I Am My Own Way Home

If I could make it happen backwards, and play it out again, we would begin on the Olivier stage. Chanting, You Are Your Own Way Home, in layers of language, lanterns tucked into our chests like dreams. We glitter like a thousand stars in the sea. The audience squealing, standing so loud it feels like thunder. And on ‘I thought I’d lost you’ I’d unscan the stalls, we would step back, back, backstage.

A saltwater tear would pull gently up my face and audience astonishment return to awe. The heavy black shutters would reverse their way down to closet the cast of children and candles. Squeezed together, giggling together, cherishing the last time we are hushed. The last time the choir will accent our breathless lungs with silk; our last song together. Pericles would uncross the ocean as if he would never find Marina, as if it never brought them their soft, saltwater lullaby.

I would run to the fingertips of our dresser to re-tie my ruff for Mytilene. My legs glide backwards as I catwalk back on stage. My hips sway to the other side, into a sea like fantasy city; a carnival of emerald and turquoise, dance crews and our leader, Boult. Unhanding Marina and untangling ourselves from broadway lines while he strides in thigh high heels, a bleach blonde wig and eyelashes reaching the roof. Running back to my dresser, into my jumpsuit, my hair up for my last scene.

And I, alone, would trace up the steps. Back onto stage to tell (for the fourth night in a row) the wicked lie that his daughter is dead. The wicked lie that wends its way over oceans. The lie that pierced his harbour walls and flood his peace with blackness. The audience unwatch me, the spotlight unfollows me, I reverse slowly into my backstage cove. Prayer book in hand.

Brass wails pull back into the youth bands horns. Marina in Tarsus, un-captured by pirates, cold fingers wrapped around her throat, water rising, tempest-tossed. Her step-parents revel in the riches of the King. Our daughter of the seas growing young in their cruel care, until the ocean pulls her back, for the first time, into the shaking hands of King Pericles. The hands that give her away. With thunders signal and wet cheeks she wails along to the most beautiful lullaby a father ever sang his daughter.

Home.

In a land bursting with flowers and candid smiles, a party is prepared for Thaisa. I and five other girls tease her with mystical naivety. Tempting her to the rosy ocean, to sail out a little further. Coming together like muses in song: harmonising into mirrors, petals and perfumes, finger clicking and hip swinging, creating boat sails with wash cloths. We do not know that she will trip and slip into loves daze, into Pericles. She does not know that she will give a devastating birth or that her boat will split and she will end at the sea; where little Marina will start. All she knows is the feeling of the stars in her stomach. The joy that me, Ray, Hannah, Amina, Malunga and Michelle bring her. A joy that is as true every Wednesday evening in rehearsal as it is on our last night on stage.

But before any of that, when backstage is a riot, and Pericles embraced by the tough children with flowers in their hair, I catch myself in the mirror. Pericles laughing in the face of fate, takes to sail again as if for sport. And we squeeze and fuss and breathe our way to our stage entrances to morph like magic into the sea. All 200 of us, mirrors in hand, rippling and surging as violently as the lesson we are teaching. I remind myself I am not skinny, I tell myself I am the sea.

And prior Pericles finds himself in Tarsus: where real mothers and children sing together on stage. A declaration of love so public yet intimate. Oh Pericles. Not knowing that it is here that he will return to give away his daughter. Yet to discover what he leaves behind.

And so it starts in Tyre, the land of his birth. The first thread in this delicate tapestry of a story. Pericles bored and boasty. Introduced for the last first time by a sliver of our cast on the Olivier stage, a fiesta of stars in the sea, lanterns tucked into their chests like dreams. Not yet knowing that the treasure he seeks is in the lullaby, over before it began. Yet to learn that no matter how many crosses he marks on a map, home will call him like a siren from across the seas. If I could wrap it around my finger, and play it out again, it would begin with home in hundreds of tongues, in a dozen different hearts, ending where it would start.

Home.

Not the country of you birth 
Or the house you grew up in
Home is the one who leaves the light on
Who won't sleep until they hear the door click 
Its the hand you reach for when you feel the water rising

It's us. 

Hand in hand. 
Fingers spanning oceans 
Crossing continents
Reaching beyond the grave
Hands that hold me up
Hands that say:

Vous êtes votre propre chemin à la maison.
Eres tu propio camino a casa.
You are your own way home.

