Monday, 8 November 2010

catch a bolt of lightening

This is such an excellent article, written by the author Neil Gaiman about his fiance Amanda Palmer and her band The Dresden Dolls.

I'm somewhat obsessed with Amanda Palmer. I find her inspiring and exciting. I also - and it feels really silly to be saying this, considering how amazing I think she is - recognise a little bit of myself in her. Just a teeny bit.

I'd say that I want to be her, but I don't. I want to be me, but as fearless and bold and experimental as I feel I could be, which happens to be like Amanda.

The relationship between her and Neil Gaiman is beautiful to behold. But I don't carry one iota of envy about it. I'm quite happy with how I'm loved, and lucky to be supported with the degree of understanding that I am.

Anyway, gushing over. Read the article.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

the last mile is the longest.

It was my 31st birthday this past weekend.

About 6 months ago, in the grip of a depression, I decided that signing up for the Cardiff Half Marathon, scheduled for the day after my birthday, would be a Good Idea.

The year progressed. I ran less and less. It's not that I wasn't exercising. About the same time I signed up for the half, I also discovered roller derby, so I was skating fairly intensively. I'm also a fairly active person, walking or cycling everywhere.

I thought I should train. I got hold of a training plan from a running magazine. It didn't take long to stress me out. I was beginning to regret my rash decision to sign up for the race. The idea of it made me unhappy. When I did run, I wasn't having fun: it wasn't intensive enough, I wasn't pushing myself hard enough, I was going to do badly.

Eventually, enough was enough. I threw out the training plan. I stopped nagging myself to run. I decided that I'd run the half if I felt like it when October rolled around, but I wasn't going to use it as one more way of undermining my ongoing struggle to be content in myself.

The summer progressed. I was busy. I went to Edinburgh (I took my running kit - unused); I went to Poland (I took my running kit - unused); I worked in London (running kit, still unused). I relished being busy. I had moments when I realised that I felt more like myself than I had in, well, years perhaps.

And then my birthday arrived. I came back to Cardiff from London for the weekend. I had a lovely birthday, celebrating quietly with friends. Then, early Sunday morning I took myself down to Cardiff Bay, alone. On the way, I passed many runners on my bike, headed in the same direction. I felt excited. The crowd at the Bay was huge - 15,000 people. It was a perfect autumn day, crisp and fresh, with a cloudless blue sky. I was cold until I found a place in the mass of runners waiting to start. We waited, jumping up and down, stretching, staring in front blankly, rubbing arms and legs. Then nine o'clock arrived and we started shuffling forward to the starting line. Eventually, as one with the crowd around me, I was able to break into a gentle run. The crowd thinned as we progressed and I found my pace. I found myself running with a smile on my face. I was doing it! I didn't think I would. I didn't think I could. But here I was running, and I felt fantastic. I thought, I'm 31, my body mostly does what I want it to, and most days I'm in moderately good mental health: these things are worth celebrating. Oddly as well, I needed to celebrate the fact that I'd managed not to train. Obviously I don't endorse this; I approached the run with a fairly accurate appraisal of my own physical health. But I could have pushed myself, I could have made it into something that wasn't fun but was rather about proving something to myself about myself. I consider it an achievement that I didn't, one that outweighs any time I could have achieved.

And you know what? It was fun. The whole 13.1 miles. I wept a bit at the beginning from sheer bloody euphoria, a Thanks-Be-To-Whatever that I've had a pretty tough year and I'm still standing. Still running. I ran with a smile on my face. I waved with joy to two dear friends who came out to watch me pass the end of their street. I wept a bit more in the last mile, because last miles are the longest, and are made longer by painful legs and an achey knee. I wept and laughed a little more yet once I'd crossed the finish line, alone in a crowd, overwhelmed by a flood of endorphins and emotion.

I don't think I'll ever run a marathon. I feel no need or desire. I might run another half. Who knows? This one felt like a little victory, and one that had not much to do with running. Perhaps there'll be another period in my life that will call for a similar trial. If so, I hope I also find a way to the finish line, weeping and laughing and still on my feet.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

the cat sat on the mac

The woman thus had difficulty typing.

It's a Friday night, in London. I've just finished a shift in the call centre, and I'm "home", in my temporary home for this week, house- and cat-sitting for a friend. I've got one emotionally needy kitten on my hands, who is clearly convinced that anything I am attempting to eat or drink must surely be her next favourite food if only she could try it.

I've been busy, and therefore mostly silent. It's been a while since I've had properly full days. It's been even longer since I've felt like I've got the energy to tackle them. I realised just the other week: I feel like myself, and that brought home to be just how far I've been over the last year from the self I enjoy being.

The cat's playing an energetic game of catch with herself. At this time of night, that doesn't bode well. This morning I woke with a start, opening my eyes to the surreal sight of the kitten sailing, in what seemed like slow motion, gracefully over the bed. She appeared suspended for a moment, but hit the ground in an explosion of frenetic energy. I now understand the phrase "bouncing off the walls".

