eighteen. post-natal audition

Act One

– Congratulations!
– Thanks, Christopher.
– What a performance!
– …just a lovely audience…
– You’re a marvellous Helena, darling.
– Thanks Christopher. Thanks for the gig.
– Of course! You’re part of the family!

– Speaking of families…funny you should say that…
– You’re not…oh darling…is that why you’re drinking —
– Soda? Yes. We wanted to wait twelve weeks till we…
– Yes, yes I understand. Well. Isn’t this exciting news.

– I don’t think the costumes will need altering…
– This will change your life you know.
(Laughing) Yes, all the fathers are warning…
– This will ruin your career.

– What did you say?
– Acting and motherhood — It won’t work.

Act Two

– Hi my name’s Tiffany, I’m represented by LLA, and these are my profiles.

She turns to her right. Turns to her left. Back to camera.

– Thanks darling, and can you just drop the robe now please?

She hesitates for a millisecond, then lets her bathrobe fall. Underneath she is wearing a one-piece bathing suit.

– Okay, so you’re in the back yard and your gorgeous children are playing with your gorgeous husband in the pool, and you’re smiling at them and feeling like everything’s right in the world. That’s it. Happier. A little happier please. Super. And now you notice to camera right – no, camera right – that a jaguar has wandered into the backyard. No no, you’re not scared, you’re just a little perplexed. That’s right. It’s a beautiful creature. Look at its lithe body. Look at those spots as it stalks through your backyard, past your children, past your husband, past the drinks table, past the barbecue. And it’s gone off camera left. You think about it for a second. That’s right. And then you say….

– Honey, I think we should buy that Jag!

– Cut. Great. Thank you.

She gathers her robe up and presses it to her chest, hard. Exits to the foyer. She weaves through the other women standing around in bathrobes waiting for their auditions. Grabs her bag from under the seats, apologising to another actor who has taken her empty spot.

– Excuse me could I just grab my…
– Oh! Sorry about that. How was he?
– Fine, fine. Easy. In and out.
– God why’s it taking so long then? I have another audition across town at three..
– Dunno. Sorry, I’ve got to dash. Good luck with it.

She slides on her thongs, motors to the bathroom as fast as she can without running. Locks herself into a stall and perches on the toilet. When she drops her robe, it is evident that her breasts have been leaking milk. She pulls out and awkwardly assembles a portable breast pump. Pulls the strap of her bathing suit down from her right shoulder. The milk squirts and foams into the container. She sighs with relief.

Act Three

– HI I’M HOME! How is he?
– He’s fine.

She snatches a six week old baby from her husband, nestling him again her body. Her shoulders drop. Her breath settles.

– Hey buddy. How you doing? Did you have a good time with your dad?
– How was the audition?
– The usual. Running late. One take. I nearly sprayed all over the camera, though. That was a new experience. How’s everything here?
– Fine.
– Did he take the bottle?
– You bet. He’s a champ. Aren’t you, buddy?
– How many diapers?
– Didn’t count. You weren’t away that long.
– Really? It felt like forever. I was mentally prepared to be away till two thirty. The minute the clock ticked over I was jonesing for him.
– We were fine.
– I know you were. It’s just. It’s kind of like having one of your internal organs floating around in the world in the care of a stranger.
– I’m not a stranger.
– I know you’re not. That’s not what I mean.
– I know. I have to split.
– Really?
– If I’m going to catch the bus…
– Oh just take the car.
– No you’re right. The parking’s killing us.
– But it takes so much longer. And you’re tired. Aren’t you.
– I’ll be fine. See you little buddy.
– I miss you.
– I miss you too. Take it easy. I’ll see you tonight.

He is gone. She looks at her baby.

-Hello stranger.

seventeen. boy crazy

Can’t settle. Prowling.
Hunting for a way in.
Like trying to find an Advil gel cap dropped on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night.
Did that last night.
Didn’t want to turn on the light because it would be a confession
You’re not sleeping
Refusing to look at the clock
Refusing to put on the specs that will tempt you to look at the red digital light on the microwave that will tell you
You should be asleep now.
On hands and knees, palm floating above the kitchen floor, hovering over the mental image of the Advil gel cap that fell from its plastic and foil nest onto the vast linoleum expanse.
Contact
It rolls
Somewhere
Use the force, Luke
If anyone saw you now they would laugh
Stark naked hair askew on hands and knees in the dead of night
Cow position on the kitchen floor
Using The Force to find a pill that
Dances across the linoleum away from your weathered hand.
But no one’s looking.
No one’s looked for a while now.
And certainly not in the dead of night
In the semi-rural neighbourhood you call home.
If you can find it, night-blind,
Maybe that will be an omen
A sign
A promise
That you will also find a way to write this thing you need to say
But don’t want to confess.

***

So here’s the thing. I keep trying to tell the story of being an actor, but it seems that all my memories are about relationships.

Sigh.

So let’s get on with it. Spit it out. Let’s move on.

Shakespeare, season one. The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing. Much ado about nothing indeed. I flirt with Claudio. I flirt with Lorenzo. A married man takes advantage of my vanity and ignorance. I sing and party and skinny dip in the moonlight. The season ends. I am unemployed with no prospects. I get depressed. I see a drop-in counsellor on Robson Street. You’re not depressed, you’re unemployed. Get a job. I get a job. Retail, extra staff at the Body Shop hired for the Christmas rush. Giving back massages to business men queued up to buy stocking-stuffers for their wives. No really, I don’t work on commission. My assistant manager makes me do this because she’s crazy. I quit on Christmas Eve before they have a chance to sack me. The manager asks me to reconsider. When we said we had to get rid of extra staff we didn’t mean you. Not if it means working with Crazy anymore. I go back to Australia. I get a faxed an offer from the Shakespeare festival offering me a second season. I tell them I’ll come back if they buy the credits that will make me a union member. It’s a struggle but they eventually agree.

Shakespeare, season two. Love’s Labours Lost and The Winter’s Tale. The Princess of France and Perdita. I crash at the new boyfriend’s sister’s place in New West while I hunt for a place of my own. I find a room in a flea-infested boarding house in Kitsilano. I leave my electric blue trench coat, the best second-hand score I ever made, at the boyfriend’s sister’s place. The boyfriend goes on tour and has a fling with his stage manager. The end. I’m more sad about the coat.

