No Harm in Trying

I had the oddest craving the other day. I did not find myself suddenly and magically with child, like a West Country Mary Magdalene. I found myself sorely in need of a reminder and craved the resolution this reminder would bring. I know of two films that can help with this. So I watched them both. The first – a 1950 classic starring James Stewart (you’d think I’d be running out of his films by now) (nope) and a giant rabbit. The second, a 2008 Mike Leigh semi-improvised comedy with Sally Hawkins, a lass steadily working her way up to becoming one of my favourite modern actresses.

You see, I needed reminding to be happy. Sometimes I find this difficult. My default state is one of anxiety and I find that two meddling little imps called Hopelessness and Gloom can be my all too constant companions. But – and I stress this after years of treatment in many different guises – I find that the most successful warrior against The Black Dog is instilling in yourself a sense of optimism. Even if it doesn’t come naturally.

Harvey is the tale of Elwood P. Dowd, (Stewart) a gentle, kindly man who spends his days in his local drinking joint with his best friend Harvey. Harvey: a 6ft 3.5″ tall invisible white rabbit. His sister, Veta (an Academy Award winning turn from Josephine Hull) believes him to be mad and the film follows her attempts to have him committed. Happy-Go-Lucky follows Poppy (Hawkins) a relentlessly cheerful primary school teacher who takes driving lessons with the embittered Scott (an ever excellent Eddie Marsan), a man teetering on the edge of a breakdown.

These films have one vital link. Both protagonists are clearly smart and negate the naivety that often – it is assumed – accompanies a blithely happy soul. They have deliberately chosen to make the most of every day, to be kind to everyone they meet and to see the beauty in each moment. Elwood offers friendship (and his card) to everybody he comes across, showing interest in their life and enjoying every minute. He states, quite simply“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.” He hints later that he has not always been of this disposition – of a darker time before Harvey the Pooka (a magical creature of celtic mythology who takes the form of an animal) makes an appearance. But he has made the choice to live his life in such a manner. “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Poppy is clearly intelligent and a wonderful teacher. She helps uncover a pupil’s abuse at the hands of his stepfather and guides her young charges with warmth and knowledge. When her bike is stolen, she grins and sighs “I didn’t get to say goodbye.” She befriends a tramp, talks exuberantly to strangers and grabs each experience she can – trampolining, flamenco, learning to drive. And in a line that echoes Elwood’s own, Poppy picks out a self-help book near the beginning of the film and muses “The Road to Reality? Don’t wanna be going there!” Her friend and flatmate Zoe gently chides her “You can’t make everyone happy, Poppy” to which Poppy responds “No harm in trying, is there?”

Both of these two joyful creatures experience negativity and wariness at the hands of others. Elwood is dragged into an institution, hit, grabbed by the neck and generally avoided by most. Poppy is derided and hated by an increasingly combative Scott. “I can’t believe you are a teacher.You are arrogant, you are disruptive and you celebrate chaos.” She laughs and replies “I slipped through the net, didn’t I?” But why? Are those that are unhappy so threatened by those who choose to see life through rose-tinted glasses? Why the need to drag the smiling down? As Elwood says “That’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us.”

I’ve watched these films and I’m reminded how short and sweet life is. I don’t choose to listen to the voice in my head that tells me I’m useless, that things are too tough. I choose to be nice to people, to see a Good Thing in every situation, no matter how dark it seems. I realise I can bug people when I do this. But never mind. I think they should do it, too. I (thank God and touch wood) have never yet experienced a life altering personal tragedy. Who knows? When I do, I may find my little ethos fails me. It must be impossible to find the beauty sometimes.Sometimes I do fail and for that I have wonderful friends and family who lend a shoulder and a cuddle. Sometimes some wine and chocolate. I hope I offer the same service when they find themselves at a low point. Nobody should suffer alone.

To sum up ~ to conclude, if you will ~ too much thought and time in one’s own head is the danger. Focus on others; focus on what you see, hear, touch. Live for this very moment, so fleeting and precious. Be kind.

