3:13 AM

It’s 3:13 AM.

I am coming back to this blog after a long period of quiet, in which I posted links to musical performances and poems I liked but rarely my own writing. This is because the relationship I have with it is complex. It is something I have always wanted to exist, but it feels like a stranger created it, out of a seemingly boundless confidence. For weeks I was able to express my innermost thoughts with absolute faith that they were a reflection of how I truly felt at the time, with an absolute conviction in the worth of what I was contributing and the quality of its expression.

This sudden surge of confidence, the sudden spurt of writing about very personal experiences alarmed those closest to me (or the people close to me who could not square this sudden candour with the girl they knew.)  I had a sense that my creativity was suddenly flowering into shape, and the more I allowed it to, the bigger it would become. I lay awake at night for hours on end teeming with ideas; ideas about what I’d read, creative projects that occurred to me, images and resonances. I felt… overwhelmed, different, but also, I have to admit to myself, deeply happy. I rejoiced in feeling articulate, I rejoiced in feeling this surge of creativity, as if the most promising part of myself was suddenly making itself known.

Why? What caused this?

I wrote in detail about my experience with the contraceptive implant. This was the first piece of writing that engendered the blog, and in it I report a state of happiness and enhanced creativity, following a period in which I would cry almost constantly ~ a side effect from the contraceptive implant. I felt returned to my natural happiness, as the artificial hormones affecting my mood were removed from my body, which was gratefully returning to its normal state.

Or so I thought. I could not have known that the feelings of exceptional joy and a persistent creativity that seemed to want to express itself through me would last much longer than I expected, and be accompanied by an intellectual confidence of an extent that I had never before possessed. I remember being feverishly happy, absorbed in my writing and revision for my finals.

But some of the people closest to me were worried. Suddenly I had a huge drive to spend extended periods of time wrapped up in nature, pacing up and down the beach or dancing around in the sun in my local park for hours at a time. I lay awake very late into the night, and I had previously slept all the way through, dependably. I was, they tell me, irritable, rapid of speech, and distracted from my studies (I remember feeling that anything I read was more stimulating than usual; a paragraph of writing could set off a train of thought that would occupy me for hours, in which I would appear to be lost in thought, but certainly not studying, and at this point I had my finals coming up.)

To a certain person in my life who knows a lot about mental health, my behaviour looked an awful lot like a manic episode of someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

I struggle with this, so so much. In my head I was flowering, full of joy, full of love, especially. I felt like I could suddenly see this whole life behind things. Social situations were suddenly weighted with symbolism; I thought I could catch the currents, good and bad, that ran between people; I was hyperempathetic, physically picking up on and feeling the emotions of those around me. In particular, I had ideas about a relationship between sexuality and creativity, as expressed here and here. I began to think of acts of childbirth and sex as creative acts, thinking of the artistically creative and the sexually creative as inextricably linked. I began to think of anxiety/depression and creativity as completely opposed, since in my joy I felt creativity that a few earlier months of stress and worry had temporarily silenced or suppressed. I felt like my own body, newly liberated from progesterone, was flooded with two linked desires: to create and to nurture. It sounds so strange but I felt like my first pieces of writing were as children to me; I couldn’t accept any criticism for them, because they seemed to me simply too honest, too me, too much a part of me to be able to bear correction by another person. I felt a desperate need to look after those around me, which extended for weeks and weeks, bolstered by this hyperempathetic state. It was as if my body, confused, was trying to insist on motherhood, tell me I was ready, and in the absence of things to nurture would nurture pieces of writing into life, nurture everyone around me.

Although I was scared by the depth of emotion I was plunged into, by the lucidity with which I felt I suddenly saw the world, and alarmed in turn by the panic of those around me at my changed behaviour, in a way the most painful thing is how good I know I felt. I loved feeling the emotions of people around me, I felt it made me able to care for them more profoundly. The creative feeling, and the confidence, have since ebbed away, although I sense that they were a magnification of something within me that was already there. How could I be ill, if I felt so happy? If I felt completely in control, how could I have been as utterly, utterly wrong about this as those around me thought at the time?

Was I as ill as those around me thought? Perhaps not. Perhaps some kind of internal rudder was still keeping me safe, looking after me. Yes, I wrote and published a lot of things that I cannot imagine having had the confidence to publish. Yes, sometimes I could not sleep, sometimes the ideas overwhelmed me. The fact that the sweet and exciting feeling that I was finally unravelling and expressing the most promising part of myself could not only be purely down to a wild hormone imbalance within me, but could actually also be interpreted as the symptom of an illness is something I am still puzzling over, and upset and confused by. I suppose it comes down to a fear that once I could not trust that guardian voice inside my head, the voice that looks after me and tells me what to do, tells me how to interpret the world. Without confidence in that voice the world is terrifying.

