We were rehearsing Molière’s The Miser for a performance in the backyard of a
popular old café during our annual Porsgrunn International Theatre Festival. My
husband, Lars, was responsible for the adaptation, as well as directing the play. Our
son Tobias was playing the role of Cleante, whereas my task was to play Jacques, a
female version of the domestic servant.
Lars had written songs for the whole ensemble that emphasised the light, easy
tone of the performance, which we tried to make as fast and funny as we could,
albeit with an undercurrent of comment on the greed and egotism of modern times.
The lyrics of the opening lines went like this:
Frugality is over-rated. To give will cost you less.
Generosity pays in the end. Moreover, brings a good return.
The shroud does not have any pockets, did you know that or not?
The last journey we will make will be with empty hands.
During rehearsals, my mother became ill. After a week, we understood it was
serious and, after another week, that it was terminal. That she would never come
home again. She and my father lived next door. By the time we opened the
production she was dead. I no longer had a mother. A situation I had often thought
about but never experienced. I had felt vaguely that I was prepared. I was not.
… The shroud does not have any pockets…
No, it does not. I dressed her for the last time, and put her in her shroud. She
did not travel empty handed. She died in May. All the cherry trees, her favourite
tree, flower and fruit, were in full blossom. She went with her arms full of cherry
branches. Goodbye, dearest Mama.
Now there is a tree in my garden, called Anna’s Tree, which I pass every day. It
has already blossomed and given fruit.
Every night as I stood on stage dancing, singing, smiling, an image of my
mother in her hospital bed flashed through my mind. Images of her lying there with
closed eyes, so silent, so still, me in the bed next to her, my head close to hers, so I
could hear her whispering: – Is it you? – Yes, it is me. – I am so fond of you, Mamma.-
I am so fond of you. – Do you have any pain? – No, I do not. – That is good. – Yes.
Continuing with the rehearsal work was difficult. To know that my mother
would not come home again, that she had only a few weeks left to live. Was I not
strong enough? Feeling only the sorrow, waiting and pain? Not being present in the
work? What was it best to do? Who could give me an answer, who could help?
My sister and brothers also had to work. We took it in turns to be with my
mother; one of us was always with her. With our Papa. There was no way we could
make her well again. She was slipping away gently, every day. Quietly and without
Her silent, twilight room and the noisy rehearsal room were two separate
worlds. One so real, the other so make believe. When I came into rehearsals many
of my friends and colleagues wanted to know what was happening, to show their
care and sympathy. It was not so easy to bring that head, that heart with me. The
ones full of her.
She would have loved to play my role herself. She was a great amateur actor,
and I had seen her perform in some classical rural comedies when I was young.
She was shy and daring at the same time, a very appealing combination. She also
lured my father into cross dressing. He made his debut as a classical ballet dancer,
with tutu, wig and two oranges for breasts. I was very proud of them. I thought my
mother was so pretty, and when we were taken for gypsies, I thought that was a
great compliment. There were five of us children born over six years; we were all
dark. Once when we took the ferry to see my grandmother, a man approached my
father and asked: “Sir, how is it being a gypsy family in Norway these days? What
is your situation?” My father always smiled when he told this story. We had an old
Chevrolet, we children were all stowed in the back; there was a kind of padded
chain to hold on to whilst we bumped up and down.
My mother would have enjoyed the Molière. She had worked as a servant
herself. She knew a thing or two about upstairs and downstairs. Now she was in
her hospital bed, the walls of her room being the bulwark against our cavorting.
I came and went between both places. Limbo. Lost. Words that hurt. If I
believed I was special, that our rehearsal time should focus on my situation… but
I was not special, the situation was. Pain left a stain on my memory that fades only
slowly. I try to understand. No. That is not true. I do not understand. I accept. I
reason it away. Hs! How to concentrate? To remember the text, the score? I was
not present. My mind shut down or it went to the hospital where my mother was. I
had to force myself to stay in the moment. My son and I had some scenes together,
funny, witty, fast scenes, where I had to jump up on an up-ended trunk! He was
great: “Come on old Mum, you can do it.” In addition, after one scene more
miserable than the last, he said with a clear gaze and a glint in his eye: “I think you
are great, Mum!” Although I knew he was not right, his reassurance helped me
believe I could do it, because even though things did not go forward, they did not
go backwards either. One part of me thought, you have the experience, when push
comes to shove you can find the extra strength. I think I managed to conserve
some energy. To be able.
My mother was moved to palliative care close to my home. Warm, kind, and
skilled people tended to her. I wanted so much to wash her hair. She loved to have
her hair washed, to have a massage, she always used to say: “I could fall asleep it is
so good.” Yes. You will very soon go to The Big Sleep.
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
Then the 1st of May arrived. It was no fun to go and take the traditional glass
of beer before the traditional march. It was no fun; it did not seem important to
stand behind a banner once again demanding peace in the Middle East or No to
Nuclear Weapons. Why did the sun go on shining?
We managed to wash her hair in bed. I was impressed by the skill and
ingenuity of the operation. This was what was important. My priorities were very
After the funeral, at the end of the rehearsal period, I was so angry I was
afraid I would explode. A hard, furious anger. Unfortunately, some of this was
aimed at the director. I could not understand why he insisted upon certain scores
and choreographies. I could not understand why he thought any of it mattered. I
think in a way I projected my white-hot anger onto him because I believed, with
subconscious logic, that he was the only one who could take it. Oh, such anger!
I could have lifted tables, thrown them across the room; I could have destroyed
chairs, doors, anything that came in my way, and I felt dangerous. If I broke down
and cried, I would be of no use. My mother would not come back. She was dead.
