Monday, 30 April 2012

fraying at the edges

There is a lava flow of words in my head, pent up and seething. More time please. When I erupted today, it wasn't at the computer, it was at my son, my cherubic, cheeky, headstrong son, and he cried, and I cried, and still nothing was written. Because there is no time. More time. Please.

Tonight I thought I would write about Robert Holman. I might still write about Robert Holman, but first I need to write this. Tonight I saw Melanie Wilson's Autobiographer. There was a moment, very early on, when I was momentarily distracted by the number of people in the room. I counted 19, perhaps it was 20. Why why WHY wasn't it full? There were other moments of feeling distracted. Of not listening, or not concentrating. Not quite boredom, but almost. There were moments when the words, even in the most lucid passages, were merely sound, not meaning. A lot of the time, I didn't really understand the import of what the four performers were saying. Why should I? They were illuminating a life. Life doesn't make any sense. Least of all from the inside.

“It's never been my impression from life that things hang together. It's never been apparent to me, from living, that stories get steadily larger.
But rather... that filaments of attachment thread between the most disparate of things... of people... events... words.”

One of the projects that I'm working on at the moment is X. And these opening words of Autobiographer took me straight back into that afternoon of X specific memories in response to certain questions, X absurd networks of stories and images and thoughts that glanced at answers but also evaded them. There is something faintly terrifying about recognising the processes of your brain in a show about dementia. It makes me feel just a little bit screwed.

Autobiographer details the experience of dementia by taking us right inside the fragmented brain. Where the electric circuits keep snapping apart, then re-fusing when you least expect it. Where words are elusive and memories no longer make sense and the buzz of white noise between your ears is unbearable. This isn't a show to understand, it's a show to feel. I felt it the way I would a piece of music, a symphony. It seeps inside and settles, a chill in the bones, a blip in the pulse. When you dig around in it for narrative, the story you find is your own.

“I am a dress pattern.
I am the dress pattern of a mother.
I am the dress pattern. My mother made me.
The pattern of the dress my mother made.
She gave me the pieces.
She put them together for me.
I picked them apart and made myself differently.
'Who does she take after?' someone asks.
Herself, says my mother. She takes after herself.”

It pains me how beautiful this piece is. How carefully composed, with its quiet refrains (more time please), its poignantly freighted gestures (the confused gaze at the wrinkling hands), its graceful, elliptical poetry. It asks you to work hard, and it rewards you with heartache. When I close my eyes tonight, I will see the glowing filaments of lights that have gone out. We live and we have to live fast because there isn't enough time. I will be extinguished, and my daughter will rearrange herself, and my son will stitch his own children. What's the weather in your head today? A fucking tornado.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

a space of dignity, horizontality, love

Note added 9 July 2021: following the discovery that, through all the years I was working with him, Chris Goode was consuming images of child abuse, I've returned to a self-evaluation process rethinking the work I did with him. That process began in 2018 and some of what it raised is detailed in this post from December that year, in which I acknowledge that I was complicit in some of the harms he caused, for instance by erasing the work of other women who worked with him, fuelling a cult of genius around him, and consistently asking people who criticised his work (particularly the sexually explicit work) to see it in softer ways. A second post is now in process in which I look in more detail at the ways in which Chris coerced and abused particularly young men who worked with him, using radical queer politics to conceal these harms and police reactions. I hope that any other writing about his work on this blog, including the post below, will be read with that information in mind.

Further note added 27 July 2021: that new post is now written and undergoing an extensive rewriting process as it's read and commented on by people who appear in it (that is, other people who worked with Chris in the seven years when I did). It could be up to a month before it's ready to share publicly, but I'm happy to share it privately in the meantime. 



I have a confession to make. I, a married woman, with two small children, am having an affair. With a gay man 12 years my junior. I'm pregnant with our lovechild. And we're having the baby.

