This is from my blog exactly three years ago but is still relevant to me.
It’s a beautiful sunny day and my garden is calling, so I leave you with this.
I am full of memories. I am drowning in images. Pictures and words have confused my eyes and ears. Songs and music have filled my life with passion and heartache. Television has burned my brain with characters and lives desperate to be heard. Newspapers have filled my head with a constant stream of murders, crime and outrages. The computer flickers and spews out truth and lies in a constant battle for attention. Fact and fiction are a jumble of white noise jostling to be organised.
Ideas lurk in every memory of my life. Hidden around corners ready to jump out and surprise me. Skulking in the dark waiting for me to find them. They shine from the eyes of my son when he discovers something new. I find them in an old shopping list, in a discarded shoe at the side of the road, in an overheard argument between lovers, in a half remembered journey of a childhood holiday.
When I was around five years old my mum found a huge wooden box and filled it with old clothes, shoes and bags donated by kind grandparents and aunts. I would spend days dressing up in high heels and frilly nighties. The people I became had lives and memories different from mine. The lady with the dark red coat and brown leather handbag was rich and bossy and lived in a villa above the city with a butler and a maid. The man with huge beige trousers and rough blue shirt was a dustman who travelled the world in a magic rubbish truck. The girl in the pink pleated skirt and long purple scarf had a horse and a dog and ate cake for every meal.
I put on plays for my weary family, lining up all the chairs we owned for my imagined audiences and selling tickets made of carefully saved sweet wrappers. I was always the main character and the catalyst for the adventures that followed. My sisters were bullied into dressing up and were shoved around the stage to embellish my production. They would be prodded to speak the words that I made up and banished from my play if they tried to make up their own. I was a tough director, a bully. The stories I built from those clothes were filled with my nightmares, dreams and agonies. The little girl, thrown out by her family, making friends with strangers and witches. The old man who turned into a giant and roamed the land looking for naughty children to eat. The mean rich lady who lived on the hill and wept because she had no friends and everyone hated her. They often had sketchy beginnings and nonexistent endings but were full of wonderful ideas begging to be given space to live. These were my stories, my nightmares, my ideas brought to life in our front room.
I got a guitar for my ninth birthday and suddenly I was flung into a frenzy of song writing and musicals. I would be a heartbroken folk singer lamenting some imagined loss or the superstar rock singer traveling the world to the sound of screaming fans. I made up songs about my short life, about my favorite food, my pets and my family. Again, my family would be dragged in for a very unpolished rendition of “My dog Kimmy” or ” The Christmas Tree”. They would suffer silently, listening to the missed notes, the monotone singing and the endless cries of ” I did that wrong. Let me start again” I liked the clapping and I liked being told I was clever, but most of all I loved “making things up” My own words.
I went to the theatre many times as a child but my first experience of it changed my life. My mum took me to see Tommy Steele in Hans Christian Anderson at the Birmingham Hippodrome. The curtains opened and I was transfixed for the entire two hours by the colour and music that came from that stage. Stories told through song and dance. Huge bright costumes. Light and sounds bursting from the stage into my head. I wasn’t watching a musical, I was in it. I was the ugly duckling and the inchworm. I was one of the children in the schoolroom scenes. I was Hans Christian Anderson. The world was filled with wonderful sights and sounds and I was part of it. I could do anything.
As time went by and I got older and life became more complicated, I became inhibited. I would struggle at school to think of what to write for an essay or a poem, not because I had no ideas, but because I had to think about what the teacher wanted me to write. It had to be right. It had to get a good mark. I had to pass an exam or get a grade. Gradually, “making things up” became a chore that I had to finish before I could go out with my friends. Creating stories became about grammar and spelling and handwriting. Performing became about rehearsals and lines and being in the back row in the crowd scenes. Ideas were squashed for being silly. Thoughts were put on hold because people were too busy doing serious things like ironing or washing the car. I was penalised for bad spelling and messy writing. I was told off for daydreaming and for asking questions. I talked too much and I didn’t apply myself to the work at hand. School was a dull grey place, a place of infinite boredom and frustration. For many of my friends, that was that. The end of their ideas and passions.
I had an outlet for my creative soul; theatre. Theatre was my home, my refuge, my inspiration. There I was free to be a chicken or a King. To sing crazy songs about lost dreams and loves. To wear long dresses and makeup, sequins and lace. To act out murders and love affairs, to be scorned and betrayed, laughed at and applauded.
Despite thirty five years with theatre being so central to my life, I still struggle to be free. I struggle to recapture the ease with which I used to “make things up”. Life is cluttered and busy and many forces conspire to keep ideas from coming through. However, they are always there, if I take time to notice. Ideas bursting out of a conversation with a friend over coffee. Ideas lurking in the flowers that are growing in my quiet beautiful garden. the lover’s rose, the wild poppies, the cool green grass on bare feet that reminds me of childhood summers. Around my house are the memories of things gone by. The wooden figures and masks from an emotional trip to South Africa, my beloved grandmother’s antique vase, four pine cones picked up from the thick floor of a forest near an abandoned monastery, the suitcase crammed with photographs of generations of two families tied together by us. Lives recorded, remembered in anecdotes, marked by misfortunes and illnesses, marriages and deaths. Each picture a story. A picture taken during an air raid, one on a beach in Skegness, another at someone’s wedding, birthday party or anniversary. Everyday, surrounded by people and memories. Full of stories waiting to be told.
As I sit here, my son is playing in the garden with the neighbors kids. A constant stream of characters appear and disappear in their play. An ever changing stream of situations and adventures flow through their words. Their action figures march through jungles, deserts and over seas to battle monsters and baddies. Their moods swing from peaceful friends swapping cards and sweets to arch enemies fighting for their survival. Their chatter and song fills their entire world. What matters is now. For them there is no need for planning. Tea will appear when they are hungry. The tree in the garden is as good a place to pee as the bathroom. The fallen leaves are places to hide miniature soldiers or to collect for imaginary fires. The hole I filled in yesterday was the beginning of a tunnel to the other side of the world.
I am lucky. I have chosen a way of life that allows me to use my ideas. My experiences have become plays. My dreams have been woven into scripts . My love and my anger have become songs. My illnesses and accidents have become poems or lyrics. A line from a newspaper has become the foundation for a song. Ideas that come furiously and violently in dreams. Ideas that evolve slowly from an unfolding drama in the news. Ideas that demand immediate attention and those that sit quietly waiting for the right time and place to surface. Ideas that spring from a single word or those that need an entire book to reach. Ideas that come alone and those that jumble together to form a mosaic of feelings. Those that come easy and those that have to be searched for and dug out of dark corners. Some that are filled with pain and torment and others that burst with joy. Ideas that come from deep within, hidden or sometimes locked away. Those that come from outside, from other peoples mouths, or cameras or pens.
There is no shortage of ideas, only a lack of a quiet space to let clear ones come through. Trying to find time, in a world crammed with information and images spewing from every direction, is impossible at times. Trying to avoid censoring myself, to block out the voices of teachers who still clamour in my head stopping me before I start. Trying to allow myself opportunities to explore and create even though I am a grown woman with a family to feed and a house to look after. Trying to let that little girl, who is still there, continue to dress up and tell her stories.