Cat-watching aside, I've also been rehearsing this show. After the madness that was the film shoot in Poland, this called for an abrupt change of gears. I'm making theatre in a very different way from usual - "usual" being devising for me. Now, we have a text! We have a director! We had a set before we started rehearsing! We have someone else worrying about what the heck we're all going to wear on stage! It's a pleasant novelty. I miss devising though. Perhaps it's a good thing to learn that I relish a certain amount of chaos and unknowing in what I do.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

I'm going to Poland!

I'm going to Poland for a film shoot, leaving Cardiff tomorrow. I won't be back for a while, because when the film shoot's done I'm heading straight into my next job, rehearsing a play in London for a Hallowe'en run. That's probably my quota of work used up for the next two years then.

So it feels like the end of summer here, as by the time I'm done being busy it will be November. I've just harvested all the green fruit off my tomato plants and I'm making fried green tomato fritters. They smell heavenly. We're going to eat them in the garden - it still feels like summer - with some sweet chilli sauce and the leftover (warm) lager from the batter.

Monday, 23 August 2010

On the road again...

There's cold Welsh rain beating against my window, but I'm heading up to Edinburgh, the City of Sunshine. Sunshine, well hidden always behind banks of cold, Scottish rainclouds.

This marks the beginning of a long-ish period on the road for me. From Edinburgh I go to Shambala festival, near Birmingham. Then I have a few days' turnaround in Cardiff before travelling to Poland for a week-long film shoot. From Poland I head directly to London to rehearse a show for Hallowe'en. I'll have little breaks back in Cardiff, but from this side of it all, though I am excited, a large part of me is going to miss my own bed...

On the road again,
Goin' places that I've never been.
Seein' things that I may never see again

Friday, 13 August 2010

Eat yer greens.

I've just had a chocolate cake epiphany, dear readers, and I am now come to preach the way of the Chocolate-Zucchini Cake to you. Yes, yes, I know that over here in the Old Country they are called courgettes, out of some ancient fealty to your Norman conquerors, but as I'm fairly certain this recipe originated in North America, chocolate-zucchini it is. I've going on a day-trip with some friends tomorrow, and we're going to have a picnic. As one of my friends is vegan, and I do like a cooking challenge, I thought I'd find a good cake recipe that she can also eat. You could stick the animal products back in if you wanted to, but trust me, there's no need. This is probably one of the most moist and chocolatey cakes I've had in a while, and there's hardly any sign of the zucchini. I've adapted this from a few recipes I found online.

2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
150g good dark chocolate
1 tsp instant coffee granules OR 2 tblsp strong coffee
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tblsp cornflour mixed with 3 tblsp cold water
2 medium* zucchini, grated finely

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 25cm cake pan, either springform or loose-bottomed.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Melt the chocolate over a double-boiler with the coffee (granules or liquid) and allow to cool slightly. Combine the sugar and oil, then stir in the cornflour mixture and the melted chocolate. Add the grated zucchini along with any liquid from the veg to the flour mixture, add the chocolate and stir until just combined. The batter will be quite thick and heavy. Tip into the cake pan and smooth the top. Bake for 40-50 mins, until a skewer comes out clean.

I topped the cake with a ganache made from 50g of dark chocolate melted with enough boiling water to make a paste.

I've just eaten a slice - still warm - with a cup of tea, sitting in the garden. Do you think it counts as one of my five-a-day?

*I know that the perspective in the photo makes the zucchini look like the World's Biggest Marrow, but it's actually just a regular sized one.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Splott misses You

I can't sleep, and I don't want to fight it, so a late-night blog it is.

Sleeplessness aside, I'm enjoying a stretch of time back in Cardiff, after a fair bit of back-and-forthing to London. The travel has all been for excellent purpose - I'm going to Poland in September for a film shoot, and there have been a number of workshops in preparation. It's only now that the workshops are done that it's properly sunk in that I'm going. I've never been to anywhere in eastern Europe before, and although I know it will be a busy ten days, I hope I'll have some time to look around. The project itself is exciting; more so now that I have more of a grasp on what we're doing. The loose narrative is based around a family of four; there are four actors going, but we will not be tied to one character - we will swap and change and take turns. Some continuity is provided by the costumes of the family, which include latex masks made by the talented director. It's been an intriguing process so far, and only promises to become more so.

(As research of sorts, I've just watched the film "I'm Not There", in which six different actors play aspects of the character of Bob Dylan. It's not as similar as I thought it might be, but the film's worth seeing for Cate Blanchett alone.)

It's good to be home. I get up the morning and usually have the house to myself. I walk barefoot in the garden with my morning coffee and check on the tomato plants. I take afternoon naps (necessary if you have trouble sleeping at night). I cook proper meals.

It's good to be in Cardiff too. Yesterday I worked all day pulling pints in the brewery run by my friend the Aussie. He's built it up himself, and holds monthly mini-festivals with music and his beer on tap. I like serving. I've always enjoyed service work, actually. I worked at Starbucks for years, in Canada and here in the U.K., and while I could have done without the corporate bullshit, I genuinely enjoyed connecting with people as I made their drinks. Of course it feels much better to be doing it for a friend's business, than some shareholder-beholden behemoth. Friendly faces always turn up at the bar, and the music's good. Yesterday a woman who'd been at the festival most of the day came up and thanked me for "still smiling" even though I'd been working all day. That truly makes it worth it. After we stopped serving, and all the punters had finally cleared out, we sat around and ate the remnants of the BBQ and had some quiet pints ourselves. Then as I was cycling home, I caught up with a couple who'd been at the beer festival; we recognised each other and ended up sharing a companionable ride through the quiet side streets of Splott. I had a real "I love Cardiff" moment, a sense of warm satisfaction.

