Wednesday, March 31, 2010

SURVIVAL OR FLIGHT OF FANTASY - MORE MUSINGS ON LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND IDENTITY


Thinking over dinner, it occurred to me that perhaps language might be as interchangeable as our personalities. It might be argued that we have more than one identity, and in just the same way that a chameleon changes colour to suit its environment in order to survive, perhaps homo sapiens changes his/her identity to do the same. I wonder about people who become insane. Do they stop interchanging identities? Is there a mechanism in their brain that finally says, 'That's it... this is just too much trouble and slip into the murkiness of madness!' Human beings are fragile, sensitive and easily hurt, and quite often more than they like to admit to themselves or others. There has to be some kind of in-built, mental protection system.




If we have a box of identities, in which to dip and don, then perhaps there is also a box of matching languages comprising: love, reason, disappointment, anger, frustration, sensible, nurturing etc. etc.

It would seem that there is a basic language of survival that we use in our everyday living, buying houses, insurance, cars, shopping, teaching our children right from wrong ...etc.


Then perhaps there is a language of transportation; a 'flight of fancy' vehicle that can take us anywhere we dare to go; the language of our imaginations, poetry, prose, music and art. If we were locked in the basic everyday language of living, perhaps we would go insane, or at least become indifferent to the simple joys of life. In that case then, perhaps this could also be called a language of survival... Mk II


There is no doubt that I have moved on considerably from my starting point of earlier today, when I spoke about removing conventional language from the exercises involved in my youngsters' work in action yesterday. There is no doubt in my mind, that certain words can trap us into a stifling uniformity of reactionary behaviour. The responses of these children to their partners who spoke nonsensical 'gobbledegook' were spontaneous reactions to physical gestures and vocalized intention and intonation, rather than a verbalized language. Within a play, unless there are specific stage directions as in Samuel Becketts' plays, (The Beckett foundation are totalitarian in their approach to performance. Every stage direction has to be strictly adhered to.) the interpretation of the written word is up for grabs, with much depending upon director and actors. However, within the drama of REAL life and the modern times in which we live, electronic communications, such as emails and texts, with their obvious absence of vocalized intent and intonation, are by their nature open to serious mis-interpretation!

Ciao for now!

ps. My apolgies once more for untidiness of lay-out. Can't change position of photos, paragraphs etc. Gadget widget has disappeared too. Haven't been able to publish comments either. Will try to organize from another computer! Please be patient with me. Think its to do with browsers etc.!?!?

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION


As a drama teacher and director, it is my job is to help to ease the performer into a place, whereby they can achieve a more convincing multi-dimensional portrayal of a character within a given context. Most aspiring performers are bound and gagged by an inner voice, known in drama circles as ' the Cop in the Head', a phrase coined by Argentinian practitioner, Augusto Boal.


Yesterday, as some of my students were missing because of the Easter break, I put away the rehearsal schedule for up and coming production of 'Annie' to work on this age-old problem and affliction, with an exercise that was introduced to me at UCC. It has been my experience that children are able to comprehend much more than we 'adults' give them credit for.
I have two groups 5-10 yr olds and 11- 16yr olds and quite often exercises vary accordingly.

I decided that this particular exercise might be applicable for both age groups, and dividing them into pairs, I threw them into the space with no suggestions of time, place, or character and stripped away conventional language. They could only use 'gobbledegook'... probably more akin to the language of our neanderthal forefathers. Miriam, my assistant, (who is hoping to get onto the drama/theatre studies course in UCC this coming September) and myself threw ourselves into the space to show them what was expected of this exercise. There are always one or two extremely quiet youngsters in the group, as there are always one or two, who constantly talk when they should be listening. I was amazed that once the conventional language tool of their existence was removed, a more direct and honest communication seemed to surface. The quieter ones of the groups seemed to be more at ease liberated and likewise the attention seekers within the group were more relaxed and centred.



