Monthly Archives: January 2013

Ode to a Shoe

Short one today. Just trying to keep my blog post count up for the month.

Though, to be fair, I really haven’t done too badly. And, I feel like the posts I have put up have been high quality work. And, its all about the quality, really, isn’t it? Not the quantity? Well, it certainly has been this month.

Anyway, this is a cheeky little post and probs not going to be my most insightful work, but I feel so passionately about the topic, I decided I needed to write about it.

It’s about shoes. And, to be a specific, a very particular type of shoe: the Doc Marten.

The Doc Marten, for me, has always had a bit of mythology around it. I can remember, very clearly, being in a shoe shop buying school shoes at around 12 years old and my Dad telling me that ‘when my feet stopped growing,’ we should probably buy me a pair of Doc Martens. I don’t know why this memory has stuck with me so clearly. I think I was kind of excited about the idea of my feet finishing their growing (I guess that would mean I was grown up). I think I was kind of excited by the idea of owning a pair of slightly dangerous, slightly badass-looking shoes. They certainly didn’t look like the kind of shoes a very good, blonde, blue-eyed girl who always did her homework and didn’t like the teachers to yell at her, would own. They looked like they might actually be cool.

As I grew up and kind of got used to my image as a wholesome Swiss milkmaid who spends her days yodelling through the green, verdant valleys of clover and edelweiss (I’m not saying this is who I was, I’m just saying this is how people appeared to think of me), I found myself less enamoured with the idea of the Doc Marten. A Doc Marten wouldn’t appear to assist with skipping and frolicking. A Doc Marten wouldn’t appear to compliment a white floaty skirt and pink cotton top. A Doc Marten was ridiculously expensive and I had an aversion to buying apparel that cost more than a single digit. A Doc Marten wouldn’t appear to suit me at all.

When I first moved to Ireland, I bought some brown boots, which were intended as hiking boots (back when I thought I was going to work for 6 months, spend the rest travelling and then head home). By the time I got to London, these were fairly useless. Not least of all because of the amount of nails I had stepped on in the building of ‘Hungry Tea’ and ‘You Me Bum Bum Train’. Nails that went straight through the rubber sole of my shoe and found my little toes. No piercing of toes was involved; however, in countries that are known for their wet weather, the last thing you want to own is a pair of boots with several sizeable holes in the soles.

So, around September, on the first very rainy day we had, I went into Oxford Circus to try and find a decent pair of flat, black shoes. All my pairs of flat shoes had died, and I had been attempting to exist in a pair of 3 pound thongs bought as an emergency when out in Hyde Park and decorated with the Union Jack. But, H&M had no sensible Mary-Jane flats. I searched the store high and low and just as I was about to give up and buy a pair of cheap tennis shoes (knowing they weren’t going to be useful for anything), I spied some shiny, imitation Doc Martens. I considered for a while. They weren’t really my style, but I could still probably use them under pants during winter without too much trouble. I bought them.

Within a day or two, I was a convert to the boots. Ridiculously comfortable and incredibly efficient at keeping out the rain, I quickly forgot I had other shoes. Outfits were designed around the shoes, not the other way round. People told me how ‘London’ I looked. I was delighted with myself.

However, then I started work and realised after a weekend that my cheap H&M boots were not going to last the distance. Hot water or hot oil or both soon made the shiny surface of the shoes pucker up in odd ways. Flour got spilt on the cracks and made them even weirder. The soles of the shoes didn’t have enough grip and when the floor was wet at work, I’d have to take tiny little fast steps to avoid slipping.

I came to the conclusion that it was time to invest in a proper pair of Docs.

It has been 4 months now since I bought my first pair of Docs and I think it is safe to say that far from being a convert, I am a fanatic. I don’t actually understand why anyone would buy any other shoes. I can’t imagine there being any need for another pair of shoes. I had a strange realisation the other day that all my Australian friends have been moaning and groaning about the weather, about how cold it is, about the rain and how they wish they were home or can’t wait to be home. I was surprised, because I haven’t felt grumpy at all. That is a strange contrast to last year, when I was miserable for most of January and February, even though last year was a milder winter. Like any true fanatic, I have placed all the credit and praise on one place: my Doc Martens. I can walk through anything, on anything and know that I’m not going to end up with cold feet or wet feet or sore feet. And I also know that my Doc Martens are up to the task. They’re not going to fall apart because of a little rain, a little snow. They’re tough, my shoes. They’re hard-working.  I don’t have to walk down the street feeling stressed, anxiously avoiding puddles, or picking safe paths. I can just walk. There was a difficult early period when the shoes insisted on ripping through the back of my ankles anytime I wore them for longer than 10 minutes, but with a little time, some patience and a whole heap of blister pads we got through it. I’ve even recently been assured by a good friend that Docs look good with dresses and skirts, so I’m all set. There is no need to ever buy another pair of shoes. Because, after 28 years, I’ve finally found the shoes for me.

The ones.

The Docs.

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Opening Night

So, after a fairly hectic three week rehearsal period and two years of the script lying, dormant, in my documents folder of my hard drive, ‘A Building with 27 Floors’, opened last night in London. IN LONDON.

When I write it out like that, it all seems pretty amazing and fabulous.

But, of course, me being me, the experience was much more complicated. Let us delve further.