In the words of Mr. Dowd himself “In this world, you can be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I believe I just have.

elwood

“I don’t want to be worshipped. I want to be loved.”

Whilst on tour in Ireland this month, we were blessed with several days off. Rather pleasant, to find oneself on a sort of holiday with good friends, especially a holiday in a secluded cottage with a stunning view of the sun setting each evening; burnt orange flooding the endless sky.

Being ever the traditionalist, one Wednesday morning ~ seeing a fire lit and tea poured ~ I decided to settle under the duvet (for that, read hog the sofa to the sighs of castmates) and watch an Old Film. I had brought The Philadelphia Story with me, the George Cukor classic, based on Philip Barry’s play. Katharine Hepburn had starred in said production and did the same in the film version. It ultimately saved her career, following her unfortunate moniker of ‘box office poison.’ We meet Tracy Lord (Hepburn) on the eve of her wedding to newly monied business magnate George Kittredge. She was previously married to CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) but their tempestuous partnership resulted in divorce when her “disregard for human frailty” exacerbates his drinking problem. This new union excites the American media and they send over reporter Macaulay ‘Mike’ Connor (James Stewart; him again – incidentally he won an Oscar for his performance. He plays an hilarious drunk and manages to make Cary Grant corpse) and photographer Liz Imbrie to cover the wedding. Dexter, helping them to gain access to the family, accompanies them. Over the course of the day, Tracy finds herself caught between three men – her fiancee, her ex-husband and an increasingly smitten Mike. Who will she wind up with?

The three men treat Tracy utterly differently. Mike, the cynical poet, sees her as an earthy intellectual with a spark that matches his own “There’s a magnificence in you, Tracy. A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice… you’re lit from within. You’ve got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts.”  George sees her as a far off Goddess, to be worshipped. “You’re like some marvellous, distant queen. You’re so cool and fine and always so much your own. There’s a kind of beautiful purity about you, like a statue.” However, just like a 20th Century Angel Clare, once Tracy’s own frailty is uncovered and his view of her purity dispelled, he promptly loses interest. So who does Tracy end up marrying? The man who knows her faults and loves her anyway. The man who sees her as a human being. CK Dexter Haven. As Tracy herself says, she doesn’t want to be worshipped. She wants to be loved.

This, unsurprisingly, set me to thinking. Many of my friends – and indeed my own – relationships have ended because one party believes the other is not the person they fell in love with. But what if they are? What if it is simply a case of falling off a pedestal once frailty is uncovered? They begin as a deity; lofty perfection to be worshipped. Then soon, they find themselves scrambling in the dust like other mere mortals. Seemingly no middle ground. Simply to be adored or to be dumped. While in some relationships people can change to the detriment of a coupling, in others it is simply the beholder that sees their partner differently.

I have been in relationships where I have been properly adored at the beginning. Not going to lie, there is something lovely about someone viewing you as an angel, but goodness me, it’s hard to live up to. And doesn’t the halo lose it’s shine quickly? Seemingly overnight, I dropped from the pedestal from which I’d been placed onto the muddy ground below and I was never sure why. Is it because of my selfishness? My horrible ability to cry easily? Am I just plain annoying? Veiled insults begin, eyes rolling at every word I say, running me down in front of friends under the guise of banter ‘Why are you being so sensitive? It’s just a joke.’ Gone was the girl who warranted love notes, hushed work time phone calls and adoration. I didn’t think I’d changed at all and it baffled me. Like Desdemona “What shall I do to win my lord again? … I know not how I lost him” none of us who have ever experienced this will know what we can do. But we will try to placate and work our way back up to that pedestal if it takes all of our self respect. Shutting up about our job if it bores you, not nagging, keeping opinions to ourselves. But the pedestal cannot be reached, no matter how hard we try. Once knocked off, it’s a no go area. But is this us genuinely turning into co-dependent shadows of our former selves, or is it that we are no longer the untouchable bronze statue to be admired from afar? I have seen vibrant, brilliant friends – both male and female – reduced to quivering wrecks trying to live up to the impossible bar their partner has set for them. I should mention here, in my past matches, I don’t place the blame completely at the other person’s door. I know I was not perfect. I just wish I knew what the trigger was, so I could fix it.

