I will write, I will write, I will write….

I’m forcing myself to write today. There are lots of reasons not to write. I’ve been at work all day. I’ve just finished my German course. I’m writing in a café with a new person who I hardly know and it seems strange to sit here, ignoring her and instead delving ever deeper into what I think and how I feel.

Part of me wants to know why I have to write, exactly. I don’t really have a reason, except that I’d gotten into the habit. A. thinks it is good for me. I think there’s part of me that believes that too. It’s like eating your greens. You know there are good general reasons for eating vegetables, but if you were challenged to explain them you’d be at a bit of a loss (they keep regular? Stop you going blind? Make your hair curly? I can’t remember). At the moment, though, writing feels kind of torturous. And slightly embarrassing. It is slightly embarrassing that I keep a blog. If only I kept a diary. Diaries are honest. Diaries are sincere. Diaries are so much more serious for the fact that they contain mysterious unknowns. That people writing them don’t want you to see them – that must mean they’re good! Blogs are inherently performative. The minute you publish something online you are, on some level, begging for people’s interest and approval. Your writing changes according to the online audience you envision for yourself. I don’t know why I haven’t started a diary. I keep telling A. I’m only writing for myself from now on, no expectations, no unobtainable dreams, no pressure. But it’s a lie, because here I am, forcibly choking down my embarrassment, and not writing, but blogging. Clearly there’s still something of the performer about me that I can’t shake.

I don’t really have a set topic. I was going to write about homesickness. I was going to write about the strange way I feel homesick for the UK (desperately, desperately) but not for Australia. A. and I have started discussing the possibility of staying longer in Germany (more than a year) and whilst some days this is exciting (maybe we’ll build a mezzanine level guest bed in the living room! Maybe we’ll get a cat!) on other days I start to think of myself as some kind of sad economic exile on the level of the Irish during the potato famine (my self-pity really knows no bounds sometimes). ‘Even if I could get back to London, I could never afford to live there permanently. I could never afford a house where I would want to live. I could never afford to raise a family.’ Australia isn’t much better, I think, while mentally filling the gaps between my thoughts with sad fiddle music and Irish pipes. ‘Berlin is cheap,’ I tell myself, ‘you could make a life here.’ And that’s when the panic grips and I can’t sleep and even when I eventually do fall sleep all of my sleep is anxiety sleep featuring anxiety dreams in which I spend my time attempting to cover up murders committed by my close friends and family.

In some ways I feel like I’m currently in hibernation. Or, maybe it’s more like I’m in hiding. I feel like I’m still in recovery from some massive punches this year has landed. First, I got kicked out of the UK (so I knew that was coming from the moment I started on my 2-year-no-extension-visa, but that doesn’t mean it still didn’t hurt). Second, I suffered through… whatever the Edinburgh Fringe was this year. I’m still not entirely certain what that breakdown was. I do know that most of the stress and unhappiness I experienced was of my own devising. It’s not like the theatre industry collectively voted me off the island. I’m not well-known enough to even get on the ballot. I turned their collective indifference into a multi-spiked emotional torture ball and proceeded to beat myself with it day and night for not being good enough to warrant being noticed. The fact that I will willingly, obsessively, and compulsively persecute myself so enthusiastically because of particular dreams or goals worries me. That I would so completely believe in my own worthlessness because of other people’s indifference worries me. Which is why I am currently backing away slowly and quietly and going into hibernation for a while. Being in Berlin is good for this. I can completely wipe the slate clean. I can reinvent myself without anyone asking me what the hell I think I’m doing or who the hell do I think I am (‘I don’t know, I don’t know, can’t you tell me?’). It’s like being a recovering junkie – moving to some remote area so I don’t have to be around the people that will tempt me back into my old destructive ways. No bad fringe theatre! No workshops or ‘unmissable opportunities’ or competitions or auditions or commissions or whatever over crap. Just quietness.

I don’t know what I’ll do from here, or what I’ll do when I ‘come out of hiding’. I don’t know if I’ll ever come out of hiding. It feels safe here, in the quiet. Maybe I would like a cat. Maybe I would like a mezzanine level guest bed. To be honest, I’m beginning to think that the only interesting way to live your life these days is to be completely normal and everyday. You don’t travel around Ireland with a fridge and blog about it and then get a book deal and TV series. You get an ordinary job that involves filing and numbers. You have an ordinary family and you call your kids Mary and John. You have a completely expected life and you don’t tell anybody anything about ever, not even in Facebook status updates. That’s how to be special these days. Oh, imagine the things they’d imagine about you.

But, that’s just not possible for me, is it? Because, look at me here, blogging, and thinking I’m special.

Leave a comment

Filed under Germany, Introspection

Balloon Border

Last weekend was pretty special for Berlin. It was the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. To celebrate/commemorate, the city organised for over 8000 balloons to be placed along a 10 mile stretch of the old wall’s border. As night fell, the balloons were lit up from underneath, creating a beautiful and educative display.