And another such moment this morning. I'd somewhat creakily pulled myself out of bed and cycled to the market to stock up on cheap veggies. I hadn't been in a while - I've been away a few weekends now. At my usual veggie stall the lady tallying up my order commented that I was there alone this week. It was a lovely surprise, to think that she knows my face and has even noticed that generally the Clown and I shop together. I explained that he's away up in Scotland. She's Thai and her English isn't great, so I suspect she now thinks the Clown is Scottish. She then asked if I had to stay behind to take care of our baby. "No, no, no, there's no baby". I'm not sure she got that either. She knocked a quid off the order total. I imagine it was out of sympathy, either at the image of my lonely vigil at home with the baby, or at the thought of the Clown, away on work in a strange town, bereft of both partner and child. It was touching, and as soon as I was out of sight of the stall I had to call the Clown to let him know: Splott misses him too.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The long, late Glastonbury blog.

It's July now. Is that too late to blog about Glastonbury? Doesn't matter. I kept filing things away in my head while I was there, to write about later. Then I came back to Cardiff and had to hit the ground running, with a couple of trips to London, and then I kind of lost momentum... So, here we are. July.

It was a fantastic festival. The weather was bone dry and scorchingly hot, which helped. But I think I had a great time partly because I treated it like a working holiday, and ignored the compulsion to do as much as possible. I don't like big concerts, but I've felt guilty about not going to the big acts in previous years. This year I didn't bother feeling guilty about anything. I had two goals only: to avoid getting sunburned, and to avoid tearful distress (both in reaction to last year's Glastonbury, which is a story in itself, best left untold...)

My dislike of large concerts aside, I did go to one gig at the Pyramid stage: Willie Nelson, at three in the afternoon. If heaven existed, it would be a beautiful sunny festival, and all my favourite acts would be there. Johnny Cash would certainly be playing. Willie Nelson is the closest I'll get to that in my life I guess. I stood in the hot sun, downed a litre of water during his set and watched the shadow of the stage inch its way towards me. He sang "Always on my mind" and I cried a little tear of joy. He sang a gospel tune about how his spirit will fly away one day, and I thought, looking at him, that the day may be quite soon, and that I was pretty damn fortunate to be standing there on a glorious afternoon listening to him sing. He finished before the shadow reached me.

The other music gigs I attended were tiny in scale and so perfectly to my taste. Martha Tilston, in a small tent in the gentle Greenfields, sang the lyric that was the theme of my last year in London... "I'm gonna run across the office tables, saying no, no, you can't have me". Martha moved me to tears; she's so calm, centred and beautiful, and so many of her songs seem to come from a searching place similar to where I am at present. The Correspondents overcame a poor sound system and a stage made of a stack of pallets to get the whole crowd in the Blind Pig Bar dancing at 1 a.m. to their filthy swing-hop. The Movvits did the same, and I laughed out loud that I was dancing to a man rapping in Swedish at half-past-four in the morning in a tent in a field in Somerset.

But of course I was there to work, with my cabaret double-act Peek & Boo. We didn't make it the first night - my partner Ms Boo arrived on site already ill with a throat infection, and it got worse overnight, turning into full-blown tonsilitis. On Friday morning one of the on-site doctors was threatening to send her home, but as nothing was going to drag her away, he gave her antibiotics instead. So we had to pull our performance on Friday night, but made up for it the next night with a great scheduled gig in our cabaret tent Mavericks, and then an impromptu gig the Fat Belly speakeasy across the field. Sunday night's gig was also great, to a crowd maybe of a few hundred - it's hard to tell, but the tent was definitely full, with people standing at the back. Both nights I then stayed up until dawn, trailing back to the van in the cool and pearlescent morning.

And that's that until next year! Peek & Boo don't have any other festival gigs this summer. I'm going to one more festival, Shambala, at the end of August, but I'll be the Clown's plus-one and thus footloose and responsibility-free. It's a tiny festival. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

This is the way they say the future's meant to feel...

The sun's shining, and it promises to do so for days. I woke up happy. I've moved beyond practical packing into building a pile of increasingly ridiculous clothes and objects. I'm going to spend a week in a field as a citizen of the People's Republic of Glastonbury...

See you on the other side!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

there is a poem

There is a poem
that I write
when I watch you sleeping
but it is not this poem.

This poem is for scrawling
on the walls of the world,
the other
a folded note
in the deep archives of the heart.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I heart Jeanette Winterson.

Here's a little interview she did with the Guardian: watch it and love her too.

I heart the Hay Festival too! One day I'll actually make it there; it's more likely now that it's pretty much in my back garden. A town filled with book stores that pauses annually to celebrate literature? Heaven.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

running away with the circus

I've just got home from a lovely few days in Brighton. The Clown was there on work, performing in a free outdoor show for NoFit State circus called Parklife. The show was fantastic - the audience was possibly as large as 7000 people. It helped that the weather was glorious: proper summer heat and cloudless blue skies.