I must admit, these experiences have made me wary of relationships and I think go part of a way to explain my current single status. If someone is to nice to me, I don’t trust it ‘oh yes, you like me now – but how long before you discover how annoying I am?’ And I am far too sensitive about gentle mocking of me – ‘oh, it’s begun again, has it?’ I never wanted to be someone who loved warily, but I fear that is inevitable for most of us who have the baggage of previous relationships.

Perhaps – like Tracy and Dexter – the best match for us all is our best friend. No worshipping, no pedestal, just entering into a union with a clear knowledge of the other’s frailty and loving them for that as much as their shining qualities. Tracy may be an “unholy mess of a girl” and Dexter a recovering alcoholic, but they know each other inside out. And they are human.

Annex - Hepburn, Katharine (Philadelphia Story, The)_06

 

 

She’s a Little Runaway

I must credit my very best pal with introducing me to the film that inspired this post. Monday night saw us on the sofa, halfway through a bottle of wine, jacket potatoes and coleslaw on lap. On plate, on lap, obviously. Rather a mess, otherwise. We were talking of Audrey Hepburn and she happened to mention her love of Roman Holiday and I had to admit I’d never seen it. This came as a great shock; coleslaw dropping from fork as she held it to her mouth. I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss it; I think Gregory Peck is a paragon of all that is handsome and wonderful (I always imagine he smelled lovely. A mixture of pipe smoke, tree bark, cologne and man) and Audrey Hepburn… well, that’s self explanatory. The woman was a gentle sylph goddess. Luckily, I happened to have a copy: a newspaper DVD I’d picked up in a charity shop in Ireland some months before in an effort to instill a love of old Hollywood in castmates.

So, potatoes eaten, wine disappearing before our eyes, we switched on Roman Holiday. Set in Rome (really? Hadn’t guessed?) It tells the tale of young Princess Ann (no, not that one), who, stifled by her royal duties and desperate to experience real life, escapes one night onto the streets of Italy. There she meets newspaper reporter Joe Bradley (Peck). He soon finds out who she is, but doesn’t let on and so ensues a wonderful day of freedom, hijinks and general merriment. Night falls and love blossoms between the two, but duty calls. Wiser, happier and brimming with confidence, Ann returns to her post. “Rome. I will cherish my visit here as long as I live.”

Ann’s escape from reality into a world unknown, full of colour, noise and life, saw her grow from a pampered child to an articulate, self -assured woman. And I can’t help but wonder – trying and failing to avoid Carrie Bradshaw’s trademark  – do we all need to escape at some point to become the person we’re supposed to be?

When does changing your life dramatically become running away? What is the difference between escaping for a while and starting afresh someplace new? I have wonderful, brave, friends who have hopped and moved all over the world. Started new lives, new jobs, new relationships far away from the land they began in. And yet, I know some have been accused some of ‘running away,’ ‘You can’t run away from life… it’ll follow you wherever you go.’ But isn’t the point that you are making a new one, somewhere new? Life doesn’t and shouldn’t begin and end in the place we were born.

I find myself musing on this greatly, at present. The past few years have been a steady and trustworthy routine – living with friends in London, temping, touring. Money is a difficulty, but so it is for the majority of us. I must mention now, that my little group of friends are the kindest, funniest, silliest, most wonderful people I know. To segue into Spaced territory for a moment, they say the family of the 21st Century are made up of friends, not relatives. (Although my relatives are also absolutely bloody fantastic. This is really turning into a lovefest, isn’t it? Move on now, silly wench). But as I get older and my routine of London, temping, touring stays the same, I can see them moving on. New relationships, new homes, new jobs, marriage and – heavens – babies. The last thing I want to be is a small little person in the corner, shouting ‘hey! Let’s all stay the exact same way we are now! Let’s never change! Let’s go to the pub!!’ because I am so very proud of them all for their journey. But, perhaps, soon… it is time to do a Princess Ann (again, not that one) and step away from the conventional itinerary I have planned for myself. Although I do hope a pub will still be involved, somewhere.