How else to convey the euphoria, not to mention sheer terror, of the past 10 days? It started so innocently: a conversation between me and Jake Orr at the end of my session on dialogue between theatre-makers and theatre-writers at this year's D&D. It was the first time we had properly spoken and we quickly discovered a few shared experiences and principles. I was collaborating with Chris Goode, sitting in rehearsals, illuminating from an outside perspective Chris' day-to-day process and the implications of his work, whether in terms of Chris as a theatre-maker, his relationship with the wider theatre culture, or his politics more generally. Jake was about to collaborate with Dirty Market, sitting in rehearsals, experimenting with new ways to document devised work well before it was ready for an “official” review. Even though I still occasionally write such reviews for the Guardian, we both expressed our frustration with mainstream media criticism as a form. We wanted a new engagement with theatre, to find new ways of writing or communicating about it and within it. I didn't feel his desire to explore dramaturgy as a practice, but understood why he was contemplating it. I admired his jumper, although I probably forgot to say that bit.

It could have ended there, but then Diana Damian sent out a link to Culturebot, a website in New York dedicated to establishing a new relationship between artists and writers: “critical horizontalism”, they called it, a curation of online and live dialogues with an emphasis on theatre-writing as a creative practice. I felt an odd sort of jolt reading it, an uncertain excitement. Then Jake read it, and saw a vision of his future.

Ten days ago, he and I met again and began tentatively exchanging thoughts about a new theatre website. It would be a place of community, non-competitive in spirit, overlapping with other websites, blogs, discussion spaces. It would operate at a remove from the marketing agenda, the fevered fixation on press nights and the ticking clock of closing nights. Writers and contributors would have space for reflection: responding to theatre, not reviewing it, certainly not belittling it with a star rating. The writing would be strictly non-academic: I have a grown-up degree and all but words like dialectical still turn my brain to jelly. The space would be open to everyone engaged in making theatre possible: not just the people who make it but the administrators working around the piece and the audiences watching. My lovely friend Samantha Ellis recently lent me Max Stafford-Clark's Letters to George (yes, I'm that ill-read in theatre literature I'd never encountered it before) and I was struck by the letter written after the second tech: “It's possible to endure almost any situation at the Court as long as everybody thinks the work is good. When the building's internal verdict is split about the worth of a particular play morale sags alarmingly.” It's clear why we never hear those verdicts before press night: the people performing the play need to be protected. But what about afterwards? How often do theatre staff who aren't counted among cast and creatives get their voices heard, except in the most blandly promotional way? There are so many hierarchies to break down, so many protective barriers to break through.

So much was unknown to us in that talk: what the website would look like, how it might operate, who would contribute and how, where we would find the time to fit it into our lives (I have two real, living children and Jake has two real, time-consuming jobs, and that's just the start). Above all: were we the only people who felt this was important? Apparently not. As we began approaching other people – not just theatre-writers but makers, too, playwrights and directors and producers – we discovered we were touching a nerve. More than that: we were igniting fireworks. I sat at my computer and with every new email saw Catherine wheels.

It helped, I think, that this conversation took place just as Andrew Haydon was immersed in Forest Fringe at the Gate. Here was a two-week festival of work so concentrated that inevitably most of it would be off the mainstream critical radar, even the bloggers' radar, and yet every piece, no matter how unfinished, would be discussed in depth, both on its own terms and in the context of the night it appeared and the festival as a whole. It startled us all with a sense of possibility, of what a theatre-writer could offer not only to the people in the room at the time, but to the people around the country who wanted to be there but couldn't. What a writer could offer to the present and to the future. Andrew brought every single night of Forest Fringe to life on his blog; more than that, he shone a light on every idea and theme and thought that bounced from one night to the next.

It wasn't until I left London for Leeds, to spend the weekend with Chris Goode & Co at Transform, that I realised what a champagne bubble I'd been living in for the past five days. The day before, Daniel Bye had posted his musings on “embedded criticism” on his blog and Jake and I had been compared to Marx and Engels, which is apt to make a girl's head swell beyond all proportion. Drunk with excitement, I did a whole lot of self-important talking on the Saturday, for which I now feel wholly ashamed. Thankfully, the bubble was punctured, painlessly, beautifully, by a thought-provoking conversation with Jonny Liron. What he made me question is whether the rush to adopt a term like “embedded criticism” puts theatre-writers at risk of creating new moulds for themselves that might prove as rigid as the old moulds.