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by night

Balloon Border by night

Because A. and I are history nerds and walking nerds and (now) Berlin nerds, we decided to walk the entire 10 mile route. The balloons were up from Friday to Sunday the 9th of November (being the exact day the wall ‘came down’). We spent a good part of Saturday afternoon and evening walking from Prenzlauer Berg in the north to Freidrichshain in the (more) south-east.

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

Along the way, there were information points telling you about an aspect of the wall’s history in the surrounding area – how someone had escaped here, or how an important building had been destroyed. Large screens were set up at various points playing the same, almost wordless documentary and these constantly changing images provided a stream-of-consciousness memories of life under the wall.

I find a lot of the stories of the Berlin Wall very difficult to deal with and spent much of the early part of the walk crying in the street. Documentary footage detailing people’s desperation, their misery, their confusion at this sudden change of events was extremely distressing. For example, this old woman trying to jump out of her East Berlin apartment into the street below, which was West Berlin.

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: www.guardian.co.uk

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: http://www.guardian.co.uk

You can see East Berlin border guards attempting to pull her back into her apartment, and West Berliners attempting to pull her down by her legs. She is crooked and curled up in the middle, desperately trying to protect her fragile body from the onslaught from both sides (she was pulled into West Berlin and she survived, in case you were wondering).

Footage of a young West Berlin couple receiving blessings & gifts from the bride’s parents, confined to their East Berlin apartment 4 floors above them, destroys me every time.

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot - the original footage I've seen doesn't have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot – the original footage I’ve seen doesn’t have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

It’s not just the sad stories of the wall being built that affect me, but also the incredible footage of the wall coming down – the optimism and hope seeping out of those images always chokes me up. An East German woman kissing a border guard on the cheek before jumping up and down like an excited 5 year old and running through the border. The East Berlin men joking with the border guards in front of them, ‘Come on, let us out, we’ll all come back, we promise. Just half an hour, we just want to have a look,’ happy and confident because they know that they have the power: with hundreds of other East Berliners behind them and only a few, elderly border guards in front, the joking men can tell it’s a matter of minutes before these guards capitulate and the border will be opened. Some incredible footage (which I CANNOT find on the internet ANYWHERE) of a huge group of East Germans running towards a country border (Hungary?), their cars abandoned on the roads behind, their children gripped in the middle, bags flying, aiming for an open strip of grassland free of walls and barbed wire. The guards from the road border simply walk out slowly from their posts stand on the road and stare. They are made weak by the sheer number of people, the overwhelming force of their emotion and determination. The border guard credited with ‘opening’ the Berlin Wall, Harald Jäger, said he had never seen such euphoria before or since.

What was incredible on the day was connecting these emotions, these huge, world-changing emotions with the ordinary streets of Berlin that I have been living on for the past few months. A lot of the route I had walked before whilst just going about my everyday Berlin life- unconsciously popping across the wall here and there, going to an event, viewing an apartment, visiting a park, a museum, a landmark. Walking the route altogether made me feel like I was seeing the streets in a new way, peeling back the surface image and finding something completely different underneath. I saw many elderly Germans on the route, in wheelchairs, with walkers, being helped along by younger relatives or friends. Of course I’d passed plenty of people of this generation in the street before, but they took on new significance now – I felt an almost irresistible urge to grab each one and ask them where they were from, how did they grow up, where were they when the wall fell, how did they feel then, how did they feel now and whatever else they cared to tell me. I wanted to extend this experience of living history, of the past and present and future suddenly crashing together in front of my very eyes.

This experience becoming suddenly, bodily aware of the past in the present, incidentally, something that one becomes used to in Berlin – places that seem innocuous turn out to be hiding actual physical remnants of modern 20th century history. A. and I took a walk in Grunewald in October and climbed a hill that looked out over all of Berlin. Intrigued by the landscape (Berlin is mainly swamp – there aren’t many high points) and wanting to know more, we did some research and discovered that this was a man-made hill, built over Albert Speer’s Nazi architecture and engineering institute with all the post-WWII rubble of West Berlin. Perched on top of this mid-20th century hill is a decaying NSA listening post from the Cold War era that no-one can decided what to do with: museum? Ski resort? Apartments? Remembrance or Capitalism? Looking forwards or backwards? And if it’s forward, where exactly does 21st century Berlin go from here?

