Category Archives: USA

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

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Jeff Daniels and Laura Ingalls Wilder

Look at me, reporting on two days activities as opposed to three. I told you this was going to get easier. IT IS TOTALLY GETTING EASIER (and if I write in All-Caps maybe I’ll convince myself of it too).

So, I have been continuing my tour of ‘delightful-places-in-the-USA-most-people-never-think-to-visit’ in the lovely university town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Home of the University of Michigan. Home of Domino’s Pizza. Once home of Borders before they got too big for their boots and tried to take over the world with giant book and CD stores just before both things became irrelevant.

It is a lovely place, situated just outside of Detroit. Ooh…. Detroit, I hear you say! That is a scary, depressed place still reeling from the collapse of the automobile industry! And, indeed you are right! But, Ann Arbor is still a lovely place existing in a happy ‘university-town’ bubble, blessed with many green, leafy avenues, a river, art house cinemas and a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright (I’m not even joking, bitches, I saw it tonight).

I have spent more time in Ann Arbor, Michigan than the usual traveller to the USA due to the fact that we have some dear family friends who make their (delightful) home there. So, once again, we run into the problem that, even though this is ostensibly a pretty unusual thing to do, I have actually done a lot of it before.

Luckily, however, Ann Arbor has more to offer the visitor than the University of Michigan, the Huron River and the-empty-shell-that-once-was-the-flagship-Borders store. And, without further ado, my new things for Wednesday and Thursday:

1) The Purple Rose Theatre

On Wednesday I went to a charming little town just outside of Ann Arbor, called Chelsea, Michigan. The reason I went was because there was a professional theater company there called the Purple Rose Theatre, which was set up by Jeff Daniels. Otherwise known as, ‘Hollywood Actor Jeff Daniels’. Otherwise known as, ‘The Guy Who Wasn’t Jim Carrey in ‘Dumb and Dumber” . In other words, this guy:

That’s right! Freakin’ Jeff Daniels! He set up a professional theatre company in his little home town of Chelsea, Michigan and, oh my word, is it charming. The light fixtures look to be art-deco inspired, if not actually art-deco. The thrust stage is extremely well-designed and I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the house. I saw, ’33 Variations’ by Moses Kauifmann and whilst it wasn’t the best thing ever it was certainly far and above anything I had ever expected to find being produced by a regional theatre company. I think regional theatre in the USA means something completely different to regional theatre in Australia (I’m not being disparaging here, I just mean that I know of very few, if any, dedicated professional regional theatre companies that exist in a town of this size back home in Australia). I also admired the fact that Jeff freakin’ Daniels wrote 15 plays for the company and was still its Executive Director. No dumping the money and running for Jeff freakin’ Daniels. He clearly loves theatre, loves his town, loves artists and wants to give back to all those communities in a real and meaningful way. He is Jeff freakin’ Daniels.

And, ok, so I’m not going to lie, I haven’t ‘always wanted to see a production in the professional theatre company set up by Jeff Daniels.’ But, I mean, that’s only because I didn’t know that was something that was possible! I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a production in the professional theatre company set up by Jeff Daniels? Its Jeff freakin’ Daniels! The best person on earth (I have now discovered)!

2) Met Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved her books, I loved her life, I loved her clothes, I loved her family. Now, don’t get confused. I’m not talking about some tween sensation in the style of Miley Cyrus. No, no. My hero was this woman:

And the clothes I lusted over were something similar to this:

The Ingalls wear the latest in colonial chic. Found at:

The Ingalls wear the latest in colonial chic. Found at:

Anyway. My greatest sadness in life was that, despite reading everything Laura ever wrote (and she wrote a good 15 books), going to Book Weeks as members of her family and insisting I bathe myself in a bucket the way she would – I would never, ever actually meet her. She sadly died well before I was even born – 1957.

That is until I went to Greenfields Village in the town of Dearborn, Michigan! Greenfields Village is part of a complex originally set up by Henry Ford (he of the cars) to house a museum, an academy and also all the famous houses that Henry Ford had collected over the years. That’s right, the man collected houses (I mean, can you blame him? Collecting cars obviously wasn’t going to be that interesting). He would buy houses that had belonged to famous people and then he shipped them to Greenfields Village and made an open-air museum.

Now, Ford didn’t actually buy any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes (because many of her homes couldn’t be bought and moved! She lived in a house carved out of a river bed! And she lived in a sod house! And she lived in many other ingenious houses all built by her ingenious Pa!) but he did buy a schoolhouse. And, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a schoolteacher before she was a writer (at the ripe old age of 15). And, so that definitely justified Greenfields Village having a Laura Ingalls Wilder on the grounds who you could meet and who told you stories from her life just outside the schoolhouse. That’s right, I met Laura freakin’ Ingalls freakin’ Wilder. Please understand that meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder for me was similar to other little girls meeting Cinderella or something. I didn’t get to have my photo taken with her (to be honest, I’m glad no-one was allowed to have their photo taken with her – it would totally have ruined my little fantasy), but it was still quite the nostalgic, warming thrill. And certainly the perfect way to end my briefest of visits to the USA.

