If you know me, or follow my work, you know I’m an avid supporter of Claudia Christian’s C Three Foundation and the work they do in advocating The Sinclair Method of treating Alcohol Use Disorder. They are celebrating their 5th birthday this month with a fundraising silent auction and have a goal of $5k. Let’s help them smash it! It runs until 17th June and there’s some amazing things on offer, especially if you’re a sci-fi geek or nerd!
Tuesday Top 10 – Books from my youth
As I’m a Young Adult author, this Tuesday I thought I’d share with you my top ten favourite books from my youth. These books go back to the earliest chapter books I remember reading, onwards to books I read as a teenager. They may look like a random mix of books, but they are the ones that have stayed with me the longest. Continue reading “Tuesday Top 10 – Books from my youth”
The Cherry Orchard – Two hours of your life you won’t want back.
An intimate theatre setting is always going to be my favourite. Small audiences, close to the stage, no matter where’re you’re sitting, and that feeling of the fourth wall being so close that you literally are the fly on the wall (and for this drama student a throwback to the days of drama studios and confined spaces) The Cherry Orchard at London’s Union Theatre is no exception.
Before we get any further, I’m going to preface this with saying that I’m the Theatre kid that loved Chekhov and Ibsen at school. I’m also the English Literature kid that devoured Orwell and Huxley, and I’m a Stargate fan. Why is this all important? Simple. Suanne Braun was the reason that at least half of the audience were in the theatre last night. She was our Hathor, Mother of All Goa’uld in Stargate SG-1, and we were all eager to see her perform. But for me, it was my fifth adaptation of this Chekov play that has always had a place in my heart.
The set evoked the crumbling estate perfectly, the decaying walls of the building, the moss growing up through the floorboards, walls falling down around them, the set design perfectly echoed the era in which Chekhov’s play was set. Yes the theatre geek in me was happy to note the tiny details like the plant life between the floorboards, Justin Williams and Jonny Rust definitely did the production justice in this regard.
I’m a Chekhov purest at heart, you might have guessed that from the fact this is the fifth adaptation that I’ve seen. But even that didn’t stop me loving this one. This production had one major and vital change in that the Bolsheviks took the estate. Something that doesn’t happen with the original. And perhaps that’s the reason that amidst the chaotic feelings of the end, I still found myself crying with Ranyevskaya as her world crumbled around her. Or perhaps it was the fact that as Lopakhin and Trofimov discussed the past and the future, she sat their silently staring out at her beloved orchard, weeping silently.
Braun’s portrayal of Ranyevskaya was, quite frankly, sublime, and I’m not just saying that as a fan of the sci-fi franchise that introduced me to her work, or a fan of her body of cinematic work (I will admit to having purchased Fleshtone and Starhyke because once I find myself enjoying someone’s work, I want to watch more of it), but because she pulls the audience in. You ride her emotional rollercoaster with her, wishing that she really could forget about her financial worries, and not wanting to blame her for her desire to run away from her troubles into a world of fantasy. Braun showcases the rapid emotional shifts that Ranyevska is prone to with a beautiful fluidity that makes them completely relatable and believable for the audience. It’s breathtaking to watch.
The cohesiveness of the cast is beautiful. I’ve been to other productions near the end of the run and found that by this time, the cast have been a little shoddy when it comes to their interaction with each other (yes even professional productions) and their hearts aren’t really in it, but that wasn’t the case with The Cherry Orchard’s cast. From Anya to Charlotta to Yasha, the way in which the cast portrayed the relationships between the characters was just perfection. I have to give a mention here to Molly Crookes for her performance as Dunyasha, the maid. The way in which she portrayed Dunyasha’s feelings for Yasha, her disdain for Yyepikhodov, her flirtatious nature, it all fitted the nature of the character in a way that is often missed in productions of this play. She’s often played as flighty and silly, whereas I found Crooke’s performance showed her humanity.
