Monday, May 25, 2009


So I went to the theatre on Saturday evening with Screenwriting Mummy. 

My playwatching quota has plummeted since Tricky was born and that's just pants really, what with me being a playwright and all. 

Years ago I remember seeing a postcard that said: "Why are there no great women artists?" 

The postcard had a drawing of a woman in a long medievally type frock standing in front of a canvas. She had a paintbrush in one hand which was outstretched towards the canvas and a soup ladle in the other. She also had two kids dragging at her skirt and was unable to see anything much because there was a whopping big saucepan over her head. 

I guess, thanks to the Jolly Big Funshop that is infertility, I had plenty of time in the past to put brush to paper and be a 'great woman artist', if only I hadn't spent all that time rolling about on my bed crying because I couldn't get pregnant. And now, look! I've got the baby and I'm complaining that he takes up so much time. Sheesh. Ungrateful or what.   

Anyway, it was great seeing this play, Inside Out which was about a mother and a son. The son is funny, witty, arty and has a great relationship with his mother. Except, early in the play we realise there's something wrong. That something turns out to be him having schizophrenia and the play moves through a horrific nine month period with, thankfully for the audience, a glimmer of hope at the end. The writer (Mary Rachel Brown) interviewed carers, health professionals and people living with mental illness and you could hear that in the work, it rang frighteningly true. 

I looked around the audience at times and I could see shoulders shaking and hands rubbing at faces and I realised that these were those people, not necessarily the ones the writer interviewed but others, parents and friends who had lost people, and even here and there the lost ones themselves. They were seeing their story, and the story of those they loved.

And for me watching, with my tiny boy tucked up in bed, and for my friend with her even tinier boy, it was also like seeing One Of Your Greatest Maternal Fears playing out on stage, not just the illness but the way it affected the relationship between mother and son, the heartbreaking accusations and abuse, the enormity of patience, the depths of fear. 

In this story, this story made up of lots of stories, the mother got her son back. A woman I met a couple of years ago was not nearly so lucky and I will never forget her description of walking the backstreets of the city and finding the sad little corners and nooks where he had sheltered for a few days before moving on. Her only son. Her only child.

After the play we went out and had dinner in a noisy Thai restaurant where we ate squid and betal leaves and drank wine and shouted over the table at each other. It was a good night with lots of talk, not just about the play and what it meant to us, but about writing and mothering and finding a way to bridge the two without being a shitty writer and/or a shitty mother.

It could be an attitude, I decided later. It could be that the word "great" is too much baggage anyway and once you get rid of that baggage, the job's so much easier. 

And maybe we just do what we can, and take time off where we can and meet friends where we can and watch as many plays as we can and that will be enough.

But also I thought I might get rid of that big heavy saucepan, replace it with a colander maybe. 

Then at least I can peer through the holes.


Maggie May said...

Enjoyed this post.
Lots of food for thought.
I think you just have to live each day as it comes and get the best out of each day, as time goes so quickly (faster as you get older) and no one knows what is round the corner. Enjoy you little son. Write when you can.
Friends and plays will still be there if you wait a while.

Betty F said...

I really enjoyed your post. The play sounds like something, I'd have a hard time getting through. Someone close to me has spent time searching through skid rows to find her oldest son who has been addicted to drugs and alcohol since he was 12. She's actually found him from time to time. The light and hope is a day by day thing for her. I'm glad you were able to get out for a while.

OvaGirl said...

It was hard Betty, and in some ways not a play i would have chosen to see ( my friend had got the tickets) but I was really aware that it was very true to other people's lives and, who knows, perhaps reflective of ours in the future. I live in a house with four small boys I love very much. Schizophrenia mostly appears between 15 and 25 years. At least 1 in a hundred people have it in Australia...

Anonymous said...

Schizophrenia is so scary and traumatic. I know the reason my cousin committed suicide was partly because she hated being a burden and felt imprisoned by her mental illness. When she was medicated she hated "the fog," and when she wasn't medicated no one could bear to be around her.

Another cousin, after years of drug abuse, has recently been diagnosed schizophrenic after he was locked up for pulling a gun on his mother. He hates being alive, too... but instead of drinking cyanide he's killing himself by starvation.

Please Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Sweet God spare my Zoey...

Lin said...

Schizophrenia affects so many. A dear, funny, irreverant friend of ours, a professor at a big university, has twin boys. Grown-up men now: one just fine and the other wandering the streets of San Francisco, homeless and delusional, resisting all help, a schizophrenic, brilliant mess of a young man.

One day our friend said something that just pierced me at my core. When we'd called to invite him round to dinner he told me he couldn't possibly. When I asked why, he just said, "Oh Lin, it's been one of those days and when I walked through the door tonight, relieved to be home, my legs just gave out on me. My grief, today, has taken over. Let me take a raincheck."

And that is what it is like for the family of these tortured souls. There are drugs that help, but unless hospitalized, so many schizophrenics will not self-medicate in a way that best helps them. It is heartbreaking and why I always give a homeless person something and think, there but for the grace of...

Betty M said...

The play sounds like one I would have avoided but ultimately one about a subject I should know more about. The stigma in relation to mental illness is huge and it probably doesnt help people get the treatment they deserve (and not only in the medical sense).

Thoraiya said...

I read a positive review of this play, but I knew I'd never be able to see it...because you don't get to see plays when you have a baby!

Now I feel like you've seen it for both of us. Thank you for your evocative reaction and the chance to ponder the artist mum's dilemma.

Betty F said...

Gosh, that's seems like a lot of victims. And there's so little understanding in our culture that mental illness is a real illness. We've had bouts of depression in our family. My youngest has suffered with it. He's done well in so many ways and no one understands, Including him, that it is a health issue that can be treated. I hope you're doing well. Miss your blogs.
I've moved away from blogger... my new site is Still a work in progress.