Who Says You Can’t Go Home…

It is a rainy September day and this inspires a heavy melancholy stemming from the days when left I home to return to class. The last sun rays lingering through golden leaves and the smell of autumn trigger an irrational homesickness.

In the past few weeks I have been working on a show called “Home Is Where…”, which used interviews with Third Culture Kids to explore the notion of belonging and well.. home. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are those who spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents culture, creating their own hybrid culture. On paper, this would make me one. In practice, my parents have been the textbook examples of integration and I happily grew up in a small town in the Netherlands. Happiness is relative, there was definitely a subconscious sense of “Otherness” not to be explored until decades later: the main evidence was my restlessness, my need to leave home.

“Home Is Where…” is part of a bigger project, an online oral history library on SoundCloud and hearing the different testimonies on how TCKs struggle with the notion of Home, made me realise how lucky I am.  I have always known where home was, even though returning forever would be Option Z.

Then #Brexit happened in June and (unrelated) my parents sold the house I grew up in.

Our family home by my sister’s Lomo

As I drove away last July with the boy next to me, my sister in the back and a car full of childhood memories: it felt like an anti-climax. My parents waving goodbye on the driveway, with me desperately trying to avoid the kerb while reversing… My mind was on the road before I even turned the corner.

Back in London the realisation hit.

#Brexit is a complicated matter and to me it felt I became the Other. When the UK rejected to be part of the EU after a campaign built on xenophobia, I cried. There are many valid reasons to have voted Leave but the main narrative of the Leave campaign was so hateful, it coloured the result. For the first time in my 14 years on the island, Option Z suddenly moved up the Alphabet of choices. Simultaneously, the house that I see when speaking about Home will no longer be that.  That what was once my nuclear family-of-four has levelled up into three couples. With their own lives and their own homes.

I wanted to hold on to a home where my friends are, where I drink in the same bar every time I return, but my friends are starting their own families and the bar changed ownership. I live out of suitcases and boxes, I don’t decorate where I sleep: always ready to move. Home was always somewhere else. Not yet here and now no longer there either.

The salvation to my lost soul is a homebody who fixes everything to his liking: modifying living rooms, bed rooms and car interiors within the limits of rental agreements and space. Wherever he is, he creates comfort and happiness.

Back in London the realisation hit: wherever he is, home is.

The rest is silence #MH17

Today is a day of national mourning back in The Netherlands: the first one in 52 years, after one of our longest serving monarchs died. The crash of the MH17 has shaken the world and taken 298 lives of which 193 Dutch ones. The tragedy during summer holidays means that whole families were wiped away with one press of a button.

A few weeks ago, we united in orange watching all 23 of our best footballers compete for the World Cup. Millions of us screamed at our screens in living rooms, pubs and communal greens: we witnessed men fly, score, win and finally succumb – only rise again to bronze glory.

United as we were in expectation, hope and celebration, this has been transformed into collective grief. 193 people: in a small country such as The Netherlands, it means you know someone who knows someone on that flight.

10530886_10152178534526765_1868105408882735664_nThe reactionary outcry about politics and alliances has only been heard outside of the borders. The response from the Dutch government has been called careful and measured, with articles alluding to the country’s strong ties with Russia. Yes. True. Yet we have all seen the result of pointing guns, gung-ho sans evidence… Not that we have the guns…

Our allies with their own agendas seem keen to lend us a hand but they can’t make a move until we move. Is it surprising that The Netherlands is seemingly still?  I imagine that the country in itself feels sixteen million times over that what I try to express, unscathed and a North Sea away. For them there is no war-mongering and terrorism threat on the front-pages: just shock and silence.

Tomorrow evening I will land at the same airport that today welcomed back the first bodies of flight MH17. The timing is coincidental but at this time of national grief, I cannot think of a better place to be than home.

Money to mouth, time to step up

Monday, let’s start the new week by putting money where ones mouth is…

put your money where your mouth is
› to show by your actions and not just your words that you support or believe in something

source: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend two Open Forum discussions on inclusion in theatre: the first one was the D&D by Improbable on the inclusion of race and diversity and the second discussion was held by Tamasha, after their scratch night to address the gender-imbalance on stage: and dealt with the question how to create more permanent change in the theatre to include women.

Dear Reader, I can feel half of you switching off here: please don’t. I promise you this won’t be a political feminist rant. In fact, this is exactly what this blog is about, that feeling of “Yeah, yeah I know but do we have to make such a song and dance about it? Do we have to talk about it, can’t we just do it?” Last week, I met people who would answer/scream: “No, we can’t because they won’t let us!”  We being defined here by the minority discussed and They by the powers-that-be.

I am still not sure where I stand on this: I have only relatively recently joined the theatre forces and so I am not convinced yet that my current lack of published plays is an oppression issue –  I would like to think that I just need more time to hone the craft. Also, I had a very happy childhood, thank you very much mum and dad, and I don’t feel the passion/anger that comes from feeling wronged.