Caroline Wildi’s Pishchik on the other hand, was exactly as air headed as she should have been. Her lack of understanding that others around her were often in a worse state than she, the wistful look in her eyes when she talked of her dancing days and her dear father were just right. Lakesha Cammock was a wonderful browbeaten Varya whose sensibility was a stark and brilliant contrast to Braun’s emotional frivolity and Lucy Menzies’ ideologically naive Anya. Richard Gibson’s Gaev (Ranyevskaya’s brother) was a performance that will stick with me as a portrayal of the dementia that hits those in later years. Having lost both my grandmother and an uncle to different types of the harrowing fate that is dementia, I was struck by the truth in his performance. How coherence and lucidity mixed with bouts of nonsense and memory.
I feel guilty for not going into depth on each and every performance within the production, but truth is that I could be here for hours if I did. And I still wouldn’t do them all justice. I’ve chosen just a few highlights from this wonderful show. And if you’re able to see it before it closes tomorrow, Saturday 7th April, I recommend you do. It’s most definitely one that shouldn’t be missed. But as I said, it’s a small theatre and tickets are on a first come, first served basis.
The production is at The Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, London, SE1 0LR. www.uniontheatre.biz
Sometimes we put in more than we get out
It’s January, I have a release coming up in less than two months, I’m quite frankly, so busy, my blog has been neglected in favour of my newsletter (sign up in the footer).
Continue reading “Sometimes we put in more than we get out”
So this is Christmas….
…. almost. This year seems to have flown by in a flurry of activity that has been never ending. There’s been a tonne of stress and bodily pain and dealing with a lot of things I really wish I hadn’t had to. But overall I’m ending 2017 with a grateful heart. An exceptionally grateful heart. Things have changed this year, a lot, and actually whilst they were scary, I think overall they were worth it.
- I started this year with a decision that was ultimately life changing. But it meant that I was choosing to focus on my health, my diagnoses, and my ability to look after myself. My relationship of ten years ended. It was a tough decision. I’m not going to deny it. But it was something that ultimately needed to happen in order for me to focus on understanding myself as I now am.
- I spent an amazing few days in Telford with the FCD lot. Made new friends, reconnected with old ones, and began to realise just how loved I am.
- I spent an amazing few days with my two favourite people in Edinburgh. That trip was life altering in so many different ways, and it left me with a deeper understanding of myself and my relationships with both of them. I also made a new friendship with someone who is as nuts about hamsters as I am.
- I met Christin Baker in person. This amazing woman is the power behind Tello Films, she is a powerhouse and one of my inspirations. To sit and have brunch with her and discuss Riley Parra and other things was just amazing. And to be treated as human and not someone in a chair was beyond fabulous. Not that I expected anything less.
- Being able to support my wonderful Geonn Cannon as Riley went live on Tello and connecting with Marem Hassler was beyond beautiful. She is the perfect Riley. And I desperately encourage everyone to donate in the last few days of the season two crowdfunding so that we get to see the next instalment!
- Seeing Stockard Channing perform in London was a last minute, crazy, day whirlwind of an experience, and damn if I am not still recovering from that. To see her in all her formidable force on stage was just beyond epic. There are no words for that night.
- Being given a second hand laptop by a dear friend to replace my falling apart one was a huge plus. It’s enabling me to keep on writing.
- Sitting in Citizen M in Tower Hill working on The Stolen Generation was amazing.
- Consistently being published by The Mighty shows me my voice is being heard.
- Being reminded randomly by the most random people that I’m loved and appreciated is beyond special.
- And fundraising for C3 Foundation and trying to help them win the Newman’s Own Foundation Holiday Challenge on CrowdRise, has once again reminded me just how amazing people can be. You can donate to my Team C3 Page here.
This year has been amazing. If I could give shout outs to everyone who has made it so I would. But you all know who you are. Instead I’ll say this to just a few:
J – I’d be lost without you. You make every day so much easier and help me with so much.
