Went carolling in Islington last night. Our initial excitement from the Tuesday rehearsal slipped into a hangover-placating desire for a warm bed and mulled wine. But boot-straps duly pulled up, we went into the freezing night and sang at people, many of whom were the picture perfect Xmas family (young, two kids, smiling parents, Islington). It’s a shame we didn’t have a licence to collect money…we would’ve totally cleaned up. Guess there’s reward to be taken in having made one kid cry and getting an entire pub to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful”. Lots of booze, lots of smiles, no doors slammed in our faces.
So where were we? Oh yes: “Did I get my distinction?”. Yes, yes I did. With bells on.
I’m going to preface the rest of what I write here by saying I’m experimenting with a more positive mentality, so I might end up sounding a tad like an arrogant cockend. I realise saying this up front kind of negates the attempt somewhat, but bear with me on this.
So what does ‘with bells on’ mean? It means top of my class. It means, as I found out from my tutor last Monday on graduation day, that my dissertation play got the highest mark ever awarded on the course. I’d like to say I spit my beer out upon hearing this, but really the gravity of that didn’t really hit me til 1 A.M. and it was enough to make me bail on what was a riotous night out with buddies. I wanted to sober up and think through the ramifications.
I didn’t get far. Really, there is nothing much for me to take from that, since it is the equivalent of your mum telling you you’re pretty. I’ve been trotting this line out a lot to keep a lid on myself, though at my “what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life?!” lunch with my friend Simon Bailey yesterday, he put it to me that it’s more like your mum telling you you’re pretty when she’s the scout for a modelling agency. The analogy certainly fits – it’s good to be recognised, but the actual hard work starts here. Can’t make excuses anymore – if I cock it up, it’s all on my being a lazy bastard.
So nothing earth shattering, but I did think through what Big Lessons I’ve learnt this year, and as the end of it approaches, it seems the right time to go through them briefly. All fairly glib, but I’d like to think they’ve now stuck with me, as opposed to being empty maxims. So, dear reader, let me take you through that which you already know is true, but have possibly yet to accept:
If You Don’t Back Yourself, No One Else Will (But, God, It’s Nice When They Do)
I couldn’t believe that Zoe Payne asked me to write for Narciso and be part of the troupe. She’s outrageously talented, and I was beyond flattered that anyone like that wanted to work with me. Frankly, I thought she was asking the wrong person and told her so. I’m glad she didn’t listen to my nonsense. Working on that piece throughout the year. doing the Shunt performance and going to Italy was an incredible cumulative experience, and one I really needed to cement the idea of myself as a working writer.
(And, of course, the mark for my diss was as an incredibly generous sign of encouragement from my tutors.)
Yet none of this is worth anything unless I’m unafraid and have the guts to go on pushing myself. It’s easy to be self deprecating when you’re scared – it’s funny, plays to a quintessential Britishness, and removes the possibility of a hubris laden fall. You were always going to fail anyway, right? That’s not the guy I want to be. Let’s shoot for “so outrageously successful, that self deprecation is the only way to handle it.”
Collaboration Is Amazing
Again, Zoe and the rest of the Charcoal Chorus put their faith in my work, while my friends put in their money. I hope I repaid them with the effort their support deserved – even if the play didn’t come off this time around. It was humbling on both accounts, and I valued every moment.
Kanika taking a punt on Free Fall after reading so little of my work I thought was crazy, and it was a brave move on her part. I felt terrible that I spent so little time with her and the actors, and would love to work with her again more closely (if you’re reading Kanika, I mean it!). The result of that faith was I got a play produced, my friends and family could see my work, and I got to see people enjoying it. Since then, I entered a performance-edited version of the piece into Write To Shine competition and – hey, guess what? I got shortlisted. Thanks again, Kani.
Ola, my mentor for my final project, listened to my emotional warblings and pulled me firmly on track whenever I looked to be veering off of it. He challenged my ideas both dramatically and intellectually, and didn’t let me get away with undeserved pap. Every time I met with him, I listened closely and immediately went home and tore the play apart. Not quite collaboration, but his experience stopped me from scuppering myself.
I Believe In Muses (Sort of)
I’ve always hated the concept of women as muses. I really felt it to be on the level of pretentio-wank that makes me want to headbutt my fists, along with “I’d rather be dead than not true to my art”. So while I really didn’t want to be this guy, sitting there last Monday, thinking it through, I couldn’t deny it: My final project would be nowhere near as good if I hadn’t gone through the ringer with Alex.
I had joked to her when I went to see One Man, Two Guv’nors that if I failed, it was her fault and if I nailed it, it was her credit. And I thought I was kidding, but in truth that brief spark gave me a sort of pathfinder of feeling that I’d otherwise been missing in my work, and the intensity was such that it sustained my writing a decent full length play in 20 odd days. I mean, it also sent me completely bananas for that time, and was sometimes gut wrenching, but for the most part it’s been a while since I’ve been that happy or wanted to make myself responsible for the happiness of another. Along with the subsequent (and dramatically useful) misery, it gave me clarity, focus, masses of empathy and, most of all,it gave me a goal: “I really want to write something she won’t think is shit.” I’m sure for Picasso a muse was something far more profound – I’ll work on that with the next one.
I have absolutely no idea why I felt this way about her – patently, she’s an attractive, compelling and smart woman, so it makes sense, but then so are lots that I know. In absolutely no regards is she particularly special. But as any boy or gal who’s laying in their bed at 4am, staring at the ceiling knows: when they’re in your head, they’re in your head. Might as well forge it into something. Just don’t Gatsby yourself, yeah, kids?
The upshot of all of this is that I have in my hands a heartfelt, hard wrought piece of work that others believe in, that I’m starting to believe in, and gives me a decent chance to start making something of myself in the field I want to. If I let it rot in the back of a virtual drawer, then I’m doing a disservice to the 7 year old me who sat at the kitchen table gleefully knocking out creative writing assignments about rainforests, pirates and dinosaurs, the 13 year old me who posted his terrible sci-fi knock off stories on internet forums in the hope of garnering a readership, the 16 year old me who wrote terrible lyrics in a fun band and, finally, the 23 year old me who received an acceptance envelope from CSSD and felt so grateful to have been given the chance to prove himself when he felt like he’d thrown it all away already.
I’m going to write a tight synopsis, get my cover letter in order, let someone take a nice shot of my mug and chuck Ayodhya out there – straight at the big theatres. Will need the love of my friends, the honesty of my fellow writers, and the self belief to accept that…sure…It Can Happen.
2011 has been the best year of my life. 2012 – I’m going to kick you in the ass.