I am giving a FREE TALK about mental health and recovery on Jan 14th 1-3 p.m.
If you are interested in non-medical approaches to mental health/illness or my journey from mental health service user to published writer you are welcome to attend.
The talk is taking place at:
The Thrive Centre
5th Floor, Coventry Point
To book a place (places can be pre-booked only) please email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Tele Marion: 0793 4675237
For more details visit http://www.elementalwellbeing.org
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo-lee-ta.” (Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov)
If beauty were a word, the word would be, “Lolita.” In the opening sentence of his seminal novel, Nabokov employs language to the point where words transcend social signification and reach the intangible; the realm where spirit overcomes reality and meaning glides, like an endless river. The rabble, that is the reader, stumbles beneath the force of Nabokov’s offering and yields to the musicality of his text. Sensuously alliterative, we are putty in the hands of the language that is derived from the psyche of a wordsmith, whom we proclaim a genius, but are afraid to like.
For many years I resisted my compulsion to read Lolita, as though reading a novel containing themes of child abuse would somehow legitimise the crime. Having succumbed to my compulsion, I carry no regrets. Reading Lolita may not have improved my moral fortitude (neither has it damaged it), but it has enriched my appreciation of the art of writing.
As his protagonist, Humbert Humbert manipulates his child lover, Nabokov manipulates the reader with displays of brilliant wordplay. This shields us from the reality of the truth that we are reading a novel about the abuse and exploitation of a child by an adult man. Lolita shows that beauty is nearer to ugliness than genius to the ordinary and that pleasure often yields the price of spiritual self-flagellation.
No writer of fiction escapes from herself. Although many feign detachment from the mortal “I,” our hearts and souls are encoded in the characters we create. This is both a blessing and a curse.
It is widely accepted that most first novels are essentially autobiographical in nature. My own first novel, The General Paralysis of Sanity is a perfect example of the phenonenom. However, despite my subsequent writing ventures, my “self” remains a frequent visitor to the texts I produce. This is both a blessing and a curse.
My favourite twentieth century poet and, I believe, probably the greatest exponent of the form, is T.S. Eliot. Eliot proposed that great poetry should be detached from the limitations of the poet’s ego. The consequence of this principle haunts the literary establishment today. Thus, confessional poetry is often stereotyped as a secondary form and connoted with feminisation. A Life Reborn, my second book is a collection of confessional poetry.
I am a writer. This is both a blessing and a curse.
I slipped into my seat, the darkened room concealing my embarrassed attempts to merge into the shadowy forms of Birmingham’s spotty youth. An old dear, clad in colourful leggings and Dr Marten boots, wishing she were eighteen years old and not a product of the jowls of middle-age. The film began and the audience and I disappeared.
I confess…I have never read best selling dystopian, YA novel, Divergent. Thus, watching the film on Wednesday I entered this particular post-apocalyptic realm for the first time. Seduced by the propaganda surrounding the novel and the film, were my expectations fulfilled?
Divergent is a masterpiece of formulaic invention. A perfect crafting and unison of the conventions of two of the most popular literary genres. It works…and it appeals to something within many of us. To the young, it reflects a desire for self-expression, to be recognised as the individuals they truly are. To those, slightly older (like me!), it constitutes a hymn to a time when being oneself was more important than escaping from oneself.
The ideological subtext of the film (and presumably the novel) equates divergence with freedom from labels and strata, but warns the audience that divergence/difference is punished and that those who dare to embrace it will be cast out of mainstream society. This idea is about as revolutionary as using a cassette recorder in the digital age. However, it appeals to the unsullied mind. The attraction of outsider status is as conformist as the mechanics of Divergent. At eighteen years of age, only the genuinely different do not long to be.
I left the cinema, clicking my pink boot laces and rustling a carrier bag, flanked by an ocean of fresh-faced hoodies, who all go to university and all look the same.
A few days ago I finished editing my first poetry collection. This somewhat daunting experience has prompted me to evaluate my relationship with the form.
For many years my mental health and writing were interconnected; my moods and states of mind dictating the nature of the poems I produced. Frequently, distressing thoughts would drive me to lift a pen and pour onto paper the contents of my tormented psyche. I wrote for myself, as a means of expression and never contemplated sharing my pain. Thus, the content of my poems was paramount and form as irrelevant, to my world, as the pursuit of happiness.
Years later, I summoned the courage to submit a poem to a poetry competition. Having studied poetry at degree level and for my own pleasure, I was only too aware of my own literary ineptitude. My submission, however, seemed worthy in its employment of alliteration and metaphor and existed as a signifier of my state of being, at that time. Although I did not win the competition, my poem was published in an anthology and I was to see my name in print for the first time.
At that time, my poems acceptance for publication affirmed that I had some form of literary ability; maybe I was not the mental elf that my lack of self-confidence had betrayed me into believing.
When editing my poetry collection, I once again experienced nags of self-doubt. I can write…but…so what…half the world believe themselves potential writers or celebrities. The world is deluded, am I? A publisher had accepted my collection for publication. Nevertheless, publishers make mistakes!
Now that my poetry exists beyond the confines of my laptop, I can tell myself, with a reasonable level of conviction, that reactions to literature are subjective. Undoubtedly, some readers will dislike and criticise my work. However, there will be others for whom it is meaningful. Like the individual, a poem can be pulled apart, but will always remain a unity in-itself.
The modern literary trend is to produce gargantuan, door stops of novels. However, I do not believe that big is always best. Writing a novella is possibly even more challenging; the form requiring literary brevity which is often at odds with encapsulating heterogeneity of vision. One of the finest examples of a novella, whose vision reaches far beyond the density of its text is Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Written in 1912, Death in Venice depicts a middle-aged man’s gradual descent into madness and unreason. Aschenbach journeys to Venice in an attempt to relieve his writer’s block. During his stay he observes a beautiful young boy with whom he gradually becomes obsessed. Whilst many readers have questioned the nature of Aschenbach’s obsession, for me, it is largely symbolic. The boy (Tadzio) exists as a emblem of the unattainable, he is everything that Aschenbach is not; young impossibly handsome and unrestrained in his grasp of life and relationships. In contrast, Aschenbach represents the intellect and the constraints of reason.
The relationship between the two characters alludes to the opposition of the Apollonian and Dionysian principles, first proposed by Nietzche in The Birth of Tragedy. When forces collide, devastation ensues. In this instance, tragedy surfaces in Aschenbach’s decline. Initially, the decline is spiritual; his mind is disturbed by feelings, which one imagines, to be alien to this most ascetic of characters. Ultimately, however, his decline becomes physically transcribed. Mann describes how Aschenbach surrenders to cholera, which he courts, almost as though it were the youth, himself. Aschenbach’s desire for Tadzio alludes to the Platonic ideal of love, that of an older man for a boy, whose exploitation of purity demands penetrating despoilment. An image which continues to resonate in homoerotic literature and ideas.
Thomas Mann critiques modern bourgeois life. For in Aschenbach, he creates a character who represents the artist as someone who is detached from the life process, a chronicler of aestheticism, rather than a participant, which he emphasises in connecting artistic detachment with the eventual stagnation of the imagination. Thus, it is only Aschenbach’s preoccupation with something which is concrete and therefore, “real” in its (his) relationship to the social whole, which rids him of his writer’s block. “Solitude gives birth to the original in us, beauty unfamiliar and perilous-to poetry,” Writes Mann and subsequently reveals that solitude can, also, lead to death; a Death in Venice which, in contradiction to the book’s title, offers more insights into life, every time one read it.
My first published novel,”The General Paralysis of Sanity,” represents the summation and completion of twenty years experience as a mental health service-user. I wrote the novel during the aftermath of, and as a reaction to, the trauma I had experienced as an in-patient of a psychiatric hospital, prisoner of mental health day-centres and (dis)charge of nurses. Sub-textually, the novel is my story-a story whose full horror will never be told. The content, however, belongs to the creation of Cat-Hater, my anti-hero, whose consciousness unfolds in the text, like the fragile wing of a butterfly released from the cruelty and inevitability of fate.
I named my character Cat-Hater, not to, “moggy bash” (my own cat features on the cover!) but, as an allusion to a character created by Philip K. Dick’s gargantuan, creative brain; “Horseloverfat,” is the star of his fantastic and mind-blowing novel, “Valis.” Ending here, however, are comparisons to Phil Dick’s work, his preoccupation with the dichotomy between madness and sanity merely reflects my own and constitutes the central theme of my book.
The reader embarks upon a psychical but bumpy ride, during which s/he glimpses the mind of someone experiencing a relapse into psychosis. Frequent lapses into interior monologues merge with depictions of an outer realm which, condemns and sentences Cat-Hater to the imprisonment of hospital. It is, however, the content of the hospital scenes, which enliven the plot and flesh-out the characters I have created. For, at this point I portray the formation of relationships between Cat-Hater and the other patients and introduce the secondary character of the novel, Nurse Parry.
Although Nurse Parry possesses all the complexities of Cat-Hater and is necessarily all flesh and blood in terms of the qualities she brings to the book, I must confess, that she was brought to life to personify the unachievable nature of complete and pure reason and rationality. The reader enters her life and inner being and experiences the illusion of being sane.
Despite its thematic darkness and painful subject matter, my psychiatrist tells me that the book is, “very funny,” and I think many people who have spent time in psychiatric hospitals will recognise elements of themselves and others in the characters and situations I describe. If you have a spare moment you can order it online from amazon or chipmunkapublishing or even request that your local book shop stocks it. Why not indulge and release your pain. Will it all end happily or will life’s imprint linger and ache?