Thanks again ‘Merica, you’ve been swell as always. Don’t be a stranger now.

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Ann Arbor, Michigan

So, I have now landed in Ann Arbor, staying with people who I have known and loved since I was 4 years old and am on the other side of a 12 hour sleep and life is looking a lot happier (Life tip: life is always a lot happier on the other side of a 12 hour sleep in the house of people you have known and loved you since you were 4 years old).

Will life continue on this happy path? Well, that is yet to be seen. I have been having very ‘serious’, very ‘adult’ discussions about ‘life’ and ‘choices’ and ‘decisions’ over the past few days, and the people I am staying with are the only people who have kind of sort of told me that if I really truly want to get some clarity in my life I’m going to have to woman-up and make some decisions and be dedicated to those decisions for a little while. But in a nice way. In a way that makes me realise I can’t just keep on whinging and wandering through life expecting my it all to sort itself out on its own. But, on that note, what exactly should I choose to do and where should I choose to do it and exactly where should my dedication be placed?? Even they were not certain. Food preparation? Roofing?

On another topic altogether, I’ve lived three more days as a 29 year old and I have three more things to report.

1) Saw Anchorage properly 

Remember how I said that Anchorage was a kind of ugly, not great town when there was a lot of cloud and you took buses everywhere to a lot of malls? Turns out Anchorage can be quite pretty when the cloud is gone and someone is driving you to her house and to artists markets where you buy bracelets made out of vintage spoons. First impression of Anchorage was not so great. Second impressions of Anchorage was pretty great! Even when I was getting majorly car-sick, I managed to be mildly appreciative of the scenery surrounding me (second life tip: don’t have an afternoon nap and then jump straight in the car afterwards without eating some proper food or having something to drink, because you will feel awful. Really, truly horrible. You will most likely spend most of your energy not trying to barf all over your friend’s car, and all that extra energy spent trying not to barf will make you break out into a sweat, which is very unattractive and also unpleasant. That’s right, I used the word barf. Because it is ridiculous).  We stopped for some fresh air (and also so my friend could find a leaf to crush right up next to my nose – my sinuses were so blocked I couldn’t smell the distinctive Alaskan spring smell she was determined I should smell) and I happened to get a great view back towards the city, nestled amongst the mountains. As horrible college boys often said of college girls when they thought they were alone and so therefore it was perfectly acceptable to act like misogynistic pricks – ‘She’s like a Monet, good from afar’. Ok, sorry, Anchorage, that’s not fair (as horrible college boys said to college girls when they suddenly realised they weren’t ACTUALLY alone). I very much enjoyed my second trip to the city and I’m counting it twice because I feel the first time I went to Anchorage was not a fair indication of what the city had to offer a person, shut up its my blog, I can do what I like.

2) Slept 12 hours. All the way through.

I don’t really sleep all that much. I’m not good at sleep-ins. Even as a child/teenager, I would feel guilty if I slept in past 9am (That’s right, a teenager! Feeling guilty about sleeping past 9am! A teenager, feeling guilty about anything! My middle-class guilt and anxiety was learnt at an early age). And, even if I did want to sleep in on a particular day, I was always wide-awake by around 8am, knowing that if I tried to go back to sleep, I would wake up feeling headache-y and nauseous (see second life tip, above) when I eventually awoke from what was essentially a nap an hour or so later.

I’m better at getting sleep these days – I really try to be in bed for around 8 hours, but I’m still not great at it. Last night, I got into bed and switched out the lights at 10:45pm, expecting to be up around 8am – which was still a sleep-in as far as I was concerned. The night didn’t start well. There was a lot of tossing and turning and anxious body shaking (does anyone else uncontrollably shake when they are stressed? At first you think you’re freezing and then you realise you’ve actually just been tensing every muscle in your body since you woke up and now you’re trying to relax them again and its like your limbs don’t quite know what to do with all that extra tension they’ve been holding on to, so they just shake uncontrollably. Anyway…). Also, a new habit that I’ve noticed I’ve started doing when lying in bed feeling anxious and slightly confused/upset – I imagine writing all over the walls in a black permanent marker. I don’t know where this image has come from or why, but I find it oddly comforting to imagine myself covering the walls in scrawled, dark, ineradicable writing. I haven’t done it yet and am uncertain whether or not it would actually make a difference to my feelings of anxiety. Perhaps its an idea a bit like this blog – getting all the words that are making me upset out of me and on to the wall, instead of keeping them inside of me and causing mischief with my inner organs.

Anyway, point is, I finally fell asleep, woke up briefly at 8am and then fell back into a deep sleep that was not even remotely interrupted until 11am. I slept for 12 hours. 12 hours! I couldn’t quite believe it. But, the dazed feeling in my head seemed to confirm it. I was slightly embarrassed when I went out to greet my host, but she didn’t mind at all, pointing out I was severely sleep-deprived, sick and also still on Alaska time (where it was currently only 7am). I do love these people.

