Archive for Creating A/Broad
My longest-term lover and his girlfriend have been renting separate rooms in the same house for a couple of years. Now they are moving halfway across the US and renting a home together. When he emailed me updates from their housing search earlier this week, I had a moment where I had to lay down my head and shut my eyes and fight back tears. Truly it was only a moment; the urge to cry passed in the space of a few deep breaths. But it surged back later that night, and I have been pondering that moment ever since, trying to tease out the tangle of feelings that suddenly knotted and stuck in my chest.
There is envy in there, I know this much. Not jealousy, but envy. I don't want to take my lover's partner's place—she's his domestic partner, now, in the literal sense of the word—I don't wish I was in that place, precisely. They are getting a three-bedroom place, one bedroom for each of us, and that is a sweet offer of an always-place to land, should I need it. Lord, I am so happy that my lover has found someone to share a home with, since I am not able to promise that kind of stability and shared domesticity with him, in the way he wants. I do, however, envy the quality of home that they will have together.
For all that I feel the urge to tour, I feel almost equally the nesting impulse. I want a kitchen of my own (with a corresponding crap drawer of my own), a bedroom of my own, an office of my own… I wander the world and pause for a few nights or weeks in other people's homes, with the glimpses in their homey lives. I envy not only my lover, but everyone who has ever shared their own space with me. I don't envy their relationships, but a space in which those relationships can be anchored.
I can articulate these feelings, and the tension between them. (Oh, yes. This is a show in progress.) What hinders me from moving further is an underlying sense that I have no right to those feelings. I made my choice, to create and travel and bring my works as far out into the world as I can. That automatically rules out a certain set of other options, say these voices in my head. What do you expect? You can't have it all.
Ah, yes. I can't have it all, and I'm selfish for even wanting it. I know this feeling, of being drawn to two seemingly mutually exclusive lifestyles, more than one lover, multiple careers, trying for years to merge it all together, resenting… what? the cruel physical realities that prevent me from cloning myself and exploring two (or more) paths, and enjoying those paths with one mind and soul? I should have let this go. Anything else is childish and unrealistic. I should get over my grief and my greed. I should suck it up and brave it out; I certainly shouldn't ever complain or fret or even privately mourn. What do I expect? I made my choice.
The punitive voice-overs in my brain, they buzz with a subtle but inescapable undercurrent of judgment. You decided to pursue poly, they say, you tore up your own life for self-produced theatre. Twice. You walked away from committed monogamous relationships in shared realspace, you dumped your tiny little retirement fund into 2012's tour, and you'll never get it back. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. And if that bed is someone else's bed, if it's not that comfortable, if you have to move on in a few days, well, that goes with the territory, doesn't it? You had a posh king-sized bed 15 years ago and a freelance journalism career, you had a nice firm futon 10 years ago and boxes of cookbooks. None of that was enough, so what did you expect? You don't even deserve your own pillow.
A few of those voices are echoes from past lovers, whose true feelings about my roaming habits I can only guess at; maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm making it up, but I don't think so, not entirely. I suspect most of the inner critic comes from a society that doesn't really trust wanderers and sluts and artists, or offer many role models for building one's own reality unless you are rich enough to get frequent flyer miles and invest in real estate. But I can also hear my own voice, confused and querulous, in that chorus, and I know it is borne of a lifetime of wanting more than what is presented to me, distrusting the paradigm that is placed on my plate. What do I expect?
Well. Underneath the tears, I expect nothing, except that I will have to keep working, keep hacking away the underbrush to create a new path. I want, someday soon, to look down and see that the path that I'm building has more room than it feels like right now. There is room for me and others whom I love. There is room for real rest along the way (although I will certainly have to build those rest stops, too). There is room. There must be.
I don't expect anything. I can only keep trying.
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I was text-chatting with my Boston daddy yesterday—I get a dedicated chat with him maybe once or twice a month—and he mentioned his new car. He's very proud of it, for good reason (I've seen pictures, it is SWELL). Will you take me for rides in it? I asked. "Of course I will," he said. And then my brain kinda glitched for a moment, when I realized that I wasn't going to be seeing him for another SIX MONTHS.
DADDY MY LIFE IS SO LONELY AND WEIRD, I typed. I felt a small ache in my heart.
"I know, cupcake," he said. "There are tradeoffs for the life you chose. Sometimes it's really awesome, and sometimes it's really frustrating."
Boston Daddy, like my other lovers, follows my exploits on Facebook, so he knows when I've been having a run of frustrating shows or a travel fuck-up or bad encounters with street harassment. He also knows how torn I am between striking out on my own and settling down.
