It has been a tough month for everyone. I’m still picking up the pieces, feeling fragile and afraid to look up and forward. The future looks bleak, and I constantly rearrange the things on my desk, trying to find some shape for the future.
I always hate coming home from the USA, and this time was even harder than before. I’d had a once in a lifetime opportunity, and was going back to work in an office five days a week, far from the stimulation and luxury of scholarship. Now, on top of that, I’d watched the rise of American fascism. It was chilling, and I still can’t shake off that chill. As I left New Haven (and I’m not making this up) the radio in the taxi was playing a rap song that repeated the line: F**K you, Trump.
Before I left New York, I wandered from Central Park towards Times Square and stopped to look at the Hilary Clinton memorabilia being sold cheaply on the sidewalk, metres from Trump Tower. Badges, t-shirts, scarves and hats. I wondered what would happen to it all. I thought about bringing home some badges, but my case was already dangerously heavy. I picked one up, held it in my palm. The weight was not really the problem; I couldn’t bear to look at Hilary’s smiling face wrapped by the stars and stripes. With her defeat, came a sense of profound sadness and disappointment in America. It’s hard to carry that disappointment, or the ephemera that remind you of it, without your shoulders buckling.
I’ve always thought Ephemera a rather grand title for the scraps and trinkets I’ve picked up through life and many theatre visits. The Greek etymology of ‘ephemera’ meant things that live only for one day. Now, it tends to refer to things only useful for one day. After that, they look flimsy, but when you hold them in your palm, they feel like lead. They carry the emotional weight of the experience.
I rarely keep tickets anymore, except for tax returns and even then, most of them are Internet bookings; but in the last few years I’ve picked up random things that I can’t seem to jettison. Every time I come across one as I try to tidy my apartment, I wonder why I keep it. But I’ve often fished out bizarre tokens from the bottom of archival boxes, so I don’t think I’m alone.
One of my favourite finds in Dublin was a Gate Theatre subscription card kept by Joseph Holloway. It was more like a library card than a ticket. Each performance he attended, somebody stamped the date and time on it. I can see him pulling it out of the blazer pocket, displaying his theatre schedule for the last few months to anyone interested.
At Garter Lane Arts Centre, for the reprisal of Teresa Deevy’s seldom-performed Wife to James Whelan, I found a brightly coloured ticket in my brown envelope, offering me a maiden voyage on the Silver Wings Motor Service: the bus run by James Whelan. (The Go Bus people really missed a great marketing opportunity in not sponsoring that show.)
At Company SJ’s exquisite Beckett’s Women last year, the Box Office staff handed out tickets that they’d found in the Parnell Square building where they were performing. They were tickets from the Halla Banba, a local dance that had been held in the building for decades. It was a strange ghosting of the contemporary performance by all the previous events held in the same space.
Also over my desk is the ticket from the Red Nose Line’s Ship of Fools. I adored the red-nose production from the Community Clown Choir at Draíocht in Blanchardstown last year. The ticket has a space for your name, who you’re leaving behind, and where (or what) you’re travelling towards. I think I pinned it there believing I’d figure out my destination and fill it in. Who’s the fool now?
I’ve also kept the plastic hospital bracelet that I got at Reassembled: Slightly Askew in The Complex last year. As I was lying on a hospital bed, headphones clamped on, experiencing the inner turmoil of a brain injury, I frequently clawed at that bracelet and more than once I considered making a dash for the door. The bracelet is as much a trophy for my inner strength as anything else.
Badges are always a good find. Junk Ensemble had pins for Bird with Boy: the emblem on your badge divided the audience and determined how you saw the performance in Henrietta Street. Just the other day, I was rooting around in the bottom of an old handbag when I pulled out a pair of earplugs. I was transported back to DTF’s Guerrilla, where I surreptitiously used them, feeling very old, and was grateful for the Box Office offering. My husband keeps a scarlet rain poncho that he got on the Aran Islands for watching an outdoor Druid production. It’s possibly still marked by the hailstones from the day.
All of these things I repeatedly threaten to throw out, but never manage to. I frequently declutter but some things have a position in our life. They remind us that we were there, and the experience has been internalised. Like a conch shell that you hold to your ear and summon the sea, they bring rushing memories and reinvigorate the spirit. On my return from Yale, I added to the hoard on my desk a glass frame holding stamps decorated with Eleonora Duse: a gift from a dear friend. Duse, actress and philosopher, was Eva Le Gallienne’s role model. Le Gallienne wrote of her in a 1966 memoir:
Truth is disturbing; some people actively resent it…. to be as true as Duse was in itself a kind of boldness.
In acting, Duse championed the obliteration of the ego to find truth. She believed in a higher spirit, in assuming a stillness that would allow for the channeling of a divine spirit. She wrote a card to Le Gallienne wishing her well in her career early on, and Le Gallienne always kept it close. Eva drew on it not only in periods of anxiety about her work, but also after tough times in her life: when she was attacked, after the fire in her home, as she sought the strength to restart her theatre company. The card from Duse wished her force et confiance. Strength and faith: on the stage and in life.
It’s no surprise to me that America Teen Vogue is now leading the way with its cutting-edge coverage of American politics. They have youth and energy in abundance; many of us are still trying to digest and process what has happened.
I’m not sure I’ve recaptured my faith and strength yet, but it helps that, as life rumbles on, I can keep around me the lodestones that remind me I will find it again. I’m picking up the pieces and remembering how much the little things mean to me.
Force et confiance to you all this Christmas.