3) Really, truly enjoyed a performance art piece

Performance art is one of those things that I think I should enjoy. One of those things that I feel, as an actor/writer with liberal tendencies, I should ‘understand’ and ‘support’. I am usually one of the quickest to jump to the defence of art’s slightly stranger experiments – and the less I understand it, the quicker and more determined I am to jump to it’s defence, my justification being that its clearly exploring something I have very little knowledge of in a brand new way and therefore it must be worthwhile (actually, written out like that it doesn’t seem like such a bad trait to have. Well done, me!) But, that said, at most performance art pieces, I am usually somewhere on the scale of confused to uncomfortable to scared/nauseous. I also feel completely unable to comment on the work afterwards (which is usually my greatest joy with theatre – discussing the issues raised in a good play, or ‘critiquing’ the actors/scenery/direction/writing/costumes in a… less good one). I tend to resort to inane comments like, ‘I’m just so amazed she fit all those grains of rice into her ear!’ (suspiciously similar to the way some of my friends comment on my theatre shows – ‘I just don’t know how you learn all those lines!’)

But, today I saw a work by Laurie Anderson (who apparently is very famous and used to date Lou Reed) called ‘From the Air’ at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and I was blown away. The girl at the front desk said it was a ‘video’, but when we walked into the darkened room, we found, instead of a projection screen, two tiny couches made out clay. As we walked closer, an image of Laurie Anderson was projected onto one couch and an image of her dog on the other. Laurie Anderson then proceeded to tell an 8:30 minute story that had me completely transfixed. I’m not going to ruin it for you by telling you the ending (yes, ok, maybe you’ll never get to Ann Arbor to see it, but I don’t like spoilers on a moral basis. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to explain it all. Either way), but I was totally blown away by her story-telling skills and her ability to make an incredibly poignant, important message in the space of 8 and a half minutes (when I usually need an hour to get across something less clear, clever or worthy).

So, there you have it. 3 more things. I promise when I get back to London I will be more diligent about these and write better posts. Until then….

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Three New Things (And a Hell of a Lot of Sadness)

Its currently 7am on the day after the last day of the Last Frontier Theatre Conference. I’ve been up for an hour or so, despite being told I could sleep in. I woke up because I’m sick and my nose was blocked, but I stayed up because I’m so goddamn sad at the moment that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m sad for a lot of reasons, not least of all because its the end of the conference and I have to try and leave lovely Alaska for the second time in my life this evening and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go back and it feels like my goddamn heart is goddamn breaking into goddamn tiny pieces.

Sorry, I’m not being very entertaining, am I? Neuroses! Travel disasters! Food! I’m getting old!

Is that any better?

I just can’t help it. I’ve been so fucking low for pretty much this entire week. See, attempting to recreate wonderful past experiences isn’t always the easy and straightforward thing you assume it might be (I should have known this – I’ve read Summer of the 17th Doll ). And sometimes, quite frankly, its a fucking disaster (please excuse my appalling fucking language in this post. I’m fucking tired and fucking sad). Don’t get me wrong, the conference has been great this year, but last year was such an incredible high, that it was always going to be difficult (near impossible) for any other conference to live up to it. And comparing the two isn’t doing me any favours this year.

I forced myself out of bed yesterday to go to the final day of activities, when all I really wanted to do was to pull the covers up over my head and sit in the darkness (well, the semi-darkness. It is Alaska in summer). Of course I ended up feeling better once I got out of bed, but there is still clearly something wrong with how my emotions are currently wired – someone told me I had lost weight and looked great and I almost burst into tears. I cried during the Glee club’s rendition of ‘Runaround Sue.’ Those are not rational reactions to the stated stimuli. I’ve been so low, and now its the end of the conference and I have to go home to London and I’m not entirely certain what I have to look forward to over there anymore. I know that’s not true and there are, actually, many exciting and wonderful things, like spending a month in Edinburgh and going to Morocco and friends that I adore. But suddenly everything seems a little lack-lustre, a little dull in the UK. I really like it over here. I really like the USA. It feels like some kind of insane break-up.

But, like any break-up, I’m also left wondering what was the attraction that made me feel so strongly in the first place. And whether or not I’m only sad because I don’t have the option of staying (would I really stay if the US Border Control suddenly turned around and said, ‘We’ve thought long and hard about it and clearly you love the USA so much, that we’re going to make an exception in your case and you can live here if you want. Good luck, God speed and please don’t tell too many people about this.’ Ok, yeah, I’d probably stay). Whatever it is, right now I’m feeling such an incredible loss, emptiness and sadness that it’s almost unbearable. It doesn’t help that I’m sleep-deprived, sick and sitting in a darkened, empty room on my own. I’m sure I won’t feel so horribly lonely once people wake up and we go to breakfast. But, I’m not looking forward to my solo plane trip out of here. There may be inappropriate crying. Like the time I cried watching Mamma Mia on the plane to the UK (actually, I think I cried every time I saw Mamma Mia. Bad example. Umm…. the time I cried watching Starbuck on the plane to the UK – a film about a man who donates so much sperm he ends up fathering 533 children. It was very emotional!)

