I keep diaries in two different ways, not counting this blog. One is an online journal that I set up eleven years ago, in the early days of blogging. It’s locked, because unlike The Scenic Route its purpose is not to reach out but to reach in. I use it as a repository for the extra thoughts that my brain just can’t hold and as a means of checking back to see the seasonal patterns in my moods. The beauty of that journal is that it dates everything automatically, so my thoughts are laid out and organised in a way that they would never be otherwise.
My notebooks are a different story. I’ve always got one on me and they’re a mix of to do lists, ideas, creative writing, rough show budgets and brain unpacking. If I’m writing something that covers more than a page I work from back to front, but most of the time I just open the notebook and start writing on the first blank page I come to. No dates, no points of reference, and for added confusion I sometimes write left-handed if my right is sore. I was originally a lefty but was forced to use my right, so my left-handed script is a lot less developed. Also, when I’m using my left hand I usually write backwards (mirror style), because left-handed people are sinister. I wish my future biographers joy of this lot…
My preference for the online journal or the notebooks changes depending on how messy my headspace is. The reason I haven’t written here for a while is that it’s all pretty chaotic and I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to bring order to chaos in terms of my Fringe scheduling, so all the brain unpacking has gone into the notebooks. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to see how my handwriting has degenerated. My to do lists have shrunk to a series of initials because I feel that if I don’t write the task out in full it doesn’t really exist.
Thanks to the online journal I can look back and see that this is a familiar pattern for late July. I usually hit a bit of a bump in mid-July because the 17th is the anniversary of my Dad’s death, and anniversaries are never comfortable. Then I realise that the Fringe is just about to start.
I love the Fringe. I feel really lucky to have grown up in Edinburgh and to have had it on my doorstep. It’s exciting, busy, crazy and all-consuming. I love the feeling of normal life being suspended for a month. That said, I freak out just before it starts every year. It’s exciting? Yes, it’s unpredictable and game-changing and terrifying. It’s busy? It’s overwhelming and exhausting. It’s crazy? Damn right it’s crazy – it’s like the inside of my head is suddenly on the outside, leaving me to change my mind on whether that’s a good thing several times a day/hour/minute. It’s all-consuming? Oh yes. I know that for the next month, remembering to drag my focus away from the Fringe to do things like eat or do laundry or open the dreaded mail will be even harder than usual. And that’s why I fear it every bit as much as I love it.
I’m sure there was going to be more to this post, but I ran out of time at the end of the last paragraph and have since been to two press launches and an Edinburgh University reception, so I’m damned if I can remember what else there was. All I know is that my brain is buzzing and I need to shut it down and sleep so I can rehearse tomorrow morning. I need to be able to remember lines, and that takes more focus than it used to before going on this particular kind of medication. (Sertraline. It messes up my memory a bit. Paroxetine had a similar effect, but only in really high doses. It seems my near-photographic memory is a sacrifice I have to make for the sake of staying sane, but that’s another story.)
Edited because things came back to me: Having explained what the Fringe Jitters are and why they exist, I had intended to look at how they fit into my wider patterns of behaviour…
It might seem a bit weird to be terrified of one of my favourite things. It certainly feels that way to me – just another one of the many ways in which my brain doesn’t make sense to me. If I’m not careful to monitor the catastrophic thinking, this time of year can easily set me off on a long train of thought that ends with my not being cut out for this life, so I should just give it up. But of course I can’t, because it’s just What I Do and trying to walk away from it has never worked.
Increasingly I realise that this fear is limiting me. Or rather, I am allowing it to limit me. I don’t really fear artistic failure, because deep down I have a lot of faith and confidence in my own abilities. What I fear is that the little voice in the back of my head that tells me that the Crazy will always be strong enough that I’ll sabotage myself will be proved right. I fear failing because of that, and I fear succeeding because I know how much hard work is involved with doing the kind of creative work I want to do and then continuing to do it, and the Crazy tells me that I won’t be able to handle it because if I can’t even deal with the basics of running my own life, how can I possibly take responsibility for anything more complicated?
I have a psychologist friend who talks about “learned helplessness”. I wonder about this sometimes. There’s a certain safety in being a tortured artist, a comfort I can take in not having to slay my demons because they’re part of who and what I am. But are they? If the ‘tortured’ bit is assuming greater importance than the ‘artist’, which is what it has felt like for the past year, surely there’s a balance I need to redress. Perhaps the demons don’t need to be slain, but certainly they could be caged rather than given the run of my psyche. Where does being kind to oneself end and being indulgent begin?
I have work that I really want to do and giving free rein to the voices that say I can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t or that the work is too hard definitely isn’t helping. In the past, my version of “getting on with it” has involved working myself into the ground and not stopping until I’ve made myself physically ill. There has to be some kind of happy medium, or at least a slightly healthier balance. Work frenzies are fine and useful and as I’ve discussed previously, they’re how my brain works. But I need to be able to stop myself at some point before I do myself damage.
I don’t have an answer to this. I’m writing this post to explore the issue, not expecting to come up with a solution. I’m trying to use this year’s Fringe to find balance. My schedule is relaxed by previous years’ standards, and I’m really resisting the temptation to start filling it up. I’m still involved, both as a performer and a reviewer, but I’m not going full tilt and doing six shows a day and being out from 10am until 3am. It’s an experiment. If I can find balance during the Fringe, surely I can find it in the other eleven months.