Broken Window by @carregonnen

Cross-posted from: Carregonnen
Originally published: 23.04.16

High up on the landing

there’s a little window

for no reason at all

It’s too small to let light into the hall

and I rarely notice it

 

But today I did because it was broken

I allowed a few reasons

through my head

But none of them led to a plausible answer

so I gave up

 

I might never know whether

it was a misguided bird

one of the boys who play out there on skateboards

throwing a stone or other missile

or an air pistol aimed at the bird

But it’s broken

 

There are problems

fixing it will be expensive

and I have no money

so it stays broken

letting in sound

letting heat escape

What if it falls out or in and

I lie in bed and worry about storms and high winds

at three o’clock in the morning

the broken window metamorphoses

into the Whole of Life

A small broken window is now

Money problems

Heating and noise problems

Small cracks may become bigger and shatter completely

My life will be broken

An insignificant useless window sums up my life

and I cry at the smallness and futility of it all

 

It is now five in the morning

and I pull myself together

I am in awe of the power of three o’clock in the morning anxiety and

step-by-step apocalyptic imaginings

 

CarregonnenI do life writing in poetry and prose about child abuse and mental health – politically I am a radical feminist.

Why I Want to #Read & Discover More #Welsh #BME #Writers

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 01.02.16

 

 

 

A while back, I attempted to compile a list of Welsh BME writers to read on Twitter. Since then, I’ve sat on this for months, thinking and then overthinking it; “is this necessary? Are you really going to be that person? How will people respond?” Yet every now and then, I’m reminded of this little project of mine, whether it is through the tense political climate, or the conversations I have with people.

I would firstly like to say that most publications etc. in Wales are very open to diverse and intersectional experiences in literatureParthian Books regularly publish books by diverse authors, while platforms such as Wales Arts Review regularly give voice to, and review books by diverse writers. Both are also platforms I contribute to and work with. Yet while this is the case, the Welsh BME voice in literature remains a quiet one. ‘Difficult’ is a euphemism for what has been my search for BME and intersectional experiences in Welsh books. Whether the problem is simply that Wales isn’t as diversely populated as London or other areas in England, or whether there is a lack of promoting and reaching out to writers from different backgrounds who are Welsh, I can’t say. 
Read more Why I Want to #Read & Discover More #Welsh #BME #Writers

Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 29.04.16

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 10.03.55Goodreads Rating : 3.75/5

Review:  The first time I ever heard Annie Zaidi speak dates back to my post grad days when she has a special session with us filled with her page-3-kinda-like-ermygod stories. As expected, massive eye rolling happened. Fast forward 3 years later, I see her again, this time with Mandy Ord at JLF 2015. More eye-rolling and subtle scoffing, until she and Mandy spoke about alternate endings to iconic tales in our culture, such as the love saga of Salim and Anarkali. I was like a dog who picked up a new scent. That one story and the epic cliffhanger was sufficient enough to itch my mind and click ‘add to cart’ on Amazon.


Read more Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

Black History Month An Introduction to Welsh Writers by @Durre_Shahwar.

Cross-posted from: Durre Shahwar
Originally published: 16.10.16

To celebrate Black History Month Wales, I compiled a non-exhaustive list of black writers with strong connection to Wales, who should be celebrated and known about for their work and achievements. The article, published on Wales Arts Review, features brief bios and recommendations to the works of the following writers: Leonora Brito, Professor Charlotte Williams OBE, Patience Agbabi, Eric Ngalle Charles, and Bevin Magama.

Seeing as the list was non conclusive, people have been suggesting more writers such as Maggie HarrisTony Wright (playwright), and Catherine Johnson. It’s really good to see that happening, as that was partly the reason for writing the article; to instigate conversation about other BAME writers living in or strongly connected to Wales, which has then has an impact on their writing in some way. 
Read more Black History Month An Introduction to Welsh Writers by @Durre_Shahwar.