In the lead up to this production, I was surprisingly calm and confident. I suspect, by now, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re all be aware of my various insecurities, so this was quite the achievement. But the fact is (I have to admit it) I was, actually, amazingly, surprisingly quite happy with the script. And I was even able to say this to others. I had performed one of the monologues from the piece at the Women Playwright’s International Conference last year and it was pretty well received. People laughed, I was complimented after, people asked for the monologue. I thought it went well. Plus, the fact that an independent group of people had read my script and decided that they wanted it in the festival convinced me that it must have been at least halfway decent.

The first week of rehearsal was ok. We showed the piece to a friend of my director’s at the end of the week and she gave us a lot of great and useful feedback. Of course, I was disappointed she didn’t immediately fall on her knees and declare us theatrical geniuses, but I was also relieved she didn’t tear up the script, throw it in our faces and tell us we should both give up now before we furthered destroyed the ancient and noble artform of theatre.

By the end of the third week of rehearsal, however, I was feeling pretty darn good. We had a run through for the tech people and they seemed to very much enjoy it. I finished each rehearsal feeling fairly confident. There were things that still felt a little awkward, transitions in particular were not my favourite things, but when my director said on Monday that we could finish early, do the pub quiz and then have Tuesday off entirely, I was totally delighted. And, also, in no way terrified of this being the worst idea ever.

On Tuesday night, I sent out a final flurry of emails to important theatre-type people inviting them to the show, but not really expecting them to turn up. I know I really have to get my act together with the self-promotion-type stuff, but I’m just no good at it, I’m barely able for the theatre-type stuff, so to have to deal with anything else on top of it is just too much. Sending out emails at the last minute to people who don’t know me from a bar of soap is, of course, not a very promising way to convince people to come to your show.

Anyway, Wednesday came round and I got a little terrified. Terrified and then excited and then terrified and then excited until I went past all the emotion into a kind of zen-like meditative state, which I characterise as being like flying somewhere above the emotion, knowing that if I dip to close to the emotion ocean (ha ha ha) somewhere below me and let myself get dragged into it, I will just dissolve into a ball of anxious feelings and not be able to do anything at all. Yes? Yes.

So, I’m in my zen-like, meditative, no-emotion zone, eating a massive burger (nothing like too much food to assist with the zen-like, meditative, no-emotion state) and then we do a run, and then suddenly its 7:30pm and I have to set up the stage and go out the back and ‘prepare’. Which means freaking out about the fact that I didn’t bring my make-up and all the make-up that was on my face this morning at 6am has now melted off (nothing like focusing on the little things to distract you from getting dragged into the ocean of anxious emotion). At this point, as my director and I are going over the final notes, the producer of the festival comes in and asks us if we had arranged a comp for a particular man. We are not certain. We have not heard of this person. I ask if the producer knows where this person is from. He says he doesn’t, the man didn’t say. We say, ok, just give him the comp and we’ll figure it out later.

He leaves and suddenly a tidal wave of anxiety rears up and drags me under the emotion ocean, because, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, did one of those serious, important theatre people that I emailed at 11pm the night before actually reply and decide to come see my show? I start to panic. If I knew how to hyperventilate, or blackout, that’s what I would be doing right about now. My director attempts to pull me down from the top of the cliff. I curse London where, apparently, important people come to see your show if you ask them to.

I’m sure you’re all confused. I mean, I’m the one who invited them, why would I be freaked out if one of them then decided to turn up? I know it doesn’t make any sense. But the thing is I bullshit my way through life a lot. I put myself forward for things because I know I’m supposed to if I want to ‘get anywhere’, if I want to ‘get my name out’. But, whilst projecting absolute confidence, underneath it all I’m just a great big bundle of nerves, secretly hoping that maybe things won’t work out, because that could actually be really, really scary.

I attempt to calm myself down on the walk to my entrance. It doesn’t work. The minute I go onstage I am terrified, talking a million words a second. By my third line, my mouth is bone dry. My voice is cracking. There are 11 people in the audience and I stare at them all, trying to figure out which one is the potentially important one. Then I stop staring at them, because none of them are laughing. None of them are even really smiling. And, I thought some of the show was funny. In fact, I was certain of it. Maybe I’m going too fast. They’re not getting an opportunity to laugh at the jokes. That’s it. I take a deep breath and slow down. Nope, still not laughing. Ok. The show is not funny. News alert, people! The show is not funny! Do not expect laughter! It’s serious, serious, serious.

The problem with an audience of 11 people in a small venue with not particularly dramatic lighting is that you can see absolutely everything they do and absolutely every single reaction they have. They shift in their seat, you see it. They reach for their jacket, you see it. They roll their eyes, you see it. So, instead of focusing on your next line or your next transition or your next character, you’re suddenly the audience of the audience, over-analysing everything that’s going on. Why did he cough just then? Why did she shuffle her feet? Are they bored? Do they not like this part? Do they think I’m stupid? Really, its amazing that I was able to continue saying words at all, let alone portray characters, remember blocking and just carry on breathing, considering the amount of anxious thinking and analysing I was doing simultaneously.

By the end of the show, it is safe to say I was an emotional wreck. I went into the darkened dressing room, put my head in my hands and decided it was probably time to arrange some sort of career change. Time to finish my Master of Teaching and get a nice job in a high school somewhere and save towards a mortgage like a normal person. The unknown man (potentially important, potentially life-changing) was certain to have hated every word of every sentence that I had uttered onstage and was cursing me for putting him through an hour of torture. I was supposed to come outside and help clear the stage, but I couldn’t bear to. It had been a struggle coming back on for the curtain call. So, I sat in the dark and waited for my director to find me.