(Inspired by Kim Moore’s ‘Boxer’)

NT PUBLIC ACTS Ashley Zhangazha in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 11

UfmVA1Vw

K-SU5fow

PJbFKBCg

nVeQMGeg
Ray, Malunga, Naana (Thaisa), Me, Hannah

VCH2-Nqg

rJwfIyOg

NT PUBLIC ACTS Ashley Zhangazha as Pericles in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 24

NT PUBLIC ACTS Garry Robson as Cleon (r) with cast member in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 16

NT PUBLIC ACTS Audrey Brisson (l) as Marina with cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 27

NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 26

NT PUBLIC ACTS Kevin Harvey as Boult in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 30

NT PUBLIC ACTS Kevin Harvey as Boult with cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 32

NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 1

NT PUBLIC ACTS Audrey Brisson as Marina and Naana Agyei-Ampadu as Thaisa in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 34

NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 6

NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 8

2NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 41

1NT PUBLIC ACTS Cast in Pericles at National Theatre (c) James Bellorini 42

Pericles, 2018.

 

 

Scar to Map

When I was in the hostels all those years ago the commotion excited me. Riding on the back of the new guys bike to have the police follow the engine screams back to our bedsits. Drinking ourselves dizzily into college mornings and dancing our way into dawn.

When it was good it was a dewy ecstasy but when it was bad it was like being locked in a blistering room and all I wanted was to be somewhere safe. Somewhere free from drugs and guns and hawk-eyed neighbours who’d watch me sneak into my lightless studio to avoid them knocking my door.

Now I have that. A flat by the river with big, charming windows and light that glimmers beautifully through translucent curtains. I have best friends who come over and fill my fridge with my favourite foods and I am surrounded by neighbours who may as well have halos.

Yet there are times I feel painfully alone. I can’t help but crave the nights spent folded over in tearful laughter, verbally sparring to hypnotic grime beats with guys who, despite hands heavy with the silt of their fury, would drive violently, rage-fully to their deaths to protect those they love.

Suddenly the fall is wickedly high, the crash so hard and one wrong move could cost me everything I’ve bled for. It seems that I could hang myself with the very same rope I used to pull me out of the darkness.

15.10.18

I have learnt some more about myself this week. As I piece my life together I find in the passages of my memory being shrouded with a feeling of indebtedness. Anorexic. The word the children pushed on me growing up and to this day it carries with it a sting. I often feel the need to share how much I love food and eating. Hoping that I can protect myself from peoples assumptions and spare myself the shaming of strangers.

In my late teens I began to gain (naturally) new weight. It was at this time I was happiest not only with my appearance, but with who I was as a young woman. Living alone has been much more difficult than I have let on and at times I feel as though I am following my heart along the edge of a knife. Living in this way has challenged the way I relate to food, money and my body. And till this day I never realised that the self-imposed deprivation I have been living in, is in itself its own form of anorexia.

I have been attending a support group. I speak everyday with someone who helps me and slowly, tenderly, I am becoming unstuck. They told me to write down all the money I earn, all of my bills and all the money that I owe. Now I write down every penny I spend in my money book and have become clear about what money needs to go where. They gave me permission to put £200 aside for food every month, splitting £50 into four envelopes for each week.

My letters have been piling up in my letterbox since January, as I walk past and see new letters folding over the flap it feels like a needle is pushing further into my chest. As of today, however, I have opened every last one. I called Citizens Advice Bureau and they put me through to Business Debtline who made me realise that my money was stretching too far into the pockets of my creditors. My feelings of indebtedness have woven me into a tighter cycle of debting, day by day I am unpicking those painful threads and paving my way out of the poverty I paid myself into.

CAB put me through to a group of volunteer accountants whose office is just minutes away from where I teach in the morning and I have an appointment to see them on my lunch break on Friday. They will go through my taxes with me and help me to file them, at the only time we are both available.

And that was all I needed. Someone to sit with me and say ‘this is what you do, and this is how you do it.’ I end the call shaking. Collapsing into the silence as if it were a crack of hope. I am breaking but in the way that makes me better. I did not realise how much i was carrying until I was safe enough to speak it.

***

I find myself trying to trace the patterns in these little sly grains of serendipity. Scrutinising the separate paths that lay before me in a desperate attempt to drive forward. But it feels as though I am using a kaleidoscope for a telescope. It feels as though I am on the sharp edge of a mountain top reaching for dreams that glisten on the other side of a gaping canyon. And I think to myself.  I could go deep into the forest behind me, gather wood, branches and twigs to build a bridge that will carry me safely to the other side. Or I could square my eyes at the sun, take three strong steps back, run with all the intensity that is within me and jump.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the organisations that have helped me:

Home

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk

https://www.businessdebtline.org

TaxAid

 

 

 

 

 

Scar to Scar

10.08.18

“Dear Nadège, 

We are sorry to tell you that you haven’t made it through to our 2018 workshops.”

