It’s Sunday evening on a bank holiday and I’m horizontal on the sofa – or as horizontal as I can be with humidity hair that is now so vertical it’s almost touching the ceiling – learning lines and watching La La Land and wondering if I’ll ever shake off this headache that’s been bothering me for the last two days.
I’m trying to work out whether it’s because I’m really due a cry but am apparently dead inside, because I’m tired and stressed and what feels like ten litres of water a day isn’t enough, because the contraceptive pill is causing some kind of internal bleed in my brain and these are my last 24 hours on earth, or because I’m firing all cylinders and there genuinely isn’t enough space for thought in my skull anymore.
It could be one of the above or all four; either way I’ve picked up my laptop to write a blog post for the first time in a little while because I have to get some thoughts out of my head and onto the internet before I explode.
I’ve abandoned writing anything new recently because I’m rehearsing non-stop and – I don’t know if you’ve heard this before – but there aren’t enough hours in the day. A friend of mine on Friday night took me to one side though, and said he’d hoped to read a new blog while he did a poo and was disappointed to see I hadn’t written one in a while as it’s his favourite thing to read on the toilet, and I feel compelled to write now because it’s genuinely the best compliment anyone’s ever paid me.
So here I am. Wishing I was Emma Stone. Trying to ignore my aching brain. Thinking about re-opening the giant bar of Green and Blacks I shoved in the fridge. Wanting to talk a little bit about what it’s like to burn the candle at both ends in the hope of getting somewhere, sometime soon.
I’m really proud of my play. For anyone who isn’t friends with me on Facebook and who isn’t sick to death of me spamming the internet about it, I’ve co-written it with one of my best friends in the universe, Tamar Broadbent (remember that name) and when we perform it feels like all the good things in life.
It’s funny. It’s happy. Hell it’s short. But you don’t have to be writing Hamlet for it to feel like hard work. Both of us have at least one full-time job and it means trying to create something in lunch hours, or in evenings in my garden because we can’t afford rehearsal space or on the phone on the train without commuters giving you death stares. It takes up a lot of headspace – on top of spending every waking hour thanking God no one can see all the sweat between your boobs in 24 degree heat.
It is completely worth it – but it doesn’t stop me having this feeling in the back of my head that if we just got to do this, only this, actually spend some proper time making something special, instead of trying to fit it around everything else, it would be so brilliant and I’d never complain again. But alas. Real life is a thing. And I can’t live at home with my parents because they live in the New Forest and quite often donkeys get onto the rail lines and you can’t get to London. I didn’t go to Cambridge – I went to King’s which has a good reputation for law and medicine but the humanities department is severely underfunded and you perform your shows on a sticky floor of a nightclub. Opportunities aren’t knocking on the door – although some Jehovah’s Witnesses did for the first time the other day, so maybe that’s something. I don’t have the money to study again or dedicate myself to writing or workshops. Basically it’s never been an option not to work – constantly – to get by. So where does it leave me?
Well. I’m a bit fragmented because this is the first night in I’ve had in a while and I’m finding it difficult to relax. It doesn’t help that I keep having to go outside because I’m spending all my money on flyers and props so I’m having to bulk-cook vegetable chilli for every meal this week. And the heat of the spice combined with the heat of the air temperature means it’s not cooling down. So I’ve had to put it in the shed and need to keep checking spiders haven’t snuck into the Tupperware.
Living the dream?
Between now and opening my show next weekend, on top of work I’m trying to work out how to build a bed on stage, sell enough tickets for opening night, get enough sleep, not get ill, start my new improvisation course, release a new podcast episode, remember to feed the birds in the garden because I’m home alone all week and if Eduardo comes back and sees I’ve left them to die he might leave me, try and fit an entire set in my car which is approximately the size of a microwave), and try to remember who I am.