The engagement I, Jake and Andrew have with our respective theatre companies is very different and that shouldn't be blurred by a catch-all phrase. For a start, Andrew was the only one of us who actually was writing criticism: he watched the work on stage and reported back. What made it so valuable and inspiring was the intensity of his watching, the acuity of his reporting, his honesty: he never fudged not understanding, or gaps in his own knowledge. Above all, he proved that the confession of partiality, as opposed to the lie of impartiality that is expected in mainstream media concerned with issues of “trust”, makes a review look more searching and truthful, not less.

What Jake and I have been writing is anything but criticism. More or less live-blogging from the Dirty Market rehearsal room, Jake produced a blow-by-blow account of the making of a devised show that conveyed frustration and boredom and inspiration in equal measure. Its careful examination of the role played by each person in the room was full of questions: what are the directors doing? What does a dramaturg do? Does anyone know what's going on? Are these moments of lostness OK? Is it legitimate for me to feel part of the work even though I'm only an outside eye? Isn't it weird for me to be in the room and remain silent? If I can see a way forward for the piece, shouldn't I speak?

Although they forged a relationship through proximity, Jake didn't know Dirty Market before meeting them for this project, which is a totally different proposition to how I work with Chris Goode. I've been an awestruck fan of Chris for a decade now; the way I see it, I gave him a piece of my heart the day I watched Kiss of Life in 2002 and every time I see a new show I give another (after Woundman, a particularly big chunk). What he has given me in return is faith and trust. Whatever I doubt about my ability to do full justice to his work, there is one thing I know with absolute certainty. When I'm in his rehearsal room, I am silent witness. What I see may not be clear to me in the moment of watching, so I absorb as much as I can and watch it again and again in my head until that mistiness clears. And I'm there not because I'm A Critic, or because I Write For The Guardian. I'm there because of whatever that individual thing is that Chris sees in me, that I can't see in myself.

To me, the value of all these collaborations is really obvious, but one question Jake and I keep butting against is: are we just talking to ourselves, or to the tiniest of cliques? I honestly can't imagine people not being interested in every aspect of theatre, especially – to borrow Chris's phrase – upstream theatre, but then it's my life, my passion. Whenever it worries us, we remind ourselves of another principle of the website: we're not concerned with “success” in the capitalist market-forces sense. This is a space for labourers of love, not chasers of profile or monetary gain. (The title for this, by the way, comes from John Holloway's Crack Capitalism.) To me, that is what theatre is for: it shows us what happens when people are not generous to each other, or distrust each other, or live in a state of hostility, and what happens when they extend kindness, sympathy, love. In promoting new collaborations between theatre-writers and makers what Jake and I are promoting are new dialogues of generosity. If that's perceived by readers or audiences as disregard for the outside world, we'll have expressed ourselves very wrongly indeed.

There is a general attitude of suspicion around theatre-writers forming relationships with makers, a sense that it compromises our writing and skews our judgment. But I don't buy it. I feel much more compromised writing a review of Enda Walsh's new play for the Guardian that doesn't confess to the minor crush I harbour for the man: I go into his plays intending to like them. I feel much less truthful writing up an interview with Amy Lame for G2 in which I give no indication of the fathomless admiration I have for the woman. There are so many secrets in theatre, so many agendas and prejudices, so much dishonest practice. Surely we can be more open than that?

Once you start to unpick the unstated rules of theatre-writing, so much unravels. Going to Leeds made me think very hard about the media representation of “regional theatre”, how it upholds the idea of a gap between London and Everywhere Else. I want to join the two up and keep that London-centric bubble that consumed me last week punctured. As part of my work with Chris Goode, I interviewed the chief executive of WYP, Sheena Wrigley, and had every assumption I held about her rigorously challenged: that she was conservative in outlook because of where she works, that she is more concerned with bums on seats than artistic ambition. So many walls have been erected between “experimental” and “challenging” and “abstruse” theatre-makers and the grown-up world of mainstream, conventional, traditional theatre. Let's smash them down. Let's stop locking theatre in boxes and start talking.