THINK OF ME AS LOVING YOU STILL by @_ssml

Cross-posted from: Fish Without a Bicycle
Originally published: 15.10.15

My second to last day on the land I threw away the black leather jacket that I had been wearing to shoot the Night Stage in for the last five years. A very persistent mother mouse had established a nest in an inside pocket and in the process destroyed the lining of my beloved (and iconic, to me) jacket. That jacket was one of the last personal items I let go of on the Land this year, but it was far from being the only. In fact, this year on the Land I ended up losing many things that I knew I would never see again.  I lost the labrys that I wore in the lapel of my jacket on Saturday night, my brand new Michfest hoodie, a one-of-a-kind hand crafted metal earring, a beautiful bouquet of feathers that a Sister presented me with as a gift of gratitude for my work, at least two lens caps, some brand new socks and finally the tent a friend had gifted to me seven years ago – the year my daughter came to the Land as a four month old infant. My tent was badly damaged by the aforementioned persistent mother mouse and a tree that fell on top of the tent, resulting in a ripped rainfly. The mouse came through the bottom of my tent and the tree came through the top. No, the tent was not tarped, I know, I know, I know. My point is,  there were few days that some part of my mind was not occupied by my relationship to the things I had to let go of. I was given plenty of opportunity to remind myself that the most magical, comforting and even practical of “my” things have the potential to pass right through my hands and that both possession and permanence are illusions of my heart and mind. Everything changes. Every single thing reaches a moment of completion. In big ways and small ways we are always moving through and toward and away from the things, the places and the people we have loved, cherished and tried to hold on to in our lifetimes. 
Read more THINK OF ME AS LOVING YOU STILL by @_ssml

When words fail by @Durre_Shahwar

Cross-posted from: Her Story
Originally published: 25.01.16

Growing up, it was always a close call between art or literature. I even looked up joint degrees that allowed you to study art AND literature at university, before deciding on literature in the end, knowing that it would be better to get to the core of one which might be ‘better in the long run’. Still, art and literature are not two completely opposite crafts, but very interlinked (William Blake, anyone?) but I guess that’s common knowledge. So since then, a part of me always wanted to set aside time and materials to paint, to draw, to create. To return to the raw smell of paint, the way it layers, moulds, hardens and leaves its marks and scent for days after. To me, colours are fascinating. Even digital art is; playing with textures and brushes on photoshop, manipulating images to make them completely unrecognisable. Yet I prefer the former; the physical, ‘traditional’ form of art. The watercolours, the pencils, the brushes. In a technological world, it feels good to return to something that you know came from the earth, the plants. It feels good to switch off.
Read more When words fail by @Durre_Shahwar

Women & writing: A celebration of true greatness by @AliyaMughal1

Cross-posted from: Aliya Mughal

“It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” 

So starts Patti Smith’s glorious homage to the temperamental nature of the creative life.  M Train is one of those books that not only lives up to the unanimous praise of reviewers, it exceeds it. It’s a book that envelops you in an absorbing journey through the “the twisting track of the mind’s convolutions”, as inimitably described by Smith herself.  Unrestrained in the rawness of her reflections, Smith is a writer so incisive that you read her words with a sense of wonder and envy.

M Train is the latest book to join my beloved collection of works by women through the ages.  As with all writers I admire, there’s the vain hope that through some mysterious process of literary osmosis, I might emulate a speck of their talent and output.  A grandiose delusion indeed but in the words of another talented storyteller I’ve recently been binge-reading, Brene Brown, “it’s like walking toward a star in the sky.  We never really arrive but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction”.
Read more Women & writing: A celebration of true greatness by @AliyaMughal1

Quicksand Worrier by Obscure & Unnecessary Drama

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 27.03.16

If my thoughts were constantly displayed on my face, they’d be two kinked lines running across my forehead with a furrowed brow. It’s just that the year 2016 has been overwhelmingly different right from new year’s eve. I didn’t realise that the last week of December and the new year was going to whisk me away so frantically that all constants would change. Evolve. Right in front of my eyes. I’m not complaining. Changes have been kind to me for once or may be I’m ‘growing up’ to accept them. It feels like the same me though. Same face, same hair, same girl, same exterior, same heart and mind. Yet so so different. Like the axis of my daily life has shifted.
Read more Quicksand Worrier by Obscure & Unnecessary Drama

Going Out of Print in a Digital World

Cross-posted from: Americas Studies

What does it mean to go out of print in a digital world? This is question I had not thought about until I joined Authors Alliance today. I learned about this group through my colleague, Dr Orla Murphy. Authors Alliance is a group based on the promotion of “authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read. We embrace the unprecedented potential digital networks have for the creation and distribution of knowledge and culture. We represent the interests of authors who want to harness this potential to share their creations more broadly in order to serve the public good.” Basically, I agree with the aims and I fully support anything that helps to promote readership and protect the rights and freedoms of authors.


Read more Going Out of Print in a Digital World

‘There Seems To Be Some Queer Mistake’: The Film of Anne of Green Gables by @LucyAllenFWR

Cross-posted from: Reading Medieval Books
Originally published: 14.01.16

download (3)

When you’re feeling a bit down, what you really, really need is a coven of feminists with an encyclopaedic knowledge of YA fiction through the ages. Luckily, I have such a thing, and last year, on one of those days when I was moping in bed with a cold, they put me onto the film versions of Anne of Green Gables. Weirdly, although I read the books years ago (and they’re free on Project Gutenberg, by the way, which is a lovely perk you get for reading stuff written in 1908), I’d never seen the films. I think I’d probably assumed they’d be travesties, a bit like the godawful TV adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books (note to anyone interested in adaptations: Pa is not a hunk. He does not have a square jaw and faraway gaze. We want no sex here. HTH). Plus, a cursory glance at the cover art of the Anne books through the decades shows just how bad things can get.

