Tuesday, 20 October 2009

My Favourite Cat

I want to talk a little bit about depression and creativity.

There was a time when depression was a demon sitting on my chest, a stomach full of acid I couldn't throw up, an undertow in the water, a dark magnetism stealing life from me. Now, depression is like a favourite cat that sleeps on my bed.

There are people we love in our lives, and animals and places and moods and posessions. Some of them, we wouldn't be parted from, no matter how bitter or heavy they can be, because they remind us who we are, and our reason for being in the world.

"We are wounded again in the same place" writes Jeanette Winterson, and I know what she means. "This doesn't turn us into victims. Rather, we are people in search of a transformation of the real."

When I write, I am on that kind of a search. To say something true, and be heard by someone else. To share, and be transformed.

I learned I could write when I was six or seven years old. It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever known since I learned to read. The most empowering thing, the thing with the most integrity, and yet... it opened a door to a world of forbidden things.

In my family, there are stories you don't tell.

I am a survivor, from a family of survivors. And I never wanted to survive. To flourish, yes, but to survive, no. It makes very little difference whether I am the corpse and you are the pall bearer, or the other way around. The year I discovered I could write, I discovered death. People around me started dying. I didn't make them die; I know that. But I asked questions, and I learned what people do and don't talk about, and what grown ups are afraid of.

The year of six and seven was the year I was expelled from the Garden of Eden. I had eaten from the tree of knowledge, and life would not be the same again.

Last week, my mother showed me some writing. It was quite a shock to me. It was mine. They were poems I had written, but not in my writing; they were in my nana's handwriting. My grandmother must have taken my books and copied out my words to keep for herself.

From the moment I learned to write, I learned to censor myself, to please others. That lies heavy on me, and always has done. And I know that I censored myself to protect my family.

We are people in search of a transformation of the real. And my favourite cat sleeps on my bed, and I have bad dreams, and I hear her purring.

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