She was gone. Forever. This notion of forever was difficult to accept because I
still heard her voice, felt her presence, waited for her and woke up in the morning
with the impulse to go and drink coffee with her. Then the abrupt knowledge of a
change. A loss.
The simple old song from my teens, that I had used in my first ever workshop
with Grenland Friteater came back to me:
Why does the sun go on shining, why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world…
Even though these words are naïve they are also true; it is extraordinary to see
someone coming to put out a rubbish bin as you are walking behind your mother’s
coffin. To see someone laugh heartily. It takes a split second to realise this sorrow
is not everybody’s; in fact it belongs to very few. I compose myself, and understand.
It ended when you said goodbye.
Weeks later: the sun went on shining, the performance went well, I calmed down,
and we understood that it was the fierce sorrow that had released the anger, a not
uncommon reaction. Thinking back, it was the feeling of being trapped, caught.
Even though I partly made that trap myself. Not so constructive in the rehearsal
situation. It is not easy to be constructive when you feel destructive.
I was probably rehearsing for the biggest loss in my life so far. This one I could
not get right. There was nothing I could do to prevent my mother from dying.
No matter how hard I worked, how high I jumped, how well I sang. No matter
how much my gestures and playfulness made the audience roar with laughter. The
Director of Death had other plans, dealt in another currency. My anger was about
loss. Loss of words. Loss of power. How vulnerable my own sense of identity or role,
or the risk of losing them, felt. I have always said that if, for some reason, we could
no longer make theatre, there would be plenty of other things to do. It did not feel
like that. Only I could make my work important. I felt weak.
After the performances, I went to my island. I call it mine. So does everyone
who goes there. From my camper van I walk down to the sea. Sitting on an old
log that washed ashore many years ago, the sky overcast, it is quiet and peaceful.
A boat is towing a rubber ring with a little boy aboard. The boat is driving round
and round in circles. The boy’s cries of joy are louder than the boat’s engine.
My grandson is fishing for crabs. Over and over again. Filling the bucket. At
the end of the day, we empty the bucket, and the crabs swim and crawl back to
their hiding places. Tomorrow we will fish for them once more. My grandson and
I. As I did with his father, my son. I feel my life is stronger now. I can see the
circles. In the old log’s growth rings. In my own life’s growth rings. The waves
crash against the shore. A mild breeze blows against my face. It is a beautiful
I will stay here, looking at the sea, at my grandson, the blue bucket and the
ever-present seagulls. In a scene in Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander, the
grandmother is sitting looking at photographs, looking through the family albums.
Reflecting on the many past years, she said that the children were most important.
After all. I was thinking; yes, you say that because you have had it all! If you had
only had children, would you say that? Ah, such thoughts can also come with the
wind on a summer’s day. Then they drift away.
Papa can hardly see any longer. He has one strong lens, as in a pair of
binoculars, and one cloudy glass, because one eye does not work. In order to be
able to see something he has had to learn to bring the object close to his eye. It
is hard to relearn. He likes to hum, sing and whistle. He does not remember the
lyrics. He makes his own special medley.
Little pretty Anna if you want, belong to me
With all your soul and heart. I am young and ready, so we can go steady
Tralalalalahmdum didumdidumdi ramtitam
Always singing about my mother: Anna. Ever since I was a tiny girl, I have heard
my father sing to my mother. If he wanted to tease her, coax her to give in, make
her sit down, make her sit on his lap (which was unlikely during the day) for half a
cup of cold coffee, half a home rolled cigarette tucked away in her matchbox. Half
a minute. My mother was always up and doing.
Now she is not there. He kisses the photographs he keeps in his wallet. From
when she was seventeen to seventy-five. He talks to her, tells her how beautiful
His age, his doings resonate in me. Age is puzzling. Or perhaps I notice age
more than others do. Because I have reached a certain age myself? Am I starting to
look back, to reflect, to get wiser, or is it because there is relatively little time left
ahead? Am I trying to recall a specific time or age? Who or what is trying to speak
to me? Why am I so receptive? To hold on to and cherish every day. This mirror
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
does not work. It is not me; it is my mother. My mother is dead, and I see her in me.
My Papa, his hands, shoulders and neck. His neck carrying twenty-five kilo
sacks of coal. Bearing witness to all the heavy work. Heavy work at work, heavy
work at home. Heavy work in his childhood home, heavy work in his own home.
Heavy realities. Heavy loads. My Papa’s smile, his eyes disappearing into folds of
skin, leaving only crow’s feet all over his face.
All the hours, Papa, nightshifts, early shifts, extra shifts and double shifts.
Time and time again. I recognise the hours. I am also a worker.
Although it is thirty years since you came through the gates of the aluminium
factory for the last time, even now, as an old man, you scrub yourself in the shower
with a scrutiny resembling a surgeon preparing for an operation. Every part of the
body is meticulously scrubbed, and scrubbed again: neck, ears, shoulders, back,
knees, legs, feet, arms, upper arms, the hair, and the hair again, the face, and the
face again, scrubbing, rinsing, scrubbing. More water. So much dirt.
It is morning; it is dark. My thoughts are still influenced by the tight darkness
around. Light is coming, little by little. The hills become visible. The sky
lightens, a reddish light emerges. Sounds, a breeze from the ocean. I write in bed,
it is warmer. It is “between”. The bed as a safe haven, as a place before. Before
day. Before full consciousness? I do not think so. Art can be as poor as it likes,
or my life as well, which it certainly is not. I am just preparing myself to take
responsibility. I am writing on a funny machine. Sometimes I think it is mocking
me by not producing the letters that I punch, as if it is saying: look, your words
come out differently! What you thought, what you intended to say, which means
write, comes out differently. Who is writing? The trickster? The blind Tiresias
rather. One hears with the eyes and sees with the ears, and writes with the walking
stick, the white stick.