It has now been months and months since this period, which came after I had the implant taken out in April last year, and lasted until May and perhaps June. Over the months I have developed an ambivalent relationship with this blog. In many ways I have rarely been prouder of anything, especially of the first piece, not only because many people wrote to me and told me they were grateful and it resonated with their experiences, but more because it expressed something I considered important in a way that felt true to me. It was utterly, utterly honest. But the blog symbolises this wild, honest, unabashed creativity that seemed very sudden to those close to me and caused them a lot of worry; this wasn’t so much for the content, but for the fact of its existence, spurred into existence by a physical, hormonal, change. The blog represents an unknown entity within me.

But I am holding onto the fact that I have wanted to write a blog forever, I have in fact written forever. I have diaries that stretch way back; some of the poems and pieces I put up were written before the blog’s inception. I have always written for myself, always loved writing for its ability to control and make sense of the world around me by putting it into words.

It’s 4:13 AM. An hour, an outpouring.

What am I pushing back to? I think fundamentally I want to come back to this, or at least to some form of creativity. I want to know that in a balanced, hormonally normal state I am still creative, I am still healthy, that the satisfaction of writing and sharing my writing with others doesn’t have to be confined to a period of my life that I am to this day mystified, terrified and fascinated by. If by some miracle you’re still here, or you ever have been here, thank you.

***

12/2/18

 

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Lovesong

He loved her and she loved him.
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment’s brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin’s attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon’s gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other’s face

 

Ted Hughes

an untitled poem

and finally the longed for arms, longed for eyes

are here with me and all 

effort flies free it is easy as breathing

we sit and look at each other and the fear

The fear of not being known falls away 

our June voices stretch though the 

haze of darkened memories, darkened time

breaking through, sun 

kissing a plant after a long time kept in the dark

***

A.W. Spring, 2017

 

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King Lear: what could have been

I was due to direct King Lear at the Edinburgh Fringe this August but after a series of heartbreaking pitfalls, this is no longer possible. Here is a treatment I wrote for the play when we thought it was going to happen. It includes some reflections on love, honesty, power, and the psychology of relationships within the family.

 

***

 

The question the play poses:

what do we have when we have absolutely nothing left?

 

Other big questions:

why does Shakespeare choose to deny a sense of divine justice, coming short of offering us this with Cordelia’s death? How can she die; is justice asserted in the deaths of Goneril, Regan, Edmund, or not?

 

No.

 

It is not. There can be no justice, really, in death.

 

The search for hamartia

 

Many interpreters, readers, audiences have attempted to interpret Lear along the lines of Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, one that necessitates the fall of a protagonist of great stature from a high station to a low station as the result of a hamartia. Hamartia has been translated variously as ‘character flaw’, ‘moral violation’, and simply, mistake, which I think given examination of the context and the history of tragedy is the most useful. This is not a popular or widely accepted opinion.

 

To be clear, the temptation to search for a moral flaw in the characters in Lear whose choices drive the plot is natural and irresistible. Lear treads the line between fairytale and psychological realism, and one way of reading the play is seeing King Lear and Gloucester as being righteously punished for two sets of hamartia that they complete. When hamartia is translated as ‘moral violation’, we can see how Gloucester’s fate in the play could be explained by the hamartia he enacted before the play’s action: adultery, namely the adultery that produced Edmund. Arguably, had he not erred in sexual fidelity Edmund would never have been born to resent the society in which despite his fathers’ earldom he stands to inherit neither title nor fortune, unlike Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son.

 

I do not think this explanation is psychologically satisfactory, nor is it really possible to leave King Lear feeling like justice has been served. Gloucester’s mutilation is hideous to watch, and action-wise constitutes the tragic climax of the play. Additionally and decisively, the reconciliation scene between Edgar and Gloucester on the hilltop as Gloucester tries to kill himself and his son, for a reason which I think is best dramatically explained by grief, shock, and resentment at the position he suddenly finds himself in, is in many ways the most moving and heart-breaking of the whole play.

 

Nor do I think identifying a hamartia in the character of King Lear is either constructive or ultimately satisfying. However, critics can make a more convincing case for this than they can for Gloucester, if they identify Lear’s hamartia as his failure to recognise that Cordelia is his one loyal daughter, and Kent a true advisor, and his choice to exile them both in the first scene for expressing themselves honestly and refusing to pander to his show.