Anyway. This post is only half about sadness, and it was meant to be a side topic, if my own title is to be believed. So, without further ado, three more new things –

1) I said what I was thinking and I (think I) behaved like a grown-up.

I don’t say what I think much (‘but, Jenny, you have a blog, you’re always telling us what you think! You never cease to tell us what you think! In fact, we’re probably a little sick of hearing about what you think! You overshare in a way that makes us uncomfortable and talk about food in a way that makes us hungry!’ Be quiet, unknown internet people and let me make my point). Or, when I get very emotional, or very overwhelmed, I am liable to get very confused and to just say the first thing that comes into my head, which usually turns out to be: ‘Oh, that’s ok!’ And its not until later that I realise how angry/hurt/upset/insulted I actually am. I’m then not great with expressing those feelings, because I’m not really comfortable with the idea of people not liking me (pathetic, I know. If I only I cared less about other people). And, deep-wired somewhere in my brain is the feeling that if I am angry, or I cry, or I express a strong and/or controversial opinion, people will dislike me. On Thursday, I managed to say pretty much what I was thinking in an emotional situation, despite still being majorly confused and overwhelmed.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

2) I met a man named Forrest

I don’t know about you guys, but the release of the move Forrest Gump in 1995 was the bane of my adolescent fucking existence. For years, ‘Run, Forrest, Run’ in appalling Southern accents was pretty much the standard response to giving people my name. At the start of high school, my nickname became ‘peas and carrots’ (‘Me and Jenny were like peas and carrots again’). And I can’t count the number of teenage boys who thought that, ‘I may not be a smart man, Jenny, but I know what love is,’ was the most original and tailor-made-for-Jennys pick-up line that anyone had ever come up with.

Of course, its all died down since then. I’m now allowed to live my life without being hounded by fake Southern accents wherever I go.

In reality, I had, up until recently, never met a man named Forrest. I didn’t think it was a name actual people were given. It was fake name, only given to Tom Hanks in wildly successful, Oscar-winning movies. But, this week, I met a man named Forrest. A real one. And, to be honest, when I gave him my name, I was incredibly surprised he didn’t comment on it. Or start talking in a Southern accent.  I felt cheated. Surely this was a moment for him too? I mean, ok, its a bit ridiculous to start quoting just because you’ve met a Jenny, but, surely, a Jenny and Forrest together…? And then I realised. Meeting a Forrest might be a bit unusual for a Jenny (especially a Jenny from Australia), but meeting a Jenny was probably not unusual for a Forrest. And he was probably just as sick of having Jenny’s making stupid comments about how life was like a box of chocolates or some such. So I kept my mouth shut. But, in my head, I was still awfully pleased to be sitting next to a Forrest and thought it would be an amazing coincidence if we turned out to be BFF’s.

We haven’t.

3) I climbed the hill behind the Valdez Civic Centre

So, I haven’t always wanted to do this, but, certainly since I went to Valdez last year I have wanted to do this. Because, for some reason, I never got to last year. This year, I did it after the Gala Night, even though there was a pile of snow 4 ft high over parts of the path and even though I had on my nice dress and even though I was in heels. Because I am not the sort of person who cares about those sorts of things when it comes to nice views, goddamn it! And I only fell over in the snow once. And the snow only went on my stockings a little bit and it dried almost immediately. Success!

Pictures to follow, I apparently left the cord that connects my camera to my computer back in the UK.

Well, that’s it. Alarm clocks are going off, and its getting to be a reasonable hour, so perhaps I should get dressed. I may have actually managed to slightly  jolly myself into a better mood. Slightly.


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More Things

God this blogging thing is hard.

Correction: God this regular blogging thing is hard.

Correction: This stupid 29 plan is really a pain in my rear-end.

And, yet, I’m not going to give up. No, indeed. Because, I realise that everything will be much easier when I am back home and not as much is going on and I can do discernible, identifiable ‘new’ things every day and then report on them. Right now, in Alaska, when so much is happening (and much of it is new-ish), everything’s just a little overwhelming.

Also, I drank a lot last night. So, that’s not helping.

Alright, let’s get this over with.

1) Ate Sweet Potato Chips

These are a THING over here in the USA. And, just to make them even sweeter (Americans seem to be very enthusiastic about making things even sweeter), they were dusted with icing sugar. ICING SUGAR! And then I put ketchup on them! WHAT THE WHAT? (Which, by the way, is my new favourite phrase. I think it may be about a decade out of date, but, that’s my style. I only follow fads 10 years later when it’s ironic)

2) Enjoyed a Zombie play

A few of my friends are really enthusiastic zombie fans. They love zombie movies, they love zombie interactive theatre. They love zombie garden gnomes. They just love zombies, which I have always found a little weird, because, really, how is it possible to love something that wants to eat your brains? Surely that is the definition of a self-destructive relationship.

