Thursday, 30 September 2010

For Blake, the man that changed my life forever...

Most people boast about being a good judge of character, a minority admit to being bad, I on the other hand have absolutely no judgment at all. It is my one social blind spot; a part of my personality I genuinely wish I could outsource. I know you're supposed to use wisdom, experience,morals, and then decide if you like some one or not. With me if someone is nice to me- I like them, that’s it,I've nothing more technical to go on. I could meet a mass murderer, a genocidal maniac, James Corden and if they’re nice to me; I’m screwed.

Sometimes, worried that my blanket acceptance of everyone has downgraded my opinion to worthless, I’ll decide completely arbitrarily to dislike someone. Almost instantaneously, that person will be nice to me; I’ll feel horrible and be back to square one. Lately I’ve considered just given up having opinions altogether.

When I was younger, added to this personality blindness,was the pressure of having to make absolutely everybody I met like me. The thought of choosing not to get on with someone, of deciding for myself instead of reacting to some one else’s behavior was alien and weird. My plan was to be friends with absolutely everyone, and hope for the best.

These were the life skills I was taking with me on my new life abroad.My homesickness in Italy had been as unexpected as it was pathetic. The first few days were a puffy eyed flurry of abruptly left rooms, locked toilet doors and sobbing, hiccupped nightly phone calls home that even my parents were beginning to find embarrassing. I’d become everything I’d sneered at; the girl who always had to go home from slumber parties early because she missed her Mam, the plastic Paddy who’d already found the nearest Irish pub.

For a person who had been running away from the age of four it was not what I was expecting. In my town I’d never felt like I’d fitted in, truly belonged; I always felt odd. When school friends described me affectionately as “mad” it was like nails on a blackboard- I wasn’t trying to be eccentric, I just wanted to be normal. So why was I missing so keenly a life I couldn’t wait to leave? The minute I landed in Italy, my old life suddenly seemed a haven of contentment, security and belonging. I didn’t know then how much easier it is to leave behind something you had than it is to finally give up on something that was never really there. Why else are bad relationships so much harder to let go of then the good ones? Everything felt horrible, floaty and transitory. I felt that at any minute a gust of wind would run through me and blow me away.

Convinced everything had been a massive mistake, I decided to just ride it out till I could go home, move back with my parents and forget it had ever happened.

Confident that it was a temporary holiday before teacher training I finally began to relax. Slowly I began to see some upsides to living in a medieval town in Italy for eleven weeks. Apart from my actual classes, there was the massive 19th century apartment, I was sharing with the other girls, a stone balcony that overlooked a square with a church and fountain. There was the fruit and veg market, that if I got up in time I could go to in the morning before class. I now knew that Italians wore black to weddings, that their supermarkets had aisles devoted just to pasta and that you can actually drink water out of the town fountains. These were all secrets, keyholes into a life I should never have known about. The beautiful medieval town felt like the set of Romeo and Juilet, that I was free to explore. I was also slowly making friends with the people in my class; French Canadians, an actress from New York and Finnish girls so beautiful, they made you think racial superiority had a point. I sat in the kitchen with them in the morning, sleepily waiting for the coffee to boil, with the sound of church bells ringing in the distance. For the first time in my life I wasn’t someone’s friend, or someone’s daughter, I was me. All the things I’d worried about back home, though present, felt far away like the sea.

It was then that a person walked into my life, a late arrival on the course, a lanky Australian ambling into the class and straight into my life. Blake, Blake, I will never forget you. Finally I knew I was having my first trembling grown up independent opinion about someone. I knew in an instant, that although you were fine with me , I absolutely hated you.

Was it during our very first conversation when I patiently listened to your theory that 9/11 was a cover up, that I felt the first shiver of something starting? Was it when I hesitatingly disagreed and the sunlight hit the side of your face as you sadly shook your head and said you were just passing out seeds of knowledge? Maybe it was the tone in your voice when explained you were inspired to become a street performer because you liked connecting with people on the street and messing with their heads? Or when you described your road to Damascus experienced happened at an Alanis Mourissette concert? Or the cute way you started speaking in weird pigeon English when you were around Spanish people? I don’t know when exactly it happened but I knew for the first time in my life, without friends to check, sisters to confer, I was experiencing my first definite opinion about someone-He was a bloody idiot.

