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.