I was excited to be asked by Ben Webb to contribute to a night of new writing / experiments on the 11th July 2013 at Tara Arts in London. I read out the piece that follows below (alongside new work from Ben, David Marshall and Amelia Stubberfield). It was a good night...
My name is Emma Adams and I am a playwright from Bradford, West Yorkshire. Which is somewhere in the north. Which is somewhere that you'll probably never visit because there is a good deal to keep you occupied down here. I understand and I don't take it personally. So here I am. A Playwright from the north. However, what I am going to share with you this evening has nothing to do with wool, urban decay, hill walking or rain. It's not even going to be a play. Instead what I've created is a kind of bundle of thoughts, loosely gathered under the title of: A Person Prone To Worry Tries To Find Total Peace of Mind But Discovers Something Else Instead. I suppose, this could be described as a reading. However I decided to end the whole shabang with a song, which means I have muddied those waters too.
The reason I’m explaining this to you is that I know, that knowing what is about to happen, is important. Most people like to be able to plan ahead with certainty, without the fear of getting a shock. And I don’t want anything to upset you. Or more precisely, I don't want to upset you before I get to the upsetting bit. Because there is a mildly upsetting bit coming. But it doesn't last long and it all concludes happily in the end. Especially now I've written the song... Anyway I think it's important you know what you're getting into before we begin, because shocks - along with the concept of a vengeful god/corruption/lack of money/nihilism/an inactive sex drive/a loss of equity in ones home/sex addiction/food addiction/single mums in general and working class mums in particular/the atom bomb and/or a failure to save for the future - all seem to be major reasons why so many people are failing to achieve total peace of mind in our day and age.
So now we are almost ready to begin. But before I start I'd also like to say thank you to Ben for asking me to write something for this evening's 'Yabba Dabba Doing Writing' event. I’m delighted to be here with you. That feels important. That we’re all here. I’m glad that we all made it. I’m feeling optimistic. Though it has to be said, I am what's known as a bit of a worrier. Mainly I think because I'm hopeless at small talk and at pretending that the bad things that I notice happening in the world are not really happening. Sometimes this means I depress people by talking about climate change during nominally joyful social situations like, say, a wedding reception. I am trying to learn not to do this, but it does appear to be who I am .
So I am a worryer.
That said, even by my standards its been a worry-tastic time of late. 2 weeks ago my Mum quite suddenly became very ill. She was hallucinating and it was awful. At one point my sister and I began to fear we were going to lose her. That’s a euphemism for fearing that she was going to die. I don’t even like writing it. I don’t want to think about that... Now of course she survived and is much better now, because if she hadn't I wouldn't be here obviously. Even so, my Mum is high in my mind at the moment. I feel uncertain about what the future holds for her and me and I hate that.
So. What with my Mum, trying to write something for tonight and the state of the world in general - just about all of my time has been taken up with worry of late. And that's not good.
Which is how I came to start thinking about actually, actively going out there and searching for 'total peace of mind'... I suddenly realised, I could kill two birds with one stone. I could write about my adventure to find peace of mind and also benefit from the discoveries I made.
This is how I came to find myself googling the words 'Where do I find total peace of mind?'...
The search brought up thousands of links leading to page upon page of on the Internet. I didn't read them all. I took a representative sample. All promised a way to find total peace of mind. Or to be exact I found a gazillion businesses and religious types advertising ways to obtain total peace of mind. The businesses said they could sell it to me (be that Emirates Holidays or Peace of Mind Pet Care in Surrey). The God folk said (ignoring the small print that they disagree about incessantly) that I could get total peace of mind but only after an age of prayer and living right.
Neither of these options seemed acceptable to me.
So then I thought - OK total peace of mind looks like it's going to be out of reach for me. I am not eligible to apply, being both cash strapped and also a filthy lesbian who god hates. Now I know I didn't mention that I'm a lesbian at the beginning and I apologise if that has come as a shock to any of you. But I looked in the mirror this morning and I thought, on balance, baring in mind that the Tara Arts crowd are almost certainly an arty set of urbane people with a sophisticated experience, would the idea of me being a lesbian really come as a shock to them?