I see a play on Granville Island. One of the actors looks like Yul Brynner. Smoky eyed and dangerous. My new friend, the assistant stage manager at the Shakespeare Festival, knows him. She lets slip that he’s been asking about me. He saw me playing the Princess of France. She organizes a girls’ night out. He comes along to play the role of surrogate boyfriend in case of emergency. It’s all a ruse. An excuse for us to meet. A chumper approaches our table and shows an interest in me. I take Yul Brynner’s hand. It fits perfectly. That was eighteen years ago. We don’t hold hands as often as we did then, but when we do his hand still fits. Perfectly.

There. That wasn’t so hard, was it? What’s the big confession? You were boy crazy. Big deal. You don’t have to hate men to be a feminist.

Do you?

fifteen. vangroovy

Toronto in April is grey, cold, flat and hard.  Vancouver in April is green, blue, pink and delicious. You’re going to love Vancouver, one of my classmates promises.   It’s so you.

It’s opening night of The Matchmaker. We’re in the dressing room getting ready when I ask the Mistress of Speech and Dialects if I may borrow her John Barton videos for the week. I want to brush up on my Shakespeare before heading to Vancouver. She coolly refuses me.  Wow, she really doesn’t like you, says the actor playing Dolly, eyes wide.

It’s closing night. Our last performance as student actors. As we take our final bow I notice a tear sail from my eye, catching the light as it arcs into the audience.  It’s relief, not sentiment.  Get stuffed.  I made it through.

At the after-party, the Poet asks if he can write once I get settled.  He says he is going to miss me. He tells me there is a lot he needs to say.

Four days after finishing theatre school I pack my life into a duffle bag. What’s left fits into a few boxes that will squat indefinitely in my dad’s storage locker.  I decide to leave all my music behind. An experiment: new life, new tunes.  But I pack ten postcards that connect me to the past. I’ve been collecting them since high school, favourite paintings from the NSW Art Gallery.  Sydney Long’s Pan, a few from the Heidelberg School, a Brett Whiteley landscape of Sydney Harbour.  They can decorate wherever I end up living.  It’s still up for grabs.  The Grandfather has wangled me a one-way ticket to Vancouver as part of my contract, but accommodation is my responsibility.

I am picked up at the airport by the sister of a friend of my dad.  Her daughter has just bought a new condo in Surrey, and needs a roommate. My eyes pop as we drive from the airport past lush pine trees and rolling green meadows. This is Vancouver, my dad’s friend’s sister says smugly. We try to keep it a secret.  The air is sweet and warm.  I can feel my sap running.  Springtime comes to Vancouver weeks earlier than it does to Toronto. It hasn’t been blanketed in slush and frozen, dirty snow for months – a lumbering cold carrying depression on its back.  Vancouver has slept in damp, chilly darkness, but always holds the promise of green.  March tulips nudging the moist earth are the first hint of spring in Vancouver.  Thawing dog turds are its herald in Toronto.

I stick my postcards up in my empty bedroom, careful not to mar the fresh paint. It’s my first experience of condo living. The whole building smells like new carpet and silicone sealant.  I attempt a trial run of getting into to town for work. A forty minute walk to the Skytrain station, and another forty five minutes into Vancouver.  I can shave fifteen minutes off the walk if I cut through a large, wooded plot of undeveloped land.  I only have to do it once to realise that Surrey is a tough town. Going off the beaten track might not be a good idea.  I’ll be rehearsing six days a week and then performing till eleven at night.  I need to find a place to live in the city, fast.

One of my classmates from theatre school has moved to Vancouver as well.  She doesn’t have a gig, but the weed in Lotusland is cheap and plentiful. My postcards come down and I decamp to her couch in Kitsilano. After my first day of rehearsal, I walk across the Burrard Street Bridge and marvel at my good fortune.  It’s a miniature version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  I claim it as my own. Cyclists whizz past me through the warm sweet night.  Sail boats babble softly in their sleep.  Oil tankers glitter on the horizon under the diamonds sparks of North Van.  My own mini harbour bridge.  This city is all mine.  I have no relatives, no friends, no knowledge of this place.  But I have a job acting Shakespeare for the next five months.

I find a basement apartment just north of Broadway.  The young couple who own the house have converted the basement into an illegal flat to help cover their mortgage.  I’m on a non-Equity contract and extremely conscious of the fact that I’m on my own. There isn’t anyone here to bail me out.  The flat is the cheapest place I can find.  They seem like a nice couple – very eager to have me live beneath them.  It’s not until I move in that I realise that the kitchen they have constructed lacks a sink.  I have to do all my washing in the laundry basin tucked behind the monstrous furnace.  Instead of an oven, there’s a hotplate. The second-hand fridge leaks coolant, contaminating my first load of groceries.   My landlady is rake thin.  She’s just given birth to their first baby.  She is a long-distance runner, but she ignored her doctor’s advice to stop training in the last stage of her pregnancy.  While going for a jog in her thirty-sixth week, the baby’s skull cracked her pelvis. She has to use a rolling office chair to move around the house while her bones knit together again.  I lie on my air mattress listening to her roll back and forth above me on my days off.  They have a huge German Shepherd that likes to paw the basement door open and crouch in the doorway, watching me silently with huge, glittering eyes.  I break the lease after three weeks and demand they return my bond, threatening to report them for operating an illegal suite.  I have discovered self-righteousness.  They give me my money back, shame-faced and abashed.

My postcards come down again. I find another apartment in the back of a huge old boarding house off Denman Street.  All my worldly goods fit into the boot of a taxi-cab.  The driver arrives at my new home, but won’t let me have my belongings.  He wants to take photos of me first.  He pulls out a camera with a telephoto lens and demands that I pose for him in front of his cab.  I refuse.  He has all my stuff.  I don’t know what to do.  A man in his early thirties with a goatee and bright blue eyes approaches. Is there a problem here?  Yeah, this asshole won’t give me my stuff.  His blue eyes go very hard as he stares at the driver. A twinkle of crazy behind them.  Give the lady her stuff, pal.  I’ve been rescued.  The man helps me carry my bags to the tiny furnished apartment at the back of the building.  He’s an actor who lives in the garret of the same boarding house. An American who has moved to Vancouver because the film industry is booming.  Big fish in a friendly Canadian pond.  He’s writing a screenplay and shlocking another film he has already written, produced and starred in.  Rescued by an actor who makes a living playing crazy bad guys. Welcome to Vancouver.