So that's the thinking behind this new adventure Jake and I are embarking upon. At the moment, we don't know for certain what we'll physically make: what we have is a constellation of dreams. I like to think of our website as a great big playground, where writers and makers and audiences alike can take turns having a turn on the merry-go-round and the swings. But I like thinking of it as “the lovechild” even more, partly because it really does come from a place of intense love for theatre and writing, and the exhilaration of new friendship and mutual support that I've found with Jake, but also because, just as any baby emits an awful lot of poo in its early days, I'm sure we will make a lot of mistakes. But then something will happen that is as joyful and surprising as a child's first silvery, gurgling laugh, and all will feel right with the world.

So here we are. Building the playground. Birthing the lovechild. Setting off fireworks. All things being equal, this will be posted on Deliq, but readers who might never have encountered my blog before will reach it from the new website. We're calling it DIALOGUE, because that's what we dream of: shared communications, bringing everyone who loves theatre together. It won't always look the way it does when it launches, but in the spirit of collaboration that will characterise everything that we do, we're following the advice of the mighty Tassos Stevens: start simple and leave space to grow.

It took just a week of thinking closely about what it is I do and want to do, who I am, where I am in the world of theatre-writing, of – God help me – theorising my practice, to make me horribly self-obsessed. So much internal analysis isn't healthy. It totally affected the way I watched Chris's astonishing piece 9 in Leeds; I'll explain how in a future piece. I never want that to happen again. If there's anything that engagement with the writings of 1970s feminists has taught me, it's that want to live very consciously – but not self-consciously.

So here we are. Let the dialogue begin.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

work is the last thing on my mind

The first holiday I went on after becoming a mother, when my daughter was maybe 11 weeks old, was miserable. I spent the entire week raging at the injustice of life. Parents of young children, I discovered, don't have holidays: they simply transpose their home life elsewhere, leaving behind at home everything that makes the parenting of young children fractionally easier, a sliver more bearable. Now that my daughter is five, and her brother three, holidays are less desolate but still difficult: without the toys that can keep them blissfully quiet and occupied at home, they become more dependent on me for entertainment and encouragement. We've just come back from a week in Athens visiting family, and I was struck anew by their seemingly limitless capacity for boredom, the seething vehemence of it. That and the appalling brevity of their attention span. Every game of let's pretend and simon says descended into a competition between us, to see who would lose interest first.

Last time we visited Athens, those inevitable moments in the day when television offered salvation were filled with a three-part viewing of The Sound of Music. To the adults' collective astonishment, my daughter was mesmerised by it: by the children, of course, the songs, the cheeky, spirited Maria. (A year later, and after repeated viewings, she startled me by asking why Germans are bad. That took a lot of dismantling.) This time I had the foresight to bring some DVDs from home: all released by Disney, all made by They Might Be Giants in collaboration with a bunch of (I'm assuming) independent animators and film-makers. Now I haven't had time for They Might Be Giants since 1990 or whenever it was when Birdhouse in Your Soul lodged itself in my brain and refused to budge for what felt like eight years. But these DVDs are unspeakably brilliant. They're all educational, which for a pain-in-the-butt middle-class mother inclined to pretension like me is a massive point in their favour; one deals with the alphabet, one with numbers, one with science. But that would be as nothing if the songs were rubbish; if, like most music allegedly made for children, the songs actually appealed only to grown-ups too self-absorbed to allow anything that doesn't fit within their parameters of taste airspace in the home. Until TMBG, the one magnificent exception I had encountered to this was the Crayonettes album Playing Out, a work of staggering genius that accords the imagination of children the greatest respect. TMBG's albums work in a similar way: they commune with kids rather than foist stuff upon them. And they do that using exquisite pop melodies, irresistibly catchy choruses and a delicious sense of humour. They got better as they went along: Here Come the ABCs (2006) is good but not a patch on Here Come the 123s (2008), which contains possibly my favourite song of the entire set, Never Go To Work:

How perfect is that? It's silly and oom-pah-pah-y and so deliciously subversive: why go to work when you can practise trumpet every day? When my kids both turn out to be fifth-division indie popsters – and my daughter is already badgering me to help her record her first album, much to the horror of other music writers on the Guardian, who believe our first responsibility as parents is to prevent our offspring contributing to the superfluity of dreadful music out there – it won't be my fault: it'll be the fault of that song.

