Feeling the Urge to Purge

Funny people, the ancient Greeks: at least four words for love (storge, philia, eros & agapē), but they make one word serve for cleansing, purging, pruning and emotional release.

It makes sense, though, when you think about it. The word ‘love’ is made to mean far too many things for people to be really certain of what anyone means when they use it; and the various meanings of katharsis do fit together with a certain neatness.

Katharsis (or catharsis as we spell it in English, presumably a thin attempt at covering up the theft) is generally agreed to be a pleasurable feeling. This is why we enjoy reading or watching stories which involve unenjoyable elements. Our emotions are taken out for a brisk airing and returned to their proper places with the warm glow of exercise. This is, incidentally, why we cry when we’re really happy: all the emotion needs to be purged, and tears is how we do it.

But it’s the cleansing/purging aspect of katharsis which I particularly want to look at. Because cleansing and purging are themselves cathartic. This is not to say that washing dishes comes with an automatic glow of satisfaction (if only!) but there is a certain pleasure to be had in pruning the unnecessary elements from one’s life, purging the unwanted stuff, and cleansing what remains. It’s refreshing.

Le faccende di casa by Adriano Cecioni 1869

I spent a while this afternoon cleaning and cleaning out the bathroom – with particular reference to the cupboards. A variety of items left the room for good, and what was left was vigorously reorganized. And I felt good. Unfortunately this took the form of making the Caped Gooseberry come and admire the results. (Patience: a highly underrated quality in a spouse.)

A word to the wise: don’t flush random medications down the loo. Sewage is generally treated before it’s released into the wild, but as far as I know they don’t have special filters for distilling medicaments from the surging tide. Drop them off at the nearest pharmacy/chemist instead.

But don’t worry. As far as I know the mutant-druggie-sewer-alligator is just an urban myth.

Albino Alligator mississippiensis

In Memoriam

London NHM 1100621

“Good stories have teeth.”
Elizabeth O’Connor, 1956-2014

Elizabeth O’Connor was a teacher of writing, a dramaturge, and the Literary Manager of the Court Theatre (among much else).

It was in the latter capacity that I met her, doing a week’s internship in her little office at the top of the Christchurch Arts Centre (now, alas, no more). My task was to make a dent in the two-foot-high stack of scripts on her desk that had been submitted for consideration. As a budding playwright myself (budding? I was barely a sprout) I found both the job and her company very instructive.

The above quote is something Elizabeth used when teaching writing to children. It’s a sort of visual rendition of the fortunately-unfortunately pattern of storytelling, with the ‘teeth’ becoming longer and pointier as the stakes rise and the reversals hurl the character from the heights to the depths and back again. (Children tend to enjoy things that involve big pointy teeth, as do those of us who spend much time in the company of our inner child.)

In 2010 Elizabeth invited me to be part of the Court’s Young Playwrights Initiative, where I developed Dead Man Talking – again, a hugely instructive time. Encouraging as she was, Elizabeth was not one to let you get away with doing less than your best – and she knew if she hadn’t got it.
She was also instrumental in bringing about DMT‘s subsequent performance as part of the Elmwood Players’ 3 Piece, Sweet!

In short, I owe her a lot. She was not only rich in knowledge and understanding of storytelling, theatre, and the theatrical world, but she shared that wealth. She not only welcomed newcomers to that world but elicited the best from them while helping them find their feet. The New Zealand theatre world is a good deal the poorer for her untimely loss, and she will be sorely missed.

The last communication I had from Elizabeth was an assessment of a play I had submitted for the Olga E Harding New New Zealand Playwriting Award. She wrote “should write more”.
I have. And I will.

the Relentless Rhythm

About three or four weeks after your DNA was composed, when you were about the size of a pea (and a very small pea at that), something remarkable happened.

A little tubey squiggle in your pea-sized self started to pulse rhythmically. Not very dramatic, not very noticeable, even, but there it was.

Over time the tubey squiggle got rather more complicated as it developed, but the beat went on.

Fig1 HeBee

It’s carrying on even now, however many years later.

Except for major medical interventions (or situations requiring major medical interventions), that beat won’t stop until the day you die. It might speed up or slow down at various times, but the basic rhythm carries on.

Think back over your life: the ups, the downs, the scares, the joys. Through it all, your heart was beating away – despite what you might have felt at the time – largely unnoticed and generally unappreciated.

So today, why not do something nice for your heart in return? Eat another vegetable, go for a walk, or just take some time to de-stress. Keep your heart happy.

After all, it’s been with you longer than any of your friends (since you were a pea and it was a squiggle, in fact) and it’s probably let you down less often. It’s always there for you, just getting on with the job.

Speaking of which, why not consider donating your heart to someone else when you’ve finished with it? We don’t bury people’s tools with them any more, so why would you bury something as useful as a heart?

There are, sadly, many people whose hearts for one reason or another are not the reliable workhorses most of us enjoy (or more usually, ignore). Why not agree to pass yours on to someone who will really appreciate it?