My apartment is so small that I can carry my telephone on its extension cord from the bedroom, through the kitchen and into my bathroom.  I could talk in the bath tub, if I had anyone to call.  I paint one wall salmon pink because the apartment is mine, all mine, and way out my budget but I love it.  I become friends with a squirrel who leaves nuts for me on the windowsill.   I feel like Cinderella until he starts wandering into the kitchen when I leave my door open.  He’s cute when he’s outside, but indoors, he starts to look like a really big rat.  My postcards are up, and I even have a little TV that came with the furnished apartment, but I realise that leaving my music behind was a big mistake.  I have never thought of myself as a muso, but suddenly realise that familiar tunes can make anywhere feel a little more like home.  I am lonely.  I have never lived on my own before.  I didn’t know there were so many hours of silence available to a person.  I buy a cheap guitar and that helps.  I write my first song.

Ode to Joni Mitchell

I’m not a writer,

But I wish I were.

To be quite honest,

I’m more of an editor.

I could tell you I’m a painter,

But I’m afraid you’d scoff.

I can do a nice liking

But it won’t be to your liking, cuz

I’m no Van Gogh.

Do you think you could love me?

There’s not much to see.

I try to be so enigmatic and pretend that I’m an addict, but,

It’s just not me.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of troubles too.

But they’re not anything that could make a record like ‘Blue’.

I’ve never given up a baby

I’ve never even had one

But you know when you’re sensible and sexually responsible,

It’s just not done.

 

I’m a product of the 90’s

I’m really so PC

The only thing left to fight for

Is saving the CBC

 

Do you think you could love me?

There’s not much to see

I try to be so enigmatic and pretend that I’m an addict but

It’s just not me.

fourteen. another character sketch, and a tale

The Mistress of Speech and Dialects resembles Jackie Kennedy. Immaculate, Chanel-style tweed suits, the occasional black turtleneck and plaid woollen pedal-pushers.  Black ballet flats. The Mistress is ageless to my twenty-year old, worshipful gaze, but thinking back she was probably in her late thirties.  Petite and incredibly elegant. Her sense of humour is best described as arch. The Mistress is originally from the prairies – we know that because she comes down extra-hard on anyone with an Albertan twang.  She studied under the illustrious Tim Monich and can switch dialects without missing a beat.  It’s like a magic trick.  She’s chic even when she’s sticking her tongue out and trying to touch her ear with its tip.  She has the lads in a state of semi-arousal whenever she demonstrates how to trace the outline of one’s lips with the tip of one’s tongue.  The Mistress is my idol.  She seems to like me at first, but something becomes dislodged in second year. She asks students to occasionally house-sit for her, but never me.  She cultivates a coterie of young women who gather in her office for cups of tea. I am not invited.  The Mistress has her favourites, and inexplicably, I am not one of them. The harder I try to win her affections, the more I fail.  My phonetic transcriptions are almost faultless; my ear for dialects is sound, but I am never selected to care for her cat.  For the first time in my life, I am not the teacher’s pet.

In second year I tap on her office door, timidly requesting an audience.  I am heart-broken.  The romance that drove a wedge between the furniture salesman and myself has shrivelled on the vine.  Over the course of first year I scared the poet away with my clinginess, insecurity and needs.  I suspect that I have become the class laughingstock. He is now smitten with another girl in our year.  She is adorable, incredibly witty, and not remotely interested in him.  I don’t even have the satisfaction of hating her because I like her so much.

I bring my broken heart to The Mistress and lay it at her feet.  Offer it up as a way to earn her compassion, or at the very least, her pity.  She regards me with cool disdain. Politely perplexed by my presence.  Tea is not offered.  Advice is not given.  I leave her office more ashamed and embarrassed than when I entered.

******

“Why do you want to become actors?”

It’s our third and final year.  We’re in rehearsals for The Matchmaker and I’m playing Mrs Molloy.  It’s my largest role in our season of showcase productions.  A nice supporting character, but I’ve never carried a show.  At my final assessment I summon the courage to ask why I wasn’t cast in a lead.  “We know you’re up for it, darling, and if we had a done a Shakespeare it would have been yours, but the cards just didn’t fall that way”.  Still, Mrs Molloy is…sweet.  She’s not Dolly, but even I know that I’m not right for Dolly.

Our guest director is known around the traps as the Grandfather of Canadian Theatre.  He’s in his late sixties and is a giant of a man – in girth, personality and reputation.  He is rumoured to have been married to one of the doyennes of British theatre, whom he dumped for his current wife. They have three brilliant children, all in the theatre, who grew up in rehearsal studios and green rooms. He’s an avowed Shavian: meat has never passed his nor his offspring’s lips.  He trained at the Old Vic when it could have been called new, and was a member of Canada’s first touring Shakespeare company.  He was friends with fellow ex-pat, Tyrone Guthrie, who founded the wildly successful Stratford Shakespeare Festival. To rookie actors across Canada, Stratford is the pinnacle of success.

We are all mildly terrified at the thought of being directed by this legend of Canadian theatre.  He is infamous for falling asleep in rehearsal if the actors on stage bore him.  It is later discovered that decades of excessive drinking at backstage bars has left him with undiagnosed diabetes.  The tendency to lapse into sleep is—not necessarily—a product of banal performances, but the onset of a mild diabetic coma. The last time he played Lear at Stratford, he is reputed to have forgotten his lines but managed to improvise, in blank verse, until he found his way back to the text.

One Friday afternoon he calls rehearsal to a halt two hours ahead of schedule.  “That’s fine,” he booms in his plummy, cavernous voice.  “You know what you’re doing.  We don’t need to overwork it.  Let’s go to the bar.” These post-rehearsal drinking sessions become our true education in Canadian theatre history.  It becomes apparent that he either witnessed, or was part of, all of it.  The names we have heard bandied about over the last three years of training are either his closest friends or dismissed with a wave of a huge, liver-spotted fist. We listen spellbound, collectively playing Hal to his Falstaff, as he regales us with apocryphal stories from the earliest days.  “There was a company that toured the icy wastes of Northern Canada, bringing Shakespeare to the fur traders and gold miners,” he says.  “They did Othello in the mining camps, the Scottish Play in tin sheds, the Merchant of Venice in knocked-together huts in the dead of winter.  In one town, at the end of Hamlet the men were so enthralled that they leapt to their feet, applauding and crying Author! Author! at the tops of their lungs, so desperate were they to thank the writer for taking them away from their miserable, frozen existence for a few hours.  After the final curtain the actor-manager playing Hamlet removed his wig and delicately explained to throng that the author had died some three hundred years earlier.  They were so enraged by the news that the bastards killed him!”  He dissolves into phlegmy laughter at his own tale.

