Hark Publications: Coming to my Senses: Finding my voice through ovarian cancer
“I found it exciting to read about her inner struggle, her courage to face very painful decisions. She talks openly about how everything that we do in life comes with a price tag, and only if we are willing to face this and the consequences, can we truly be healthy and take control of our lives, including our bodies. I have not had to face a life threatening illness, but I found that when she shares her deepest feelings, she speaks directly to issues in my life.” (extracted from Amazon review).
G was a student in my writing circle. A confidence trickster, hiding her real voice underneath a lot of noise. This often happens. The person who is noisy and sounds confident is often the person who is hiding a vulnerability that is too scary to reveal. So they invent personas, cover ups, shields to protect them from being noticed and known.
This was G.
When she read her writing out loud, the voice underneath began to speak. And not so quietly! It started as a whisper (her words), and eventually became louder and stronger as she cleared the emotional debris away, and discovered the words that she had been holding back on. Words led her directly to the cave of her own despair, to the summons of her soul. This wasn’t just an outpouring, it was her aligning with her soul, and was apparent to everyone in that room. We all heard G speak the truth in her voice. Her authentic voice. The confidence trickster had left the room, and a wise woman had emerged.
And that’s what I was looking for, searching for, digging for in this group of extraordinary women.
We met in a ‘sound stage’, a local church hall, sat in a circle, and wrote stories, threads of biographical notes that allowed us to enter into the greater kingdom of our knowledge. Everyone listened to the readings, and was able to hear something, a note of caution, a note of remembrance, a wish, a dream not yet lived. Slowly the voices of caution were silenced as the ‘cry for freedom’ that is a person’s authentic voice spoke up.
Sitting in a spiritualist church, we were aware of our ancestral witnesses, and it was that historical legacy that we were drawing on that gave us permission to speak freely. This wasn’t prettified writing, all dolled up to impress, it was writing that allowed us to ‘bring out our dead’.*
Finally, the woman known as G told us the story of how when she was alone, and had eaten her meal, she sometimes enjoyed licking her plate clean. And why not? Now G was revelling in her spoils! She had aroused the appetite of the voice that she covered up, and was inviting us to sit at her Mad Hatter’s tea party, where we saw and heard what life in her camp was like, where appetite was indulged, and nothing was left out on the plate to rot.
G won’t die an unlived life, will you? Will you grab that plate and lick it clean?
*The phrase ‘bring out our dead’ refers to the work of the Renaissance humanists which is an invitation to see the past as a revelation. This comes to life in Anthony Grafton’s exploration of the primary sources and modern scholarship, classical and modern in his book, ‘Bring Out Your Dead: The Past As Revelation.’
The third series of the TV drama Mistresses is nothing like the first or second, mainly because the writers have stopped trying to be a cheap imitation of SATC, and discovered their own voice.
For me this means talking about taboo subjects like, ‘mother dares to say you have become reduced by flagging ambition and chasing your best friend’s husband!’, is quite a lot to cram into the first episode. But it works, partly because Joanna Lumley has joined the show and upped the ante, and also because it is starting to say that female friendships are more complex than swopping sob stories over a glass of Chardonnay about men!
As women we all carry so much guilt: am I good enough, thin enough, clever enough, successful enough, that our voices become compromised and, dare I say it, yes, reduced.
I want characters who not only insight me to throw 100 yogurts at the telly, but also make me question my own point of view. I don’t want stereotypes or mannequins, but real women with voices.
I was cheering Trudie on when she told her husband that it was her baking business that was supporting them financially, and that she needed his engagement not his winging. Bravo. I suppose she could have bashed a few pots and pans instead of saying that, but her words coupled with her emotion were powerful. Her voice was powerful because she was speaking the truth.
In September 2009 I was interviewed by Joanna Harcourt-Smith who founded Future Primitive, which is a podcasting website that presents intimate conversations with authors, visionaries and innovators from around the world.
I share my thoughts on the connection between suppressed creativity and illness, and how one of the keys to better health is to be fully self-expressed, and doing so from our deepest connection, what I call our soul’s songlines.