Obviously, you probably know I was wrong: the film of Anne is absolutely pitch-perfect and endearing and funny and just exactly what you need to curl up with for a couple of hours with a nice cup of tea and a warm blanket. And it’s also completely feminist-friendly. So, when I heard, yesterday, that there was going to be a new, updated version, I was quite pleased. Then I heard doom-laden pronouncements from said cultured feminist YA-reading friends. And I read that there were to be ‘new elements’ that would reflect “timeless issues, including themes of identity, sexism, bullying, prejudice, and trusting one’s self”. Oh, new version. No. Let me explain this to you. You do not need new elements. All the fun of the old version was introducing these ‘new elements’ yourself, through the time-honoured medium of cackling and sniggering at unintended innuendos. Allow me to explain. I present, for your critical assessment, ten moments of pure, unadulterated, queer-theory-is-my-bitch, gold dust:
Read more ‘There Seems To Be Some Queer Mistake’: The Film of Anne of Green Gables by @LucyAllenFWR

Dark Circles Are Your Friends: Finishing a PhD Thesis

Cross-posted from: Americas Studies
Originally published: 20.01.15

There are lots of posts out there offering useful hints and tips about finishing a PhD thesis. Having recently submitted my own, I decided to write about my experience of finishing. Rather than provide a “top 10 tips” type of article I’ll highlight a few of the major moments and experiences I had.
Read more Dark Circles Are Your Friends: Finishing a PhD Thesis

Inventing a Sacred

Cross-posted from: I am because you are
Originally published: 22.07.15

The Temple Of My Familiar by Alice Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Obenjomade, clean out your ears: THE WHITE MAN IS STILL HERE. Even when he leaves, he is not gone.”

“Obenjomade, cup your endearingly large ears: EVERYONE ALL OVER THE WORLD KNOWS EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE WHITE MAN. That’s the essential meaning of television. BUT THEY KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT THEMSELVES.”

“If you tear out the tongue of another, you have a tongue in your hand for the rest of your life. You are responsible, therefore, for all that person might have said.”

Folk Memory, Matriarchy and Writing Back
Read more Inventing a Sacred

Unwilling Warriors by @r2ph

Cross-posted from: Roweena Russell
Originally published: 17.01.14

Tormented tortured by a decision she never made

Blamed and shamed for her life blood on his hands,

Lost in a battle never there to be won


Read more Unwilling Warriors by @r2ph

Girl and Woman @Carregonnen

cross-posted from Carregonnen

orig. pub, 18.2.15

I wrote this poem five years ago. I have tried to edit it, to improve the language, to make it better but I can’t. I don’t know how else to say this in a more ‘good poetry’ way – so I have left it because at the moment it says what I want it to say. My mental health problems have been severe over my life and I have made some very poor behaviour and relationship choices. Like many other women, I think about what my life would have been like if I had not had a violent abusive father. If I had grown up with few problems and had fulfilled whatever potential I had. If I hadn’t been such a damaged teenager and had been able to stay on at school and go to University like my brothers eventually did. If I hadn’t been so desperate to get married and have children but had been able to wait till I was really ready. If I had been a mother who was not driven by anger and despair and fear but one who was able to give her children a more stable childhood without screaming rages that made them fearful of me and my responses and reactions. I have said before that the guilt I feel about the way I was as a young mother will stay with me forever – no matter how much insight into and understanding of the reasons why I was the way I was. I cannot do any more to fix this although I still try. I no longer have rages, they ended many years ago when I realised why I was so angry. Now I have fear and this immobilises me and creates feelings of despair and pointlessness. But I am still here and I have a good life and I do enjoy many parts of it – friends family lots of interests. There’s bits of me I quite like and many bits I do not like and actively scrutinise and judge far more harshly than anyone else could!

