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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

The Blistering Cold of Left-Over Tears

Updated: May 27, 2023

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Death and Dying in Life and Theatre

Cold tears shed for the dying of theatre: ie. theatre as real enquiry into the human condition and its ever present shadow! While theatre has always been an effective promotional device for whatever dominant social and cultural paradigm informs its particular and various application, it has also been a force for probing the cracks in the cultural psyche of an particular time or epoch. The tension between affirmation of particular dominant and/or emerging world views and alternatively the probing of contradictions within such paradigms or issues born of concerns from outside such paradigms takes a degree of courage and persistence. Chances are such probing will be marginalized and ultimately dismissed ... at least in the short term!

Mt Gravatt Cemetery in Brisbane and my Mother's coffin

Today I looked into the grave of my mother; the coffin nearly two metres into the ground. The flowers and dust were aptly thrown on to the box and inside were her decaying bones and flesh. In her last week on earth I fed her pureed food. Her shriveled lips met the spoon almost as if her lips were separated from her body. (23 May 2023)

We sometimes tell ourselves that our personal lives and our public lives are two different things entirely. The Marxian ideal that work and the personal need to be integrated so that Capitalist separation might be relinquished is an ideal that an artist can and should live and endure. It is an ideal that I try to live by and incorporate into my everyday existence. Nine to five is a firmly Capitalist bribe and lie that is used to seduce and manipulate the human soul and function. It is deception taken up by both Capitalist benefactors and Unions alike. There is a collusion between basic oppressor and oppressed to sustain a status quo where real human potential is suppressed and subjugated to the whims and will of Capitalist priorities and sustaining of a balanced ecosystem of compliant human ants. And so we are sold the proposition that work and family are separate entities that need different skills and different priorities to sustain a system of routine subjugation. And yes, it mainly works and Capitalism can claim victories in seeing the sustenance of humanity seeming to improve in the material gains of the past two hundred years. While the climate has taken a battering, Capitalism has at least stimulated technological advancement and engendered real challenge to superstition and the totally irrational willingness to lay down arms to the forces of religion and ritual sacrifice.

But today I looked into the grave of my mother; the coffin nearly two metres into the ground. The flowers and dust were aptly thrown on to the box and inside were her decaying bones and flesh. In her last week on earth I fed her pureed food. Her shriveled lips met the spoon almost as if her lips were separated from her body.

She died at the age of 98. Yet I can remember her from before her 30th birthday. I remember that energetic and dynamic human being who had dreams for us as a family and who drew on the power of her own childhood, her parents and her siblings. I am not eulogizing her here. I did that at her funeral in a church of family, close friends and colleagues.

... and I realise my theatre work and creativity is part of my love, my family, my ambition and my future. My writing, my theatre, my teacher are not separate from who I am ... they are me. Just as my children and grand-children and very close friends are me ... just as my beautiful mother is part of me though she lay dead in a coffin under the ground!

And I am nourished by that fraught woman who ran on to that football field as I lay there with a badly broken arm in 1967 and who was always with me when I was broken and destroyed ... Who inspired my first writing of "Timeless Merilda" in 1975 when I recalled a photo of her as a 12 year old child in the front yard of her Paddington home ... the echoes of her voice in my psyche and the frames of her years sit within my rooms and within my daily life as I pursue a mission within the cultural and social milieu ...

I have no tears; only the cold trails of tears that might not ever have been seen. I have no tears as the smug cold leather-faced artists smirk at my vulnerable and disintegrating influence. I have no tears ... I have no tears for the death of left-over vanity and egoistic embrace that once held such stifling force and injected fear within me. I look dispassionately at the lonely coffin at the foot of the grave as grey dust and flowers adorn its polished wood. I feel the warmth of mother's embrace embedded in every cell of my aging body. And I no longer care for the smirking judgement of the posturing clowns posing as artists as my critics circle like carrion over a desert kill.

The Sane Society and The Art of Loving

I accept that if anyone reads this essay, they will probably dispute my main argument; just as the smugnatist academics of the west have largely rejected the compelling observations of Social Psychologist and Philosopher, Erich Fromm. Fromm, in his "The Sane Society" written in the 1950s, suggests we might consider the symptoms of whole cultures and societies separated from their own natural human sources for spiritual and relational creativity. Whole majorities might thus become totally insane. The neurosis of individuals might well be cultural and endemic. And we might ask, "Is this the price of Capitalism?"

Perhaps we might pointedly ask this question of 2023 era Capitalism. Every day we see the results of human separation of work, life and simple relationship into compartmentalized segments that separate the personal from the experience of living. And then like observing the dog chasing its tail, society tries to assist the dog bight that tail rather than recognize the absurdity of the act itself.

The practice of theatre might well be a practice in the art of loving. The symbiotic relationship between the artist and the art is a love relationship. Separating this relationship into components that alienate the subject from its initiator is a potential cause for neurosis. But loving isn't affirming.

When love is confused with simply affirming some other person or thing then it is more likely to be coercion. Am I simply coerced into creating something to affirm my ideological or religious commitment or do I see the light and the shade with both and proceed accordingly with a sense of love? Is my art the source of my travelling or is my religious and ideological base the construct for my art?

I peer into the depth of the grave and wait a few moments or minutes and allow the immensity of the moment to sledge hammer my very existence with the notion of finality and what is real. For much of my life I have been playing. Now I feel at last the necessity of work. It took a while. And by "work" I don't mean business ... I mean exposing clutter and the extraneous that clouds the art of loving!

There is a kind of coldness in the tears that one sheds at various points in a life-time. It doesn't take long for the fluid trail from tears on one's face to turn cold; and turn icy. It is that coldness before wiping one's face that draws attention to one's very focused mission. Cold trails from heart-felt tears and the trails from tears that were never shed provide the necessary directions for one's intelligence metre!

I look around and it doesn't seem long before the insane society rears its obvious experience and my need to tap into the art of loving through creative inspiration and need takes form. As we realize the frivolous and irrelevant nature of much theatre, do we then give up and abandon the whole thing as a waste of time? Or do we persevere and seek something better; something more?

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