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We’re still trying to piece our lives back together; still trying to get through the nights to enjoy the days. We still don’t talk to each other as we used to – perhaps we won’t again? We’re waiting for someone else to make the first move, to give a signal that there’s a correct course of action to take and that now’s the time to take it. I find it easier not to think too long or hard about how we got here and who was to blame. Life’s just on hold for a while until we can start a conversation.
Easily the most snow I’ve seen in London. Predictably, everything’s disrupted; no buses, trains, the odd tube perhaps but no-one really minds. People I pass in the street are smiling at me, holding fistfuls of the stuff. Schools are closed and there are kids everywhere, building snowmen with their parents and pelting each other with snowballs. There’s no rush to get in today. I stand on the common taking pictures and watching a couple race each other on skis. I’m always amazed how a blanket of thick snow can transform the greyest street into a scene from a Christmas card.
She’s right, it’s funny how you can spend a lot of time with someone – consider them your friend – and know very little about them. Your dad died last night and I have no idea who he was. I don’t have a name, an age or what he did for a living. I don’t know what sort of relationship you had with the man; whether he was someone you spent a lot of time with, looked up to, and could share a joke with. Or if he was someone you spent your life trying to understand a little better. I’m sorry.
I’m glad I don’t live with actors; they’re a peculiar bunch. Get a couple of them together and the volume of general conversation soars through the roof. There’s a fevered desire, compulsion almost, to entertain and make the others laugh. To escalate the joke – keep the ball in the air and the ‘banter’ flowing. It’s pretty tiring to watch. I see her sipping coffee, trying to read a book, glancing over at us, frowning. We’ve ruined her sanctuary and are oblivious to it. I should invite her over; ask her to join in but that’s not how the world works.
They wore black armbands as a sign of respect for him on the television last night. The local derby match for a place in the last sixteen. I caught extra-time and wondered, to myself, who was being mourned. How perfect that it was for your dad, mate. An awful game, and not the result you would have wanted, but a fitting tribute I hope. The power of a minute’s silence, a collective sigh from thousands and a whistle blown to remind those left behind to carry on. We sang your song this morning and we’ve put the Purdeys on ice.
She’s funny: we don’t have a cupboard for one of us to fall out of mid-scene, and we forgot to give a cue for the fall beforehand (both very minor oversights on our part – seriously) and we’re been treated to a twenty-two minute monologue on… I’m not sure what. I zoned out a little while ago. Something about, ‘not expecting the world,’ and I think I caught. ‘immaturity’ and possibly, ‘expectations’ but I can’t be sure. She’s waving her arms around like she’s directing traffic on Tottenham Court Road and I’m smiling; smiling and nodding in time with her voice.
This is only a sketch; a tiny scratch on the surface of something. A summer moth heard landing on a summer porch in darkness. A moment too brief to dream in sleep, to question and find meaning in the larger moment. Everything before this landing was timeless, unmarked by marching seconds; untouched by tendril rays of the sun. Now, we lie marked and touched by time – wounded from counting the nights and days. Planning for tomorrow and trying to fix yesterday. She’s drifting and has more to say but the words escape her. It’s just a sketch; a tiny scratch.
He doesn’t believe you should suffer – that’s the wrong word – but you have to experience something; you have to go through the experience otherwise you’re being fraudulent. Which is perfectly possible. You can survive like that but then everyone else suffers. If you’re willing to stand by this choice you’ve made then being a fraud is wounding to yourself before anyone else. He’s adamant that the career we’ve chosen is an incredibly difficult one full of smoke and mirrors. So many of us will fall out of love with this life we’re being trained for. Some will survive of course.
The Holy Hand-grenade came a-knocking armed with yet another band of cowboy builders. Telling tales of those Germans, no Poles, no Russians – he can’t be sure but thinks, ‘that country where they’re always fighting.’ Thank you esteemed landlord; illuminating as ever. You’d think, having hired the last troupe of hammer-clad misfits, he’d have some idea where they called home. No, how presumptuous of me: the man still calls me Brendan. He’s only spoken to me a couple of hundred times! We’ve broken his little heart by giving notice. And so depart the godless ones from the house that Mitch built.