MC – not your real initials but you know who you are. I look forward to our next adventure, and I’m so fucking grateful for the one we’ve had this year.
G – you’ll always be my platonic hubby. I love you.
JH – you’re my best friend, my sister, my guru. You mean the world to me.
SD – you blew me away when you sent me that PM.
DH – I love you too. Always. We neurodiverse thesaurus swallowers have to gel.
NLM – thank you for the book discussions and the ongoing support.
KitS- you’ve been a stalwart support as always, and you mean so damn much to me. We need to find a way to meet up soon.
KBS – where would I be without my sister in feminist fannish arms?
KazS – I’m so glad we’ve had the time to text this year. I love you.
To all I’ve met through The B Cup – I FUCKING LOVE YOU!
#Apologia – a true West End Gem
Occasionally you get an opportunity in life so rare that you have to grasp it by the neck and relish it with everything you’ve got. Yesterday was one such day.
My sister and I travelled to London for various reasons and decided to stop by the TKTS booth on the off chance we could get cheap tickets to see Apologia before it closes on the 18th. I mean Stockard Channing live on the West End? That’s a lifetime dream come true for this former drama student. Turns out not only were we in luck but a further turn of luck on arrival at the Trafalgar Studios meant we got upgraded from Row P to Row J.
I’m going to be honest here and say that Trafalgar Studios isn’t brilliantly accessible but they have made some changes to the theatres that do make it easier, and on a day where I was using my sticks it was easy enough to navigate, and the staff were more than helpful. A huge shout out to them all for ensuring my safety and comfort throughout.
I mentioned earlier that I’m a former drama student. But the truth is I don’t think that ever leaves you. I found myself looking at the picture frame set with interest whilst waiting for the play to begin, noticing the small details that made the production that little more intriguing. It was clear that every little piece of set dressing had a function even if it wasn’t directly obvious and it was beautiful.
A quintessential English kitchen through the eyes of an American. That was the impression it gave and it fit Channing’s character of Kirstin Miller, an American Art History specialist and activist who had escaped America as a young woman for a life in the UK.
The use of lighting was beautiful and the thunderstorm before the interval deserves a special mention here as it can often be difficult to pull off a convincing thunderstorm in such an intimate auditorium space, but it was spectacular.
The advantage of seeing a play near the end of a run is often that the cast are so comfortable and gelled by this point that the production is seamless. But it can also be a downfall. With Apologia however, it’s definitely the former rather than the latter. The performances were outstanding. For a play that relies heavily on dialogue, and monologue, it easily pulls you in and allows you to forget the world outside.
Freema Agyeman astounded me with the diversity and depth of her performance. Her character of Claire starting out as an annoying bubblehead but slowly revealing herself to be much more. The tender revelation scene with Kristin whilst everyone else is out of the kitchen had tears in my eyes, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried more than once during the performance.
Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael, with her annoying American Evangelical Christianity claptrap actually proved to be the most compelling of the younger characters, I went from wanting to stick her head in Kristin’s defunct oven to actually quite liking her by the end. Even if she was still a little sickly sweet. Her transition throughout was the most profound I think.
Hugh’s (Desmond Barrett) effervescent, self-deprecating gayness reminded me of the drag queen fairy godfathers in my life. Men of a certain age who fought in their day for the rights that we enjoy now whilst continuing to fight for further rights. He was sweet and kind and particularly drôle. But there was also that wonderfully sharp acidic tongue that underlies it all.
Peter and Simon, Kristin’s ‘neglected’ sons being played by one actor was genius and a clear display of Joseph Millson’s talents. The more forthright Peter who has been able for o find a way forward for himself is actually on reflection, perhaps the more damaged of the two. Whilst Simon, who has a history with mental health issues and whose punctuated staccato speech emphasises the effort with which he puts his point across, has clearly done more work to reach a point of self-realisation. The polar opposites of the characters showed a varied range from a versatile Millson.