It is said that verbal language developed to enhance co-operation amongst the hunters, which led to the migration and success of human societies throughout the world, as people needed to eat and proliferate. Trading systems sprang from this and cuneiform writing developed in West Asia c.3000BCE as a means to record commercial transactions and inventories. The hyoid bone found in the neck, between the larynx and pharynx, which is required for speech to occur, is believed to have developed in Homo heidebergensis about 400,000 years ago. It wasn't until 100,000 years later as the base of the skull evolved, that articulate speech could develop. There is an on-going debate about whether neanderthal man was capable of fully articulate speech, because of the position of the larynx etc. Some anthropologists say they had the communication skills of modern infants. (That's interesting! Methinks I'll return to this point later!) It is commonly acknowledged that the language we know today would have been recognizable around 40,000 years ago, during the time known as 'The Great Leap Forward'.

I find myself in a constant debate with myself about the whole nature of language, and I know I tend to over-simplify things. It would seem that the spoken language was a tool that developed in order for the human species to survive... to exist. I'm back, I suppose to my soap-box again, because now I believe that the spoken language that once aided development and survival, is often being mis-used and manipulated by governments, multi-million dollar drug industries, the advertising media, religious bodies..etc..etc. Does our general acceptance of this behaviour reflect a further evolution within homo sapiens? Of course the whole notion of the word 'survival' has changed, and in particular, the Western World. At one time 'survival' was to do with having a roof over ones head and enough food to eat. Now, in many cases, its about what car you drive, what handbag you buy, whether you can have one holiday a year or two!

Wouldn't it make sense then that the nature and conscience of language has changed to suit, perhaps without even our knowing. If we want to pretend that we haven't regressed into greedy, self-serving barbarians, then we can manipulate our highly sophisticated language to suit. Some would say we were always barbarians ... just dressed differently! Did language ever have a conscience? Does the spoken language coommunicate emotions effectively? Was the spoken language developed from a metaphysical or scientific base or both? It would seem to me that words rarely convey the true nature of our feelings, without being cliched or somehow trite. How do you describe disaster? Do photographs capture that more readily? Have we become immune to those too, following years of witnessing images of the holocaust, starving children of Biafra and Ethiopia etc. So what was different about the recent Tsunami around Thailand and environs? Did the images, that caused an unprecedented amount of financial aid contribution from millions of individual citizens globally, strike so much more of a chord, because we watched the images of destruction and devastation unfold before our very eyes on our own TV screens!This is a debate that could go on ... and on.

There are those who have real problems connecting to their hearts, feelings and emotions, and thereby a direct and truthful communication is difficult. This calls for patience and understanding. Then, of course, there are those, who deliberately set out to mislead. Some are addicted to the taste of words on their palates as others are to Swiss or Belgian chocolate, and while both are capable of stimulating the release of happy endorphins, they lack real substance! There is an honesty between a poet and his words, a composer and his notes, an artist with his paints that speaks volumes to me. Somehow, they haven't been interrupted by the head and its workings.
Because of the nature of my job, and because I am a political animal, I find myself more and more interested in the way people use words. During my time in UCC, it was sometimes painfully obvious that some lecturers were 'talking at you' as opposed to 'talking to you'. It seemed that it was not really their intention to share their knowledge with you, their main concern was to support themselves in further research. There appeared to be a concerted effort on the part of some to shroud things in academic, quite often empty rhetorical jargon as if communicating knowledge was part and parcel of some kind of exclusive club or secret society like the Free Masons or Knights of St. Templar. I have so much admiration for people who actually enjoy sharing their knowledge with others, and if they don't succeed following one tack, will try another, because receiving and learning is dependent on the individual.

Back to Neanderthal man and their connection to the language of wee ones. Small children don't engage with their heads too much in their communications, they speak from their hearts. I'm not a regular church-goer... I like churches when they're empty ... just me and Jesus, but there is one occasion that sticks out in my mind like the Spike in Dublin. I'd had quite a large operation performed in Galway some years ago, and decided to visit the little chapel within the hospital to give thanks for coming out of the anaesthetic at least... I was alive! The priest was humble, a good speaker and spoke about this very subject. He said we were all too busy 'thinking' instead of 'feeling'. I found myself in floods of tears and even spoke out during the ceremony. This holy man just made so much sense to me! Yes one might say I would be inclined to weepiness following surgery, but his words of communication were just so direct and heartfelt... that's what touched me so deeply.