We are in the rehearsal room, not the bar, when he asks us why we have chosen to become actors.  It is the first time we have been invited to express our thoughts.  I quietly panic as the conversation moves around the circle.  It’s a common sensation.  I am not one of the bright lights in this group.  I don’t often speak up anymore. I have come to the realisation that I am not the most talented person in this class. Others have already been offered contracts and agents, the whispers of stellar careers to come. Two are going to Stratford.  One is going to the Shaw Festival.    My dreams of theatre school – a place where I fit in, a place that makes up for the years of being a misfit, an outsider, a nigel-no-mates, a loser, have not come to pass.  Once again, I don’t belong.  I don’t know the Canadian bands, I don’t follow a hockey team, and I can’t do a good impression of Jean Chrétien.  My best results have been in Costume and Theatre History, much-maligned classes that require book-smarts. Comments from most of my teachers are variations on a theme: You try too hard.  You’re too busy being a good student to let the great actor come out.  The harder I try, the worse I get.  Not just as an actor, but also in simply trying to connect with my classmates. They are Canadian. They look good in flannel.  They genuinely like Kraft dinner.  They loved summer camp as kids. I am from…away.

How do I tell the Grandfather of Canadian Theatre that all I ever wanted was go to theatre school?  To be a professional actor – to get paid to act – seemed impossibly remote. Getting into theatre school was dream enough. But, worse, how do I confess that it’s all turned to dust?  That I’ve wasted three years of training, agonising about the poet who wants me and rejects me over and over again.  Every time I fuck around to get him out of my heart, he wants me back.  And every time I think we’ve made a fresh start, he pulls away.   Three years of emotional masochism, exacerbated by the fact that directors relentlessly cast us in vicious, sexually-charged scenes.  Judith Thompson’s dysfunctional lovers who end in bloodshed. Richard wooing Anne over her husband’s coffin. It’s become a class joke. And yet, I still can’t bring myself to throw away the poems he wrote to me in his beautiful, cramped handwriting.

It’s my turn to speak. My classmates wait. One picks at a fingernail, already bored.  “I wanted to become an actor because I couldn’t decide on just one job.  There is so much in life to experience.  How are you supposed to choose?  If I’m an actor I can research and imagine myself into all the lives I’ll never get the chance to live.”

Silence.  Thanks to script analysis, I now know this is called a beat.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that,” he tells me.

The person to my left begins to speak when I jump in. “But I don’t think I’m going to go through with it.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I think I’m going to chuck it in.”

“And why is that?”

“Because it makes me crazy.  I’ve been…a little crazy here.  I haven’t been happy.  I love acting so much, but if the business is going to make me feel the way I’ve felt for the last three years…I don’t think it’s worth it.”

The beat turns into a prolonged pause as the Grandfather studies me. Then he slowly directs his gaze around the circle.

“Listen very closely to what she has just said, my dears.  This business is not for everyone.  My daughter is a brilliant actor.  However unlike her brother, who is also quite good, she knows that the stage can never completely satisfy her.  She is still in the theatre, mind you, but she is a stage manager.  And she’s fucking brilliant at it.  This business can chew you up and spit you out.  You can love it, and want it desperately, but it can play with your heart.  Remember to protect your heart.”

We are in tech a week later, when the Grandfather quietly calls me to his side.  He offers me a job, a summer understudying Portia and Beatrice at a Shakespeare festival in Vancouver.  “We’ll find you a part too, darling.  Something small, but fun. Let’s see…would you rather play Jessica, or Hero?” I stumble over my words, not quite sure if I’m awake. “Um. Hero. I think.” He pats my hand. “Good choice.”

twelve. failed actor

(Listen to the small dark voice that speaks in the wee hours of the night…)

I believe I am trivial.

That my work is trivial. That acting is trivial, and research about actors is therefore also trivial.
I believe that actors aren’t as important as the other artists who make theatre.
I believe that the makers are more important than the interpreters.

If I believe that I am trivial, how can I believe in my work?

I believe that certain types of actors are more important than other actors. Stage actors are more important than film actors. Famous actors are less trivial than not-famous actors. Working actors are less trivial than unemployed actors.
Failed actors are the most trivial of all.

Correction: I am the most trivial of all.

What if that is not true? What if that is just internalised codswollop? What if acting is as important as any other job in the theatre? As any other job in the world? It’s one of the oldest jobs, in many ways. The storyteller, the bard…(The whore, whispers the little dark voice).

What if you are doing research about actors to illuminate the importance of that job? The real importance: not how much money you can make, or acclaim you can garner, or jobs you can list on IMDB. What if you are exploring the importance of the skills that make acting valuable to society? The ability to tell a story. The ability to connect with others using your voice, your eyes and your presence. The ability to be honest and vulnerable. The ability to really be present with others. The ability to be spontaneous and take risks. The ability to express emotion. The ability to be playful. The ability to say yes, let’s! The ability to empathise. The ability to reflect. The ability to imagine. The ability to walk in another person’s shoes.

These are not trivial things. These are things that are worth taking off the stage and carrying into other domains. It is not a failure to take these qualities off the stage and into other fields.

Where did this mingy little voice come from? Why do I believe I am trivial? Class, race, gender. Those crop up a lot. Middle-class white girl. Yep. What the hell do you have to complain about? No one told me I was trivial, no one in my family or my school. They told me I could be a doctor. They told me I could be a lawyer. They told me I could be the prime minister of Australia. To choose to be an actor instead…well, that is trivial. Unless it’s Shakespeare. Or it pays a lot. Otherwise, it’s trivial. Yes, I did hear that. Or at least inferred it by the way they didn’t listen. Didn’t get it. Didn’t come, or didn’t care.

They don’t understand what I do, and they don’t care.

But I don’t understand what they do, and I don’t particularly care about their work either.

And yet I love them dearly.

And a lot of the acting stuff is trivial. That’s what never really fit. The film stuff, the commercials, the need to look a certain way…it’s true, that agent was right: I never really did get it. It didn’t fit me. I kept peering through the cracks.

