Friday, September 25, 2009

A Short Report from the Dark Side

I have been a little depressed lately. It takes me a long time to figure it out when I am depressed. It used to have to get really bad, or flip to rage before I would notice (nearly getting arrested in Las Vegas one New Year's Eve for screaming at a cop springs to mind).

I don't even know if it is useful to call it depression. I think it's my own special brand of crazy that is very complicated.

But anyway, experience has given me a little crazy inventory which allows me to determine where I am before things get too bad now:

1. Am I managing to exercise?
2. Am I eating total crap. (Uh-oh. That just reminded me I had nachos for breakfast on Wednesday. Things could be worse than I thought)
3. Will I talk to my friends on the phone? (No)

If I just can't quite bring myself to take calls, this is a big hint that my mind is focusing all its energy on the bad neural circuits in my brain. I like to think of these as the bad neighbourhoods. There are three:

a. not taking any joy in anything; a sort of interior deadness spiced up by gripping bouts of anxiety;

b. catastrophising: Here is an example: since I have been rejected by this theatre, I will never be accepted by any theatre and my life is now worthless. I like to thing of this one as the opposite of JKRowling. That is an optimistic state of mind wherein you perpetually remind yourself that JKRowling was rejected by 12 publishers and took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

c. damning myself: I have a perpetual inner voice: the sharpest, meanest critic you can imagine. This bitch sets the most impossible standards for me and really rips into me when I make the smallest mistake, or take time for myself away from the children. Please understand I am speaking metaphorically and I do not actually have a separate voice inside me. But it is easy to imagine what happens in schizophrenia, when a voice like that or worse breaks completely away from your conscious understanding of yourself. The fight against this one is exhausting because I find myself having to defend my life to myself and the damnation neural networks are so strong that I can find myself indefensible. At an early age, I attended a series of fire and brimstone sermons at the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in Corning, New York which I think burned this superhighway into my brain.

Having these three neural networks switched on high is really the worst thing I have ever experienced by a distance. It makes life very hard. Because unlike grief or physical pain, two things most people think of as bad, the crazies are not grounded in reality; they are a distortion of reality that separates you from the people you love. To me that makes the crazies much worse. It is not an inevitable part of life to be accepted with grace, it is a fucking battle ground in your own head precisely when you are so very, very not up for a fight.

The good news is that as soon as I acknowledge the problem, it usually means things are getting better. And even at my best I fall prey to a - c above anyway.

I have been sad over Sir David's death, but I am so constantly cheered by remembering him, he was really wonderful that the sadness is not that sad.

What is interesting is watching Owain's brain work its way through the idea. He told me last night that he wished that Taid would come back as a ghost so that Daddy could see him and feel better. I admit I have been very reliant on the idea of heaven in speaking to Owain about this. Luckily, Owain likes a story for a story and isn't so very worried about whether it's true or not.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This will cheer you up: Liberty Laughing


My parents shot this of Liberty shortly before they returned to Florida. My dad, her Grandpa Marty was jumping up and down heroically to make her laugh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Take On Edinburgh

What an afternoon. I just failed my driving test for the third time. Sometimes I just hate England so much. But my free-form ramblings on that topic can take days. They draw upon such a number of probably-astonishingly-inaccurate observations I have made in my seven years here and employ a number of dubious theories of political philosophy, personhood, psychology, hermeneutics and geographical determinism, which is something I made up.

My time is limited and so let's focus on the non-England UK, the good part, and particularly the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you don't know, this is the annual August clusterfuck of the arts on an epic scale that I totally love.

I have seen some of the best plays I have ever seen at the Fringe: The Walworth Farce and Black Watch. I saw the Jerry Springer Opera, Demetri Martin at his sweetest and most magical in his one-man show. I've seen Dave Gorman, Simon Munnery, Phil Nichol . . . I saw the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Vienna Philharmonic . . . one of the best things I saw this year was a singer, Patti Plinko. Last year I didn't go to the Fringe, I took my child to a flower festival in Hungary. That was a mistake.

This year we kicked off after the train ride from London with A Rap Guide to Evolution by Baba Brinkman. This guy is an English professor who wrote a rap version of the Canterbury Tales so that his students would pay attention. A biologist asked him to do for Darwin what he had done for Chaucer so he studied evolutionary theory for a few months and then wrote this show. It was funny and absorbing and I really liked it. He not only rapped, but he explained competition among males of a species according to principals of evolutionary biology and then showed a gangster rap video that illustrated them. It was thoughtful and sweet and completely sincere niceness from a Canadian. He was so open about his feelings and his life, it sort of made me worried for him, I almost wanted to warn him about how English people brutalize you for showing your feelings. But I needn't have worried because one of the themes that emerged over the next nine shows was precisely this authenticity. This great ungroomed by Simon Callow, who-gives-a-shit-whether-this-makes-money-this-is-what-I-want-to-say rawness. Brinkman, like Plinko had this raw edge and its mesmerizing. Brinkman stuck it to creationists but good. Plinko sang songs about rape and suicide.