Residual landscapes, remnants from what was nostalgia; a perfect site-specific
for dwellers of yesterday.
How do we talk? How long did it take our theatre group to build a common
language? How do we build a structure? How do we explain and pass on what
we have carved out, patiently and stubbornly, as our modus operandi? Can this be
passed on? Even actors who have worked with us for years might not have come
across some of the experiences we had in the first ten years, experiences that are
embodied in us, as a knowledge we act from…
Our sessions in the rehearsal room remind me of my Papa having to gather the
sheep. He was sent out to look for the sheep, or the one lost lamb. He could not
return home without them or it. He was five years old. He would just get a whack
on his head and be sent out again. There is no use pretending you have gathered
your material, that you have the tools to carry out your craft before you do. It does
not work. Too much of nothing. You need to find your flock. Your sheep, Papa.
I have notes everywhere. Notes for tomorrow: take the trout out from the deep
freezer; deliver the boots to the cobbler; talk to your daughter about training and
lineage; remember to be happy; toilet rolls; lift your gaze.
In the Bible, it is written: “Those who cheer up others shall be cheered up
themselves”. Sometimes I think that if an injustice has been done, and in return
I give a present, I even things out. My action is too much, but since the other’s
action was too small, or too mean, a balance is achieved on some kind of original
scale. That I have devised myself. The pain of anger is expensive.
My parents. Their life as they chose to live it.
Do not come with the whole truth
Do not come with the whole sea for my thirst
Do not come with the sky when I ask for light
Come with a sparkle, dew, a feather
As the birds carry drops of water from the spring
And the wind carries grains of sand.
Olav H. Hauge
Papa, I look at a portrait of you at work. There are fourteen of you. Fourteen men
in work clothes. You have been made to sit in formation. In the way a football
team would assemble. Two of you smile foolishly. Everyone looks at the camera.
You are dirty. One man’s face is almost black. This is your shift at the factory.
Papa, it’s a long time since all you strong men came out of the factory gate,
straight from the shower. I was always afraid of that shower, afraid of the fence,
afraid of the number of people entering those gates, afraid you would not come out
again. I had read about the concentration camps with their strong iron fences and
huge showers. People did not come back from those showers, Papa.
Papa, it is a long time since you came home with your pay check on Thursdays,
when we all saw the money in the little transparent envelope. You sat down and
read the slip of paper that recorded how many hours you had worked, whether you
had done overtime, whether you had had extra hard work that was paid double,
whether you had worked during a holiday that was also paid extra. We children
were given some kroner, very few, Papa, less than most children, Papa, and you
said every time that you needed to multiply our pocket money by five, since there
were five of us. It was not easy, Papa, to remember that, but sometimes we did
not think ahead, we just ran down the hill and into the cinema, just in time for
a cowboy movie to begin, and without remembering that this would take all our
pocket money for that week.
“If you want more money you need to work for it,” said the grown-ups.
So I did. Cleaned for old people. Washed old men’s dirty shirts. I learned
how to scrub necks so the grease would go away. Watch children. Take babies
for a stroll. Do errands. Pick strawberries. Eat strawberries. Only strawberries. An
enormous amount of strawberries. Big, red, tasty. Vomiting strawberries all the way
back from the fields. My sister and I tried to rescue the birds caught in the nets.
The field owner told us off. “Do not let him see you,” said my mother, one of the
best pickers in the field. She tried to make us put strawberries in our sandwiches
too. Since strawberries were free. Cheese was expensive. Salami too. I still like
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
My younger brothers were more useful, selling small baskets of strawberries
to tourists on the steamers: “Struberies, fresli pikked struberies, onli faiv krune!” My
brothers hollered, sold berries and bought ice cream with the money. No savings.
No more jobs either.
Picking apples, picking potatoes, picking stones. Walking babies and small
children. The grown-ups went dancing, I looked after their children. I had an eye
Why do I think more and more about my father, and look more and more like
my mother? Is it because she is dead? I look in the mirror over the sink when I am
brushing my teeth, a glance in the mirror, just because I am standing there and my
eyes wander, and I see my mother and myself. In the same face. If I concentrate
very hard, she goes away, and I return. Nevertheless, if I am unaware, she is there.
One day at work, a woman who works in our administration said: “Geddy, since
you are going to Oslo, why not take your passport and visa application for India
with you?” It turned out that I needed new passport photos so I had to run to our
local photo shop before I went. It was raining, and I did not have an umbrella. It
was delicate rain, almost invisible, that you only feel after a while, when your scarf
or hair becomes misty.
The photographer asked me not to open my mouth whilst being
photographed, and I remember being surprised because I do not usually have my
mouth open unawares, whereas my companion does. He was once criticised for this
by a famous theatre critic, who is no longer alive, and whom he never forgave. The
Nils Aniksdal (bottom right) and fellow workers
Anna and Geddy Aniksdal, mother and daughter
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
critic had made me self-conscious about leaving my mouth open in performances,
how silly of me, but there you go.
I shut my mouth and probably looked puzzled, wondering what this had to do
with getting a visa or not.
When the photographs were ready, I walked home quickly to fetch my luggage
before I went to Oslo to celebrate my daughter’s birthday, an important occasion.
In the car, I looked at the photographs and to my astonishment, I saw my mother,
her hair shiny with tiny raindrops.
Fighting so hard to become yourself. Depth is not an even or true measure
unless it relates to something else that gives the measurement a context. I can be
your something else. You can be mine.
Inheritance, genes and social milieu – these have all intrigued me since I was
young, seeking my own path, finding my voice. I am grateful for the few people
who really saw me, and helped me grow in self-confidence.
