Monday, 28 May 2012

This Time Last Year

After a difficult and stressful year in our relationship, this time last year P and I were debating the ever present question: to marry or not to marry?  As a foreigner in this country we always knew if we wanted to stay together marriage was our only option.  We didn't need the title. We just wanted to live together, to spend our lives together.  Marriage scared me. I feared we'd end up a bickering, miserable couple. I don't know why. I just wanted to be with my love.  And when it came down to it, the fear of a day spent apart far outweighed the fear of marriage.
As a 36 year old bachelor P was hesitant at first.  Determined not to press the issue, I devised a back up plan. I would get a job teaching English in Spain and we would take our long distance relationship to the next level (just not in the way I'd hoped).  So this time last year I took off for Spain and left P at home.  Those 12  days were dreadfully painful.  Unable to talk often, I wondered what he was thinking, I feared the end of our relationship as I knew it, I ached to return to his arms and yet I feared the imminent 'talk'.
A year ago today, P looked at me and said how much he'd missed me and didn't want a life without me.  To me he acted like such a cool customer about it.  He played along as I made the point of not making a big fuss of it.  I wanted the big 'white' wedding in a year's time in America and thought people wouldn't want to hear about two weddings.  So this one was for us and the second would be for friends and family.
I later found out how he talked excitedly about our impending nuptials to all his work colleagues like a child in the lead up to Christmas. In July 2011 we were married on the happiest day of our lives.  I had no idea how meaningful I would find those vows until I uttered them aloud whilst looking into P's eyes. And later, when I saw the grin spread across his face at hearing his friends call us 'Mr & Mrs' I knew how much it meant to him.  Looking back I am so grateful our ceremony was as it was.  It was intimate, with only P's family and best friend present.  We were able to focus on the meaning of the words, rather than the elaborate planning usually required.  It was as if we knew we did not have much time left.

In a few days I will embark on my first holiday alone since losing my man and I will be returning to Spain.  I know that the thought of returning to an empty home will be looming over my head the whole time, the memories of last year playing out like a broken record in my mind.  I could have chose somewhere different.  I would have preferred it.  But in some ways it feels like a bookend to the past year.  I visited this same friend this time last year.  So much has changed.  I am no longer the girl I was 12 months ago.  Will my Amiga recognise me?
I reluctantly realised today that losing P has and will continue to change me irreversibly.  My heart will never fully heal, a part will always rest with P, but....I am beginning to accept that I am changing for the better as well.  At 27 years old I am finally learning to love myself and I have P to thank for teaching me how to do so.  As I bought my first skimpy bikini this week I smiled a bittersweet smile - P would be so proud. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Reason for Rehab

There's a reason for rehab.  For making people stand up and say 'I'm Billy Bob and I'm an alcoholic' or 'I'm Sally Jo and I have an eating disorder'. 
Repeating it over and over is necessary to accepting the fact and dealing with it. 
Acceptance is the 'final' stage of the grieving process, so they say.
In the very early days I couldn't say it.  The words sat in my mouth like cement.
And then, it became like word-vomit....I couldn't continue a conversation for longer than 2 minutes without splurting out the words 'my husband passed away last year'. 
Last year.  It's such a non-descript period of time.  Really it had only been a couple of months when I started to say 'last year'.  It was easier though.  Sharing the exact length of time he'd been gone was too intimate.  Last year conveyed some distance from the event.  It allowed me to say it and say it and say it without ever really taking it in.
And now, I feel like I've gone back to step 1 in the 'Stages of Grief'.  Denial.
I struggle to say it.  I look at photos and it all (our relationship, his illness, his passing) feels like a dream. Was I really married to that incredible man in the photos?  Did I hear his laugh, gaze at his smile, and curl up on the sofa in his arms?  Where did he go?
And when I do manage the words, or allow myself to really remember the days before, I skip quickly to the next thought, the next topic, the next activity to busy my mind.  Because....
I can not accept it.
And I'm not sure I ever will.  Because even if I say 'My name is...and I'm a widow'.  Even if I say it over and over and over, those words remain separate to me, like a puppet or a mask I hold at arms length and use to interact with the world. 
As the year propels forward towards the first anniversary, I feel a growing panic rising within me.  Soon, in the not so distant future, I will not be able to say 'last year'.  I will have to say 'a year ago'.  Then, I imagine, it will begin to feel much more real.  A hole will appear in my puppet and I'm afraid the world will start to get a peak in.  Will acceptance come then?  Perhaps.
Or perhaps we need a forum, a support group to stand before in order for the words to resonant.  Without a group staring back at us as we utter the words, can we really hear them?
Grief is a recovery process, and although we can not change the past, perhaps we need rehab to find a way forward.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A New Approach to 'The Career'

