Tuesday, 10 May 2016

New Year New Desires

Is it strange to be talking about the new year in May? I've been meaning to share some of these wonderful photographs for months. These are from a session I did with photographer Grace Gelder in January, on the theme of "New Year, New Desires". I brought along a golden outfit I've been a bit obsessed with and we had a playful couple of hours in the amazing complex that Grace was living in at the time, which culminated in a golden sunset. The last photo in this set has been making the rounds - onto Huffington Post alongside an article of Grace's and also the Tate Britain's site for a workshop Grace is leading (check it out if you're London based). I think that photo is one of my favourites - I like the fierce regality she's captured.

I've also written a short piece this week for Claire Hill, on the theme of "Before I was ready" - it's over at her blog

Sunday, 20 March 2016


photo by Grace Gelder

I've just spent about three days alone and it has been bliss. My partner is out of the country and we've only been chatting by text. In fact, until I went to have a cup of tea at a nearby friend's house this afternoon, I'd not actually heard the sound of my own voice properly since Thursday evening (it's Sunday). I was thinking about going out on Saturday night, joining some friends to go dancing, but in the end I stayed in and sat with my thoughts and read articles on Autostraddle instead. I've also done yoga in the dining room, baked bread, watched four episodes of The Night Manager, read a whole Margaret Atwood novel (The Heart Goes Last), slept and eaten a lot.

It makes sense, I suppose, as a week ago I finished performances of Worse Things Happen, my solo show about depression; the process and performances were an undertaking to be open, to reveal myself, to be honest. That's what I wanted to do, and I don't mind doing it, but what's an introvert to do when it's all over? I had to go straight into a few days' work on other projects, including a trip to London and back, and then, I thought, I'll take a day off - I'll have a duvet day. Well, that turned into another, and then another, and I've been mildly assessing myself throughout, wondering if I was in a post-show comedown, trying to be alert to my own needs. But I'm not down. I feel good. I'm just tired - I've still got bruises from the show, a sore shoulder and a twitch in my left eye. I needed time to think.

That's all this is, really: a reflection. I've been thinking for weeks (no, months and months) about this show, and I will continue to think about it as I plan its future. I said early in the process that part of my reason in making a show about my depression was to clear space inside me for other stories. These past few days I've felt... well, I've felt empty-but-not-empty. Filled with smoke, new ideas shifting like tendrils inside me, barely present enough to be called ideas. But I've also been thinking around the show I've just made - about what I need to do to make performing this piece viable - indeed, what I need to do to make creating similar work in the future viable. Self-care feels almost like a cliched term, but I don't think I can dismiss it when it's increasingly clear to me that I barely know how to practise it. It's possibly as big a project as creating a performance piece. Definitely as mysterious.

Worse Things Happen was supported by:

Friday, 19 February 2016

Good things happening...

I'm three days into rehearsals for the solo performance I am creating, Worse Things Happen, about my experience of depression. It's a bit of a juggling act because I'm self-producing, but I have some truly wonderful creative people working with me (a solo show is never solo!), including support from Sandra Bendelow through NTW's WalesLab Producer Mentoring programme. Louise Osborn is nominally my dramaturg, but is so much more in reality. Lara Ward, who helped me in my research and development last year, is back on board as Movement Director. Between the two of them I feel as though I am in safe hands - and safety is so important as I plough into deeply personal material to create a performance that I hope will speak to everyone who sees it.

That's really what these first days have been about. I had some material that I had put together for two scratch opportunities in October last year, at The Other Room and madeinroath, so I began by performing that again for Louise and Lara (toughest gig of my life, performing that for two women wearing frowns of concentration and scribbling notes...). We've spun off from that material, going deeper into the stories I am telling and the movement impulses I had improvised around.

What is the story you are trying to tell?, Louise keeps asking. Why are you making this? I feel so strongly that this story, of my on-going battle with a demon in my own mind, is something that so many other people experience and never tell - because they don't have the words, because they don't have the platform, because there's no one listening, because they are just trying to keep it all together. I was floored by this article that I read recently (although it is from 2013), reporting on the depression - both economic and that of mental health - in the south Wales valleys. 10,000 prescriptions for anti-depressants a month in an adult population of less than 60,000! And how many more don't seek medical help? Perhaps the numbers are lower elsewhere, but still: we're a society of walking wounded, and how often do we acknowledge that openly, let alone ensure the safety nets are there for those suffering?