I know in a very concrete, brutal and real way that I am going to die. I know
how a body becomes still, how breathing comes to a halt. The end has come.
Everything ends. As we know it. My parents are forever linked to me, we have
been so close. And I mean physically close: my mother and I doing the dishes,
my mother and I laying the table, my mother and I hanging out the clothes, my
mother and I walking down to the shop, my mother and I buying the groceries,
my mother and I checking that we have everything on the list, my mother and
I drinking coffee, my mother and I smoking, my mother being the only smoker
and talking about how good it was that I had stopped smoking, my mother and
I walking back home from the shop. My mother and I fishing, my mother and
I laughing, my mother and I dressing up like Julebukk, or wassailers, going from
house to house, begging neighbours for a little drink, singing for them. Laughing.
An old tradition from The Middle Ages.
My mother was still young and I was not a child anymore. I was home for the
Christmas vacation and my mother wanted us to go Julebukk. She dressed up as
a man, as a mountaineer, and so did I. We had soft hats, scarves, and flasks slung
around our shoulders. We had nylon stockings over our faces, with painted eyes
and mouths. False hair sticking out from under the hats. We were unrecognisable
as long as we refrained from talking.
The tradition was to invite the Julebukk in, to ask if he would sing, and to
offer him a little aquavit. Sometimes the Julebukk brought instruments, mostly he
sang in a distorted voice. Since we were disguised and did not want to expose our
identity we could not stay long. Which meant we visited many houses and got an
aquavit in each place. We got tipsy, laughed a lot, and our make-up ran down our
cheeks. My mother was at her best. She was funny, daring, and a bit wild in a very
charming way. She sang in a voice never heard before, she danced and made witty
gestures. It was a side of her that was often hidden, or not present. She reminded
me of her own mother. She reminded me of me.
My mother and I going for a walk, my mother and I taking the sun, my mother
and I singing together, my mother and I writing songs of celebration together,
my mother and I making plans, my mother and I… No longer my mother and I,
because my mother is dead. She was sad and we, her children, did not want her
to be so unhappy. We pulled so many tricks out of our pocket… little did we know
that she was seriously ill, and perhaps had been for a long time. We just wanted her
to cheer up, and she could not.
She could not. Why is helplessness so provocative? When my mother died, I, a
grown woman looked at the bright, beautiful May sun and thought: are you here to
comfort us? Or to mock us, to tell us that life has always been like this. People are
born and people die, such is life.
Earlier, this year, last year (what does it matter if I sometimes mix up the years,
the months, the days, they all come together in time), The National Museum of
Contemporary Art in Oslo invited us to make a performance in response to the
Museum’s 25th anniversary. It was also twenty-five years since their Arte Povera
exhibition, an exhibition that created a huge scandal in Norway.
The main cause of the scandal was The Pistoletto Room. Before the building
was turned into a museum this room was furnished with some cupboards, tables
and chairs that had originally belonged to the Bank of Norway. Pistoletto asked
for permission to use this old, wooden furniture. He then lined the inside of the
cupboards and the underside of a chair with mirrors and exhibited them. This
became an installation and later, the museum decided it wanted to keep this
artwork which resulted in the museum buying back its own, reinvented furniture
from the artist for a great deal of money, a transaction that was thoroughly mocked
by an art historian, who also happened to be a close acquaintance of ours.
If the workers from the factory in Ardal where my father worked could have
been there! What a performance!
Once, but only once, in the early seventies, the directors of the aluminium
factory where my father was employed decided that the workers should get
aluminium cufflinks as a Christmas present. A piece of art! The cufflinks produced
were rather rough and clumsy, abstract and quite heavy. They offended the workers
so much that several of them just threw the cufflinks back into the furnace, where
they melted and disappeared into liquid form again.
My father always snorted when he told this story. He has his cufflinks still, but
he has never worn them. I do not think he needed them to represent either his
work or his identity.
When it comes to awkward social situations of that kind, I always think of my
father and mother, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my family on both sides.
I always think of how hard they worked, and how hard I work, and I find dignity
in working, thinking, planning, trying to do my best. I try to imagine what they
would say in these situations, and why.
Back to the Museum of Modern Art: we were asked to make the performance
art event in the museum because we work in the Grotowski tradition and Arte
Povera was, and is, an exhibition associated with his work.
There were five of us, working with our director, Tor Arne Ursin, and each
actor performed in a separate room. The audience was divided into groups of
fifteen and led from room to room at intervals.
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
We had to perform five times, and a bell sounded to indicate when we needed
to start and stop our actions in relation to the audience. I, the improviser, the
collector of new things, ideas, ways had to be precise in this minutes and seconds
way. Very challenging.
I worked in the Mario Mertz room. With his enormous glass igloo. This was
the nomadic room, with the igloo by Mertz, a frozen white sleeping bag from
Spitzbergen and The Healing Mountain by Marianne Heske.
I decided to use the character from Women with Big Eyes, who originally came
from a performance called Heart of Dreams. A wild man, a shaman of sorts, both
alive and imagined. He speaks in a deep raspy voice. He can walk through quite
different material, from different performances or settings.
He sings. A certain kind of ugly song. Tor Arne and I spoke of him as the blind
Tiresias. Wearing round black sunglasses, always associated with John Lennon.
Trying not to see in the usual way.
There were guards in each room. It was strictly forbidden to touch any of the
objects. I got permission to touch the bushes belonging to the Mario Mertz piece.
Once. I got permission to crawl on the floor. If we wanted to touch an item, we
needed to wear white gloves.
If my parents had been there, they would have laughed so much! On the
other hand had they known the price of some of the items they might have been
My father would have said, “if this is art, I am art too”.
