Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
SEVEN: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
an all-too-brief sideways adventure (extended edition)
The story so far: ‘…I’m between you and the door…’ ‘…hammer up his sleeve…’ … the opinions of the many outweigh the truth of the few… ‘…I might be the most unpleasant person you’ve ever met…’
The incident with The Marrieds had given me much to think about. There was the emotional aftermath – I was a wreck, jumping every time the telephone cried its shrill warbling sound – and the memory of that steely core began to bother me. As much as I was being manipulated, I had played their game back, and it struck me that, as I had walked away physically unharmed, I had done it better than they and won. My escape, my pride and joy (yet utter frustration) had been my almost compulsive need to be a performer. An actor.
At the age of sixteen, I had wanted to study theatre as a subject, and my parents had refused to assist me do it… they thought that I meant only be an actor – whereas in my mind, ‘being an actor,’ meant that there would times of writing things, perhaps doing cabaret or comedy, maybe even taking a directing job or something, and the worst that would happen would be me ending up as a drama teacher or managing an arts centre. It puzzled me that they could not see all that. However, at that point as I turned forty, an opportunity came my way to explore all that, and I took it.
With written permission from The Powers That Be, confirming that I was doing some kind of therapy, I enrolled in an adult education college, studying Drama and Media. On the first evening of term, there was a huge and noisy drunken party where everyone welcomed each other and began to make friends and I thought it was a fine thing. I mixed moderately freely with people, as this was a new adventure, and no one had any baggage because nobody knew anyone. Everyone was deciding who and how they wanted to be, and I felt connected to a vibrancy, an urgent new energy of hope.
Classes the next day were light and basic introductions to the courses and the tutors. In Stage Drama, we were divided into groups to come up with some form of scene, and it reminded me of my drama class when I was 12. I managed to hold back disappointment about such mixed abilities and did my own thing, quietly. At the evening meal the buzz went round about, ‘pub, about half eight…’ After the pub, various people in various rooms in the hall of residence opened their doors for loud music and revelry long into the night. This was, I thought, going to be troublesome. They would have a shock when the work starts piling up… but I thought things would settle down by the next night.
Except it did not, nor the next. Every night was a cacophony of thunka-thunka, shouting and people in various states of inebriation indulging in who knows what – and there was the inevitable property damage and fighting. I found ways to take myself away from all the noise pretty quickly, as I simply could not see the point of what the others were doing. One evening, a few days into term, some of my fellow Stage Drama students had congregated in my room and we were just relaxing and drinking coffee, when ‘Stella’ admitted that she was nervous at every Stage session because she did not want to make a fool of herself in front of everyone. Upon hearing that, I decided I was completely the opposite of most of my fellow students, as I had no problem with getting up on stage and doing just about anything, whereas I found the prospect of socialising as they were was totally terrifying. I was also baffled by ‘Stella’s’ notion: if she was worried about making a fool of herself in Stage Drama, why do it? I could not understand this at all. After a bit of discussion on the matter, I was left alone when they went off to that night’s festivities, where ‘Stella’ apparently got extremely drunk and did some very shameful things… allegedly, and from a certain point of view. The gossip was very juicy…
It was a time of huge discoveries for me, including exactly how unintentionally cruel my parents had been in denying me their full support to follow up on my mid-teens desire to enter the creative world. As the days grew shorter and I flexed creative muscles that had been wasting away, I found out that all of my tutors and many of my fellow students held me in high regard – which was a shock. Finally, at the age of forty, I was being taken seriously and people were believing in me in the way I had always hoped my parents would. Then, term ended and I was cast into the abyss of staying with my parents over Christmas, as none of my classmates lived anywhere near me. I regrew my beard and hatched a little plan…
I decided to try a bit of an experiment, which was to create a character similar to me, but slightly different, and adopt that character outside of a select small circle of friends. My challenge was to carry this character off for as long as I could, and if I was ‘discovered,’ we could all say it was a huge practical joke. So we set about creating him. He was a lot of fun, and being him was liberating. He could do things I never could have got away with – he was sort of sleazy without being creepy; suggestive without even going near innuendo; you would not trust him with your grandmother, let alone your girlfriend, sister, wife or any other woman… yet… if he raised an eyebrow and told you to show respect, you would do so without hesitation. My confidants would also plant bogus bits of relatively harmless gossip regarding this character’s ‘exploits’ and we would see how far the tittle-tattle would spread, and if it would magnify. At one end of year party, a somewhat civilised summer barbeque affair, I was in character and scandalous gossip about someone’s conquests was being discussed. All I did was to raise an eyebrow with a knowing look on my face, and the room erupted.
“Oh, YOU can talk!” exclaimed one of the younger women. I pointed at myself and assumed a gently quizzical expression. “Yes, you!” she laughed. “You’ve had a different woman in your room every night!” I smiled slightly and looked innocent. One of the other women then suddenly looked puzzled and flapped her hand at the first.
