In June and July 2014, I will be spending two months as a writer-in-residence at Teatru Salesjan in Malta, creating new work and holding workshop sessions under the name ‘Beyond Borders’. This project is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. Part of the process will be writing down my experiences weekly.
“What good is preserving the beauty of the world for you if you goddamn leave?”
– The Historian, The Silent City
We all have reasons for doing what we do. The intentional and unconscious ones. Whether you believe they are irrational, psychologically explainable or a sum of past experiences and assumptions inevitably leading towards this, all actions have consequences. This past week I’ve thought a lot about choices and the ability of people to change.
As I was walking through the Crafts Village in Ta’ Qali, I suddenly realized that – apart from nature – it’s the seemingly ugly places I love most. It was a former army base; stone semi-circle barracks with aluminium plated roofs turned into a collection of shops where they sell craftwork, trees full of flowers to naturally cover up its military appearance, a cafetaria that smelled of frying pans (but with nice coffee!) and a handful of people. Not the most vibrant place in the world, but a place to love for its potential to turn into something beautiful.
Places like that have the ability to be altered – as this one proved already by going from army base to craft’s village – and they carry a sense of freedom. Derelict land conjures up images of the impossible, the irrational, the right for people to make their own decisions:
Would I climb a possibly unsafe treehouse?
I just might do so today.
If you don’t see the ability of change – in yourself or a piece of land – you forget to see the possibilities and hope. We’ll settle for the way it goes. We’ll do work we don’t like. “well, gotta have money, don’t you?” We hold on tightly to what we have because the ocean is less scary when you can see the coast. And in some way it’s what my characters are doing. Not seeing the possibilities of a changing situation, holding on to the things they can control, blaming and using others if they can’t see how to change themselves.
I did love you. Still do.
But I’m holding you back
Oliver is a way out
And I don’t have the strength to find another way
– Fragment from The Silent City
But I do choose to include hope. Even if it’s an unfair way, Siri finds a way out. The historian realizes – a little too late – his real reasons for trying to preserve history. Daisy gives up the job because it’s not solely for money and the Fat Lady allows herself to see the possibilities and stands up for it. Oliver doesn’t manage. Too afraid of succeeding he accepts the defeat, being used by Siri as an escape. And also Paul is incapable. But he does make a choice, however we may judge that decision.
I asked the contestants of the workshop to bring an idea for their scenes. All of them were really interesting but I’ll just highlight two of them. One of the contestants finds inspiration in her daily work and writes about a young girl’s decision to stop chasing after a married man any longer. Another contestant invented a character who spends his days painting and repainting little figurines.
I talked with them about the development of the main character’s story, the change and transition they are going through. Conflict. But I should have asked them another thing as well – Can the change occur in the mind’s of the audience instead of in the character? Can you find a way to change the audience’s perspective on a ‘sad’ man painting figurines if in the end we find out he’s probably happier than most of us. What if he’s not pursuing happiness but living it?
Both stories are interesting because the characters are instantly judged, instantly labeled by assumptions and things we find scary, weird or unheard of. We want to celebrate the irrational, but only in the way of pursuing a fairy-tale kind of love or when the irrational is inside the borders of what’s acceptable. Freely moving on festivals, parties and at the beach only to put on a suit and go to work afterwards.
We need to grow up. Behave accordingly. Let go of silly treehouse-dreams. Throw away our adventure dress and accept that ‘life can’t be fun everyday’. Don’t swim naked, don’t eat ice-cream for breakfast and don’t hide under the blankets on a dreadful rainy day.
It’s why I love my characters so much. It’s why I love conducting these workshops. You get the chance to explore these questions and discuss them. You get to invent people that are inadequate, that you admire, that you hate (and therefore love) or that you are just trying to understand. And just like derelict land, the words on a piece of paper can conjure up the impossible. Can it also turn it into a possibility? Perhaps it can.
In stories we see an enlarged glimpse of every day decisions. Is it inability with perseverance or are we looking at happy people labeled unhappy by their ‘unacceptable’ goals and decisions? And who are we to judge? We can only take it all in, reflect and apply what we find valuable. Maybe not by throwing all we have away to paint figurines in a cottage just outside Helsinki, but by buying some paint and start with decorating your front door. Include a big ‘Welcome’ and see what walks into your house.
You might be surprised.
Crafts Village, Ta’ Qali, Malta