‘Acting is not apologising for living. It is opening up and saying, “this is me”, in part.’ Another gem from the Sight Reading guru. A gradual movement from a semi-circle of mumbling students with heads pulled back onto their necks into a Greek chorus armed with flowers and buckets of blood (something like that anyway – I’ve filled in a few of the blanks).
‘Monday’s my day from Hell: I leave the house at five thirty and I’m not home again ‘til ten.’
‘You must really love what you do?’
‘Sometimes I think I have the best job in the world.’
Entered the scene with baby clothes wrapped as a parcel and a bouquet of flowers under my arm. Intended to unwrap flowers and present them in a vase on the dining room table as a surprise but was stopped. ‘You’ve just robbed her of her scenic action, don’t do that.’ Twenty minutes later and, ‘the flowers are blocking you there. I think you should start by unwrapping them and putting them in the vase.’ Amusing. Agreed. A useful exercise though, all the same. Johnny’s a Brando, a Dean and a Hudson (apparently) showing off his softer side towards his redemption.
I knew it was – your lips formed her name at any opportunity. Tossed off the tongue as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It wasn’t. It rankled with me. You spoke the name and I heard everything that lay beneath it; all the feeling you hoped you’d suppressed and buried in that word. You made me question myself and doubt what I held to be true above all else. You made me bite my lip and curl up small; as small as I could be. You made me look for lies in you and find them.
‘Have you finished that picture yet?’ He said, stringing a bow.
‘No, not yet. I can’t seem to get it done.’ He said, putting his head in his hands.
‘Shame,’ he said, fixing an arrow.
‘What time is she expecting us tonight?’ He said, standing.
‘About nine oclock I think,’ He said, shooting the arrow at a target on the wall.
And so began the improvisation exercise. ‘Don’t worry about getting it right,’ he said. ‘What is right anyway? You’re not here to please me… If you create a door, walk through it.’ I’ve got to walk through my door.
A guest-house in Stratford Upon-Avon after an entirely sleepless night. A difficult night of explanation and justification; anger and tears. Bitterly cold – reminiscent of Venice almost exactly a year ago – walking for hours and never warming my body or hands. Sitting on a bench by the river staring out over at Shakespeare’s grave in silence, watching couples walking dogs through mud and tourists in jackets with maps. Restaurants fully booked for that Valentine’s Day meal – an irony not lost on either – leaves us sitting in an old favourite of ours. It’s still far too close to feel anything like reality.
‘I just want it to be normal again for an hour.’ It doesn’t feel like anything has changed yet but that line will stay with me for a while. It might stay forever. I should have said something else at the end but I couldn’t find the words – something that’s happening more often. Some things aren’t meant for sharing: this is one so I’ll bite my tongue and break my nib. In other news, people are passing each other in the street: a thousand pairs of eyes fixed on a thousand pairs of shoes locked inside the generic, sightless shuffle.
She’s determined to make me cry – I said it as a joke to friends but she’s actually hand-written, ‘in tears. They embrace, crying’ onto the bottom of the script. The playwright didn’t feel the urge to have us crying but she’d really like to see it. It’s fast becoming a measure of success or failure: ‘the run-up to the scene was fine but you’re not getting that final section. You’ve got to break down; uncontrollable tears.’ A painful memory? I’ve got an idea of a few things I could use but surely they’re all too close. ‘You just gotta cry’.
The song I’ll be sharing with you is called, ‘Come Again’ and was composed by John Dowland in 1597. It’s a bittersweet number concerning themes of lust, longing and ultimately unrequited love. Dowland explores the shivery physical things we feel when we first fall in love and the futility of these feelings when we ‘aint loved back. Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote ‘They flee from me that sometime did me seek’ and was rumoured to have had his own shivery physical relationship with Anne Boleyn. Some believe that Wyatt wrote this beautifully dark piece with Anne in mind after her execution.
For you, feeling really lost, unsure of what to do or who to be:
‘We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come… There is no means of testing which decision is better because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself? That is why life is always like a sketch.’
He’s listening to ‘Killing in the name of’ by Rage Against the Machine. A full-length ginger beard topped with half-frame glasses and a balding head. His tiny legs power tiny feet wrapped in Nike Air trainers. The red rims circling his eyes suggest a certain level of drinking, fuelled by the insistent tapping of those trainers and the nodding of his ginger head. An American voice pierces the silence on the tube – silent except for the deafening din of travelling on the Victoria line – she is amazed by something stereotypically English. That’s not true, I can’t hear her. I’m guessing.
