators of these crimes. What these events have in common is a lack of empathy. These criminals have no empathy for others and in the end they have no empathy for themselves. So it is no use condemning them because they already condemn themselves.

And, a little to my surprise, their actions do not leave me feeling angry and helpless. Life is too short for me to spend overmuch time on that. I have to focus on what I can do. However small it seems.

"Remember kindness" I wrote in a play once. I forget which one. I know that everything in the world connects. I know that our actions have consequences that we cannot know.

So I will try to show empathy and compassion in my work and in my living. I will fail. I will try to forgive myself and then I will go back to trying.

And perhaps something will come of this. I don't know. I cannot make any claims. But I think it will lead to something. Whether it does or not, there is really nothing else to do.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Finishing the play. And why it matters.

I feel bleary eyed tonight.

I've just finished printing out these five short plays. I finished the last of them this evening, just five minutes before a dear friend came to tea.

And next week I will hand them in.

I'm not quite ready to celebrate: I haven't read them yet.

They're a serial, each of them 15 minutes long. I'm proud because I've written in that form before.

Proud because they're the first new plays I've written for a while; and by the end of last year I was too ill to write anything.

I wrote three of them this week. Parts three and four I'd finished by Wednesday. Part five I got stuck on.

I was so distressed by events in the world yesterday that I found it so hard to focus on anything. And I'd made a mistake somewhere.

It's a brutal process, this: make a mistake, take a wrong turning, the words won't come and you're liable to feel stuck forever.

I had a singing lesson yesterday at 4.30 and suddenly half way through a song I understood where I'd go wrong.

And by the time I'd arrived at the Filmhouse to see "A Fantastic Woman" I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to print everything out, go back to the very beginning, and rewrite everything. That way I'd know what had to be in Part Five.

So I turned on the computer this morning before I'd even had my cup of tea to get the printing started.

Part Five was still open. And the minute I saw the first speech I knew it had to go. And that somehow freed everything else and I started writing and never got out of my pyjamas till after two.

And there was just one long speech to do. And I did it late in the afternoon.

In the middle of it all there's been one of those Facebook debates going on, inspired by my blog post of I don't know what day any more about whether the Russians did or did not try to kill those two individuals in Salisbury and what it all means...

And this all frightens me. And yet I kept writing. I cooked a lovely meal for my friend. And I feel that's important somehow. That even in perhaps the smallest of ways it's an act of resistance that matters: not to be carried away by fear or by rage but to do what we can to be creative and hospitable and kind.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

They'll lie to you. Don't believe them.

Yesterday I posted that I needed to take a break from writing this daily blog.

It's not been much of a break. But it's taught me something.

It's simply that today I feel I must write this. I don't know if it does any good. I have to write it anyway.

I knew this the minute I heard on this morning's news that the government are using the attempted murder of Sergei and Julia Skripal as a pretext to expand the chemical warfare facility on Porton Down.

A new "chemical weapons defence centre". God knows what evil is concealed by that euphemism.

I know perfectly well that Putin and his government are perfectly capable of mounting a chemical attack on these two individuals. But I know, too, that we also live under an evil regime.

There is something profoundly suspicious about the official narrative that is being told us.

It saddens me to see the SNP being so eager to side with Trump and the Conservatives in supporting it.

I think of the words of my INES DE CASTRO:

"They'll lie to you.
They'll tell you that they have to kill.
That they cannot avoid committing crimes.
Don't believe them. Don't believe them for a moment.
Remember there's another way..."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Time for a break

Today is the 73rd day of the year.

Or so my diary tells me. On Jan 1st I made a resolution to write a daily blog to try to strengthen my writing muscles; and as far as I recall, I have kept it.

Which means this is my 73rd blog entry this year. I have also written four short radio plays and will hopefully finish the fifth very soon. Which means I have succeeded, I think, in my objective.

And i have re-discovered the joy of writing. Which is wonderful.

The rules I made myself were never to take more than twenty minutes, never to write more than one draft, never to bother how many people read this or don't, and always take pleasure in its writing.

Today I had to take time off working on my current play to write this; and I realise it has begun to feel like a chore.

Time to stop, I think. At least for a day or so. I hope this exercise has given you who read it pleasure; as it has given pleasure to me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The "Persona" versus the person...