The Clown was working quite hard, but I was just looking for an excuse to do nothing, without feeling guilty about doing nothing. It was my first experience of running away with the circus; our camp, in a park in the middle of Brighton called The Level, was behind the performance area and was filled with children, babies and small dogs. I wandered around town by myself - losing myself in the antique and flea market in the North Lanes, admiring the Pavillion from its beautiful gardens, mostly steering clear of the beach crammed with people all turning various shades of shiny red - or I sat in the open doors of our pink starry campervan and read The Cloudspotter's Guide, under a clear blue sky (it's a state of mind).

After the show, people hung out in the park late into the night. The darkness around our camp was dotted with bonfires and fire-spinners dancing to music beating from portable speakers. The Clown and I wandered out to join one of the groups, a raggedy circle collected around a group of dreadlocked fire-spinners and girls playing with hula-hoops in fluid dancing swirls. The fire-staff and poi were mesmerising; was it the light and sparks in the darkness, or was it that these kids were tireless, determined to continue until they ran out of fuel, playing for the sheer joy of the game?

On our last night in Brighton, after the crew and performers had spent a hot day breaking down the set, and I had spent an easier day as a camp follower sorting out the campervan, we strolled down to the seafront and walked out to the end of the pier. It was another perfect evening. We wandered amongst the casino games and tacky souvenir shops and rides, and leaned over the edge of the pier to watch large fish darting at the surface below. Is Brighton Pier a poor man's cruise ship? I was fascinated by it. I always see an edge of menace in a fun fair, an undercurrent of the grotesque, and to have a fun fair on a pier over the ocean is sublime.

There's just something about seaside towns. I'm not sure that Cardiff is one, really, as we are sadly lacking in a beach. It's not a holiday town in the same way as Brighton, certainly.

I'm going to live in a town by the sea one day.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The advert the Financial Times refused to publish.

Check out the Protect the Human blog for more information on this campaign.

And more on the FT's decision here.

Monday, 17 May 2010

a heart tale in the telling

(based on true events)

You left your heart in my fridge.

That didn't seem right,
and I thought, hey,
you might want it back,
so I cycled round to yours
with your heart in a plastic bag
in that old black milk crate
on the back of my bike.

At first you were glad to see it.
But then you forgot about it,
don't know why -
you might've been busy.
And your heart started to go off
and it started to smell
and it didn't look right
and even the neighbourhood cats
wouldn't touch it
when you left it in the backyard.

And your heart was a sorry sight.
Sitting in the dirt,
covered in flies.

I thought that maybe I should've kept it.
That maybe I'd have made better use of it
than you.

This story ends like no other:
(I can't make this shit up)
you pulled the car over
you kept the engine running
while I threw your heart
into a bin
outside the co-op on Splott Rd.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

twelve steps to skinny-dipping.

(soundtrack: Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York")

1. pick a good beach, broad and long and golden-sanded. Rhossili Bay in the Gower is an excellent choice.

2. go early. you'll only share the beach with the occasional surfer or dog-walker. if you've picked the right beach, there'll be enough of a gap between their comings-and-goings to allow for a leisurely stroll to the water, in just your skin.

3. bring with you in a bag the following: long underwear, a fluffy towel, a blanket, a ground sheet. A flask of hot tea wouldn't go amiss, if you have one to hand.

4. lay your ground sheet high up the beach on dry sand.

5. wait for a suitable window of opportunity, then take off your clothes.

6. stroll down the beach, relishing the wind and sun on your skin. hum along with Sinatra as you do so. bring your towel with you as close to the water as you dare (you'll want it when you get out).

7. enter the water. if it is early in the year (the beginning of May perhaps), note first the bone-chilling pain that will shoot up your legs from your suddenly unresponsive feet. repeat to yourself the mantra: "pain means I am alive, pain means I am alive".

8. continue into the water. total immersion is your goal. if it is early in the year, note how each wave that hits you knocks the breath out of you with an icy sweep.

9. duck down, allow the water to touch the top of your head in a chill blessing. your hair must be wet to carry this away with you.

10. if you have made it this far, you can now make your way out of the water. you may start to feel warm. this is deceptive. you are not warm. you are entering a state of hypothermia.

11. embrace your towel as you embrace dry land. you may feel like laughing. do so, unreservedly. you are standing naked on a beach in broad daylight and you are alive.

12. dry yourself thoroughly and put on all your clothing. do not neglect the long underwear. wrap yourself in your blanket. sit on your groundsheet. look at the ocean. try to stop shaking. this may take a while, but pay it no heed: the water is worth it.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Roller Derby is Made of Awesome.

Lesson #1: learn how to fall.
Lesson #2: learn how to get up quickly.

(soundtrack: the Sex Pistols)

I think this applies to life generally.

As I type this I am vaguely aware of a dull throbbing in my elbow and that my legs are feeling shaky after an hour in roller skates. Most of that hour was spent throwing myself at the floor in varied and inventive ways but feeling ROCK AND ROLL as I did it.

