I am still here. Are you?
As I write this I am sitting on my own private balcony, attached to my own private room, my view a beautiful old church, its stone spire reaching up into a perfectly blue sky, a chorus line of seagulls and starlings performing for me along its terracotta roof.
I am by the sea. Just me. No kids, no chores. My days and nights are a never-ending stream of dreams made real.
Bringing this Edinburgh show together is one of those waking dreams. The process is the most challenging, demanding and insanely pressured experience of my life – and I’ve been married – but it’s also the most deeply fulfilling, nourishing and insanely fun thing I’ve ever done – and I’ve been to Aldi on the day they re-stock the middle aisle.
I know this play will be extraordinary. In the rehearsal room I have laughed to the point of facial seizure; that stage where you feel your whole body may be on the brink of hysterical collapse. These actors are very funny women. This script is written by a very funny woman.
I have also wept tears of grief and despair, moved to the point of heartbreak. I know the story of this play. Recognition and loss are my everyday as I watch these actors make pain real, speaking the words of a writer who knows how to shape pain into a devastating story and then make you laugh again, surprisingly, like when you’re crying at your best friend’s funeral and her old school mate gets up and tells daft stories, dark comic tales that make you guffaw. To laugh while you’re crying in pain – is that allowed? Of course it is. To laugh AT your pain? Even better.
To clarify: I am not saying this play is like being at a funeral. That would be bad for ticket sales. It is not like being at a funeral. Unless you’ve been to a funeral where the deceased’s life story was performed for you by professional actors with full set, props, lighting, music, sound effects and tickets costing a bargainous £12.50 (£10 concessions) and by the way I WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AT MY FUNERAL PLEASE.
Other dreams are becoming real too.
I seem to be able to handle the pressure. I seem to be able to stay well enough to really work. I seem to be able to leave my kids without being swamped by guilt. I seem to be able to be in the world every day. All of this has been unthinkable for me for the longest time, for almost my whole lifetime.
What I think I’m saying, what I think I mean, is that I’m happy. ME. I AM HAPPY.
Of course I am still me. You can’t ever take a holiday from yourself, can you? Unless you’ve had the good fortune of being under general anaesthetic. Ah, what a happy, happy, dreamless, empty holiday that is, the mental vacation almost worth all the icky surgical stuff happening to your body.
No, I have had to bring all of me with me on this adventure. As I sit here on chez balcon, under this clear blue sky with the church and the birds, contemplating my good fortune, my creative existence, my new thespy world, I am also still chain-smoking cheap roll-ups, wearing cheap flip-flops and second-hand clothes and periodically checking my pathetic bank balance online in the hope that all this life-changing dreamy shizzle will somehow work its magic on my finances.
I am still haunted by self-doubt and my ever-growing bank of mistakes. I am still scrabbling for scraps of self-esteem, digging for tiny bones of good-enough. I am still abusively self-critical about my too-big body and too-loud laugh; my general too muchness.
And of course, being so close to the beautiful old church also means being repeatedly confronted with death. Typical. The ancient tombstones are all wonky and upended, as if displaced by the escaping dead. Last night they climbed in through my open window, crowded around my bed and laughed at me, mocking me: ‘Anna Macgowan, a DIRECTOR? Pah! Go HOME Anna Macgowan. Get in your car and just GO HOME.’
Tonight I will be going into that church to watch four comics previewing their Edinburgh shows. I will pass by those tombstones and sit in that monument to life and death, that scene of so many christenings, weddings and funerals, so many bad speeches and surprising, grief-fuelled laughter. I will be, as I always am, in the company of the dead, surrounded by ghosts but laughing my arse off to the point of hysterical collapse. Assuming the comics are funny, obvs.
No, I ain’t going home just yet. Not ’til the applause has died…