Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
In my last post, I was thinking about how people perceive their own futures, and how current society seems defined by a confusion over whether following one's dream is possible, or even sensible. I've just started reading One Day by Dave Nicholls, and it's kept me thinking on that theme. The concept of the book is that we encounter two characters, Dexter and Emma, on one day each year, starting from their first proper meeting the night of their graduation from university. As they get older, we see how their lives pan out, and it's fascinating to compare their actual futures to the ones they hoped for initially.
Here's how Dexter starts out: At twenty-three, Dexter Mayhew's vision of his future was no clearer than Emma Morley's. He hoped to be successful, to make his parents proud and to sleep with more than one woman...but how to make these all compatible? He wanted to feature in magazine articles, and hoped one day for a retrospective of his work, without having any clear notion of what that work might be. He wanted to live life to the extreme, but without any mess or complications. He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. Things should look right. Fun; there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary.
And Emma: The trick of it, she told herself, is to be courageous and bold and make a difference. Not change the world exactly, just the bit around you. Go out there with your double-first, your passion and your new Smith Corona electric typewriter and work hard at...something. Change lives through art maybe. Write beautifully. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved if at all possible. Eat sensibly. Stuff like that.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Today, I had a few free hours between an Opera North workshop and some college commitments so, as I am very occasionally wont to do, I made an impromptu solo visit to the cinema. The film I saw was the social network, a reasonably accurate portrayal of the origins of the website we all love to hate, Facebook. It's really very very good indeed, and I'd strongly recommend a viewing; firstly, because it's fascinating to get a hint of what went into the creation of such an internet phenomenon, but also, and more significantly, because the writing is extremely intelligent, the film-making is beautiful and the young acting talent on display is absolutely first-rate: Jesse Eisenberg should unquestionably receive some award nods for his pitiably defiant portrayal of the main character, but mention must also be made of an astonishingly (in my mind, at any rate!) accomplished performance from Justin Timberlake and (the best of all, I reckon) an unforgettably moving turn from Andrew Garfield, last seen on the British theatre stage as Romeo at the Royal Exchange.
What surprised me most, however, was how deeply thought-provoking the experience turned out to be; it was one of those serendipitous things where a piece of Art unexpectedly resonates with stuff going on real life.
Last night, I was having a long chat with one of my housemates, and one of things we talked about was an odd feeling of restlessness in our hearts. We both have so much to be thankful for in our lives and, to a massive extent, are really really happy with our jobs, and our personal situations etc etc...but it never quite takes away this niggling feeling that we're missing something, that there's something more exciting, more fulfilling, more significant that we could be doing. And that made me think of another conversation I'd had at the weekend. Some of the other younger men at church have made, or are considering making, quite dramatic changes in their career paths, and it got a few of us chatting. I made the point that the age in which we live can be very puzzling indeed: young people are now constantly given the message that anything is possible; that, with the right balance of ability and hard work, absolutely anything can achieved. So it's now perfectly acceptable, and often even laudable, for someone who's spent a huge amount of money and time following a particular life-path - like law, or medicine, or teaching, or whatever - to give it all up to pursue their lifelong dream of being, say, a poet, or an entrepreneur, or a textile artist.
And I think that that affects an awful lot of people - they start to wonder whether the life they're living is really "the one", whether they have more to give than their current career or situation exploits, whether it's time that they, too, followed their dreams. But I suppose that it's one of those self-perpetuating myths... In a rather boring, unremarkable way, I guess I am actually living my dreams a bit; a large part of my income comes just from singing and acting, and virtually all my work is Arts-centred, which is one of my biggest passions. But I still spend a lot of time soul-searching and wondering whether it's really the right thing to be doing... At the moment, I'm thinking a lot about whether I would rather focus on performing or education/outreach, and also whether classical singing is really what I want to do, as opposed to some musical theatre, or even straight acting. The restlessness never ends.
Watching the film today brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind again. The story is populated by immensely gifted young men who, despite their talents, are deeply discontented, and longing to do something of real significance. For the main guy, Mark, the whole Facebook saga stems from his desire to get into the highest rank of Harvard clubs - when asked why, he says "Because they're exclusive and fun, and they lead to a better life." There it is, you see - that underlying suspicion that there are other people around him who are having more fun, achieving more of their potential, heading towards a better future.
So yeah...lots of thinking today! And I haven't really arrived at any conclusions yet. As a Christian, I believe that a lot of the restlessness in the human soul is down to the fact that, in our natural state, we're extremely messed up - our sins have destroyed our relationship with our creator God, and it can only be repaired through faith in Jesus Christ - but even when, by God's mind-blowing mercy, our sins have been forgiven, life seems to still, often, be characterised by restlessness and a fear that we're not fulfilling our own potential. Despite knowing that a truly worthwhile life is one that is spent serving God and telling others about Him, the decisions over what career to pursue, what dreams to follow and what life-path to take are still pretty befuddling, often unbearably so.
But this blogpost is already far too long! So I won't continue. Perhaps there'll be some more thoughts along soon. First, I must update my Facebook status...
Sunday, 10 October 2010
Earlier this afternoon, sitting on a sun-warmed bench in leafy Manchester, I finished a rather wonderful book called Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.