The Clown had mentioned aaaaaaaages ago that I should go to the roller derby sessions at the sports centre just around the corner, and I had wanted to but hadn't got around to it... I find it difficult to sustain momentum for long periods, metaphorically-speaking (if you can't tell from how sporadic this blog is), and even more difficult to start new things. But this is the week for new and frightening things. I finally saw a doctor yesterday to talk about depression, and it was really bloody hard but at least it's a start. So setting myself up to fall over at relatively high speeds in front of a bunch of strangers seemed like the next logical step.

The first thing you learn is how to fall so you don't get hurt. I think maybe we all need to learn this, physically and mentally, just to get through life. The former's challenging enough: even when you're covered in padding and wearing a helmet (as I was) it doesn't seem right to throw yourself at the floor voluntarily. But I guess it's worth it later when you don't have a choice and the ground's coming towards you at high speed and you need muscle memory to kick in and save you from a nasty break. The latter - those mental trips and stumbles we suffer - is even harder, because who ever knows if or how much padding we have? Or what rock bottom's going to feel like when we hit it? Those are the things that scare me and it scares me even more to admit I'm scared of them. But today I found myself in roller skates, performing a proper baseball slide across a gymnasium floor. And it hurt. And I loved it, with a sense of pure physical elation. I've got bruises already but I'll be going back for more.

On a slightly different note, the quote that's carried me through this week is from an aging punk interviewed by the BBC in Camden at Malcolm Maclaren's funeral:
"they are going to put him in the ground and the ground will be punk. Punk trees will grow"
I'd love to have something in that vein said about me when I'm gone - not the punk bit necessarily (my high school English teacher said, "girls, either buck the system or play the system. just make sure you do one of them". I'm in the latter camp, and it's not an overtly punk place), but I hope you get what I mean.

As part of the Minute of Mayhem requested by his son, I played The Buzzcocks "ever fallen in love".

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

a joke wot I wrote.

she taps the mic, clears her throat.

So. I was going to do a solo show about depression, but then I thought: what's the point?

drum flourish.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Washing the Elephant

by Barbara Ras

(from the New Yorker, 15 March 2010)

Isn’t it always the heart that wants to wash
the elephant, begging the body to do it
with soap and water, a ladder, hands,
in tree shade big enough for the vast savannas
of your sadness, the strangler fig of your guilt,
the cratered full moon’s light fuelling
the windy spooling memory of elephant?

What if Father Quinn had said, “Of course you’ll recognize
your parents in Heaven,” instead of
“Being one with God will make your mother and father
pointless.” That was back when I was young enough
to love them absolutely though still fear for their place
in Heaven, imagining their souls like sponges full
of something resembling street water after rain.

Still my mother sent me every Saturday to confess,
to wring the sins out of my small baffled soul, and I made up lies
about lying, disobeying, chewing gum in church, to offer them
as carefully as I handed over the knotted handkerchief of coins
to the grocer when my mother sent me for a loaf of Wonder,
Land of Lakes, and two Camels.

If guilt is the damage of childhood, then eros is the fall of adolescence.
Or the fall begins there, and never ends, desire after desire parading
through a lifetime like the Ringling Brothers elephants
made to walk through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel
and down Thirty-fourth Street to the Garden.
So much of our desire like their bulky, shadowy walking
after midnight, exiled from the wild and destined
for a circus with its tawdry gaudiness, its unspoken

It takes more than half a century to figure out who they were,
the few real loves-of-your-life, and how much of the rest—
the mad breaking-heart stickiness—falls away, slowly,
unnoticed, the way you lose your taste for things
like popsicles unthinkingly.
And though dailiness may have no place
for the ones who have etched themselves in the laugh lines
and frown lines on the face that’s harder and harder
to claim as your own, often one love-of-your-life
will appear in a dream, arriving
with the weight and certitude of an elephant,
and it’s always the heart that wants to go out and wash
the huge mysteriousness of what they meant, those memories
that have only memories to feed them, and only you to keep them clean.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

how to sprout a pea.

I'm touring the latest incarnation of our family show PEA with my theatre company again - our website's over here if you want to check it out.

I'm getting fonder and fonder of this show. I had an idea about a show aaaaaages ago, a shaky line-drawing of a thought based on a book and a song, and the show that we made didn't quite fit that original idea, which definitely made me struggle a bit. That's just the reality of collaborating with other people though, and I definitely value that more than dreaming up ideas by myself - without the rest of the company this little pea shoot would never have seen the light of day. Weighing me down as well, however, was the fact that I somehow didn't feel "qualified" or even particularly good at making family theatre (I like that term better than children's theatre - I want to make shows that adults are happy to watch too).

PEA is turning more into the show that I originally hoped we'd make. It's loosely framed around the fairy story of The Princess and the Pea, but really it's about two sisters who at first only have each other; it's about the importance of the family you're born with, sure, but also the equally important family that you find on your journey through the world.

And I'm growing in confidence about making theatre for young people. We've been highly fortunate to be taken under the wing of the Night Out/Noson Allan scheme run by the Arts Council Wales, which encourages communities to book theatre shows by taking away the financial risk involved. This has given us the chance to take our original rough draft of a show and build upon it. More importantly, it means we've been performing in areas where theatre is not a regular part of day-to-day community life. In fact, we might be some of these children's first experience of theatre. Ever. There's a thought to make me pause.