And furthermore where exactly DOES the 21st century go from here? Or, more accurately for my mindset last weekend, where does my 21st century go from the fall of the Berlin Wall? Over the course of our 10 mile walk, A. and I were given the opportunity for a lot of reflection. The triumphal celebration we were witnessing was not big on nuance. Whilst the city was peeling back it’s facade and showing us something new, in many ways what were being shown was a simple, emotional and inspiring story of tragic oppression and glorious freedom. I’m not arguing that isn’t part of the story of the wall. But the consequences of that glorious story arc for the here and now is a silencing of any alternatives to liberalism and capitalism – within this specific, Western, capitalist bubble, the fall of the Berlin Wall really was the ‘End of History’. Certainly the Left in the West has never really recovered its bite since communism failed so spectacularly. The 21st century is glorious, capitalist freedom, with no need to ask any further questions or fight any other fights and certainly no need for any more revolutions on the scale of the Fall of the Wall. With this lack of alternatives comes a coinciding loss of passion and the world-changing emotions that choked me up in the street at the start of this post. We’ve slid into a historical period with all the excitement of a middle-aged, middle-class life in suburbia. Sure, it’s super-comfortable, but, really, what’s the point? And as any film about the dark side of suburbia is keen to point out – the comfort and the contentment only hides an underbelly that no-one’s willing to talk about.

I’m not suggesting that the wall should go back up just so I can get some emotional jollies out of politics again. I’m pretty against walls, unless they’re the walls of your house and they’re keeping in the heat, keeping out the rain and keeping up your ceiling. What was interesting about the 10 mile walk, however, was that whilst I felt like I was becoming hyper-aware of the past, I was also aware of not getting a complete story. The border guard who I quoted up above? His world collapsed along with the wall – he lost his (admittedly, shitty job) and struggled to make ends meet in the new capitalist paradise before having to retire. The wall coming down wasn’t all sweetness and light, just as it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally question our slavish devotion to economic liberalism. Just because there was a wall and it was bad doesn’t mean that everything since there wasn’t a wall is automatically good.

All in all, the night was thought-provoking, educative and beautiful. I will admit that by the 5 and a half hour mark I was sick of being hyper-aware of history and only wanted to be hyper-aware of a vegetarian burger, a comfy seat and some glühwein. I spoke to a few people afterwards who said they thought it was ‘disappointing’ because the balloons weren’t lit up when they flew into the sky (after the balloons had made the border for the weekend, they were released into the sky and most people assumed they had a light attached so they could be seen far off into the distance). I couldn’t have disagreed more. For me, the event was about the coming together, the remembering and the consideration, not the spectacle.

But, hey, I suppose there’s a different side to every story, isn’t there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

7am blues and 3am panic attacks

You’d think after moving countries so many times (Germany is now the…wait, let me count it up…7th country I have lived in), I’d be comfortable with the difficulties that a change of scenery (and weather, and subway map, and bureaucracy, and language) entails.

But, no.

There is always an initial honeymoon period, which usually involves me walking around my new city in something akin to a rose-tinted, honey-soaked, magic fairy-dust bubble of happiness, proclaiming said city to be ‘perfect’ and everything and everyone in said city to be ‘wonderful’ and that I shall never, ever leave, because why would anyone live anywhere else? But sometime after, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks, things will start to go off track.

‘Man,’ I’ll think, with all the weight and seriousness that accompanies a 14-year-old’s epiphany, ‘Moving countries is hard.

And, I have, once again, unfortunately, inevitably, hit that point in Germany.

There are things that you need to make the transition to a new life in a new country easier: a home. A job (or, at least, a reason to not spend 15 hours a day on the internet). Friends. Money. Things that you enjoy doing in the new city.

It seems though, that no matter how hard you try, you will fail to get all your ducks in a row. One thing will be missing. Or, if it’s not missing, something will trip you up that didn’t trip you up the last time. In a way that you didn’t expect and have no prior experience of.

I have a home, which I love. So, tick. I’m fortunate enough to have enough money not to be too worried. Tick, tick. I am getting a routine sorted, and there are lots of interesting places to walk around town. I don’t really have many friends, and I’m bad at getting in contact with the ones I do have, because I’m worried they can smell the desperation off me. But, at least I know what I should be doing, even if I haven’t yet gotten off my arse to do it yet.

I have a full-time job, which is both a blessing and a curse. I am constantly reminded by people how remarkable it is that I found a job so quickly. Not only a job, but a FULL-TIME job. I keep reminding myself how lucky I am and I try to feel lucky, but a lot of the time I feel stressed and tired. I haven’t been in full-time employment for 5 months and this is energetic, emotional full-time employment. This isn’t staring at a computer screen all day, this is running after kids. It feels like your emotions are in hypersensitive mode every second of the day. It’s drama, drama, drama, because this is what children are like. One minute they love you, the next they hate you. One minute you love them, the next you hate them. It’s exhausting. I started the job 3 and a half weeks after I got here. And whilst I’m grateful (GRATEFUL) to have it, the gear shift of changing countries was probably enough for any one person. Throwing a new job into the mix, where everyone speaks German to me (a language I barely understand), was ambitious to say the least. Also, the exhaustion certainly doesn’t help me in my quest to get out of the house and be social, I have to be honest.