As an actor, director, writer, artist, or dancer trying to make it we often forget to enjoy our work.  When I was pursuing my acting career in London, I chose auditions, acting opportunities, and experiences based on whether or not it would further my goal of becoming a true professional actress.  If it did not, if it was a tiny role with little stage time, then it was not worthy of my time.  Watching this inspirational talk on by Charlie Todd made me think....A much healthier way of approaching a creative career would be to ENJOY every moment. To do projects that satisfy the soul, and that allow us to feel at one with others.
Creatives are an interesting breed.  In the beginning I loved the limelight, being the centre of attention, but more than anything, it was feeling like I'd found my niche in high school that kept me in the theatre world.  Yes, the individual element was always present, the ability to expunge my emotions on stage in a healthy way was irresistible, but the desire to be a part of a bigger whole was always greater.
 There are those who are only interested in how their art can bring them fame and fortune, but I don't think many of them are successful.  How many Hollywood actors say in interviews 'I never planned on being famous, I just love what I do'?  I know it sounds cliché and it's easy to think 'yea right', but what if they are all telling the truth?   What if we stopped thinking about our own career and focused our energy instead on being a part of the bigger picture?  What if we took our ego out of the equation?
I remember an agent telling a group of actors in a workshop that 'if you want to be an actor then don't plan on taking holidays! You need to be available 24/7 for auditions and if you're not then you're not serious and I don't want to work with you'.  Well, I don't want to work for someone like that.  I want to LIVE and I truly believe that in order to be a great actor you need to experience life.  How can we portray characters from all walks of life if all we know is the inside of a theatre or the set of a film?  
There is something to be said for continuing to train, for honing your craft, etc but it doesn't have to be tedious.  I hated those terms because it reminded me of practicing violin for hours or doing homework late into the night - it conjured up images of painful boredom.  Instead, I recommend finding friends who share the same sense of humour and artistic vision and getting out there and making theatre, film, or music.  Just do it!  But more importantly, ENJOY IT.  And if you don't?  Find something else.  Or find a way to fall back in love with your passion.  Clowning reawakened my love for theatre.  Doing something else within your craft that might not be your forte can bring new life to your practice.  Agree or disagree. I know I’ll be moving forward by searching for projects that bring a smile to my face rather than a ‘valuable credit’ to my CV.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Finding the Joy

This weekend I attended a clowning workshop. Yes, clowning. But no, not in the 'running around in a painted face with a red nose and a bucket of water' kind of way.  The workshop was mainly made up finding the comedic moments within traditional theatre games.  The facilitator focused on getting us (the participants) to be present, in the moment, and alive.  He was continually reminding us to keep it simple, keep it real, and to follow our impulses.  Brillant and important lessons for performance and so essential for LIFE

The clown lives in the 'ready, coiled, anticipatory' space.  He finds joy and excitement in the most simple of moments, very much like a child, for clowning is essentially PLAY.  Ah, that word: play.  If applied to adults it is usually used in a negative context, i.e. 'Stop playing around and get to work!'
Adults are only meant to play in their spare time, and those who do so 'too often' are not taken seriously and are viewed to be 'throwing their life away'.  WHY?!