 

Arguably, this mistake, which one can colour with a moral judgement and claim that like Sophocles’ Oedipus Lear can be blamed for rage, (Oedipus unknowingly commits parricide on a crossroads in a fit of rage a long time before he realises he is married to his mother) can be used to ‘explain’ the entire ensuing narrative – the vindictive rage of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund at the stubbornness, selfishness and stupidity of their parents that culminates in Gloucester’s, Cordelia’s and Lear’s deaths, and indeed all the death and suffering that the audience witness before the play is over.

 

I have never found this satisfying, and it is a reading that plays down the psychological and dramatic autonomy of the play’s female characters. Goneril and Regan are in no way presdestined to torture Lear psychologically; we must ask, if we are committed to psychological realism, why Goneril and Regan hate Lear so much.

 

The first place to look is Act One, Scene One. Why is Cordelia Lear’s only loyal and loving daughter? Other productions have explained Goneril and Regan’s hatred by suggesting in the first scene that Lear has sexually abused the older daughters but not the youngest. This is a deeply depressing reading, but opens up the audiences hearts to Goneril and Regan. The elder sisters are dynamic, passionate women, who the audience can be inclined to sympathise with totally and completely up until the stabbing of Gloucester, a physical mutilation so grotesque that though technically just it is so visually disturbing that ‘poetic justice’ that you can read into this act is utterly, emotionally, undermined.

 

Nor is the play a simple conflict between ‘good’ characters and ‘evil’ ones; Shakespeare’s characterisation is too psychologically compelling to allow the mundanity of a ‘good versus evil’ narrative to really be convincing. The line between the purportedly ‘good’ characters (Lear, Cordelia, Kent, Gloucester, Edgar, the Fool) and ‘bad’ characters (Goneril, Regan, Edmund, Cornwall, Albany (?)) is increasingly blurry. Though the fact that Kent is Lear’s only loyal advisor is borne out by his honesty in the first scene and his choice to return in disguise and serve Lear even without status, his violence to Oswald in Act One puts him morally alongside Albany and Regan if we view physical violence as the ultimate indicator of immorality. Cordelia is verbally and emotionally violent in the first scene; had she not accepted that for once, she would need to perform her love and swallow her pride, there would be no conflict and no play.

 

Therein lies the ‘problem’. Good, honest people make mistakes, and are driven to moral violations that spiral out of control in the worst of circumstances and lead to death. Old men are annoying, and Lear’s infirmity, the lack of judgement that he demonstrates and Sam Mendes chose to interpret as only explainable by a degenerative disease is as much attributed to old age as some kind of eternal moral flaw; rashness, rage, etc.

 

So what is left, at the end? Cordelia lies dead in Lear’s arms. He dies of grief; as does Gloucester, both suffering from the loss of their loyal children.

But the utter dejection and impossibility that Cordelia’s death entails is in itself a redeeming force. Cordelia represents honesty, loyalty, forgiveness; the capacity of love to overcome less welcome emotions within us, the capacity we all have to continue to see the best in people, the light in the darkness, even if the evidence around us shows that man’s animal nature can undermine all the values he professes to have. The very pain with which her death comes, and the fatal effect of this grief on Lear, is proportional to how important are the values she stands for.

 

Moreover, the joy which Lear’s vision of himself and his daughter locked up forever in prison gives him, the force of his gratitude, has a thoroughly redeeming force. Father and daughter may be despoiled of all the trappings of wealth and status, and have no hope of recovering them, or the respect society afforded them as king and princess. But they have each other; the capacity of caged birds to sing represents the capacity of the human being to voice his or her joys and sorrows honestly, to communicate, to love and remain wholehearted while still alive no matter what they have been through. It takes seeing Lear’s transformation from bitter, puerile king to naked old man, and repentant old man with loving child for us to discover what is left when everything that can be taken away has been taken away.

 

Sexuality

 

Every character who expresses their sexuality and is shown to be prone to sexual desire is punished. Gloucester receives the ultimate punishment for his infidelity (blinding); Goneril and Regan die for their desire of Edmund, who cares not for them as people but as pawns in his power game, and throughout uses his sexuality to further his own interests. He dies. Cordelia comes across as pure because she does not desire France, but he chooses to welcome her and marry her for who she is rather than what he can gain from her. It is familial love – father daughter (Lear-Cordelia) and father-son (Gloucester-Edmund) rather than romantic love which carries the redeeming emotional force. This is starkly different from the ideal of heterosexual love that resolves the end of most fairy stories (prince kills dragon marries beautiful princess.) At the end of the play we have a father with his daughter in his arms, rather than a pair of characters in each others arms who have a sexual/romantic bond. As if to say that lust – for power, for sex, for status, for material goods (the trappings of wealth) is defined by its transience, where love, when true, is defined by its imperviousness to fortune circumstance.