I am a girl
I am eleven years old
soon I will sit my Eleven Plus examination
and I will go to Grammar School
to not go to Grammar School
would be ‘unthinkable’ says my Father
My Mother is beautiful
I have a handsome Father
so he says.
I have two brothers
they are both younger than me
and I love them both

I am a woman
I am sixty three years old
I have three children and nine grandchildren
now I have only one brother and I love him
I have good friends
I have a job a house and a car
I enjoy most of my life
sometimes I go a bit crazy
then I take pills
this has been happening on and off
most of my life
I have friends who understand me
I have children who don’t
This is not their fault
This is my fault
But it is His fault in the first place
If I try to imagine a different girl who is eleven
If I try to imagine a different life
then I can’t imagine a different sixty three year old woman
I have no idea what she would be like
at least I know who I am
this sixty three year old woman
I know her crazy as she is
I am glad I have the children I have
I am glad I have the friends I have
But the life I have is difficult to live

February 2009

 

Carregonnen: I do life writing in poetry and prose about child abuse and mental health – politically I am a radical feminist. [@Carregonnen]

The Memory Box at Blues in a Tea Cup

cross-posted from Blues in a Tea Cup

orig. pub. 31.12.14

The Limpley Stoke valley slides slowly past the window. Seems the train’s as reluctant as I am to get to the next station. The knot inside me feels familiar as the faded greens and yellow-browns of the December countryside. Every hedge. Every curve of the river. The rabbits flicking their tails across the matted grass. It ought to have changed. But it hasn’t. No more has it missed me in all this time. Not even for a moment.

The train creaks and grumbles up alongside the neat stone ticket office. The woman standing next to me compliments my scarf.

“Nice to see a splash of colour.”

The door opens with a heavy sigh and we step down to the platform. Exchanging smiles. Suddenly I’m ten years ago. A lifetime away. A life I wrapped and boxed the day I left you. Promising myself I’d never come back.

You’re not here to meet me of course. Our son’s picking me up instead. Taking me to the house I once called home. For twenty-six years. I throw my bag onto the back seat of his car. Next to a sack of firewood. There are new buildings by the entrance to the car park. The derelict mill that once dominated the town centre has been renovated. There’s a supermarket on the ground floor now.

You wouldn’t drive up this hill. Not after the clutch exploded. Before that, you’d bang your foot down on the pedal just before the zebra crossing. I never understood why. One day the clutch decided it had had enough. I remember picking up rust-dusted nuts and springs out of the road. As if we’d somehow be able to put the whole thing back together again.

You can’t see the house any more. The hedge has grown up like the forest round Sleeping Beauty’s castle. You stuck those spindly twigs of privet in the ground one day while I was at work. Scuppered my long-cherished plan for a lavender hedge. For years they grew like weeds. Stealthy. Unkempt. Knowing they had no right to be there. Now they’ve taken over. Gleefully smothering anything in their path. Everything in the garden’s bigger now. Everything that’s survived. But the house itself has shrunk. Even inside it feels smaller. Darker. More claustrophobic than in the worst moments of that final year. The year I knew I wasn’t going to stay.

We’d fallen into a desperate routine by then. You’d pick me up at the station of an evening. Drive home the long way. To avoid the hill. I’d be exhausted. Peopled out. Maybe you had no idea how much I just needed to sit down for half an hour. With a cup of tea. In total silence. After all, you seldom asked how my day had been. And if you did, you never listened to the answer. You were working earlies. You’d been home six hours or so. You wanted to talk. So that’s what you did. You’d lead the way to the kitchen. Plonk yourself on a chair. Launch your monologue. You’d talk while I filled the kettle. Pontificate while I poured the tea. Hold forth while I peeled the spuds. Chatter while I chopped the vegetables. I’d lay the table round you. Perish the thought that I might interrupt. You never missed a syllable.

Sometimes you’d decide I wasn’t paying enough attention.

“You’re not listening, are you?”

“Of course I am.”

“What was the last thing I said?”

And it was always there. The last sentence. Word for word. You’d grunt. Unconvinced. Pick up where you’d left off. Of course you were right. I wasn’t listening. In thirty years and more I’d long learned how to look as if I was. It’s not a skill I’m proud of.

Today our son and I are picking up family photos. I’ve wanted to have some ever since I left. I’ve never had the courage to come here before. I phoned you a few days ago

“I promise I won’t take the furniture.”

“Take anything you want.”

I know better than to take you at your word.  Up in the smallest bedroom I begin to realise how much of the stuff here was once mine. A lifetime of books and trinkets gathering cobwebs. Some of it hasn’t moved since I left. The memory box is in the cupboard. He takes it down for me. A jumble of tattered wallets and envelopes. Loose pictures. Dog-eared albums. Framed school photos. Our family. Our common past. How can you not want a share in it? I blow the dust off a couple of books and balance them on top of the box. The Seven Storey Mountain. Borrowed from a friend. It’s too late to return it now. Black Beauty. From my Christmas stocking. Long before I even knew you existed.