On a less abstract note, I would like to congratulate Tom Hayes Fine Gael TD South Tipperary for circulating, 'Know Where You Stand', a guide to entitlements. I am not aligned to any particular political party at present, but would have socialist leanings. I have lived in Ireland now for 34 years, and I believe this is the most important piece of political literature to come through my letter box. This is an honest, direct, well-meaning 'communication'. I am not certain whether this is part of the Fine Gael party initiative, or part of Tom's personal agenda, but it is hugely welcome. There are people who know absolutely everything there is to know about the system and make it work to the tax-payers disavantage at times, but there are also many, and in particular, older citizens, who have no idea whatsoever of their entitlements. So well done Tom! This comes at a time when cynism is rife. We have lost faith in our government, the financial and religious institutions of this state. Isn't it more important than ever to open a direct and honest discourse that encourages an involvement of the heart and 'feeling' alongside the head and 'thinking.' I know I will be poo-pooed as a dreamer, living in a fantasy world etc. etc. Why not give it a chance I say ... the other ways have failed miserably!
If activators of language don't use words conscientiously; or if words have ceased to mean what has been assigned to them semiotically, over decades and centuries... then what?


I appeal to the neanderthal that lurks in all of us!
Ciao for now!





Photos taken by Maureen Walsh of students from 'Class Act Theatre Productions'

Further Information: History: The Definitive Visual Guide. Hart-Davis Adam. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. London 2007

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BARRY WHITE, BANANAS, BEDOUINS AND BOUDOIRS

Mount Teide


Started to write this blog last week on my hols. So here goes. Hail from Tenerife! Not able to do my normal brisk walk this morning, because I strained something as I tripped trying to cross the road yesterday toting the morning's groceries. As plums rolled down the road, I was hoping no-one had seen my knickers. (Thank God I was wearing a sensible pair!) Feeling stupid, stinging and sore, I picked myself up asap to avoid offers of help if proffered and limped homewards. Why does embarrassment almost always attach itself to a fall or mishap of this nature? Being centre of attention for all the wrong reasons, perhaps.

Anyway, this morning, I headed down to the promenade with my first nescafe of the day to read on the sand and found myself, instead, watching couples running together alongside roaring ocean. Here in Ireland, there is a saying that families who pray together... stay together. Perhaps couples who run together... have fun together... ? I would love to be able to... and even be interested in running, but I find it difficult. Its not that I don't like to keep fit, I swim 100 lengths of the pool 3 or 4 times a week and walk briskly whenever possible. I think I just have a mental block about it since primary school when I was only selected to compete in the sack or egg and spoon races. I can remember waiting, expectantly, each summer for my name to be called out for the relay or 400 yd sprint, but it never was. At grammar school I played on the school hockey team for several years and was constantly being told I'd make a great golfer, because I swang my hockey stick way above my shoulder. I was shocked beyond belief one day when the surly PE teacher (why are religious instruction teachers and PE teachers always so miserable?) made me sports captain of the class just because I managed to face my fear of jumping over hurdles and finished the course without knocking any down. I was petrified, but secretly chuffed as I thought back to the eggs that had rolled off my spoons in lonelier times. Anyway I enjoyed watching the legs and running shoes that seem to look good on every one but me. I have been looking for a greyish, blackish, worn-out looking pair for about ten years now, because I dislike white ones intensely, particularly when new. Takes me back to shell-suits. Oh dear, do you remember them? A member of my family, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, wore shell suit bottoms with stilettos! Anyway back to the book I was intent on reading inspite of the distractions of man and nature.


The book I am reading is the first novel, The End of Sleep, from author, Rowan Somerville, who was born in East London, now residing in Donegal, Ireland. It is described on the outside cover as:


'a riotous love letter to Arab culture, its rich history, humour, food and friendship and, above all, to the transformative power of storytelling.'


