Sunday, 21 July 2013

The @GBApodcast Family Season 2013

All 4 guests new me at a time when I looked like this!

I've had writing this blog on my list of things to do for weeks and I'm only just getting to it now, in the last week of the season of Getting Better Acquainted that it's supposed to comment on. I've been busy editing the season and  the rest of my time has been spent working on the exciting and time consuming task of taking Stand Up Tragedy up to the Edinburgh Festival so it would be easy to put the delay down to that. But that's not quite right. I've been avoiding doing it.

If I'd have been ready to write this blog I would have found the time. Normally if I have a blog to write I do it using my thumbs on my smartphone while walking through the street or travelling on public transport. I needed to write this outside of the noise and barrage of this non-stop life I seem to have made for myself. I needed to write it in quiet reflection. Today I finally got that chance.

Each of the conversations in the Family Season 2012 is a big one for me; in different ways and for different reasons. By having conversations with my family I've been having conversations with myself, with my genetic and social makeup, with the people who make me me. The conversations in this season have been about some of the big narratives and emotions that have shaped my life.

I talked to my dad about women, sex and fidelity and to my mum about rage, depression and becoming like your mother. Both of those conversations exposed me in very different ways; the nature of the way GBA works is that it's an exchange. If I am going to ask people to be open and to share themselves I have to be prepared to do so myself.

With my dad I found myself swapping virginity stories, sharing experiences of sexuality in general and then, to my surprise, discussing with my father whether he should feel guilty towards his children because of his chaotic love life. It wasn't an apology I ever asked for. It isn't an apology I think he should make. It was a question he asked himself within the space that we created within our dialogue, where both of us reached for understanding of ourselves.

It was a conversation I found hard to put out into the world because it reveals things about me, actions and perhaps attitudes, that might change people's opinion of me. I take ownership for my actions. But not believing you should be judged is not the same as being unafraid of judgement. And I have guilt and shame aplenty that will always help stoke the fires of fear of judgement.

But I'm also aware of how privileged to have had this conversation. Not everyone has this kind of opportunity, not everyone has a relationship with their father that is open in this way, on a personal level I am so glad to have had it, even if I'm afraid to share it.

I am also struck by the uniqueness of a conversation between a 30 year old man and his 88 year old father about sexuality where they tell each other things for the first time. If feels an important thing to share.

And they all knew me as a teenager too.

With my mum sharing the personal revelations that come up scare me less. I'm less afraid of judgement but I still feel very exposed by offering this conversation up into the world. It was an incredibly important moment in my life where I had a real leap forward in the way I view my relationship with my mother, my sense of self and my understanding of her reality. There are lots of subtexts that flow through the conversation which I'm not sure will all be felt with people with less context, but I feel like many of them will be.

Again ideas of who is guilty came up, although it introduced to the conversation more intentionally this time. There is a moment very like the moment in my dads conversation where my mum wonders whether she can legitimately apologise for behavior that she can't promise not to repeat.

I am very vulnerable in this conversation. I found it quite hard to listen to myself when editing it because of all the complex emotions that were bleeding out of me. There is a moment where I can't formulate my words because I am too busy processing my emotions. And yet the conversation wasn't confrontational, and if not everything was directly addressed, everything was at least indirectly addressed.

I've been holding back these conversations for quite a while, they have been mentioned a lot in the episodes previous episodes, and many of the events and anecdotes covered have been told by other people in other episodes. For the GBA completists many strands get tied together in these four episodes and in some ways the conversations with my parents show the farthest limits of openness and dialogue that this show has allowed me to reach.

This episode contained a story about my Gran and was followed up with a special episode that documented my personal response to the conversation I had with my mother and gives context to the life changing weekend that surrounded it. This was another strange thing to share with the word, my blathering into a microphone at the back of a bus, and believe me I edited out a hell of a lot of nonsense, but it has shaped up into something I feel is worth sharing. It captured the truth of that day and capturing truth (even while knowing that truth always changes) is what I'm generally interested in trying to do.

My parents conversations are book-ended by two other different but also very personal conversations.

The season began with a conversation with my dads first wife, Sheila. This and the follow up GBA Extra, where my older sister as a little girl spoke with her grandmother, are conversations with dead people. The voices remain but the bodies that spoke the words have passed away. My older sisters asked for this conversation in its then raw unedited form to listen to in the immediate aftermath of their mother's passing and it helped them come up with ideas for her funeral. Being able to give them this resource was an amazing thing which I am so glad I could do.

When I was editing it I felt the weight of it. It was strange to be editing someone who was dead but who I had known. Our conversation completely avoided mentioning my father and so didn't end up in the kind of areas that the other conversations in this season end up. But in a way by not being about any of that drama it allowed me to see sides of Sheila I'd never seen before. I'd only ever really known her as an old person and by talking about her years as a child and teenager I got better acquainted with her in a way that  I'd never had the opportunity to do before.

The season ends with next wednesday's episode which I just finished editing this morning. It's a conversation with a family friend called Sue, who remained friends with my dad and both of his wives. She never chose sides. In fact all four people this season focuses on once shared a house. Sue and my mum were the lodgers and my dad and Sheila the landlords. That household ended when my dad left Sheila for my mum.

Sue is a wonder to me because she is both wise and kind. Her ability not to judge people at the same time as observing them is something I admire and aspire to. I felt hers was the perfect episode to end the season. Not just because she links the other three together through bonds of friendship but because we talk about whether people can change, listening to others,  being honest and open, challenging and speaking up for what you believe in.  The conversation really pivots around friendship, community, responsibility, empathy and sharing knowledge. Those are the things that run through this family season.

They are also ideas which I feel sum up the Getting Better Acquainted podcast project as a whole.

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