Ruminations on transcending sadness

Lately I have been focusing on sculpting and writing. Performance and puppetry are on hold for a while as I recover from ill-health and reconsider my life and creativity.

I have been writing a series of micro essays on various aspects of living with depression – the most recent can be found here on the ABC Open website.

Here is a link to a short essay “By a River”

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/80829

And here, a recording of me reading my piece “The Clouds”.

~

Advertisements

The 44th Summer

To all of you who have experienced a season of significant existential doubt – you will understand that this has been a strange and quiet year – a gap-year of sorts – the year my certainty broke. Many aspects of my life are on hold – I am re-appraising my art and theatre practice, my ways of thinking about the world and what constitutes a ‘good life’ – and I am getting my health back.

Shared here is a link to an article, “The 44th Summer”  that I recently contributed to a mental health awareness project. It is a re-working of a post on this blog “Black Dogs and Assumed Vocations” – but charts the last 11 months in more detail…and from the hindsight I have gained in that time.

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/13jq3ko

If you are unable to open this link – contact me and I’ll find an alternative way of sharing the content with you.

Rachael;s portrait 9 72ppi

 

 

On Black Dogs and Assumed Vocations.

Black Dogs

Depression is not sadness – it is cessation.

At 44 years of age, I have found myself struck down by a strange and paralysing sense of refusal. It has resulted in me having to cancel a forthcoming season of a solo show – and also having to quit my job. I have recently returned from touring Ireland and somehow as my last ounce of resolve gave way to travel fatigue, the existential dam burst.

As the shadow of depression has deepened, I have prepared for a kind of death, have begun relinquishing my attachments and identifications –  loosening my grip on what has sustained or given shape to my life. I have been attending to my daily life as if it were my own wake; present, but not present, harbouring the little secret that I am not actually there; that I am insubstantial – illusory.

I have ‘died’ this way numerous times before – as a singer of opera, a voice for hire, community artist, gifted child – a young person with ‘potential’. Gone is the frantic youth eager to please, gone too, the newly initiated lover chasing new highs – in their place  stands a maturing woman. Her skin grows flawed, her body hums on it’s inevitable trajectory towards change. She’s aware of the depth of her own ignorance, knows that time is finite and that the world harbours cruelty, irrationality and unrest…

And so my ambivalence and sadness grow a little deeper and more quietly insistent with each year that passes. But I know also that on good days this sadness can resemble a state of grace, or even liberation.

The acute and vibrant aliveness of things is bittersweet – it dazzles and stuns me, burns bright and searing into the core of my sadness.The truth is, I don’t want to become too attached to anything – because I know that you and I and every living creature must lose everything. Life is a compulsory paring back – we fall, a particle at a time, into nothingness.

Behind me (and all of us) lays a slew of old identities, previous loves, possessions, houses, cities, relationships and memories – ghost towns of the self.

 ~

SONY DSCVocation?

As a consequence of some decisions I made in my late thirties to study postgraduate puppetry, I am becoming known as a maker of puppet theatre. But is that what I am? Puppetry has been a means to an end, not a life-long vocation. Labels worry me deeply – they evoke a kind of existential claustrophobia. To be called a ‘puppeteer’, an artist – or even a ‘creative’ at once affirms and unravels.

But herein lies the problem – I have always been loath to identify with any single direction. My only vocation it would seem is shrinking from any one fixed perception of what that might be.

As I grow up into my middle-aged self, I am faced with a dilemma – that of my own temperament and other people’s expectations. People are seemingly interested in the work I make, while I am deeply diffident and reluctant to be public. While I am touched that the work engenders interest and at times delight, I have no passionate attachment or identification to any singular art form.

It is the process of investigation that engages me, the personal satisfaction of chipping articulation out of the nebulous, making meaning out of the tiny inchoate mysteries that demand attention and expression. The communion of sharing the work with others is an added gift, but neither a demand, agenda nor an expectation.

Puppetry has been a sojourn, but how can any one thing be the final destination? As a medium it intrigues in so far as I can make objects and harness their latent anthropomorphic qualities in order to perform – beyond that I feel no attraction or compulsion towards the form. And it is ironic that I gravitate towards making theatre as theatre is a collective art form and am not a comfortable collaborator. I find it excruciating to allow someone else into the space of my creative process; to invite another rhythm, thought pattern or shape to intrude into the silent space of creative percolation is highly disruptive. In that private room of the mind, a quiet unnamable shape forms just below the level of consciousness – to hear another’s voice in that room could shatter a window or topple the furniture…

Collaboration physically and psychologically distresses me because I am simultaneously a chronic accommodator as well as an autocrat – and in the process of trying to be open to other’s input, I split into conflicted directions and lose my original impetus. So what then am I left with?  Refusal…?