I felt like the child in the Emperors New clothes.Obviously I’d disliked people before but I’d never voiced it- what if I was wrong? But here in Italy- on my own-what did I have to loose? So I didn’t try to be friends with him, but I didn’t avoid him either and if he did anything to annoy me, I’d tell him; the sky didn’t collapse, the earth didn’t open and people didn’t hate me for being so horrible.

They actually began to agree. These cool, bohemian people from as far away as French Canada listened to my opinion.Slowly but surely my belief that he was an absolute moron, changed from a theory into an empirical fact. Class by class, as he pissed others off and people got to know him better, my protestations were proved to be true, by week two; no one was talking to him, by week three he had left under a cloud. I had a won. I hadn’t bullied him out, I just hadn’t been “nice” and it was ok.

The night the course finally ended I was crying again. This time I didn’t want to leave; pledging to always stay in touch, to be friends forever. Part of me loved the drama of it all, the same thrill I secretly get from freakishly bad weather,

funerals and unexpected celebrity deaths the feeling that normal service has been temporarily interrupted.I actually started challenging myself to see how many of my new friends I could make cry. I dropped in words bombs like acceptance, belonging,true friendship, and they’d start sobbing. I’d wail too and the line between sentimental dramatics and heartfelt truths got blurred.

I decided that if I had friends that cared about me, maybe I could put off giving up, caving in and going home for a little while longer. Most of them lived in Spain so I decided that I’d just move there next. No, I didn’t speak Spanish, but knew, at least,I could now spot a prick in at least one language.

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Dangerous Mind

For some teaching is a vocation, for others a reluctant fallback, for more, like me, an absolute mistake. Fresh from university, after four years of sleeping in, living off Angel Delight and watching “Sunset Beach” I fancied the idea of being a grown up for a while. Regular money, soup for lunch, step aerobics two times a week and drinks on Friday, I would be normal, completely normal. I would wear fake tan, shop at French Connection and buy a proper handbag; after twenty two years of being the weird one, I would no longer be the freak, I would be the smug dull one, stand back, stand back: nothing to see here...

I knew straight away that I was going to be an awesome teacher, I was the English one after all and they were always the best. I’d inspire, change lives and just when all the students had fallen in love with me, go off to better things. Yes, I had no “qualifications” but I had seen “Dead Poets Society” loads of times.

I was also completely in charge of the entire English curriculum. Completely unmonitored, I just picked anything I’d studied at school and still had the notes for. I later found out that at least one play I had made the class study wasn’t actually on the syllabus. I was also at that time slightly obsessed with WW1 so any opportunity I got to shoehorn a bit of Wilfred Owen in was not missed. We studied the poetry, the novels, every now and then the students wandered in to find a WW1 fact of the day on the blackboard and as a treat at the end of term, we watched “Blackadder Goes Fourth, final episode. It was when a student genuinely asked me, if in comparison, Word War II was “not that much of a big deal” that I began to worry if I had gone too far.

I quickly learned that when setting essays for teenagers it is imperative that you make the titles as bland and boring as possible. Any opportunity a teenager gets to write about parents that don’t understand, depression, self harm; they will. If in doubt, all stories will end with someone killing themselves. After having to carefully correct the spelling and grammar of a student’s true account of her traumatic teenage pregnancy, my essay titles quickly changed from the ambitious “What people don’t know about me” to “The summer holiday where everything went really well”.

I really tried. I organised theatre visits, lit incense sticks, burnt candles, played classical music. I did everything, save lesson plans and organise a coherent course structure that a teacher could but instead of looking up to grateful faces, impressed by the winsome hippy that was fighting the man on their behalf, all my charges wanted to talk about was Max Power magazines, Eninem or The Fast and the Furious. A student once tore up a page from their book and ate it in front of me. It was almost as if they didn’t get how cool I was. I let them cheat in exams for god’s sake?!”

Pretty soon my classes were beginning to get a bit Lord of the Fly-ey. Little did I know that those months screaming at people to be quiet, trying desperately to be listened to, liked, respected even were the best training for stand up I could wish for, but much like those brave boys at the Somme I was fighting a futile battle. By the second term I was beginning to wonder if I would be allowed a drinks cabinet in my classroom. Then I started fancying my sixth year students.

