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January 3, 2014 6:04 pm
I think one of the reasons I can’t sleep is that every night, as I go to bed, I like to review everything that has ever happened to me. That would keep a person awake, wouldn’t it?
Tonight some of it is wildly far-fetched, some of it very moving, some of it riddled with clichés, and then songs. Your life is only meant to flash before you when you are drowning, not at bedtime.
This evening I remembered a swimsuit that a woman tried to return when I had a Saturday job in a lingerie shop. The suit itself was alarming, the upper portion made from shiny python-effect stretch-fabric; black, asymmetric, with just one shoulder strap. It had certainly been worn. What wasn’t certain is whether it had been purchased from our shop. We just stood there saying, “Ummm” until the manager came back from her lunch date, and effected an exchange, ticking the box “goodwill” on the pro forma.
Next I remembered an evening when I was 24, when a group of people came back to my flat from a nightclub called Smashing in Regent Street. Among them there were two rock stars. I leapt into hostess mode, making bacon sandwiches in the hope that they would look on me as some kind angel of pork. But the special guests turned out to be vegetarians. For all their questionable habits, bacon struck them as uncouth.
The cause of this constant memory lane-itus must be that this February a memoir I wrote six years ago is going to be staged at the Nottingham Playhouse. My life is actually going to be a musical! Can you imagine writing that sentence? The play has two main characters: one is me and the other is Judy Garland. That is another sentence I wasn’t planning on writing any time before my appointment as mayor of Crazytown.
Like most things that are too good to be true, it isn’t without its challenges. Most of these seem to be identity-based. My true character has been my long-term work in progress. It has been honed, indulged, sanded-down and revarnished, spray-painted and analysed to within an inch of its life but, in the main, it is mine. Not for much longer though.
When I can’t sleep, what troubles me is a strange Venn diagram containing the Susie character in my memoir who isn’t exactly me, the Susie character in the play, who is different again, and then the person I’ll coyly call the real McCoy.
“The most important thing is”, everyone persists in telling me, “you mustn’t take it at all personally.”
How would that work exactly?
. . .
In the middle of every night, I awake in a cold sweat. What if the Susie on the stage exhibits a brand of self-deprecation that people take at face value? It must, must, must come from a height.
What if she comes across as squarer than square? What if she’s too emotional? Am I too emotional? More and more, like an inverted truffle, I feel soft on the outside but rather brittle within. An iron mouse? No, no, no, no, no.
Will the stage Susie be knowing enough? Would the stage Susie have known that small hours musicians are liable to be vegetarians?
It’s all a bit more psychological than even I can manage. And the questions that follow are the wrong side of overwhelming. What kind of loyalty do I owe my teenage self? Or does she owe me? On stage, will I come across as brave? Yet if I am brave, will it imply I have suffered more than I ever have?
Like a steak wolfed at midnight, all this is hard to digest. And then – vanity! Could someone mention to the producers of the play that I own no flat shoes or trousers; that I don’t believe in them?
These nightly identity crises make me think of my kitchen cupboards: I still can’t tell at a glance which conceals the bin, the dishwasher and the cleaning products. Throwing away an apple core involves a little game of find the lady.
Who is the lady?
“Try and enjoy it,” a wise sister counsels. “You love the stage and everything about it. What a terrific start this will be to the new year.” I picture myself selling ices in the interval, a sly smile on my face ...
The script is excellent; the cast too. So why are there mauve suitcases under my eyes? An actor friend phones and I confide that I haven’t slept for nights. “The universe seems to invent more and more elaborate ways to torment me,” I murmur.
In a voice tender and melancholy, he replies: “Welcome to show business darling.”
‘My Judy Garland Life’ by Susie Boyt, adapted by Amanda Whittington, is at Nottingham Playhouse from January 31
More columns at ft.com/boyt
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