Anyways, I have never understood the zombie thing. But, on Tuesday night, a play was presented at the conference which combined 1950s family sitcoms with time-travel with nuclear war with zombies and suddenly I was like, this is the best thing ever. I mean, it was a pretty tame zombie play – not much blood and guts – and the play could have stood to be trimmed a little, but, overall, it was a highly enjoyable experience. So, yeah! Zombies! Yay!

3) Sat on a bench and looked at the view

Ok, so, clearly I have done this before. But, I haven’t done this in Alaska before! I was so busy with the conference last year that I hardly had time to feed and bathe myself, let alone sit on stupid benches and look at stupidly beautiful mountains. But, yesterday, I saw a very good play in the afternoon and felt like being quiet and anti-social for a while (I know you won’t believe me, but sometimes it happens), so I went and sat on a bench, by myself, and looked at the mountains. It was very peaceful. It was very beautiful. The only thing that detracted from the experience was the glaring sun bouncing off the snow (and I had no sunglasses) and the group of teenagers hanging around at the next corner, who clearly thought they owned the bench and were very, very, very annoyed about me sitting there (hey, kids, you’re not talking as quietly as you think you are).

But, yes, it was a delightful 20 minutes of quiet and peace and sobriety before what turned into a fairly messy evening on a cruise boat. There was much Lonely Island singing, Dory-style whale-language and Rose-Jack-Titanic impressions, for which I can only say, ‘I’m sorry, Valdez. I’m sorry.’

But, really, what did they expect? It is the last year of my twenties.

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Three New Things

The problem with deciding to write a blog post every day is that… well, you have to write a blog post every day. And it turns out I don’t actually have enough time to write a blog post every day. Especially not in the middle of a theatre conference in Alaska (I’M IN ALASKA! AGAIN! HOORAY!)

But, I am a dedicated person. And I started this stupid idea and now I’m really attached to it, so I’m going to try and do it even if its really really really inconvenient and means I wind up missing out on a lot more sleep.

So, without further ado, three more new things!

1) See Anchorage

On Friday, my new thing was ‘See Anchorage.’ I have always wanted to see Anchorage. A treasured childhood book of mine was called ‘Julie of the Wolves’ (I may have mentioned it before) and it was about a girl who lived in Alaska. So I developed a bit of an obsession with Alaska. And, as I found out when I used to stare at the atlas pages for hours on end, Anchorage was the biggest town in Alaska and a certain mythology then started to grow up around it for me.

Because I left it so late to get plane tickets this year for the theatre conference, I ended up having to book a ticket a few days earlier than I needed to get into Alaska. Which gave me a whole day on Friday to see Anchorage.

When I first found this out, I thought I would use the day to do something exciting – climb a mountain, go kayaking. But, because I was so busy organising things for Brighton etc. this year, I was really slack about organising myself for Alaska. I turned up in Anchorage on Thursday night realising I hadn’t actually worked out anything to do on the Friday.

Not to be deterred, I got up early on Friday morning (I didn’t have much choice – jetlag), got dressed and headed out. It was raining. But, I was not going to let this bother me either. I headed to the bus stop to wait for a bus. Of course, one left just as I arrived. And, as I found out when I checked the bus timetable, buses don’t come in Anchorage as regularly as they come in London (every half hour? Every HOUR??? WHAT IS THIS??) But, I’m a chipper person (well, I was that morning) and I was in Alaska and it wasn’t raining that hard and I WAS NOT GOING TO BE DETERRED. I decided to walk into town.

All went well until I took a wrong turn and found my pedestrian walkway suddenly disappearing. I was wet, I was cold and I was not in anyway heading towards downtown. But, it was nothing a little bit of a capella Kool and the Gang singing and sidewalk dancing couldn’t fix. I found my way back to the right street and continued on my way.

A bus finally came along and I jumped on board. I put a $5 bill into the machine and got my ticket. But no change! I questioned the bus driver. “Oh, yes, that’s a full day ticket you have there. It costs $5.” But I didn’t want a full-day ticket! I only wanted a single ticket! (which cost $1.75) This was way more money than I had intended to spend on the bus that day (a single into town and a single out = $3.50). But, I was NOT TO BE DETERRED! I was NOT TO BE DISHEARTENED! I took it as a sign – I should catch buses around Anchorage to see the town and hide from the rain and also to make use of my ridiculously expensive bus ticket.

