More thoughts on mental health in the theatre – point me in the direction of better stories.

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Just so you know chaps, Spoilers ahead…

Two weekends ago I went to see the play Equus with a friend of mine. I don’t want to turn this blog into a ‘review of psychological plays’ blog, or indeed give the impression that I am more cultured than I am, always off to the theatre. The reality is more sitting in bed watching telly with my partner and cats rather than glamorous outings to the theatre. However I do have some more thoughts on this issue after seeing this play.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on Cypress Avenue by David Ireland (which was on at the Royal Court Theatre) but now I can’t seem to find the blog post, only the title – did anyone see the text? – it was a good post (even if I do say so myself) but wordpress seems only to have saved the title. I don’t know what happened, and I don’t think I’m going to re-write that post. Basically by thoughts were: was very funny, and probably has a lot to say about the legacy of violence in Northern Ireland. It’s the kind of play that middle class people  who are mostly untroubled by violence or poverty (I say this being a middle class person) come out of saying things like ‘shocking’, and ‘very powerful’. However from the point of view of talking about mental health, it’s really problematic. I’m really fed up with the ‘traumatised man goes mad and kills his whole family narrative’, it’s time for the ‘person goes through trauma and then turns that experience into something positive for them and their community’ narrative’, or the ‘person goes through trauma, and it’s pretty horrible, but they end up ok, and don’t kill anyone narrative.’ So that’s a summary of what that was about – I am sorry if you ended up seeing a blog post with a title and no content (especially after I claimed I was going to be a bit more consistent with my blogging again).

Cypress Avenue was a relatively new play compared to Equus, which was written by Peter Shaffer in 1973. I liked this one better, performed at the Stratford Playhouse, as I will explain, but I have different issues with this one. So basically it’s a play about a boy who blind’s six horses with a spike, which was a real world event in the 1970’s. Apparently the playwright wanted to think about what would drive a person to do such a thing. The story is of a boy who has built a vivid inner mental world that results in the blinding horses situation. It’s quite an intellectual play, based on a psychoanalytical perspective that ultimately manages to tie (because it’s freudian after all) everything back to some sexual event. I’m being a bit glib and a bit brief here but that’s the jist of it – I enjoyed the play and think it’s worth seeing/ reading. There were some really wonderful physical performances by the actors, and it very much treats the young man as a person, as a human being in pain, not as some kind of monster. I liked it for that. I also like that it kind of raises the question of whether it is right to take away someone’s belief system, just because it does not align with the majority view, although it does not answer this question (I am not sure that it could).

But here’s my problem with it. Many times through the play we hear that ‘the boy is in misery’ but we don’t actually see much of that on stage. So it’s a bit of sanitised view of that misery, and mostly we just have to take the word of the ‘professionals’ on the stage that this is the case. The boy has built an elaborate belief system around horses, and he then goes on to violate that belief system by attempting a sexual act in the stable (the symbolic Temple of Equus). The whole play basically treats mental illness as a puzzle – if you can just solve the puzzle then you will fix the person. I just don’t think it works like that in real life for many people. It’s an intellectual approach to mental health that I don’t think really respects the kind of pain and distress that people live with and go through. Many people who experience mental health problems (including myself) haven’t built elaborate belief systems that can be analysed and ‘solved’ in this way. Many people have been through understandable trauma, or live difficult, stressful lives, or are bullied and belittled on a regular basis or made to feel by society that they are ‘wrong’ in some fundamental way. It’s not a complicated secret to them where their pain comes from, what is complicated is how to alleviate that pain. For most people experiencing mental distress – it’s not a puzzle that can be solved and fixed, it’s an ongoing, day by day experience that they continue to endure. Understanding your own story can be the start of a healing journey, but it’s rarely the whole solution.

So, I still think we need better stories about mental health. However, as I confessed to at the beginning of this post, I am someone who mostly sits around with her partner and cats watching telly, it’s very likely that I have missed them. I would very much appreciate it if anyone has any good recommendations for plays, films, or books that give a more nuanced picture of mental health. Drop your recommendation in the comments – at some point I will write a post about the results.

Posted in Anxiety, Art, Craft, creative work, Theatre | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding stillness, living in the present, and looking after a baby

Here in the UK we’ve been in ‘lock down’ for nine weeks (I think, I have lost count). In the Magpie household we entered lock down with a two and a bit week old baby to look after, and little real idea about how to do that. While this may sound like it is a difficult situation, I think that it has in fact been a real blessing.

Babies grow and change really fast. Everyday brings a new skill, a new sound, a new facial expression. In the last few weeks we have had new smiles and a whole new range of babbling sounds, each seeming to have their own meaning. While many others who are enduring lock down at the moment see the same thing everyday, for us each day brings a new challenge, and a new surprise.

One thing I have really appreciated while looking after a young baby during lockdown in how he forces us to be present in the moment. Everything is literally new to him. He see the light coming through the window, or touches the cat’s fur for the first time, and if we are paying attention we have the privilege of seeing these moments with him.

Some evenings are of course very stressful, if he cries and we are unsure what will help him feel better. Some nights truly are sleepless. However, I still can’t get over our luck, and often look at him and think, with surprise yet again, that he is so very beautiful. It reminds me of the principle of mindfulness, just to sit in the moment and allow ourselves to see things as if they are new.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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‘I’ll fix that later’: things that help when trying to write and look after a baby.