I'm the first one to admit that I've always been someone who tended to take life too seriously.  I have spent 20 odd years wondering how to get the most out of life.  For the longest time I thought that if I saw the world (or as much of it as possible), if I was successful in my career, if I found the love of my life and had a family THEN my life would feel complete.  Mission accomplished.  But what about all the days in between?  The mundane and boring hours spent cleaning, cooking, doing errands, working, etc...? 

Remember when we were children?  When a couple of crayons and a blank piece of paper could keep us entertained for hours?  When we questioned everything and life was so intriguing?  What happened?  I know we have to grow up and be responsible and pay bills and yada yada yada yada, but why do we have to loose the joy? 

This weekend was so freeing.  For two days I felt like I had taken a trip back to childhood.  We were able to be silly, to find the humour in the simple moments, and to realise that you don't have to over the top like Jim Carrey to be funny.  You just have to present, be open and be in the moment. 
I won't lie to you.  It's much easier to achieve this in the rehearsal room than it is to do so in real life.  That's why I love theatre.  That's why I love making it.

After losing P I thought I needed to be a doctor or work for a charity in order to make a real difference in this world, in order to feel proud of my life's work.  But the people I admire most are those who are eternally grateful, who do not seek joy, but live it, and who are childlike in their approach to life.  It is not what they do to make a living, but how they live that matters.

Clowning taught me that I do not have to fill my life with adventures, finding joy in the everyday can be an adventure in itself. 

Friday, 4 May 2012

Stop the Novocaine

It seems my brain can no longer handle the emotional rollercoaster.  I want to write, to continue this dialogue I have begun, but my heart has shut down for the moment.  Perhaps this is a form of self preservation?  A survival instinct?  I sit down to coffee, lunch or dinner with friends and I find myself lost for words.  For those who know me, this is very out of the ordinary.  Sure, in the weeks and immediate months afterwards I shut down and shut out, but since then I have maintained a belief in the 'talking cure' and I have talked and talked and talked....trying to figure out how it happened, because if I could figure that out perhaps I could fix it, go back and change it, bend time and bring him back.  But as the 6 month anniversary came and went, as each day passes, I am beginning to realise this is permanent.  This is real.  And I hate it. 
Call me strange, but I would rather feel the pain in its grittiest form than walk around in this numb state.   In an effort to live more functionally, to move forward, I have been training myself to bottle my emotions and save them for a rainy day.  I have been trying to be more ‘British’ in my approach to my grief.
I know I will always be American but over the years I have slowly begun to conform to my adopted culture, and my attitude and options have become, in part, distinctly British.  I remember P saying ‘you’re practically English’ from time to time with such an heir of pride.  I, of course, would quickly snap back ‘I thought you loved my American-ness!’  It’s only now that I realise that P was honoured that I was attempting to ingratiate myself into his culture, for this was the biggest compliment I could pay him, a man who was so fond of his English heritage.  But there were two British traits P never fully portrayed.  Negativity and apathy. 
The 2012 Olympics are coming to London in just a few short months and yet everyone seems to be inconvenienced, miserable, and annoyed that they’ve paid too much in tax for this ridiculous display of sport.  Why can’t we just be happy that this incredible event is happening in our lifetimes in our country?! Enthusiasm seems to be an annoying ‘American attitude’.  P never lacked enthusiasm…..he would get excited about the silliest things and REALLY wound up about ridiculous things as well.  Mushiness/romanticism made him uncomfortable but every other emotion was displayed in full. 
What does this have to do with grief?  Well….while you can’t grieve ‘enthusiastically’, I ask you why are we so ashamed to grieve openly?  As a western culture we’re afraid to cry in public, we worry about burdening others with our own pain, but in other Asian cultures the women wail publicly, openly, with their whole being.  Are we doing ourselves a disservice by hiding our pain away?  People tell me I’m doing so well, but if they knew what went on behind the scenes would they still feel the same?  Frankly, when I seem to be functioning oh so well, that’s when I think I’m at my worst.  It feels unnatural, unreal, and fake.  Stop the novocaine please.  I’ll take the tears any day.