When she finally came out to talk to me, she, of course, had a completely different interpretation of what had been going on. I attributed this to the fact that she couldn’t see the audience’s faces (and I could, I could, oh boy could I see them). But, she would have none of it – the show was good. I then started thinking (as I always do) that she was only saying nice things because it had actually been so very very bad and she was trying to make me feel better. But, strangely, she seemed genuinely sincere and confused by my reaction. Still, I was adamant that I knew what I was talking about. I had seen them, I had seen them, I knew they hadn’t enjoyed it. She took me outside (as the next performer actually needed to use the dressing room to get ready for his show and I was reluctant to have a meltdown in front of him as he was getting changed) and compared notes. Of course, because I hadn’t gone out to clear the stage, I hadn’t been privy to the compliments my director had received afterwards. People that I was convinced hated me during the performance had come up to her afterwards and said they really enjoyed it and were so glad they had come (of course, part of me is relieved by this and the other part of me thinks, ‘well, yes, but you didn’t hear what they said, so you’re unable to judge the sarcasm/sincerity level of the comment. People can say things and then they’ll say things, Jenny’). Most importantly, the unknown (possibly important) man who had so thrown me off at the start had made a point of coming up to her and congratulating her on the show.

Eventually, my director managed to talk me off the cliff (again). I was in such a state I couldn’t sit and watch the next show, which I had really wanted to do and I did feel a bit guilty about that. But, I was in desperate need of water and alcohol and more, importantly, anxiously talking out all the words in my head until I was calm again. After a while, I felt strong enough to go home, get some chocolate and watch a mindless movie (I chose ‘Jumanji’ for added nostalgia factor). I checked my email first to see if any important theatre people had replied to my emails, but, of course, they hadn’t. I then checked the important theatre websites to see if any of the staff had the same name as this man. They didn’t. That calmed down considerably (although also disappointed me… I know, I know, its ridiculous and makes no sense). I slept 10 hours and woke up at 11am this morning to a power drill downstairs and the thought that I was meant to meet a friend at the Barbican at 11:30am for a writing session.

So, here I am at the Barbican, still not entirely certain what to feel about last night. My director gave me some good advice, to think over the performance seriously and consider anything that I wanted to change (and she wasn’t going accept an answer of ‘absolutely everything’, which I feel was very close-minded of her) or genuinely thought wasn’t working. So far I haven’t really come up with much. It’s possibly a bit long at the start. Some of the physicality needs tightening up. But, otherwise, I don’t know that there is much else we can do. You’d think this would be a good thought. That I’d then feel, well, clearly I should be proud of this piece! It’s good! I’m happy with it! But, after my freak out last night, I’m still a little fragile and uncertain.

Plus, the existential crisis continues. I’m not one of these people that has some sort of manifesto with the theatre they make (‘I explore third-wave feminist ideas’, ‘We explore environmental issues through theatre,’ ‘I’m attempting to address a post-modern world through the creation of a new theatrical language’ or something, something, something). I’m also not making any money out of it. And, apparently, if last night is anything to go by, I’m not enjoying it all that much. Which begs the question, ‘what exactly are you doing it for?’ And the only answer I have is, ‘I don’t actually know what else I could possibly do with my life.’ Believe you me, if there was some kind of stable job out there that had a wage and regular work hours that made me feel valuable and happy, I would re-adjust my life accordingly. But, either I haven’t yet found that career, or I lack imagination, because at the moment, the best I can come up with is working as a part-time waitress and putting myself through semi-regular, ritualised, self-torture sessions whenever I start feeling too good about myself. Or, in other words, writing something and then performing it.

And, yet, with all this said, I am, hesitantly, looking forward to Saturday’s performance. If only so I can go through the show a little calmer and try to enjoy it this time. I think the panic at the start about the ‘potentially important person’ (we still don’t know who it is, by the way) shaded my reactions to absolutely everything else that happened, so I was unable to accurately read the audience’s reactions. So, we’ll see. Consider this a blog post in progress.

Oh, and, here:

Buildingwith27Floors

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The Glamorous Single Life

It’s been quite a break between posts, I’m afraid and there are many reasons for that. Well, actually there are two reasons: work and rehearsal. But, I have a morning off today and thought that instead of using the time to watch more ‘Friends’ re-runs (I am writing something about ‘Friends’ soon – that’s why I HAVE to watch them. Its RESEARCH), I decided to do something useful. Something for the ages. I decided to sit down and craft another self-absorbed blog post. Hurrah! And as I was thinking of what to write, I realised that I haven’t written anything about my romantic life recently. I’m sure you’ve all been concerned. I’m sure you’ve all been sitting around at home, flicking through the internet and thinking, ‘oh when oh when oh when will Jenny write some new post in which she complains about not having met any nice boys recently?’ Well, you’re in luck! Because today I’ve decided to broach the subject again. But, first, an explanation.

The reasons I haven’t written anything on this topic for a while are twofold.