But I love the process, unpacking it with students. Finding a way in with them, constructing the world. I don’t want to be a film maker. I just love discovering how to bring a character, a story, to life on film. How to move that technique from the stage to the screen.
Is that important? I think so. I think it is important to introduce young actors to the industry with integrity, honesty and kindness. I think it is important for them to know that their skills are valuable, no matter what they end up doing with them. Actors are important. There is no theatre, no film, without them. But moreover, their ability to connect, to be vulnerable and brave, honest and empathetic, to be human, can be the foundation for the individual biographies they eventually forge.

eleven. character sketch

The theatre school’s Head of Acting. Reincarnation of Oscar Wilde. I’ll call him Sir. A mane of steel grey hair, leather waistcoat and Egyptian ankh hanging about his neck. A small pouch perpetually suspended from his belt. Utterly terrifying and infinitely knowledgeable about theatre history. His tiny office is at the back of the school. At your annual Christmas interview you perch on a small, velvet footstool and Sir peers at you over his half-glasses, resting in his ornate throne. Columns of books loom down at you, the hapless acting student. Sir gives everyone a D as a matter of principle; that principle being it is both unethical and impossible to grade Art. (His objection to  academic bureaucracy duly noted, none of us ever earn a GPA to high enough to qualify for a scholarship.) It is rumoured that if pressed, Sir will occasionally bestow D+ on an individual who demonstrates really exceptional talent – or at least exceptional aptitude for his class. We speculate through first year about who might earn it. It’s obvious to me: the one who has since turned out to indeed be a star of the Canadian stage. At my second year Christmas interview (dubious Christmas gift, being told what Sir actually thinks of you) he frowns into his ledger. “I gave you a D last year?” He sniffs. “Should have been a D+”. 

In second year we undertake Period Study under Sir’s tutelage: a term-long investigation into a given era of theatre history. All our classes contribute to the research, culminating in a showcase of scenes and songs. I have no recollection whatsoever of the period we investigated. All I remember is learning a Somerset dialect and playing country floozy. During our first read-through, Sir solemnly removes the pouch from his belt and loosens the knot. In it, we discover, is snuff. He passes it around the table and invites us all to “take a pinch”. I know that it is a teaching opportunity, referencing something mentioned in the script. But the ritual of passing around the pouch, which you discover is made of soft, fragrant leather, inhaling the snuff to the watchful eyes of the group, laughing together at the inevitably ridiculous reaction, is the stuff of Mysteries. You are actors now. You have earned The Snuff. Welcome to the club.

eight. theatre school

It wasn’t until I moved in with the furniture salesman that I appreciated a fundamental truth: a cup doesn’t have legs. A dirty plate lacks the instinct to migrate back to the kitchen.  A used pair of underpants will stay on the floor beside the bed, sprouting a delicate coat of dust, unless a human being picks them up and carries them to the laundry basket.  If there is a laundry basket.  While I had certainly participated in housework, until then it had always been at the behest of parents.  My worldly experience up to that point had demonstrated that, if you wait long enough, a cup abandoned on the coffee table will eventually find its way home.  I had never fully appreciated the miraculous nature of this event.  Living with the furniture salesman was something of an epiphany.  A cup will not teleport from the living room to the sink.  A person has to carry it there.  Apparently that person had been my mother. Although there had been frequent grumblings and exhortations for assistance, surfaces had revealed themselves, laundry had been washed and the pantry had been restocked, all below the level of my conscious awareness.

Apparently the furniture salesman was under the same misconception. A dirty cup would squat on his coffee table, stubbornly refusing to put itself away. Considering that he had been living on his own for several years, it was perplexing that he had not realised crockery’s lack of magical properties.  His apparent ignorance became increasingly disturbing when I realised that dirty cups hadn’t sprouted like mushrooms when we were dating.  Now that we were living together – now that we were engaged – my mother’s magical, unseen ability to clean up had apparently been bestowed upon me as well.

It was during this process of cleaning up one afternoon that I heard a voice speak quite clearly to me:  “Well, you can always get divorced”.

I was engaged because the furniture salesman wasn’t keen on me starting theatre school.  He was worried that I would be lured away from him.  Six days a week, twelve hours a day was a long time to be apart.  We had moved into the city so I could be closer to school.  My bohemian fantasy was taking shape: a funky loft apartment above an architect’s studio. A futon, purple walls and an oversized poster of us, locked in a passionate kiss, which took pride of place above the sofa.  We cleaned up dozens of used condoms in the tiny backyard, souvenirs of hookers who parked there with their johns until I begged the landlord to install security lighting. We spent the summer before I started school travelling around rural Ontario and upstate New York, distributing catalogues and taking orders with furniture stores in his district.  We would stay in cheap motels where the towels were almost translucent and the carpets were ominously sticky. When we came home from a sales trip, he would pay me to process the purchase orders.  I would lie on the floor in my underwear, bathed in a pool of late summer sun, doing paperwork while reruns of The Simpsons kept me company and he got high.

He was worried I would leave him when I started school.  He was worried that I would meet someone else.  I thought that by wearing his ring on my finger I could make him feel safe.

Make sure you take care of my boy.

I faxed the news to Mum. It was before the age of emails. I faxed her at work, where I knew she would have to control herself.  Later, much later, she revealed she was so upset that they sent her home early.

The ring was an amethyst.  Not expensive, but nice.  Oblong shaped.  On my second day of acting school, lying on the floor in voice class, I rolled over, opened my eyes and saw a big scratch across its glossy purple face.

The memories are pictures now – flashes, like coloured glass beads that are startling in their vividness, but disconnected.

Walking to school on the first day, red and gold leaves falling through God’s fingers.  Look what I’ve done. Look what I’m doing!

Sitting in the green room with all the other newbies, sizing each other up.  Realising that the girl on the couch is going to drive me crazy for the next three years.

“Look to your right, look to your left.  Of the three of you, only one will still be in the business five years after you graduate.  If you graduate”.  The thought, almost audible, running through everyone’s heads: It’s going to be me.  I’ll be the one who makes it.

The first baptism of fire: day one, first years perform one of their audition monologues for the entire school.  Whole body trembling as I get ready to do Miss Julie. Discovering that you will never, ever, ever have a more enthusiastic or responsive audience than a group of acting students.

The red headed poet.  He plays the guitar.  His beard is gold like the leaves outside. He tells me later that it was in our first theatre history class, when I was able to define Rococo, that he was hooked.