The message I received from the publisher. My mind traces the email over and over, feeling the knots in each word. A hollow and heavy pain claws its way inside my chest, and a piece of me is enveloped and sealed in the nice icy letter.

I must return to the drawing board. It is the time of month where I am clutching on to my last two £20 notes. This month though, I am performing in a play and the notes will take me to and from rehearsals. I pull myself about the city, struggling to keep timings, respond to emails and messages, quietly losing momentum. I stop doing the things I learned to do to keep me afloat, like going to Lewisham market where on my best day I will find four mangos for a pound and 50 limes for 50p. Instead, I let the tide pull me into its wide, curious waters and missing meals becomes a form of financial preservation. I do not know what to do. I truly believed that my application would be successful, that I might be mentored by someone who has been where I would like to go and could maybe show me the way. And that perhaps, this time next year, I would be published by Penguin. I feel the failure in my bones.

15.08.18

In rehearsal we have become so in sync. Between the scenes we become the sea we flow seamlessly between crackling thunder and riotous joy. We are reaching notes in ways we never imagined we could, the room is dripping with talent and every time I perform I enter my prism and let it all go.

I remind myself that this time last year when I wasn’t cradling my sick self in bed I was crying desperately into my pillow, never imagining that who I am now, I could be. The rehearsal room vibrates with a captivating richness. Nine-o-clock rises up like a black wave from the sunset, and on the bus that feeling rises up with it. So heavy it pierces the barricades that keep my mind in tact, the thoughts rush in. Now my mind is on work, on the last show and first day back- I have been offered a salary increase, but still under-earning. I feel bitter and betrayed. I so badly want out.

I could look for a new job. I could train to become a qualified teacher (if I do this I’d move to a mainstream school and immediately earn £8,000 more than I do now). But the frosty formalities of mainstream make me tense, and what sense would it make to invest more time and money, furthering myself in a career that isn’t my end goal? Right now I am singing and dancing and connecting and creating and it feels like I am wrapped in electricity.

I found a university that offers master degrees in novel writing. They would see me through to the completion of my novel, as excruciating and exquisite as that is. But what about the National Theatre? They’ve offered me the opportunity to be in ‘As you Like it’ next year. And what about the promise? Everything is premised on the promise. To Travel.

As I spread out the options before me, life stretches out a hazed map of my past, I run my fingers over the splintered doors and crumbling ceilings that have left me scars. And suddenly, I think, I know where to start.

 

The In-Between Place

As I walk to work in the mornings my hair is wrapped in a ponytail, my work boots on and my fingertips between the pages of a book. The last few years have darted me with knives, tearing my confidence like skin from my flesh. You cannot can see my wounds, yet still I feel like I am glowing with malaise. I am uncomfortable, uncertain, I feel un-pretty and it shows. 

Dazed and distracted as I often am, I always notice the blind man at the bus stop. He will know when the bus is coming because he will know the sound. He will call out ‘what number is this?’ and I will say ’12’ or ’63’. He will wish the driver good morning and take a seat. And I can’t help but be nearly moved to tears by his powerful sense of trust. His knowing that the bus will come, the seat will be there, and when he calls, even whispers into the air, he will be met with a response.

I have a student who glows when we talk Science, so we’ve been studying the Universe. We learned that the sun is large enough to hold thousands of earths, that we only see seasons because earth sits ever so slightly at an angle (the reason we have dusk and dawn). That there is one day in the year when this rule does not apply, from Albania to Fiji to Zanzibar, day is equal to night, the hours of daylight and darkness are balanced, the Equinox.

It is mystifying to me how earth spirals around the sun passing planets that are millions of kilometres away. How we sit in an endless system of stars that have distances between them millions of times greater than the distance between the planets, and this is just our galaxy. How the distance from one galaxy to another we suspect is millions of times more than the distance between stars. How my students, living what they love, have brought me into new worlds, and things once laced in mystery, that never interested me, today make me feel complete: 

Cycles, sequences, how numbers coincide with nature. Seashells and sunflowers spiral perfectly like the tips of our fingers. How a tiny prick from a pin, in a little black box we made, can project images when we allow light into the darkness, creating classically beautiful black and white photos. The light spectrum, parallels and prisms in physics. How an electromagnetic wave of light when shone through a glass prism reveals the colours of each chakra, and God, dropping rainbows to hint to us the magnitude of all that is beyond what our eyes can see. I am in awe. In awe of how my student and I have been studying women throughout history. How the alchemy of the prism is that it clarifies the light that shines through it. Like women do. Like light, healing moves in waves. And women heal the earth, and men, by seducing them to their senses. And healers are nearly always wounded. I am reminded of this when I read my book ‘Pussy’. Reminded that although we are entangled in a crippling system of patriarchy, it is choking itself to death, I am in awe of the serendipity and synchronicity between pussy and the folds of a fragrant flower that blooms into sweet medicinal nectar. It is all too much and not enough and my mind is just twisted. 