Because he's right. Touring, the way I do it, is a roller coaster, and there's nothing really to moderate the ups and downs. I haven't yet been picked up by a manager or agent, I'm not making a reasonable amount of money, not having generally accessible or blockbuster types of shows in my repertoire, so what I've wound up with is an awkward string of Fringe festivals, punctuated by one-off productions, with uncertain box office returns and no built-in community, either in terms of fellow artists or local friendships. When I tour, I'm on my own, at least in an immediate, physically proximate sense, for long stretches at a time.
It was a little bit easier on the Canadian Fringe circuit: everything flows east to west, with the passing of the summer and fall, and there ends up being a sort of caravan feel to the tour. I'm planning to do Canada again in 2016, and I wonder if I'm remembering the artist community correctly, or if that's just me romanticizing it because I miss it so much.
UK touring is far lonelier, because a) I don't have my car, and b) there is no distinct sense of itinerary for artists. In the UK, there are sometimes half a dozen festivals where performers could go on any given weekend. We are scattered all over, bouncing past each other like metal balls in a pinball game bonus round. I see people I know, but randomly and definitely not from week to week.
Okay, so my social life and support networks are in disarray for six or seven months out of the year. My love life? I try so hard to stay off the relationship escalator, to not carry around any couple-y/nesting/enmeshment expectations, but there's no denying that I love to nest and savor domestic proximity with lovers. My goal has been to cultivate a network of dedicated long-term, long-distance relationships, where I know that someone is waiting excitedly for me when I come around. And when I'm with those lovers, for a week or a month, sometimes a stretch of months during the winter, I do have a place to call home. This home-sense is partly a sense of owning a space, and partly feeling that I am being welcomed back. The return of the prodigal daughter, every season, every year. I have a safe, welcoming place to land.
But I don't have so many of those core relationships, only three, maybe a flickering four. (I don't think I could do many more, because they are real emotional commitments and I can only spend so much of any week on Skype.) There's a part of me that really thinks that it's not fair to lean so heavily on any one person, so I get weirded out when I need emotional support from anyone. This may be something that I need to get over, because the fact remains that for a good half of my year, when I come "home" after a long day of performing or promoting or traveling, with whatever the ups and downs, I am almost always coming home to a relative stranger's house. And that is beginning to suck.
I don't know what to do about it. As Boston Daddy said, it may just be one of the trade-offs that I have to make. But something has to change; I have to learn to manage this better, or find a more emotionally supported approach to touring. My life feels so lonely and weird right now that it really hurts, and for the first time in a few years, I am beginning to wonder how, and how long, I can keep it up.
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He approached me from a high bar stool, far stage left, behind the speakers. I hadn't seen him before the show, because I was too wound up. (Why didn't I do just one more run-through that day? Gah, LINE ANGST.) During my set, which was first, I didn't see him, because the stage lights at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern blinded me to just about everyone except the front row. And after my set, I was just watching and enjoying the cavalcade of drag kings and gender-bending burlesque and queer folk songs and high-femme glam queens that shimmied and belted their way across the stage. (Bar Wotever: seriously, it's WOTEVER, and it's invariably astonishing! So honoured to be a part of it.)
By the time intermission rolled around, I was ready to stretch my legs and generally make myself available in case any of the audience members wanted to chat me up or ask about my show. That's why I do these showcases: to push my visibility beyond my immediately accessible circle of friends and their friends. I WANT to meet strangers. But sometimes they can be a little strange
This guy reminded me for some reason of James Spader (the older Spader, like, Secretary and later, not Pretty in Pink Spader). Maybe it was the old eyes in an otherwise smooth face. He was reasonably pleasant-looking, and maintained not-sketchy eye contact, but he was wearing a suit, which weirded me out a bit. Yes, Bar Wotever is supposed to be Wotever, but you don't often see a suit there, unless one of the drag kings or dapper butches or done-up transmen are wearing it.
He offered me a cigarette, instead of a drink, which I thought was very specific. I went outside with him; it felt like he wanted to chat. Once out there, he talked a bit about how great the night's line-up was; "I'm straight," he said—DING, red flag, anyone who has to say that they're straight while at a queer bar, um, no—"I mean, I've got two kids"—DING DING, a couple of red flags, doesn't mean you're straight—"and I love coming here. I think they do some great work here.
"Like tonight," he continued. "I thought you were brilliant."
Thanks, I said.
"No, really. That was just amazing. You just captured my attention. Brilliant."
Thank you,I'm glad you liked it.
"I guess I'm sounding like a groupie, but that was so, so brilliant."
I was closely watching his face at that point and wondering how drunk he was, or how much he was staring at my tits. I didn't catch him at it, but that doesn't mean anything. You never can, with the pros. They're that good at peripherally eyeballing titty that you can't actually catch them at it. Maybe his voice was a little bit leery…?