I am in the overture stages of the story, but already finding myself intrigued by some of the images he conjures.


'He was grateful, he explained to an uninterested Farouk, to the shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish Armada who, finding themselves stranded on Irish turf in 1588 and discovering pliant Catholic maids, did the decent thing and bred some colour into an otherwise pasty race.'


'The sun´s glare bulllied Fin's eyes and his stomach whined for comfort.'

More about the book later.


Flew back into Birmingham after midnight last Sunday with the prospect of sleeping on an airport seat to catch flight back to Ireland the following morning. After I bid farewell to my friends Diane and Avril, I approached two airport maintenance men. I asked did they know of a cheap hotel closeby where I could rest for a few hours. They told me about Etap Hotel just across from arrivals behind Novotel, costing only £35. In the lift on the way up to my room, I asked another patron what the rooms were like. His description fit the bill of a youth hostel. However, I was more than delighted with the room. It was clean, comfortable and cigarette friendly, as long as you opened the window. Irrespective of whether I smoke or not, hotel windows that don't open, freak me out. The bed was cosy and the pillows, most importantly, were more comfortable than most of the more expensive hotels in which I have stayed. I flicked on the TV and watched the remains of a film that is quite scary, one that I still haven't yet managed to watch in its entirety, 'Don't Look Now', starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. The music is a little over the top, but there are some lovely shots of Venice. In comparison toThe Ibis Hotel at £125 and the Novotel Hotel at £150, this hotel was real value for money, with a 24 hour snack service if you felt like soup or a sandwich. I would have no hesitation recommending this chain of hotels to the most discerning traveller. etaphotel.com. Anyway back to Tenerife.


Even though I have many, many acquaintances and friends, the closest are the ones I grew up with, and as I only get to see them spasmodically, I have become quite independently self-analytical. It always takes me a few days to get into 'girlie mode' and eventually the barriers come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho. Diane, as I mentioned in a previous blog has just overcome breast cancer, a difficult time, but one she has battled with mind-numbing positivity. She works as a carer in a home for the elderly. Avril is a social services care manager with the elderly, who should have a portfolio of 25 cases, but has 42 clients in total and takes every one of them into her heart. Apart from a few wonderful days in Connemara, last year, it had been some time since I had had a break myself, so this was a much needed respite for all three of us.


Me chilling out!


I like to wander to the supermarket and cook etc. on holiday. Crazy perhaps! Most of the year I rush from work to the supermarket to the kitchen. Not big in to going out for a meal anyway, unless there is an accompanying ambience. Seems like a total waste of time and money! (I called into an Italian restaurant in Portlaoise quite recently (quite partial to pasta, ricotta etc.) and asked the waiter whether he could swap Frank Sinatra for some Italian music. I was dismayed to hear that customers had complained about the Italian music, so Pavarotti had been ditched. Same story in the Catalpa restaurant in Clonmel. I just don't get it!) Anyway, most restaurants in any touristy place possess zilch ambience as far as I am concerned. We missed the weekly market in Tenerife, where the local produce would be displayed. Keeping an image of the world map in front of me almost like a board game, I am always fascinated by the different plants, foods, climate change etc. simply because we move from one box to another, another line of latitude and longtitude. Leaving the airport and stepping into a twilight Tenerife, we were welcomed warmly by gloriously golden marigolds, creamy-white, vanilla- scented oleander and cerise-petalled bourgainvillea. I had left behind me a frost-scorched garden with daffodils waiting patiently in the wings, dying to hum the first notes of Spring.