However, I am also a woman of ethnic minority trying to craft in Western theatre and I cannot deny that I do not see a lot of us working in ‘the industry’. This is just a cold, hard fact. One can argue that the minorities are just not available but here is another fact: I am here and though not many, others are with me. Even if not all of us have had the experiences that let us fight with the conviction, volume and the vigour as some can; when asked, we have to – at the very least – silence the thrice-crowing cockerel, and step up.

papergang_logo_100pxWFor that reason (and this is the point of this whole essay – thanks for bearing with me), when I was asked by Banana Writers to contribute a piece about our company Papergang Theatre, a new writing platform for British East Asians, I couldn’t say no. It is very daunting to share this with you, as I feel that there are more eloquent voices out there and for whom I have a lot of admiration. Yet if I am to scared to do it, how can I even dare to suggest others have a valid voice that deserves to be heard?

So if you are interested, please read the article “Writers wake up!”

The Act of Baking a Cake

There is an ongoing joke among some of my friends: ‘the cake without passion’. Years ago, mere second year students in a picturesque seaside town, my friends and I had decided to spend the day baking a cake. Yet after a day of hanging out and shopping, no one really felt like it and so to my horror, the act that should have been enjoyable was rushed as a chore. Noticing my upset, my friends enquired what the problem was and I cried out: “The cake has no passion in it!” Cue bemused faces and years of teasing reminders.

I wish I had these - by Danbo Brothers via madlyinlovewithlife @Flickr
I wish I had these – by Danbo Brothers via madlyinlovewithlife @Flickr

Last Tuesday, whilst preparing for our first writing workshop, I had to think of this. The couple of days before had been stressful and though by Tuesday morning, the feeling of physical nausea had shrunk to mere nervousness: I still had to fill the hours until the start of the workshop. I decided to make a cake and picked a recipe that was easy but hopefully liked by the majority: lemon drizzle cake.

I shopped for the ingredients and was even given a discount on the lemons by my local greengrocer. Washing the lemons and grating the rind, I wished that everyone would turn up. While I was beating the butter and sugar together, I wished that our workshop would fit their objectives. Cracking the eggs, whisking them in one by one, I wished that everyone would be open-minded and kind to us and each other. Sifting the flour into the mixture, I wished that my friend and I would work well together as facilitators.  Stirring in the zest and lemon juice, I wished that everyone would enjoy the experience. Pouring the batter into the tin, I wished that this first workshop would be the start of something exciting.

I put the cake into the oven and packed my stuff. 45-50min later, as was described in the recipe, the cake was still liquid in the middle. Panicked I looked at the recipe again and the comments below the line mentioned the exact same problem. I had to be patient and wait, I turned the oven a bit lower as the top was done and texted my friend that our pre-workshop talk was delayed. Then I realised there wouldn’t be time for the lemon syrup to drizzle on top…

Leaving it to the very last minute, I pulled the cake out of the oven again: skewer came out dry – just. Wrapping the cake in a clean cloth and a plastic bag, I ran for the bus. Once on my way, I looked out of the window and watched the never-ending bustle of London; holding the warm cake in my lap, I knew that it might not be perfect but it would be alright.

Musical chairs

Over the weekend, someone shared a metaphor with me:

“Turning 30 is a bit like musical chairs… At 29, the music is playing and everyone is dancing; at 30, the music stops and everyone sits down. Not even on the most comfortable or prettiest chair but on the most convenient one – everyone sits down and holds on for dear life. And there is always one person left, standing in the middle of the room, looking at all the others clinging to their chairs, thinking: “WTF just happened?””

Don't settle! (Pic by Daveynin Flickr)
Don’t settle! (Pic by Daveynin Flickr)

2014 has just started but in my circle of lovely friends, two babies are (to be) born this year and the e-invite for the now near annual hennight has just come through, in preparation for a near annual wedding later this year. Less cynical than the metaphor though, I do like to think that my friends have made their moves as conscious choices; smoothly moonwalking to that 2-person Chesterfield sofa as the music enters the final chorus…

Not even on the most comfortable or prettiest chair but on the most convenient one; at 30, everyone sits down and holds on for dear life.

Yes, as we enter month two of year 30, it’s possible that the one person still dancing in the room might well be me. I’m not sure what happened to my track but I seem to be playing the Baz Luhrmann extended version. Still bopping away, while my friends happily wave their baby’s hand to me (hand still attached to the child, of course!) from their comfy seats. Those moments are still unreal to me, the idea of a third person where there first were two.

At times I get tired of dancing and I envy my friends happily stretched out on the faux-leather sofa but you can’t stop until the music stops – those are the rules! As for settling for the wonky old kitchen stool for one: never. Though tempting at times, even I can see in my weariness that it will only be a temporary comfort until it breaks.

Dancing among the toddlers is not really how I imagined my life to be but then again, I never saw much further than 21 and that was overrated. So as I am slowly being pushed one generation along, I like to think I am embodying the spirit of this crazily American but still kind of cute video for all the new additions on their first days here: “There’s plenty of reasons to dance, you just got to look for ‘m.”