That brings me to Stockard Channing as Kristin. By no means am I saving the least for last. As I said earlier, I have been a life long fan of this enigmatic actor. Whilst other kids were obsessed with Sandy, I wanted to be Rizzo. As a teenager (and even now), I wanted to grow up to have half as much sass as Aunt Jet in Practical Magic, or Dr Bartlett in The West Wing. Ms. Channing’s voice was, and still is a regular sound in my home, so seeing her performance last night was a true pleasure.
The way in which she captivates an audience from the moment she walks on stage, is striking. Each character I’ve ever seen her play, whilst carrying that wonderfully recognisable timbre, is so very different and striking from the last, but they all have one thing in common, Ms. Channing plays strong females, and Kristin is no different.
There were points her humour was so cutting you felt sorry for the person it was aimed at despite the fact you were laughing with her, times you could feel your chest clenched as hers did, but nothing prepared me for the gut wrenching tears that Ms. Channing’s performance pulled out of me at more than one point during the evening.
I’m in complete and utter awe as I write this over a cappuccino this morning. If I wasn’t heading back to Yorkshire tonight, and if I had the money, I’d spend the next few days in the audience of every remaining performance of Apologia, with my sister by my side. It truly is an utter gem amongst the productions currently on offer in the West End.
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Just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy life
I had a chat with my sister this evening that I want to share with you all. It’s an important one I think that every person with any form of chronic pain needs to have at some point. And it’s to do with how we perceive our place in the world and our abilities to enjoy life. It’s also to do with how we feel about the help we receive from those closest to us. Something I’ve had to battle with a lot recently. But here’s the thing, unless we talk about it with those helping us, we’ll never fully get a clear picture, and for those of us who also have mental health issues, it’s essential that we have this conversation.
For the past few days I’ve been struggling with my lower antidepressant dose which hasn’t helped with the way I view myself or my pain. I’ve been pretty much beating myself up, and things haven’t been going the way I planned, and it’s all added up into this huge bubble of anger at myself, which has been, in part taken out on my sister, without me meaning to. It culminated in a pretty intense scene last night where I sobbed my eyes out, decided to titrate my dose back up, and speak to the doctor when I get home. But my sister and I talked about it. We discussed what was going on, and now we both understand each other a little clearer. Today for me, as a result of that chat, and adjusting my meds, has been hugely different.
Here are the things we discussed tonight, further to that conversation last night, things that may or may not be helpful as a checklist of sorts to remind myself of and that may be applicable for others:
- Keep in touch with my pain – what sort of pain level am I in when I wake up? It’s going to have a relationship to what I can do for the rest of that day. What sort of pain am I in when I go to bed at night? That’s going to have a bearing on my sleep and if I need to adjust my pain killers that night, or take one of the dreaded sleeping tablets the doctor has given me, which can leave me feeling like a zombie for the next few days.
- Is it a walking sticks or a wheelchair kind of day? – this tends to be based on what is being done that day, where I am, what sort of transport is being used, if it’s possible to use the chair, and if I can get away without it. Currently I’m in London, and I have to say, TfL (Transport for London) have a lot to do to make their system fully accessible for wheelchairs, so if I can I’ll use my sticks, but that also means working out just how much walking I can do that day. Some places, like the museums, have wheelchairs that can be borrowed, and may be available on the day when you turn up, but if you’re going at a peek time it’s important to book one. More on that in another blog post though. Today I was sat writing my novel, so that means it’s a walking stick day, and a huge shout out to CitizenM Tower of London Hotel whose lobby I’ve been using to write in because it’s a fab atmosphere with an amazing cup of coffee.
