Crying into my tea, instead of rehearsing. – Mental Update 5

Image courtesy of Hannah Hull

In a week and a half I’m showing a work in progress of Mental at In-between Time, Bristol. (Afraid the tickets are sold out.) The process from November onwards is going okay, I made an active decision to work with the material on a little and often basis of a few hours a day, that seems to have worked out well. When I say well, I perhaps mean doable, or some sense of consistency.

The piece now has a full chronology for the periods the documents, that we got under the data protection act, detail – from 1999 until now. Obviously it’s a much slimmer version of the story than these documents tell, I’ve found that some stories are better told from a much more personal perspective, some are perhaps too painful to tell other than through the cold language of medical practice or legal and police notes, but this balance services the story and pacing along.

It’s a novel thing for me to have my work programmed and for it to be shown within a performance festival context, which has been mostly through choice. Many ‘outsider’ artists struggle with this problem as they become ‘successful’. With this novelty comes another novelty, the question of ‘how is it going?’.

Okay, so normally this is not how it goes. I don’t announce I’m going to do something – a performance, intervention, hack etc, it happens and people find out afterwards. Even stranger is the idea that a person would be able to buy a ticket for a piece of my work. Yet here we are with an abnormal experience, for a change. (Saying that when your work sells out that can feel nice, so it’s important to keep your capacity really low to achieve this, particularly if you’re work isn’t supposed to be loved by the art world.)

Yes, so, people keep asking me ‘how is it going?’. For me this is a difficult question. It’s one of those question that people ask, like ‘How are you?’ it has as much in common with a greeting than a thoughtful, or unthoughtful, question. So that brings up a few problems that luckily I’m use to. Asking a person with an invisible disability ‘how are you?’ can be a nightmare for that person, the question maybe asking truly how you are, or could be saying ‘hello’. How do you judge this, and how do you judge this when you suffer from a condition that makes ordinary talking difficult. This is a problem, most likely the answer isn’t straight forward, at all. ’Yes, I’m okay expect when I’m thinking about smashing my head into a wall’. So what is the person asking and can you figure it out without being forced into eye contact? Is a person actually asking ‘how is making mental?’ or if the question is just ‘hope making mental is going well?’. In the moment you need to judge very quickly the intention of the question, and quickly formulate a response depending on how well you know that person and how well they know you. If the question is simply ‘how’s it going?’ this is fine, simple ‘it’s going okay’ is the default answer, with maybe a little ‘this person’s help has been really great..’. Sometimes this isn’t the question, and the person asking genuinely wants to know how it going. This is the hard bit. In all honesty the answer is going to come across as something difficult or worse something distressing. So let’s ask the question with honest intent.

How is making mental?

‘It’s going, well… (blow out hard on the intake of nicotine.) It’s okay but it’s giving me a lot of flash backs to fairly painful stuff and it’s playing havoc with my anxiety… I’m not sleeping well. I can’t work on it as long as I would like and I don’t really know why I’m doing it, I’d rather be doing something else to be honest, I’ve got this really exciting sitcom I’m writing. Fuck knows, maybe I’m a Sadomasochist. ‘

I guess a perfectly reasonable response to this would be ‘Why are you doing it?’ or ‘Why not take a break from it?’.  But don’t bring logic into it, after all this is a show about being Mental, not about attempts to become so – and it’s not about acting either. (Why people are still employed to fake things is beyond me.)

Is this the key to something bigger? Is it perfectly normal to have a very different approach to the standardized, passed on through dull academics, approach to making performance? Maybe it is, just don’t look at what everyone else is doing or try to understand it through these standardized and taught ways of doing. And maybe when someone asks the dreaded question, feel more confident about not applying it to yourself, even if it does feel arrogant, it isn’t really.
I guess I should rest and try and get myself together before tomorrow’s rehearsal.