Finally Mesmerised By Our Own Story
- 16 February, 2020
- Linda Brogan
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Chapter 7. ‘Shall I tell you what’s going on here. It is fucking historical. You are both nice little white women doing your embroidery, and I am the slave you bring in to entertain your mates in front of the fireplace.' I've aways been proud of delivering that sentence. Here's how, when, and why. Then look at our faces, Valentines just gone, mesmerised with our own story told in the teen photos in the Whitworth Art Gallery. Finally we are venturing out of the attic and walking the corridors of our own sanity.
I keep avoiding this: the day me, and Polly began to write Speechless, the adaptation of the Silent Twins. This must be a knot. I woke up this morning with a knot. No, I didn’t have it when I woke. I got it on the toilet when I bent to pick up the letter I was gonna read. It was excruciating, below my left shoulder. I’ve heard the thing to do is exercise. So even though it was killing me, I immediately did my yoga to relieve it. I can’t remember if me, and Louise were doing yoga yet in 2010. Yeah, we must have been. We had this routine. Our hours meditation side-by-side in bed, and then yoga before breakfast at our table. The table I brought with me. Then I would sit at the same table and begin to write. I hate. Do you know what the knot is? It is because I am utterly racist. The play Speechless is utterly racist. For what I know now, the play is pandering to white men, women, race, to central society that wants to believe that black people want to be white. I was reminded of it yesterday when Helen Donald posted ‘Imitation of Life’ an old film, 1959, where the young daughter of Lana Turner’s maid/servant/friend/business partner, who has been born really pale, forsakes her mum because she will have an easier life in the white world. In Jamaica, 1973, some of the older generation revered the colour of my skin, some of the younger generation, girls especially, hated me. It’s the world over. I have no idea why I am going here. I absolutely hate discussions about racism. Since reading The Secret I don’t believe in it. I no longer believe the way to freedom is to go on about what has happened to you, to fight anything. I know I am digging a bigger hole. Fuck it. Fucking hell. I don’t know where to go with this.
I had the same problem sat at my table in Louise’s flat that was our flat at the time, writing Speechless. I was confused. Your honest thoughts, experience, as a half-caste person get judged one way by a black person, and another by a white person. It is really hard to have your own thoughts, to believe your own experience. To open the play I made the twins, June and Jennifer Gibbons, watch and re-enact the trooping of the colours using Sindys. I made them study and report, in their bedroom, amateur radio show, what the Royal females were wearing. I made them study the Royals so the audience would understand the twins were upset that they could never be truly English. That no matter how much they wanted to assimilate they would always be seen as, even see them selves as, other. I justify it now to myself that the play is set in 1981. But if a white woman hadn’t been waiting for my script everyday, would I have tried harder to understand what was going on in their head? And actually how the fuck could I try harder? My mum is white. My mum is Irish. My mum cooked cabbage and ribs. She was a terrible cook. She made no effort. She used to do Monday soup, Jamaican soup, on a Monday with brisket and kidney beans. Which, if you braced yourself was quite good, especially if you put brown sauce on it.
Polly would ring. I would listen to her feedback. I fucking hate this about myself. Polly would ring and I would listen. As if I am making lace by candlelight, and the mill owner is telling me about the quality of my stitches. If I don’t know how it feels to be a black elect mute twin living in Haverford West in Wales with a speech impediment, how the fuck would she know? She’s bothered about the mechanics of the play. The rules. If there are 2 main characters, they have to be at odds with each other. One has to be dominant: the other passive. So they can make a journey into the opposite corners by the end of the play. Writing by numbers. Whitewash. Of course that isn’t natural in reality. Sometimes, one is dominant, sometimes, the other. I always had a better understanding of the twins if I looked at them as me, and Louise. They fought like fuck. But you couldn’t put a pin between them. They were in their bubble. Back-to-back with a gun pointed out at the world. Every so often they would turn and point the gun in at each other. Speechless would have been a much better play if I had just excluded their colour all together – that was a given, anyway, once you put them on stage – and focused on the waves of love and hate as both fought for dominance. Colour-blind.