Back in the kitchen we make coffee. More ghosts. The mugs. Even the cafetière. It’s the cooker breaks my heart though. That was the best cooker ever. Range size. Gas hob. Fan oven. It could turn out a perfect cake. Every time. The grill door gapes at me. Groaning under an inch of greasy grey dust. How could you leave me like this? I have to look away. What a waste. My son’s examining the dishwasher. You seldom use it, he says. I remember that night. The night I finally knew what I had to do.

It was indistinguishable from any other evening. My resentment boiled over during your monologue. I said something stupid. You blew a fuse. Predictable as clockwork. I was loading this very dishwasher. Head down. Tongue bitten. You were yelling. There’d be no stopping till you decided it was bedtime. Unless something good came on the telly. You know what? I’ve never missed being shouted at. Not once.  I slid the wok into the machine.

It’s always going to be like this.

The thought came through so clear, I was half afraid you might have heard it too. I needn’t have worried. You were full throttle. Engrossed in the heady symphony of your own voice.

It’s always going to be like this. If I don’t do something now, the next thirty years will be just like the last thirty. It’ll go on and on and on, until I’m exhausted. Or too senile to care. I’ll wake up one morning and find I’ve died of neglect. You won’t even notice I’m gone. 

I sip my coffee. I’ve been a long journey from that day. It unnerves me so see how little has changed. There’s a photo of my successor on the shelf. She’s a thing of the past too. Saw the light. Moved on. Me, I overstayed my welcome by about twenty years. When I finally let go there was nothing left.

A clutch of posters for vintage rock bands has replaced our daughter’s cross-stitched cats on the hall wall. Echoes from another past. One that pre-dates me. I painted that wall when we first moved in. Bright orange. Very seventies. It’s yellow under the posters. Slightly grubby. The house has a feel of Miss Havisham about it. A dusty mausoleum. Festooned with broken dreams. A memorial to everything that might have been.

In a different life, I might have been a photographer. I love taking photos. Capturing moments. Pinning down memories like butterflies. Maybe that’s why I wanted the box so badly. Back home I root through the photos. Hungry for the past. For my version of it. So many of the pictures have faded. Fuzzy faces peer at me through pinkish-sepia fog. I’m heartbroken. Then furious. That’s what you get for ordering f***ing economy prints

I make out a young girl in one of the pictures. She’s wearing a pink, nylon dressing gown. Her long, deep sepia-pink hair falls over one pink eye as she bends over a pink perspex hospital crib. The pink baby’s sleeping under a pink blanket. The whole thing’s wildly off-centre too. And it doesn’t matter. The look on that girl’s face. It’s never going to fade. The hospital clatter. The crisp white cot sheets. The smell of breast milk. The first outrageous tidal wave of maternal love. So intense it was almost unbearable. They’re as alive now as the moment I first felt them. They’ll never leave me. Photo or no. Grab at them? Pin them to a square of photographic paper? Preserve them for posterity? It can’t be done. Some things you can’t hold on to. No matter how much you might want to. Some things you just have to let go.

Memory Box

Blues in a tea cup: Currently blogging as part of a charity fundraiser for One25 Charity supporting street sex workers in Bristol. I’ve given up ‘not being a writer’ for 125 days as a sponsored challenge. I plan to continue writing and blogging well beyond the challenge. Themes variable. I’m a lifelong feminist, but I’ve never toed any particular line. I’m an older woman. My writing inevitably reflects this. Domestic abuse and dysfunctional relationships are recurrent themes because of my personal history.

The Night Shift at She means well but …

The Night Shift

A fox barks, and a distant owl hoots somewhere across the playing fields. I peek out from my shelter among the roots and watch as darkness rapidly covers what’s left of the dull, damp day like a shroud spread over a dearly departed. The glare of a street light pokes jagged fingers through the branches above me as I wait for dusk to give way to night.

Out there, humans are returning to their homes. Closing heavy curtains against the unknown night. Enfolding them in the comfort of their own homes, where they’ll grab a few hours with their loved ones – and maybe a take-away as they watch a TV movie – before seeking solace in the safety of their beds. At least, that’s where they think they’re safe.

There’s no home our kind hasn’t visited. No sleep we haven’t shattered with a spasm of fear and panic. No locked doors or barred windows that can keep us away.

Ironic really that they’ve started hanging up ineffective spiders’ webs of wool and trinkets bearing our own name to keep us away.

Little do they know that we’re not the ones who conceive and give birth to the night terrors that haunt them – they manage that just fine all on their own in the depths of their buried hopes and fears.

We just gather them, take sustenance from them, and use them to build our dark subterranean kingdoms.

We are the Dreamcatchers.