Which I proceeded to do. And what I discovered was – Anchorage isn’t a particularly pretty town. Well, ok, its not a particularly pretty town when the cloud is covering the surrounding mountains. And the buses don’t seem to go to particularly pretty places. I saw a lot of malls. There were the occasional interesting, pretty things around – suddenly coming across a Russian Orthodox Church, the University of Alaska’s campus. But, all in all, I’m sorry to say it, Anchorage was a bit of a let-down. I really don’t blame the town. It’s very young (having its centenary only next year) and it does have the feel of a frontier town. It’s a place so surrounded by natural beauty that it’s not really so necessary for the town itself to be that beautiful. But the climate is also harsh, so people are much more concerned with their houses being warm and being sturdy than being beautiful, I imagine. The town has a functional feel, a place that you come to at the start of your journey, as opposed to somewhere that you spend a lot of time in. I hope I’m not being too insulting. I’m sure its a lovely place to live and it has lots of good points about it. I know lots of lovely people who live there. But it was not quite what I was expecting – at least, what I saw from a bus window with a lot of cloud and rain was not quite what I was expecting.

2) Glee Club Concert

On Saturday I went to a full-length Glee club concert. I have always wanted to go to a Glee club concert. Not because I’m a fan of the show (I’m really not), but because I love a capella singing and because I think Glee club’s seem really, really awesome.

Oh, and it was. The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s Glee club pretty much rocked my world all of Saturday night. it was just so much fun, as well as a lot of great singing. Its hard to pick out favourites, but a dance routine to ‘Sexy and I Know It’ was certainly one of the funniest things all evening, and I am a sucker for a show tune, so their versions of ‘Chim-chim-cheree’ (Mary Poppins) and ‘The New Girl in Town’ (Hairspray) were particularly delightful.

3) Kia Corthron

I’m really struggling with Sunday’s new and exciting thing. I mean, I am really, really not thinking about new and exciting things are the moment – most of my thoughts are taken up by the conference and readings and line learning and workshops and hanging out with great people and many other things. It’s kind of difficult to, amongst all that, think of new things to do (and then actually do them).

(I mean, really, the whole week is just new and exciting things, meeting new people, hearing new ideas, writing new stuff, yada yada yada, but I do feel like I have to pick actual singular things to talk about for this darn one day, one thing, one post project)

Anyway, at the conference, everyone gets a panel of experienced practitioners who are tasked with responding to your play. Last year, I was meant to have a great American playwright named Kia Corthron respond to my play, ‘Fishtail’. But, unfortunately, Kia got very unwell just before the conference and wasn’t able to be there. Ever since, her name has seemed to pop up all over the place – one of her play’s is being included in an anthology that Tonic Theatre was writing (the group I was assisting over the end of last year). I found videos of her chatting about playwrighting whilst researching women writers. It felt like a really missed opportunity.

But, this year, Kia has arrived! And the first writing workshop I did yesterday was with her. I wrote a couple of scenes, with *some* good lines (some awful ones too, but what you gonna do with half an hour to write) and found the whole thing quite useful – in particular, it was meant to be helping you ‘come unstuck’ with a play or character you were struggling with. For this particular play, I now believe I have one good page of dialogue. Of course, I still have to deal with the 75 pages of CRAP that is sitting on my computer. But, hey. You gotta start somewhere, right?

Later that evening, Kia (as well as the other featured playwrights) did a few readings of excerpts from their work. I was really happy to hear some of Kia’s work, because I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to read it before. Actually, all of the playwrights were excellent, and most of them I had never read before, so that’s always an exciting thing – finding new writers that you admire. But, again, not really something that I actively went out and did myself (well, I guess if you count all the work I did to get to the conference – writing the play, submitting it, booking my tickets, travelling to Alaska etc. – then maybe I did do all the work necessary for this new experience myself). But, anyway. It was a great night.

So, that’s three new things for three more days. I’m going to try and actively find something to do that’s new and exciting tonight. I’m guessing, because of how the conference works, that its probably going to involve alcohol. This will most likely be the easiest way to get around this pickle that I have got myself in.

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29: Day 3

My ‘do something new and then write about it for the last year of my twenties’ plan is already hitting snags.

Yesterday I travelled to Alaska (yes, I am currently lying on the bottom bunk of an Anchorage hostel) and spent a good 13 and a half hours in planes. I spent approximately another 5 hours in airports and a good 1 and a half on the tube before that. Add in another hour or two at either end to get up, get dressed, check into my hostel and get ready for bed and that was pretty much my entire day taken up with mainly non-exciting, fairly standard, on-the-edge-of-boring things (ok, so if it were someone else, perhaps travelling to Alaska would be something new and exciting. Perhaps even travelling to the USA, or overseas, or in a plane would be new and exciting… But, well, not to brag, but I have ‘done it all before’. Oh, and look how we’re already back on the topic of privilege… Is my final year of my twenties just going to be an endless realisation of how darn lucky I’ve been? That probably wouldn’t be so bad, now that I think about it. I could probably stand to do that… )


What is one to do that is new and exciting whilst spending the majority of their waking hours in a plane? I could’ve joined the mile-high club, I suppose, though most of the men around me were married and/or elderly. And the women not much better. I could’ve been upgraded to first-class, but I don’t rightly know how that works (though, perhaps I should find out for the return trip?)