I like to talk... perhaps that's why I keep a blog! I have also been told I am nosy... and there could be an element of truth in that as I like to people-watch and make up stories of connection. The lady in the local supermarket was icelandic with a perfect english accent. (By the way, just a note about her bananas. They were small, blackening and misshapen, but they were scrumptious, tasting like the bananas of my childhood. They were a real yellow, not the symmetrical anaemic milky version sold here in Ireland. It was a real treat to get a banana sandwich growing up, as it was mostly sugar or condensed milk sandwiches. Is it any wonder I have such a sweet tooth?) She told me she fell in love with an Italian and lived in Italy for thirty years. When he died 10 years ago, she moved to Tenerife, to be closer to family etc. She was reading a Ruth Rendell murder mystery at the counter and I said I had read some PD James. She maintained that RR was the queen of murder-mystery writing and I'm quite willing to take her word on that. I would liked to have spent more time talking to her, particularly about Italy, but the sun and ocean called. The temperature was a pleasant 20 - 23 degrees and the Atlanctic Ocean, whilst quite cool upon first immersion, was refreshing and wholesome.


The girls were easy about whether we dined out or at home, as long as they didn't have to cook. This arrangement suited all of us and allowed extra chill out time before heading out to 'Divine Soul', 'The Dubliner' and 'Soul Bar'. These were our boogying ports of call throughout the week.


There was a feast of amazingly talented artistes performing hits from the Temptations, Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Tyrell, Freda Payne etc... etc. in these bars, and when the live action was over, DJs played original recordings that floated and shimmied over nightfall's laughter. We have all been asked at some time or another, 'What is your favourite song?' I have always found that a difficult one to answer, because there are so many that I particularly love. However that was all about to change, when the first notes of Barry White's great song, 'You're My First, My Last, My Everything!' swam into earshot. What an amazing piece, not just because of its romantic lyrics, its sensually heady rhythm, the full orchestral string treatment complete with brass and woodwind, his gorgeously bass-timbred voice. It is in the compilation of all these aspects that creates such a sense of sheer joy, a freedom to be who we really are! It reminds me of the film 'The Sound of Music' where Julie Andrews (Maria) sings 'The hills are alive to the sound of music...' as she runs up to the top of a hill in the Swiss Alps, her arms outstretched, open-heartedly, unrestrainedly and without cynicism. She believes she can do anything and that nothing is impossible in her well-meaning world. So now, when anyone asks me that question, I can answer with great conviction. Voila - Barry White - 'Your My First, My Last, My Everything!' Now I just have to work on the other standard question, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?'



I had planned to hire a car to go do a little sight-seeing etc. etc. but then couldn't find my driving license before I left. (Unorganized... I know!) Rico, from whom we rented the apartment, who is also a theatre director and producer, working presently on a major production for Zurich in the Summer, offered to take us up into the mountains the next time we visit the island. Apparently the roads are quite treacherous. I would have liked the challenge of that... my own fault! Mount Teide, which dominates the landscape of the island, is the third largest volcano in the world (from its base) and last erupted in 1909. Some commentators say it is active, some say it is dormant. It is surrounded by 18900 hectares of land, which is collectively called Teide National Park and was named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007 and one of twelve treasures of Spain. It receives millions of visitors and is second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. (It is quite horrifying to see high sky-scraper apartments killing the natural landscape of this island. In Lanzarote, another of the Canary islands, buildings cannot be built over two storeys.)



A Rather Phallic Perspective of Mount Teide?

Legend has it that Mount Teide was a sacred mountain to the aboriginal Guanches, rather like Mount Olympus to the ancient Greeks. Apparently Guayota (devil) kidnapped Magec (god of sun and light) and imprisoned him inside the volcano, plunging the world into darkness. The Guanches asked their supreme god Achaman for clemency. Achaman fought with Guayota and Magec was freed from Echeyde (Teide) and he plugged the crater with Guayota. It is said since then Guatoya has remained locked inside. During an eruption, the Guanches lit bonfires to ward off the evils of Guayota. Fascinating stuff!