[Note: This story was written for the 5th SSFFS (Short Story & Flash Fiction Society) Project contest – and it won!  For more about the SSFFS Project go to http://shortstoryflashficitonsociety.com/ or follow Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Short-Stories-Flash-Fiction-Stories/692915047420207?fref=ts or Twitter @SSFFS_project]

 

She Means Well: I’m a feminist, loud and proud, but I’m also married and have a son. I demand to be treated equally based on my qualities and abilities, not the ‘equipment’ I was born with – but I am a firm believer that humour is one of life’s essential and that, yes, silliness DOES save lives. My blog covers a wide range of subjects, mostly in a mildly humourous way, including life as a transplanted Brit living in Greece, the imagined thoughts of my cat in The Kitty Letter Chronicles, things that make me go “Hmmmm” and things that make me go “Aaaaagh!”

Why would I bother writing about theatre, I hear you cry by @jessiecath

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WHAT A REVIEW IN A PAPER LOOKS LIKE

 

This isn’t really about Tim Walker-gate. All I have to say to Timbo is this. In fact I’ve been meaning to write something for months now about my many thoughts and feelings about theatre criticism, being one of a small number of people who possesses such ludicrous things IN PLURAL.

There are two reasons that I love the theatre: the silence, and the noise. When you’re in the room, there’s a strange, eerie feeling, like you’re watching ghosts. If I got on stage and said, ‘Torvald, can you literally stop being a dick to your wife?’, somebody would probably remove me and the actors would keep acting and it would be like I’d never spoken. What I mean is, it’s really happening, right at that moment, and you could speak – but you wouldn’t; it relies on an implicit understanding and trust between a group of strangers and a company of artists, who co-operate in the interests of passing on a story.

When that story has been told, the noise starts. A conversation begins. Even the most disengaged audience member has to say what they think of what has just happened, even if they’re like ‘CHRIST well I hope she suffocates under her giant octopus head‘ etc. That is why I find theatre so fucking incredible. It’s impossible to experience it passively. It provokes questions, thoughts, conversations. It’s maybe a strange thing for me to feel this so strongly, because I generally prefer to go to the theatre by myself, but I suppose it’s because when I watch plays they ignite sparks in my head that I like to walk around with for a while.  Anyway, the point is, this is all radical shit. There are opportunities here for dissent, community, experimentation, conversation. For me, these conversations always exist, even if they aren’t necessarily physical ones.

And so, naturally, for someone who fundamentally believes that theatre is about dialogue, writing about theatre is almost a reflex action. You can’t ignore the theatre gauntlet. (Well, you can if you want to. It’s supposed to be fun, not GCSE coursework.)

In the beginning, I wanted to write about theatre in a way that aligned with the way I experienced it. In my mind I had the idea that I could write intellectual text-based analyses whilst still sounding like a human being (reading that sentence back just makes me think I was being a wanker). I had a go, but I was constrained by the more formal examples of reviewing that I was used to. It was bloody boring for me to write and undoubtedly quite distressing to read, although I don’t think anyone actually read it anyway so I won’t have to make any compensation payments to people injured in the process of reading those articles.

I was very fortunate around this point to be able to participate in a few workshops with Maddy Costa and eleven other critics. They were mind-opening and mind-expanding. One of the first things Maddy said to us was that it is extremely difficult to make money from writing about the arts. And then everyone was like, alright well, fuck this then, and all got up and left.

ONLY JOKING, everyone stayed, because strangely, bizarrely, we all bloody bloody love theatre more than we love money (this information correct at time of going to press). One thing that was immediately clear was that no one really saw writing about theatre as anything to do with selling tickets or generating publicity. It was about pushing the boundaries of our own responses. And this is a liberating thing to acknowledge, because once the act of criticism doesn’t feel transactional, you’re free to do whatever you want – so if, at this point, you still care, you have basically reached the equivalent of theatre critic nirvana.

The main point of me saying all of this is that there was a fantastic energy in that room; everyone was united by their desire to explore their responses to theatre in different ways. And to see more theatre, and different theatre. And to talk about it together. Something started, because as a collective we’d been freed of the shackles of 500 years in a room with a thesaurus trying to work out different ways to say ‘it was quite good’.

I’m not knocking professional critics – I think, mostly, they’re good at what they do, and probably equally frustrated by the confines they’re forced to operate within. And I read Michael Billington’s book about post-war theatre and I bloody liked it.

But it made me realise that, for me, personally, clinging to one critical model that is irrelevant to my own experience of watching theatre is pretty much a form of masochism. What’s the point of pretending to be the disembodied voice of a ‘brand’? And I sometimes feel these voices do works a disservice. I don’t mean that they are wrong because their opinion of something doesn’t exactly mirror mine, I mean that they don’t make the effort to understand and portray work in a fair and constructive light. And yes, it would be odd to expect a singular, authoritarian voice of a critic on a newspaper to be in any way democratic, but at least by writing about theatre myself, my voice is being represented.

