Escape; or Coffee with Kafka
This week I would like to talk about the universal, uncontrollable urge that lives inside every artist. NO I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT PROMISCUITY. I’m talking about the runaway instinct, the overwhelming impulse that actors often feel to suddenly relocate, flee the country or travel to an obscure destination and spend three weeks working in an orphanage.
I’m not sure if everyone feels this or whether it pertains exclusively to artists. But my guess is it’s far more forceful and spontaneous in creative individuals and asserts itself much more frequently. For example, I came home last week to discover that my housemate had decided to move out. “Nothing personal” she said, “I just do this thing where I move every two years.” The next day she was no longer moving. The day after that, I was moving. By Thursday everyone was happy again and drinking wine on the couch.
But it got me thinking (you know how I like to think), what is this bizarre impulse that artistic people have to suddenly up and go? When we feel stagnant, bored, or out of control, we just leave. Out of nowhere we find ourselves convincing friends and family that it’s absolutely necessary for us to relocate to Salzberg. Or do a yoga retreat in Andalucía. Or volunteer for an animal welfare organisation and spend a month saving the Orangutans. “But you like your job!” our poor parents cry. “It’s not important anymore,” you say. “I mean it used to be, but now I really must go and help the gorillas. Orangutans, whatever. The point is they need me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Some people have a remarkably altruistic runaway instinct. In others it is very practical and becomes a career-related venture. For me, it’s all about trying to be a character from an Ernest Hemingway novel in magical European cities.
On Wednesday I had decided to move to Paris. I mean, what on earth was I thinking? I have a basic grasp of French, and by basic I mean I can say Bonjour, passer le fromage and vin, tout le vin. I’m sure that would get me through a few weeks but how would I pay my gas bill? How would I apply for a job and then explain that I’m happy to work but on a casual basis because I’m actually a trained performer with an interest in writing observational comedy? And if a man asks me to dinner, I’d need the proper vocabulary to convey that although I explored fleeting romances in my youth, I’m now at the point where I’m looking for someone more reliable. Reliable but sexy. Sexy but who won’t succumb to the standard French cliché and race off with another woman the day I fall pregnant (this is important information that can’t be lost in translation). There’s also the rather sobering issue of not having any money (refer to column 6) and although I’d like to think Paris would be everything it promises to be in my imagination, I’m pretty sure I’d have the same concerns I have here, with the extra frustration of watching skinny French women stuff their faces with croissants while I do the same and get obese.
I realised Paris wasn’t quite right. But a girl’s gotta dream! So I did what any self-respecting artist would do and went looking for cheaper alternatives. After googling “spontaneous actor getaways”, I discovered that Prague was not only cheap and beautiful but after the collapse of Communism it had become a sanctuary for Western ex-pat writers. They were intrigued by it’s old world charm and cheap rent. I had a new plan. I would be an expat writer! I love old-world charm and cheap rent! I could live in a quaint apartment near the castle and write sweeping literary masterpieces, whilst my Scottish boyfriend brought me coffee (last year when I was actually in Prague I had a hot Scottish tour guide named Colin who was without a doubt the highlight of my Czech experience). So Colin would make me coffee while I became the next Franz Kafka; Coffee with Kafka.
But then I remembered the Czech language has seven different tenses and I would have even less of a chance of paying my gas bill and explaining my romantic past to prospective husbands. I would just have to stay here and find a different way through my dilemmas.
And that is what I did. I went to the library and borrowed books on France and Prague to satisfy my urge to live in foreign cities. I even thought about turning my European alter egos into a new show. And I realised that things weren’t that bad after all and there was no great reason for me to leave. I did more yoga and grounded my overactive imagination. Then I booked a flight to Melbourne and high-tailed it out of here. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
Image courtesy of Juditk