A friend of mine has something that can almost be described as a clock phobia. He can't stand ticking clocks. I personally find them calming, reminding me of my grandmother's house and the first time I saw a cuckoo clock - a magical novelty for someone used to 1970s DDR design. A 5-year-old me sat in my brother's friend's house, determined to wait until that little bird would come out of that loudly ticking clock again - until my brother told me that would be an hour, and an hour in a 5-year-old's life is a hell of a long time.
My friend, however, just dreads this audible reminder of time ticking away. And nowadays I don't even need a cuckoo clock, or any clock for that matter, to rub my face in that.
What happened to the summers that seemed to last for years?
What happened to the time when the wait for Christmas seemed like an agonising eternity instead of the mad rush it is today?
How come I seem to waste my entire day on trivial unimportant matters instead of doing what I really want to do, and how come my to do list never gets shorter?
I was 25 just recently, now I'm 34, and it spooks me, because I don't know how I got here, my body and life raced away with me while I am still stuck in a mental teenage limbo. It's unsettling to feel your life running out and your body disintegrating around you when you feel you should still be reading your school books. Maybe that is why women (and men) lie about their age. It's not vanity. It's self-denial. It's being unwilling to submit to the pressures and expectations that comes with increasing age, when they have barely caught up with their early 20s yet.
Apparently it's because a day in relation to the life you have lived already is much longer when you've only lived four years, but much shorter when you've lived 30.
For me, it's also the sense of time running out. That may sound crazy, but the past ten years have gone by so fast it makes my head spin. And I have been warned, it's only gonna go faster.
So I am anticipating that whatever time is ahead of me, as much (or as little) as it may be, will pass in a heart beat.
The thing is, we never know how much time we've got left. I've had that reminder a few times, and it made me quite paranoid. I've lived fairly unsettled for some time now, and many friends I've had from all the different places have come and gone - something which has never got easier for me. I've been told it's natural and I should accept it, but I can't - it hurts too much. You could say, I'm almost always in a panic to spend as much quality time with everyone as I can, because I never know how long it will last, how long I will be able to be around them, and whether I will lose them to distance, forgetfulness, or worse.
I will never have as much felt time again as I had when I was 20. Then you think you have an eternity ahead of you, and it leaves you relaxed enough to be able to focus - nowadays I just seem to run at top speed just to keep up, and never quite managing to, trying to get everything done at once, my concentration frayed into a blur.
How can you trick your brain out of this? Maybe it's to really make yourself believe you are 2o, to reach that feeling of eternity ahead of you.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
I have never been much of a theatre-goer, not because of a dislike of the medium but simply because one didn’t meander in the right circles. Until university – if it teaches you nothing (or makes you employable), it will broaden your horizons, often not by what is taught but through the people you meet. But I digress. What I meant to say is that I have no experience with theatre and its critics, am innocent ignorant of its politics and semantics and might therefore produce a pile of wank based solely on my limited understanding, grandly calling it a review.
I had no idea what to expect, but in my mind I saw an ordinary stage with the audience neatly separated from the action into rows of velvet-spanned chairs, while the actors would dramatically fly around the scratched floorboards of the stage, seamed by dusty curtains matching the upholstery.
What we got instead with Stagepunk Theatre's "Consenting Adults", as it premiered at The White Bear Theatre in Kennington, was a small-ish room lined by two rows of chairs where the border between stage and audience is made up by the toes of the latter. There is no way of hiding in your seat during uncomfortable scenes, removing yourself from anything that scratches your comfort zone with demon claws. You are as exposed as the actors – in some respect, your reaction becomes part of the play. I have no idea whether that was intentional, but it helped. It’s what makes theatre so appealing to me: it’s the rawhide of dramatic performance. It is immediate and in-your face, rather than the overpolished recordings of film. I cried when I saw Hamlet on-stage in November (starring three members of the aforementioned theatre group). But "Consenting Adults" took it to a whole new level.
As we edge ourselves along the row of seats, plonking ourselves down with our pints wedged between our feet, the stage is littered with boxes, abandoned toys and various rubbish. Simon Jay sits motionless on a workbench facing the wall, with his back to us, eerily reminiscent of a scene in the Blair Witch Project. Monty Python’s Intermittence Music doodles in the background, enhancing the grotesqueness of the image while adding a strange sense of humour to it. I am already spooked, and the image is so strong I fail to spot the other actors. Until the pile of rubbish in the centre of the stage literally explodes, spitting out Stephanie Jane Gunner sans clothes, the innocent babe, who, from the second of her emergence will be stripped of her liberty of mind, her dignity, and become a creation of her own visceral responses.