He gives me a mix tape of Canadian bands I should know.  I’m playing it while I do my homework, not listening to the lyrics.  The furniture salesman is suddenly raging, throwing things, storming.  Are you listening?  Did you hear what he said? Bewildered, I rewind the tape and listen with attention. Grab the cassette case to find the name of the song written in his tiny, elegant hand.  The Skydiggers. Slow Burning Fire. 

Oh.

Oh god.

five. teeth, or the removal of wisdom(s)

This is the story of how determined I was to go to theatre school.

The six months are up. It’s time to head back to my real life in Australia. Back to a uni course I hate, and a second stab at NIDA I guess, but my heart’s just not in it. I’ve had a glorious summer in Toronto. Making theatre. Learning to like coffee. Falling in, out and back into what seems like love. I’ve met a long-haired Southern Baptist who wants to be an actor but makes a living as a furniture salesman for his family firm back in Charlotte, North Carolina.  I direct him in a play at TSP.  He’s a gentle bear of a man who introduces me to home-grown vegetables, smudging ceremonies and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

I think want to stay in Canada.

I discuss the matter with a loon floating on Little Clam Lake.  It’s an Indian summer, and my folks have taken me to their annual cottage getaway in the Muskokas. I spend hours propelling myself about the lake in a tiny borrowed rowboat.  Drinking in the stillness of the glassy, sweet water.  So different from the churning salt-foam of Sydney’s beaches.  I explore Little Clam’s coves, watch the clouds and pine trees mirror themselves in the lake’s surface, press my nose to the sun-baked canvas of the lifejackets, a smell that reminds me of a childhood memory so old that both my parents are in it.  Sticky pine needles and faded orange canvas. The puk-puk sound of lake waves kissing the edge of the boat. This is a part of me, this place.  This is a landscape I forgot I knew.  Flashes of memory, or images from baby pictures from when I was the only child, which means they must have still been married.  Maybe still happy, though I don’t remember anything other than the smell of hot pine needles and life jackets. Oh my god, this is my home too. This was my home, first.

Jesus. This was meant to be a funny story.  A description, triggering a memory, triggering an epiphany:  I didn’t want to stay because I wanted to be an actor. I wanted stay because Canada was home.

So I talk to the loon about it as I float in the middle of Little Clam Lake.  What to do, what to do?  How do I tell my mother that I want to make a life 13, 000 miles away?  She’s going to freak. Think of the positives. Imagine how excited Dad will be.  The daughter he has missed for so long – seen for a grand total of 27 weeks over the last nine years – wants to stay!  Wants to move in with him and his wife! Only – now this is awkward. This is delicate, how I approach this memory and not hurt anyone.  Because I really don’t want to hurt anyone. But it’s part of the story and I have to at least acknowledge what happened, because it triggered stuff that won’t make sense otherwise.  Bonehead decisions that I made.  Serious ramifications barely dodged.  Stuff that shaped the ensuing years.  The deal was six months – I would stay with them for six months.  It never crossed my mind that it would be a problem if I wanted to extend the invitation.  Of course now, older, my toes curl in embarrassment at the arrogance of that assumption.  It was my stepmother’s apartment.  Dad had moved in with her when they got married, but it had been her space for years already.  To have a nineteen year old girl suddenly take up residence in the second bedroom, eating their food, living her life, often getting home in the wee hours of the morning, occasionally not getting home at all…I get it now.  That wasn’t part of the deal.  But at the time, it was completely unexpected that I wouldn’t be wanted.

I have to be delicate here because the last thing I want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings. I am infinitely grateful to my stepmother for marrying my dad.  She’s the best thing that ever happened to him.  My nightmares about him trapped in his bachelor apartment during a blizzard went away when they got married.  And I wasn’t angry when he told me the news.  Definitely surprised. Hurt, I guess – but hurt mainly at how torn he was.  Divided loyalties.  Awkward.  I don’t want to be the cause of this. I go back to Australia, but I’m already hatching Plan B.

The long-haired furniture salesman.  I’ll stay with him, just till I get on my feet.  Find a job, get a place, apply for theatre schools.  He’s more than happy to let me crash at his pad.  I’m in Australia for six weeks, on the dole, packing up my life and avoiding my mother’s tearful gaze when my long-haired lover calls long-distance.  Hysterical over the phone.  His mother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My jaw aches.  My gums are flaring.  I’ve been gargling with hydrogen peroxide for weeks to stave off infection in my impacted molars.  They have to come out.  My mother and stepfather are sympathetic, but I’m nineteen now and no longer under their health-care package. If I want to have my teeth removed I’ll just have to spend my airline ticket money.  Canada isn’t going anywhere – maybe after you finish your degree you can think about going back.  Forget it. If you won’t support me I’ll figure it out on my own.  Getting used to that now.

The School of Dentistry in Haymarket offers free services if you’re prepared to be a guinea pig for the students.  I wait for hours in the dusty corridors.  They’ve been offering “modern and efficient treatment for the impoverished” since 1940. I don’t think much has changed. Migrants and irritable mothers with packs of runny-nosed children are my companions. When I am finally ushered into the theatre I smile brightly at half a dozen wide-eyed students, all about my age.  “You lot look even more scared than I me!” I joke, attempting to break the ice.  When no-one cracks a smile I know I’m fucked.

All I remember is the lecturing dentist’s voice bellowing over the buzz of the saw as it carves into my jaw:  “GO DEEPER!  GO DEEPER!”

My step-father picks me up afterwards, smiling sympathetically.  I can’t move my mouth to respond.

Two weeks later, although the pain has largely receded I still can’t completely open my mouth.  I wedge a mag-light between my teeth and peer into the bathroom mirror.  Mystery solved.  One of the students has accidentally sewn the inside of my mouth to my gum. I sterilize the manicure scissors over a Bic lighter and manage to cut the stiches free.  It’s lovely to be able to yawn again.

I make a compilation tape of the classical music I’ve grown up listening to, and play it for my mother the night before I leave.  We sob in each other’s arms to Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

My plane is stuck on the tarmac at Kingsford Smith for five hours.  My family are long-gone, back to their regular lives. I clutch a going-away present from my larrikin uncle, a wooden box with strict instructions emblazoned on its lid: do not open until in flight.  The minutes ooze. It feels like Australia is playing one last trick on me.  We’re not letting you go that easily, love.  We’re finally ordered off the plane so they can make unspecified repairs, and squat in a corridor for a spell.  One lad cracks open his duty-free grog and we tuck in.  A supercilious attendant warns us that if we keep it up we might not be let back on the plane.  When we finally take off I’m buzzed with Jack Daniels and tears. My seat companions are desperate to know what’s in the box.  I pry it open and find three baby crocodiles nestled in a bed of straw, grinning toothily at me.