Coachella (Woodstock on my Mind)

Lana has been gently dropping songs before the release of her next album. Having a lil listen and I love this one the most so far:

 

What about all these children
And all their children’s children
And why am I even wondering that today
Maybe my contribution
Could be as small as hoping
That words could turn to birds and birds would send my thoughts your way

***

I’d give it all away if you give me just one day to ask him one question

On the 8th June 2017

Hello, dearest readers!

I’m SO HAPPY. Finished my finals yesterday and stayed up all night watching the Tories being torn to pieces while drunk. I lost my phone, my debit card, and my student card, but it’s so hard to care after all this good news. Guess I’ll just stop calling people and buying things… I could wax lyrical about why this is great and what a triumph it feels like from my perspective, but words are not coming easily to my tender brain this evening so instead here’s a recording of music that never fails to bring me joy when I listen to it:

 

Without You for me is more about self reliance than co dependence, and it’s one of my favourite songs in the world. I hope you like it too.

 

***

Depression, anxiety and euphoria: what hormonal contraception did to me

I was always pretty much one of the only women and girls I knew who loved having a period. Well not having it per se, which could be far from ideal, but maybe the fact that it happened; my body had its own cycle, its own silent process of birth and regeneration, like the moon, or a tree. It made me feel like my physical substance was in some fundamental way connected to the world around me. The unfortunate attending possibility was of course, obviously, childbirth. And clearly, when one gets to a certain age, and is lucky enough to have sex sometimes, this becomes a mind-blowing and terrifying possibility. Like many people, the thought of having a baby at 21 fills me first overwhelmingly with bafflement and then, very quickly, with worry. I still sometimes cry when I’m hungry, and if there were two of us crying, what would I do?!

In short, at a certain point when these worries (temporarily) came scarily and rudely to a head I decided I needed to take on the responsibility of preventing pregnancy from happening. Or not even that; it was as much about relieving myself of the anxiety of potential pregnancy as the possibility itself.

So I got the contraceptive implant. This is a matchstick shaped device that sits in your arm and releases progestogen into your bloodstream, preventing you from having a child. (Don’t ask me how, I’m a Classicist.) I was told that I might bleed erratically for a while, but that this would settle down; I was told that I might experience minor mood swings, but that they too would settle down, within a few months. That night I had a dream that I was alone at my home in London when four or five female sixteen year old thieves broke in through the front door and seized everything in sight, in spite of my attempts to empathetically reason with them. With some tentativeness, (again, I’m a Classicist not a psychologist) I was initially and remain tempted to view the symbolism at work here as pointing up anxiety about an intrusion into my place of safety (the home often symbolises the body or the self in dreams) by an alien external force, which I would try and fail to reason with. At the time I dismissed the anxieties the dream was trying to communicate, and my subsequent experience seemed to confirm the impulse to reject it; for quite a long time after the implant was inserted I did feel completely myself, noticing no changes to my mood at all.

However I thought something was a bit weird when, five weeks later, I was sitting in my room waiting for my parents to arrive so they could take me out to lunch for my 21st birthday, listening to music and writing my diary (as one does) and little by little I was seized with emotion. My mum and dad loved me so much that they were coming to see me on my birthday! Even though I’m bad at tidying my room and I always always leave the lights on and occassionally I am rude! I felt the force of their love and the gratitude took physical root in my body; I dissolved into tears, and wrote them a letter thanking them for bringing me into the world. I was crying but it was a wonderful feeling. The more I wrote, the more I broke down into tears. When they arrived, they were touched but bemused. On some level, I do tentatively sense that I am more emotional than your average Joe, but it’s not like I cry every time they come round. I do often feel this way for a couple of days before my period starts though – aha! I thought. My period is coming despite the implant.