1) Things were kind of sort of happening with a person and for that reason I didn’t want to write about it (if you’d met me in person, you would have gotten an earful, but it wasn’t to be committed, in semi-permanent state, to the internet). Reason being it was too complicated but also, inevitably, when I write about someone in my blog and that person actually reads my blog I get complaints, like, ‘I didn’t say that!’ ‘I’ve been misquoted!’ ‘That’s not what I meant!’ (And I’m all like, ‘Dude. It’s not a newspaper. I have no fact-checkers. I didn’t record our conversation. Its merely a slightly amusing blog with half-remembered anecdotes that I’ve jazzed up for my own amusement.’) So, I figured that if things were kind of sort of happening with someone, it was best to just leave well alone and not attempt to record ANYTHING AT ALL.

2) The second reason I haven’t written anything on the topic is because even though things were kind of sort of happening, they weren’t actually happening at all. If that makes any sense. Because the person in question was not actually in the same locality as myself, there were no amusing/interesting/charming/fun/boring/terrible dates to record.

ANYWAY.

At work, I have a lot of time to ponder things. When you’re rolling napkins or polishing cutlery or cleaning windows for hours on end, there isn’t much else to do except quietly ponder. So, I was reflecting back on the last couple of years of romantic disasters and no-starts and re-starts and thinking, ‘Man, that was not at all how I was expecting single life to be.’

Perhaps it was too much sitcom television at a young, impressionable age, but I kind of expected to be constantly falling in and out of relationships. I mean, when attractive people do it under bright lights in front of a cheering studio audience, it doesn’t seem difficult at all. And, of course, when I was in a long-term relationship, it seemed like all the fun was to be had as a singleton. It probably didn’t help that I was lucky enough to be in such a good long-term relationship very young. I was lulled into a fall sense of security, thinking that every guy in the world is decent, funny, intelligent and equally compatible. But, no. Turns out the single life is not as glamorous as it might be made out to be on a certain hit HBO series of the late 90’s and early 00’s. Funny, attractive, decent men with interesting jobs and who look like they belong on the cover of a knitting pattern do not regularly saunter into your life clutching bunches of balloons or hand-made love seats.

For whatever reason, I got the impression that single life would be a series of enjoyable, short-term encounters with a bunch of decent, lovely men, all of which I would look back on fondly (rather like an eccentric collector or hoarder), thinking about all the wonderful different human beings I had got to meet and got to know briefly and even if it hadn’t turned into anything ‘serious’, well, hadn’t I learnt about life and humanity and love and couldn’t I put it all down in a book/play/memoir some day? But in the absence of anyone wanting me to write my memoir, and having not yet found the non-chick lit type of book (because I’m a snob and if I’m going to write a book, I don’t want someone to dismiss it as ‘chick-lit’) that I could include all these short-term encounters in, I’m just left with a bunch of embarrassing, uncomfortable and, at their worst, possibly painful, memories involving a whole heap of guys that I hope I will never have to accidentally come across in the street one day.

I think, that in the end, I’m no good at being casual and cool when it comes to men (ok, ok, I’m not good at being casual and cool. I’m horribly anxious and tightly-wound. Let me assure you, its as irritating for me as it is for all of you). I think it would be interesting to be one of these people who can get close to someone without thinking it means anything. Without feeling upset if/when it all ended. That would be interesting. Then you could swan around, fondly reminiscing on all the ‘wonderful people’ you’ve had the ‘opportunity’ to ‘get to know’ over the years (people like that always speak in euphemisms, don’t they?) But, in the end, I guard myself pretty carefully, at least when it comes to the bigger stuff (and I know you all think I’m ridiculously open and honest on this blog and I’ve had one friend recently tell me I chat way too much to ever be a spy – something I was unreasonably insulted by – but the fact is, the big stuff is mainly not on this blog. If I’m writing about it, USUALLY, it means I’ve already processed it, have moved on and am now trying to make jokes about it).

So, in summary, I have totally failed at single life (I’m reminded of a conversation from the previously mentioned HBO series in which one character cries, ‘It’s not a competition!’ To which another replies, ‘Oh, honey, of course its a competition. And you won.’ But, of course, I am not a Hollywood actress with a wonderful, eclectic wardrobe and a casting director for my boyfriends, so I have lost). Or, at least, I have failed at the single life I kind of expected to have. And to really hammer the point home, a kind-of extensive list of failures:

1) A series of terrible one-night stands. I told one man that my grandmother had called at 4am and demanded I come home so I didn’t have to wake-up next to him. Another one called me ‘garlic breath’ in an sms the following morning, which is, of course, how every girl wants to be addressed the morning after.

2) A series of awful dates with a series of awful men I met online, including one who texted me before the date to ask me how big my boobs were (presumably so he would be able to recognise me on the date). Another turned out to be a former cameraman for porn, which wasn’t exactly awful, but certainly was a conversation killer.

3) A series of very sweet dates with very sweet men, who I, of course, ran screaming from, because they were very sweet and seemed to like me. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THEM??? One boy cycled me home on the back of his bicycle after our date, which really is straight out of a sitcom, so you’d think I’d be charmed enough to let down my guard, but oh no.

4) A highly confusing incident involving a married man where nothing actually happened but I suddenly felt in danger of accidentally breaking up a twenty-year marriage.

5) The award-winning writer with whom I had my best ever first date. It was, however, completely ruined by a friend who walked past, said hi and then asked excitedly, ‘So, when are you moving to Ireland?’ Said writer then became an absolute prick (one presumes he was pissed off I hadn’t yet told him I was moving), but instead of never calling me again, he decided to keep ringing me up and making dates and then cancelling them, or keeping them and being an absolute prick the whole time. Presumably just to hammer home exactly how pissed off with me he was. Awesome. 

