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A second failure in as many sessions. It didn’t feel totally comfortable and I was expecting some negative feedback. I could say that my example was no different from anyone else’s and that her criteria for ‘success’ seems to depend entirely on her own whims but that’s not helpful. And probably only partially true! I suppose this is exactly what I wanted: someone to challenge me and push me further than I’ve ever been before. I didn’t come here to be told I was great; I came here to learn and develop. A little praise wouldn’t go amiss though. Eventually.
Dragging the bones through another day of jumping from class to class. Taping up blisters and carefully avoiding any more bruises. The weekends used to be a time for drinking and parties and coffee with friends. Now I need them for finishing all the bits that keep breaking down. Ideally, while I’m drinking, going to parties and having coffee with friends. I’m beginning to understand the limits of my body, or at least recognise that at some point something will give way if I keep pushing it. I missed out on a place in the marathon. My feet are smiling.
Object exercises in Acting class. One overall ‘action’ comprising three smaller ‘activities’. Some of us have been successful and others, much less so. Understanding the criteria for this success is much like finding the lost city of Atlantis. She has a nasty habit of contradicting herself – It must be realistic but heightened; something we could do but not necessarily something we would do. We must avoid being too realistic. We mustn’t perform but she only seems to like the ones with an element of performance in them. I think she enjoys the confrontation. It seems to feed her artistic soul.
I’ve usually been good with words - I’d find that I could pluck the right one out of the air and slot it neatly in amongst the others. Occasionally verbose but never lost for something to say, I’d often listen for rhythm. But sometimes words are too heavy and dense; they catch and stick together like hangers in a wardrobe. Sometimes words escape and I can never find the right thing to say. They’re always hiding behind some other choice phrase, chameleon-like, apparently innocuous but barbed underneath. There are very few words for forgiveness: almost none, maybe just one. Please.
There’s a lady standing and stretching in the office across the road. She’s too distant for me to make out her face or even the colour of her hair. The windows are lightly tinted so all colours are a variation on inky. Her stretch turns into a series of jerky dance moves; limbs thrust out at the most surprising angles. Let’s call her Sarah. Sarah is putting on her jacket and conducting her own homage to Joy Division. Sarah is pouring the weight from one leg to the other. I imagine Sarah’s eyes are closed; her thoughts far from here.
Pandemonium. You just don’t get a second to think here – It’s always a frantic dash to make sure you’ve got everything ready for the next class. Do I need my movement clothes? Will I need the yoga mat? What the hell have I got this little mirror for? Right now, I need to get my hands on a manuscript book for a singing lesson this evening. I need to sweet-talk the costume department into lending me a pair of women’s shoes. Business; not pleasure! Then tonight sometime, I must copy up all my notes and practice a sonnet. Then sleep.
I set the room and ran to have a shower, quickly dried and walked back into the space. I shaved my face (removing my sideburns), my chest and under my arms. That last one was tricky and still burns a little. I angled the mirror back up to my face and applied foundation and green eye make-up. Shaking a little, I delicately traced eye-liner around my lids and finished with mascara, lip-gloss and rouge. Imagining a full-length mirror on the fourth wall, I slipped into the bra, knickers, black tights and evening dress. Two socks and the transformation was complete.
Why does she keep getting up? She made a decision right at the beginning of his piece that she’d hate it. From before his entrance into the room, she turned to us and rolled her eyes; ‘Well this should be fun.’ Even before this, I think she’d made up her mind about him. Here’s someone who answers back. Perhaps she thinks he’s lazy or just not bothered? She doesn’t see him the day before desperately trying to come up with something she’ll like. All he wants is some praise or at least an idea of how he can please her.
We’re pretty tight: a merry band of troubadours finding our feet in a new land. It’s exciting that we’re his first year. As he said, he’s invested a great deal of time in us already and we’ve got three years to prove him right. We have come together, at this point, from all sorts of backgrounds and previous experience. But we’ve left it at the door; it has no currency here. It’s helpful, of course, in a practical sense but no one cares what you’ve done in the past if you can’t be present now. Something exciting this way comes.
Where are your friends tonight? Insistent piano rhythm that builds throughout. Drums enter just before the bass – The scene is set and then vocals creep into the fray, bouncing in time to the beat. My friends are all over the place tonight; they’re in London drinking with other friends or perhaps curling up with a film. They’re in Sheffield living with others and re-tracing steps planted years before. They’re in Norfolk biding their time or in Baltimore stepping outside of themselves and taking a risk. They’re flying in Spain or revising up north. They’re all here, with me, right now.
