Saturday, 25 August 2012

Reassembling the Self

I am about to share one of the biggest things that has happened in my life this year!  I have kept quiet about it for a bit, in case it didn't go ahead, but it is all looking good at the moment.  I have been invited to speak at a programme of events at Newcastle University this Autumn.  It is all to do with an art exhibition called 'Reassembling the Self'. 

Newcastle Uni have an artist in residence, Susan Aldworth, who, with several other artists, has done some work around schizophrenia - and the University is now hosting some events around the exhibition.  Including a talk by Henry and Patrick Cockburn (authors of 'Henry's Demons') - and one by moi!

I will tell you more about dates, etc, as and when I know exactly what is happening.  But I just thought I'd share the news now - and unveil a poem I wrote about it.  I am not 100% happy with the poem.  I have been working on it for a couple of months, ever since Kate Hudson, public engagement officer for Newcastle Uni (who originally contacted me via Twitter) told me that they were hoping to create a 'festival-type buzz' around events - which should go some way towards normalizing the term 'schizophrenia' and help to reduce the stigma around it. 

I got completely stuck with the poem, but then had a 'Eureka' moment while driving the the other day...And because it has been in the pipeline for so long, I am now over-impatient to get it out there..anyway, here's the poem, in its not-quite-finished form.

Celebration – a Festival of Schizophrenia

A festival, when I was young, meant drugs and mud
Wine to numb the mind, and love to stir the blood
Outlandishness or individuality, fun tinged with fear
Singing, dancing, portaloos and paranoia; campfires, beer

But then the balance tipped, the fear outweighed the fun
And madness loomed, and peace took far too long to follow on
For 'Schizophrenia' sapped my spirit, froze my brain
I switched my Self to 'Off', and thought I'd never laugh or love again

Twenty years on: a festival of schizophrenia – strange thing
I find the word which chilled me to the bone now has a ring
For here at last we've found an antidote to gloom
We're going to celebrate the spectre in the room!

I'm proud to play a part – I'm glad I'm here
To join this festival of hope and thought, and cheer
To delve into the mind and find humanity and conquer fear
To see if drugs can help, if love can cure
To talk and laugh, to sing and dance perhaps, and act completely mad
And never give a fig, and wish I never had.


  1. Hi,

    I'd love to know when this event goes ahead, Newcastle isn't exactly close to me but I could make it there and I'd love to go if I was free! Please let me know when it is as I would love to go there for the event and I'd also love to meet you!

    With regards to the poem, the best way to present a rhyming poem like the one you've started here is to make sure each line in each verse has the same number of syllables. For example, 8 syllables in the first line of each verse, 7 syllables in the second line of each verse etc. It doesn't matter how many is in each line but as long as each line is the same length as the corresponding verses. Despite English being one of my least favourite subjects in school, it is one of the few subjects where I can still remember what I was taught! If you need any help with the poem, let me know and I'll give you a hand!

    I've unwittingly gone back to writing my own book at the moment and am up to just over 22,000 words; I've written almost 10,000 words in the last 3 days! If I can keep this rate up I'll be finished in a few weeks! But I'm realistically aware it won't be finished for a couple of months at the earliest!

    I'll be interested to hear when this event in Newcastle goes ahead to see if I could make it!

    Best wishes

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  3. Thanks, I will let you know the dates of the various events in Newcastle, when I find out. It would be good to meet you too.

    Thanks too for your offer of help with the poem. I have various books on writing poetry and often mean to go through them trying to write proper examples of a villanelle, a sonnet and so on. I never quite find the time...

    I don't mind that this poem doesn't quite fit a formula, my problem with it is more that I am not sufficiently happy with some of the words. For example, the line 'I'm proud to play a part, I'm glad I'm here...' says something, but it is not said originally enough, and the one syllable words I use are rather dull too...whereas I am quite pleased with the first verse, but not the fact that 'wine' and 'beer' are both mentioned - I should have thought harder, maybe used 'alcohol' or 'booze' to cover both those, and then use the space saved to put another thought in. Also, for example, I over-use the words 'love' and 'fear' in the poem - it is quite a short poem and I should not need to duplicate words.

    So I know what I need to do, which is to put some more thought and effort in, struggle a bit with it, and eventually (hopefully) get rewarded with that sense of satisfaction that I have done it right. I just haven't got around to it yet! Pure laziness. And I only mentioned it because usually I am quite strict about that, I don't put a poem out until I consider that I have done my best with it.

    Good luck with your book. Sounds as though you are making very good progress.

    Louise x

  4. Oh, I do have a vague idea about dates for Newcastle Uni - most of the events will be early October, I think. I will confirm when I know more.

  5. Lots of exciting stuff. It would be interesting to meet Patrick Cockburn. I read his book "Henry's Demons" twice. I actually found what Henry had to say about his breakdown more interesting than the typical reaction of his parents. As so many people who haven't had a breakdown themselves, doctors included, they don't haven't got a clue about what is going on. I could empathize with Henry easily. At 17 I was doing a lot of crazy things just to shock the older generation. At the same time I felt misunderstood by everyone and the only place I could find solace was nature. the trees and the wind were talking to me while my teachers and my parents were rejecting me because of my shocking behaviour. Deep down what I wanted though was a hug and a sign of trust and recognition but my nearest and dearest couldn't see it until I broke down physically as well. Luckily instead of dragging me to doctors, my parents came to their senses and gave me the reassurance and love I so craved and I recovered. I shudder thinking what would have happened if they had asked for medical help. By the way, I like your poem just as it is.

  6. Congratulations, Louise. Your voice definitely needs to be heard.

  7. Thanks, Rossa. And thanks, Anon. Any boost to the fragile ego of a writer is always welcome.

    I think I will read 'Henry's Demons' again too. I found it fascinating and raced through it... could maybe do with a re-read to assimilate it properly. Your story, Anon, is inspirational to me. I don't think my kids will have emotional problems - they are very grounded at the moment and I keep close tabs on every aspect of their welfare - but I sometimes consider what strategy I would follow if they did ever have issues, and your parents seem to have got it exactly right.

    I am also considering training to be a cognitive behavioural therapist - partly for work, and partly to be better prepared to help my own family cope with life, whether or not they ever have crises. It seems to me that the ability to properly command one's thoughts (and thus emotions) is a truly valuable asset!

    All the best to you both, Louise.