Don’t get me wrong. I am so lucky. I feel grateful I can choose to live this strange, stupid life of trying to be an artist in inverted commas. I have parents who support me no matter what and haven’t forced me to go into insurance. A boyfriend who’s helping me build aforementioned bed and who comes to see every show multiple times. Friends. Friends who get it. Who do it too. Or if they don’t – who tell you they’re proud of you in random Whatsapps. To live in a society where I am free to make theatre about thongs and tank tops and first time blow jobs and not be sent to prison. To have the most brilliant writing partner. To have a laptop and all my fingers. To be alive and breathing.
But, and don’t hate me, in the words of Ariel, I want more.
How are you supposed to work out whether the right thing to do is sit back and be satisfied or keep on moving? I love working in a theatre that inspires me, with people who are rays of sunshine, and near some of the most edible bakeries in the world. I can also get away with wearing whatever I like – and for someone whose fashion choices range from toddler on first day of pre-school to a nineties teenager wishing she was in Rent it’s something I will never take for granted. But I still can’t help day-dreaming while I’m on Outlook – about being able to write all the time, or make people laugh for a living, or send emails about my work instead of anyone else’s.
Does that make me a nightmare? A want-it-all? An unrealistic stargazer? Vain? Greedy? And – even worse – if “it’s understandable” and “we believe in you” and “go-get-em” that’s the answer then when is it going to happen? Because I don’t think I can do both forever. I don’t have enough Tupperware and it’s giving me a headache and I’m losing sleep over it and I only have so much confidence and self-esteem to get me there. It’s not just me. I’ve had countless conversations with friends in the business over the last few weeks who are trying to make ends meet, or do another rubbish waitressing job so they can go to auditions in the day, or who are starting to believe that it’s only ever going to be money that gets you places, or who are close to giving up.
But enough of the negativity. My life is not a tragedy (afraid I can’t say the same for my hair.)
Limits are hard to define. They are as blurry as a selfie in a nightclub. As grey as London’s polluted sky. As shady as slim. But I think I’m getting to know mine. When I’m not tired and headachey and nipping out to the shed every five minutes I’m actually positive. This grafting is as much a part of life as “making it.” And potentially it’s the best bit. Right?
Life isn’t just success and money and love and holidays and a really good barbecue. It’s credit card bills and bags under your eyes and judging anyone who says they like running. It’s that awkward feeling of a tampon not quite fitting right. IBS. Mouth ulcers. It’s holding hands and sneezing and falling asleep with a breeze through your window that feels good at night and awful in the morning when the pollen starts seeping into your lungs. It’s choreographing songs in your garden and eating fish fingers. It’s being proud of yourself right before spilling a drink in your bag.
Our play is on next week in Brighton. It’s called Split and it’s about all the best and worst bits of being a teenage girl. It’s set to a noughties soundtrack – like a romantic comedy about that relationship you have with your best friend before you fall in love with someone for real – when you speak all night on the phone and share your deepest secrets and dream of being in a girl band and think ice cream is the answer to everything. Tamar is a queen.
Being a teenager is all about feeling insecure and imagining a future and having multiple disasters in public and wanting to feel loved and trying to fit in and trying to stand out at the same time. Really it’s not that different from being a twenty-something trying to be a writer. You might know how to kiss better and no one’s making packed lunches for you but life is still both endlessly frustrating and endlessly optimistic.
I’ve been ready to give it my all this year. I still am. But I’ve also wanted to turn my life around in other ways – to be healthy and sane and satisfied. So now I’m going to get my chilli out the shed and go to sleep. Because it’s half ten and god damn I swore to myself I’d learn the last scene and then go to bed early and look the bloody hell what happened.
So to everyone out there trying to make something for themselves. Whether that’s a career, a family or just a really good fry-up. You’re the best and you’re already succeeding. Life is such a mess but I think – because Disney tells us it’s true – that it’ll happen and it’ll all work out. And if it doesn’t – well it’s quite nice to just sit back and watch Ryan Gosling on screen and dream. Happy bank hols.
Tickets for my show here.