Sitting alone in a busy room catching snatches of chattered conversation filtered through air-conditioning, traffic and the clinking of cups. Eyes closed trying to isolate each sound: distinguish it from the muddled haze. It’s still too loud to leave - My eyeballs ache. I can’t make sense of the room. My chair is a raft adrift in an ocean bumping into debris from an earlier disaster. No survivors or witnesses, only the aftermath. Now there is quiet - not silence but the air is still enough to hear the rain outside. It’s already time to leave again. Time to swim.
Another wave of nausea breaks somewhere just below my throat. My head is welded onto my neck and balances high above a distant city skyline. I’m wreathed in a hazy fog that clings to my skin and creeps up into my pores. There’s much I’d planned to do today that may remain untouched and incomplete. Books to enjoy; films to digest. Phone calls and emails to distant friends who have drifted to the edge of my radar. Yes, I failed in lots of ways today. But tomorrow is full of promise; I guess it has to be to wake up.
I didn’t sleep well last night. I kept thinking about you; wondering what you were up to. You don’t talk to us now – I guess you’re probably too scared to start a conversation. Too scared to hear what we’ve got to say. Too scared to explain yourself. If you don’t call we might not talk again and I can’t imagine that. My stomach screws up into a ball just putting that thought onto paper. I know I’ll call you first but I don’t know what to say. I have to believe you care a little or none of this matters.
I have the scenario all worked out in my head; I’ve bought red and gold coloured ribbon and star-shaped confetti. All I need now is some string and a few small, very silent, containers to carry everything into the room. The activities have to be completed without waking my partner. In an oddly serendipitous manner the distinction between ‘Art’ and reality has blurred and I’m gifted with the perfect idea for your present. Perhaps sans ribbon or confetti and certainly without the string. I don’t need the containers either but you see where I’m going no doubt? Just one clue.
The Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate tonight was beautifully dark. In every sense. A members’ viewing brings out all the long, black winter coats and charcoal suits; paired thoughtfully with autumnal shades of brown and mauve. High-heeled evening shoes, tip-tapping across the wooden floor, cut through the softly murmured nodding of heads. His strikingly detailed mouths, captured in a gaping scream or hollow plea, invite the eyes to gaze in at the abyss. Bloodied limbs seem to twist out from the neck; different forms in triptych. A flash of teeth and scarlet gum uncoils itself from a darkened form.
She felt she was floating; as if she were gliding from wave to wave on an inflatable sheet. Staring up at the clouds erasing the blue sky white. Nothing else in the world to see; no future, no history and nothing that required belief or faith.
He had stories for everyone; carefully constructed fables to shape his own identity. A series of mother-tongues and impressions of people who may have crossed his path. He digs his nails under his skin and tears out all the roots and connecting tissue. All the links are broken.
She drifts and he wanders alone.
Eye-shadow applied in that ten minute break I was swapping numbers with James and Robin. Fred was recruiting a team to descend upon his place later that night. I didn’t notice until later in the bar when we’d reclined into a bottle of beer or a small glass of wine, but you’d all dressed up for a night out at various places. Each of you sated from the week’s entertainment but eager to break out into normality once more. It’s easy to forget there’s a world outside of this one, but we do so at our peril. This isn't real.
Just under two and a half weeks until one of the most significant dates in my lifetime, I’m sure. The day when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. I remember drinking in Bar One during my final year at university when George Bush defeated John Kerry against all the odds. We didn’t really understand the implications at the time but we sensed something wasn’t right; we knew we’d lost. This time it’s all much clearer; this is the dawning of a new era for the USA. But the bar is set so high, how can he succeed?
I have killed her so many times in my head: her heel scrapes the pavement as she steps off the curb and sinks a cigarette butt into a puddle. The heavens splashing ‘round her ankles, turning her red shoes mauve. His out-stretched palm traces an invisible thread to this shadow walking away. She turns, hair plastered into a shiny bob, beneath a folded copy of the evening paper, heavy and bent out of shape. Ink and rainwater streak down her face as she mouths those words through a smile: “I’ll see you again. In another life when we’re both cats.”
So many themes and subjects coursing through my mind tonight but I can’t seem to catch one and hold it down long enough to explore. There’s a steady battle developing between the urge to get this finished and the need to get to sleep. I found my mouth gaping wider and wider in protracted, eye-watering, yawns all afternoon. Last night’s call was difficult and meant that I didn’t sleep well again. It’s having a knock-on affect still and doesn’t look like ending anytime soon. It’s been good keeping busy; any time to dwell on the issue and nothing gets done.
She opens her mouth and it falls out on the floor: every thought she’s ever had drops fully-formed into his lap, spitting and writhing up into a ball. He scoops up the debris and laughs through his nose as he gathers it into his chest. She forces her way up under his ribs and tickles a tune on his spine. Victorian lamps shine in her eyes like the icing on ginger-bread castles. Marzipan lashes and cherry rouge cheeks sweeten her nursery rhyme glare. The push and the pull is fun from afar but look close and the cupboard is bare.