“Hang on a minute,” she said. “Don’t you live on the same landing as him?” The first nodded. “So…” I was smiling broadly now. The character I had built, and the conceit I had devised so I could hide and tremble in my room, keeping the awfulness inside me at bay was about to be discovered. The beauty of it was that we had done it all in such a way that it really was not offensive; no names, a lot of old-fashioned ‘discretion.’ Besides, he was likeable old rogue, too. The first looked puzzled, did some calculations, frowned and looked at the second. I held my breath, waiting for the realisation…
“So how did he do it?” They both shrugged. They turned and looked at me. “How did you do it?” I could see in their eyes that they truly believed… I smiled gently and began to open my mouth to speak, when they suddenly got diverted by something else and ran off to do whatever it was. Although the academic year was mostly over, I noticed over the final couple of weeks that even the men were looking at me with puzzled admiration.
At around this time, there was conflict in the Drama Class, and it almost self-destructed. I was the only one to step forward to propose a solution and rescue the situation… I had opted for going technical that term, and in an extraordinary meeting with the drama tutor, offered to return to the acting side of the stalled and troubled production. It was agreed, and when we made the announcement in the next session, a very strange thing happened.
The mood lightened, everyone cheered a little cheer – a genuine one, not sarcastic – and all of a sudden, the group devised piece started to fall into place. Even the Old Luvvie who had been through Drama College as a youth and had spent time in rep had not been able to pull it around – and with her training, I would have thought it would have been easy for her. We edged towards the conclusion, and I had decided to try to do something I never had before: I call it, ‘Invisible Acting.’ You recognise the actor, yet everything is different although you cannot quite put your finger on why. With ‘Dirk’ guiding me in secret, I believe I achieved it – yet…
For all my efforts, for all the heartache and despite getting everyone through to the end, not only did the class leave me out of the frenzied card-giving thing (and I have to admit to feeling somewhat insulted by that), but the tutor only gave me a few points above the bare pass mark. Revenge was called for at some point, and how sweet it was when it happened some time after the course was finished.
The Tutor and I lived not so far from each other, frequently meeting in passing in a nearby town, and we met one day on the train there and shared a table, sitting opposite each other. Purely by happenstance. We chatted about inconsequential things, and then the common denominator came into play, and I was asked why I had not continued with drama. My reply was that I had proven to myself all I had wanted to, and had fancied doing a Shakespeare instead of a Classical Greek gig.
I described how I would mount a production of Hamlet, in broad stroke details, and how it would finally make sense to so many people – by turning the traditional style of speaking the lines on its head, turning it all conversational. The Tutor demurred, and (being only a performer as opposed to an actual actor), put forward the view that it could not be done. Inwardly raising an eyebrow, I set the scene for my staging of that most famous of Hamlet’s speeches, To be or not to be… and launched into it.
Sitting less than four feet away, The Tutor caught it full strength and reeled as if struck in the face. I heard a tiny gasp, “I didn’t know you could do THAT…” and inwardly thought, ‘yes, you did, but you weren’t able to see it,’ but merely continued with the speech. Then waggled my eyebrows and smiled. My timing had been impeccable, as the train was slowing and the conductor announced the next stop… which was mine.
“So,” I said, “if you decide to stage it, give me a call, eh?” As The Tutor nodded, I stood and gathered my bag and stick, announced this was my stop and we cordially said our goodbyes – even waving through the window as the train left the station. The sweetest revenge is hardly noticed, and never vindictive – and that, in my opinion, qualified.
However, as the days passed after my time at the college, and I was once again either mostly alone or surrounded by family, these habits and skills dissipated like smoke on the breeze. Could it be that all I believed myself to be was only a reflection? A reflection which I could see only through others’ eyes? Any emotions I experienced were – and still are – intense and mostly overwhelming, so I prefer to keep them at arm’s length, but… was I so shallow and manipulating?
I had set out to find and create a new me. What I wanted to do was to become more than I had been, and to see if I could begin to quell the cold fires which freeze-burned my empty soul. Above all, I wanted to know if I could do such a thing without causing harm and distress to others and through pretence, acquire a habit of being a certain way at all times. Hopefully then, fully become…
During that time, there had been the possibility of ‘relationships’ with two or three different women, but I had not dared to engage in anything other than friendship. My consideration was that I had nothing to offer except me, and while my libido and yearning leapt at the possibilities, everything else within me firmly and gently kept a lid on the simmering pot.
However, the glory of those days is more than balanced by the overall tragedy. Had I known about, then attended, that self-same college not long after the Total Lifestyle Failure, I would have attended a two-year course… and the college at the time had strong links with other establishments, so was a gateway to going on. By the time I got there, most of these onward paths had withered and died due to years of mismanagement. Another net I had fallen through – and again, all down to other people and their opinions and actions… again, being in the right place at the wrong time and losing out. It called into question all the skills and talents many considered I had, and the flickering candle-flame of hope I had been nurturing for many a year against the stormy winds of my life
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.