So partly I want to pick up the gauntlet a play throws down. There’s an energy that theatre imparts in its audience that it feels wrong not to attempt to return in some way. Partly I want to engage with the fantastic online community of theatre writers that I’ve discovered since that workshop. And partly I want to challenge myself and how I respond to theatre.

I’m conscious that sometimes I’m wooed by a play’s politics and end up not really thinking about whether it was a good play. I’m also aware that I have a bias towards writers that means I sometimes prioritise trying to understand what they’re trying to do above whether they’re actually doing it successfully. I also know that I am incapable of thinking objectively about David Hare or Alan Bennett because I think they’re shit. I want to work on these things, I think. But then maybe I won’t stop doing these things, because maybe that is just what I want theatre to be like. I don’t know yet. Theatre for me is first and foremost a very political thing, and apparently Alain Badiou agrees with me but I’m not gona try and quote him because to be honest I still don’t even really understand what dialectics means.

Paid models of criticism might or might not be sustainable; I just know that I will always keep going to the theatre. Basically, for me, theatre isn’t just something you opt in and out of. Some people think you can just go and see a matinee of One Man Two Guv’nors and be done with it, but it’s not like that is it. It’s a life sentence. One of the better ones.

Girl Ignited: Sassy political rants from a very cheerful feminist. Twitter is @jessiecath

Love, Nina at Madam J-Mo

It’s not often that you read a book which you desperately don’t want to end, but Love, Nina is one of them.

Published a few months ago amid an enthusiastic flurry of glittering endorsements and rave reviews, the book failed to spark any interest in me until a friend sung the praises of Love, Nina on Facebook… and I gave in and ordered a copy.

Why was I reluctant? The book is a collection of letters that Nina Stibbe sent home to her sister Vic over several years during the early 1980s while Nina was nannying for a family in London. The book sounded so cutesy that it made me fear it would be a repeat of the horrible Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society episode from a few years back (a collection of – fictional? – letters that was so sickly sweet it made me want to pull all my teeth out in one go).

Anyway, I was wrong. Love, Nina is not twee, sickly or tooth-hurty. It is delightful, warm, funny and fascinating in equal measures.

In 1982, Nina was the new, and ill-equipped, nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers (founder and editor of the London Review of Books) and her two sons Sam and Will (whose father is film director Stephen Frears). You’ll need to get to grips with the Guardian-esque name-dropping fairly soon because frequent characters around the Wilmers’ kitchen table include Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn.

But while the insights into the notoriously secretive Alan Bennett’s culinary skills are fascinating, it is the simple exchanges between the eccentric and kindly Mary-Kay, Nina and the boys which is at the root of this book. The snapshots of conversation that Nina records in her letters are seemingly irrelevant (about emptying the dishwasher, or how to swear in German) but happen every day all around the country, yet are lost forever as most people don’t stop to notice the funny things we say without trying.

And that is where Love, Nina succeeds so well – at making the everyday things we do seem so silly.

Postscript:

I can only think of one other book I’ve read in recent years that has made me feel as warm as this one did and that’s Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade by Patrick Dennis from 1955 (not read it? Oh, please do). Yet the book that kept popping into my head while reading Love, Nina was the 1931 novel The Brontes Went To Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson. Why? In Ferguson’s charming novel the three Carne sisters invent friendships with the Bronte siblings (as well as a very real local judge) to help them through their everyday problems… and then the real and imaginary worlds come to a head. It’s a truly wonderful book.

 

Madam J-Mo: Pop culture, feminism and women’s suffrage

Dropping in with a Poem

(Cross-posted from Positive and Promise)

I’m still contemplating how to best utilize the blog space as a freelancer, so stayed tuned for updates on that. In the meantime, please accept a poetic offering from your resident eccentric.

The Inspiration: Lately the Democratic National Convention has been spamming Paul’s inbox with all manner of histrionic emails. Despite our bleeding hearts, we’ve both gotten a kick out of this and, last night, decided to write a poem entirely comprised of statements and phrases from these messages. Also, our apartment is bloody hot, and sanity is tenuous at the end of the day.

And so, without further ado, the fruits of our labor:

Now, I’m Emailing You Again

Dick Durbin emailed you.

Nancy Pelosi emailed you.

Now I’m emailing you again.

We keep emailing.

This is so contrived, and we can hardly believe it.

We need your help to fight back.

We’re nearly out of time.

To be blunt about it:

If we fall behind now,

We might as well throw in the towel.