What follows now is a continuous, hour-long violation of my subconscious. The kind you wanted really, bitch, while acting coy. The sweet, scratchy nostalgic sounds of 1950s sex-ed PSAs (if you remember, the PSAs of those days even made nuclear holocaust sound like a picnic) fill our ears, conjuring up images of innocent ponytailed girls in petticoats being prepared for their entrance into the adult world of romance and old school chivalry. But what happens onstage turns it into sinister mockery. Molly, totally at the mercy of what society teaches her in theory, soon enough learns her own lessons. The gap between the friendly sweet neighbourhood advice ringing from the speakers and what actually unfolds on stage widens quickly, drying my throat. A sense of betrayal pervades the first part. Molly seems a victim not just to the vile men she loves, or her ill preparation by those in custody of her, but by life itself. Seeing her with her head in a box of emotions, being seemingly violated by the sheer insanity of her own puberty, then lying on the floor, twitching in shock, is almost too hard to bear. Having her lie at your feet makes you feel as guilty as a passive bystander who doesn’t want to get involved.
Molly moves in stages through her female evolution, each time emerging as a new character. Her vulnerability is shed, hardens, with each new experience, each new boyfriend ripping away a piece of the sweet innocence, reshaping her expectations and her resolve to adjust. Too much a prude, lose your man to cheating, and become a vixen, seeking the bad guy. Bad guy hurts you, you resolve to become the Iron Virgin, cold and angry and closed up.
The rape scene – yes, there is one – is not brash and cliché or in any way gratuitous, but much more fluid, starting from an innocent dance. It’s the type I call the 'boyfriend-girlfriend rape', the type that makes a girl question at what point she perhaps unwittingly consented or whether she consented at all. The type that will shake her up to her foundations, not knowing her role in it. There was no ripping of clothes... the image of bad boy Steve, played by Simon Jay with a dark elegance and bleak psychopathy, tearing down his zipper was more sinister than flying buttons ever could have been. It’s clean rape, rape good enough for The Times and the Upper Classes, none of the National Enquirer filth, rape that keeps up appearances, covering the hell beneath, but this way so much more horrifying. There was no screaming. Molly did not know what was happening to her, at what point this had turned against her. That they were fully dressed just added to the shock. Stephanie delivered an amazing performance, both subtle and powerful, every inch of her screaming out what was going on inside her. Seeing the emotion in her face was too genuine to take lightly, the frozen shock, brokenness, endurance, confusion, watching her shake – it made my guts cramp up. I had to remind myself if wasn’t real.
The one question that pestered me throughout this part of the play was: Is Molly becoming her true self, stripping herself of her societal education to become an empowered female or is she just a reactionary product of her experiences? It makes it a thoroughly feminist play – but it has none of the blind man-hating gusto that comes with some of those. Rather, it seems to uncover the ever-perpetuating violence, whether recognised as such or not, against women, but also their part in it.
The second part appears to be completely disconnected from the first. At first glance it seems like a harmless, weirdly sado-masochistically sexualised version of Jeeves and Wooster. Simon Jay, playing a posh gentleman called Algernon, engages in light and jolly conversation with his butler Alec, played by Zack Polanski, but the conversation quickly degenerates into sheer perversion while never losing its lighthearted tone. As the interaction goes on, Jeeves and Wooster appear to morph into a bizarre cross with American Psycho, at times in the lingo of the AOL chatroom play of a grooming perv, without failing to deliver the upper class manners the Empire prides itself on. The combo makes you laugh, but the laugh comes uneasy. It is disturbing, but at times so grotesque it creates its own comic relief – but the laughter bubbling up in you is veined with guilt. The juxtaposition of the sweet and the brutal, the posh and the vile becomes so extreme at times that your laughter turns into a form of psychological defence. Don’t get me wrong, it IS hilariously funny... but sometimes you feel you shouldn’t be laughing at these things, but can’t find any other way to cope. Yet the aftertaste, at least to me, was not foul... I felt enlightened.
When Lady Bracknell enters, dressed in a strange Victorian outfit, something in me clicks. She is a grown-up version of Molly, a hardened woman of dubious gender, the exact opposite of the creature that was born at the beginning and the final product of her experiences. Now she is not just perpetuating sexual violence, she wholeheartedly embraces it, only to comment in a blasé manner on its medical dangers.
