Friday, 23 December 2011

It Was

“It was a year that answered some questions, but asked so many more.” New Years resolutions had to start somewhow, and Alice wanted hers to start “bombastically.”

“Bombastic” was a word she’d recently had on a vocab list. Now it cropped up everywhere. In her history exam, in conversation with her sister, who rolled her eyes with flair, even with her mother, who accepted the compliment about her roast chicken by raising her eyebrows and saying, “Bombastic is all fine and well, but is it Good, Alice?”
Alice took another bite, smiled and nodded. Her mother knew the chicken was good. It was the rock star of the dinner table for goodness sakes.

Maybe it had been slightly inappropriate for chicken, but Bombastic was a word that she was hoping to apply to 2012, so the resolutions would have to be bombastic, the paper (pink) equally so, the pen (which lit up) topped it all off, and now for the plans. Her godmother recently said something that worried her at St. Stephen's Day lunch. “Man plans and God laughs.” Her parents nodded knowingly as did the rest of the adults, and they continued chatting like a sigh, but two chairs from the head of the table, on the left hand side, Alice’s mind was being quietly blown. She hadn’t heard that before. “Man plans and God…” Wait – he doesn’t congratulate man? He doesn’t smile beatifically from on high at the gentle hopes and wishes of his favourite creation? He – I mean –surely he doesn’t chuckle! Doesn’t he tell regular jokes? With friends? Or listen to our jokes? Surely there are better things to laugh at than…

But the moment passed over parsnips, and nobody noticed Alice’s 16 year old shell of churning emotions to be at all out of keeping with your average 16 year old at a St. Stephen's Day lunch. She’d tried to get over it as well, and felt that she and God would just have to have a good sit down and talk about all this later and sort it out then, with a bit of privacy between them.

Of course, when she usually talked to God, in the warm murky quiet of eyes closed late at night, he was very accomodating. He’d bless who she asked to be blessed, and he’d listen with a gentle smile of I-know-better-patience (she couldn’t see it of course, but she was sure of it) while she complained about whoever had been annoying her that week, and asked for the strength and bravery to go on dealing with them, and to be kind to them, kind as Jesus, kinder than ever – God always listened, and took note of it. She was sure of it. Picturing him mocking her – of course, maybe it wasn’t the kind of laugh that dismisses you, maybe it was more of a gentle, loving chuckle. Like when she told her parents that she’d die if she didn’t get to go to the American girl Karen Kugelmass’s fourth of July party on a boat instead of her great aunt's birthday, which fell on the same night. Their chuckle was frustrating, of course, but didn’t seem to be mocking her. It was a kind of extension of the smile that God gave when she complained. “I understand that you have feelings but I know better” it said. God’s giggles must have just been an audible version of that.

But here she was, and that patient smile bore down on her like the sunshine in Spain, the kind that makes you sweat. The writer’s block of resolutions. Perhaps God reads these out to the angels at Christmas parties, if he has them, perhaps he puts them in fortune cookies for his friends, and everyone reads and chuckles. Chuckles kindly, that kind and violent chuckle.

“Alice!” Her mother called down to her. New Years dinner. Following closely on its heels, she would go to Chloe Alexandre’s big house for a New Years party, where Chloe would toast all the friends, and cry, and Alice would cry, looking around at the ten or so people who she loved like family. Years later, she would run into Chloe at Oife’s mother’s funeral, and Chloe would look rich, but cheap, hurtling face forward into a life where she and Alice would have nothing in common. She’d frown at Alice too, in her second hand clothing with her smug smile. Both felt as though they’d never known the other, both thought the other was dressed inappropriately for the occasion, and they both decided that they didn’t much care if they ever saw each other again. In fact, to avoid the awkwardness of a second time measuring up each other’s hair and outfits, they sincerely hoped this would be the only meeting.

After Chloe finished the toast where she would cry, Alice's second best friend, Lisa Anderson, would hug her, and later that night would also cry in the bathroom, because her boyfriend Mike was ignoring her, and together they would sing “I will survive” at the top of their lungs until Mike, with the arsenal of the four other boys at the party, would stand outside of the bathroom door and begin knocking and joking. Lisa would brush the tears from her eyes and go out there and ignore then kiss Mike. Later, much later, Alice would be hurt, though she’d never admit it to anyone, that she hadn’t been invited to Lisa’s wedding, even though she had never met the groom.

With a final glance in the mirror, smoothing down the hair she’d spent over an hour straigthening and readjusting the eyeliner she’d applied according that girl’s instructions on youtube, Alice glanced at the page. “New Years Resolutions” was underlined neatly at the top, and “It was a year that answered some questions but asked so many more” followed soon after. What did God think? Could he see her now? Did he mind?

