Trigger warnings for this post...Domestic violence and sincere - bordering on self-pitying - outpourings.
It’s been over a year since my last blog, and I’ve been prompted to write this one by accidentally reading the last one I wrote, in which I gathered together what I had learned from the experience of writing and performing my first full-length solo show. Here I attempt to gather what I have learned in the past year.
I finished touring ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ on July 22nd 2017, and since then I have performed the whole show for my Andover College HNC students (on their request) on October 31st 2017. I think they were suitably bewildered. I constructed a 15 minute version of the show to perform (again on request) for FAP in the Attic at my favourite Winchester venue The Railway, and again for largely the same audience for Periscope in Southampton. The shortened version has the first doctor monologue where I explain what a frontal lobotomy is, then goes into my ice-pick seduction, followed by my burlesque beat poem take on ‘Pasties and a G-String.’ I finish with my Tom Waits lip-synch and introduction of my ‘band’, who predictably do not play along with my next poem, and I round off the extract with a clownish apology. It’s been well received, and I’ve always been quizzed afterwards about when I’m going to perform the full show again. Always I didn’t know. In truth I’ve dragged myself through every performance I’ve done in the past year, with not enough preparation and more stage fright than ever.
I was asked to speak a few poems at a poetry night I’d rocked up to earlier this month. I knew I wasn’t ready, but the audience were sweet, and I’d downed two strong ciders. I tried to perform ‘Soar Dirge’, ‘The One Who Got Away’ and ‘Tit Tape and a Tiara’, but could only remember the first two thirds of the first two poems, and didn’t have the script with me. I garbled into the microphone, and it was seriously squirmy for everyone, or at least that’s how I saw it. I wryly admitted to my friend and the host for the evening afterwards that my performance revealed my current state of mind. That same night I fell off my bike in the dark and walked the rest of the way home bleeding. I have a kind of performance amnesia, I’m wallowing in a serious lack of mojo. That ‘show’ reminded me of my first drunken and humiliating attempt at spoken-word in March 2016 at the Art House in Southampton. It was awful, but exhilarating, and I’ve spent the past month learning to sit with those emotions, and trying to remember where they propelled me to not long after my first run in with that ‘hilarious’ combination of wine and words.
When I began the tour in January 2017 I had fallen into a more depressive state than I’d ever known. Thankfully it was short-lived, and by the time I’d finished my run at Vault Festival in February the picture was getting brighter. Meanwhile trouble was brewing at home, it worsened and eventually erupted at the start of Summer last year. It erupted in an unprecedented and I believe completely unnecessary torrent of hatred directed at me, to which I didn’t retaliate. I still to this day cannot figure out why or how it got as bad as it did. The tour was going with a bang, it was varied, the show kept developing, and it gave me a focus in the middle of a growing shitstorm. But I couldn’t escape the criticism of my own family members who dubbed my ARTS COUNCIL FUNDED TOUR A...wait for it...A HOBBY!! I’m over it now...just about!
I fell in love, madly and foolishly in love, in May 2017. Maybe it was fuelled by the ‘us against them’ mentality, but this was unlike anything before, and I yearned for the kind of connection that just wasn’t possible in a darkened room of strangers and friends, where I’d don several costumes and chat about trauma. Here was a person who embodied trauma, and I’ve always been drawn to darkness, I’m obsessed with Tom Waits for Chrissakes! That person broke my heart repeatedly over the next year, until, in the early hours of June 20th of this year, they broke my face too, in yet another unprecedented torrent of hatred. I ran. I reported it to the police the following day, and then I ran. I should’ve run many times before, and I did try to. I should’ve ran when they turned up late and high to my first show at the Railway in June, when they chased me down the street this time last year, when they smashed my map of America, when they beat me to the ground in a wet car park in February this year....But I stayed, I stayed until I couldn’t any longer. Darkness can’t exist without light, and there were sunny adventures, cosy evenings, awakenings, and many, many laughs. We marvelled at our unexpected creation, she was called Nora, but I ended that dream. He never forgave me. Maybe one day I will finish writing the story of ‘Bi-Polar Bear.’ There are two sides to every story, and no one observing from the outside can ever truly know. There is a scar above my left eye to remind me of what I now know.
I’ve been fielding phone calls from various domestic violence agencies ever since, I’m in a new home where he can’t find me, and I’ve been swinging between fear, anger and grief. I’ve discovered that all the agencies want to help, but getting anything actually followed through requires a lot of personal legwork, and I’ve had to relive the same horror again and again to strangers. And no one even applauds - ha! I’ve come to understand trauma on a whole new level.
Throughout all of this past year I’ve been journaling, just mundane diary entries where I lament the situations I’ve found myself in, and try to talk myself into positive action. Swimming against the tide, and no lyricism has returned to my writing. I started having counselling in February, but so terrified was I of the awful cycle I was in, that I didn’t even tell my counsellor what I was going through until my love relationship had ended. My counsellor and I have parted now, as my new job prevents me from attending our regular Wednesday session. We both cried in that final session last week, as I showed her a stack of naive paintings I had produced. One of them showed me climbing a set of stairs towards a monster with my arms outstretched. I’ve learned that monsters get much smaller when you look them square in their scary eyes and tell them to fuck off. Though getting them to disappear completely is a longer process. And maybe they need to show up now and then to remind us of our own resilience.
So in the light of what I’ve learned from keeping silent until now, will performing Frontal Lobotomy again at this point feel like a shallow exercise? Will I be frightened of what it could now unearth in me? I’ve not been inspired to write another poem since my map of America was destroyed - I’ll include that poem at the end here - but yesterday I ordered the exact same map. I’m going to tape it to the wall above my desk where I’ll see it when I’m journaling. I’m going to start from where I left off in my final performance of the tour on July 22nd 2017, where an audience member asked me what I was intending to do with the show next, and I replied as I was packing my props away; ‘I’m hoping to stick it to America, the way Walter Freeman did with his ice-pick.’ I shouldn’t speak to people straight after a show. But I needed to speak about this one.
That American dream has gone
Pins fallen, scattered
What it takes to be pushed to the limit
The indomitable spirit
Chipboard and cork, fragments
It’s only paper, but it took weeks, even months
And yet we’re too weak
To speak, without repeating.