Apart from the country change and the nature of my work, full-time hours are their own new and exciting struggle. There’s a time, usually around 7am on a Tuesday or Wednesday, when the week seems endless, the weekend never long enough (and, by extension, the year endless, the holidays almost non-existent; your life endless and it’s meaning not in anyway clear and/or present). I think I’m finding it harder at the moment because I always thought this wouldn’t be me – I was going to be one of those special people who lived on passion and air and the occasional arts grant. Whenever I’ve had full-time work in the past I’ve always considered it to be a temporary state of being. I’ve had plans of places I’d soon be going, projects I was working on over the weekends, the evenings. Full-time work was never permanent and it certainly wasn’t my reason for existing. I always had other dreams on the go. I don’t really have that anymore. And whilst I actually think that’s healthy and I’m glad of the decision I’ve made, it’s a huge change to the way I perceive myself and my life. I know this probably sounds depressing, but I don’t really know what I’m looking forward to anymore. I used to drift off to sleep telling myself stories of future spectacular achievements I could look forward to (embarrassing, I know), but I a) am not working towards these anymore b) don’t believe any of them would happen even if I *was* working towards them.

Which brings me to this exciting and new instalment of ‘What to Expect When You Move Countries.’

This week, I lost the ability to sleep.

And, after 3 extremely frustrating nights spent tossing and turning, attempting to count sheep and breaths, trying to meditate, trying to tell myself stories, trying to listen to music, to podcasts, trying to think of nice things (‘Raindrops and Roses and Whiskers on Kittens…’), I gave into the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and hopelessness racing around my head and let myself have a full-on, naked, hysterical crying, dry retching, panic attack in the bathroom.

Ah, international travel. It’s so glamorous and exciting, isn’t it?

I’ve never had a panic attack before. There was a detached part of me that was quite interested in the whole event. It also felt oddly good after it was all over, as if this was the worst it could possibly get and I’d survived it and, so therefore, there was nothing more that I could get worried about.

Of course, then I got gastro about 2 hours later, which wasn’t necessarily worse, but it was confusing and upsetting and certainly more than any one person should have to put up with in a single nighttime, especially when you’ve got so many other things to deal with, like a language you don’t understand and German bureaucracy and having no friends and a growing sense of isolation, but, I guess Norovirus didn’t get the message.

Anyway, the upside is that the Norovirus gave me back my lost superpower of sleep and I’ve now hibernated for about 13 hours. I’ve had a day in bed with Parks & Rec (because there is no problem that Leslie Knope cannot fix) and the panic and anxiety has subsided (for the moment). It doesn’t solve those pesky bigger questions of what I’m doing in Germany in the first place and how do you get up for work happily at 7am on a Tuesday and what do people dream about when they’re not dreaming they’re going to become movie stars? But it certainly makes the questions much quieter in my head.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

6 Reasons Not to do Something You Love (for a Career)

It’s a truism of this generation that the way to choose your career is to work out the ‘thing you love’ and then do it. Seems simple enough. And if you follow this advice, all manner of riches should be poured down upon you: fulfilment, happiness, health, career success, nice friends, a good-looking partner, great skin, perfect teeth and to top it all off, actual money. At least, that’s what I learnt from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Or was it ‘Eat Pray Love’? I don’t remember. One of those.

The problem is that whilst it’s a very seductive idea, it’s a pretty shitty way of running your life, picking your career and managing a wider community. Unfortunately, however, the idea is pervasive. It forms the backbone of every B-grade Hollywood film. Your parents said it to you throughout school (though, they might occasionally backtrack when you’d announce you wanted to be a crocodile trainer).

I’ve spent that last 18 years of my life repeating that I had to go into theatre, because I loved it more than anything and therefore I’d never be happy if I didn’t do exactly that. I thought loving something was as much as was needed. I was encouraged in this by anyone whoever spoke about the acting industry – it’s so hard, you have to make sure you LOVE it more than ANYTHING, otherwise there’s no point in going into it. So I loved it harder.

But I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t work that way. And that ‘loving’ something may actually be a hugely detrimental thing to feel towards something you want to be successful at. Here are my reasons.

1) Remember when you first fall in love with someone and everything they do is wonderful and even their farts smell of roses? You don’t want to have that kind of attitude towards something you do as a job. To be truly successful at work, you should be able to think critically and objectively about what you’re doing. It requires you to look at your industry, your company, your colleagues, your own work and think, ‘well, is this the best that can be done? Is there something missing? Are we doing something stupid that we should fix?’ It’s hard to do that when you think everything smells like roses. If Florence Nightingale was so in love with nursing that she hadn’t been able to look up and say, ‘hey, how come all these infections are spreading amongst my patients,’ we’d all have been a little bit worse off.