The last film I chose for the Filmhouse 'House Guests' programme was Bergman's PERSONA which I first saw in 1971 and which has fascinated me ever since.

I wanted to find out more to understand it better, and so bought the script.

This isn't the shooting script, but a step towards it, and it differs from the film in many important respects.

But the speech i was mainly looking for remains the more or less the same.

It's the Doctor of the psychiatric ward where Elisabet Vogler is a patient following her breakdown.

The Doctor says:

"...the abyss between what you are for others and what you are for yourself. The feeling of dizziness and the continual burning need to be unmasked. At last to be seen through, reduced, perhaps extinguished. Every tone of voice a lie, an act of treason. Every gesture false. Every smile a grimace..."

I never applied these words to myself at the time, but they absolutely rang true to the person I then was.

I knew I was not the young man I pretended to be.

I concealed the fact that I wanted to live as a woman; and I concealed the fact I wanted to live as an artist.

Both these profound and powerful desires filled me with fear and with shame.

I could not resist them; I considered myself an abject failure.

And yet both have come true. And both have saved my life.

And I suddenly find myself remembering something in the Gospels:

"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone".

And I am amazed at the journey that has taken place in my life.

A journey which perhaps began with my passionate identification with the two women in this film...

Monday, March 12, 2018

We seem to be welcome in the Church of Scotland....

I never fail to be astonished by how fast things are changing.

This is me in a Church of Scotland publication which is being distributed to every congregation.

It is called "Diverse Gender Identities and Pastoral Care", which is maybe not the catchiest of titles, but its intentions are excellent.

It allows us eleven different trans people to speak of our experiences in and around church congregations, and how our faith helps make sense of our lives.

And it's being distributed to every kirk so as many people as possible get the chance to hear our voices and understand our experiences.

You can find out more about it here

And I think you can even get a free copy.

It amazes me. And fills me with hope.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

this isn't a book, it's a cake...

When I got off the train from being with my grand daughter, this was waiting for mw at home.

It's not a book. It's a cake. Someone from the publisher's publicity department thought it would be a good idea to send one to all the authors whose essays are published in the anthology.

Someone's put a lot of work into it, I imagine, and i couldn't deal with it somehow.

The contrast between it and the loving messy world I had just left behind, and the contrast between it and the somewhat fraught creative messy world I now inhabit as I try to get a play finished in time for its deadline...

It's all a bit too much for me.

And I don't understand what it's for. All that time and skill and money...

I must stop worrying about it. That's obvious.

And tomorrow when a dear friend comes round, we'll just eat it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Failing to be nice about Creative Scotland

I've been trying very hard not to be rude about Creative Scotland. Knowing that good, intelligent and caring people work for the organisation and that they have an impossible task to perform.

But the other night I heard that the Scottish Youth Theatre is closing because Creative Scotland cut their grant, and it was as if all the frustration accumulated over thirty years of working in the professional theatre, and dealing with over thirty years of Creative Scotland and Scottish Arts Council decisions, and trying to keep on creating in spite of them... as if over thirty years worth of frustration burst their banks and I found myself angrily tweeting and facebooking away with everyone else.

The worst frustrations invariably occurred when I was on the Board of companies who had to make applications for funding. We would toil and agonise over these wretched funding applications and then almost invariably not get the money, and eventually I learnt to somehow calm myself with the thought that the main purpose of the organisation was not to promote or encourage artistic production but simply to ensure its own survival.

And with that their decisions, which had previously seemed absurd, now began to make a little more sense.

But this year's decisions about theatre companies make no sense at all. They certainly didn't help themselves this week by subsequently putting out a pained statement expressing their disappointment at the (utterly predictable) decision by the Scottish Youth Theatre as if it had nothing to do with their actions.

This was so inept and so contemptible I found myself shouting at the computer screen.

Once I'd calmed down a bit, I understood that in a way I don't object to them cutting their funding to the SYT. In essence, it's their job to take these decisions difficult as they often are.

And if they'd decided the Company weren't fulfilling their remit, then they had every right to cut their funding.

What i cannot stand is their refusal to explain their decisions.

They never have and they never do.

What this decision has done is spark a debate about about how a youth theatre can best operate, and that at least has to be a good thing. Provided people listen.

But in the meantime, as for Creative Scotland, I cannot bring myself to be remotely nice about them.