I decided that you would have guessed by now.
So anyway, since I am not able to buy TPOM as i like to call it and since I am not prepared to denounce my girlfriend and go seek a cure so that god might allow me into his popular club, I realised I was going to have to start thinking outside the box....
Which is when I thought, ' Hang on! What I need to do is write a list of everything I am certain of. If I'm not eligible for TPOM, perhaps I can build a 'Rational Peace of Mind', built up from what humans rationally know to be true. That seems reasonable. To this end I decided to take stock of everything that is certain in the world, with the intention of using the data collected to build a new sense of rational calm.
This stock taking process didn't however go as well as hoped. Unfortunately, far from creating a rational peace of mind, the data collected turns out to be very unpromising material that could far from be something to aid a worry free existence in fact arm the need for more worry. Which I'm very sorry about. Even so, it's important that you know what I discovered:
The only real absolute, rational certainties that I could pin point were the following:
1) Everyone is going to die.
2) Almost every thing we had in place in this country that might have proven to be a foundation to build a rational peace of mind from, has, when you stop to think about it, been lost or stolen...
We lost the battle for human rights. I know we were on the right side when it comes to ww2, but that was a generalisation ago. These days Britain is synonymous with words like Extraordinary rendition, GCHQ snooping, sexed up dossiers, repeated calls by our leaders to weaken the human rights act... the list goes on...
We lost the battle for politics and now live in a post truth world. A post truth world! Such is the hypocrisy and corruption infused into our everyday lives that non of us believe anything anyone in authority says any more. And we're too exhausted to try and keep up with bringing all the powerful people to book. Which leaves them all free to keep on doing just what they like.
We lost the battle to save the NHS from privatisation. Most people haven’t noticed yet, but we did.
Our schools are being privatised so that they can be run by venture capitalists for profit. Having said that, at least they all do now have a copy of the St James' bible with a fwd written by Michael Gove, on one of their soon to be sponsored by tesco book shelves. So I suppose we have something to be thankful for.
Our local government’s powers are being spayed in the name of greater localism but all that has been achieved is greater centralism.
Higher education is now out of reach for everyone but the most privileged in this country. The Russell Group says its trying to find poor children to educate, but its awfully hard. Which leaves me thinking that if the likes of Oxbridge folk can't work out how to hit inclusion targets then one has to wonder who can.
Putting clever poor children aside, who are deemed worthy of at least the elite's hot air; the poor are by and large now acknowledged to be the harbingers of their own downfall. Lazy people. Dishonest people. Feckless people. People who deserve what they get.
And don’t get me started on the fucking disabled! The disabled are now well known to be malingers who asked for whatever the fuck it is that’s wrong with them. If there really is anything wrong with them, because we all now know that most disabled people are liars and scroungers.
Though, I will give you this. The old are still respected. So that's something to build on isn't it? Yes. Always respected. Well not exactly respected all of the time. But at least on red poppy day and red nose day, old people are wheeled out and respected then. As are the deserving disabled come to think about it. The boys with all their limbs blown off. Because we know those ones, those type of disabled are not fucking with us and taking the piss don’t we? We can see that those kinds of disabled people are at least for real and are not stealing our alarm-clock-Britain-hard-won-cash. We know that these kind of disabled boys and sometimes girls but mostly boys, who have 4 limbs blown off or 3 limbs and half of their brains blown out. For us. All for us. Makes you proud. We know that they are really really for fucking real and so we can respect them on red nose and red poppy day along with the old ones. But for the rest of the time we will not remember them. We will forget them. We will actively go out of our way to forget them. Because it’s so depressing. We will forget them at the setting of the sun and in the morning. We will not design buildings that incorporate them easily. We will not provide adequate care or money or time. Don’t the charity Round-Table-Heros-For-Hope or whatever they're called, do that? Not sure. Anyway… Not sure. But it’s clear we’ve lost something there. I just can’t put my finger on it. But something important has been lost.
The list goes on... When you do a stock take of things as they really are, enmass, it's clear we have lost so much that might mitigate life's harsh edges.
And that's all quite depressing isn't it?