It also brought up the question: the new and exciting thing that I have to do each day, does this have to be a deliberate act on my behalf? Or, if something new happens to me can I count that as well? My particular example in this case is that I actually watched (and enjoyed and LAUGHED at) Delta’s safety announcement. That was certainly a new experience for me. But, its not something I actively went out and searched for (‘ooh, let’s see if I can find an entertaining and well-conceived airline safety announcement! I’ve always wanted to see one of those!’) It was just sheer luck that the airline I was flying had spent a little bit of time considering their announcement and the fact that nobody paid attention to it and perhaps there was a way of fixing it. Oh, and by the way, its here, if you’re interested. How cheery and happy is that flight attendant? I could join the mile-high club with her, if you know what I mean, wink, wink, nudge nudge…

But, in the end, I decided that I couldn’t really write an entire blog post on that one safety announcement without risking losing all of my friends and readers.

Which left me with food. Again. I guess the good thing about travelling is that it is more likely that I can do something new every day, even if it just ends up being food.

By the time I got off my last flight in Anchorage last night, I had been awake for almost 20 hours. I was absolutely exhausted and absolutely starving. I wanted to go out for a burger, but I also wanted to just go to sleep. In the end, sleep won out and I ended up just buying some snack food. In particular, I got a Crunchy Peanut Butter Cliff Bar.

You may think that the Cliff Bar is a bit of a cheat, considering one of my other rules was that the new and exciting thing I did had to be something I had always wanted to do. Au contraire, my friends, au contraire. I have a story that makes the Cliff Bar the perfect and obvious choice for my new and exciting thing that I did yesterday.

When travelling in South America with my ex, we did a hike in Peru to some ancient Inca ruins. It was called Choquequirao and it was fabulous and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Unlike the Inca Trail, this trek isn’t so popular, because the ruins at the end haven’t been restored in the way Macchu Picchu has. So, apart from my ex, the guides and the porters, the only other person on the trip was a red-headed Georgian, whose penchant for using the phrase, ‘y’all’ when talking to our group would have me in fits of silent and uncontrollable giggles.

This Georgian was quite the outdoors-man and was putting me and my ex to shame by not only doing the epic 5 day trek we were all on, but following it with the Inca Trek. He also had with him his own personal supply of Cliff Bars in a variety of flavours. My ex and I were very interested, because we had never seen them and the packaging was pretty and this Georgian had clearly cared enough about them to cart what must have been at least a boxful to Peru with him so he could eat at least 2 a day throughout his treks.

‘Oh, they’re really, really good,’ he raved. ‘The flavours are great and they really fill you up on treks. They’re a good snack food, you know, not too sweet. I mean, they’re meant to have all this nutrition for exercise, but, really, they just taste really really good.’ And with that, he held out his choc-chip peanut-butter Cliff Bar to the both of us and said, ‘Try it.’

My ex, not being a girl and not being neurotic, and being skinny as fuck, immediately took a bite of the bar. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he enthused, ‘that’s great’. The bar was then held out for me. I stared at it. I was, bizarrely enough, at this particular moment in my life, for some strange unknown reason, in on a diet. The diet I was on didn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t eat sweet things at all, but it did mean that I needed to look at the nutritional information on the packet and calculate exactly how many calories I thought I would be consuming with a nibble of the bar and then make a decision about whether or not that nibble was worth it. And, because that would have been an embarrassing and time-consuming process, and because I knew things that were advertised as being ‘high in energy’ usually were high in calories, and because I knew that peanut-butter and choc-chips were DEFINITELY high in fat and sugar, I said, ‘Oh, no, that’s ok.’

Ever since I have pondered what that Cliff Bar might taste like. I have seen them around, when I’ve been travelling and in a few specialist stores outside of the USA. Look, I’m not saying I spent my days looking out the window as the rain poured down  and crying because I didn’t eat that Cliff Bar, but it did seem to be just another example of my ridiculousness around food and the things that I might be missing out on because of stupid, stupid diets. I mean, what delights could a glorious ‘healthy’ energy bar, made with my favourite thing – peanut butter – have in store for me? What had I missed out on?

So, last night, I finally put my demons to rest. I bought the peanut-butter Cliff Bar. I devoured it. I inhaled it. And it was…


You know? Like, it was… fine.

There was no fire and brimstone. The earth didn’t open up and swallow me because I had consumed an inexcusable amount of calories and fat. Conversely, angels didn’t come down from heaven to sing me songs that were appropriate for such a delectable experience.

Because the bar was… fine. It was fine. I mean, it was no cheesecake, but it did fill me up, so, yeah. You win some, you lose some.

Probably not worth putting off for 5 years. Probably not worth BUILDING UP for 5 years. But, hey, bigger issues and all that.

So, lesson number 3 from being 29: don’t put off little things for stupid reasons. Because the likelihood is that the little things will be much less exciting 5 years down the track, and by listening to the stupid reasons, by giving the weight, you could be giving them licence to torment you for the rest of your life.