***

I feel as though I am in a waiting room, sitting aching and anchorless at the edges of my past, knowing full well that the messy middle is where I meet all the other broken people, they hold my hands and pull me gently into myself, into the dust covered corners of my mind to conquer the mountains that sit there, only then can I step into a life of beauty too intricate to have been designed all by myself. Because they know too, that not having can give you so much, and not getting can teach you even more. But God, it feels like I am burning. It feels like I am sat still in this in-between place, fire raging from the sweet crack between my heart and stomach, burning through me as if I am a city filled with second and third chances, sin filled pages flying through the air. And I take it. I sit with snatched breath, still as I burn. 

But this in-between place feels like a meeting place. A place of mesmerising paradox. This place where science and spirit, physics and magic meet, where I am both teacher and student. This dark vacuum between who I am and who I know I can be,  but from which I see, very slowly, that each detailed desire of my heart is crystallised. How silly I have been to try to predict what is going to happen, to try to comprehend something so tantalisingly vast. And the blind man doesn’t even try to, he just trusts. 

Slowly I am seeing the synergy between my self-esteem and confidence. Self-esteem is a seed that dwells within, it grows  with my radical commitment to health, healing and hope. It is the birthplace of confidence and there is no true confidence without trust. What is confidence anyway, when it is skin and not flesh?

I do not agree with the sentiment that women must be shiny. That we must perform the function of drawing in the world with our shoes and skirts and other little things that adorn our body. A dazzle may catch your attention but radiance is a holy encounter. It will cause a deep rupture from your core. It will disorient you, anger you, unearth you, and should you surrender, it will rebirth you. Beauty transcends and has nothing to do with symmetry or ratio’s. And if I had to choose on any day, I would choose being a prism over being gold.

 

 

 

 

Soon

It’s been another tough week. I am at home and the electric is due to run out any minute. I get paid on Tuesday and there is no food left. There was £10 in my overdraft, I had intended to swipe it out before my phone bill took it the next day, but while I was out with friends I forgot. Now I am back to Nil.

Every time I find myself here I tell myself never again. Never, ever again. But every month when I am paid I pay rent, council tax, electricity, the water bill, the energy bill, insurance, travel, my phone bill and I have so little left for myself. I feel so guilty when friends invite me to birthdays because I either have no money to pay my way or no way to get home. Failing my driving test this week was the pierce of the knife. I came so far and had come so close.

In all of this, I commit everyday to creating the most gorgeous future for myself, to use healthy and organic foods to empower my body, to pour myself into love and it is so hard. Why does everything feel so fucking hard? I suppose there is no point to this post, I just needed to write my way out of frustration. I hope it gets better soon.

Start there

I wanted to stop writing.

What is the point?

I wring words from my wrists every month and I am still here. Half a dozen followers and enough writing to fill bottles of ink. So I tried. Hours later I find my knees pressed against my chest, notebook in my right hand, pen in left. I cannot stop. Incantations and rhymes dance across my mind at the stickiest times.

So often I am afraid to write what I feel. From fear follows a soft voice that says; start there. Start with your heart bleeding for the friend you lost. Start with resentment for a father who lives, but hovers like a corpse in your mind. Start with pockets filled with dust. Start with insomnia at 5am in the morning when the rubbish men whistle you into sunrise. Start there. 

When it all feels too much, I am viciously good at making myself wrong. But when I fall back I realise that being self sufficient in a rapid, tantalising city like London takes profound resolve. To deny what I truly feel while I am here would be to tighten rope around my wings.

Life is devastating. It lures me towards gorgeous turquoise and glittery volcanic lakes to fall in love with my silhouette. Lurking beneath my veneer is a pain as vast as the water, and the only way out is in. I have learned though, that suffering is not an end but a passageway. There is so much love to be made here. Oysters sit in the deepest shadowy pockets of the lake bursting with invitation. When I flow with the strokes of pressure, catastrophe becomes a slow, enticing dance. Perhaps I just need to relax my spine, curl my fingers and wind my waist.