We've had Here Comes Science (2010) since March only, and until this holiday I hadn't been in the room while they'd been watching it, but I think it's going to turn out to be my favourite. This song staggers me every time I hear it:

It crams into three minutes pretty much everything I learned in two years of Chemistry GCSE. If I were being picky, I'd say the song moves way too fast: I can hardly keep up with all the facts, let alone the kids, and by the end I feel exhausted. But I love the subdued note of awe, the jerkiness of the phrasing, as though the song is constantly struggling to deal with its own truth: we are made of dirt and stardust. I love this song, too:

The words might de-romanticise shooting stars but the lonely whippoorwill music, the twinkling dance of voices, radiates melancholy romance.

As with so much else in my life, my feelings about holidaying with the kids have shifted since reading Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born. She's forced me to address the chasm between my romantic sense of possibilities and the cold, hard facts of my parenting. I've quoted so much from this book there doesn't seem much point in stopping just yet, so here is the passage about one summer holiday with her three sons that sounds so idyllic it pricks my heart every time I read it:

We fell into what I felt to be a delicious and sinful rhythm. It was a spell of unusually hot, clear weather, and we ate nearly all our meals outdoors, hand-to-mouth; we lived half-naked, stayed up to watch bats and stars and fireflies, read and told stories, slept late. … At night they fell asleep without murmur and I stayed up reading and writing as I had when a student, till the early morning hours. I remember thinking: This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps... Driving home once after midnight from a late drive-in movie, through the foxfire and stillness of a winding Vermont road, with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a “bad mother”.

I console myself with the thought that her sons were aged five, seven and nine at this time: you can do so much more with older kids. Certainly the theatre-going options expand: unlike Lyn Gardner, it never occurred to me to engage with theatre for children until I had some myself, and it never stops surprising me how much work there is, and how thoughtful and beautiful and moving so much of it is. On Friday I took my daughter to The Dream Space at the Globe, which was faintly discombobulating because Tom Frankland is in it, and I hadn't entirely appreciated how odd it would be to watch him bouncing around in a participatory show. Although she didn't articulate it quite so pointedly as me, my daughter and I agreed that we would have liked a lot less of the goblin Puck playing havoc with the lovers plot, even though Mummy recognised that it was cleverly done, and a lot more time exploring every nook and cranny of the properly magical fairy forest. She was seriously unimpressed when I told her she had to exit the little green bower on the hill and sit down for the story: why listen quietly when you can play?

That night I finally caught up with Forest Fringe at the Gate and had a blissful night: no point me writing about it because Andrew Haydon has already said anything I might want to say over on Postcards (I take his embarrassment about knowing nothing about science and raise it: I'm married to a third-generation scientist and constantly make him laugh with my woeful ignorance). No, wait, there is one small thing: I was much more unnerved by Chris Thorpe's practice of emptying out his pockets on to the stage than Andrew appears to be. It instantly made me think of every single movie I've ever seen in which the criminal hero arrives at the prison gates and has to empty his pockets before being taken to his cell.