Only the feeling did not stop. But it did stop being cathartic, no longer representing a much-needed release, but over the next few days identifying itself as sadness, as worry, as anxiety, as fear, not as gratitude. The familiar PMS-feeling – endurable for its transience, even welcome sometimes as it was part of my body’s reassuring cycle – just would not go away. It lasted for about three weeks. In those three weeks I would cry pretty much every day, at no provocation or at the slightest provocation (the bare fact that I don’t currently hold a gym membership being the most laughable of my perceived crosses to bear.) For the first week I was okay; I clung on to the knowledge that underneath all the noise, I was happy; but it became harder and harder to persuade myself that I was crying every day for no reason at all. I couldn’t prevent myself from focusing on all the faults and worries in my life and it took all my energy to separate the emotion I felt from the reality I knew was safe and happy. I worried that there were only so many times the people closest to me would be able to hold me while I cried without being able to do anything because the emotion came from a small plastic rod and not from any problems they could support me while I solved. Emotions are contagious. The most insecure part of me worriedly whispered that there would come a time when they would run out of the love or energy to be close to me. They had their own shit to deal with. I resented myself for even feeling like I needed looking after at all.

After a particularly bad episode involving one ‘seen’ Facebook messenger notification, two hours of physically uncontrollable sobbing, and an essay I could not write because crying was taking up all of my time, I decided to have the implant taken out. I called my GP, tentatively telling her I felt like what I was experiencing was ‘a bit of a mental health emergency’, and expecting her to give me an appointment in the next couple of days. I was told that as I had had sex in the last two weeks there was a risk of pregnancy if it was taken out, so I would have to wait another two weeks for any existing sperm to bugger off. Hearing this, my eyes filled (yes, you guessed it!) with tears. It seemed like the end of the world. As it turned out, due to the risk of pregnancy the only way my doctor would allow me to have it taken out quickly was if I allowed them to first fit my womb with the (blissfully hormone free) copper coil, which is immediately effective as contraception, and then have the implant taken out. I accepted this advice, and although the memory of having the coil placed inside my womb and the ensuing last day of being bed ridden with tears pouring down my face has been promptly filed away by my subconscious into the file titled ‘REPRESSED THINGS’, it is a choice I am proud I made. Three days after having the implant removed the clouds have cleared and I am happy again, with all the other great benefits that come with being happy: I am more self- confident, more creative, take a great deal of pleasure in my alone time, studying is a joy rather than a struggle, I am more lucid, more compassionate, the list goes on. I am so grateful for all these things. I am so grateful that it is gone.

The worst thing about the effect the implant had on me (which for the uninitiated contains the same hormones as the ‘mini’ or progestogen-only contraceptive pill) was that I risked becoming my own worst enemy. Increasingly I felt that I was no longer able to trust my own thoughts and feelings. Were my emotional reaction to things and corresponding behavioural responses rational? Every time an event made me cripplingly, cripplingly sad the sadness was accompanied by a quiet suspicion that I was blowing everything out of proportion. I was left with the alternatives of swallowing my feelings, which had served me badly in the past, or communicating them to the people I loved and risking scaring or overwhelming them. In my opinion, things get dangerous when you become alienated from the sad, scared, angry parts of yourself, because exasperated and exhausted you reject them, unable to give them your love, attention, and acceptance. I am incredibly lucky to know myself well enough to always have been able to hold on to the fact that the feelings weren’t mine, to have had this happen to me during a period of my life that I am positive I am happy, because during a tougher patch it would have been much harder to distinguish the ‘real’ sadness from the ‘synthetic’ sadness.

Because so many women use hormonal contraception and a large proportion of those women don’t suffer such debilitating side effects it is easy to feel like you are making a massive fuss about nothing, to assume that other women feel the same way as you do in their heads but you are too weak to deal with it, especially when the tone of every healthcare professional you speak to on the phone is coloured with skepticism even when the words themselves aren’t. If this sounds like you, have faith in your conviction that you aren’t making a big fuss about nothing, and if hormonal contraception is making you sad, don’t feel embarrassed or weak in making the decision to come off it. My doctor (who, for the record, is lovely and whom I don’t really blame) told me to wait six months for the side effects to subside. Six months – especially when those six months coincide with an already impossibly volatile Cambridge term – is a very, very long time. The burden of responsibility for contraception is, for now, entirely placed on women. I could wax lyrical about how fucking unfair this is, but instead I will say: it will be okay, you have every right to stop and put your mental health first, and the amount of time you choose to wait before implementing any decision to do so is entirely for you to determine, and not for anyone else.

untitled poem

and finally the longed for arms, longed for eyes
are here with me and all
effort flies free it is easy as breathing
we sit and look at each other and the fear
The fear of not being known falls away
our June voices stretch though the
haze of darkened memories, darkened time
breaking through, sun
kissing a plant after a long time kept in the dark
***

A.W.

 Spring, 2017