- Stop being so hard on myself – This one came from my sister. I need to stop being so hard on myself. In the week since we arrived in London, I’ve walked about ten miles on my sticks. It’s hurt, and I know that once I’m back home in West Yorkshire, I’ll probably need a recovery period, but I’ve done it. When I’m here I want to do it. I pace myself better, and I’m better able to do it. I’m motivated here because it’s warmer than up North, and that in itself helps to stabilise my pain levels.
- I am not a burden – so many of us in the chronic pain family the world over feel this way. But my sister reminded me today that just because I feel it does’t mean I am. If I can’t do something, there’s no shame in it. I may be stubborn but I shouldn’t be so stubborn as to cause myself more damage, and my sister wouldn’t be here with me, helping me, if she didn’t want to be.
- Chronic pain doesn’t mean the end of life – it means making adjustments to life. It becomes a new chapter in your life. I still don’t have right pain meds, and I am still playing with my C-PTSD ones to get the right dosages, but actually, when I’m calm and able to think without the various demons screaming and yowling inside my head, I can honestly say that this life of mine isn’t the worst one it could be. Actually it’s pretty damn good. And I still get to do a lot of what want I want, just as long as I remember to pace myself.
- I am loved – I have some pretty awesome people in my life who would literally jump in front of a speeding bullet for me in a heartbeat, eve when I feel I don’t deserve it. And that in its own right is epic. I’m loved right to my very core. And yes the past few days have been extremely tough, the past few weeks and months even more so. There have been things going on that I can’t share because of various reasons, but let me just say that I’ve been reminded in the past few days I’m loved and very much wanted in this world, even when I feel like I’m not needed.
- Today was a struggle, tomorrow may be too, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t happy days in the future – Each crappy day has its drawbacks. Each pain filled exhausting day where nothing seems to go right also has something good in it, even if it’s one tiny little thing like having a cup of tea. And even though those days might seem to roll into each other and the negative be the thing that draws your attention, in a few days, a week, a month, or even a year, there will be a day, or even a good few days in a row, where you will know that it’s all been worth it. Don’t give up. Try and look for the tiny good in each day, because the tiny good can make the bigger good seem that bit closer and make you feel that less exhausted.
- Keep on self-advocating and taking those who care along for the ride – if the doctors aren’t listening, make them listen. Repeat yourself. Get your loved ones to go with you and repeat what has already been said. Get a second opinion, get a third opinion, keep getting an opinion until someone listens to you. YOU are the best judge of what’s going on in your own body. And if they don’t give you that appointment you were referred for, chase it up, keep chasing it up, and keep demanding it. Don’t take no for an answer. And this goes for other things like dealing with the people who decide on the benefits you receive as well. Get the back up from local agencies who can help you and support you through it. Appeal, appeal, appeal.
- Don’t give up – you’ve got this far. You’re not self-harming any more, you’re not drinking yourself into oblivion, your eating disorders are in remission. Why are these all so important? Because it proves that you can do it. You’re in more physical and emotional pain now than you have been combined throughout your life and you’re doing it. You’re doing it without those crutches. Look at you. Look at how far you’ve come. Keep talking it out. Keep pushing yourself to say it. Keep saying it. And don’t give up.
Many hands make light work…. One pair of hands means rushed off my feet… or something like that
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Touch my wheelchair without my consent and you violate my physical autonomy
I’ve touched on this before, actually I’m pretty sure I’ve ranted about this before on a bigger overall post about consent, but considering today’s outing into my local small town I feel a bigger discussion is needed. A much bigger discussion. So for the able-bodied amongst my readership, please know that whilst many of you already know this, this is aimed at the people who don’t. I’m sick of having to have the sort of show down I had in a charity shop today, and I’m sure other wheelchair users are too.
We are all familiar with the concept of bodily autonomy, or we should be. Most people are aware of the idea when it comes to sexual consent. You don’t get to touch another person’s body without permission. You don’t get to kiss them, to hold hands, to have sex with them without them explicitly allowing you to do so. This is what we should be teaching our sons (and daughters), instead of teaching our daughters to never leave a place alone, avoid wearing clothes that are revealing, and never ever ever do anything that might suggest in any way that they are sexual beings. But do we talk about consent and bodily autonomy when it comes to wheelchair users? Are you scratching your head about the last time you heard this discussed? I’m pretty sure a large proportion of people reading this are.