Then on Saturday I saw Mercury Fur for the first time and gave myself a serious bash on the shin for not having done so before. What an astonishing play this is: bright and volatile as a naked flame. I can't remember the last time I wanted to hold hands with the stranger sitting next to me at the theatre, but that's what Mercury Fur does to you: makes you long for human contact and connection. As it turned out, the stranger sitting on my left hated the play so much that he walked out in the middle of the second half (to be fair, he was right next to the door). He found it gratuitously violent. To me, its violence was terrifyingly real. When I got home I read reviews by Jake Orr, Matt Trueman and Honour Bayes and marvelled that all three of them had described Ridley's vision of east London as dystopian, because to me it wasn't far-fetched at all. A bit extreme, maybe, but in my corner of London people die in drive-by shootings, kids are caught in gang cross-fire, and a teenager tightly clustered with his friends on a street corner at 7pm on a blustery evening will announce with a desperate, clenched seriousness: “I'm not supposed to be alive.”

But that isn't the only reason I was surprised by my theatre-neighbour's horror at the play. To me, the heart-blood of Mercury Fur isn't violence but compassion. The love in this play is so furious it's frightening. Every relationship is as tender as a bruise. The way Eliot and Lola melt into each other when they kiss, the way Eliot clutches his brother Daniel, the way Daniel and Naz hold their hands to each other's hearts, eyes growing wider with every pulse: these are fairy-tale romances, quivering but proud in the face of maleficence. That's what makes the violence unbearable: they all want to protect each other, but everything about this world – our world – militates against it. The other thing I read when I got home was Lyn's excellent interview with Philip Ridley, written in response to the play's first disparaging reviews. And there it was: “It is a play about love.” The kind of love that every now and again when I look at my children sends an electric shock through my system and makes my eyes burn with tears.

My neighbour left at about the point when it becomes apparent what's going to happen with the meat hook, and I now can't remember if he was there or not for what I felt to be Eliot's key speech, about the butterflies – midnight blue with crimson specks? I can't remember – that root out any suicidal thought in the taker's mind and make it happen. Kids dying without having to do anything more than open their mouths. Eliot is distraught: despite everything, despite all the horror surrounding him, he believes in life, in future dreams, not only for himself, his nearest and dearest, but for his whole unknown generation. I don't think my neighbour would have seen this, and I can't quite understand why not. I've thought a lot about that scene in the last few hours after watching Headlong's thrillingly unconventional trailer for their new season. I love that it's essentially a pop video, not least because their choice of song shows exquisite taste. But I've been feeling seriously troubled by its air of suicide chic. At the risk of revealing the acutely personal, when I've been there, there hasn't been a single chic thing about it. It's snotty and bloated and terrifying. But maybe I'm just taking the video a bit too seriously.

I'm pessimistic enough to know in my bones that we're all going to hell in a nuclear rocket, but live in hope, not nihilism. Yes, we need social change on a grand scale, but that doesn't excuse selfish behaviour on an individual level. I'm getting a lot of nourishment from John Holloway's Crack Capitalism at the moment: his central argument is that grand revolutionary politics tend to replicate the capitalist system they profess to abhor; better are the small, tentative strikes against the system that crack through its surface to suggest a new life beyond. I'm particularly excited by his insistence that we connect the acts of rebellion enacted by a guerilla leader and a housewife in her kitchen. I don't do demonstrative politics: I don't even have a politics label on this blog. I won't camp in a field in the height of summer (maybe if I did, I'd have more bats and stars and fireflies in my life), let alone outside St Paul's in the depth of winter. What I can do is stand resolute in the face of pressure from the extended family and make a series of small, deliberate decisions about how I conduct myself: walking the kids to school in the rain, using jumpers rather than radiators to keep warm, minimising waste. Of course, the minute you start saying things like that you just sound like a horrifically worthy nimby-poop. But that's because no one respects the housewife in her kitchen and everyone thinks guerilla leaders are supercool.