Picking up a pen - she scrawled it quickly - “Kiss Ryan Johnson.” The pen lit up. With a flourish. There. She’d written it down. Laugh it up, big guy. She folded the paper once and left the room. She traced her hand along the banister that she knew like a limb. She thought they were watching her. She was standing down the angels and their fortune cookies, the Christmas Parties and the sighs and the patience. She had presented all of the secret spirits who could read her thoughts and all that she wrote with something she wanted. With her secret want. As she walked into the kitchen, she’d thought she would feel bombastic, whatever that meant. Instead she felt like a beggar at God’s door, with a pen instead of a pale.

Friday, 4 November 2011

talking to a star

by Michael Burkard

but how could you move
again if you wasn't sure
it was time

well it wasn't time but
i had to trust something

what did you trust

a star -- do i tell you
about the star

tell me

well one night i was talking to a star
and just when i ended
another star fell

so you're moving
because a star fell

a few minutes later
another star fell

so two stars fall
so what
it's august

it was august

it was august
and two stars fell
-- not because you was
talking

not because

so why are you moving

because a star fell
and a few minutes later
another star bit
the sky and fell

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Hoarding Your Past Self

Coming up to my final performance of "Like You Were Before" in the UK until 2015 (I can't believe I just wrote that down. I guess now I've committed to it) on Friday, I have been thinking about our past selves. All the baggage, layers upon layers of ourselves that we deal with (and in my case, memorise then perform.)

It seems like several areas of my life have been contributing to this thinking. Yesterday, feeling unexpectedly ill when I was meant to be tutoring and then rehearsing, I decided to rest for a couple of hours in bed and watch my first episode of the American reality television show "Hoarders."

It's a border-line dangerous premise for a show - taking a psychological problem and trying to solve it (at least on the surface) in two days time by hiring a crack team of personal organisers along with the very short term help of a psychologist. Not least because the people featured on the show are often from poorer parts of the United States and can rarely afford to keep seeking the professional help that will keep their hoarding at bay in the long term. The episode I saw supported this thinking by rote - of the two hoarders, the one with more disposable income was able to make a dent in her long term problem through continuing to seek help, whereas the more willing of the two but less affluent went from a sparkling home at the end of the episode to a paragraph that said that she had not continued to get professional help and that her hoarding was back and worse than ever.

Also. Watching "personal organisers" grapple with somebody who has a psychological condition. I mean oh my gawd. Really? Is that really what television is? And yet I was thoroughly entertained by the program and (she says guiltily) may well watch it again in the future.

(Oh gee. Oh man.)

And then this morning, with the initial goal of making a sketch to start my day, I came upon an old sketch book of mine filled with mostly terrible snippets of writing. I had the impulse to tear them out and start the sketch book fresh, but then... I couldn't. They were layers, small photographs of me - cloying, clich├ęd, and doing my best. This past made me pause - I lost all impulse to make something new and instead began reading.

So weirdly - Here's something I just found in that old sketchbook. This may be one of my very very few attempts at verse, and possibly with good reason:

There's a place in a town that's not far away
A place riddled with saucers, old socks and decay.
The place looks like many I'm sure you may know,
Circled daily by a family of musical crows.
Nestled deep in the valley, overlooked by a hill,
A few city landmarks, the brewery and mill.
Where would we be, in what kind of plight,
Without the dear presence of the town's garbage site?

It's filled with old treasures and once loved beer bottles.,
Food gone to waste, old airplane models
And things you forgot about, your future in tow,
Or things you remember and decide to let go.
Object upon object, feeling sad and dejected.
Seagull upon seagull, hungry and infected.
It's a sad lonely world for an old piece of junk.
Enough to put belongings in a bit of a funk.
Unless of course you consider one little spectre -
That man we call Joey, the garbage collector.

Joey sees garbage as more than just rubbish.
He's read torn up letters good enough to publish.
On a day things are slow he'll comb through the piles,
He'll trudge through a smell that spreads miles and miles,
And sometimes find something of value or worth
And sometimes just relish in the sweet stench of mirth.
His wife doesn't like it, she calls him a "hoarder"
But Joey just calls himself "King of the Sorters."

He's sorted through old papers, laundry and bills,
He's taken home boxes, and church bells and tills.
His wife, who's named Nancy, gets cross as a skunk.
She shrills, "What will we do with all of this Junk?"
But Joey just chuckles and smiles like a martyr.
Her tone may be sharp, but his wits are sharper
.