The play was hard work – it wore you out, the ever-changing mood from funny to shocking pulling and pushing you, leaving you ever unprepared - It felt very much like Life itself. Stephanie Jane Gunner’s acting was intense and heartfelt, pushing every nuance, probing into every emotional nook and cranny. Zack Polanski gave you both the sweating testosterone driven male without becoming his own cliché as well as the jester-licious butler type with a healthy dose of deranged humanity beneath, and Simon Jay was, as ever, of disturbing elegance and emotional intensity which seems to become his trademark.
So what have we learnt today: Consent is shown to be not just a simple yes or no... it is a psychological process that will change you for good and from which there is no coming back, but at no point would it permit either the characters or the audience a remittance from responsibility. Yet there is no black and white/either-or mentality: it demonstrates and acknowledges that there is no such thing as either a victim or a participant. It questions the very nature of psychology and self-awareness; humans appear both enlightened and self-aware but simultaneously prone to their animal instincts.
"Consenting Adults" was not just a play but a powerful reproduction of the nature of life itself, of the psychology and evolution of sexual communication, a sarcastic and grotesque commentary on social etiquette that would yet not fail to smirk at itself... something that hit almost too close to home for me, but for this very reason becoming a masterpiece. Like John Osbourne once said, it has only merit when it evokes a reaction ... and tonight John Osbourne would have been proud.
Saturday, May 07, 2011
There is the old blonde joke about the blonde you have to tell to keep breathing.
But have you ever noticed how, when you become hyperconscious of the way you breathe, you walk, you move, all those automatic things your body is programmed to do without thinking, it suddenly becomes difficult to keep going without falling on your face, without suffocating?
Some days I'm so conscious of my breathing I suddenly can't seem to breathe. My body tenses and my lungs somehow seize up. Weird, eh?
Sunday, April 24, 2011
So this guy wanders into our shop and approaches Sally and me. Needless to say, being all splendid at customer service, we're all ears, expecting him to want a recommendation or something sane like that.
But the man isn't here for books, nosireee. Instead, he asks, looking slightly sheepish, whether we could give our opinion on his singing. He wanted to go to an open mic night, but was shy and wanted to see a public response to his voice on a small scale before he put himself out there.
So obviously he came into a bookshop for that.
I could tell that what was going through Sally's head was an exact carbon copy of the content of mine.
(Whatever you do, don't laugh! Don't make eye contact. Oh shit, this could be the mystery shopper - do make eye contact. But in a strange removed way that does not allow him to enter your soul and throw a mental anchor, prompting him to come back every day. Do the dissociated helpful customer service smile. Pretend all is normal; as long as his dick ain't hanging out, it's fine.)
And because I thought it'd probably cause less aggro and embarassment and because I attract strange people A LOT and should be used to this by now, I agreed to listen.
(Sally, in an astonishingly quiet and inconspicuous way, managed to slither away.)
After much rationalizing and emming and err-ing, he started. And I pricked up my ears, waiting for the inevitable power ballad.
And he goes...
"Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes,
head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes
And eyes and ears and mouth and nose..."
INCLUDING the motions.
You know, when you have to stare and you know it's rude and you can't help it, and you don't know whether to laugh or back off and get the maze out and your every fibre just screams "OMGWTF"
He stopped and looked at me expectantly. Over his shoulder I could see Sally, staring with wide eyes and barely holding back hysteria. My eyes searched for possible mates of his who might have sent him in on a dare. No joy. I had to conclude he was mental and that it's best not to upset the patient.
"Well", I said, diplomatically. "This might work if they are all really really drunk...?"
And would you believe it, he thanked me and left?
Hell, at least I have met my quota for the month.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
This was (must have been, considering its location) someone's reaction to the Holocaust exhibition. Which has a cattle train. And piles of children's shoes from the camps. And this springs to mind? I mean, really??
Apart from that, I'd beg to differ. Goebbels was, as we say in the poetic tongue of my forefathers, a "Hackfresse".
Posted by Patty at 15:53
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I've always loved my windows facing east. I've had a few of those, growing up. And West windows, which are great for afternoons. And an unlucky dark North one. That was shit. It makes you feel like you're always removed from life, you can see the bright sunlight and how it is there for others, but somehow not you.
But East is definitely a winner. That way you catch the sun rising in the morning, and you wake to a bright burst of sunshine through your window. Which happens on about three days a year here in England. The quality of morning light, between 9 and 10 am, is my favourite - it is at its most full-blown but still purest and unblemished... afternoon sun is yellower, heavier, dustier, making you feel more sluggish.