2) Falling in love involves spending a lot of time with the adored object. Like, A LOT, of time. Like, sometimes you don’t even really come up for air. Like, sometimes you turn around and it’s 9 months later and you call your friends and they’re all like, ‘Dude. We thought you were dead.’ I  mean, that might not be the best kind of relationship, but, still, you have to admit it sometimes happens. The problem with doing this with your career is that you begin to lose all perspective. Related to the first point – you can no longer think critically about your adored career because you have nothing to compare it to. It seems like the most important thing in the world, because it’s the ONLY thing in the world.

3) Love is selfish. Not in a, ‘this-person-is-all mine-i’ll-kill-you-if-you-even-look-at-them’ totally psycho-jealous kind of way, but in a ‘I’m-love-this-person-and-more-than-that-I-love-how-good-they-make-me-feel’ kind of way. Yes, you love them for who they are, but you also love them for how they make you feel. Which is a perfectly fine way of choosing a career as an individual. It becomes a disaster, however, when every single middle-class kid decides they want to play the cello and only play the cello and be paid a living wage for playing the cello and why shouldn’t they play the cello, after all, they love it. Now, I have no problem with middle-class kids that want to play the cello (hey, it’s a beautiful instrument, and I saw ‘Hilary & Jackie’, it looked like a really glamorous life until Jackie got multiple sclerosis), but my point is, someone should really also learn how to, I don’t know, cure multiple sclerosis as well as everyone becoming cello players. I’m not saying there’s not a place for cello players. I’m just saying there’s as many things wrong with the society that is all artists as there is with the society that is all doctors. The other problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose told me their passion is collecting rubbish. So, ‘do what you love’ leaves some massive holes in society that some unlucky person has to fill for whatever reason. It doesn’t really seem fair that they can’t also ‘do what they love’.

4) Sometimes you fall in love with someone that doesn’t treat you very well. They take advantage of your love for them. They insist you have to go out at midnight to buy cookies for them from the convenience store even though they’re not diabetic or disabled and they live in a really bad neighbourhood. And then, when you call them in tears one night because your best friend’s boyfriend has decided he hates you and wants your best friend never to see you again, instead of offering to come over immediately, your partner kind of yawns and says, ‘Oi, that’s dreadful but I’ve got a really early start tomorrow so I should probably get off the phone….’ A career that you love unconditionally is like that. You’ll do unthinkable things. Like, work for free even though you don’t know how you’re going to pay the rent next month. Like, putting up with a boss who emotionally abuses you because the job will ‘look good on your CV.’ Like, being the coffee person because maybe sometime soon the people you’re getting coffee for will let you actually do something related to the career of your choice. You’ll even start thinking it makes sense to pay money to be involved in ‘opportunities’ for ‘potential’ work that ‘may become available’ ‘somewhere’ down the line.

5) Sometimes we fall in love with people that are not quite right for us. Maybe we’re sick of being single. Maybe we couldn’t find anybody else. Maybe we went through a tough break-up and it seems easier to be in love with this ok person for a while instead of going out there and having our heart broken all over again. The point is that they aren’t quite the match we think they are. But we try desperately to make it work. Maybe you’re vegan and all she eats is steak. Maybe you work for Shell Oil and he’s an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace. I’m not saying you can’t make it work (or that Hollywood couldn’t do a damn fine job of making a quirky rom-com out of your attempts), but I am saying it might be more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes we fall in love with careers or industries that don’t match our talents or our personalities. But because we ‘love’ them, or because we know of no other way of choosing a career, we stay in them longer than is advisable. Sure, maybe you’ll be able to make it work eventually, maybe you’ll develop that killer shark instinct you need to be the cutthroat criminal lawyer you always dreamed of since watching Law & Order all those years ago. But, would it really be worth it? Maybe you’d be better used and happier somewhere else, doing something else.

6) People fall out of love. This is true. Divorce statistics don’t lie. I know we all want to believe in the happily ever after (I know I want to believe in the happily ever after), but chances are it won’t come your way. If you’re lucky, your ‘lifetime’ partner will die before you fall out of love with them and then you can spend the rest of your life mourning their great loss (I’m looking at you, Queen Victoria) and thinking you missed out on some kind of grey-haired, sepia-coloured, pigeon-feeding, end-of-life romance. Otherwise, there’s a large chance that the person you swore eternal devotion to is going to, at some point, loose their pretty shininess. You change, they change. You find yourself living in an apartment made up of a quarter of things you used to love from your old shared house and a quarter of the things you used to hate, plus a cat or two that you’re never sure you actually adopted but you seem to feed now, awkwardly flicking through Tinder and trying to encourage a sense of flirtatiousness and footloose fancy-free-ness. Breaking up with the career you thought you loved (or wanted to love) is just as devastating. You find yourself at an unimaginable age, starting at the beginning, looking at university guidebooks whilst shuddering with confusion and distaste at all the young people you might need to interact with who remind you on a daily basis just how much of a head start they have over you. Sure there’s nothing wrong with starting again. And, even if you choose a career for other reasons that you ‘love’ it, you may find yourself shifting gears at some point down the line. However, changing jobs is so much harder if you’ve invested all that emotional energy, that love, into the career to begin with. It’s like your personality has been ripped out. You don’t know who you are anymore.