Worse Things Happen is at Chapter Arts Centre, 10-12 March.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 31 - I like lists

"The final challenge is to celebrate success by creating something that sums up your month. A drawing, a piece of writing, some photos. What's changed about you? What have you learned? What are you taking away from this month? Tomorrow we'll send some ideas about what you might do next, but today just enjoy celebrating yourself for getting this far."

These are the things that were excellent about this month - the things that the January Challenge was running alongside. What I'm going to take away from doing the challenge is the reminder that I'm an artist every day:

1. Began the year with a few days work, contributing to some research and development for Give It A Name. I don't think I've ever had to set an alarm to wake up on 4 January before. It was probably good for me.

2. Spent four days in Rome with my parents and sister. Amazing, beautiful AND bottles of good prosecco for under 4 euro. Winning all round.

3. Did an inspiring photo shoot with Grace Gelder on the theme of "new year, new desires". I've had a sneak peak at the results and I love them. Grace has captured the person I think I want to be (and probably am already).

4. My partner and I found the next house we're going to live in. We move tomorrow. We want to make it into a playground and fill it with art, creative inspirations, dinner parties, plants and a dog.

5. Took part in a dance workshop with Jo Fong, who is currently touring An Invitation. It was wonderful just to move and play and be in my body.

6. Found out that my Arts Council of Wales grant application, which I'd spent a stressful christmas writing, was successful. So February is also going to be filled with creativity. And then in March I am going to debut my solo theatre performance Worse Things Happen, about depression and mental health stigma. I'm simultaneously excited and nervous and confident and nagged by doubts, which is probably normal.

Friday, 29 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 29 - revisiting 3 songs

"We're nearly at the end of the January challenge so now it's time for you to take a bit more choice. Look back over the challenges you've done and pick your favourite or one you weren't happy with before. Do it again. Start from scratch or develop what you've done so far, or maybe collaborate with someone. Just try it one more time."

I decided to revisit the Day 9 challenge, because on that day I was travelling and didn't have any music with me. But it really appealed; I meant to go back to it at another time, and here it is:

"Choose three songs that mean something to you. Play them and take time to listen to the lyrics, the melody, the tune. While they are playing, write. Don't think about what you're writing, just write. See what you come up with." 

On the road again, always happy when I'm in the van with him and we're headed somewhere anywhere. It's summertime trips to festivals, to Glastonbury, or somewhere in Europe on a gig and I think I would be happy driving to the end of the world with you. And the song started as a joke sung as you started the engine because you were always working away and you hated the long drives and then I made a mix for you with it as the first track and now for me it's joy but I wonder how you feel about it. A song best sung together loudly. Cheers and affirmation. Willie Nelson, and then Willie Nelson again, singing a cover, a bit by accident because I don't listen to him all that often, though I went to see him at Glastonbury and he was great - old, and he sang a song about a bird flying away and I thought, he knows he could be that bird. But this song always made me think about someone else, I don't know why. It's being in love with someone who loves me but doesn't love me back, which is a huge distinction actually and one that resulted in a lot of tears and one particularly unfortunate visit. And then it's funny to look back on so much emotion from a distance and it's like looking through a thick piece of plastic - all the edges are blurred and indistinct and it's hard to believe that the emotion is mine, it feels so much like it was someone else doing all the feeling. But the song still makes me nostalgic and it's a secret pleasure because the band is kind of embarrassing. And then this song, this song, this song that I wish was my life, wish was my life philosophy, singing the rules I want to live by. Dissatisfaction, no not dissatisfaction, not the right word  - restlessness, that's the right one. And no bad thing I guess though I've often worried it was. I read that Bowie obit the other day and that's what it said about him, didn't it - "creatively restless" his whole life. And that's no bad thing, I'd like to be creatively restless - I don't want to be satisfied with what I make because if I was I might as well stop and just take up gardening full time. Which I may well do at some point - tend a vegetable plot and decide that nothing else in the world matters except these ripening tomatoes. Hard to imagine ripening tomatoes on day like this, 90mph winds in some parts of the country and this morning I had to stand on my bicycle pedals on flat ground just to keep moving. It's a lack of fear of failure, this song, that's what it is, and what I like to think I aspire to, which is very different from actually aspiring to it. Or is it? Your own worst critic as always. The song has these moments that sound quiet to me, even though they're not - maybe it's the simplicity in the midst of musical lushness.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 28 - Celebrate

"Write your own obituary or a speech someone might give at your 90th birthday. How would you like to be remembered or thought of? Think of this as a celebration of your life and the things you've done or would like to do."


We will celebrate her through the art she made: work that was always underscored by honesty, a sense of poetry, and a deep belief that our daily lives are epic stories worth telling.