So we have experiences like last night, when we performed in a school in which the event was also organised by a group of "young promoters": students guided through the mechanics of promoting and producing a night out at the theatre. They had enthusiasm in spadefuls. It was overwhelming. We were struggling to load into the school hall, set up, rehearse some bits that appear to change with every new space we encounter AND run a cue-to-cue. These things seemed very important to us. But actually our little show was a tiny piece of a much bigger event, which was an experience that was giving these young people a sense of personal agency, control and ownership. For that, I'll happily endure again what was perhaps the most chaotic pre-show I've ever experienced. It was more rock concert than evening at the theatre, with audience energy at peak levels and appreciation - when we earned it - granted at high volume. And that, I think, is the way it should be.

And look: these kids knew their stuff, there were even backstage security passes AND a post-show photo call. We've arrived.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

speech after long silence

I'm still alive.

I'm spending a lot of time in quite a dark place.

I need to find a job. I really don't want to, because I'm afraid that another McJob will make me go crazy. But I need money. So I have no choice really, but I'm still dragging my feet. These are some of the dark things I don't really want to write about, for fear they'll turn this blog into just a bit of a moan.

The Clown mentioned that a friend of his has just joined the first roller derby group to start here in Cardiff. He suggested I join, pointing out that I was the one to express my interest in it to him a while back. This is true.

"Go into the joke shop in the arcade", he said, "and ask the large woman behind the counter for information. She can help you".

With such a direction presented to me, what else can I do?

For anyone who isn't familiar with roller derby, here's the trailer for a film that will - I hope - soon be released here in the UK.

Just say yes, right?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

work is much better with a cat beside you

yes, I've been absent for AGES: combination of illness and just Not Getting Around To It.

I will make amends for this later.

Friday, 19 February 2010

afternoons in the kitchen are some of my favourite afternoons.

I'm cooking a Chinese New Year dinner for some friends tonight. If I were doing this properly, it would be ten courses long, but I don't have the know-how or, more importantly, the stamina to spend that long in the kitchen.

One of my friends can't eat wheat and doesn't eat meat, so he'll miss out on the dumplings. At least that means I can stuff them with pork!

We're also having fried mee-hoon, bak choi with fried egg tofu and a soy/honey/garlic sauce and chinese cabbage that I'm going to stir fry with chillies, peanuts and Szechuan pepper.

For dessert I've made a wheat-free cake: orange and almond, topped with an orange-cardamon syrup. I thought I'd go with oranges, for prosperity.

I'm looking forward to dinner, but I always enjoy the cooking just as much; I've been alone in the kitchen, it's been snowing in flurries outside, Tom Waits has been keeping me company. Days like these are therapeutic.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

keep yer chin up

I'm not having a particularly good day today. There's no specific reason, though there are I suppose some related causes. I had a long day yesterday - I was up for 20 hours - which included a round trip to London for an audition. I finished the evening having dinner with a friend I'll call the Lady (because she is) and some of her friends. Then I caught the last coach back to Cardiff, making it back into my bed in the wee hours of this morning. It was an excellent day: I enjoyed the audition (I've met someone creatively interesting, even if I don't end up working with her); it was lovely to see the Lady and catch up. But I'm tired. When I'm tired I'm more susceptible to having bad days.

I suffer mornings most of all
I feel so powerless and small
by ten o'clock I'm back in bed
fighting the jury in my head

"have to drive", Amanda Palmer

I didn't see 10 o'clock this morning as I hadn't got up yet (bedtime was 4 a.m.). But I still have the feeling that I want to crawl back into a hole, that even the weak light of this drizzly Welsh day is too harsh. What should I do on days like this? Try to fight it? Go out for a run, ride my bike, apply for a job, cook something elaborate? Or do I just surf this particularly black wave until it subsides: go back to bed, sleep if I can, play games on my laptop, watch back-to-back episodes of "Battlestar Galactica", stare at the ceiling...

It's getting dull, you know, having days like this. At the same time, I feel anxious about seeking treatment for my depression; after all, it feels so much like part of who I am that I worry I'll lose something vital of myself if it's gone. Irrational, I know. Because it doesn't "go away", I suppose; I just need to be able to manage the disease. I had a registration appointment at my local surgery the other day, part of my attempt finally to start seeking help. You don't actually get to see anyone with any medical qualifications at a registration appointment; you get a "health assistant" instead. She was a nice enough lady, and at the end she asked if I had any questions, and I did - how to go about getting treatment and so on. What was fascinating was how immediately out of her comfort zone she appeared to be: she got flustered, told me some information I already knew. She advised me of the procedure for getting emergency appointments if that's what I felt it to be. I felt like saying, I've made it to age 30 so I think I can make it another fortnight, but I didn't. I thanked her and got up to go. And she told me to "keep my chin up".

She meant well. She didn't have a clue.