I'd go so far as to say that this discovery severely damages the concept that TPOM or indeed RPOM could ever be achieved. It's made me conclude that the concept its self is not fit for purpose or a basket case or a total crock of shit. Depending on the terminology you prefer...
And in early drafts, that's where I was going to leave things.
But then I thought, that might feel a bit bleak.
And besides by then I had had a new thought...
Just as I was thinking that this reading / performance was going to end on a really miserable note, I noticed some things, which, while not certainties do all the same seem to hold some truth...
1) By and large, however shit and compromised we all are, we do all at least want to care. Even if we can't quite manage to find the time to care, most of us would like to if we had the time. Most of us. Somewhere inside our heads and hearts...
2) It struck me that we've found a way to make sense of being on a piece of rock that is smashing through space at stupid speeds towards the total unknown.
As a species we have actually normalised this pretty impossible situation and that takes huge courage. Further more, if you think about it, this ability suggests that as a species we have the capacity to make sense of the impossible and live on the results. We find patterns of regularity in the murkiest places. We find reason where little exists. We search for reason where it doesn't exist yet and make it up if we need to. In short we are beings that desire a happy ending even when logic says it can never be so. Indeed, sometimes, when we all agree to desire something together and we all want it very very much, we as a species have an shamanistic ability to actually create new realities. Most people want God to exist, so god does exist in our world.
Which is quite uplifting really isn't it? That we can create new realities out of just a heartfelt desire for the reality to exist.
Now of course this ability has it's dangers! Of course it can lead to delusion / god fixations / believing a fast car makes you look cool / believing money is real etc. Even so! Think about the positives! This ability to conjure new realities from nothing, means we are genetically predisposed to being able to make anything possible on this planet. Imagine that! That means anything really is possible. So OK, we are never going to have total or indeed a rational peace of mind, because all of this doesn't add up to certainty. But it looks like we do have the raw material to begin exploring how life could be better if we embraced the idea of 'A Chaotic Peace Of Mind' or CPOM as I have named it.
The key seems to be being brave. If we can be brave we can have Chaotic Peace of Mind. We don't have to buy it or pray for it. Its ours already. Its in our genes. And millions of people have been quietly getting on with embracing CPOM as a way of life, all along. It's CPOM that allows people to be amazing. It's CPOM that allows every day people to do incredible everyday acts that create hope and further love. Its CPOM that allows everyday people, in the face of almost certain defeat to smile and say no to human rights violations, to say no to racism and sexism and vile inequities. These people say no to them. They write to their MP's. They take to the streets. They volunteer. They fund raise. They smash windows. They chain themselves to railings. They go on hunger strike. In the face of almost certain failure, with most of their friends and family not understanding why they do it, they do it anyway. And the wonderful thing is, that the laws of chaos means that sometimes their acts of love and hope add up to moments of change.
I realise that this is not as water tight a pitch as life insurance or the promise of heaven. But this is what we have. That's it. It's not a lot but its joyful in its way. Embrace the chaos. Often the world will crush our dreams but, because hope and love exists, we will keep on keeping on. And that means sometimes love and light must win.
So there we are. The point is that a life spent shoring up against all the things that could go wrong, in the end is a lifeless life. While a life spent living may have some chance of having a point.
Or put another way, its time to stop worrying and sing.
So with that in mind I set myself the task of writing you a short uplifting song to end on.
Here it is. Its called the consolation song.
The Consolation Song
Clouded skies / still have stars
Hidden sparkles through the night.
Wasted time / tock ticked in vain
Holds hidden value wound in tight
When all the frustration feels full to burst
When all of their harsh words reveal the worst
When you're holding on with a heart of hurt
Blunted knives / Still thrill to blade
The job in hand is find a stone.
Neglected hearts / will beat for life
If we could shout 'you're not alone'
When all the frustration feels full to burst
When all of their harsh words reveal the worst
When you're holding on with a heart of hurt
All you sex workers
Farm hands and surfers
squaddies and butchers
The mental health workers
Grocers, sheep herders
the artists and brewers
in the constellations
and genes to survive
On this mad green earth.
We'll never be perfect
But love makes us worth it
Face the fear and just live it
And be consoled