Thursday, September 26, 2013


In the days after that weekend I was in a state of permanent exhilaration. The coup which had me foudroyée was not (or not only) as some might think, the boringly well-documented phenomenon of transference:
"...the redirection of feelings and desires and especially those retained from childhood to a new object..."
Any phenomenon will always be given a label by some expert somewhere, a label which reduces it to that definition, neatly stored in a file endlessly consulted and expanded by other experts until the phenomenon itself becomes invisible.
Every tiny neuron in my brain was flashing like a hyperactive firefly but the side-effect was down to earth: I wanted to get into bed, or any other suitable location, with Z. Romantic extras were not required but it was absolutely imperative, essential to my very being, that a physical conjunction should take place, preferably immediately, but I was prepared to wait if necessary. It's hard to believe that a grown-up, cosmopolitan, professional artist with a marriage and other affairs behind her, could be in such naive and visceral thrall. But it's true. 

The group therapy centre's brochure, which I meticulously studied after my dramatic introduction to that hitherto unknown world, was a seductive menu describing "life-changing" sessions led by top therapists of every persuasion. But I was only interested in one of them and was transfixed by a paragraph outlining a forthcoming project conceived and led by Z. It was called the Theatre of the Secret Self. The gist of it was that each participant in the six month-long project would be given time, space, insight and encouragement to mine their innermost self for creative ideas and expression, culminating in the group putting on a public performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To sign up, you had to commit to attending once or twice-weekly evening workshops, some weekends, and a week or so in Edinburgh the following summer. 

I must have read that paragraph a hundred times. It was like staring into a dazzling shop-window displaying everything you had ever wanted for Christmas and realising that you could actually have it all. During those miraculous minutes that I had sobbed on my pseudo-mother's breast and carried my pseudo-father around the room, the cheeky child I once was had been given full permission to resurrect, liberated from a secret sorrow and an unexpressed burden. 

The Theatre of the Secret Self!! Custom-made for me! A chance to show off every hidden dimension of the rediscovered Nathalie! With Z the metteur en scène of my dreams, the director who would make me the star I knew I was! (Not that I wanted to be an actor, but only to have my inner and perhaps even outer star-quality confirmed.) It was obvious: I had to sign up. The cost was fairly hefty but an idea popped up on how I could reduce it. The time comittment could be fitted into my normal activities - I was teaching printmaking part-time and working on NdA Press which had taken off very well. 

But first of all I had to establish some kind of unique status: I didn't want to be merely one of the members of Z's group. Inspired by the cunning which comes as a bonus with love, I wrote him a carefully composed nonchalant note, enclosing one of my books as proof of talent, offering my services as artist-in-residence or graphic reporter at his workshops (I would sketch the people during the sessions). In return, I jokingly suggested, he could give me a discount on the fee for joining the Theatre of the Secret Self project. To my not-so-great surprise (destiny is not surprising) he agreed. 

* * * * 

I started these posts with the intention of slightly expanding a conversation about the differences and problems between creativity in solitude (eg the painter in her/his studio) and in collaboration (eg in a theatrical production) but I got carried away by a particular reminiscence which threatens to monopolise this space and my time. This is a problem because I must focus on current work and also because it's difficult for me to see the fine line where memoir becomes indiscretion. I was openly confessional in earlier parts of my autobio but as it moves forward chronologically, I have to learn to be more reticent, more indirect....more British! (Roderick's comment under Part Four got me thinking.)

I know it's mean of me to cut this short now but the full story is far too long and complex to reduce to a set of blog posts. My private journals and many of my artworks have documented it, both literally and symbolically, and maybe some day, in graphic novel or other form, I'll find a way to...what? Pin it down?
My secret self did indeed emerge from hiding during the years that followed that personally historical September 21 and the date has been celebrated ever since. They were years of turbulence, elation, inspiration, despair, fulfilment, gloomy darkness and brilliant light - everything you get from from being foudroyée over a long period. 

For now I'll wind up Showing Off by showing you On the Fringe, oil pastel portraits (the full set in context is here ) which I drew of some spectators at performances of the Theatre of the Secret Self in Edinburgh in which I participated. Our group won an award for best float at the Fringe Festival's opening day parade.



Dick said...

As another Brit of just post-war vintage, I have to align myself with those for whom the oblique representation of love, lust, longing and the like of 'Brief Encounter' and 'The Remains of the Day' have poignancy and meaning.

But for all the absurdities and excesses of the late '60s and early '70s, something shifted for many of us at tectonic level at that time and I welcome the openness and directness of these accounts. There is a clarity, honesty and humour in these beautifully written accounts that eschew any sense of display or indulgence. Most refreshing when set against the histrionics of various shades of grey.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dick, thank you very much. I'm in awe of the understated mode of 'Brief Encounter' and other masterpieces of that ilk, striking the heart so subtly and with such devastating accuracy. One of the reasons I was drawn to England was because it was so different from my totally un-English background. But I could no more write like that, or behave like Brief Encounter protagonists, than I could become six feet tall. Being British (on my passport) has not given me Britishness but it has taught me a lot which I'm grateful for. As well as irritated the hell out of me!

Adam said...

1976! What a time! I was here in Australia after years in Africa and close to the point of leaving my first wife for someone not like anyone I had ever met before and with whom I experienced an explosion of feelings. We're still together, growing stronger by the day, as I think may happen to us as we age or maybe it is just such long experience together ...

Thanks so much for all your stimulating writings, threatening to clog the blog as you say, but no matter!

Best wishes

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Adam, thanks for that little glimpse into your own 'secret history'. I'm very glad it had a happy ending, or rather, a happy continuity. All the best to you.

Hattie said...

So many of us have been there. Or were there at that time, I should say. Must have been something about the families that we grew up in that made us so vulnerable.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, well, it's complicated isn't it? I had a terrific family but some things are deep inside the unconscious.