Tuesday, 18 June 2013

out there, breaking weather

Today was too full.

The days are all too full and the words are all locked up in a box in my brain, pounding, pounding to be let out and I want to but there's never any time except when there is and then out they come and crash

they clatter to the ground like so many shards of glass when what I thought was

what I thought was to see through a clear pane of glass to enlightenment.

And all the time the children chattering clamouring the boy filling every crevice of every room with stories of his magical land of builder pirates and it's extraordinary and it's wonderful and I wish he would shut up.

Today started with an argument.

And then a conversation I haven't transcribed yet, with Ben Power, and we talked a lot about change, and how you don't achieve change by shouting and demanding but by very slowly, very quietly, very patiently, steadfastly, building the new world, the world you want to live in, from within. Sharing. Collaborating. Nudging at the system so gently it doesn't even realise you're pushing it towards a precipice until

it's gone.

And then home and transcribing the interview I did with Nathan Curry and Kat Joyce of Tangled Feet about One Million, the big show they're making for the Greenwich and Docklands festival next weekend, about the rise of youth unemployment, and this:

Nathan: One of the the things that's really benefited us is meeting lots of young people … It's that energy when you walk into a room and everyone's 21, you suddenly go, it's like a leaping fish up a stream, and it's the desire to be seen, to be heard, to do something. Kat and I were talking on the weekend about why so many revolutions are youth-led – because it's not going to be led by the ones that have the authority and the status quo – and that energy, if there is a connection, by getting together, by connecting with each other, by being present, something can shift...
Kat: And it doesn't mean the hard time actually stops, but the first step is realising that a shift in paradigm is needed and the existing system is broken and that actually all fighting each other to take part in the same system that's benefiting very few of you is a waste of energy. Something we've looked at a lot and talked about politically is that youth unemployment is this massive issue across not just western Europe now, the Middle East, it's everywhere – but it's the symptom of a large-scale economic system that's broken and power system that's broken, that's a major symptom. And political leaders seem to be worried about youth unemployment as a symptom in the way they're not worried quite so much about some of the other symptoms, like the fact that there's no healthcare, and it is because those young people actually have an enormous amount of power at their disposal if they choose to use it. They're a real threat to the status quo if they mobilise – and they are starting to mobilise – but young people don't realise that necessarily, or they don't think that they have that power, and it's about what happens when their political power is made visible to them or they connect to each other enough to think they can take a political stake. But it needs to involve them taking a political stake, which is hard to do when you're sending out 300 applications to work in Starbucks.
Nathan: I was thinking about how they connect with each other, because you connect normally through institutions: you're in school, college, university, or you're at work – but if you have no institution –
Kat: – absolutely, out in the world, set adrift, you're at a massive disadvantage, and disenfranchised and voiceless and no economic power – but there are a lot of you and you are all in the same situation. Now, with the internet, there are lots of ways, people are connecting, conversations are starting, and one of the very important things we both feel is that young people and the things that happen to them are visibly recognised and socially recognised. They're not the lost generation: they haven't got themselves lost, none of them feel lost, they all know exactly where they are –
Nathan: – they all know exactly what they want as well –
Kat: – but unless we recognise them in public narratives the problem isn't going to be addressed properly, and we can carry on going: well, they're just going to have to eke out a tiny living for the next 10 years, won't they?

And pretty soon after that I have to leave for the school run, and I'm thinking again about the conscience-nagging piece Jo Clifford wrote on her blog this week, Thinking About Art and Social Media, “our civilisation busily engaged in its own destruction”, (what I thought when I read it: I am that person, buried in my phone, wasting time, wasting the moment, wasting life), thinking about the question that was too big to ask her on twitter: has it always been this bad? Or is it the slow but agonisingly evident erosion of the environment that makes this feel like such a hopeless moment in which to be bringing up children? (And I'm always so aware of lapsing into simplistic nostalgia; typing that I want to ask myself: what about the pea-soup fogs? The children chimney-sweeps? Why can't I be grateful for what we have?) And I'm thinking about my friend David who has experienced a nervous breakdown and cancer and is HIV+ and survives he survives and how I want to send him a text because I can't talk not like this to say: is there hope? Who can give us hope that things will be better? And I'm listening to such a beautiful song, Piss Diary by Kingsbury Manx, “sweet autumn leaves seem to long for the pre-garden days”, I cross the street so no one can see that I'm crying, and then suddenly there he is, a tallish man with ginger-blonde hair and black clothes who runs up from behind so fast and his hand is gripping my bag and I'm refusing to let go and I'm screaming and then I'm on the ground and my leg is burning from the graze of tarmac I've fallen in the road somehow and he could kick me if he wanted to but he snarls and it's time to let go of my bag and he's off, I stand up and I scream COME ON THAT IS MINE WHY? and a car pulls up at the corner just in front of him and the passenger gets out and accosts him and there is my bag high in the air a geometric arc my mp3 player tumbling loose and he's running, running, round to where my in-laws are soon to live, and it's over.

And I'm thinking

I'm 38 years old and I was born and brought up in London and this day was always going to come, it was just a matter of when. And I am lucky. I still have my bag. He didn't physically assault me. And I know I shouldn't think this but it's a relief to have actual external pain, something other than the relentless furious gnawing inside.