We keep emailing.

I wanted to personally share the news

…this kid will be pretty darn happy.

But look, we’re not there yet.

We keep emailing.

Hey, just wanted to make sure you saw Senator Durbin’s email?

We keep emailing.

I come right out and say it:

I’m a Democrat.

I don’t want to be one of those candidates

Who

Hides their party.

We keep emailing.

If you care about health care reform, you need to be part of this.

Boehner’s gonna to be FURIOUS!

We keep emailing.

I wanted to personally share the news:

All hope is lost.

Writing as resistance and why I love to blog by @reimaginingme

(Cross-posted from Reimagining my Reality)They do best falling from my brain right into the ink in my pen.

I was about 10 when I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a journalist. It was my destiny. I would grow up and get paid to write for people. And I’d write books too. Lots of them. So simple. Oh, to be 10 again! As it turned out life wasn’t the smooth path to professional writing that I’d anticipated. Somewhere along the line I lost track of who I was and by the time I needed to make those all important decisions about subjects, exams, and university, my earlier career aspirations seemed painfully unrealistic.

There were a couple of reasons why my plans for international journalistic success *snort* were scuppered. I had a breakdown that spanned my A Levels; I didn’t realise this at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I understand now that the panic attacks and hiding away to cry in the toilets most days weren’t just teenage angst. In being forced to convert to a very strict form of Islam I’d had my identity stripped from me, and I felt like I was suffocating. As well as this I only had a small parameter of choice with regards to subjects – Islam (of course), teaching and medicine were viewed as acceptable options by those pulling the strings in my life, but most other subjects were seen as a dangerous distraction from god. This made the year or so before going to university an emotionally fraught time. I was frightened someone would put their foot down at the last minute and forbid me from going and I knew it was my one opportunity to escape the religious control. So I did what I had to do, I manipulated my patriarchy by studying for a degree I wouldn’t have chosen had I the freedom to make choices. It was a necessary inconvenience to achieve the autonomy I so desperately needed. I did a degree in Islamic Studies, Arabic and English Literature (although I gave up the Arabic in my third year: utterly hopeless) and then a diploma in International Relations.

image

I loved the English and a lot of the political and sociological modules, but the rest I found arduous. If I’d had the clarity and the freedom I would have done gender studies and journalism, or something along that vein. Writing has always given me a giddy high, and analysing gender inequalities was my coping mechanism during the years of religious misogyny. 12 years on from graduating and I’m more passionate than ever about feminism and writing, and I still harbour the rather whimsical dream of being a writer when I ‘grow up’. But at 33, with a career and two young children, I’m bound by responsibilities that make my dream a little impractical. So I blog. It kills 2 birds with one stone – it sates my burning desire to write, if only temporarily, and it allows me to learn more about feminism.

Blogging has triggered so many epiphany moments. Since I started tapping away on WordPress I’ve realised I have a voice, that I’m entitled to feel anger and that it can be a constructive emotion, that I’m not as hopelessly dim as I thought I was, and that women like me can make a difference. My experiences mean I connect with certain feminist concerns, like ‘honour’ crime and religious patriarchy, more than others. But I realise that my experience is only one in a sea of inequality suffered by women, and the beauty of blogging is how much it teaches me about others. There are so many inspiring people online (women like GlosswitchSarah DitumJasvinder SangheraRaquel SaraswatiMaha, Huma and Mona Eltahawy) who’ve opened my eyes to sexism and the potential for emancipation, and after years of questioning my own worth and the legitimacy of my pain their words validate my anger and encourage me to believe that I can bring about change.

I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to write ‘properly’. I turn a bit green with envy each time I’m on Twitter – I’m pretty sure 75% of the people I follow have either written for newspapers or had a book published – but I’m also inspired and motivated by the success of other women. I have a book burning away in my mind that I’m desperate to write, but it’s only since I’ve had an online presence that I’ve felt I could make it happen. After speaking to a publisher at Britmums Live this year I’m more ready than ever to start writing about my past – the forced conversion, the religious misogyny, the disownment, and the piecing together of my new identity. It’s a story that needs to be told. It hurt me so much, but now I’m free, and I’ll be freer still when my words fill up those pages and can encourage some other poor soul who feels as trapped and hopeless as I did. But until the book really starts to come together I’ll continue to blog, because every time I write a post like this I feel like I’m chipping away at the patriarchy that took away my agency and manipulated my choices. These words are my feminist resistance.

Maya Angelou by Katie Rodgers

 

Reimagining my Reality: Writing my way to freedom after institutionalised religion. This blog is an extension of my reimagined reality, a reality that transcends the religious and cultural sexism of my past. (@reimaginingme)