Order this and cry for joy (Serendipity)

FxCam_1389786807541This morning I woke up with a writer’s hangover, meaning that this was not caused by overindulgent alcohol consumption for a change but by negative feedback on a project. Let’s be fair here, not just the project, more specifically – my writing. It was a short email, the bulk apart from intro and sign-off read:

[…] I really did not like it. Too contrived, too many and too vague characters, too few inspiring, original or even funny situations and very questionable dialogues. I don’t see any way this can be improved (not even through improvisation.) […]

Dear Reader, I cried. This project has taken years of preparation and indeed some stress in the last few months. So after having had to initially control my disappointment because I was in a meeting, all the while self-doubt eating away at my soul, I allowed myself to be upset for about two minutes. It seemed silly to wail for much longer, especially over someone’s opinion, but long enough to process the pain. I got comforted by my amazing housemates and I decided to sleep on it.

 …I allowed myself to be upset for about two minutes. It seemed silly to wail for much longer, especially over someone’s opinion…

Waking up felt like having been through 15 bouts of heavy-weight boxing and not having come out as the winner: physically and emotionally bruised. I am still annoyed at myself for not (yet) being a better writer. Still today is a day to be kind and this has already been  greatly helped along by two incidents this morning:

A radio interview with British crime-writer Ann Cleeves, who is now hugely successful; having two of her creations transferred to the small screen on both BBC and ITV. She confessed herself being very lucky: one of the reasons why a television series was now made was because the person, conveniently in charge of ITV producing, picked up her book in a second-hand shop. Ann had been writing since 1986 and felt that success, though lucky, had also been a long-time coming. She literally told anyone who was writing now to keep on going and to just enjoy it.FxCam_1389786709940

Secondly, I got a postal package. An unexpected package, when not containing Anthrax and the like, is one of the most exciting things that can happen on a day. Most delightful, the package contained a belated birthday present in the shape of Apricot jam with Schnaps and a chocolate liqueur. More importantly, it also contained a postcard with my cousin and her family’s best wishes for the new year and a casual afterthought:

“..you’re already a writer, the rest will come along in time…”

Postcard linesSerendipity made me smile, as I turned the postcard with pictures from the Würstelhütte and Käsekrainer, reading the small print: “Order this and cry for joy…”

“..you’re already a writer, the rest will come along in time…”

A Hero in A Pizza place

It was busy, I was hungry and decided to go for pizza. It was a craving I had been having for weeks but never quite gave into. Today was going to be the day. I was hungry to the point of ‘hangry’: the state of upset one gets if food is not consumed soon enough. Walking around the food-court, I discover an amazing stone-oven pizza place Franco Manca, with a pizza for the price of a luxury sandwich. Had I not upgraded to buffalo mozzarella that is, which I had. Now it was just the price of a pizza. They had oil and chili flakes on the side, which was just great because I didn’t have to ask for it.

I carried my tray with the steaming hot pizza to a table and hangry as I was attacked it with my hands. Folding the gorgeous chewy dough to keep the melting cheese and tomato in place, I inhaled the slices. It was amazing. Suddenly, I felt watched and there was indeed a lady at the opposite table, feeding her baby in a high-chair and looking at me. First I thought she might be upset at the way I ate but then I recognised the look. She too was hangry. The baby got fed in double-time and her partner, a man, who was sitting behind her was clearly unaware of the situation as he tried to distract the baby. I think everyone should be taught to not distract others when eating. The lady barked something at the unhelpful man and he backed off. Franco Manca's sourdough pizza

After the baby was fed, the lady got up and walked to the pizza place. The baby was crying for his mother. The man ignored it for a good few minutes, then started imitating the baby to distract it. Hm. The lady came back upset, clearly too hangry to make a decision. The man looked at me and asked with a strong East European accent that sounded like a demand: “What is that ?” The lady smiled apologetically. I smiled at her and said it was the tomato cheese one, the second one the list. I omitted the buffalo mozzarella bit, it seemed too complicated to explain from such a distance. The man looked at the lady as if to say “See, easy”. He didn’t get up though. Nope, she walked back and queued to order. The baby started crying again.

The man lifted the baby out of the high chair and let it loose in the food court. Hm. The baby couldn’t find his mother so wandered off. The man looked at me smiling as if sharing a joke, I was hoping he would walk after the child before it reached the corner. Eventually the man did, he walked after the child – leaving all their belongings: bags, pram, coats and all unattended at the table. When the lady turned to see where her table companions were, I saw a moment of panic: stay in the queue or go back to the table? I tried to make eye-contact. I signalled the two were off on a wander and that I would keep an eye on their stuff. Luckily, this is really easy to do with one hand.

A few minutes later, this Franco Manca is really fast too, the lady came back with two pizzas. Then the man showed up and put the baby back in the high chair and started eating his pizza. The lady peeled a satsuma and gave a bit to the baby. She then cleared the table of all the baby debris and put it back underneath the pram. The man kept eating. The baby offered the man some satsuma. The man kept eating. The baby offered his mother some satsuma, who exchanged it for a new part.

Finally, she started her own pizza, with the same urgency as I had just 15 minutes before. Two bites into her pizza, the man deposits half his pizza on her plate and tries to take half of hers. The baby waves around a bit of satsuma.

As I am watching the heroic lady help him shove half a pizza on his plate, I get up and realise that if this glimpse of a possible future: I am perfectly happy to wait.