Edith Tankus shares more about the inspiration behind her semi-autobiography Wild Country, coming to Omnibus Theatre on 11-12 March as part of our season of work celebrating the month of International Women’s Day.
It’s February and…
…all is budding in the hopeful melt of spring. I’m sitting at my kitchen table trying to book flights for my parents to come and visit us from Canada. I feel conflicted about their visit. The price of the tickets is over $3000 each, how is this possible? Aside from the finances it has become difficult for them to travel; my dad is lately unsteady on his feet and he is the main carer for my mum who has dementia. These intrepid journeys we take in pursuit of life, love, family, connection.
I moved to the middle of rural Kent, England from Toronto, when I was 7 months pregnant 13 years ago, after receiving my long-awaited spousal visa. I felt alien in this land-scape, a kind of Jewish mail order bride, dispersed into the Diaspora. My whole life packed into two suitcases; I arrived late one night to a quiet village of 340 residents. I didn’t yet have a British drivers’ license and I’d never once driven on the other side of the road. The nearest point of civilisation was a 45 min walk to the next village which has a post office, a curry house and most importantly a train station – with trains to London. By week two, I started to feel the isolation and cultural disconnect, like Masha from The Three Sisters for-ever dreaming of Moscow, I yearned for the city. I needed to get to London.
My partner was away…
…working a lot, so I made my own way. Heaving my enormous girth over stiles, through sheep fields and past lonely horses. A city dweller through and through I was deeply unnerved by rurality. I had no instinct for the dangers that lay in wait in the countryside as much as I had no instinct for what was benign and wholesome. I also had no sense of what it would be like to raise children far from everyone I knew and loved, how the contracts I entered into – with others and myself – would be irrevocably changed. I was under the naïve impression that getting married and starting a family in rural Kent was a deeply meaningful pitstop on the road to adventure and evolution. I would learn how to start a fire, rear pigs and make my own cheese as I swaddled and fed the babies.
I walked for nearly an hour, through the crisscross grid marks of Roman footpaths laid out centuries ago, in good stead to make the morning train, only to be harassed by a large flock of suspicious sheep. They were staring at me intensely. As a performer this wasn’t the attention I was used to. Can sheep rear up? Can their teeth rip through flesh? What do they want from me? One very large sheep (ram? ewe?- needed to learn this fast), relieved itself as it followed me with its gaze. Eye contact unwavering; animal to animal. I took out my mobile and began talking loudly, like I would in Toronto when walking alone at night – cackling and laughing gregariously.
Ho ho ho teee hee hee hummmahhhhhhhhh!!
Bafflingly this made them lose interest. I was lucky to make that train, just as the conductor was blowing his whistle, and found a spot beside an elderly man who was sleep-ing. I leaned into him as I took up a huge part of the double seat. That’s when the pain came on. Sudden, searing inside my left groin tearing through my lower sides. My face flushed I was soaked in sweat but I willed myself to keep a neutral expression, calm eyes ahead. Is this happening now? Was my vagina dilating and pushing out an angry baby head beside this sleeping old man, day 8 in my new home, in the middle of a foreign land on the 9:30 lo-cal?
Thankfully it was a false alarm, a phantom labour of sorts. But it was a glimpse of what was to come. Of how unpredictable everything can be, grappling to find place in unfa-miliar terrain, striving to find home. Still there is magic out here in this wild. Through shifting identities, the continuation of parenthood, the waning of one’s own parents. A kind of evo-lutionary enchantment where cells re-organise and metamorphose into something new bringing us back over and over again to our true nature, our true selves. Wild Country was born out of these yearnings and more, and so it was maybe written long before I took pen to paper.