And I'm thinking

what do I have that he needs? What could we do to make his life better? What lies ahead for him? Will he turn into one of those old men I see congregating outside Stockwell station, streams of beer or piss or both trickling along the ground by their sides, disconnected from everything except each other, a community apart?

And I'm thinking

what a brilliant role model Lucy Ellinson is.

I really don't want to be stuck in traffic right now.

I live in such a great community. So many people came to help me, to check I was OK. Thank you all. Thank you.

Thank god I went to the toilet before I left the house.

And I'm thinking

what are the words for this? Is this how I would write it? Or this? Or this?

And maybe it would be nice now to curl up somewhere and find those words, or just plain feel sorry for myself, but the children still need collecting and they have stories to tell me and questions endless questions about the police about prison about the myriad permutations of crime and punishment and I promised them the library and then dinner and the chores and that tarantella again whoosh whirr.

So it's been a full day already by the time I reach the Hen and Chickens theatre for the first night of Late in the Day. Let's get the disclaimer out of the way first: I met Tom Hughes last year because he's a member of the cult of God/Head (yes, that's a joke) (or is it?), and even before that I was curious about him because I like his taste in music (as declared on twitter) and because he saw Three Kingdoms more than once, enough to stop seeing it (if I remember him rightly) as magic and start seeing it as pure theatre, and since meeting him I'm particularly intrigued by the way he watches theatre, for its visual language, the metaphors contained within gesture, everything that is communicated outside of the words. So I'm keen. And the first 20 minutes or so are FUCKING POW WHIZZ BANG WHAM. Sounds are looping and lights are fizzing, the voices are crossing and the actors are striding this tiny space, and they're so crammed, they need a bigger stage, a bigger world, and one of them pulls Crack Capitalism from his rucksack and reads out that passage about acts of disruption creating new possibility, and the necessity of a shift in perception, from a world that does not exist, to a world that exists not yet, and I am so excited by it that I'm sitting bolt upright and goosebumps. It is everything I'd hoped a piece directed by this person would be: it crackles with electricity, it feels like revolution. And on the back wall, flickering, the word ENLIGHTENMENT. It's a joke and it really, really isn't.

If that opening sequence feels like theatre, the rest of Late in the Day feels like drama: a fairly conventional three-hander in which a mismatched trio find themselves trapped together by circumstance and as a result are able to work through their differences to commonality. I'm not going to say much more about Sharon Kanolik's text because it wants to make you think differently about the 2012 riots and does so by weaving in lots of little surprises in the characterisation. I wanted to know a bit more about the shop-owner from Eastern Europe who thinks we decadent Londoners don't know how lucky we are – yes, even the unemployed teenagers, because at least they live in a country in which they are free to invent themselves. I properly adored the black teenager already hunched with the expectation of failure, finding refuge in a make-believe world, still as much of a child as my boy; I'd have loved him even more if he'd given me some of his Maltesers. I recognised almost too acutely the 40-year-old mother of two who feels furious with society for expecting her to find fulfilment and completion in bringing up her children, and even more furious with herself for not doing so. I feel see-through, small, but hopeful, she says, and I remember standing in the shower in the weeks after my daughter was born, eyes closed, convinced I had shrunk to just three feet tall. You can still shout, you can still dance, you can still desire, she says. You can. You can.

What is this hopelessness in the midst of such privilege? What is this privilege that is so divisive, that relies on inequality for its definition, that makes the world feel such a despicable place in which to live? I saw Trash Cuisine at the Young Vic last week and since then I've had a resurgence of that feeling I had before I started doing volunteer work at a Brixton women's centre: that I'm failing in my contribution to the world. I stopped the volunteering earlier this year to claw back time for writing about theatre – but writing about theatre doesn't always feel meaningful enough. A few weeks ago I told Andy Field something along those lines (specifically, that I felt small-minded for getting het up about the price of tickets for Punchdrunk when there is so much poverty and pain and hunger in the world) and he wrote back:

There is lots to be angry about but I think that capitalism or life or or the world or whatever word you want to ascribe to it is not actually hierarchical, it's a system, like a brain and we shouldn't be afraid to say that this, this is the bit that we know about and care about and that isn't to say that we don't know there are kids starving in Africa or in Stockton or, well, everywhere actually but this is a process of dismantlement that has to happen everywhere and this is the bit we are taking responsibility for because like the French fairytale or chaos theory or whatever if you knock the egg over eventually all of Paris will fall down. You are not small minded you are perhaps big-minded enough to know that everything matters and that being told that certain things are trivial and irrelevant when other bigger things that we can have little control over are happening, is part of the apparatus that instils inertia. That part of our responsibility is to say over and over again, yes this does matter, it all matters.

It all matters.

And how we respond to it matters.

And now I'm home and I finally cracked open that bottle of Sailor Jerry, my leg is on fire and my shoulder has started to ache. And I'd like to write more – especially about Trash Cuisine, because I thought it was brilliant, a really smart piece of theatre that used not just words and images but smell and taste to communicate the horror of what humans do to each other for the sake of power – but it's late in the day and I'm tired. I hope he's not there when I close my eyes. Tomorrow I'm seeing Peter McMaster, and we will talk about this, and about the piece he's making, Yeti, about masculinity, about violence, about the search for new ways of being. We will make the new world. We will.


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