Aristotle said: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” It might be longer and more complex than ‘do what you love,’ but it’s all the more useful for it. It considers the world, not just yourself. It considers what you can offer, rather than just what you’d like to do all day (I mean, I’d like to drink red wine whilst playing ‘Spell Tower’ on my phone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of my time and I’d probably be pretty bummed at myself on my death bed if all I’d achieved in life was a score above 10,000 on Spell Tower).

I’m sure I haven’t convinced the majority of you. And I’m sure plenty of people (plenty) will continue to go out there and choose careers based on ‘what they love’ and only on what they love (hey, you can’t fight City Hall. Or after-school specials). And some of you might find that works out ok for you. But the rest of you might find yourself dissatisfied, unhappy, unfulfilled and not really sure why. The problem is the nature of the game, the starting premise. When it comes to work, at least, love is definitely not all you need.

2 Comments

Filed under Employment, Introspection, Theatre

Flyering

It’s the end of Edinburgh (FINALLY), but I’ve been wanting to writing something about this for a while.

There are a lot of grumpy posts about how people handing out flyers can be less annoying. That’s all well and good, however, I think it’s about time that we had a post in which people refusing flyers learn how to be less annoying.

So, without further ado… The Correct Etiquette on Refusing a Flyer.

When someone hands you a flyer with a big hopeful smile on their face:

1) DO NOT lower your face to the ground and run around me.

I know you saw me. You just ran around me. You can’t run around someone you can’t see. You’re just making things embarrassing. And when I say ‘making things embarrassing’, I mean, YOU are being embarrassing. I am embarrassed on your behalf. I am making apologetic faces to the people around me as if you are my very good friend, who we all know is *slightly* strange, but we all put up with it because you, I don’t know, make really good banana bread. Or something.

2) DO NOT look at the flyer, and roll your eyes/sneer/snort/generally act dismissive and derisive.

Yes. perhaps a university production of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers where all the genders are reversed may not be your thing, and yes, maybe it WILL get a ones star review from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (but I doubt it, because she’s much nicer and more reasonable about bad theatre than most of the people who refuse flyers), but this is still SOMEONE’s baby and just like you wouldn’t ridicule an ugly baby in front of it’s mother (I mean, you’d at least wait until her back is turned and/or she’s in the kitchen heating up the little monster’s milk), don’t sneer at my flyer RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Wait until you round the corner before you and your friends break into the peals of laughter reserved for the self-righteous and the critical who have never tried to put on a show at Edinburgh. Oh, I’m sorry, am I sounding bitter? Well, who’s the genius that decided to book a holiday to Edinburgh during festival time and then didn’t expect to get showered with flyers for improvised student musical versions of Hamlet? Oh, you live here? Well then take all my money for your little city economy and don’t walk through the centre of the city at festival time (I know you locals know how to do it – one told me that was what he does every August).

Ahem. Sorry. Number 3.

3) DO NOT look at the flyer in wide-eyed, open-mouthed terror.

It is not a bomb. It is not a Howler (though we ARE in Edinburgh). It is not a pit-bull terrier cleverly disguised as a flyer that will eat your hand the second you take it out of mine.

4) DO NOT give me excuses as to why you can’t take my flyer.

Especially don’t give me excuses that are’t excuses. ‘Oh, we’ve already got plans tonight.’ Oh yes? Have you heard that the festival goes on for 3 weeks? SO DOES MY SHOW, SO TAKE MY FLYER. Don’t open a can of worms. Don’t offer fancy excuses. Take the flyer or refuse it politely. Do you think it makes me feel better to know that you’ve decided to give your money and attention to another show? That if I had only found you earlier in the day and given you the right kind of pitch and also filled my show with hundreds of people in kilts playing bagpipes and have fireworks at the end that maybe you would have come to my show? No. No, it does not. It makes me resent the fact that I do not own a time machine to go back and time and give you my flyer before you bought your ticket to whatever stupid show you are going to see and also that I even if I HAD a time machine, I did not/do not have the wherewithal to feature the Edinburgh Tattoo in my one-woman show.

5) DO NOT sexually harass me.

Tourists liked my hair curlers. Dirty old men and stag parties liked my… hidden vagina? My covered up boobs? The fact that I was wearing make-up? Who knows. But apparently, this year, I was fair game for horrible men. No, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, I can see where they got confused. Clearly a woman with make-up on and standing alone on a street corner is begging to be the receptacle for all male sexual fantasies, rape jokes and/or bad beer breath. No, no wait, actually, sorry. I wrote that down wrong. I DON’T GET THAT AT ALL.

6) DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT IGNORE ME.

I just spoke to you, bitch! You may not want my flyer, and that is FINE, but, hey, I am a human being, sharing this slowly dying earth with you and the least you could do is look into my eyes and acknowledge MY EXISTENCE AS A HUMAN BEING.

Ahem. Yes, sorry. I think that’s my middle-class white girl privilege coming in contact with something it is not used to experiencing.

So, without further ado, how should you refuse a flyer if you do not want to bring the curses of unemployed actors down upon your shoulders?

It’s really quite simple. Here are the 3 steps:

Look into my eyes.
Smile (genuinely).
And say, ‘no, sorry’ or ‘no, thanks’.

Simple as that.

Or, you know, you could just take the goddamn flyer.

Really, I’ve got hundreds. THOUSANDS.

Just, take it and throw it away around the corner.

But don’t let me see you do it.
BECAUSE I WILL COME FOR YOU.

Leave a comment

Filed under Edinburgh

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

They say that ‘three’ is a magic number. A lucky number. Well, if that is so, I expect piles of leprechaun gold to be showered down upon me, rainbow unicorns to start flying out of my arse. My Edinburgh Fringe show, you see, has now been graced with five 3-star reviews. It has had so much mediocre fairy dust showered down upon it that I can only reasonably expect miracles to start occurring in each performance. The blind can see. The lame can walk. A wooden puppet turns into a real boy.
I apologise in advance for this massively self-pitying post, when there are many more dreadful things happening in the world. Gaza. Isis. Robin Williams. But, hey, what can I say. I’m a selfish c**t.
I am going on swings and roundabouts with the reviews. The first one devastated me and resulted in me sobbing for several hours before and after my second show. The second one I expected and so didn’t faze me, not really. It was actually quite nice. So nice, in fact, that several people have asked, ‘exactly why didn’t they give you 4 stars?’ The third was so completely inconsistent in it’s praise/condemnation that it’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that I’d secretly hoped it would be 4 and so it destroyed me anew. The final two I checked the star rating of and then didn’t bother to read. I don’t really need any more half-hearted praise.
Everyone says 3-star reviews are a recommendation. But they’re not. Not really. Certainly not up at Edinburgh Fringe, where EVERYONE has a 4 star or 5 star review plastered to their flyers. As a reviewer, when I’m giving 3 stars, it’s usually a bit like saying, ‘yeah, it’s a fine show. If you have any interest in [insert topic of show], you’ll probably enjoy it.’ Or, ‘if you’ve got nothing else to do that night, it’s probably worth paying some money for.’ It’s like one big ‘meh’. And after 5 of them you start thinking, yeah, pretty much all of my audience is watching me and going, ‘meh’.
It’s been happening for years, really. My Year 7 English teacher (the evil Mrs. Clack) had a similar reaction to the first piece of creative writing I ever gave her. She gave me the grade equivalent of 3 stars and wrote, ‘not creative enough’ at the bottom. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised what shit feedback that is and in no way useful for letting me know what she ACTUALLY wanted me to be doing or teaching me to become ‘more’ creative (whatever the hell that means). But, she was at least expressing a general feeling that I should perhaps have taken more seriously at the time. If only I had taken her feedback more fully on board and worked harder at maths and science, or some other kind of subject. If only I had realised then that ‘creativity’ was not the career path for me. If only she had spelled it out more clearly. If only I’d inspired enough strong feeling in her for her to forbid me to ever do anything creative ever again, then, maybe I would have gotten the message. Instead of just, ‘meh.’
I have, by and large, received very little support from people who might have been able to help me develop over the years. Like Mrs. Clack they saw so little potential in me that they dismissed me without even bothering to let me know why. This is the case from arts funding bodies, from development programs, from theatres, from artists a bit further along the path than me. I’ve had to try and make up most of this on my own. I recognise that some of this is due to my own lack of confidence, my inability to ask for support or assistance from people that I admire. But the majority is being rejected for most every opportunity that I apply for (unless it’s something I have to pay for – those are things people are MORE THAN HAPPY for me to be involved in).
The disturbing thing from my perspective is the frequency with which I get 3-star reviews. If you added up all the reviews I have gotten over my lifetime, it evens out at pretty much 3 1/4 stars out of 5. That’s not a ringing endorsement for someone who is trying to make a career out of this. I mean, 3-star reviews are fine, as long as someone, somewhere, thinks that what you are doing is fantastic, game-changing, speaking their language, speaking to their experience or whatever. I don’t really get that reaction. I’m kind of ‘meh’.
There are plenty of artists out there who think that reviews are not important. That would be easier to believe if I was making lots of money and having big audiences. It would be easier to believe if I was being supported by some kind of funding body. But, frankly, I’m not so arrogant to think that if I’m getting shitty reviews, it’s the reviewers fault. I don’t think audiences falling asleep or leaving the show is because they are crap human beings, or not smart enough, or not good enough, or not paying attention enough. It is my fault. I’m not doing my ‘job’. Certainly there have been difficulties with this show – the venue, for one, great, big, huge reason. I do recognise that I haven’t had as much time to work into it as some of the others that I’ve put on. However, the larger, bigger point remains, that if, after how many years of trying, I am still, by and large, inspiring a reaction of, ‘meh’, it must be time to reconsider the path that I’m on.
So, in summary, I am not enjoying this Edinburgh Fringe. When I wrote on the first day that I thought audiences would ruin everything, I didn’t really expect it to be so accurate. I mean, I know it’s not really their fault, but showing it to everyone has made me feel very differently about it and me than I did a few weeks ago. It might, eventually, be a good thing. It’ll be the final nail in the coffin of my so-called ‘career in the arts’.
Unfortunately though, my bro, Chris, says that I’m not allowed to give up theatre before the 24th. Which isn’t that far away, I know. But I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) thinking of deliberately spraining/breaking my ankle so that I don’t have to do any more shows. I know it is only 10 more shows, I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like being a child again and being told you only have to eat 10 more Brussel Sprouts before you can have dessert. Or, just 10 more pages of homework before going outside. Or, just 10 more hours before you can open your Christmas presents. Or, only 10 more days before the school holidays.
It feels like FOREVER.