6) A series of odd hook-ups with friends. Some of which have ended well (‘so, that was one funny crazy drunken evening, eh? Why don’t we never speak of it again, eh?’) and others which have not ended up quite so well (‘Oh, you were wanting something more? Oh, that’s where you thought this was going? Oh, well now, isn’t this awkward.’)

7) The half-Japanese, half-American music producer who was clearly way too cool for me and who eventually worked this out and stopped messaging me (I mean, he was from California. Can you imagine our conversations? Him all laid-back and ‘whatever’ and seeming like he was high on pot even when he wasn’t, and me babbling a million miles a minute and my hands flying out in all directions).

7) The Irishman who drunkenly kissed me, made a date to meet me the next week and subsequently realised he wasn’t interested in me sober.

8) A couple of incidents where practicalities have completely gotten in the way, like, they’re leaving for a completely different country the next day. Or I am. Or we both are.

And, there you have it. An (almost complete) catalogue of my highly-glamorous, highly-successful single life. Now to figure out how to use it to my advantage.

 

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Letters and Homesickness

I got a letter yesterday from my cousin in Australia, which was the most wonderfully lovely surprise. I adore letters from home. Much more so than emails. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like emails. I like texts. I like Facebook messages. I will take any contact from home in any form that it chooses to come in. I’m not fussy. Anybody reaching out across the world and the internet and liking one of my stupid status updates warms the cockles of my heart (what is a cockle, by the way? I’m going to google it. Here we are: cockles. Weird.) But, there is something very special about a letter. Its usually longer than a Facebook message or a text. Unless its been sent through Moonpig or Amazon, the letter has physically been with the person who sent it to you, so I think that usually adds to the charm (in this hugely digital world, I’m still a material girl at heart). Letters require so much more effort, they’re longer, they’re handwritten, you have to get an envelope, go to the post office. You receive a letter and you know someone cares, you know because they’ve put in that much effort to contact you.

But even beyond that, I feel like letters are generally much more personal than other forms of messages. A writer I know suggested that writing things on a computer distances you from the writing much more than writing things out by hand. And I wonder if this is what often makes a letter so much more personal, special and warm than an email. A friend and I went through a whole year-long period of writing letters to each other (despite seeing each other 6 days out of 7) and I never felt like there wasn’t anything to talk about. There was always something more to discuss, another layer to analyse (I make it sound like we were writing essays on post-feminist theory to each other. We were 14. We were writing about boys. Constantly. Pages and pages and pages about boys. I don’t know why I’m being so judgmental. Most of this blog is about boys. Isn’t it? A bit of travel, I suppose. But mainly boys. Nice boys. Mean boys. Older boys. Younger boys. The lack of boys. Boys is a weird word. BOYS).

Anyway, the surprise letter was wonderful. I devoured it on the way to the pool, just managing to hold back the tears before jumping in the water. It wasn’t just the letter. It wasn’t just the effort that had gone into it or the disarmingly sweet writing or the peek it offered into my cousin’s life back home in Australia. The fact is, that after 2 years of not doing so badly over here, the past 3 – 4 weeks I’ve been feeling the familiar dull ache of homesickness.

I don’t know if its the time of year, or just that I’ve been away now for a considerably long time, but I have found myself pining for home a lot more recently.

It’s an odd feeling, because I know, deep down, that I don’t want to move back just yet. I’m quite happy staying in London until my visa expires in May 2014. I’m also not certain that I want to move home in 2014. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I would like to keep traveling at that point, if there is somewhere else I would like to live or visit. Would I like to go back to Norway? Would I try out Berlin? Maybe Canada or the USA if I could figure out a way of staying there? There is this strange idea I have in my head that I moved overseas for a reason, a reason that I cannot articulate nor am I consciously aware of, but there must be some sort of reason, and until that reason is fulfilled (or, at least acknowledged), I just can’t go home. I’m like the heroine in my own fucked-up fairytale and I can’t go home until I’ve found the golden fleece or rescued the dying swan or saved the kingdom from disaster. But the problem is that I don’t even know what it is that I’m supposed to be doing yet. And at the same time, there is this other side of my brain which is desperately trying to convince me that life isn’t like that, things don’t happen for reasons, there is no neat narrative, you moved over here because you wanted to, you’re crazy and you’re possibly wasting all the useful years of your early life (when people establish themselves in a CAREER and a RELATIONSHIP with an INCOME and a HOUSE, with which to live on for the REST OF THEIR LIVES), in which case you should just move back home quick smart before any more damage is done.

And, underneath it all, are these growing pangs of homesickness. In my first year away, if I ever felt homesick, I’d just think, ‘Oh, yes, but it’s all there for you, whenever you want to go back. Home isn’t changing.’ And that would make me feel better. Of course, life still goes on back home without me (much as I would like to think it doesn’t) and maybe that’s just the problem. It now feels like I’ve been away so long (and will potentially be away much longer), that suddenly the prospect of real, massive and unnerving change back home is possible. I’m not really talking about anything in particular here. I just think I mean that the longer I’m away the harder it will to actually go back. The less it will feel like home when I do eventually go home. Because I do, in spite of it all, at this point, still expect to go back. One day. After I’ve rescued the dying swan from the crumbling kingdom and given it back its golden fleece.

