Happy New Year! Theatre in the North East takes a break in January which I don’t mind so much as I need a break from it too. I wanted to keep the momentum going with these letters so, in the interim, here are some feelings ~
For context I should tell you that I’m writing this on a train. I’m on my way to visit B in London. There’s a baby crying and not enough elbow room to type comfortably. Travelling anywhere makes me anxious. For lots of reasons. But also because about five years ago, when I was travelling around Europe, my mam had stroke. I’ve written about this before. She was young and it was unexpected. Now the act of leaving is always threaded with uneasiness because I’m waiting for something terrible to happen. It’s been a few days since I slept. I’m so irritable that I just caught myself staring down the woman opposite for de-shelling her pistachios too loudly.
My family is small and fractured and a bit broken so January is a welcome return to normality. I find the festive period difficult, especially as my birthday falls on New Year’s Eve which means double the existential dread. I’ve had many awful birthdays and a handful of fun ones. This year, thankfully, it was the latter. Standing on picnic benches by the River Tyne, we handed round a flask and counted down the final moments of the year in a merry haze. In the storm of affection that followed, I was safe in the arms of friends. It’s always nice to feel loved and especially so at the end of the year when everything is momentous and uncontainable.
Even though I don’t believe in reinvention or new beginnings, I’m pleased to draw a line under 2018. So much of being a writer is reconciling with failure. It’s thinking if only and why didn’t I and must try harder. It’s this critical voice that pushes me to be ambitious about the future and that’s fine. Only I’m starting to realise that framing a life in terms of what’s absent from it isn’t always healthy. Chasing, chasing, chasing is a seductive way to live. Looking to the next thing on the horizon fills me with purpose. I think that in the quest for betterment I’ve been forgetting to take stock, to drink in everything that’s good.
At school we were encouraged to leave Newcastle, a place that would stifle our potential to succeed. I sometimes feel guilty about deciding to stay. I sometimes feel sad thinking about the person I could’ve been if I’d left. When I step off the train at Kings Cross in a few hours, I know I’ll be excited by the possibility of infinite choice. By restaurants and bookshops and bars. I’ll imagine attending literary parties and previews. I’ll dream about languid weekends spent sipping wine on roof terraces or reading at the lido. Then I’ll get on the tube at the rush hour and instantly miss the charm of home.
The reality of living where I do is that opportunities are limited, especially within the arts. The search for work can be soul-crushing and competition for jobs is tough. Representations of the North East in literature and film often portray the grim reality of living in a place haunted with the ghosts of an industrial past. It’s true. There are ghosts here. But there’s life too. There’s familiarity and warmth and a sense of absolute belonging that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
If I have one resolution this year it’s to appreciate the life that I’ve built in the North East and the people in it. I’m grateful for the lovingly cooked dinners and the thoughtful text messages. The emotional support and the small acts of kindness that make it easier, on those dark and heavy days, to breathe again. And I’m lucky because nothing is better or more underrated than the romance of enduring friendship.