The Aborigines knew what they were doing when they followed the earth’s songlines, when they listened intently to the stories their ancestors left for them, secret pathways only they could know and find. It’s the same with our bodies. Our bodies have encoded stories, and when we know and express these, and own them, we experience a deep sense of peace and intimacy with ourselves.
A couple of years ago I worked with a school of autistic kids in North London, most of whom could not speak nor walk. Together, we painted, using our bodies, and they showed me their voices through the extraordinary images they created.
This inspired me to go further, and to take this process into areas where conflict has rendered children silent, through violence. When children are too afraid to speak, their spirit starts to die, and when their voices aren’t heard, they lose their connection not only to themselves, but to one another.
This simply won’t do. We have to do better for these kids. And so HARK, which stands for healing art for kids was born. The idea being to listen for the breath and words of these children, to tell us about their experiences, and for us to help them transition out of that painful place, to a place that has colour and light and opportunity.
For me, creativity and health are interconnected, and when this chain is broken and becomes fragmented, so we get dis-eased. It all begins with a frightened voice, too scared to speak.
HARK is interested to hear from anyone who has experience of working in a humanitarian context in South Africa, which is where HARK will launch its first project. Please get in touch with me if you have ideas and/or resources to contribute.
Here is one of the carers at the school in North London enjoying finding her voice in paint.
Writer and activist Dambisa Moyo appears on Norway’s Grosvold show and discusses Dead Aid with host Anne Grosvold and politician Raymond Johansen (April 18th 2009).
When I lived in South Africa in the ’70s, my family employed an African maid. Her name was Anna. She lived with us for 12 years, and during that time she became fluent in English – in addition to the other 4 languages that she spoke fluently. She was part of our family, although we sadly, were not part of hers, because domestic workers could not have their families living with them, so the apartheid regime separated families as much as it separated minds and hearts.
What I learned from Anna is that she needed support, encouragement and the opportunity to educate herself and her children to better themselves, and not for aid to do it for them. No hand outs, because they breed dependency. Anna became independent, and she wanted her children to have the choice about where they worked, and to be self-supporting.
Thank God writers like Dambisa Moyo are raising their voices against the celebrity-driven aid culture we have, and speaking out for aid to be in a form that nurtures local businesses, restores human dignity and builds self-esteem as well as houses and water holes.
Journalist William Wallis has written about the increasing opposition to Dambisa Moyo in today’s Financial Times.
I’m not saying this is an easy problem to solve, but I am saying economic aid in the form that we have it, isn’t serving the African people, and we need to lend our voices to the campaign Dambisa has started.
The famous portrait of Virginia Woolf in profile is iconoclastic, but what about her voice? Sometimes the artist is so famous we forget what their speaking voice sounds like because we let their art do the talking. The BBC collection of famous writers voices contains the sole surviving recording of Virginia Woolf in its entirety for the first time.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When I asked why ovarian cancer didn’t get the press attention that breast cancer did, I was told ‘unfortunately not enough women are diagnosed each year (7000), compared with breast cancer (more than 7000).
Oh OK then, so until more women die from ovarian cancer, the media, the research funding bodies, and the medical councils will sideline these women as if they don’t count.
But guess what. They do. We do. You do. I do. We all count, and only when we individually and collectively rise up and stamp our tiny feminine feet and say that, will anything change.
Until then, I invite all women who have a story to tell about a healthcare experience where they have not felt heard, to send me a comment. Together let’s use our voices to educate the medical profession and the media about the language they use.
As Gloria Steinem said:
“Finding language that will allow people to act together while cherishing each other’s individuality is probably the most feminist and truly revolutionary function of writers. Just as there can be no deep social change without art and music (as Emma Goldman said, ‘If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”), there can be none without words that create the dream of change in our heads.” from Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.
If you are outraged and want to contribute to this revolution, sign up for my free newsletter at the top of this page, and receive details of the online community events about to start, where you can have your say and be counted.
Every woman counts.
This was originally intended to be my painting blog, but now it's also about writing, what we ache for, and everything else important.
"Your paintings are like auragraphs. You pick up the information from the person and express it through art. However, they are on an altogether deeper level - not dealing with the outer projection of ourselves, not even with the spirit, but on a soul level. They are soul reflections".
Mary Clair Kelly, Cruse Counsellor