Or, perhaps, “I could have made this!” If he were right all of us can make art
and moreover, everything can be art so no one can lay claim to any of it. This
essential question dogs my work and informs my attitude to it.
Everything will end, and sometimes there is a sense of haste, a shift in the air, a
shudder, as if it were cold. It is the end, telling us, me, that it will come. I see this
in others; I experience it in myself.
A sudden sadness at evening, looking out at the sea. The light is transparent,
grey. A melancholy in the light rays themselves. Sometimes beauty hurts.
On the other hand, it is difficult to live everyday as if it were the last. A bit
tiring too! I pray to stay awake, to avoid wasting time.
But I also want to waste time, to sit a while longer, to talk, be, smell and sense
the world, my world around me. To listen to the young women carving their way
through life. Strong, determined and with set faces, showing that they know
that life is a risky deal. Where is my world? Where is my haven? My garden? My
floating island? My nest. What nonsense, of course I am part of it all. That was just
time out. A sudden premonition that everything comes to an end.
My room of my own? My room of my own is in our rooms of our own; my
garden is a patch in our communal garden; my nests rest in the oldest oak tree ever
seen. These are my havens.
My island is a real island. It was a secret for many years, many thousands of
years, then the great ice withdrew and took sand and stones along with it, leaving
washed, polished glacial rocks. The cold ice made something so soft, round and
warm, so beautifully curved, it is inviting to lie down and almost disappear in its
curves. Fossils from thousands of years ago are forever impregnated in the stone;
sweet pink colours make surprising stripes between the light and dark greys.
It is my island. My sand, which has swallowed my tears, my wind that has tried
to take away my smile. My deep sense of belonging. My solitude.
My words. Our words. Mine are never just mine. There is much of you in me,
and yet I am I. I need to be, I cannot survive without being strong. These times are
dangerous. It is easy to disappear in the welter of demands and expectations that
the world makes on and of us. I also wrinkle my brow when too many corporate
words come into our island, into our Magdalena Garden. We have a different
currency. We trade in another economy.
Nowadays, since the universities are also part of the private economy, they
have adopted the language of bankers, traders, stocks and shareholders. For a
while it is amusing, interesting to change and swop languages. As we borrowed
words and expressions from sport, from martial arts. In the early years of my
theatre group, we had difficulty understanding our own evolving language. A
language that we invented as we went along. A language that changed according
to which training or performance we were making. In the beginning, it was jazz.
The language, vocabulary and philosophy around it. Always to make variations,
alternations. To re-enact. To re-create. I am not sure that our new friends with
post-graduate degrees have the same critical relationship to the language they are
speaking. There are other masters, but it seems as if the concept of apprenticeship
is disappearing. Now we talk about entrepreneurs and curators, as if they were the
baker and the butcher. Our language, we started to talk about a language of our
own, yes, maybe there is a language to protect, rules to protect, something that
should not be touched!
I am a bastard, I am impure, and I am hybrid. I no longer want to be like a
veteran car or boat, hidden away because it too costly to use. Rather be an old car
or boat with scratches, rust and a lot of mileage. The writer Kjartan Fløgstad talks
about unclean art, dirty art, B culture. I cling to this and inside I whisper to myself:
there must be a C culture as well. How low can we dive?
The stones, the cliffs sloping gently down towards the sea. So much comfort in
a stone. So much beauty in the rounded shapes coloured greyish pink and black.
Here is a here and now.
The trees of Angkor Wat, the roots fastening themselves to the ground or
threatening to dismantle the surface of the earth. Trying to reclaim the forest.
Taking over, swallowing the splendid civilization that was. Standing underneath
one of these trees, words and thoughts become like ants up in the tree trunk. You
feel happily small and carefree.
Death and decay. The cancer of our times. Our foreign minister says the
world, seen as a totality, has not been better: fewer children’s diseases; lower
death rates, fewer wars, fewer epidemics. The trees of Angkor Wat have survived
many wars. The woman sitting on the little platform inside Angkor has survived
the Killing Fields. She is now conducting the rhythm section in a concert given
at sunset. We published an interview with her in The Open Page some time ago
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
and I was able to meet her. Now several years later she still continues her work,
one of the few survivors to keep the tradition alive. I greet her. She gives me a
Actual reality makes me sick, makes us sick. That must be the reason why we
cannot grasp the whole truth at once; it is so terrible that we cannot endure
it. In a performance in Rio at the Multicidades Festival, five women and a
man made an aesthetically beautiful, powerful and terrible happening, an art
installation, a performance art piece about the horrific statistics of femicide in
Brazil. They started by entering in silence, bending down to us as we sat, giving
us roses and whispering words in our ears. The woman whispering to me said:
The canvas that they rolled out had skeletons printed on it, anatomically
correct skeletons, symbolising the many women killed each day. The canvas was
covered in facts, statistics and skeletons. Loud drumbeats made an aggressive
At the end of the short presentation that Thais Medeiros and her colleagues
made, we were unable to leave: the cruelty of the facts in stark opposition to
the beauty of the Botanical Garden, and the vibrancy and vitality of the women
The performers left and we sat there looking at the printed canvas. Some of us
had also received original prints with the same motif. Slowly we stood up holding
Geddy Aniksdal in The Miser
the red roses in our hands. As if by a common impulse, we started to pluck the rose
petals, letting them fall on the skeletons, the statistics, the numbers of victims
being murdered each year, each month, each week, each day and each hour.
Dropping petals like tears. As if wanting them to cover or wash away the truth.
Our rose petals could not cover anything. They resembled drops of blood. We
hugged each other, and shivered in the heat.