Won't someone find me a dying swan to save?? Found at: https://metroballet1.netfirms.com/archive/2005Season/works/dyingswan.htm

Won’t someone find me a dying swan to save?? Found at: https://metroballet1.netfirms.com/archive/2005Season/works/dyingswan.htm

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Language and Communication

So, I did promise you a post on this topic. And, I am currently trying to avoid learning lines for my performance that is on, in, oh, I don’t know, two weeks (I’m at that annoying point with line-learning, where I’m no longer lying awake at night paralysed with fear by the amount of lines I have to learn and then using that fear to propel me into spending every waking moment reciting words to myself, much to the detriment of my social life and the contribution of my image as some sort of crazy stalker-type lady. Instead, I am now sick to death of my script, of the lines, of the characters, of the story, of just looking at Times New Roman typeface on slightly off-white paper in general. I still don’t know the lines well enough, but I know them well enough to think, ‘Oh, yes, I actually really need a break from line-learning tonight and I think that, instead, I will re-watch ‘Three Men and a Baby’, which I considered an excellent film at the age of 8, so therefore must still be a very rewarding and fruitful use of my time’).

Anyway, the point is, I wanted to write a little bit about this topic and I need something to procrastinate with, so I am using this post to do that. Make sense? Yes, indeed.

Now despite the dry-as-bones title, I think this is actually a topic that is quite interesting. And it’s certainly something I had the opportunity to mull over a lot whilst I was in Norway. You see, my Norwegian language skills, which were always slightly lopsided to begin with (lots of knowledge of how to describe past drunken nights, foods, feeling unwell and/or tired, things that I liked or would like to do and places that I had been, but no idea of how to, say, describe something that I had thought about doing in the future and then decided not to, for a variety of complex and highly intellectual reasons), had become even more lopsided in the ten years since I had been in Norway. Thrillingly enough, after two or three days, I was understanding a great deal of the Norwegian that was being spoken to me. This was helped by the fact that my host family mainly spoke to me in Norwegian, so I was put on a pretty steep learning curve. Being thrown in the ‘deep end’ like this makes you realise how much of what you understand of conversation comes not just from the language itself. You understand from gesture, facial expression, context, tone of voice and a whole host of other things. There were many times when I would guess what someone was asking me to do, respond appropriately and then go back over what they had said to me in my head and work out exactly which word meant what. Interestingly, I also noticed that some people I understood really easily (mainly my host family), whereas other people I would have absolutely no idea what they were saying, no matter how many times they repeated themselves. Sometimes this was because they were speaking a different dialect, or spoke very quickly, or not particularly loudly (its a stereotype when talking to people who don’t speak your language to talk louder to them, but, honestly, from my own experience, it does actually help), but I think, also, when people took me by surprise (by, for example, suddenly asking a question, or asking a question when I wasn’t looking at them), it would be more difficult for me to immediately understand. The added panic of not knowing what they were saying would then contribute to my struggle to comprehend. Interestingly, I found that long conversations were often easier for me to follow then, say, a direct question or statement. Because a long conversation is constantly evolving, new words are constantly being thrown in and so I could use the extra time and the new information to build up a picture of what people were talking about. Sometimes I would still get it wrong, realising at the end of a conversation that someone’s opinion was the opposite of what I thought it was, because I had missed a negative somewhere along the line, but, hey I do that in English conversation, when I’m not listening properly to people, and, say, composing blog posts in my head instead. Reading (which, for me, was always the easiest skill out of the four language skills) was also pretty ok. Obviously, in the course of one magazine article, I would never work out absolutely everything that was written, and I am a hell of a lot slower reading Norwegian than I am reading English, but reading the paper, or magazines, or (the best, easiest and most enjoyable) comic strips made me feel pretty darn pleased with myself.

So, my comprehension skills were pretty decent, considering how little effort I’ve put into my Norwegian since leaving. Unfortunately, my speaking skills had not kept pace with my comprehension. They were dreadful. Even if I knew the words I needed to say and the order they needed to be said in (which was a rare occurrence), as soon as my brain commanded my mouth to speak, we got into trouble. I think it would be the equivalent of going back to yoga or dancing after ten years doing absolutely nothing. The muscles kind of remember what they are supposed to do, but often they just can’t quite stretch the way that they used to. Not straight away anyway. So, my mouth was attempting to form Norwegian sounds it hadn’t had to form for many years and, inevitably, vowels were sounding English, emphases were in the wrong place, dipthongs were appearing where no dipthongs existed. My brain was infuriated, but my poor mouth just couldn’t keep up. My tongue kept getting in the way of my teeth. My lips were all over the place, making all kinds of inappropriate shapes. It’s almost like learning lines. You may have lines completely memorised in your head, but its a whole other matter to say them out loud. And, of course, all the while I was struggling with my lips and mouth and teeth and tongue, the person I was attempting to communicate with would be watching me with deep concentration, trying to figure out exactly what it was that I was attempting to say. The more they watched, the more I said the wrong things, the more flustered I got and the chances of me making even more mistakes became much higher. So, eventually, I would give up and start speaking English.