A couple of weeks ago I had a fun half-hour with Scottee recording something for his Lecterner project, a series of alternative-education podcasts that sets out to prove that you don't have to go to school to get smart. I talked at length about cake, and surprised myself by how fervent I sounded. Over the past year or so, one of the big changes I've made in the house involves the oven: if I'm using it, it's got to be full. As there are only so many savouries I want in the oven at one time, I've started experimenting with fast-action cake-making to fill the space. It doesn't count if you do a Nigella and bung everything into the processor: that's still using electricity. Muffins are brilliant for this: you throw the wet ingredients over the dry, give 12 stirs with a wooden spoon and bang, they're in the oven. I made this lot last week and they came out particularly well:

Raisin spice muffins

250g plain flour – 3 tsp baking powder – 125g light muscovado sugar

a shake of cinnamon, a shiver of ginger and a shimmer of allspice (which probably translates to 1, 1/2, 1/4 teaspoons, but I can't be sure)

200ml yoghurt – 50ml olive oil – 1 tsp vanilla extract – 1 egg

100g raisins

This is preposterously easy. Put the dry stuff, bar the raisins, in the mixing bowl. Put the wet stuff in a measuring jug and beat it about with a fork. Pour wet over dry and stir until they make friends. Throw in the raisins, then pack it all into 12 muffin cases. Bake at 175 degrees/around gas 4 for about 20 minutes. And THAT'S IT. I should warn you, the mixture is pretty stiff but it comes out of the oven fluffy and squodgy just as a muffin should be.

So there it is, number one on my 13-point programme to destroy capitalism: revolutionary baking. And in the unlikely event you don't know why it's 13 points then welcome to this (I know it's not the same album, I just happen to love it):

And then, oh joy, this:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

there must be a more elegant solution

Despite the warmth of the sun and the unrepentant blue of the sky

Despite the influx of hellebores making my back garden look better than it ever has in six years of fumbling with a trowel, and the profusion of blossom on the plum tree, and the surprise success of the tulips, and the burgeoning return of the pink roses after my violent pruning

Despite the acute beauty of the magnolias as I walk to and from the school and the nursery, and the mock oranges creeping into bloom, and the heavenly scent of the osmanthus burkwoodii, and the realisation that I'm finally, finally, starting to learn the proper names of plants

Despite the energetic resurgence of my love for theatre, and seeing some really terrific – not always perfect but provocative and heartfelt and breath-catchingly beautiful – shows: Going Dark, We Hope That You're Happy (Why Would We Lie?), Bingo, Taming of the Shrew, In Basildon, Complicite's Master and Margarita

Despite the blessed patience of my children, forgiving my own impatience, forbearing my neglect

Despite illuminating conversations with other God/Head guests, ongoing and nourishing

Despite the soul-balm of John Holloway's Crack Capitalism, the book that has replaced Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born as my encouragement to brave new living, and unexpectedly making an argument for the revolutionary possibilities of baking

Despite seeing my friend Rozzie for the first time in over a year and being dazzled by her all over again

Despite dancing, the absurd joy of tap and the Actionettes, and discovering charleston ladies The Bees Knees

Despite all this and lots of goodness more, the past three weeks have been taxing. Low-level despair surging now and then to engulf me. I knew it was coming: I spent the fortnight around D&D and God/Head living on crazed adrenaline; a crash was inevitable. But it's also because – and this is truly pathetic – I'm not good around anniversaries, and another approaches apace: the first birthday of deliquescence. I look back and see all the posts I haven't written, and while I haven't been writing those, all the other writing I haven't done, the dresses I haven't made, the art materials unused, the inexorable piles of CDs I haven't listened to. The kisses I haven't given the children. Birthdays always remind me that, far from scaling the heights of my ambitions, I'm sinking beneath the weight of them.

The escape, always, always, is music. Heads spinning faster than mine. So much solace in Gonjasufi: this was one of those unspeakably brilliant commissions from the Guardian, putting me in the way of someone I would never get round to approaching alone, and as a result of reviewing love with a passion. This is just one song:

There are others, but to post them all would take all night. And then this evening, I chanced to put on the new album from Of Montreal, Spiteful Intervention, and have been playing this song obsessively:

As pop choruses go, “I made the one I love start crying tonight, it felt good, but there must be a more elegant solution” takes some beating. And just a few minutes ago, I tripped over an unread email: a new album from Dirty Projectors, with this song on it:

Odd to hear so many kinks and creases ironed out, but oh, that voice. One day I might write properly about all these people. One day.