When I arrive in Toronto thirty hours later I’m met by the long-haired furniture salesman. I don’t recognize him at first. His face is pasty. His hair is lank.  A spasm jolts through me: this is a huge mistake.

four. invisibility

Thinking, as I wander through the happy, buzzing city of Adelaide in my 42 year-old body, about invisibility and anonymity. The complaint expressed by so many women once they reach ‘a certain age’ that they become invisible. I’ve noticed it myself since…when? Since becoming a mother? Is it since I got older, or became a teacher? Or to be more precise, when I let go of being an actor? My fingers itch to shave all my hair off, to let it grow back its natural colour. To see what salt and pepper would look like. To commemorate the transition from actor to PhD candidate. To say get stuffed to society’s insistence that youth is beauty. Bald is in. People would probably assume I’m doing chemo. I could raise money for charity: they have head-shaving fundraisers these days. But I can’t quite bring myself to pull the clippers out from under the sink. I tell myself I it’s because I won’t get work in the odd commercial I seem to book every ten months or so, which, while they don’t remotely satisfy as an artist, sure help pay the bills. I don’t do it because my nine year old daughter’s eyes fill with tears every time I threaten it. I remember that childhood fear so well. A parent who changes is no longer immortal. I give myself these excuses, but really, is it just because I’m too vain? I’d do it for a show…give me the chance to play Queen Elizabeth or a cancer patient and I’d be all over it. But simply to overcome some personal vanity…I’m just not brave enough.
Self-worth is enmeshed with visibility for vast swathes of our lives. And yet there is such freedom in not being noticed. The little girl I watched while the kids were at their swimming lesson: she was about nine, and danced with complete abandon to the pop music pumping through the PA system. Effortlessly graceful, moving just for the pleasure of discovering what her birdlike little body could do. Children assume their invisibility. It’s only when we begin to equate value with being seen that beauty starts to matter.

a scene.
phone rings
– Hello?
– How does it feel to be the most beautiful woman on the Canadian stage?
– Why thank you, sir. You’re pretty gorgeous yourself…
– No, no – that’s what it says in the paper this morning. Haven’t you seen it?
– Sorry?
– Honey pass me the paper… here it is. “Newcomer Tiffany Knight, one of the most beautiful women on the Canadian stage–”

– Your wife’s there?
– Why wouldn’t she be? Hey li’l buddy, get off the table. Eat your banana…

– I have to go.
– Aren’t you excited? You’re the most beautiful –
– Sure thing. I’ll see you later.

A few weeks ago I was noticed, after a show I’d seen at the Bakehouse. I was walking back to my car down a quiet road off Hutt Street. A knot of drunken men emerged out of the parklands and began weaving towards me. You know that feeling of foreboding when you suddenly go on high alert? The feeling of your guts suddenly going very cold?
I can tell I’m going to have to pass them to get to my car. I haven’t felt this kind of dread for a long time. These days I’m not often alone in the city after dark. I can tell when they spot me. Their drunken veering takes on purpose: a school of fish thinking as a single organism. One starts howling “Lady in Red” at the top of his lungs. I casually readjust my keys inside the pocket of my red trench coat. My arm stays relaxed, but at its end is now a spiked fist; the only piece of self-defence I’ve picked up. That, and making myself invisible, an old trick I developed walking home from theatre school in Toronto past the drunks on Queen St East. A technique refined after rehearsals at the Firehall, walking to the bus stop past the junkies and panhandlers on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Fix your gaze into the middle distance. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t flinch, even when someone lurches across your path. Don’t respond to catcalls or requests for spare change. Make yourself look busy, alert – on a mission – but never run. Never show fear.
As I get to my car the one of the drunks lunges at me. “Lady in reeeed…..daaancing with me….cheek to cheek…” A girl on a bicycle glides past. She stops. “Are you alright?” Bless her. Solidarity with a twenty-something. A girl on a street bike, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, coming to my defence. One guy detaches himself from the clutch and pulls his mate back. “Sorry love…he’s really drunk…c’mon mate…” I push the button on my keychain that unlocks the car. The hazard lights wink cheerily. “I’m fine. Thanks”. The girl cycles into the night. I sit in my car and shake. Furious with them. Furious that my favourite red coat just turned me into a target. Furious with myself because I used to feel that kind of fear more often – but as a younger woman, would have simply accepted it. All those moments of bittersweet nostalgia, of feeling invisible to men because I’m older, a mother, not-an-actor; and suddenly I crave invisibility again.

three. an adventure, and an interruption

This is the story of how I got into theatre school.

My plane descended into Toronto on April 1st, 1992.  April Fool’s Day.  If Sydney on take-off was a Jackson Pollack painting – an exuberant spray of terracotta roofs, green football ovals and turquoise swimming pools—Toronto was a tired Mondrian. A study in greys and browns, dissected into orderly right angles by highways, roads and residential blocks. Good grief, what have I done? I had invited myself to spend six months living with my father and his new wife in their compact, two-bedroom apartment.  I didn’t know what I would do in Toronto, but I hoped a gap year would give me an opportunity to gain ‘life experience’, that elusive requirement for acceptance into NIDA, and spend some longed-for time with my father.

The day after I arrived, I sat in their tiny kitchen and leafed through the Yellow Pages looking for acting schools.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Sound of phone being picked up and a person drawing back on a cigarette.

Male voice: Toronto Studio Players.

Me: Um. Hello. Yes. My name is Tiffany Knight and I’m interested in doing some acting classes.

Pause.

Male voice: Tiffany Knight.  Now that is a name I could put on a marquis.

Hook, line and sinker.