I don't even want their money...

Friday, March 09, 2018

Choosing a favourable birth

I first read The Tibetan Book of the Dead many years ago, when I was still a hippie.

The book was popular in the late sixties and early seventies because Timothy Leary edited it as a guide for people going through an LSD trip.

I think I read it in both versions, and it eventually found its way into my work in my TREE OF KNOWLEDGE.

It's designed to be read over someone who's recently died by the friends and teachers of the deceased.

The soul of the dead person is believed to be still present in the room and so able to listen and benefit from its teachings.

(And i remember me and my daughter both had the same feeling in the room with my late mother-in-law's body soon after her death)

The first part of the book is a guide to the dead person, both as they are dying and immediately after their death, a guide to help them understand what is happening to them, not be too frightened and dismayed by it, and come safely through it.

The next section is designed to help them avoid a rebirth; but if they fail this test they will be visited by compelling images of the living having intercourse.

They need to take care; not get sucked in; recognise the signs of a loving family and favourable birth, and choose it.

Looking at the happiness and contentment of my beautiful and deeply loved grand daughter this morning, it seemed very clear she had heard this advice in one of her innumerable lives and taken it to heart.

She has chosen troubled and difficult times; but she has also chosen a loving beautiful family to take care of her through them...

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The naming of babies

It’s a strange thing, naming a baby.

It’s not as if you really choose.

More as if the baby tells you.

That’s how it was with Bump. She was born a week early by C section and I had a sense it would take about a week for her name to appear.

“Evie” arrived the other day. Not Eve. Evie. And there was a name missing, somehow.

“Caitlin” appeared at three in the morning the day before yesterday. And then we all spent twenty four hours testing it out before we knew for sure this morning.

And that’s exactly who she is.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

my grand daughter glimpses the beauty of the world...

My five day old grand daughter opened her eyes today and looked at the world.

It seemed to be a place of wonder that she explored unafraid.

And on this sunny spring morning she briefly transformed my view of the world.

Until I became fixated on a nes story I read yesterday that opioid overdoses have increased by a third across all age groups and all areas of the United States. Which means that over just 14 months 30% more people found living so unbearably painful they poisoned themselves trying to dull the pain of it.

Why do we lose our blissful beginnings...

Don’t think about the news, dad, says my daughter wisely, having guessed the direction of my thinking. Not when so much beauty has come into our lives...

But what has gone wrong? And how can we put it right?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The mystery of football remains

Liverpool are playing Porto in the Champions League tonight.

This is not the kind of sentence I often write.

I only know this and am watching this because my son-in-law follows Liverpool.

When I was forced to live as a boy I was also forced to play football and would spend my time on the field feeling cold and miserable and trying to keep as big a distance between me and the ball as I possibly could.

I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from this experience and tonight so far hasn’t really helped.

The players seem to be knocking the ball back and forth to each other in a remarkably nonchalant kind of way and even the half time commentators have given up trying to enthuse us.

Perhaps the second half will be better they half-heartedly say.

Well. Perhaps. But This doesn’t help me understand the hold football has on so many people’s imaginations...

Monday, March 05, 2018

the joy of new life...

I remember times when my partner was slowly dying of the brain tumour that was killing her that it seemed to me in some ways her suffering was as bad and perhaps even worse than any torture the human mind could devise.

It was a kind of crucifixion it seemed to me and that's why when I wrote my "Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven" I wrote

"And we will all hang on our cross..."

Because it seemed to me that the experience of Jesus dying on the cross is maybe a metaphor for what we all must go through as we are forced to let go of our life here on earth.

Today I was lucky enough to hold my new grandchild in my arms. I found myself thanking this exquisite creature, just a few days old, for consenting to come into our lives.

And that made me understand something else in that play: that maybe the birth of Jesus really is a metaphor for the birth of all of us.

But of course we don't need any of that to celebrate and feel joy at the entrance of this beauteous being into the world...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Being the Angel At The Tomb

I never really understood the Easter story. It never made sense to me that God should send his only son down to earth to be tortured to death in order to save us from our sins.

I still can't make any sense of that.

But something happened today when I was rehearsing the Passion Play. This is an outdoor event that's happening in Duddingston Village, on Edinburgh's outskirts, on Easter Sunday.