There was this painter – Monet, I think - who spent days painting the same scene over and over again, because the quality of light would change the quality of the scene so radically it seemed wholly new.
Take the Grand Canyon at sunset. Every five minutes it's practically a new planet.
I hate the word "Sun worshipper", but there is something to it - I can see why people worshipped a sun god. Sitting up in my bed in the mornings, that sun hits my face right on, a pink glow through my closed eyelids, and it feels like a drug coursing through my system. It is more immediate than any drug I can imagine, and purer, without the bad effects. Alcohol calms me and makes me feel carefree, but it always feels a little like grimy sludge in my system as well, it is never pure, perfect happiness.
Now I sit here, with my morning coffee, the caffeine mimicking the heartbeat of an excited child about to go on a seaside holiday, and fooling my consciousness into true but fleeting happiness, and my eyes are closed, blocking out the world, and I am getting, as they say at gas stations, a full tank.
It brings back my memories of Texas, of Arizona, of California, of how full of light these places were (I'm deliberately ignoring the dark underbelly that every American who lived there for some time will probably howl at me, while laughing at my cliche-ridden tourist view.) But fact of the matter is, I have spent some of my most perfect, complete days there, as short as they were... something which I probably, admittedly, would never achieve if I lived there for an extended period. Places are only fleetingly beautiful, they all show their true face eventually, and it is best to move on and not stay in a place long enough so you won't get violated by the badness of it.
I remember when I first walked down the street in Santa Monica, CA, and the road opened up and there was the Pier, bathed in Californian sun, that I had only seen on TV so far, that was a prop to years of daydreams, a focal point, something I clang to in my hope to get away. It had been a setting in a story I had dreamt up and written for years, a story that filled me completely over these years, like a counterpressure from inside me to stop the pressure of the world I hated around me from squashing me. And finally it was there, for real, just a few steps ahead of me instead of unreachable thousands of miles away, and I didn’t care whether it was just a tourist trap, it was beautiful and perfect to me. And the day remained perfect, from the people I met, to the music that blared from beach radios, to the scent, to everything that happened, and I wanted to bottle that day and take it with me like the vial of a drug that could put me into that happiness any day I needed it.
I remember when Pat and Patrick and I headed back from the Texan Gulf Coast to Dallas, and how Pat drove back via country roads, so we would see the beauty of Texas instead of the dull freeways, and how the heat beat down on us like a damp hammer made of cotton wool. We stopped in a place called Virginia, which had beautiful old trees and Southern mansions with giant American flags hanging limp and sleepy in the summer heat, long before patriotism had developed the nasty fundamentalist flavour it has now. I had a banana split blizzard from a Dairy Queen, which did little to quench the heat in my body but tasted so good, and it was a perfect moment of contentment and sublime happiness that I didn’t want to end.
Amazing how cheesy it sounds when I reread this. Maybe it feels sentimental now because I have lost the ability to feel that way, because it was based on innocence and naivety, two things I equally scorn and miss. If I had the choice to go back and be that naive again, I wouldn’t know what to do. It was bliss living in that ignorance, in that stupid mindless worship of something that didn’t really exist, but the joy of that worship was the main goal, not the object I worshipped. It just hurts like hell to have that innocence torn away from you, that ability to enjoy without being wary; I don’t want to go through that again. I would have it back, though, if I had a guarantee that I’d never lose it again. What have I gained from the knowledge I have now, from the
cynicism realism. It's like Scout says in "Generation X":
"the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead, we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God"
I have, since then, tried to re-create that happiness. It never works, of course, one only gets a snippet reminder, a weak version of the original burst, like that drug that will never be the same again after that first hit. I've kept memorabilia, I have a Mountain Dew bottle full of Death Valley sand that feels to me like I bottled some of that joy and I dare not open it lest that spirit of that day escapes or at least gets tainted by Today. I tried to grow my own Joshua Tree out of seeds I bought in a mid-desert store, and even though they promised me a mini tree after about 10 years, it has never grown past the size of a fleshy blade of grass, which makes me think this is exactly what they sold me: a fleshy blade of grass. I'm afraid to say I'm a gullible tourist.
Anything, anything that works.
And I am terrified, should I one day go back there, that it will never be the same carefree perfect beauty before, where the world unfolded in front of me like a perfect daydream, either because I am no longer capable of feeling that joy or because something will happen that will sully that dream. What else will I have if even that dream fails?