When I was pregnant last year I had difficulty thinking about how I would continue to ‘be me’ and also be a mum. Keeping up my creative practice was one of the ‘be me’ things I was worried about. As I write this my baby is almost eleven weeks old and, as I’ve written about here, I’m concentrating on the writing at the moment, as it’s the easiest thing for me to manage. This has been pretty helpful to me from a psychological point of view, as my identity inevitably changes, and I have limits on my time, I am finding myself able to continue with a few things that were important to me.

Obviously I’m no expert in productivity, I’ve been working on my novel for a long time (eight years and counting), but I’m beginning to figure out some of the things that help me actually get words on the screen. I’m also understanding what I need to let go of for now. Here are my thoughts for now:

1. The phrase ‘I’ll fix that later’ is your friend. I have found that the less I try to get everything down perfectly the more I can actually get done. Interrupting the flow of writing to try to fix something or research something normally just results in me not doing anything. Instead I try to keep with the flow, and where I notice I’ve just done something I don’t really like I think ‘I’ll fix that later’. It’s then quite straightforward to fix issues in an edit when there is a bit more time.

2. Small chunks of writing are possible in even very short periods of time. I have found two to four hundred words very doable in ten minutes, which is two to four hundred words more than yesterday.

3. Small chunks of writing are only possible if I give myself reminders. If I try to cast around for the muse in ten minutes I inevitably don’t find her. So, if I have to put my writing down quickly, which I frequently do at the moment, I’m finding that if I can get a sentence down (often highlighted in red) to remind me what I was going to write next I have no trouble returning to it.

I hope this is helpful. Now I need to go and cuddle the baby.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Posted in Art, Craft, parenting, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Toe beans

We have two black cats who are difficult to take a photo of at the best of times. Since we moved into the new house however they do seem a little more relaxed.

Recently the more irritable of the two posed long enough for me to take this shot of his lovely little foot. Enjoy!

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Late night research and the Hidden Life of Trees

Followers of this blog may know that I’ve been working on a novel for some time (like ten years worth of time). I think it’s taken so long because it took me a while to work out what kind of book I was writing. When I started I had pretentions towards a kind of literary book, maybe magical realism, but wouldn’t have placed it in any kind of genre. Over time my ideas have evolved and I have ended up writing something that fits more squarely with the science fiction/ urban fantasy genres, with a strong environmental and mental health theme. I hesitate to call it feminist, but it has two female protagonists who are complicated, and as ‘whole’ as I can make them so far.

One of the things I’ve been doing while up in the middle of the night expressing milk for the baby is to read non fiction books that could be called ‘research’ for this. I think this may be where the famous ‘multi tasking’ that women are often claimed to have begins, because I certainly wouldn’t claim to be a multi-tasker, but I’ve found that I can just about manage to hold a breast pump and balance my chrome book on my knees at the same time.

My list so far has been slightly eclectic, and tending towards environmental themes. I’ve read This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, which I really liked/ was deeply frightened by, and also Into the Woods, by John Yorke, which is a really nice book about the mechanics of storytelling.

I’ve just begun reading the Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, which is a really interesting insight into the biology of forests. It explains how trees in forests communicate through a ‘wood wide web’ and form a social network through which they can support each other and warn each other of threats. I really like these ideas for my novel. I was finding the idea of writing science fiction because there was no place for things like robots or computer science (yet) in my book. Equally I was having difficulty with the idea of writing fantasy as so far there are no elves or swords in my story (although with time who knows – these things evolve). But I feel like I am on good ground with biological sciences, which I always found a had most affinty with.

For anyone interestes in reading about the social life of trees I would suggest this book as a nice tour. The writing in the early chapters reads a bit like an essay someone has written for GCSE biology, with a series of chapters that read a bit like lists of interesting things, rather than a coherent story, but this evens out later in the book.

Happy reading.

This article contains affliate links. Should you choose to buy one of the books cited with the links here amazon will throw few pennies my way. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Lockdown projects

We moved into our house just before Christmas and have become some of the lucky people to be able to spend time in the garden during lockdown. Sometimes I find it difficult to get over how lucky our timing was. We were on a small hot flat last year, going through IVF and then an exhausting pregnancy. Had we been just 10 months later with all these things it’s very likely I would have had my treatment cancelled and we would now be stuck, like many people are, in a small place with little out door space at all.

Since we’ve been in lockdown my partner has been growing things. We have little boxes of little plants like the all over the house. We have put up a polytunnel in the back of the Gary and are trying out the no dig technique to create flower/ vegetable beds.

Have you started any projects during lockdown?

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Posted in Craft, environment, grow your own | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

My cat is nailing social distancing

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In the UK we have been ‘social distancing’ for eight weeks now. I don’t think it has come that easily to many humans. People like to hug each other, even in socially uptight England. Social distancing prevents that for many people. I feel very grateful to be in lock down with my partner and baby, who I can hug all day should I want to, although they may find this very annoying.

My cat, in contrast, has developed social distancing into an art form. I think he has taken a bit of time to get used to us being in the house all the time. He now spends most of his day sitting in this basket high up on the top of a dresser. He spends his time sleeping, with occasional breaks to scowl at us or clean his bum. So at least some of us are having an ok lockdown.

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I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Posted in Anxiety, Cats | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Mothers day design – USA moms

Mother Love

Quite some time ago I posted this post in which I showed you a design I had created as a valentines day card for Mr Magpie when I was heavily pregnant with my first baby. A few people here, and else where said that they liked it so I had a go at putting it onto things at Redbubble in time for mothers day.

I put this design up back in march, just in time for Mothers Day in the UK. Here it is again in time for mothers day in the USA. Available on a range of lovely things at Redbubble. 

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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