Oh Declan, mumbling, shy Declan. I didn’t mark your girlfriend’s homework down out of unacknowledged jealousy but I’m sorry for thinking about it. I’m sorry for the time I confiscated your mobile and was so tempted to root through the messages I had to give it back to you. Did I let you get away with not doing your homework? Yes. Did I imagine meeting you again years later when our five year age gap wouldn’t matter, and if anything me being your former teacher would be a great conversation starter- maybe. Living in the same small town as your students is hard for the most balanced of people, for me- I was a ticking Take a Break Time bomb.

Which was more skin crawlingly embarrassing? The Saturday night I lurched into Declan pissed at the town’s only nightclub and spent the entire night hugging and telling him how great he was? Or his Englsih class I had to teach the Monday afternoon class afterwards, still hungover, where the kind hearted wink he gave me signaled that not only was I not going to be the but of every jokes for the rest of the year, I wasn’t going to be the lead story in any tabloid papers either.I was twenty two but I suddenly felt like a predatory, sleazy old woman. In a weekend I’d gone from being Robin Williams to Sherrie Hewson.

By the end of the final term, my year of not living dangerously was coming to an end.

“One year back at university and with your qualification you’d have a job for life”, my parents urged, “Think of the summer holidays?

I stared into the mirror, at the half a stone I’d put on, the sensible haircut I’d acquired, my orange face glowing back on me and I felt true panic. Teachers, good ones, were supposed to put all their energy into their students, inspire them to fulfill their ambitions, to live their dreams. But I jealously guarded all that for myself-what about my potential, my dreams? How could I have a fall back career when I hadn’t even tried, let alone failed yet?

It became obvious I wasn’t up to it, the afternoon I had to leave an exam I was supervising because I got “a fit of the giggles”. Gasping outside the hall, I told the deputy head, I had to leave as I couldn’t stop laughing. I was really saying, I don’t want to be a grown up yet, I still want to be one of the kids, please don’t ask me back next year. There’s a divide you step over walking into that staff room. A sensible world where homework has a point, discipline a reason and teachers just want to help. It’s a small step for man, but a leap too far for Gráinne Maguire.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Gráinne's Mental InHouse Inventry- Day 4 (ish)

I quickly decided the only way to get through the two month Comedia Dell’Arte course I had accidentally enrolled in was to Audrey Hepburn it. Much like my heroine in “Sabrina” I would spend my time in Italy improving myself. I’d survive on fruit and nibbled croissants, drink two litres of water every day and spend my weekends visiting art galleries and jazz bars at night. I would return to my home town, a chicer, thinner and more glamorous version of myself. People would say “Gráinne, you’ve changed- you’re so different” and I’d say “Oh I’m sorry, could you repeat that? My brain thinks in Italian now”.

The classes themselves were my first challenge; Audrey had it easy. All she had to do was delicately make soufflés in Parisian cookery classes; I had to perform medieval comedy. Have you ever tried to make people laugh doing stuff you don’t find remotely amusing at all? Only the cast of “My Family” know my pain. The funniest thing you can do in Commedia is pretend you have found a flea in your hair and then pretend to eat that flea. The Mediterranean students buckled with mirth, the Canadians and Americans smiled slightly sycophantically and I like a nervous gangster with Joe Pescie shooting bullets at my feet, just kept going.

By week two even flea eating was beginning to get old. I finally found myself onstage on my own and I had depleted all the insects, in every part of my body. It was crunch time, I had to just stop messing about, stop slagging off Italian comedy and actually use this opportunity to stretch a new muscle, learn a new skill, take a chance and force myself to find my own unique voice.

“Drink! Girls!Feck! Arse!”

Now I was a joke thief. I was actually ripping off Father Ted. The fruit of my heroes’ years of hard work, the worst comedy crime, the shame, the poker hot shame... But I didn’t see looks of disgust and vanishing respect in the eyes of my expectant audience, I saw laughter and love and acceptance…because they had never seen Father Ted had they? They were all bloody foreigners; they thought I was making this fantastic grotesque old man character up myself. That simmering shame hit boiling point and evaporated into great gusts of giddy exhilaration…

“Girls! Lovely girls! Hairy Japanese Basterds”

More laughter, more love, more respect. I didn’t feel bad, I felt like an evil genius. Take that skinny, bendy, Spanish girls with olive skin, I was hilarious. By the end of the week my catch phrases were the stuff of legends. In sketches they bounced off the walls and ricocheted around the room; I’d have a cunning plan, I couldn’t beeeleive it! It suited me sir!