No. Even now I can't altogether believe that any of this has really happened...
Isherwood lived in Berlin in the early 1930s, and watched first-hand as Hitler rose to power. He taught English, and did some writing, and changed accommodation a lot, depending on his variable income; but what he did most of all was just observe - watch as an extraordinary city went through some extraordinary circumstances.
I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.
The writing is absolutely beautiful, but it's almost secondary to the incredible sense of ever-weakening defiance against inevitable darkness with which Isherwood manages to permeate the book. His friends and acquaintances include cabaret singers, businessmen, beggars, prostitutes, Nazis, landladies, homosexuals, Communists, barmen, con-artists, Jews, barons and many, many more - each lives in a very different situation to the others but all of them are fighting, desperately struggling to preserve an illusion that their lives will get better... They are all absolutely terrified and deeply unhappy, but rarely allow it to show. It has echoes of both Mrs Dalloway and The Great Gatsby, in different ways, which is probably why I loved it so much!
When I have been listening for some time, I find myself relapsing into a curious trance-like state of depression. I begin to feel profoundly unhappy. Where are all those lodgers now? Where, in another ten years, shall I be, myself? Certainly not here. How many seas and frontiers shall I have to cross to reach that distant day; how far shall I have to travel, on foot, on horseback, by car, push-bike, aeroplane, steamer, train, lift, moving-staircase and tram? How much money shall I need for that enormous journey? How much food must I gradually, wearily consume on my way? How many pairs of shoes shall I wear out? How many thousands of cigarettes shall I smoke? How many cups of tea shall I drink and how many glasses of beer? What an awful tasteless prospect! And yet - to have to die... A sudden vague pang of apprehension grips my bowels and I have to excuse myself to go to the lavatory.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
I saw a life-affirmingly wonderful production of As you like it earlier this week (hopefully I'll blog about it soon) and it put me in mind of a poem I wrote about a year ago. It sprang from a desire to convey an idea in my head - that, for a lot of us, we love Shakespeare because he never shies away from attempting to convey the giddiness and terror and ecstasy of all aspects of life. We are all very inarticulate, I think (that's true isn't it? We can never quite express exactly what's in our heads or hearts?), and I love Shakespeare because he gets closer than I ever could to properly putting into words things that I feel. Stuff like Lear, on Cordelia's death: No, no, no life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life, And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more, Never, never, never, never, never! Which of us hasn't wanted to scream that after a loved one's death?
Anyway, I wanted to write a poem that starts out like a Shakespearean sonnet, but whose structure gradually disintegrates as the writer loses faith in the form, feeling that it's too emotionally honest for modern sensibilities - and then, at the very end, there would be a glimpse of true feeling again. It may be rubbish (and please don't feel obliged to read it if the very idea makes you cringe - I would usually be appalled at the idea of someone displaying their poetry in public! A bit like holiday photos, I guess) but it conveys a thought in my head better than prose can, I think:
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Or number all thine attributes and charms,
Until thy soul seem'd all but writ away
And I should run to clasp you in my arms?
I laugh: already, how my pen recoils
From these old forms - he knows his master, so
He corrects "thee" and, here, the metre spoils
A little. Still, I'll struggle on, I -
No. It does feel a bit OTT, tbh.
We're kinda past that, aren't we? Society. Us.
You'd cringe, probably - a sonnet?! - I'd blush. Stammer.
Not worth the effort, mate.
And yet... Inside, I long to flee this curse.
My lips may lie; my heart must speak in verse.
Wednesday, 31 March 2010
I'm not a big of fan of breakfast, generally, but I read an article on it recently that may alter my perceptions. Here's a quote:
It's at the right end of the day: the morning, a time of beginnings and possibilities, a time when problems have been slept on, when solutions haven't yet proven unworkable, when nothing specific has gone wrong. And if you've made it to breakfast, even if it's just toast at the kitchen table, then you've already achieved something. You're alive. You're feeding yourself. You're viable. Breakfast may be a small thing, but greatness starts with small things. Greatness starts with breakfast.
Something to think about!
Sunday, 21 March 2010
I'm currently in rehearsals to play Mr Noah for an RNCM Outreach production of Benjamin Britten's wonderful opera Noye's Fludde, based on Genesis 6-9. It's brilliant music, and we're planning quite a fun staging, with lots of umbrellas (hurrah!), but my favourite thing about it is the very first scene, which has Noah hearing God's voice ordering him to build the ark. In this production, the stage is covered in cardboard boxes laid out in the shape of a huge cross; that shape is then taken apart, and the boxes in it are used to build the Ark. I love this, because it's become, in my mind, a unintentional visual metaphor. How brilliant that the Cross becomes the Ark, as both were used in the Bible as a means of salvation: Noah's Ark kept a family and all the world's animals safe from the Flood; the Cross, on which Jesus died, provided a way for each one of us to be saved from the punishment we deserve for the sinful way in which we live.
The other wonderful thing is that it's written in old English, so you get amazing lines like
And heare are beares, woulfes, sette,
Apes and monkeys, marmosette,
Weyscelles, squirelles, and ferrette...