Standing in a darkened room with heavy red curtains drawn to keep the cold from escaping out into the humourless evening. A regrettable chill sits in his bones stoking flames of bitterness and loss as he recounts his younger years when pleasure was easy and cheap. When pleasure reclined into love one frigid autumn evening. When her loose gown slipped silently from her shoulders and carameled onto the floor. The hunter caught the herd and plucked his doe. He fell sweetly into her arms long and small but fell farther, then farthest. Now he stands in this darkened room alone.
I don’t know. Exhale. Pause. I don’t know. Pause. Smile. I don’t know exhale pause I don’t know pause smile. I just had the strangest feeling of déjà vu – that’s because we’ve done this before. More than once. My boots sound on every step. I stop and turn around to tell you something meaningful – worthwhile. I hesitate and turn, walking down again. I stop by the door and draw the lock, turning around once more. It’s futile; I’m rooted to the floor. Then across the threshold, out into the morning sun, I leave you biting the inside of my cheek.
The tubes were down so I walked back home, cutting across the common. I took a breath and felt good again. Watching the silhouettes of ancient trees tossing leaves across the orange sky I thought of a walk in another park where you were attacked from all sides: by roller-bladers who meant no harm and pigeons who could sense your fear. With a wise old white witch, sat smoking liquorice roll-ups, laughing at your concentrating face. At the other end of the common I see the fair is in town. A mechanical arm of flashing lights dancing in the tree-tops.
We seem to be afraid of spontaneity: we tend towards the measured, clearly thought-out responses that leave our speeches dull, unburnished chests of words. ‘Where shall I go from?’ – simply ignored and spoken over. Snatches of giggling laughter rise from her throat in a fit of nervous energy. Legs crossed at the ankles, balanced on the outside of each foot, hands thrust firmly in the back-pockets of her jeans as she sways her body in time to her answers. Cheeks flushed and chest red; all smiles and gushed agreement. She has apologised for everything – it’s forever etched upon her face.
Save it for a secret sometime when I’m standing on this bridge again thinking of all the lines from favourite songs I could use to paint this picture. They’re not enough tonight. Eyes caught in the flame of a candle; a warm smile in a flickering room. They fit here perfectly. A line runs between the two, threading over legs and hands, casting curves around them. The city lights take their seats and extinguish themselves in sequence; a sign of respect to the fool and the foolish closeted in the darkness. It started as a complication now it's something else.
What a strange experience. We’ve all been brought crashing down to Earth immediately – not five minutes to catch our breath – and no-one’s really sure why. Certainly his points were valid and a period of quiet, measured reflection is useful – necessary – but after a few words of moderate praise or thanks or something. His humour is fast becoming an acquired taste and he’s starting to alienate himself from us. His views weren’t necessarily shared by everyone and one or two quietly said as much with carefully chosen words said elsewhere in other company. It has left us wondering what comes next.
‘Waterboy… where are you hiding?’ I’ve changed my mind about him completely. He’s headstrong and bullish certainly but he’s really just trying to find his way in a brand new world. He’s left all of his friends behind, and a girlfriend – perhaps his first – he loved, to start a career in a new country. Of course he’s looking for a little direction; a gentle push to get things underway. I have a lot of time for him and feel a bit like an older brother to him at times. My brother from another mother as he likes to tell me.
The longest, strangest day: six hours set aside to rehearse this evening left us leaving the building at a quarter to ten having done maybe an hour’s work in all that time. She was upset because he died last night – we all were – but she dealt with it by working through. We resented her for it; storming and thrashing through scene changes. It seems foolish now but we were emotionally drained. He dropped dead from a heart attack. I didn’t know him. I saw him hugging one of his students, so proud of her performance, just three days ago. Craig.
I left him sitting in the stalls of the theatre (black, save for a few working lights) staring out onto the stage. He was wearing his empty smile; his default face for fixing mistakes and letting life wash over. We often joke that his soul is dark and he’s earned every line on his forehead but it’s not funny today. It was never funny. I recognise myself in him and his way of thinking. Earlier, the three of us sat in silence before we shared our stories. Stories of death, illness, separation, second chances and new beginnings. It was honest.
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