I caught a two buses and a subway to Pape Station. The funky east side of the inner city. Toronto Studio Players was a tiny black box theatre-cum-acting school converted out of a meatpacking warehouse. The stage, wings, bleachers and booth had been constructed from materials ‘acquired’ from the discarded set of The Fly, a 1980s horror movie starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. The film tells the story of a rogue geneticist whose experiments in teleportation go horribly wrong. I saw it in a Honolulu hotel room when I was twelve, at the end of my annual visit with my dad. It was the first time my brother and I had returned to Canada for Christmas. Normally my father would spend three weeks with us in Australia, but celebrating Christmas with my mother and stepfather must have been wearing a little thin. He had travelled as far as Hawaii to make sure we made the transfer between flights safely.  It was meant to be a great adventure, but Hawaii was a sickly-sweet nightmare,  a delaying tactic to avoid the farewell we all knew would be agonizing. Watching The Fly on our last night together should have been a treat, proof that I was a big girl now.  But the sight of Jeff Goldblum’s fingernails sloughing off and his teeth dropping out as he descended into madness still gives me an involuntary shiver. I remember how, his transformation into a fly complete, he silently landed behind a huge translucent window. Suddenly it shattered and he stole away Geena’s sleeping form. I spent a vigilant night staring at the glowing hotel window as the air conditioner hissed.

The day I arrived at TSP its founder, Hersh Jacob, was sitting in a darkened office, his overgrown beard and greying ponytail illuminated by the light of a single, crane-necked lamp. He was wreathed in a cloud of marijuana smoke.  Hersh was a visual artist, the creator of whimsical, surreal cartoons that filled the walls of the theatre.  He was the artistic director, sole acting teacher and visionary behind a company that had started through the goodwill of government grants and continued to function on the occasional student’s fees, Hersh’s charm, and the smell of an oily rag. By the end of our meeting I had been recruited to design and run lights for the weekly Friday night cabaret, and was prepped to apply for a provincial grant that would pay me $350 a fortnight to work for the company. And work I did.  I bought a C-wrench and learned how to design a lighting plot from a book on theatre production I found in a second-hand bookstore on Queen Street. I learned how to hang and focus lamps from the resident lighting designer, Dwayne.  Dwayne was a twenty-something guy with albinism, which meant he was legally blind—somehow the contradictions inherent in a blind lighting designer just seemed to work at TSP—and by Friday night I was in the booth ready to tech my first show.  Nobody turned up. True to Hersh’s principles, we hung the Sold Out sign on the door and did the show anyway.

During the six months I worked at TSP I performed, taught acting classes, directed a Harold Pinter play, stage managed a tour and produced a summer festival. I also helped to keep the photocopier in the office, participating in an ingenious scheme Hersh had developed.  It worked like this: you contact a large photocopier company and express an interest in buying a machine.  Explaining that this is a big investment for a small, not-for-profit organization, the company is persuaded to lend you a demonstration model to see if it will suit your needs. You take advantage of the fact that your unmemorable little theatre company can easily slip through the bureaucratic cracks of the multinational organization, and have free use of the photocopier for several months. When they eventually get in touch to see if you like the machine – and if not can we please have it back – you assume the identity of a hapless administrative dogsbody who doesn’t know anything about the arrangement, and promise to investigate the situation immediately. For the ensuing several weeks, each time you answer the phone you do so as a different character who again pleads ignorance and promises to look into the matter. Apart from being a thrilling exercise in character study (I know for a fact that at least one nom de plume endures as a result of this scheme), TSP had excellent printed resources for years, and as far as I know only abandoned the project when the photocopier eventually broke down.

Hersh Jacob was a scoundrel and a pot-head.  He was also a master of charm and an inspiration.  He gave me my first piece of acting advice, which I still—

The screen door slams. I’m jolted out of my reveries about the bohemian world of Toronto theatre and back onto the front porch. “There you are Mum!” chimes Oscar, the dog cradled in his arms. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” He snuggles into my lap, my almost eleven year old boy. I have to fold all his limbs in to make him fit. It’s a student-free day, which once again I’ve forgotten about.

He’s standing beside me right now. Hovering politely, waiting for me to engage. “If I’m not there, how do I know that Tokyo really exists?” Silence. I write. He’s just put a live caterpillar, rescued from a spider’s web, on the blank page next to where I’m writing. Delicately lifts the blank page so the grub will roll toward my hand. “Do grasshoppers have eyes?” Sweetly oblivious to the fact that I’m TRYING TO WRITE. “I wonder what kind of bug he’s a larva for?” Deliberating as to whether he should put the rescued caterpillar in the potted geranium he’s been tending so diligently since I showed him how to grow it from a cutting. The previous interruption – the one I tried to write about when he interrupted me this second time – turned into an episode of quiet, heartfelt sobbing in my lap, because I suggested he play with his bow and arrow. He hasn’t touched them since Christmas, when he broke the rules and let a friend shoot without parental supervision.  A hole through the shed wall, which so easily could have been a hole through a ten year old skull.  Evidently the heat of my wrath has ruined the entire experience of archery. Cheer up buddy, it’s my fault – I should have known you and your friends aren’t ready for that kind of freedom yet. I’m not used to having a big boy, you know. I’m figuring these things out too. Come on lovey, give me a smile.  Will you teach me how to shoot today?  He refuses to be coaxed into happiness.  Go inside to make him French toast, trying earn his smile back – bad mother, damaging mother, irresponsible mother – but there’s no maple syrup. “Don’t worry Mum I’ll just have plain toast.” My wee martyr. Lucy is watching ‘Annie’ for the seventh time. Lucy, turn it down. LUCY TURN IT DOWN! “What are we going to do today?” she moans into the blissful silence. What am I, the tour guide? Figure something out. Boredom is the…struggling to create a metaphor involving dirt and flowers as I make toast. “Boredom is the garden in which creativity blooms.”  She stares at me, deadpan and suddenly sixteen in her 8 year old body.  “What are you talking about?” Go outside and play.  

Mum must engage. Mum must entertain. Why don’t they hover around their dad, waiting for him to “do something” with them? Is it because I almost always drop everything to play, to feed, to cuddle, to boss? Because, as our lives get busier and they get more independent, it seems that is how more and more of our time together is spent. Bring the bins in. Get the eggs. Clean your room. And they do.  They are lovely, helpful little people. But the playing together has been increasingly replaced by working together, and if they play while I work, I feel guilty.  If I’m writing, I feel their sweet, discreet presences waiting for Mum to see them, admire them, and a voice inside me whispers, “They won’t want you to play with them for much longer now.  You will be replaced by lovers and friends and careers before you know it. Grab it while you can.”  But when I put the pen down, or the book down, or the dishcloth down to just be with them, the other voices whimper “Feed me! Feed me!”