I had a great conversation with the Lady last night. We'd had dinner with some friends of hers, which was not enjoyable, but in an amusing way. It felt a bit like I was stuck in an episode of "Sex and the City", without the occasional lines of witty observational comedy or the distraction of pretty frocks/shoes/New York. I sat there, trying to be nice to the waitress (someone had to be), slightly worried because my friend's friends were so clearly not my people. But she and I managed to flee after dinner for a hot chocolate elsewhere and she confessed that she hadn't enjoyed the evening either, which was reassuring. We ended up talking about depression - keep writing, she said, if it keeps you honest - and the stigma attached to it. I guess that might be what I encountered in the doctor's surgery, of all places. It upset me, that day, in that context, just because the idea of seeking treatment is challenging enough in its own way. I'm not concerned about blogging publicly about depression. I wouldn't be ashamed of having a cold. Or cancer. So why depression? Like being queer, I suppose it's something you should be open about in order to combat prejudice; come out, come out, depressives of the world, wherever you are...

Anyway. No conclusion; I think I've said all I want to say today. I might go back to bed and think about running.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Friday, 12 February 2010

Fits & Starts

Back in Cardiff ten days, and I've been busy trying not to lose momentum. I may have to get a job. I don't like this fact. Art might be nourishing, but I need other types of food too. Argh. I feel motivated, I lose motivation, I beat myself up for lacking motivation, take a break, feel motivated again. How do I make it stop?

But enough of that.

This past weekend, the London part of my theatre company came to Cardiff and we spent 24 hours playing around with the theme of "home". We'd cast our net out to everyone who knows and supports us through Facebook and Twitter for source material. We wanted...well, we just wanted to play. And see if the theme has any legs for future work. It may do. We scrambled and wrote a last minute grant application this week; if anything comes of that it will be nothing short of miraculous, so I'm trying not to think too much about it! The Texan cut together this video below of snippets of the day's work.

One of the best moments of the weekend was late Sunday night, after everyone had left. H and I ended up having a tired, teary conversation about various things for an hour, both wrapped in towels, halfway up the stairs. It was the just the sort of private, intimate moment between people who share a home we had been looking for all day in our playing.

What else have I done? Cut most of my hair off and shaved off some bits that were left. Walked out of one theatre production - an adaptation of The Hobbit; the production company is guilty of Crimes Against Theatre, but YES, I should have known better. Cooked many many meals for friends and colleagues, then picked up some sort of stomach bug which means I've mostly lived off toast and ginger beer this week. Humph. I needed a break from cooking anyway. Finally finished Lewis Hyde's The Gift, which is a tough academic read but entirely worth it, especially for any artist or those who care about the arts.

What else? I have felt sick with fear. I have felt like a child. I have faced a fear. I've thought a lot about love. I've had someone tell me something beautiful, which I will carry around like a brightly polished pebble in that innermost pocket reserved for beautiful things. Sometimes I will want to hold it up to the light. To do that I will have to find a pause, which can only be a good thing really.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Devoted, but less Disgruntled.

I began this blog offline, on a train out of Paddington, heading home. Now I’m back in the comfortable solitude of my room, a typical Welsh day throwing sunshine and rain against my window. The memory of the tedium of my work for the last three weeks has faded; I’ve got a measure of residual anxiety about some personal affairs tugging at the back of my mind, but even that appears manageable right now. I’ve had a bloody good weekend, at the Devoted & Disgruntled Open Space organised by Improbable, and I’m feeling inspired and, well, stronger.

So many aspects of the weekend stirred me up that I’m not sure where to begin. Perhaps with Open Space technology itself. This was my first encounter with this framework: it enables a large group of people to discover the interests of its individual members, draw like-minded souls together, and provoke discourse and action. It is, as Improbable’s Phelim McDermott points out, just the way life is anyway.

Just the way life is anyway. You follow your interests, attend the sessions on the topics closest to your heart, and gradually a network of kindred spirits forms itself around you. One such spirit observed to me, “you meet the people you’re meant to meet”. And, as my friend Lang pointed out, it’s an expression of belief in the power of the group. Aside from that, running an Open Space confers responsibility on the individual - you only get out of the experience what you’ve taken the trouble to seek out or create.

So here’s a brief summary of what I did over two and a half days: sang some secular gospel, emptied my pockets with a group of strangers to see what the contents might reveal, argued about circus & theatre, discussed writers, got inspired by soundwalks and an aural landscape project, sat in a silent circle listening to the session buzz around us, chatted about the concept of home, got distracted by a spontaneous wrestling (wrasslin’!! see picture!) match, pondered the meaning of devising, considered the performance possibilities of virtual space.

Conclusions were many, but chief amongst them: we appear to get quite hung up on Capital Letters and genres and semantics, necessary I suppose in order to explain ourselves to each other. I think the best performance work I have seen, however, has generally been impossible to categorise within a genre. And the same applies to people: I’m not only an actor, and I’m aware that every time I introduce myself as such the term summons a definition in most folks’ heads that has little to do with the work and art I make (“Have I seen you on telly?” “I dunno - how extensively do you watch crap telly?”). I’m a writer as well - not just because of something like this blog, but also due to the fact that I devise theatre (there was quite a lengthy discussion as to what this means. My definition is, to make a piece of work for performance that previously did not exist. Improvisation is one tool used in devising). I have a cabaret act that dances on the line between performance poetry and song, so I suppose I’m a singer and poet too. I’m also a runner. And I’m fairly obsessed with cooking for people. I’d consider these last two part of my life-work as well. I met a number of people over the weekend who either used the term “performer” or “theatre-maker” to describe themselves; I think I prefer the latter, if I have to decide. It’s pretty self-explanatory I think, and if it’s not then it will at least provoke an interesting conversation.