Next stop was a circus called Circa, recently in residence at a theatre in London, but the show was stopped ten minutes in when a fire alarm went off. Then the haul out to Pleasance for a show called Four Poofs and a Piano. Which was exactly like Just Jack from Will & Grace except with four camp gay men instead of one

That night was Plinko.

The next morning I hit a yoga class which was taught by this nasty mysoginist. This was a mistake as my other workout choice was a masterclass in Krunking at an Edinburgh dance studio. Krunking. Who in Scotland is teaching Krunking? I should have found out.

Then Sociable Plover. This was the surprise hit. It was the only thing available at that time slot. It's a phenomonal one act play. A twitcher is in a bird watching shed out in the marshes and a filthy guy in a suit with a gun wanders in. Expectations are elegantly reversed and the humanity of the characters shines through. The ending may need some work, but still, I adored it.

From Sociable Plover straight to Orphans, the hit at the Traverse. This play did not live up to the hype but it was still really good - a solid drama. And the acting was great. Is it me, or does the Traverse always have the best actors? The play opens with a couple having dinner and the wife's little brother walks in covered in blood. Great opening. The interaction between the three characters is mesmerizing. My fellow travelers where unenamoured with the very Mamet/Pinter repetition. It didn't bother me. Unlike Sociable Plover it had a great ending.

We then went to see a guy do a show called F*ckonomics which was billed as this ingenius explanation of relationships using economic principles but was not ingenius. I hate it when people do one-man shows and in telling stories of their lives they expose so graphically their failings as a human beings but they have no idea they are doing it. One sees so clearly the limitations of the person - their degree of self-knowledge -- in these one hour comedy shows. And it is awful. I think the guy's name was John Gordillo but it's not worth a Google. His observations were not at all insightful nor were they funny. I felt sorry for him but you know something? He has my eleven pounds to comfort him.

Next was a great show, another really sweet one, Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Letter to Richard Branson in which he recounts a true(ish) story of watching an old lady ripped off by a nasty conductor on a UK train journey. Wrigglesworth takes up a collection for her and is promptly arrested for begging. The show full of warm observations about the characters on the train and I felt oddly encouraged by it. There are good people out there. Wrigglesworth is funny, too. And I learned an interesting lesson about the reviewers at Edinburgh. I sat next to a very sweet one. He was crippled by a hangover to the point where he couldn't really carry on a conversation. He also seemed to be about 21 years old and had virtually no experience. Interesting.

Next was PowerPlant, a strange but wonderful installation of lights and sculptures and laser oddness at the Botanical Gardens. Our tickets were for nearly 11 at night and the installations were spread out over this huge, dark park. Inside greenhouses Bamboos exploded with neon as air induced vibrations buzzed your whole body. There was an organ that worked with bursts of fire. There was a smoke and laser creation - hovering UFO/flowers. Walking through them was disorienting and enchanting. Spectacle. Disorientation of the senses. It was great. I was really down on a spectical-based show a couple years ago called Fuerzabruta - again, not worth a Google, do not go. Fuerzabruta was a spectacle masquerading as theatre. This was pure spectacle.

The next morning before the train we were at another Traverse creation: Palace of the End. This was a Canadian playwright's take on the Iraqi war, three monologues: the woman pictured torturing the Iraqis in Abu Ghraib (Lyn England??), David Kelly and the wife of the leader of the Iraqi communist party at a time before Hussein was ousted.

I had strong feelings about this one. One one hand, it was sloppy theatre. The audience's relationship with the characters was never clear enough to understand why they were talking to us. And then there's the anti-war thing. I am hugely sympathetic to any theatre that condemns the was in Iraq. As long as it's good theatre. Don't just run with a topic and keep beating up the United States with sensationalist torture porn disguised as theatre. That's what I felt like I got instead of a story line in the first and third monologues. Despite this serious shortcomings, the ideas provoked by the monologues were so interesting. England and Kelly - it is very interesting what led each of them to do what they did. Kelly's was the best monologue but even that was marred by a gratuitous scene where U.S. soldiers rape a girl and kill a family.

Look, I am not saying there shouldn't be plays soldiers raping and torturing. I absolutely think there should be. But the torture has to have theatrical value and contribute to telling the story, not just be grafted on for the horrible dark thrill and creation of distress in the audience.

And what absolutely infuriated me was watching these idiot 20-somethings in the audience cry and cry - allowing themselves to be cheaply emotionally manipulated. Lord. Whipping up anti-American sentiment like that is easy. Let's see this Canadian woman write a real play instead. That is hard.

Then it was the train home.