I also acknowledge that collaboration doesn’t always hinder but offers the possibility for expansion, for unseen possibilities…perhaps it is a question of at what stage of the process you let another in, rather than keeping the room definitively locked.

My partner Andy suggested that I am perhaps an artistic nomad – perpetually setting up camp, and then moving on. This way of being is a difficult fit with a society that values consistency and specialisation.

In this limbo between shedding ‘what has been’ and growing into ‘what might become’, I am questioning what to keep and what to let go of. I have no answers. For the time being all I have is this space, these words.

~

DSC07632

Duality is a traveller.

Recently myself and friend/collaborator Andy Jackson took our work of poetry and puppetry, ‘Ambiguous Mirrors’ on tour to Ireland. It was an extraordinary experience – but a twofold one. Here you will find two short essays – one about performing and its pleasures and revelations, the second about the overwhelming nature of travel, fatigue and depression.

~

Naming.

Pauses can be as dynamic as action – this is what I discovered while performing in Ireland. To simply be and breathe with and through the puppet in response to emotions expressed on stage is a daring and potentially transcendent dramatic gesture. To resist the impulse to ‘fill’ space with movement is a difficult thing to do – and to maintain ‘aliveness’ in a moment of emptiness demands absolute commitment to and belief in the life of the performing object.

In these moments I came to know the puppet I had created in a different way – he seemed to be an entity unto himself. He became something other than a puppet

The most startling and intriguing feedback I received from an audience member was;

“Now that I have seen him I am sorry that I called him a puppet.”

So what then do I call this thing I have made?  – a simulacrum, a doppelgänger, a sculpted actor, an inanimate impersonator – a decoy?

This instrument of expression that straddles the thin divide between life and non-life is hard to categorise, to name. Perhaps the puppet is the ‘ambiguous mirror’ – or as I suggested in my recent Masters thesis, an ‘existential mirror’.

DSC08004

In Ireland audiences were generous, astute and quick to enter into discussion. Voluble and intelligent, here we found a culture steeped in poetry and music – here we felt welcomed with our offering of poetry, puppetry and song.  Andy and I felt greatly affirmed as artists and were reminded of the reason behind the desire to make work and keep offering it to audiences. It is the deep satisfaction of communion –the acknowledgement of our shared humanity.

The transfiguring of loss and vulnerability into metaphor and poetry; the joyous triad of a tiny sculpted man, his living, speaking flesh-double and my hands, our intentions – flowing.

1234465_10151943469513134_127806383_n

~

Wheeling

While wandering in Ireland recently, I came undone. The low diffuse sky and bare boned land, marked by thousands of years of human occupation caused me to sink into the gap between continuity and its absence. It was a long and painful free fall.

The bodily recognition I experienced towards this landscape existed outside of logic and time. It sang from deep within the unexplored spaces of my ancestry -it’s inaudible hum evoking a nostalgic grief I scarcely understood.

Although the land was alive with the markings of past eras, silence hung impermeably between the past and the present moment. Ruins stood open to the elements – churches, tombs and broken castles; grey stone walls traversed every slope, slicing the land into ancient claims.

Here was a wilderness infested by signifiers of religious and cultural meaning – in every crevice stood a dour Mary, in every window a chipped, plaster saint. On lonely escarpments Jesus thrust his ribs to the low grey sky, stick-thin arms flung across a crucifix. On the stony expanses, cairns tilted and endured; the rocks stacked like thoughts, one upon the other. At the sea’s perimeter the remnants of prehistoric forts made concentric circles in the grass.

In draughty backstreets archaeological digs yawned open, dusty post-mortems, fenced and floodlit. In the museum bog bodies lay desiccated and inert in their glass booths, as brown and amorphous as coconut fibre. They lay twisted in eternal rictus, lifeless beyond the hot, deliquescent vitality of decomposition.

Travel is a metaphor for life; we pass through but once and must relinquish what has been learned, loved, or passionately apprehended. Life and travel both are then lost forever. As I wandered Ireland I became a ghost, a citizen of no place. Ireland ran through me like water – I was porous and could not contain it.

Its ancientness and accumulated layers rendered me infinitesimal. My presence disappeared into the silence of the bogs; it drained away with the colour of the sky, passed across impassive exteriors of buildings as shadow and was carried away by the mute swan. The sky above an elm turned black with the bodies of rooks as they wheeled and screeched for roost at sundown and I, just like incalculable multitudes before me, was of no consequence.

DSC07756