Maybe I’ll get new business cards made.

My favourite thought of the three days came in the closing circle, and was spoken in the context of what prevents us from realising our dreams: “if we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves, we’d have none”. If I were at all into body art, I’d get that etched on my wrist.

The closing of the Open Space on the last day was moving: we rose, turned around, felt the mass of people at our backs, and walked out of the circle. I hope the sense of gentle propulsion that gave me continues to carry me forward for a while.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

except it isn't

haiku for an empty spoon

lying here alone:
my body, punctuation
marking an absence.

and that's all I have to say today

Bloc Party, 'This Modern Love' - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 January 2010

haiku for happiness

wake in a dark room,
a ticket home to see you
a torch in my mind

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

this is the devil's circus

I'm in London; I'm back at my old job for a bit; I'm spending a lot of time looking for diversions on the internet. Poetry sites provide a diversion, and so I pass it on to you, gentle readers...


the illusion is that you are simply
reading this poem.
the reality is that this is
more than a
this is a beggar's knife.
this is a tulip.
this is a soldier marching
through Madrid.
this is you on your
death bed.
this is Li Po laughing
this is not a god-damned
this is a horse asleep.
a butterfly in
your brain.
this is the devil's
you are not reading this
on a page.
the page is reading
feel it?
it's like a cobra. it's a hungry eagle circling the room.

this is not a poem. poems are dull,
they make you sleep.

these words force you
to a new

you have been blessed, you have been pushed into a
blinding area of

the elephant dreams
with you
the curve of space
bends and

you can die now.
you can die now as
people were meant to
hearing the music,
being the music,

Charles Bukowski

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

haiku for a snowy London day

my black bicycle
stark and sleek against white snow
see, see how I go

Sunday, 10 January 2010

January is for chipping away at the soul.

At least in the world of the self-employed performer.

I'm back in London for a few weeks, doing holiday cover at my old (non-performance related) job. It's an easy job and good money, even more so for an ice-blasted January in Britain when there's precious little of any other work around. But still...I'm suffering separation blues from my town and my clown. I'll suck it up and be an adult. It's only a few weeks.

Yesterday I took a day trip to Birmingham, to hear a sound installation by my friend Annie, the result of two weeks she spent making recordings deep in the Amazon at Lago de Mamori. It was lovely to catch up with her and her family, who have been a surrogate family for me here in the UK in the past. I met the newest 6 week-old addition to the clan, and sat with her in my arms surrounded by the sounds of the jungle. It was a good day. I'm lucky to know someone who hears the world in such a different way from me, and has the creative tools to share this perspective. These things repair the chips to the soul that January brings...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

snow time like the present...

We've had a bit of snow here in Wales.

This is entitled: SnowGirl contemplates the Inevitability of Thaw.

And this one: SnowGirl contemplates Death by Swan.

This is a winter self-portrait. I'd call it SnowAngel, but I'm not.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

January is for eating vegetables.

Happy New Year!

I had a good festive season. Christmas day was passed with the Clown, the Alpha Couple and my sister. The Clown and I spent most of the day in the kitchen, which is where we both love to be. We had a trio of birds: duck stuffed with a partridge (yup, you read that right - death was the least of the indignities suffered by that duck) and a pheasant on the side. This after eating a stuffed ox heart the night before. 'Tis the season to feast.

I generally enjoy new year's eve better than Christmas though, and this year was no different. Perhaps it's because I haven't yet found a new Christmas tradition of great personal significance. I've got the memories of childhood family Christmases, which I treasure. But what do you do when you're older, don't have any children for whom you might want to recreate that childhood Christmas, and have no connection to or interest in either the commercial or religious version of the festival? I'm far from being a dirty hippy, but I love that the season is a celebration of the winter solstice. It's my favourite solstice, a reminder that winter is not so long and the days only get lighter from here. Much better than the summer solstice, which leaves me thinking: WHAT? HOW? It's only just got warm!!! So my plan for next Christmas is to find some way to reconnect to that hope: that the night is never as long as it feels, and even in the depth of darkness there's a promise of the spring to come...

Back to new year's eve, my third in Cardiff, which is impressive considering I only moved here in September. I spent the evening with, well, everyone really. We started at our house with a good riddance ritual and then split into two parties to head into town. I was part of the Second Annual New Year's Ghost Train, an idea the Clown had last year. We dress in white, deck ourselves with strings of lights, and then cycle through town, arriving at the centre in time for the fireworks. Next year: more lights and more elaborate costumes. From town, we headed to a circus party across the river, and then from there (we really shouldn't have been on bicycles by this point) back to the east side of town to yet another party. I was a relative light-weight and packed it in at 4 a.m.

And now it's the first few days of a new year. My body craves exercise (5.5 miles running yesterday) and, as an indication of just how much festive feasting I've been enjoying of late, I've been having odd fantasies about steamed broccoli...

No broccoli tonight, but a break from meat: butternut squash curry and spiced red cabbage on the side.