The time I improvised leaning against a bar and falling through the opened counter- I was nearly carried out on their shoulders! I felt like a comedy version of George McFly, but I was not just cheating and nicking other peoples jokes for fleeting popularity, I was making an important cultural point. Nowadays humour is just funnier than medieval folk theatre. Northern Europeans are wittier than their southern friends. Every time I made an American laugh, thinking that they were enjoying Renaissance comedy in it’s purest form and really they were clapping at something I’d completely nicked from “Absolutely Fabulous” I felt the thrill of victory.

But I had underestimated Italian theatre, I’d come to its homeland, taken the piss and I knew it was only a matter of time before the gods of Harlequin and Il Captiono made their anger felt. So when on the morning of our first acrobatics class our teacher breezily announced that the starting position was a handstand, I thought my karma had arrived. Ignoring my classmates misguided words on encouragement, I explained that the reason I couldn’t do it wasn’t about confidence, it was simply a combination of my body’s complete lack of aerodynamicy and the laws of physics and his old pal gravity. Couldn’t I just start with hedgehog rolls?

“Don’t be silly, you’ll be fine”, my classmates encouraged me. “Are we bothered? Does our faces look bothered?”

“I will fall on my face and injure myself” I explained

But who cares, they reasoned, it’s was just us in the class, a local class for local people.We'll have no trouble here...

So as I leaned against the wall, upside down, my legs supported by two encouraging Spanish girls, my sweaty t-shirt falling over my red perspiring trembling face, exposing my wobbling belly to a cheering class. I really thought OK Medieval Theatre you’ve had your fun, we’re even now. I was wrong. Acrobatics was for only half the course, for the rest we were studying tango. It would be torture and it had nothing to do with fancy footwork.

Now, I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be blessed with low standards and high expectations;in practical terms that means I will pretty much fancy any man, heterosexual or otherwise, that I spend any amount of time with. So by mid course I had massive crushes on every single guy in my class. The tango classes meant not only did my twenty two year old self have to get breath in your face intimate with every male on the course but I had to do all the grinding, all the staring in their eyes sexiness with deadly seriousness and Not. Laugh. Once. It was like a sexual confidence form of “Operation”, a Chinese water torture; my personal Room 101. Every class I’d almost combust with nervous, panicked hysterical embarrassment. My inability to keep a straight face was at first few endearing in a Baby from Dirty Dancing kind of way, but it quickly soured to annoying, curdled to irratating and set into just plain weird. The Mediterranean girls could not understand why I found it all so impossible, “Just be sexy” they reassured me, which was like asking a blind person if they ever tried just really squinting their eyes.

The final straw was when our teacher decided to sepreate the sexes and as the music played the women were to lock eyes with a man of their choosing, walk sexily across the room and claim their partner with a seductive dance. As my Latin sisters shimmied past me, I finally cracked and fled to the toilets. Hunched over the wash basin I repeated to myself” Relax, you’re Irish, we have good personalities, we don’t need to be sexy” until I could breath again. I never went back.

Being Audrey was proving harder than it looks. At weekends I’d pop on my fifties skirt, tie my shirt coquettishly at my waist and in my ballet flats wander around the old town centre. I’d sip the coffee in the square, I’d read novels late night in the cafes and I’d wander round ruins carrying bunches of flowers. But I didn’t feel winsome, carefree and young, I felt bored, empty and lonely. I wanted to go back to my home town changed but hadn’t I come all this way to escape from the place- why was I rushing to go back? But unless I returned how could I know I was changing, improving, getting better? If there was no one there to watch my transformation and tell you it was happening, how could you know it was real? What was the point? As I sipped my coffee I realised, that if I saw myself from the outside in, I’d be so envious and assume my life was perfect, like Audrey Hepburn’s in fact. The thought made my head spin and I felt like I was floating out into space.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Gráinne's Mental InHouse Inventry- Day 3

Randomly moving to a new country on the spur of the moment always seemed to me an incredibly glamorous idea. One of my favourite films ever is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I became obsessed with it one school summer holiday and watched it every single day for a month. Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly flits about New York, sleeping with men in a manner that makes promiscuity seem the most elegant and endearing of lifestyle choices. Again the main point of her being an exploited, lonely call girl completely escaped my attention, to me she was like “Benji-The World’s Littlest Hobo”, only with better cocktail dresses.