In 2018 I am to focus on what is in front of me. As I think of it, I am not sure any of my deepest desires can be seen or touched. There are no goals, but clear intentions. Life will outrun me a million times over, so I will do what I can do now and relax into her teasing rhythm. And perhaps If I move about this effortlessly I will fall into the arms of the people who write my favourite songs. Perhaps like magic I will find myself in the sky, making my way to new places for exciting new work, perhaps money will just slip into my fingers and dreams will just naturally express themselves, the way the Jasmine just happens to blossom. Mystery is the elixir of growth.

One of the most beautiful things about being in the canal of suffering is that you learn who has the heart to hold you. You learn to speak because if you don’t the world will grind you down to dust. This process does something beyond sharing words online. Something deeply healing and satisfying. So here I am. In the bath, scribbling diagonally across the page. I have completely forgotten time and it is the sweetest emancipation. I think I will start here.

 

Wishing you a Happy Valentines day and (because I’m late) a Happy New Year,

Nadège x

 

Once upon a December

Today is my birthday. The clock is freezing over the passing year and the concrete is budding with the promise of a sunrise. December is a piercing time. When phones become mirrors and we are so viscerally reminded of what we do not have. I am musing on the past.

I have failed a few things this year. I was due to take my driving test last month. When the day came I hadn’t the money to hire my instructors car. I had hardly taken lessons in months; when I had money I was sick and when I wasn’t sick I hadn’t the money (or was working). In July I had a little but my brother asked me to go away with him and of course, I said yes, always yes.

A few months ago I entered into a poetry competition. The prize money £10,000. I had it all planned out. I would buy a camera to take pictures properly for my blog, I would use my winnings to pay off debts. I would buy a chest of drawers, ironing board and plants for my home. I would change my Instagram bio to ‘Manchester Poetry Prize Winner’ and watch my career burst into confetti. I would sprinkle money on my friends who had held me so tightly these past couple of years. I would travel.

My auntie calls me to wish me a Happy Birthday. ‘What are you doing?’ She says. ‘I am writing in my journal’ I tell her. ‘Write in there that your auntie rang, she’s 56 and she’s on the shelf.’ I laugh. ‘You know this is going on the internet Auntie J?’ ‘Thats fine, the first person that can whisk me away on holiday can have me.’

I guess I am not the only one who preys on stars.

I didn’t win. I was sad, but when I read the shortlisted poems I could see that they were chosen because they were gorgeous. I wanted my younger cousin and student to see me win because they had seen me work, they too are lost in the rhythm of the journey and I want them to see that hustle is heard. But maybe they need to see me fail. Maybe they need to see overcoming to overcome.

My failure is so dear to me. I tell myself I will do better, but I am doing the best I can. I tell myself I will try harder but I am trying as hard as I can. All that is left to do is relax. Looking back I realise that I took on too much, now here I am in the middle of it all and the only way out is through.

Shared below is one of the poems I entered into the competition. I began writing it (as part of my novel) last year in the mountains of Andalusia and kept adding to it through the year, it is now the poem you see below. I hope you enjoy…

Running (Inspired by Kissing by Dorianne Laux)

She is running  
on a wet path 
on the edge of nirvana,       
after she leaves her home               
in London. 
Running at 3pm 
when red double deckers                
fill with teenagers 
rocking the bus side to side. 
Running as bees and black butterflies     
as big as birds spiral around her. 

Running through centuries     
of forest under Jupiter and Mars    
as men with black fingernails 
sit outside McDonald’s singing                
‘spare some change please’   
as women are crushed under 
big bellied men and their hearts 
careen towards the sky,
her sisters hugs grow 
fragrant with distance.             

She is running 
to lose her mind 
to loosen grip 
on sour words she spit to   
explore the long deep space      
between each thought.             

She is running to forget time.   
To forget her mothers 
flesh on the floor. 
She is still running when 
children desperately scratch the air   
as they are pulled 
from their fathers  
running because her 
tongue can’t save her. 
She is running to narrow 
the galaxy between them 
once filled with words 
running because silence 
is her siren.  

She is running 
as if it would  heal the world     
as if it were the next right thing 
and the only right thing                  
running when it is too early 
when it is too late.             
She will stop at nothing.
She will run until her legs cramp, 
her sides burn with stitches laughter ricochets 
in her lungs her clenched stomach brings up blood she is running.

Nadège René

 

 

FullSizeRender 22
December 2017, The London Wetland Centre