Two weeks ago today I wrote most of a blog post about anticipation. A childcare emergency interrupted me before I could finish it, and I’ve been waiting to find time ever since. If you’re the sort of person who’s amused by very minor ironies, then there’s something in that for you.
In the blogpost I wrote about the various things I was waiting for at the time, mostly in my professional life, but also in my personal life. That evening I was off to an awards ceremony (Everything There Ever Was, which I made in the summer with Boff Whalley and Unfolding Theatre, was nominated for a Journal Culture Award). I had skin in the game of two separate pending Arts Council applications. I had two separate applications for jobs and commissions. And in the days after writing the draft post, one after another, each of those decisions came back in the negative. So most of what I wrote that day no longer applies. Instead I should write the usual blogpost about dusting yourself off. Getting back on the horse. About how it never gets any easier.
All of which is true, except of course I’m now waiting on a whole series of different decisions. There are about six different commissioners sitting on decisions about two or three of my upcoming shows. There are three or four more pending ACE applications in which I'm a named member of the team, ranging between two days' mentoring and full creative collaboration. There’s another job application in. And all before I start tour booking tomorrow, and multiply the agony exponentially.
A couple of weeks ago I said it sometimes feels as though my job is answering emails. It isn’t. It’s waiting for the replies.
I’m often struck by gratitude that I’m not beset by the lack of control experienced by actors. But when playing this waiting game, it’s hard not to feel an almost total lack of control over one’s life. I'm not even exaggerating when I say that seventy percent of my time this year has been setting up work, and in the remaining 30% I have to do my actual work full-time in order to remain alive. I'm thirty-nine and I've got two children. Fucking hell.
In that context, taking a new show to the Edinburgh Fringe is an obviously unhinged decision. It’s even possible only because of the mass depopulation of my summer: for various unrelated reasons, four separate projects moved from the next few months into next year, and I was suddenly faced with a long empty stretch. I could collapse on the settee in despair and frustration. I wouldn’t judge anyone for whom that felt like the right choice. For me the right thing to do was spend the time on a show idea I’ve been sitting on for three years, and which happens to be relatively cheap.
You can read more about the show here. There’ll certainly be more about it on here in the next few weeks and months. Having met a writing deadline yesterday, with a shambles of a first draft, it’s my only creative focus between now and opening.
Let me know if you’re going to be in Edinburgh this August and fancy booking it. I’m not kidding when I say it’s going to sell fast: it already is.
The other major element of anticipation and uncertainty in that blogpost from two weeks ago was the question of whether or not I would run the Edinburgh marathon three days later. Close followers of this blog – both of you – will know that until two months prior I was hoping to run it under three hours. A tendon injury in my foot meant that I then lost six weeks of training, only starting again less than two weeks before the race. With three days to go, I had no idea whether my aches and pains were down to the sudden launch back into training, or because I genuinely was a wreck. I felt more sure Theresa May couldn't last the week than of what I was going to do that Sunday.
Reader, I went to Edinburgh. I decided to start, and give myself permission to not finish. I decided to take it fairly easy, around 7:30 a mile, and just see how I felt. If I was able to sustain it, I’d reach the the sixteen mile mark on almost exactly two hours, whereupon I could make a decision. If I was feeling great I could pick it up to just under 7min/mile and thereby shave a few seconds off my PB. If that seemed too ambitious, holding steady at sub-7:30 pace might see me sneak under 3hr15, which seemed like a decent B goal. And if I was feeling dreadful I could slow down or just stop.
For the first eight or so miles 7:30 felt incredibly comfortable but then I started to ache. By the halfway point I was struggling badly and decided that if I didn’t feel better at sixteen miles I was definitely going to pull out. When I hit sixteen miles, on almost exactly two hours, I suddenly realised that I felt fantastic. The PB charge was on. I put the hammer down to sub-7s and went for it.
It didn't last. On about eighteen miles, the route turns 180 degrees and the last eight miles take you back the way you came. I’d been warned about the wind on this course but I couldn’t quite believe its brutality when it hit me. No wonder I'd been feeling so good on the outward leg. I'd had a following gale. Within two miles of turning into it, the wind had blown away the unlikely goal of a new PB, and the B goal of around 3hr15. Despite the ridiculously remote probability of these goals having been achieveable on one week of training in two months, I hadn’t thought how I’d approach the race if they became unattainable. There was nothing left to motivate me. I fell to pieces.
For the last four miles I was running around ten-minute miles, which I'd consider slow uphill. I creaked home in 3:23:41. And I immediately felt quite pleased. Under the circumstances of training and conditions, this is a respectable time. A mate was coming to meet me for lunch, but I’d finished before he got there, because it never occurred to him I might finish that fast. This is good for the ego.
My ankle is still not entirely reliable. It seems pretty sound on the flat. But as soon as I get on the trails or the hills, I can’t quite trust it.
My next three races are this (the 55K, not the 100), this, and this. And though they'll be the hardest races I've ever run, they're mere warmups for this. If any has any magic ankle magic, please magic it to my ankle.
TV of the week: While you’ve all been going on about Chernobyl and Gentleman Jack (I will, I will), I’ve been rewatching The Wire. All I have to say is that it still stacks up. Season Two, by many considered to be the weakest, does have some wonky moments, but at its best it is Arthur Miller and Brecht in one. It is a portrait of an entire society and of how all the pressures of that society combine to produce immense human tragedy. People were doing top five TV shows on twitter last week and I wanted to say:
5: The Wire, season 5
4: The Wire, season 2
3: The Wire, season 1
2: The Wire, season 3
1: The Wire, season 4
I have to admit that this is stolen from a top three footballers list that goes around Middlesbrough circles:
3: Juninho (second spell at the club)
2: Juninho (third spell)
1: Juninho (first spell)
Show of the week: In that draft blogpost from a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about why you should all go and see Selina Thompson’s Saltat the Royal Court. You’ve missed it now. But anyway, to finish, here’s what I wrote about why you ought to have gone.
As a straight white man, it’s relatively rare I see a show that feels as though it’s not talking to me. Even shows about racism or gender inequality, rather than primarily representing those experiences for those who might share them, are often directed at people who look like me, for the purpose of persuasion or plea. I’m sure there’s value to this, by the way, and I’m not having a go at anyone. It’s also of course possible to do both.
But when I do see a show that very clearly isn’t talking to me, it’s often thrilling. I love the work of Rash Dash because they so often feel as though they’re principally talking to the women in the room. By all accounts Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia, which I’m devastated to have missed, does the same. The men can come if they want, sure, but it’s not forus. This refusal to pander to culturally dominant perspectives is also certainly the basis for plenty of critical fuckwittery.
Anyway, I bring this up because Selina Thompson’s Saltis now on at the Royal Court. I’ve seen it twice and I’d go again. Selina is one of the most brilliant artists (and minds) at work right now. She is absolutely talking to a primary constituency of black British people, and I fucking love that doing so this unapologetically (because why should it be something to apologise for?) has got her show to the Royal Court. She is absolutely talking to a primary constituency of black British people - which makes it all the more important that white British people go. And look, if you look like me, I’ve made it sound as though it’s something you should do because it’s good for you, like cabbage. But you should go because it’s searing, human and alive. If you can get over not being the focus of attention then it’ll be the best thing you do all year.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will