It's a beautiful thing. It uses a mix of community and professional actors to tell the story of Jesus's trial and death and resurrection in and around the village and its kirk.

We were rehearsing in the church hall. The bad weather meant there weren't many of us, and Charles Nowolskielski, the author and director, seemed to be taking an awful of the parts because the people simply weren't there.

I play the Angel at the Tomb - the Angel who comforts the weeping women and tells them Jesus is no longer there, and that he has risen from the dead.

Which meant that for most of the rehearsal I had nothing much to do. I drank the tea and ate the lovely sponge cake the church volunteers provided for us, and idly watched the rehearsal.

And all of a sudden I found myself caught up in it all. It's a beautiful script that tells the story not just what happened, but of the human beings caught up in the drama. The High Priest doing his best to defend his religion, the governor forced to take a decision he detests, the wife of the soldier who gave Jesus the cloak and the crown of thorns, the soldiers whose job it is to bang in the nails. The thief's young brother who comes to stay beside him as he dies and give him what comfort he can. The Daughters of Jerusalem who come every day to the place of torment to ease the sufferers through their agony.

It's all written with immense compassion and it's maybe that which brought those tears to my eyes.

Or maybe there is something going on in these ancient and profound story, some profound truth maybe that I will never understand.

And perhaps don't need to...

Saturday, March 03, 2018

My life lesson's in here

For many years I was tormented by te feeling of not belonging anywhere. When i was with men, I didn't feel i was one of them, and when I was with women, however much I wanted to,  I didn't feel I was one of them either.

It was as if I wasn't properly human, somehow.

I hate the expression "non-binary" but I know it accurately describes me and so I suppose in a society that still basically insists there are only two genders I still don't really belong anywhere.

But at the same time I know that living as a woman really suits me, even if it doesn't altogether describe me and that it's because I live as a woman that I now feel so comfortable in my own skin.

And I guess that's an extra reason for being happy I have a piece published in this anthology that came out on March 1st.

It's nice to be thought of as a "Remarkable Woman" and remarkable and miraculous, somehow, that after all that's happened, and all that could have happened, I'm still here to give life lessons to anyone at all.

But here I am. And for me, anyway, that's a cause for celebration....

Friday, March 02, 2018

Life and death are close cousins of each other

I stayed in all day while the wind kept howling and snow flurries blew past my window and I guess maybe the city came fitfully back to life again, but I never saw it.

I was busy chronicling a death for the radio, and attending to the process of the coming of new life.

The new life has been happening up north, and there were phone calls and text messages and whatsapps and lately a whole series of beautiful images that for now must stay private, but what has been striking me about the coming of life and the coming of death is much they are strangely alike.

Remembering the incredible intensity of those first steps towards death all those years ago, and living through the intensity of the steps towards new life, I'm struck by how they both push us past the boundaries of the people we think we are.

How they both end in release. How they both provoke tears.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

the individual versus the collective

Walking through the deserted streets this afternoon, people ghostly in the driving snow, no buses and very few cars. It felt as if the city had come to a stop.

A pause maybe that was time to think.

Some people have been angry with the council for the city coming to a halt in the face of weather than in other parts of the world would be incorporated into the daily routine.

But then our enforced immobility is one of the consequences of our reluctance to think of ourselves in a collective way.

We are still too much in thrall to Mrs. Thatcher's saying that "there is not such thing as society".

We prioritize individual enrichment over public good.

And so there were people last night who ended up having to spend the night stuck in their cars on the Edinburgh by-pass.

All of which rather perfectly illustrates the inadequacy of individualism in the face of the changes we are living through.

We are afraid of these changes, afraid of the future that demands them. So there is always a temptation to retreat behind the Brexiteers' futile walls.

The wise woman who taught me to interpret dreams used to say that if we dreamt of travelling in a car we were dreaming in the individual sphere; whereas if we dreamt of being in a bus... The word 'bus', she reminded us, came from the Latin word "omnibus" which means all or everyone. So dreams involving bus travel were happening in the collective.

There's a video going round just now of a car skidding out of control and coming to a halt right in the path of an advancing bus. Disaster looks unavoidable; but at the last moment the bus does an incredibly skilful manoevre and avoids the car with inches to spare.

I wonder if the car was driven by a man.

Because, as it turns out, the bus was driven by a woman.

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