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Filed under 29, Introspection, USA

Trip Down Memory Lane

I am currently sitting in Valdez, Alaska, attempting not to faint from jet lag and an over-consumption of french fries. This isn’t actually the promised ‘trip down memory lane’ of the blog post title, but I thought I’d give you some context. Tomorrow the Last Frontier Theatre Conference starts in this far-flung post of the USA empire, at which my play, ‘Fishtail’ will be presented. I’m pretty excited. Not least because the last time I went to a theatre conference it turned out to be the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life where I met some of the best and brightest people I know. I’m looking forward to a theatre binge, not much sleep and various declarations of the adult equivalent of BFF’s (whatever that might be). By next Sunday I intend to be intellectually, emotionally, creatively and lets face it, probably financially sucked dry.
But I’ve actually already had an emotional rollercoaster of two and a half days. On my great traverse across the wide American continent to Alaska, I thought I would take a break in Michigan. Not just for any old reason, but because we have family friends who live there, who I haven’t seen in about 15 years. My Dad and Mum met this couple when we lived in Rochester, Minnesota, back when I was a tiny munchkin of not much more than 5 years old. I always remembered them as some of the kindest, funnest, smartest, best people I knew. Mum and Dad went and visited them in Michigan in 1992, then they visited us in Australia in 1994, Dad and us kids went over again in 1996, they came back in 1998 and then we lost touch for 15 years for a variety of unknown and inexplicable reasons. A few years ago, I looked them up using this miraculous invention of the internet but uncertain where to start after such a long amount of time, I didn’t do anything about it. It was left to my brother Chris to send them a letter last year and re-spark the connection. I sent some emails afterwards, they sent me a Peter Brook book and we discussed vague plans about them coming to Europe with their young daughters (who I had never met) or us going to the USA.
Then, my brother got accepted into a composer’s program in NY and headed out to see them last March. In the meantime, I got accepted into the Last Frontier conference and asked if I might be able to pop along for a short visit on the way there.
Last Wednesday, after an early start in Dublin and a long wait in NY, I was on a tiny plane (not much more than a tuna can with wings, really) bound for Detroit. I suddenly felt very anxious about the whole thing and wished that I could skip Detroit entirely and head straight for Alaska. It all seemed too scary and unknown. What if they didn’t like the person I had become? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if… I don’t know, I set the house on fire? What if I just couldn’t find them at the airport (my new casual attitude towards most things meant I had left Dublin without an address or phone number in case anything went wrong. Of course it all worked out in the end, but still…)?
I don’t know that I really want to go into details about the whole two and a half days. I still feel like I’m processing everything that happened and that I felt. Of course, it was absolutely wonderful, beyond wonderful to see them both again. It felt like opening up a link to another lifetime, back to when I was a child, living in Minnesota happily oblivious to how lucky I was to have my mummy who loved me with me every single day. A link back to a time I could barely remember and a woman I hardly knew.
Less emotionally, it was a link back to the wonderful 5 weeks me, my Dad and my brother spent in Michigan when I was 12 years old; a 5 week period that had made me so happy I constantly brought to mind and perfected every little detail over the years, afraid they might be lost, etching everything so forcibly into my mind that, walking through the city again, I managed to recognise open fields that had been covered in snow last time but were now swishing with high green grasses.
They took me out to yummy vegetarian restaurants and fed me delicious local cheeses. We went cycling and visited local delis and gorgeous artisan shops. We tried to get sangria, but I got ID’ed (seriously!) and when I realised I didn’t have my passport with me, I was forbidden alcohol by the bartender. I saw the university’s art gallery, filled with gorgeous colourful furnishings created by Tiffany (of Tiffany & Co.), the grad library with its airy roof and the law library that was built underground, but so light-filled and bright you’d never realise.
I was ‘all grow-ed up’ (as they kept saying), but there was something about being there, with them, that made the past feel all so brand-new and raw and only just out of reach. On one level, everything about Ann Arbor, its big, gorgeous wooden houses, the leafy suburbs and the green university campus, the buzzing downtown and not to mention our friends’ house (which still had a hint of the same unique woody smell it had back in 1996) and our family friends, seemed so comforting, so peaceful, so exactly right. On some level, I felt so completely at home and safe and calm that I couldn’t ever imagine leaving.
Of course, I did have to leave and far too soon. Worried about my internship and the performance for the Cork Midsummer Festival, I had left only the bare minimum of time in Detroit and just as I had begun to get to know our friends’ two little girls, just as I was getting used to having the sun again, just as I was getting used to being around our friends again, I had to leave. They dropped me off at the airport at 6:30am for a 7:30am flight and as the car drove off, I could feel myself reeling. I cried getting my tickets. I cried at security. I cried waiting to board the plane. I cried as the plane took off. I cried at Chicago airport as I waited for my connecting flight for Alaska. I cried and I cried and I cried.

Glorious Minnesota Childhood

Because the fact of the matter was, that no matter how close all those years ago seemed whilst I stayed in Ann Arbor, they were still far too far away to go back to.


Filed under Introspection, USA