Patti Smith says: “Life is at the bottom of things, and belief at the top. While
the creative impulse, dwelling in the centre, informs us.”
I think of my daughter. Then I think of my new grand-daughter. She likes
to laugh. She likes to be tickled. To be thrown up in the air. I think of women
pioneers, I think of young male soldiers. I think of the First World War. In Norway,
we still celebrate May 9th, when Norway was liberated. The war veterans are
My daughter was born with a red heart on her head. It glowed as she entered
the world. As she grew it faded back into her. I wrote her. Then my daughter wrote
herself. Daughters go on writing themselves, carving out their path, their rooms
of their own, their environment. Autonomy and independence are valuable and
expensive. ”Deep inside my heart you find my brain.”
Morning. Greyish blue streaks in a soft sky. Something reddish seems to come
through. I read in a magazine that the sun, always believed to be either yellow or
orange, is actually white. The sun might be white. My sun is yellow. Fat, round,
generous and yellow. I often think of her. More often look for her. When she
comes back after the long winter months she is thin, cold and lemony. There is
no warmth either. Shining coldly over the frozen earth, over the ice, on the dirty,
scarred snow. However, my sun is not one to give up. Continuing to shine, little by
little, like a wood fire, she gains strength. Frozen cascades start to melt, from their
bluish white insides you can hear water music; plip, plop, plip, plop, plip, ice water
breaks through, finds its way under and beyond.
My sun gets stronger and stronger, she melts the cascades, shines away the
flaky snow, leaving a muddy, rich soil, tempting the first grass and the early spring
flowers to come out and play! Teasing and tempting. Hi, dandelion! Come out
As I walk in the dusty waterless creek, I become slightly irritated because I
would rather walk along the trail, and do not want to admit even to myself that I
do not like to walk along dry river creeks. I think a vivid image from a horror film
has glued itself into my imagination. My friends do not want to believe me when
I tell them that I cannot really see, or sometimes even listen to, violent images
or sounds, as I have an unnaturally hard time erasing them from my memory.
Images that haunt me, pester me, destroy my sleep, my calm. Why should I want
them? I think I have a limited capacity for such things: I cannot pollute my head
with too much stuff either. I get annoyed by silly adverts, or lame comments, and
my concentration is disturbed. As I walk along this creek trying to suppress my
irritation, I think of my father. Papa. He gets angry, gets irritated, and gets very
stubborn. Angry, irritated and stubborn. There he is. Here am I.
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
All river creeks end, and as we are close to the sea, I save my companion and
myself the outburst. We are back on the trail again. The good thing about getting
lost is the relief at being back on track again.
I am strong headed and stubborn and often, if not almost always, I feel
different. Apart. I have always wanted to be part of something bigger than myself.
I wished, even against my own will, that I could be drawn to a religious practice.
I wished for a communist practice, where we could all live in a community, wear
blue overalls and have nothing more to do with clothing. An attempt was made to
recruit me into the religious organisation, The Family International, but I did not
go. I tried to belong to a political party but I was too critical. I wanted to belong
to a movement, a collective, an urge; be part of a good cause, the long march, the
new wave, the soft revolution. Perhaps I was looking for a ready-made alternative
to my own big family. Perhaps I needed to separate from my family before I could
start to make an alternative one.
My fellow classmates created families immediately, I thought them old before
they had had time to be young. Perhaps they wondered what is she so afraid of?
Settling down. Knowing what you do not want, but not why. Against conformity.
Against the others. Longing to belong. Standing on the doorstep. Not going
in. Afraid of being trapped, caught, held against my will. Panic if someone tries
to hold my head down. Wanting to belong and to sit on a hilltop alone. This
paradox is my life. Feeling alone with others. In a performance, in our group, in
the collective, in relationship. We are deeply alone, since we are all different. By
accepting this differentness, it became much easier to take part.
New morning. Dirty snow outside. White light. The surroundings look old. I pass
the plum tree. And think of my grandmother’s stories. Her tales. She had a library
of them. She always had a story to tell. As we walked together, and we did a lot of
walking my grandmother and I. Near a plum tree, she told a story of another tree;
when we were passing the boulder where we could rest, she had an anecdote. Did
we see the bats? She related teasing them with her long bamboo fishing rod. I was
useful for my Granny. I was her hot water bottle, her hot stone. She preferred my
little plump, round body.
Granny’s husband died during the War. The War in Norway always means
the Second World War when the Germans occupied Norway from 1940 to 1945.
Her youngest son was five years old. He grew up amongst women. From an early
age he accompanied my grandmother to political rallies and meetings. He was so
little that he brought a stool to stand on. From there he tried to collect money for
the cause. He used to shout: “Classmates! Comrades! Fellow Workers! Give your
Uncle became skilled at imitating and making parodies. He took part in
amateur theatre, and sang well. Some affluent people offered to support him to go
to Den Nationale Scene in Bergen, where he could study theatre as an apprentice.
My grandmother flatly refused. Later my uncle married a much older woman and
joined the Salvation Army. It turned out that he got more drama than he needed
My aunt yodelled. I enjoyed being with her when she was doing that. My
favourite song was about the cuckoo in the old wooden clock. My aunt always
pretended that she was no good. Her voice was not in shape. Who would want to
hear these old songs anyway? After the usual chit-chat back and forth and many
please, pleases, like a warm up of sorts, she started to sing.
When she came to the long yodelling part I was on my toes; she sang, rocked
around, played the guitar fiercely, her cheeks hot, her black hair tossed back. She was
singing away and the yodels just flowed out of her: cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo lao lei
lao li! The family, her fans, usually a group of about twenty-five to thirty, crammed
together in either grandmother or uncle and aunt’s living room, went wild! If we
were lucky, a long night of entertainment would follow. Little did I know that here
we already had our own potlaches. This was just what we did at home.