Guayota

We met two very interesting men, Dave and Alec from Cumbria in the UK (hope I got that right lads?) towards the end of the week who had spent three or four days hiking through the interior landscape of Tenerife. They had rejoined 'civilization' for the last couple or so days of their holiday, and said if we had met up earlier, they would have taken us out trekking. We commuted mostly by taxi, and because of my interest in people, and the fact that Italian is so close to Spanish, I tried very hard to communicate with them. However, most were po-faced grumpy, tired-looking men who were hugely pissed off with the whole tourist thing. I enjoy the company of taxi-drivers, who, because of the nature of their job, are usually talkative, knowledgeable and chivalrous. Perhaps these Canarian taxi-drivers are sick to the back teeth of having to smile until their faces crack at holiday-makers who want everything at knockdown prices.


My heart was broken some years ago while holidaying in Thailand with my mother at the sheer snobby disgust some human beings show to their fellow man. I had surprised my mum with a week long holiday in Thailand... absolute madness when I think about it now! My poor mother! 17 hours flying time in cramped conditions. Took half a week to recover and spent the rest of the week thinking about the horrendous flight home. I was initiated into the whole bartering fiesta about half-way through the week. It was advised to start the negotiating process at about half of what they punched into their calculator. The currency was bahts and dollars. So I had wandered into a shop to buy some bits and bobs for the girls. Being the nosy person that I am, my eyes wandered over to this slick, overweight, moccasinned man, who entered the shop with a youngish bikini-clad blonde. He was smoking a fat cigar, (probably matched the size of his penis! Quite possibly a selfish lover, in which case, size would make no difference whatsoever!) The two of them swanned around the shop like royalty, building a pyramid of genuinely branded designer dressing gowns, sweaters, shirts etc. by the counter. Crunch-time came when this up-his-own-arse gobshit responded to her calculator machinations. Tears flooded the poor girl's face. His offer had obviously seriously humiliated her, given that starting halfway was the norm. She protested and pleaded benignly through her tears, which he ignored and discarded like dog shit from his shoe and walked out of the shop languidly, casting sneering and demeaning looks back at her and her livelihood. I was seething mad. I actually wanted to run after him and thump him! How dare he offend another human being like that. I bought an extra garment, because I felt so sorry for her. She was still sobbing when I went up to pay for the stuff. I felt so ashamed!

Bedouin



Finished my book. Really enjoyed it. It did give me an insight into the hustle and bustle of Cairo and the islamic culture. The main character of this book, Fin goes to work as senior reporter with the Cairo News, only to find that he is the only reporter with that newspaper and becomes slowly disheartened by the lack of intrigue and romance that he expected in the exotic location of the Middle East. His friend, Farouk promises him a breaking story re. finding treasure etc. The story didn't take Fin or the reader in the direction that was expected. Fin is searching for something to fill that hole that is in so many of us. Towards the end of the story Farouk dons his bedouin-like clothes, raises Fin in the night and forces him up onto an arabian stallion to ride out into the desert. After a fall or two, the horse and himself entwined together cantering with the wind, Fin's macho bid to cover his fear of horses with a veneer of dislike dissipates like his fear of joy and brings a realization of the treasure within himself.

'Shouting was sometimes a matter of emphasis, sometimes a matter of anger, but rarely an expression of real hostility.'


'Many would say that Yousef was a soft old man for accepting, but he explained, he knew what he saw and felt, and he saw that God had pitched his tent of love in his daughter's heart and who was he to tear it down?'
'They were pretending to ignore the archipelagos of boys smiling nervously beneath the proud beginnings of moustaches.'

More images and metaphors from the book.


My ensuite bathroom (NB scarves at window)

Well back to work with a vengeance and this blog is all over the place! Girls slotting some pictures of my boudoir and bathroom, so you get an idea of what I was talking about. Girlie...? Thank you so much girls for a week filled with friendship and fun.



My Boudoir



I'm back to my beloved Crete in May. I want to explore the White Mountains and the Southern coastline that played such a crucial part in defeating the Germans in World War II.


ps. Still can't get the hang of positioning photo titles. Centring works sometimes and not at others! Sorry I know its untidy and annoying. Help!

Somerville Rowan. The End of Sleep. Great Britain: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 2008

Bedouin proverb that Rowan cites at beginning of his book:

Dawn does not come twice to waken a man!

Ciao for now!