The free spirited girl is my absolute favourite movie cliché; wafting in with a sexy fringed goofy smile, drinking too much, gingerly eating with her fingers and then,just when the male lead has dumped his boring nine to five girlfriend, buggering off again.

My first attempt at being elegantly waifish wasn’t an entire success. I’d taken it into my head to teach in Korea but failed the interview when I thought it’s be hilarious to say my main qualification for the job was having seen MASH loads of times. I’d just finished university and was still convinced I was an undiscovered acting genius. That was the main reason I went to that university in the first place; to join their drama society. I made a fantastic first impression too, swaggering in like young Orson Welles, casually dropping on the auditors desk an outline for my one woman production of “Withnail and I”; Rushmore had nothing on me. My Waterloo was that week’s drama society fresher’s party when, in a fit of nerves, insecurity and cheap vodka, I got heroically pissed, made a move on the auditor and fell asleep behind a piano.

It was so confusing. In films when the carefree girl gets drunk, if anything she gets more adorable, but to the flinty fresher’s of Dramsoc I was now socially dead. In my slobbering needy first week mess, they’d seen their own worst fears externalised and projected. If I was the uncool, eager to please, gauche newbie it couldn’t, by deduction, be them. If I had only known to swagger in the next day with a rueful smile and a devil may care wink it would all have been forgotton, but I had the nimble social skills of an articulated truck. Humiliated, I spent the next three years avoiding the place, having panic attacks just walking by their offices, a strange case of being too dramatic to do any actual drama. So on graduation I signed myself up for a theatre evening class determined to make up for lost time.

But in a surprise twist, instead of feeling the warm glow of a creative homecoming, I found the drama classes tedious and boring. There was all this talk of text analysis, voice training and movement. Movement? Who frigging cares, I move everyday, consider it done- when do I get to pretend to be a drug addict? When the other students talked eager eyed about working with new playwrights, improvising or Commedia De’ll Arte I could barely keep my eyes open. Commedia Dell’Arte, if you’re not aware and why should you, is a hilarious form of medieval Italian theatre. Except it’s not, it’s Benny Hill in period costume, Shakespeare with just the comedy, full of men overacting, women pretending to be shephards and the audience pretending to find the whole thing hilarious. I hated it and anybody who knows me,and knows that pretending to be a medieval shepherd girl is pretty much my idea of the best thing ever; will appreciate what a damning indictment that is.

Then it dawned on me, maybe I didn’t want to immerse myself in parts, become different people, disappear into a role; maybe I just really wanted to show off. I didn’t want to play some frustrated teenager in a housing estate, I wanted to play a Queen that discovers a terrible secret and then dies for her country. I was already so good at the dying; my Barbie’s always had disfiguring illnesses and tragically passed away mourned by all, joined by a struggling to cope Ken in a suicide pact days later. Turns out there was more to acting than that. Boringness, Brecht and Bloody Breathing exercises….

So after an entire class discussing what a poem might be about. (God. Give. Me. Strength.) I happened upon a notice advertising a comedy acting course in Italy. Now that, I thought, is something I am interested in, prat falls, hitting people with sticks, maybe learning how to do that Charlie Chaplin hop skippy heel clicky thing! I didn’t need to know anymore, I was doing it, I was finally off to see the world, my Huckleberry friend and there was such a lot of world to see…

Two months, one handed in job notice and a one way flight to Italy later, I found myself in a dusty drill hall in central Italy. Fava, our teacher was explaining what we’d be studying over the next three months. In Italian. That’s sweet, I thought, maybe I could learn a bit of that while I’m here, mentally logging off till the English bit came, Oh, he’s talking in Spanish now. Maybe I could learn a bit of that too.... Finally the English bit came.

“And also-Welcome, our British friends”

Was that it? He’s been speaking in Italian for a bloody hour? Then a quick inventory of the crowded class revealed that amongst the Italians, Spanish and French Canadians, there was only three other English native speakers, glistening like a rubies in the rough, and I was pretty sure I had already fallen out with most of them already. Faltering, I turned to the Italian girl beside me and whispered how excited I was to be studying comedy acting. She looked confused, I explained again slower with added mimes.

“You know- comic acting...we’re studying falling about… like in the black and white comedies...Charlie Chaplin?”

“Comic acting yes, I suppose…but in Italian we call it Commedia Dell’Arte. Didn’t you read the course booklet?”