Songs, poems, stories, charades. Guitars, harmonicas, accordions and
fiddles. Someone playing the comb! We all sang. Sometimes my grandmother
disappeared to reappear later, often dressed like a man, often pretending to be
drunk. Why? Taking glasses from the others, stumbling and staggering about. She
never touched the stuff herself. Perhaps she thought she was daring? Perhaps she
I am back by the plum tree in the dirty snow. There are some straws left from
the Christmas Nek, an old rusty lantern hangs in the tree. My grandson and I like
to light them in the December darkness. My grandmother has been dead for a
long time. My yodelling aunt is in a home for people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
My Salvation Army uncle is dead. They both performed at my mother’s 75th
birthday. My aunt complained of not having any voice left. My uncle took a
lot of convincing too, a lot of hanging about, a substantial amount of liquid of
the influential kind, half a pack of Prince cigarettes and ample help in finding a
costume. However, when he came on, he came on. The theatre café became his
Variety Hall, and our gifted uncle was on the stage for the last time with his party
piece. I think we all knew it would be his last, and that coloured the experience
with a melancholy sweetness.
Did my aunts and uncles belong to a generation that did not have the courage
to take the next step necessary to do what they really wanted? They could all have
been members of my free theatre group! They all had secure jobs: male nurse, skin
grafter, crane driver, employee in a hat shop. They worked to earn a living and had
fun with their artistic skills in their spare time.
They longed for something different but they did not dare. For my uncle to
have gone into the theatre would have made him an outcast. Social justice was
strict within the working classes.
In contrast, one generation later, mine, there is a lot of support and interest
in my work in Grenland Friteater. Some of our gatherings, after a performance,
during a festival, whether here in Porsgrunn, or somewhere in The Magdalena
Project, remind me of my childhood gatherings, where music, dance, food, an
intense sense of wellbeing and peace occurred in the midst of everything.
We needed the 1960s and 1970s to take this further step, to fill our hearts and
heads with these possibilities. Go live your life.
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
Now, to be different, to stand out, is a positive quality. An advantage. My
uncles and aunts did not think so. Neither did my mother. When I finally looked
through her papers I found many unpublished song texts, written from a cleaning
lady’s point of view.
Still, they did not waste their abilities. They did not hide or suppress them.
When Uncle Paul, another uncle, the (for us) famous fiddle player, finally played
his fiddle at my wedding, people were almost on their way home. The women in
my family always needed a lot of convincing; the men needed a lot of drinking and
persuading to bring out this fire, this wildness, this chispa de vida.
I hope I have inherited some of this, both genetically and from the social
milieu. In my work, I have learned to give it a form. To place a form around the
content. Too much content, sometimes in danger of spilling over any form of
Not the why, often the how. Also with whom and when? My mother had five
children. Then she got her guitar. Why go on about mother, aunts and uncles? We
stand on the shoulders of Virginia Woolf, Emily Pankhurst, my mother and my
forever yodelling aunt. It is comforting to know that.
And at a concert recently, listening to the wild and crazy yodelling of Polka Bear
and Kleine Heine, I was the only one in the audience who knew the song about
the Cuckoo and The Old Wooden Clock by heart and I surprised myself by being
both proud to stand up and sing the song, and shy because I was out of my usual
habitat. In a split second, I imagined that I could yodel too.
My note for tomorrow is to remember the past, though not to be stuck in it. To
look after my grand-daughter. Together we can look for plum trees, lanterns, rare
bats. Together we can rest by the boulder. That possibility exists.
Even before my mother died, I experienced time literally showing its face
to me. Time as finite, not infinite. I understood I would not go on forever. I was
watching a scene in a performance, full of careless actions, when this fact hit me. It
hit me like a branch in the face: Geddy, you will not go on forever. You are getting
older, and then you will die.
I often talk about age and death; several of my performances deal with this
topic. I thought I was concrete and realistic and forthright about death. Realistic
in a rough way. Ha ha. That we are born, live and die. We have been in close
touch with death before. On one level. Then this truth hit me, hurt me. Stung.
I was just so foolishly unprepared. I felt alone. Alone carrying this knowledge. I
could not feel light hearted about it, since I myself carried the information like a
new secret. I had a malaise. I stumbled.
Jon Hellesnes is a philosopher whom I have come to know through my theatre
work. Just as the essays of Virginia Woolf once fell from my shelf and hit me on the
head, when we were preparing the Magdalena encounter A Room of One’s Own in
Porsgrunn back in 1989, I grabbed Life Interpretations as if it were a life line.
I read it to help me. In sheer need. The fine thing is that it did help. To read
the book every day, to think about its meaning, to look up other philosophers
mentioned in the book, to see my life from more than one perspective, to
laugh with Hellesnes about the small, funny incidents that sometimes make us
understand life’s more important issues.
His laconic, witty renderings, the personal stories he uses to explain some of
the philosophical thoughts and dilemmas, enabled me to lift my own gaze, and
look further than the tip of my own nose.
He taught me about Seneca and his Epicurean stoicism, or stoical
He told me that it is possible, through thinking (or that is how I worked it
out for myself), to free one’s self from fear, hope and greed, and through that win a
lasting peace in one’s soul.
This life practice or philosophy, a way of caring for the self in extreme
situations of catastrophe or sudden death, comes from Seneca’s proposal for a
stoical meditation to overcome all ‘horrors’. It is called Meditatio Malorum.
