A Winter Garden is a text/art project with people in Blackpool dealing with depression and isolation. The project is led by writer Philip Davenport (from arthur+martha) and book artist Emily Speed.
Session 3 January 2012
Extraordinary moments come unbidden. We were sitting in the cafe after the latest session in Blackpool Library when the moment arrived. O started talking about the problem with writing – the great dilemma of when to plunge in, when to hold back. “Its hard to write like this because its opening something up. And I don't know whether to go down there. Maybe it'll hurt. Maybe it'll make me feel better. I don't s'pose anyone else feels like this...?”
And of course other people did feel exactly like that. There were nods around the table.
D had shed a few tears as she wrote during the session.
G began to talk: “When I was a kid, my parents didn't talk about feelings. It wasn't spoken. The one time I saw them even hold hands was when there was a family death. It's not what I'm used to doing.”
How do we articulate distance or isolation? We've chosen to theme our work around stars. We're also using Rimbaud's remarkable, elusive collection of poems 'Illuminations' as a touchstone.
The stars are infinitely far, but they are present in all human thinking. Their distance has become a symbol of the thing that's beyond us, be it heaven, or aloofness, or preciousness, or fame, fate. Stars are also metaphors for coldness and isolation. And they are magical – we make wishes on them.
The constellations are a powerful symbol to conjure with, which is why we're using them in the sessions – they evoke such deep feelings. The burning light that's come millions of miles to visit our eyes has lost its warmth when it comes to us. Our own sun is a whole vocabulary for heat and our moon is its ghost, bringing it's connotations of lunar-cy. Nonetheless, we wish on stars hopefully, even if they are cold families or untouchable people.
Session 4 February 2012
Today's work was a breakthrough. We've been tweaking the way we organise the workshop and the group has been getting used to one another too; the combination clicked this week and they came together not only as a collection of writers, but as a group of people too, aiding and abetting each other, coming out of their shells.
The thing that sticks is not the session itself but the little after-gathering in the cafe. (Anon) told us that he'd got through a big emotional barrier. He'd started to talk a little about his family's lack of emotional openess in last week's meet up. It was the way he spoke that hooked my attention, his eyes were tearing up with the intensity of these little words. He said he'd taken up the thread of last week's conversation and by following it, came through the labyrinth.
“Since the last group meeting we had, I've started talking about stuff to my counsellor. Things I've not spoke about before. Not for thirty years. There's been some big things come up for me and some other issues underneath that. The weight's starting to come off me. I feel like I'm finally coming out of a tunnel. It's been a relief, a HUGE relief, to talk and this group is what started it.”
His face, his whole demeanour was visibly changed. A weight had gone from him.
I don't buy the idea that creativity is automatically 'good'. I think that these things are processes that run deep and unbeknownst, like dream-life stringing out on the ocean floor. I also think that the act of making can foster delusion, selfishness, and a certain forensic distance from our own hearts. But it also offers connection and catharsis – and maybe one downside is the price of the other side's up.
I'm delighted that he could take something from our little creative expedition and use it to make changes in his own life. However, the aftershock of these big conversations can be unsettling. I told him to be kind to himself this week, if he possibly could. I told him that he deserved a medal. It seemed such a banal comment, though I meant it. Some of the biggest acts of courage I've witnessed are almost invisible to the greater world. These gestures and grunts we make that feel so big, that come at such cost. They vanish in a trice.
"I'm finding this two hour session is a welcome respite from my own head, my own thoughts. I wish it could go on for longer than two hours. It takes a while for my thoughts to subside and for me to start being creative. I never thought I'd got an ability for writing 'til I did this – and I didn't expect the good reaction people have given it. The wordy stuff, as my son calls it.
“There's a lot of talent in this group but people's issues hold them back. Mental health issues aren't always obvious, actually they're often well hidden. You can't tell from the outside of someone what's going on inside. What sufferings they're going through and what gifts they can offer other people.” M