Holy shit. I had time for a quick internal Moe from The Simpsons hands to face Waah, and it was time to start the breathing exercises.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gráinne's Mental InHouse Inventry- Day 2

The major lesson I’m learning this month is that when the manure hits the air con you can go one of two ways: Feel sorry for yourself and go bad luck is my avatar, stop washing your hair depressed or camp. Very Camp. This month I chose the later. I was not down and out. I was wronged and fabulous. Less Little Mo, more Scarlett freaking O’ Hara.

Post Edinburgh Festival the plan was to take September off. I was back to Ireland for the month to gently convalesce, like Robert Downey Jr at the end of “Chaplin” but instead of staring dreamily over a lake in Geneva, wrapped in a tartan blanket with my nineteen year old child bride, I’d be watching re runs of America’s Next Top model and eating toast. That was the plan.

Then I checked my bank balance and it politely suggested otherwise. It didn’t give me my balance as much as start laughing at me. Actual chortles. Like “Beadles About” guest starring Stephen Hawking. Personally I miss the days when your ATM just told you how many pounds you had in your financial pigeon hole. Will somebody please explain to me slowly, once and for all, the difference between your “cleared balance”, your “available balance”, and your “I hate to break it to you but that’s your balance” balance? I’d prefer if they just said “Listen we’ve rattled your piggy bank and it doesn’t sound good”. I also find their offer of advice slips patronizing. Banks offering to give me advice? That’s like Kate Moss offering parenting tips. Thanks Banks but why don’t you figure out how to stop bankrupting the country first, yeh? Then get back to me. And even then, only offer me useful advice like; stop buying a Starbucks every morning; it does not make your life more glamorous, or apply for that PGCE or go back to your natural hair colour for god’s sake.

Anyway, it became swiftly obvious that I couldn’t just slink home for a spell of reconnecting with my Celtic Soul; I needed to start temping. Stat. I couldn’t even fall back on my old reliable medical trials; selling your body but not in a sexy way. Prostitution for people who are rubbish in bed. Like a spa but with more unnecessary surgical procedures. Yeah, they’d be tough but I was up for it, Scarlett O Hara had to fight off Yankee Carpet baggers, I could handle a week of feeling permanently carsick. I’ve done two already, one for sleeping pills which convinced my mother I was going to turn into Elvis Presley and another for a muscle relaxant. Pah, I thought, my muscles are relaxed already. It was horrible. I had to stay in the unit for a week and swiftly turned into the ward’s Jack Nicholson figure; complaining, causing trouble, playing mind games with the nurses; it started with hiding unwanted food in my dressing gown pockets and ended just before I brought in the prostitutes. (On a positive note, I now know I could definetly handle prison)
But there were no trials and I had rented my room out to a stranger on Gumtree till October- Whither now Scarlett?

My genius plan was just to quietly move back into my flat, sleep on the couch and hope none of my flatmates would notice or mind. How hard could it be? Yes, I’d have no key and would only be able to leave the flat when I knew they were in and yes they were never ever in, but how much did I leave the flat anyway? I had eggs in the fridge and bread. Water in the taps. My job didn’t start for another week. I could bunker in…

By day one I was feeling just a bit weird. By day two I was so spooked and paranoid I hid in the bathroom when my flatmates came home. By day three I had gone Grey Gardens, Howard Hughes, what day is it bat crazy. Yes, I was still Judy Garland fabulous but I was heading into the couldn’t pay her bills, threatening to throw herself out the hotel window, do you want to be known as the place where Dorothy died part of her TV movie and I had a whole month to go.
It was around this time I had a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to do a gig that evening. “No can do”, I monotonely explained, egg yolk flaking around my mouth, lying on my back on my living room floor in my dressing gown “I don’t leave the house anymore. Besides it’s five o’ clock and I’ve just found an old bottle of Absinthe, so my weekend’s full now”. There was a long silence and then my American friend quietly suggested I stay with her for a bit.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Gráinne's Mental InHouse Inventry- Day 1

I’ve always been a great believer in risks. Taking a chance, living for the moment, reaching for the bloody stars, whatever S Club 7 told me to do- I did. You’re supposed to live every day like it’s your last, it’s what every single quote of the day, Disney film and house anthem has been telling me to do for the past twenty years...
Well damn it, I take risks, I’ve taken risks, the risks are gone, all of them. I am officially out of risks. I couldn’t even lend you one if you popped around and asked nicely. And what do I have to show for it? A great bloody big what the hell am I doing soufflé, seasoned with a gaping bank account and a dollop of full fat uncertainty.

