A beautiful thing happened the other day . . .
I received a message from a person who features way back when in my life. A person who was always very funny and very warm, very clever and very good at late-night kitchen conversations at house parties. An important character trait, I think you'll agree.
The message opened with the succinct observation, 'Hey Abi. I feel like I haven't seen you for years . . . because I haven't!' And went on to check I was ok with the current madness of the world, the ongoing horror show that is COVID19. I mean, is it even possible to receive a message from anybody these days without checking in on your sanity / safety first? They'll be inventing an emoji for it next. Oh wait, they already have.
This message was from Gary. Gary was, when I knew him in a past life, the sort of bloke you instantly warm to. A cracking North East accent with Darlo twangs, the broadest, most affectionate smile and a sharp sense of humour that was as cutting as it was artful. Spending time with him was always a delight.
Gary was an actor, and a bloody good one at that. But I often thought he had an air of Simon Pegg about him. Yes, he had all the 'actory' stuff going on but there was more I thought . . . that sense of humour was not to be wasted. There was a budding comedy writer in there I mused, screenplays just waiting to be brought forth. Have you ever stumbled across talent personified? That was Gary.
So you can imagine the sweet air of self-satisfaction wafting around me when I read that he wanted to tell me about a radio play he'd written. And furthermore, a play he'd actually been commissioned to write by a well-known theatre. So, I pondered, he's made it to the next level of artistdom. The level where you actually get PAID (Simon Pegg, watch your back).
The reason I, in particular, had to know about this radio play, was because he'd been inspired to write it by a photo he'd bought millions of years ago which had been taken by my late Dad. He'd bought it at a charity art auction that I'd organised (way back when the thought of having children was an amusingly naive speculation thus I had the TIME) and had featured on the wall of his living room ever since.
My Dad was a keen amateur photographer and was always pleasantly compelled by his local environment to get his camera out. I think I remember the photo Gary was talking about. Claret-red and fiery orange clouds caressing a white hot sun as it spills out from behind blackened rooftops and rolling fields. It may well have been taken at the end of the lane where my Dad lived. A simple morning stroll punctuated with a satisfactory click of the camera. It was before camera phones were a thing.
Gary asked if he could send me the play. Of course he bloody could. Email addresses exchanged, I waited with baited breath. Not just because I KNEW it would be good (on account of my talent-scouting all those years ago during late-night kitchen summits) but because this week was an anniversary of sorts. Nine years since my lovely Dad had passed away.
NB: It's true what they say about the universe and divine timing. I've been awed by it several times in my life. This was no exception. And I sat on my sofa after reading Gary's message feeling that familiar buzzing sensation, that kind of pulsing smile that engulfs your whole body and knows, just knows, you're being looked after.
So when I sat at my computer to read Gary's play, I felt it wasn't really just me reading. I don't mean I could sense my Dad was sitting next to me or anything - I have been sorely disappointed with actual visits from him and assume he is just busy listening to Ella or jiving with Sinatra or something. But there was a lot coming together at once as I sat in my little office, scanning the words on the screen.
Firstly, Gary's words were good, really good - so I was accompanied by delight and a retrospective knowingness.
Secondly, I felt a precious kind of joy that comes from being a writer too . . . thrilled by the rhythms, the rhymes, the delicious tempos and euphoric planes of language.
Whatever is remaining in me that my Dad cultivated, was gloriously awake now. Appreciation. Wonder. Curiosity. Amusement.
A quiet pride that runs deep. Pride that my dad's photo inspired such a thing. Pride in Gary. Pride in myself.
A gentle knowing that this would also bring joy to my Mum and my brother and the ripples of this play would reach further still, once it was aired.
And an appreciation that sat with me throughout reading the whole thing. Like a huge teddy bear that European cafes have been using to encourage social distancing, the gratitude sat all soft and furry and warm and gigantic and completely, insanely endearing.
And that's why, when I picked up my phone to text Gary and tell him that I LOVED his play, I sharply put it down again and had a word with myself. Yes, it may have been close to a DECADE since I'd seen or spoken to Gary, but would a text message really do it? Could I really sit there reading his play one minute, revelling in words and tone and expression and imagery and spirit and ALL THE FEELS and the next minute tap out a text or grapple with emojis?
I think we all know the answer to that.
That's why I'm very, very glad that Gary still has the same phone number and we were, albeit separated by rather a lot of miles, able to have another one of our famous kitchen chats. No matter the lack of house party, acceptable time of day or many, many years since the last one. This way, Gary could get a sense of the colour of my voice, the meaning in my tone and know that, without a doubt, he'd done the right thing by letting me know about his play.
AND - as a juicy little cherry on the cake - it meant we could swap writery wisdom. We could reminisce about all those years ago when we were mere young whippersnappers, yet to put pen to paper, blighted by a lack of confidence but still shrouded in the knowing that we would have to write one day. 'We're living the dream, Abi', Gary said to me during the phone call, 'we have to remember we are living the dream we once had.'
I still have that dream. I do. But Gary is right. I need to remember the fact that I am now in the middle of living it. Miniscule royalties cheques and life-sucking marketing drives aside, I am now a published writer. The story I always wanted to tell is here and people can actually access it, at the click of a button no less. And there are more stories waiting in the wings, just as Gary has more plays waiting to be performed.
Living your dream is not, I have learned, as fluffy and effortless as you might think. Life is still life and has hard edges, rough corners, no matter what dream might have lovingly drenched it. So it's up to us to bring the wonder and the awe to the fact that we managed to merge the two. Whether it's with the click of a camera one still, sunny morning, or the nod of two minds towards each other's madly pulsing creativity . . . living your dream is just the beginning, you have to remember to stop and remember what it took to get there, feel genuine gratitude and have the steadfast courage to stay in it to really make it count.
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