Louise is stood at the top of the stairs with a hockey stick. I am at the bottom. We are fucking screaming at each other. This would happen every 3 months on average, when one of us would drop the ball, according to the other. When the really dominant one, the one wearing the crown at this moment would go too far. Or something from outside would intercede. Something would threaten our bubble of meditation, yoga, breakfast, what should we do today, not nobody else, just us? Should we hold hands walking to town? Should we try things on in Levis or Fred Perry’s? Should we nip into Waterstones? Should we go to the Rice Bowl, crispy duck and pancakes ordered the minute they saw us walk in? Should we stay in bed and watch every episode of a Justified?
‘You go to the shop.’
‘What d’you fancy?’
‘Rich Tea. I’ll tidy up the bedroom.’
‘Put the kettle on.’
'Let's both go to the shop.'
We'd both go to the shop.
Polly rings. ‘The twins wrote a lot of miniature books like the Brontes. It wouldn’t be unnatural for them to refer to Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre. To identify with Bertha the mad black woman locked in Rochester’s attic.’
Me, 'their violence against each other is fear: the minute the other appears to be breathing on their own, the one who feels threatened has to pull the other back under. They’re not mad.’
‘So, what you’re saying is …’
‘No, what I’m saying is …’
‘So, what you’re saying is …’
‘No, what I’m saying is …’
“So, what you are saying is …’
I’m summoned to London.
An hour later, me and Lou are entering Alec Park when I scream, ‘IF YOU DIDN’T FUCKING DOMINATE ME I’D BE ABLE TO HANDLE HER YOU MAKE ME WEAK.’
I run off.
Lou chases me, grabbing at my bag, ‘how the fuck is it my fault?’
The strap snaps. I stop. I’m examining it with tears in my eyes.
‘I’ll buy you a new one.’
I can calm down now. Louise is in trouble.
‘What would you like for dinner?’
I’m small. We’re secluded. I’m cared for. We’re safe.
I get off the Vauxhall underground. Pass Polly and Nancy in the café next door. Polly has back up. I begin to shit myself. I don’t call in but carry on walking towards their Shared Experience office. They’ve made a big mistake, I fucking hate being backed into a corner. I fucking hate injustice. I fucking hate being bullied. I fucking hate 2 against 1.
We’re in Shared Experience office.
‘Jane Eyre is the book Polly most identifies with.’
Polly is acting small, secluded, cared for, Nancy is butch today.
‘It would be nice to reference it, as Polly does in all her other plays.’
Polly looks at Nancy like she might break. In the picture she is painting there is smelling salts, she is about to sniff, under the ruffle of her cuff.
‘Shall I tell you what’s going on here? It is fucking historical. You are both nice little white women doing your embroidery, and I am the slave you bring in to entertain your mates in front of the fireplace.
There’s a long silence.
Nancy, ‘you can be very confrontational.’
‘The twins long to make the journey of the heroine, not the mad black woman in the attic, who by the way isn’t actually black, but Creole.‘
Another long silence.
Nancy changes her tune, ‘I think them identifying with Bertha might be a little thoughtless Polly.’
If Polly and Nancy were working class like me, and Lou, Nancy would be chasing Polly down the side of the park and Polly would be screaming, ‘IF YOU DIDN’T FUCKING DOMINATE ME I’D BE ABLE TO HANDLE HER YOU MAKE ME WEAK.’ Instead, Polly retreats to the furthest computer, and loud as fuck so we can hear she viscously removes the poetic shit she has put in the mouths of 2 elect mute twins .
As part of our Valentines celebration we talked about self love in our podcast One Conversation Please https://anchor.fm/
oneconversationplease We reflect on our journey preparing for, during, and now leaving Whitworth Art. From being led to believe we don't own and can't tell our story to now knowing we can. We can. In our own words. We can be the hero. Finally memsmerised by our own story.
Messages of love on our teen photo wall.
Thank you all who joined us.
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#excavatingthereno #therenolive #ValentinesDay2020