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Friday, 14 March 2014

Why The Hell Am I Doing This?

In 2012, in the midst of a double-dip recession, whilst bringing up two children, Pete and I threw caution to the wind and jacked in our jobs. We took redundancy from careers in journalism to pursue our passion – to write and perform our own poetry cabaret show. With modest redundancy cheques, we bought an electric keyboard, a rickety old campervan and a dog. We practiced the piano, we learned how to jump start a Hymer, and we all but failed to toilet train a dachshund.
 

The result is “The Shallow Depths”; a darkly comic stage show written in the quiet moments between doggy do-dos, kiddy tea-times, full-time work and general family mayhem. We're about to launch in our home town before taking the show on to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. As we build up to the first night, I find myself reflecting on why we chose this unlikely and somewhat mad path?
This is us, Family Dixon, a few years back. It looks like everything is rosy and that we get a lot of fun out of life. To a certain extent this is true; we adore each other, we are tight and we love spending time together. It was the world outside our home that got to Pete and me.

For many years, off and on, Pete and I have battled depression. I actually feel a fraud including mine alongside Pete's because his has been heavier, more persistent - clinical. Mine has come in fits and starts including postnatally but also as I dealt with the traumas of my past. I'd put off seeking help for so long partly because my Mum has bipolar which has had a devastating effect on her life. It sounds ridiculous but I thought if I stopped numbing my thoughts, which was so habitual it felt normal, I'd open up a can of worms and "end up like Mum". Of course I know better than that now and actually performance poetry is my way of embracing the madness.

The point is, when you finally wake up to yourself as I did, you find you're in a place where you don't belong. You probably never did, it's just you were too numb to notice before. You also begin to find the meaning, your meaning. I connected my passion for writing with performance and I built up the courage to go to a poetry open mic night. I dared to get up and speak my own words for the first time in my life. It was nothing much but the feeling was exhilarating. I knew this was my future, but how to deal with the present?

In the end I just couldn't stay in my job. It wasn't who I was and I felt it was holding me back. It may sound weird but I thought about myself in my old age and I imagined the regrets I might have if I didn't make the right, if risky, choices. And so, I left. A few months later, Pete did the same.

We'd already started playing the piano and fiddling around with words and music. Now we had the freedom of mind and spirit to explore and experiment. Better still, we had time in the day, when the children were at school, to hang out together. Things happened slowly, they happened easily, without us really even noticing. My ideas morphed into Pete's and vice versa; they became ours. We set ourselves a few simple goals, like having three musical poems under our belt by the summer holidays, and the rest followed. Without trying, we seemed to deliver early on our targets.

After sixteen years of marriage, it was a whole new honeymoon period in our creative lives together. Of course it couldn't last; after a few months as the money started to run out we needed to find work. But it was enough to lay the foundations of the big dream; to write and perform our own show. We both took full-time jobs and, although juggling wasn't easy, we never lost sight of our goal. Now we just channelled our energies in the evenings and weekends. The children, who are always central to our lives, naturally became part of the process and the poetry. They too shared in the music, comedy and theatre of it and even the dog sat on my knee as I practiced the piano. I often played with her chin resting on my arm.

One day I felt we were close to having enough material to pull off a show of some sort; we just needed the incentive. That's when I phoned the Ropewalk in my home town which is a theatre venue attracting the likes of Alan Carr, Jo Caulfield and John Hegley.  Liz, who runs the place, agreed to take a chance on us and put Pete and me on for an evening.

That was six months ago and we've been rehearsing, shaping and honing the show ever since. Now just a few weeks away the nervous energy is starting to kick in. I'm really looking forward to finally getting on stage and performing our work to an audience. Of course I hope to get a good response but Pete and I feel we're quite niche and maybe it will take time to find our place. Also, neither of us have a need to "be popular" and to adapt our material accordingly. We just hope to learn from our performances, hone our act and, most of all, have fun.

Depression doesn't magically go away. Even today, particularly with our money worries - worries which must be familiar to so many during this recession - we struggle. But we have a way of channelling it now. We also have a renewed self belief that, whatever happens, we are about to create a really special moment. A moment that we have continued to battle for after that first fearful step along our unlikely path. Finally we are doing what we were born to do.

The Shallow Depths launches on April 5th at the Ropewalk, Barton Upon Humber

p.s the dog still shits on the carpet. 


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