Picture this, if you will, I’m a UK size 14 (US size 16) individual with blue hair, dark glasses (Irlen tints), I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall. I choose to use a manual self-propelled wheelchair, rather than an electric one, to try and keep some muscle tone in my upper body so that when I use my walking sticks rather than my chair I can get around easier. I am entering a charity shop and manage to hit slightly the wrong angle. One woman asks me if she can help me into the shop and I politely decline, saying I just need to reverse and re-position my angle. She nods. That should be the end of it. Enter her mother, who comes along and just pushes me in. She wrenches my hands from my larger wheels, causes my right shoulder to go into subluxation, and then when I don’t thank her for her help, mutters to her daughter that I could at least be grateful.
Variations of this scene play out regularly. People don’t see those of us in wheelchairs as their equals because they see the chair before they see us. They see the disability before the ability and they assume that we’ll be grateful for any and all assistance. The thing is, I genuinely am grateful when I’ve asked for that assistance, like when I had earlier asked for someone to get me an item from the chest freezer in another shop, which I couldn’t reach. But to assume that I need help, and lay hands on my chair is another thing. I’m currently propped up against pillows in my bed as I type this because I can’t move my shoulder very far. I can’t put the lidocaine patch I need on the shoulder without my sister’s help, and the pain killers I have aren’t really going to touch the pain.
If the above incident would have happened yesterday, I would have crawled into my shell, wheeled myself away and hidden from the woman until she left the shop. My PTSD induced anxiety was high and I was trying not to hide away as I went out to get things done. Today though, already dealing with high pain and a bad night’s sleep, my temper was up. When this woman muttered to her daughter, in front of her three year old grandson that I “could have said thanks,” I bit. I turned around and unleashed something along the lines of the following:
“I had already turned down your daughter’s offer of help and was in the process of re-positioning my chair when you came long and pushed me into the shop without my permission. In doing so you’ve caused me more pain than I was already in. I don’t allow people I don’t know, who haven’t been trained, to push my chair due to the nature of my condition. If it is pushed in the wrong way, the additional issues caused can set me back, cause me further problems, and reduce my capacity to function.
Furthermore, what have you taught your grandson on the issue of consent? A wheelchair user’s chair is an extension of their body and in laying hands on mine and pushing it without permission, you violated me. You’ve wrenched my shoulder, and no I won’t be thanking you. You should be thankful I’m not asking the shop manager to call the police so I can report you for assault. You may think I need people to feel sorry for me and therefore were doing a good thing, but you didn’t ask. You assumed from the point of view of someone who has never used a wheelchair and overrode my bodily autonomy.”
She looked at me dumbfounded. Perhaps the use of large words confused her, or it could have been the fact I used language that told her she’d assaulted me. I’m not entirely sure. Maybe she didn’t expect a wheelchair user to be so eloquent. I’m an English Lit major and an author, what can I say? But these are the things the able-bodied public need to learn. They need to be taught that wheelchair users need and want their chairs to be treated as a part of them.
Our chairs, even if we use them part-time, are an extension of us. Without them we have less independence, less freedom. If you knock them or handle them wrongly, you risk hurting us, making our conditions worse, and ultimately putting us in dangerous situations. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had people bash into my chair without thinking, or climb over my footplates without so much of a concern as to what would happen if they tripped and landed in my lap. It’s time we talked not only to our children about the facts that people with disabilities are humans too, and that only they have the right to decide who touches their bodies, but that we need to respect that people with disabilities have the right to decide who touches their bodies and their mobility aids as well. That wheelchairs are not just a means of getting about, but an extension of the person using them.