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Festival of Bastards

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Nostalgia took me back to a really poignant moment the other day. A moment when I was watching a crazy, red ant-like actor bouncing around his tented-theatre like some kind of circus insect out to sting. I felt stretched. Uncomfortable. Exposed. And I felt like there wasn’t a boundary in the world that I couldn’t smash.    

I’ve been feeling a little mentally claustrophobic lately. My life has become a little groundhog day. A little vanilla. A little green-salad-no-dressing. I get up, go to work, try to not mess up too badly, come home late, eat something quick ‘n easy, go to bed and wake up to do it all over again. My weekends are slightly more colourful, when I’m not exhausted and slumped in front of Netflix with my mind being consumed by digital, neuron-eating zombies.

My friends, who mostly have husbands and kids, imagine my life quite differently. They see an endless scene of glamour and adventure. I’m single, which means I can make it to work without getting thrown up on. I can go to the loo without and audience. Sleep late. Take long baths – anytime. Any actual time (like at 3pm on an idle Saturday). And it’s not that I don’t love my life, but that stuff is seriously overrated.

This weekend, as I schlumfed on my (very comfortable) couch, in my knickers, shoving ice-cream in my face, with my balcony door open to let the cool air in, I found myself watching a bunch of really depressing films – as you do when you’re single and many of your friends are at 5-year-olds’ birthday parties. I watched Lion (which was amazing but had me ugly crying, finishing all my tissues) and then Pay it Forward (I had to resort to loo roll at the end when the kid dies – explain yourselves screenwriters!?!)

As I wallowed in a sense of I’m-not-quite-sure-what I started to think about the things I’d be doing if I’d bothered to put some clothes on after my uninterrupted two-hour bath. If I wasn’t so exhausted. If I actually had the energy to head out and do something. Anything. Which got me thinking about Edinburgh…    

As many of you know, four years ago I quit my job and went traveling. I’d been operating on empty for a while and needed to shake my life up. I let go of everything – my home, my job, my country and in some ways my friends and family (which was the bit that actually mattered). After a lifetime of chasing things, I suddenly gave no things-that-rhyme-with-trucks about being homeless and unemployed. My lowest point put me in the most amazing position I’d ever been – I couldn’t fall any further, the only direction I could go was up. I literally couldn’t mess up.

While at the Edinburgh Festival that September, I edged my way into a sold-out theatre piece that would haunt my consciousness for a very long time. Red Bastard was pitched as a comedy show. It wasn’t. It was more like a slap of realism, right across the face. And it stung. Stung like a gut-wrenching therapy session. Like playing mirror-smashing games with that someone who knows you better than you’d like them to. Red Bastard spent 90 minutes taunting his audience, exposing us to our deepest insecurities.

“What’s the thing one you’ve always wanted to do?” he asked, followed by a probing “Why haven’t you done it?” And with sharp tongue, he tore every excuse or defensive response to rags. He destroyed every dream-blocker, grinding each down to their simplest root – fear. Not time, not money, not family commitments. Not any of the many, many excuses. Fear.

Many of our dreams remain un-lived because we’re afraid. Afraid if giving something up. Afraid of taking something on. Afraid of failure. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of success. Fear is a fiend I hold so dear.      

I left the show not quite knowing if I felt offended, battered or inspired. Perhaps I felt all three. The message landed hard, denting my mind, engraving itself into my brain’s neocortex and stealing my sleep.

I sit here thinking about how I’ve not found the time to write more (I’m in the process of trying to write a book, a follow up to my wildly unsuccessful first one.) I also wonder why I haven’t spent more time getting lost in beautiful cities (not simply travelling for work or family commitments). Why have I spend more energy on other people’s dreams than my own?      

And I think of Red Bastard. The creepy, selfish, weird American dude. The guy who reminded me that you only have yourself to blame for the stuff you didn’t do (and can still do). You only have yourself to judge for those moments where fear won. I’m going to try a little harder. For the sake of myself and perhaps to validate the bastard. I’m going to try  breathe some life into my dreams.  

First published on 26 June 2017, on Used with permission.

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