We will celebrate her by remembering the love she enjoyed: the friendships that spanned decades, her family of adored siblings, nieces and nephews, and of course, in her words, her "life double-act partner".

And we will continue to celebrate her daily through the things that gave her pleasure her whole life: meals cooked and shared with loved ones, wine, swimming in the sea in all weather, books, vegetable gardens, dancing, bicycles, poetry, and theatre.


This was really difficult! I think I was scared of doing it most of the day... And then I remembered this amazing piece by Laurie Anderson, and I thought I should try to express what I could as simply as possible and hope that when I actually die someone writes something equally amazing about me.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 27: "Ordinary Beauty"

"Create beauty out of the most ordinary things. Take photos or make something out of things that are usually seen as dull. Turn something ugly into a thing of beauty."

I spent some time on trains today, so had plenty of opportunities to try to make beauty out of ugliness... these are a couple of shots I particularly liked.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 26: Summer time...

"We don't know about you, but we're ploughing through January dreaming of warmer, lighter days. Make a collage or drawing in celebration of summer. Use old photos, or pencils, paints or pastels, or scraps of whatever you have lying around. Spend time imagining the sights and sounds and smells of summer, then go for it."

I wasn't sure I was going to do today's challenge. I've been having a bad mental health day and the rain, darkness and actual rivulets of water running down the walls in the place I'm living isn't helping. But actually doing this really helped - that's a photo of me on holiday a year ago in Morocco, not technically summer, but close enough.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 24 - Red

"Pick a colour, any colour. Then, throughout the day keep your eyes peeled for it. Document where you see it. In cars, litter, nature, on the street or just in your house. How many variations will you see?"

plus many, many more cars, taillights, traffic lights, litter...

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 20 - We break and we mend

"Write a set of instructions for an alien who has just arrived on earth on how to fix a broken heart. Lay out how to do this in the simplest words. How would you describe it? What would you advise them to do?"

Hullo and welcome,

We are strange creatures, here on this planet. We form deep emotional attachments to all types of creatures and objects. What I mean by emotional attachment is this: I can reach out with my hand and grasp the shoulder (or arm, or hand) of another human standing beside me, and never let go. Then it would be as if we two were physically attached to each other. Humans do this all the time, but we imagine we are doing it with our minds. And we do it not only with other humans but with animals, with objects, with places, and even with ideas. Doing this can sometimes make us feel as though that other human, or thing, is a part of our own body. We call this love. And if what we love goes away or disappears, then we can feel pain in much the same way we would feel pain if we were to lose a part of our physical body. We call this heart-break, and this can be confusing, because it is little to do with the organ in our chest that we call our heart. You will find we often claim the heart has more power than it actually does. There are other words that mean much the same thing as heart-break, like grief

There is no way to fix this. All you can do is try to make the human with heart-break comfortable. Sometimes it helps to give them an occupation - an activity for their body or their mind that will take their energy and thoughts away from what they have lost. Occasionally it may help to give them another thing to love, but this works less often when what they have lost is another human. Usually it helps just to sit with them, and let them talk about what they have lost. They may cry, which means they may make noises they cannot control and salty water will come out of their eyes. This is not a reason to be alarmed - it is one of our human ways of expressing ourselves, like smiling, or laughing, which you will also encounter.

Heart-break will only heal with time. If you have made your human as comfortable as possible - made sure they have occupations, listened to them them cry - then you have done all you can do. Return to them after the earth has made one full passage around the sun and you may see a change. Return after two passages and the change may be even more pronounced. There is no universal law about how long it takes for a human to heal from heart-break. They will never go back to being exactly the same human as before, but that change is normal. That is one of the ways that humans' minds grow and expand.

Good luck.

Monday, 18 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 18 - I dream (of an utopia)

"Celebrate Martin Luther King Day by writing your own "I have a dream" speech. What's in your vision for a better world? What would be your rallying cry?"

I dream of the day when a person's sexual identity is considered as unremarkable as any other facet of their make-up.

I dream of the day when the right to love and have sex with whom we want as an adult is considered sacrosanct. 

I dream of a world where war is a distant memory, and the idea of solving disagreements through violence is universally repellant.

I dream of a time when we are unified in our desire to protect the planet we live on, above concerns about profits and easy energy solutions.

I dream of a society where poverty does not exist because we share resources and opportunities willingly.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

64 Million Artists Day 17 - it's getting better all the time

"Alter the lyrics to your favourite song. Change some key words or phrases to make a brand new song. Use rhymes and the rhythms of words to play with your song and create something new."