My greatest fear as a child was mediocrity. I know that sounds very dramatic and self obsessed but you underestimate how painfully seriously I took myself as a young’n. If you had asked me what my favourite film was I’d have looked you in the eyes and said “Taxi Driver”. I would have been lying, it was “Mermaids”. However if you had asked me what my greatest fear was I’d have answered “That I’ll end up like Salieri. Rival of Mozart. Driven mad my jealousy, frustrated ambition, the knowledge of my own mediocrity and paucity of talent. An also ran, a nearly, a just not quite” Sadly that would not have been a lie. “Amadeus”, the film about the genius composer and his frenemy Salieri, freaked me out, haunted me and I swore I would never be ordinary, never accept the easy option, the H&M version of the designer original ,with all the heart stopping sincerity only a twelve year old girl can muster.

His penniless death in a pauper’s grave passed slightly over my head but then I have a habit of missing the points of things. I also thought Wham’s Last Christmas was about an organ transplant that had gone wrong (In my defence it was released around the same time Nanny finally got her new kidney so talk of rejected body parts were terms flying about our house at the time)

I decided there and then it was better to risk everything in the pursuit of greatness than merely exist in the hope of adequacy. Like that quote? Thanks, I made that up when I was fifteen. Yes, I was that annoying. Imagine how irratating English teachers must have found me? The thing is I have been making all my adult decisions based on this young girl’s philosophy.

Now I’m beginning to wonder how that’s working out for me and think it’s time for a bit of life motto stock taking, some personal philosophy in house enquiry. This has been inspired by the recent Edinburgh Festival where I took my first hour show up. I had a great time there, it was brilliant but like most short term goals; love affairs, children, fake nails, it was a great way of avoiding reality. As a comic you’re encouraged to give your first show absolutely everything; finiacally, emotionally and mentally and rise or fall like a Byronic hero in the attempt. This was my moment, the one that Martine McCutchen had sung about during her brief pop career, the one Leona Lewis had waited for, the one Whitney Houston had begged for during the 1988 Special Olympics. All the girls were on my side, warbling and rooting for me, to screw my courage into a ball and like a more confident Alfred J. Prufrock dare! The entire history of popular culture and English literature where telling me I was doing exactly the right thing putting all my money, quitting my job, subletting my flat into my show. And did I gloriously fail or heroically succeed? Or did I just have a modestly successful first year in Edinburgh, and find myself afterwards slightly further along my comedy road but I still not quite on the M1?

Did I think that would be the outcome? Yes…and well, you never know do you…. Who knows what happens? Edinburgh is a lottery, Hollywood for ugly people… Chances are something would just happen, if I was brave, worked hard enough and believed. Felt the fear, the fear of unemployment, financial meltdown and homelessness and did it anyway. Things always just happen. So that’s why I decided to rent my room out for not just the entire month of August but September as well. I didn’t need somewhere to stay did I? I mean to live? You know to have all my bloody possessions in one place at the same time? What like loser Salieri would do? I’ll spend my rent money on flyers thanks. Who needs to follow suburban squares restricted by their bourgeois principles? Losers. I’m a bohemian... I didn’t need a job either. It’ll be fine hand that notice in...

So here I am. Post living the Edinburgh dream, sleeping in friend’s spare room for the month, slacking at an £8.50 temp job, praying inspectors don’t jump on my bendy bus and absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life. Literally, no clue. So I’ve decided to document my commitment to bohemian risk taking. My refusal to have a fall back plan. The shiver that runs through my spine every time a job in teaching is mentioned. The smug feeling I get rooting through old class mates face book photos. Ha, look at those losers with their rewarding day jobs, houses and families living nearby! I’d be played by Angelina Jolie in a movie of my life. I just wonder how she’d play the scene where hungover in the supermarket, hovering over the reduced counter in her pyjamas, young couples with babies doing their weekly shop making her soul sob?

I‘m going to look back at all the times I could have done the sensible thing and self righteously didn’t. I know what you’re thinking. She’ll decide that of course taking the risks always pays off, ruefully not regrette a rien and Keane will start playing in the background. It’s always like that isn’t it? Yes, well once, after reading a Henry Miller novel, I insisted on sleeping on a park bench. My bag got stolen. So let’s not go making any assumptions shall we?