People often commented when I was in Ireland that I had picked up a slight Irish lilt. Whilst I didn’t do it deliberately, I was aware of going a little ‘Irish’ when speaking to Irish people. It seems to have mostly worn off now that I’m in London. Though, perhaps now I’m going a little English. The thing is that I find it quite difficult to speak in a wildly different rhythm to the person with whom I am conversing (that’s very difficult to explain properly without sounding like a wanker, so I apologise for the overly posh grammar). In Ireland, it would feel like everyone was in this specific groove, this particular lilting rhythm, kind of like a bunch of singing birds in a Disney film, and then along would come this big, hulking goose and make some horrible honking noise in the middle of the song and all the other birds would stop singing and stare at the goose and then fly away grumpily. Which is pretty much how I always imagined myself if I accidentally said something particularly nasal or broad or ‘Aussie’ in the middle of a conversation in Ireland. And the reason I’m bringing all this up now is that it was even harder in Norway to suddenly start speaking English when everyone around you was speaking Norwegian. It wasn’t that I was worried whether or not people would understand me – most of them would. It was just that everyone would be going along with these lovely, soft, rolling Norwegian sounds and then *HONK* out comes the flat, broad, boring ol’ English. There was also something magical about the Norwegian sounds, because I only just barely understood them. Oddly enough, English became dull simply because I could understand everything immediately and completely. It was much more fun trying to work out the Norwegian. I was always disappointed on the one or two occasions that strangers would guess I wasn’t Norwegian and just start speaking English to me.

However, because I was working so hard to understand and because I hated to open my mouth and let out the honking English, I spent most of my days in Norway very quiet (at least, I did in group scenarios – one on one conversations were different). Which, for any of you who know me well, is quite unusual. Most friends would realise that they way I connect to people is through words, words, words. Probably too many words, looking at the word count of this post. Conversation with some of my friends can often feel like a competitive sport, where you’re lying in wait for a moment to jump in with your next story, tackling to the ground any others who attempt to jump in with THEIR story before you. You’ve got to be quick on your feet, we’re running from Downton Abbey to the zombie apocalypse, to people’s love lives to Patagonia to feminist theory to the Little Mermaid to the changing face of journalism and we’re doing it all in under fifteen minutes! And, even if you can’t jump in with your own story, your own choice of topic, you’re always thinking of lines or quips to just throw in at likely moments, when people are taking a breath, to remind everyone else that you’re still there, you’re still in the game, you’re still part of the conversation. It can be exhausting, and there have been many times after an hour of two of particularly loud, animated conversation, I’ve taken myself off to the loo just to sit somewhere quiet for a little while and catch my breath. I’m not meaning to be critical here. I naturally fall into this style of interaction. No matter how hard I try to be the silent, mysterious girl in the corner, quietly observing everyone’s antics with a knowing look, or the girl who communicates with ‘body language’, with looks and smiles, I always end up being the girl in the middle, screeching with laughter and, without censorship, telling everyone within earshot every thought that has happened to cross her mind in the past 5 minutes (in hindsight, its amazing it took me so long to start blogging, really). I’m the girl whose ‘friends’ occasionally tell her she’s being too loud in the coffee shop (and on a side note, I reckon that’s a pretty shitty thing to do to a friend. It’s not like we’re in a library. It’s not like I was saying anything particularly rude. If I’m embarrassing you, maybe we just shouldn’t be friends).

But the point is, that style of interaction requires a speed of language I just don’t have in Norwegian. So, I almost seemed to become a completely different person. Quiet. Thoughtful. By the time I’ve worked out what everyone’s talking about and then considered how I could contribute to the conversation and then how to translate that into some form of Norwegian I could confidently speak (I had many tricks of how to avoid grammar or words I wasn’t completely certain of), the conversation would have moved on. There were about three times during the course of the week when I was able to make people laugh with the type of breezy, ridiculous throwaway comments that are my staple in English conversation. It was a very strange experience to suddenly be that quiet person. We so often think of personality as an unalterable, constant thing and yet a change of language and I feel like a completely different human being. I didn’t dislike that human being. It was intriguing to be that person for a little while.

Anyway, this post is probably long enough and I could babble on for another few paragraphs without coming to a satisfying conclusion. Suffice it to say that I got a list of private Norwegian tutors from the Norwegian embassy in London and I’m hoping to find some time to brush up on my language skills. So, maybe the next time I’m back in  Norway, I won’t be quite so quiet…

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Filed under Introspection, Norway

Vadsø

Well. I’m trying desperately to update all of my Norway experiences. I wanted to do it all before the end of December (get my post count up again), but it just didn’t happen. I’m a little overwhelmed with large projects at the moment, which is all terribly exciting, but is rather stressful and doesn’t leave me much time for my other usual small occupations, like the updating of this blog (or, watching re-runs of Friends, for example).

So, I’m going to try to write some more down before I forget them. Dad has given me a highly intellectual and difficult to read book on the differences between literate and oral cultures, which I am attempting to bash my way through with very little luck. Anyway, one point they make is that literate cultures have this obsession with the past, writing things down and a fear of forgetting things that have happened. In literate cultures, the past trumps the present, unless there is a change of thinking (that is, what has happened before and has been written down is always followed). However, in oral cultures, because you can only go on what you remember, the present trumps the past (so, even if a literate culture writes down the past for an oral culture and then brings it back for them at a later date, the oral culture goes on what it considers right in the present, as opposed to what people say happened in the past. Does that make sense? I don’t think it does. They are complicated ideas and I’m no good at describing them. I’m only slightly better at reading about them). ANYWAY, the point is, I suddenly have realised that I do have a complete obsession with writing down everything and a dreadful fear of forgetting anything. Which is a bit funny really. I mean… if I forget something, I won’t even remember that I’ve forgotten it, so is it really that bad? I’m sorry, I’m not being very interesting at the moment. Stephen Fry would be giving my minus points on QI. I’m just finding the blogging tough, so instead of just doing it, I’m over-analysing it. Boring, and much harder work, of course.