End. Finish. All over. It looks like there’s really no going back this time. No kiss and make up; no happy ever after. And we do so love a happy ever after. In truth we expect it but that’s not how the real world works. The real world is full of pain and disappointment; of lies and indiscretion; many separate truths cloaked in explanation and hidden away from meaning. We are able to convince ourselves of anything – We’re fine, we’re stronger, we’re happy, we’re totally justified. We’re victims, we’re free, we’re happy, we’re living fully, we’re winning. We’re so happy.
To do what she did, with total sincerity, was so much more exposing than the earlier exercise. To embody the feelings so fully without any inhibitions must have been extremely liberating. If the intention is pursued half-heartedly the result is sketchy and incomplete. It caused quite a stir today; a hushed silence. I’m not sure anyone imagined they’d be placed into such an open situation. Boundaries were crossed then almost obliterated but, at the time, only cursory thought was given to what we were doing. We were just following instructions, right? You be master; I’ll be slave. No questions asked.
A memory of Avignon. Sat on a fold-out chair smoking in his summer suit and favourite Sunday hat. Watching. Right leg crossed upon left, reclining in the breeze. Sunlight gleams on the china tea set and dapples the pavement below. His companions sit languidly, playing with a smile, expecting nothing of each other, gazing beyond the trees to a river. Perhaps they meet here every Sunday to laugh and talk and smoke. Perhaps they meet to share silent recollections of times long forgotten: Half-thought in snatches of breath caught between breathing. Forever content in black and white, waiting to exhale.
It was solid and wholly competent; a good example of a show done well. But it was far from perfect, rather, there were moments that worked beautifully – maybe four – and prolonged periods where the mind was free to wander elsewhere. One speech stands out: an understated delivery; almost sotto vitto, that would go on to fuel a greater action later in the play. The action was unseen and the aftermath mishandled but the beauty of the speech remained. In two short years I’ll be in costume and make-up and a first year will be thinking I could have done better.
I still get the darker days – as everyone must from time to time – where the clock stands resolute; forcing each thought to be played out in its entirety. Where doubt and confusion are given space to flourish. Teeth clench, the jaw tightens and the stomach flutters and drops like I’m falling out of a dream. It’s rapidly become an exercise in trying to ignore or forget; to force the problem elsewhere in my mind. Efforts undone by a simple phone call. I know you’re sat there, wherever you are, wondering how I am. But you won’t call me. Not yet.
Faces taped up on the wall staring into faces staring down at mirrored faces lost in private revelations. Feeling that I should be somewhere else with other people instead of here, alone. Conscious of the clock ticking on the wall and the darkening street outside. Catching eyes and collecting faces for imagined conversations over drinks and scenic music much later. And back to the page. Back to a thought; to a feeling I was experiencing earlier, lost now to other thoughts and lingering distractions. Lost in words and dots and dashes, fragments of speech and incoherent mumblings in the room.
Outside in the street I can hear the snow turning into rain and back to snow again. Great lagoons have steadily formed where once there lay road and pavement. With every car or truck that passes, a new wave, of greater intensity, breaks against the side of the house and recedes into the pool once more. Swathes of sleet fell into the Thames tonight, whipping the numb faces of all who dared cross to the strains of a Tchaikovsky allegro. Wet flakes soaring up high to glimmer and glint in the lamp-light, softly silhouetted against the hazy backdrop of Westminster.
Alabaster skin illuminated against the hastening dawn, racing into morning. The jaw agape in an illusion to that painting: but the sound is laughter. The hands are stretching to the stars, alive and fixed like first light. A gaze that pierces language and communicates thought and intention regardless of speech. A reflection in a darkened window does not provide the truth. Street lights and head lights cut through the glare and render our call weightless. He sees one thing and I see another: first stranger, then friend; confident then lover. I wake; it’s a dream – we shall never go on.
Twilight: when the rules of the waking world are suspended. Shadows spread like inky pools across a darkening sky. At dawn and dusk when life slows down your breath freezes in the air. Clouds are framed in orange, mauve and purple - great lumbering bodies of light bleed into the ground and the horizon yawns in two. A desolate street coaxed into life by the lighting of the lamps. A single car sits by a stop sign - engine running, driver’s door open, the seat is empty. A stream of light hits the wet tarmac and dances into a puddle.
She’s managed to poison the feeling in the whole room and she’s only said about three words so far. Just when you could begin to warm to someone; begin to understand their various (and many) faults, she goes to the dark place and drags us all behind her. The scene is stopped – and rightly so – to the sound of her cowboy boots scuffing the floor in protest. It’s missed the mark and I think they both know but they carry on regardless. She’s got to leave, she’s left herself with nowhere else to go. Now here come the wise words.
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