"Such energy, brilliant."
No, seriously, STOP. You don't know me well enough to be talking to me like that.
Friends and lovers, they can praise me as much as they want. I can think of maybe one person who, if they stopped mid-thrust, blinked through the sweat, and said, "You were brilliant tonight," I would totally buy it, laughing and moaning the whole time. My loved ones don't have to tell me why they love my stuff, and they don't have to repress the lechery, either. It's nice if they can give me concrete reasons, especially if they have a theatre or writing background, but it's not necessary. They will have seen enough of my work that I trust their judgment AND I know they aren't laying it on thick for any ulterior reason.
But strangers. Hmm. They come in three categories:
Reviewers can DEFINITELY praise me as much as they want, but for it to be a useful review they need to be specific as to why. They should try to repress lechery. Ideally they have seen enough theatre work in general that I think they know what they're talking about.
New fans may gush a little, but at some point they stop and buy me a pint of cider. They may take a few cards, or they immediately follow up on Facebook. They ask questions. They write a private email or Facebook message thanking me. There's no lechery; they're just happy to have seen me.
Stage-door johnnies hope that their targets are insecure, and they prey on those insecurities. These guys think that I should be so grateful that they love the work, that I will fall like a ripe plum into their hands.
I can't always tell the difference between fan and stage-door johnny until after the encounter, but I think this guy was the latter. He could/would not stop, and as far as I could tell he wasn't there in a reviewing or arts-producing or regular-theatre-goer capacity, so why should I trust his judgment? He said he was going to tell his cousin in Oxford about my appearances there; sure, I said, go ahead. He said he goes to Edinburgh (Fringe) every year, and that he would find me there. Promises on pavements, I thought, and nodded my head and smiled. Right, Johnny. Right.
Of course I want to believe that I'm brilliant, that my work is brilliant, that I am the most charismatic thing to walk the boards. I'm working on it. I want to shine. But I won't get there fueled by people shining me on.
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Oh, my god. Last weekend. So much grunting and sweating and shifting and thrusting. And that was just moving my baggage around!
I have a lot of baggage. Wait, that's not … I mean, that's probably true, but I don't break my fingernails on that kind of baggage, and no one x-rays it before I check it in. I've got STUFF, when I tour in the UK, set pieces and props and merch and costumes and a typewriter, and yes, my one carry-on bag of personal effects, which this time had to carry a few props and some badges and a stainless-steel butt plug from NJOY. (It's a giveaway for one of my Smut Slams, all right? If it had been mine, I would have taken it out of the fancy box. Buy NJOY! They do amazing work and they support mine!)
This is the same stuff I travel with in North America, but you wouldn't notice it because it's all in my car, The Deerinator, and I generally get pretty rock-star parking. Here in the UK, if I want door-to-door action I am paying through the nose for it with taxi service, and for the long hauls? It's mostly me doing the moving—occasionally another passenger or a passing porter will help—and it's strictly trains.
Mostly I end up taking commuter trains, too, which means short-haul lines, or a web of them, with an hour or maybe two between stations, transfer after transfer, unload and load and unload and load, from my little roadie cart. (Oh my precious baby, I will have a suitably epic name for you soon!) This cart has done amazingly under pressure, but even though it is pretty much top-of-the-line for its design features—lightweight, sturdy, adjustable, and collapsible—I don't think it was designed for this kind of abuse: strapped to my table box for transatlantic flight, rumbled across 47 different kinds of paving stones (more than that in Edinburgh), folded and unfolded (I am going to do the math on how many times that will happen during this tour), dropped on concrete and wedged into luggage racks.
This cart is rated for 480 pounds. It could almost carry me AND my shit. But loaded up with my "kit", as the Brits so charmingly refer to travel shit, the cart looks.. a bit rag-tag. It's my custom-made set furniture, perhaps, all raw wood and scuffed paint and sometimes duct tape keeping it together for the airplane ride. I also rely a fair bit on those cheap plastic plaid shopping bags, one of which obviously contains a counter-top convection oven. So, all of those conductors cracking jokes at me about "moving house?" can be maybe be excused.
The jokes don't make the luggage-lugging any more fun, for me or anyone, really. Although the cart with my kit can move astonishingly fast across marble floors and relatively smooth pavements, it doesn't corner very well and does take up a little more width than someone pushing a normal airport cart. My loaded roadie cart is a little like me: totally, totally functional, but bigger than most people are used to seeing. People will look, whatever I am doing.
This tour I decided to at least take advantage of the visual magnetism of my travel cortege—translation: "people fucking gawk"—and have started taping laminated signs onto the cart: THIS IS INTERNATIONAL TOURING THEATRE, ASK ME HOW and then my website.
If people are already looking, I might as well get some proper visibility out of it.