So, my wonderful plan to go back to Vadsø for a quick trip down memory lane last week all ended rather tragically. That sounds wrong. It wasn’t that the trip to Vadsø wasn’t wonderful. It was! It was all a bit crazily nostalgic. Like, overwhelmingly nostalgic. And at some points it was all so overwhelmingly lovely and nostalgic  that I didn’t quite know what to do or what to say or how to act. So many confused feelings all at the same time I wasn’t even certain what all the individual feelings were.

I didn’t see much of the town. My host sister drove me on a bit of a tour (which we would have called ‘paa runde’ when we were teenagers. It was quite the thing to do on an empty evening or afternoon. Get a car, get a bunch of friends, crank up the music in the car and just drive around. It’s not like there was much to see, but you’d talk and get out of the house and it was warm in the car and sometimes exciting things would happen, like the guy driving the car would spend half an hour deliberately skidding on the ice on the pier and you’d all think he was going to lose control of the car and were going to fall into the water and drown and/or turn into blocks of ice. Oh, the joys of being a young ‘un in a small town), so I got to see the high school, and the shops area and a few other important places, which was great and crazy and… I don’t know I don’t know I don’t have the words. It was cold and dark and there wasn’t much to do, so we didn’t really get out of the car. It was crazy going back. It was crazy seeing everything again. So crazy I want to do it again as soon as possible. Maybe in summer so I can go climb the mountain again.

Anyway, we headed up to the house of a woman I had been very good friends with in Norway. Of course, me being me, I’d been a terrible correspondent over the years, but I was still very much looking forward to catching up. She also had a beautiful baby that I was dying to meet. The afternoon was spent eating lovely Christmas food, catching up with my friend and a variety of other friends who came to drop in (and I will be forever grateful that they took time out of their days to do so, even though I gave them very little notice and have been a terrible correspondent).

The tragic thing happened the next morning. I missed the taxi I had pre-ordered to take me to the HurtiGruta. Apparently it had been sitting outside for ten minutes whilst I sat inside, confident they would call or beep the horn when they arrived. They did neither. By the time the next taxi came by, it was too late. As we drove into town, we saw the HurtiGruta leaving the harbour. So, I didn’t get to ride on my beautiful HurtiGruta again. But, I am seriously considering (depending on money), heading back up North again this September (when the weather may be a little more hospitable), so we’ll see if I can get on it then. I don’t know what my obsession with the HurtiGruta is. I just love everything about it. The name, the romance of a boat that goes all the way up the Norwegian coastline, the actual boats themselves, the fact that they all look different… all sorts of things. One of my friends tells me that they made a documentary that filmed the whole journey up the coast (it takes 6 days) and screened it on TV. I need to see that documentary, because I’m obsessed with doing the same thing (my friend also tells me its quite a boring trip, even if very beautiful and I should save it until I’m 60 – which is how old most people on the boat are – and then she’ll come with me and we can sit on deck in silly knitted hats and I can blog and take photos the whole time. Its a most inviting prospect, I have to admit).

I didn’t do much in my second day in Vadsø. I really should have gone out, but I ended up falling asleep on the couch of my friend, because I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. Perhaps I was also a little intimidated by the idea of going around Vadsø and experiencing all those strange, complicated feelings on my own and in the cold and dark. It did seem more than a little intimidating, if a little pathetic now that I’m trying to explain it. My friend came back around lunchtime though, so I did get to chat more with her. She gave me a lovely Norwegian jumper and hand-knitted socks to take with me (I’ve decided hand-knitted socks are possibly my favourite gift ever, I don’t know why people get so down about receiving socks for Christmas), so that was also incredibly lovely. I took the bus back to Kirkenes later that evening and managed to lose my gloves along the way, so the socks also proved very useful – I transformed them into kind of wonky looking mittens, by putting my thumbs into the pocket where the heel should go. It worked tolerably well.

Alright, not much more to say on this subject and I do need to get to bed before an early shift in the morning.

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Filed under Norway

About Poems by Evan X Hyde

I found this outside the Southbank Centre in August, attached to the fence. It was part of a collection of poems written by poets from around the world that had come to the Southbank Centre to be part of Poetry Parnassus.

This is one of the reasons I like London.

Unexpected poetry:

 

We didn’t know

no better

we was small

we was slaves

so they said

we they said

will teach you

about poems

poems is like this

trees by Joyce Kilmer

God can make a tree

poems by a fool like me

poems is like this

they have to rhyme

in every line

and every time

poems must be nice

so we tried to write poems

while we was still small

and was slaves

and we was slaves

and they said good, that’s poems

but after we get big

and fight for freedom

and write

the way we feel

hunger in the eyelashes

of our eyes

and hatred give us fever

they said NO

those is not poems

they is hatred

they is violence

they is not nice

neither proper

nor correct

most uncourteous

so we said all right

it’s not poems

it’s AMANDALA

AMANDALA they said

what’s that?

and we said

it’s what we call poems by men like me

God can still make a tree

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Filed under London