I cannot meditate. I have problems sitting still. I cannot train myself in these
thoughts. However, I can read them, and whilst reading and re-reading them,
writing about them, comparing them to my own situation, I can try to will painful
thoughts away, and time itself helps me to become at ease with the fact that time
is passing, and I cannot go backwards. What had I been thinking? That I was still
young? That I could still have children? That I could be a trapeze artist? What
I am not quite sure what I was thinking, but I know that being confronted
with the cruel and certain knowledge of an end, of mortality, hit me with a
powerful force, coming as it did out of nowhere.
What an irony! I had been so taken with Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality,
where he both ridicules and speaks with understanding about Goethe, great and
not so great men who want to be immortal, about Agnes who, in a casual gesture
to her swimming instructor, sets everything in motion. Unlike my friend, Grethe
Knudsen, who says she does not want to die because she wants to see what happens
next, as if life were an episode in a crime serial. No, more as if these characters
think they are so good, so important, that they need to go on living because the
world would be a smaller place without them.
Our lives, so significant, so forgettable: “Life is a dream, and dreams stay
dreams,” says Calderon. “What a wonderful world,” sings Louis Armstrong. “Life
is but a walking shadow… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.” How comforting to hear…
Hellesnes writes about our need to interpret life, something that we all do,
whether we have a (strong) faith or not. We interpret, understand, reflect and
judge. This is not science, not really philosophy either. It is an everyday activity –
something we do more or less spontaneously, more or less reflexively.
I suppose when the branch hit my face I started to think more consciously
than I had previously, and knew again, learned again, without filters that the mere
fact that we are alive is also a coincidence. However, as the saying goes, since we
are here, only a few of us want to leave early. Death is not a detail. I read in the
Spanish newspaper “El País”: Filosofar es prepararse a morir. (To philosophise is to
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
prepare for dying.) The word filosofar is a strange mixture of philosophy and father
in Norwegian. Alternatively, and even stronger: to go, to fare, meaning going
away, going somewhere with your philosophy.
Yes. I met sorrow, I walked the street, I saw the things I had seen a
thousand times before, I saw the ugly, ill-kempt, little area of green around our
neighbourhood pub and I thought that even that ragged patch had a sad beauty.
I reminded myself that to know that you are mortal does not mean that you
will die immediately, and little by little, as spring and summer went by I came to
terms with my new knowledge, carrying that new knowledge in a larger bag.
In the way that we have learnt different techniques in our theatre practice,
Seneca also suggests techniques that we can use to avoid worrying when days are
good. In addition, he reminds us that there is more that will scare us than actually
The positive thing about this phase of new learning is that I emerged from it
feeling much younger and in good spirits for the future. After all that is where we
are going to be – for the rest of our lives. At a party to celebrate her survival after
falling from a high ladder, my friend and I spoke about where we met, where our
friendship started, and how our directions in life have coincided. This woman and
I met at a bus stop in London, on our way to the first Magdalena Festival in Cardiff
in 1986. I had met Jill Greenhalgh, who founded The Magdalena Project earlier,
while on tour in Italy, but this woman, Gerd Christiansen, had just heard about
the forthcoming festival and written to Jill who had then invited her. So Jill’s yes
allowed us to get to know each other. Then we invited Gerd to come to work with
us, where she met a man, had a child and started to live in Norway. How many of
us have not had the direction of our lives changed by a workshop, by going to a
performance, taking part in a project, or going to a friend’s party? I think of when
we, the Magdalena women, first met: I see us in the cold potato factory in Cardiff,
drinking numerous cups of tea to keep ourselves warm. Then we are walking by
the beach in Denmark, the strong, salty wind making our faces fresh and red.
I recall warm nights in Aradeo. Several of us having become mothers by then,
Silvia Riciardelli had invited us to bring our children to a mother and daughter
project. At that time, I was working with the poems of Sylvia Plath. One evening
I presented some of them in the garden. The old family dog was walking around
and when I started the recital, he walked over to me. Silently. Stood by my side.
Looked at me. I put my hand on his back and he lay down. And he lay there while
I recited the last poem, Edge:
The woman is perfected
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odours bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.
When I stopped and became still the dog stood up, looked at me and walked
silently away. He got all the attention, and he truly deserved it. Never seen
anything like it. He had never shown me any attention before, nor did I get any
Anna Melia Lindgren Vik, Geddy’s grand-daughter
Future Conditional – Notes for Tomorrow
later. Just during Sylvia Plath’s poem. Written on a bitterly cold January day. She
herself said her poems were to be read aloud, being most powerful that way.
Do we find our place when it becomes vacant, or do we carve it out ourselves?
We each have a place, in the flock, the family, the group. We make our way.
It is silent now. Only the hiss from an artificial fire makes a constant sound.
I saw artificial fires for the first time in Wales. Wales is The Magdalena Project.
Wales was also one of my father’s destinations as a sailor. One of his ports. There
used to be a Norwegian Church in Cardiff. Now it is a café and cultural centre.
In the mountains, the snow is everywhere. It is all white. There is a storm
outside. There is a noise outside as the wind rises and falls in waves. The snow is
wrapping itself around the cabin. Around me. A deep notion of being safe inside,
with enough wood, food and water. Water in abundance. The snow.
I carried water as a child. Two buckets full. I must not spill them. The buckets
hit my calves, and they did spill. Water in my socks and shoes.
Two buckets of snow are very light. Even heaped up, they weigh nothing.
Next summer, my mother’s great-grandchild, named Anna after her, will run
towards me. A new pair of eyes will look at me mischievously. A new pair of legs
will take their first steps on the wet grass of the early morning dew. The sun will
make patches of light and shadows among the trees.
She is running fast. One of my notes for tomorrow: look out for that girl!
Silence, only the sound of my pen scraping the paper. The small sounds. The
tiny movements. The isometry of our lives. The details visible and naked.