Leave a comment

Filed under Edinburgh, Theatre

Existential in Edinburgh

I’ve returned to Edinburgh for the Fringe.

And, despite my enthusiasm for my experience last year and despite my insistence that I should return, now that I am here, I am convinced I have made a huge mistake.

My show opens tonight and I do not do not do not want to do it.

I hardly slept last night. I hardly slept the night before. I felt so anxiously nauseous yesterday morning that I could barely choke down breakfast.

The strange thing is that I much more convinced of the quality of this piece of writing than I was of the show I took up last year. This doesn’t comfort me. It oddly makes me more reluctant. I feel like I’ve created this thing that is wonderful and I have no need to show it to anyone, as I do not need their opinions or reassurance. I know it’s wonderful. Last year’s show I wasn’t convinced of, so every time someone liked it I felt a bit better, but every time someone said it was slightly mediocre I secretly agreed with them, thinking, ‘I knew it all along, it’s no good and people have just been humouring me.’

Also, I don’t want to show it to anyone because I think they might ruin it. I don’t know how they’ll ruin it. By not enjoying it, maybe. By not understanding it. And I don’t care what they think because I think it’s wonderful and I don’t want them to ruin it.

So, my overriding desire at the Edinburgh Fringe is to not let anyone see my show. Obviously this kind of defeats the purpose of being here.

I also don’t want to show my show to anyone because I don’t see the point. I no longer think that I will make a living doing this. Even if the show goes well and people like it I have no allusions that this means a ‘life on the stage’.

Apart from not believing the industry will ever welcome me with open arms, I pretty much hate the entire theatre complex and do not want to be part of it. This is a strange feeling that has been building for many months. I cannot and do not want to be part of this hideous, competitive industry anymore. I do not want to have to constantly be selling myself, to be ‘on’. I do not want to be constantly begging for people’s adoration and praise, or more often than not, just their attention. They don’t want to give it – so why should I force them? I want to live quietly in a quiet house with a dog and a cat and people I love and who love me.

There’s a lie going around the internet that ‘creative people’ (whatever the fuck that means) are some kind of special, superior being. It’s a lie that makes unemployed, mediocre actors and writers feel better about themselves when no-one is paying attention to them. They can think, ‘well, at least I’m leaving a superior, special life to my cousin the accountant.’ They can think, ‘I’m just misunderstood,’ when no-one turns up to their opening night or their book launch, ‘some day they’ll all understand.’ It’s all bullshit. When you start realising that EVERYONE up here thinks they are a special and unique butterfly you begin to realise just how ordinary you are. And that’s ok. Ordinary is fine. Ordinary is good. Most everybody is ordinary. Ordinary deserves a good life (it sometimes doesn’t get it, but it deserves it). But if I’m ordinary (and I am) there is no reason to go pushing myself on to others. I don’t want to be shoving ideas and opinions and work down their throats. Why should I? I’m ordinary. I have nothing more to offer them.

Anyway, this is great mood to be in on opening night. I honestly do wish that I could have done the London preview and left it at that. It was a nice preview. It went well. I feel like that’s enough for me and my time in this industry is now done. It’s a free show so I can cancel it if I want. I’ll still have lost a lot of money, but, there are worse things in the world. Watch this space.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized