This summer I worked with children at a local CIC Charity to run three workshops based on ‘The Gruffalo’ and Grimms’ fairytales. All the young people had some form of learning disability and we had great fun working together. In our retelling of Julia Donaldson’s ‘Gruffalo’ we walked like scary Gruffalos and tiny little mice. We made footsteps and we roared.
In Rumplestiltskin we travelled the world making up silly names and danced just like Rumplestiltskin. In Jack and the Beanstalk we climbed up high and ran from giants.
All this with a bit of percussion, some props and a bit of makkaton!
If you have a group and would like to book for me to run some workshops, click the link at the top and drop me an email.
Yesterday I went to Artlink Leeds to work with Hearing the Voice to make some artwork for their exhibition. It was really nice to see everyone again and to have the materials to create the ideas I had jotted into my sketchbook during the last session.
I had decided to make some pieces using mirrors, which Mary kindly sourced along with hammers, a hot glue gun and some funky green and pink canvases. First I smashed the mirror. I was provided with eye goggles (Mary not wanting to deal with the paperwork of blinding a blind girl even more) and set to work smashing. It felt very therapeutic.
“Hey Mary? Isn’t this what they call REFLECTIVE PRACTISE?!” Get it? Because it’s a mirror? Ba-bum!
Once I had broken them in a way that was aesthetically pleasing, and had come to terms with my 14 years of bad luck to come, it was then a case of merrily sticking the pieces down. They weren’t too sharp as most of the main mirror was plastic, but I wore gloves anyway,
The really good thing about being in this project is that you also have the opportunity to talk with people who know what having voices is like. Many conversations started with: “Is it just me or…” and lots of giggles were had. One of the facilitators, Rai, has her own voices was really useful to talk to because she has been in the same situation and got through the other side.
The text to go on the canvases didn’t take too long. Inside one of the cracks on the green canvas I wrote my favourite Groucho Marx quote: “Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light”. The other canvas I wrote in chalk pen across the glass: “The pieces stay together because they have to. They don’t work together quite the same though. We are all still me. We just got splintered into other things too”. I honestly don’t know where it came from but it sums up my situation quite well.
I was really pleased with the finished pieces but was sad to say goodbye to everyone again. I really hope we meet up again soon, but this time it will be when our work is ready to be shown to the world!
I’m very pleased to announce that I now have a cajon drum to use for storytelling. If you have not come across a cajon before you are in for a treat- it is a sturdy wooden box which makes different sounds when hit. They are fantastic for working with children and disability groups as they are very strong with no delicate or moving parts. The cajon has been very popular during sessions and it is very useful for creating the sound of approaching giants and dragons!
I have been on a mission to find other people, particularly young people, who see visions and hear voices like I do. It was while googling for voice hearing and the arts that I came across Hearing the Voice. It just happened that in browsing the site I found that they have been running workshops in order to create an art exhibition called “Hearing Voices: suffering, inspiration, and the everyday” at Durham University. They are aiming to create two cases for the exhibition- one of young people’s experiences of voice hearing and vision seeing and another of what young people would like others to know about these experiences. All of this will be portrayed through the arts.
So to Leeds I went and (joyously dodging roadworks) I arrived at Artlink. The two co-ordinators were lovely ladies; Mary Robson (a creative facilitator) and Rai Waddington (who has experience of voice hearing and provides training on the subject). There were also two other young participants and, funnily enough, one had travelled all the way from my home city! The other two girls had also been to the workshop previous but were incredibly welcoming. The group started with a discussion on what hearing voices is like and the unhelpful things people have said to us as voice hearers in the past. The notes speak for themselves.
What really stuck out to me during this discussion was how little people understand us. How we are constantly having to explain ourselves or even defend ourselves. Whether it is an underestimation of our ability, a snide comment or an off hand ‘suggestion’- people’s responses can really hurt. To talk to strangers who experience the same as me was amazing and hearing someone else say that they know what it is like for reality to not make sense at all sometimes was extremely validating. To meet complete strangers yet share such personal experiences is a very powerful thing.
I believe arts can change everything for people with mental health problems and I believe it fiercely. This belief grew when I saw the things people had produced when given the materials. Mary provided everything under the sun you could possibly need in a creative flurry- wooden boxes to decorate, tiny blank faced cloth dolls, sharpies and stencils. We were also given a brown scrapbook each. Later Mary said: “These aren’t just books, they are time and space to create and simply be”. How true that is. The fact that this lovely book had been gifted to me by these lovely people, who know and understand that I’m this misfit person that the arts can soothe, was amazing. So for the next two hours we all worked on our books, drawing and writing poetry about our experiences.
The workshop was amazing. I could have stayed there forever and I cried several times at the pure ‘wow’ of it all. There was chance to talk to the lovely Rai 1:1 and her story is living testament to the fact that people who hear voices can still fly high. I’m likely going to meet with Mary again to turn one of the ideas in my book into a physical piece of art. Everyone in the group is planning to go and see our work at the final exhibition at Durham in September. I’m so glad that I found this project, purely by chance, in time to take part. I am however intensely aware that these opportunities are few and far between and for every person who found the workshops there are many more who did not.
We need more places like this. Places where you can be with people who understand you and who share a common interest in creating. The work we did as a group had an impact on us all and I think the session was a real game changer for me. I feel stronger than ever before that having access to the arts can help people with mental health problems. I am certainly going to find a way to fight for this for everyone who needs it.
Also Published: Upside Down Chronicles
I was over the moon to be asked to take part in the Arts and Humanities Research Council ‘commons’ event as a workshop facilitator. This was both my first paid piece of work in this area and my first workshop as a facilitator working with a group of adults. The opportunity came from my wonderful mentor Cath in conjunction with the International Centre for Arts and Narrative (iCAN). We were tasked with making the wonderful iCAN latte into a tiny espresso shot to share with professionals.
On the 21st of June we were placed in the ‘collaborate’ zone at AHRC Commons. Our set up included many paint colour swatches.
In this workshop we used the story of Dido and Aeneus. We told the tale and asked the group to split into pairs, retell the story and pick one paint swatch which they felt fitted a theme in the story. I asked the participants to write in each box one word, thus creating a six word story on the swatch. They were then asked to develop the six word story into a six line poem.
I really enjoyed being at AHRC commons and hope the professionals enjoyed our facilitation. We got some great poems and six word stories. It’s strange to think that it wasn’t so long ago that I was having fun writing on swatches myself and now it is a workshop!
Music credit: Rusted Root ‘Send Me On My Way’
I decided to mess around with some filming as I got ready and travelled to college. 🙂
A young man called Ashraf Fayadh faces execution by the Saudi Arabian government for ‘apostasy’. Ashraf is a poet and atheist. It is his views on religion that has put his life in danger.
Tonight poets around the world come together to speak on his behalf. To share our poems in solidarity. Here is my contribution.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
Clearly no one told Saudi
How can we be afraid of just words
Words well thought fly like birds
And we just have to keep tweeting
There’s nothing more validly strong
Nothing that could be less wrong
Than speaking words.
We humans are the storytelling mammals
But here we are acting like anmals
What are we doing?