If I didn’t stay in London, If I stepped away from the cosy hole I’ve made myself; where would I go? Devon, Cornwall, Bristol, Ireland? Overseas? What would I do?. Perhaps it’s time to rip the schedule in half and see just how much things can change if I do.

And so I stand at a crossroads; security, friends and the status quo in one direction. The unexplored possibility in another. Where do I turn? Do I have my own Roman Holiday and return, hopefully rejuvinated, ready to slip back into my old life, or do I abdicate and see what adventures the Great Unknown holds for me?

Please forgive me this rather boring batch of ennui, but I have such remarkable respect for those that have had the bravery and gumption to begin again. I would love to hear from you if you have. What was the catalyst? How have you found it?

Let’s hear something from the beautiful Audrey herself. “As you get older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” This doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’ve previously said, but Audrey really was lovely, wasn’t she?

Image

Hill of Beans

It’s been a veritable age since I last put pen to paper and contributed to this blog. When I say pen to paper, I mean of course fingers to keyboard – but the latter fits in less with my romantic sensibilities. I have finally been back with the theatre company, larking about in the Emerald Isle for a couple of weeks. Now I’m back in London, I find myself wondering how quickly I can escape back, open a small seaside shop and live Happily Ever After.

But I digress.Today’s post comes courtesy of one of the most beautiful films of all time: Casablanca. Incidentally, one of the most stirring scenes of any movie ~ in my opinion ~ appears here – “Die Wacht am Rhein” drowned out by “La Marseillaise;” a heart rending show of loyalty and patriotism that would have hit a nerve with the audiences of 1942 – three years before WWII ended. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HM-E2H1ChJM I dare you to watch and not feel a thing.

Casablanca. We’re in Vichy controlled Morocco and embittered nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) owns the Café Américain – a melting pot of refugees, police, German officers and those desperate to escape overseas. In  sweeps the beautiful Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and the reason for Rick’s bitterness is revealed. “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Some years earlier their passionate love affair in France was cut short when Ilsa left suddenly and without explanation. She now arrives in Rick’s cafe with a husband in tow – Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) – a famous fugitive resistance leader. Their only hope of escaping and carrying on their fight against the Nazis lie with Rick. Will he help them? Or has he been too damaged by the past?

I shall not reveal more of this story, or any of the details – as I always say, I urge you to watch. Part love story, part war tale, it is one of the all time greatest. However, I must hint at the end; for this is the point of this post. Rick stands with Ilsa at the airport, Lazlo waiting for her on the plane. Should she stay in Casablanca with her great love? Or leave with Lazlo to continue the fight? Despite his heart breaking, Rick urges Ilsa to get on the plane. “Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.” 

So I find myself wondering; is true love really about self sacrifice? I don’t necessarily limit this to romantic relationships, but love in all its guises. If you truly love somebody, do you always put their happiness before your own? Parents of children – I have heard tales of people losing the sense of who they are once they give birth, giving their whole being to the person they created, losing closely held dreams in the process. But is this right and to be expected? Is this the ultimate self sacrifice?

I have no experience of this, although as stated in previous post, I desperately hope to some day. I have experience only of romantic love, and it is on that I muse now. When you truly love somebody, the urge is to put their happiness before your own. How often have we heard the mutterings ‘as long as they’re happy, I’m happy.’ But at what point does this become destructive? Do we have the right to wonder when our own feelings are going to be tended to, or is this just too selfish? Is true love the abandonment of our own needs and the taking on of another’s?

Truthfully, I don’t know. In relationships, I have often wondered if my wanting the same care and attention I have tried to bestow upon my other half is indicative of my own selfishness rather than anything else. Surely, if you love somebody enough, you wouldn’t be worrying about how you are feeling? Or is this utterly naive – if we are prepared to sacrifice our own happiness for somebody else, shouldn’t we expect the same thing from them?

But then again, perhaps the thoughts of a twenty-something blog writer don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. I paraphrase, naturally.

Image: FILE PHOTO: 70 Years Since The Casablanca World Premiere Casablanca