Today I publish my first post in my Writers with Artists series. I return to a piece about one of my collaboration with Dutch artist Annemiek Hamelink. The post was originally published in October 2013, this time around I have included the chapter from Happiness Comes from Nowhere.
As part of my writing practice I often look to other art forms and talk to other artists about their practice. Annemiek Hamelink’s story bowls have often provided inspiration and she has gleaned ideas from my fiction. We have tried to blog about our back-and-forth collaborations on our real time blog “Story Crafters”. But that’s the trouble with real time and life – they don’t move as smoothly as the pretty pictures of published collaborations!
Annemiek visited me at the end of August 2013 and arrived with a story bowl she had created based on an early version of the chapter “Possessions” from my novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere (see below – it’s a short chapter).
Annemiek had blogged about this collaboration, and talked about the difficult subject the chapter tackles. So I’d previously seen pictures of the bowl she had created but seeing it in real life – the size and the fragility of it – literally left me speechless. Here you can see an aerial view of the bowl – the porcelain delicate but strong, the curtain concealing, the dove escaping….
Below we see a dove escaping the curtain – a bid for freedom.
And the full effect of the piece in operation …. the red lights of hope stark against the whiteness of the fragile porcelain.
But I think what struck me most was how people take different meanings from the words we write – and, indeed, things we create – and how the meanings others take are often the most powerful. Perhaps meanings we had not thought of or intended. And how hope is always there, even if it’s a faint glimmer.
And that, for me, is really the gift that readers bring to writing, that the viewer brings to art.
Possessions: extract from Happiness Comes from Nowhere (Ward Wood: London, 2012) (c) Shauna Gilligan
The Ward Sister waved the crucifix at him like a loaded gun. It swung on an overly-long silver chain, glinting with the little sunlight that radiated through old and worn beige blinds. Her voice was harsh, croaky.
“Look what you’ve done to yourself! Is this how you thank your parents for bringing you into this world? Try to leave it? It’s a sin, you know, a mortal sin.”
Time after time it was the anger that came first. Anger at the messiness and downright un-necessary-ness of it all.
She could tell he wanted to say something, to make a sound, an objection of sorts. He tried to move but the drips attached to his right arm stopped him and instead of words, groans came from his mouth. He began to heave.
“Mother of God, there’s no hope. Just look at him.”
She blessed herself, wiping away her disgust. She wiggled her toes inside their 50-denier flesh coloured tights and picked up the notes from the locker. A self-admittance with his mother at twenty past twelve in the afternoon. She shook her head. It was probably the mother he was trying to get away from. She sighed. Another professional: a librarian from a nice part of town. One Dirk Horn. The Gardaí had come and gone: the mother in tears, the son unconscious. She’d signed to say it was a mistake, he hadn’t wanted to, he couldn’t have wanted to kill himself. They nodded, embarrassed at the legal intrusion, saying they’d be back in the morning to talk to him. If he lived, that was.
His possessions sat in a transparent plastic bag to be taken to the psychiatric ward when he was stabilised. They were listed in a row. Probably penned by one of the aides, judging by the neat handwriting:
one pair of blue jeans
one navy heavy cotton hooded jumper
one white tee-shirt
one pair of grey underpants
one pair of white socks
one right and one left of black runners
one wrist-watch with a worn tan leather strap
no valuables on person
At moments like this she found the movements of Sunday morning A&E depressing. But still, she stayed. Still, there was hope to be found in between the drunken people screaming abuse at staff, shouts for doctors and the sound of the trolleys racing bringing bodies to beds, wards, slots in the morgue. She stared at a fifty-something year old woman gyrating against a soft drinks machine yeah baby she screamed, laughing loudly oblivious to the dried blood on her face, escaped from a blow to the head. Curtains opened and closed, cries of fears and anger rose above the clang of equipment. But still, there were rosters to be organised, wards to be filled, beds to be emptied. And soon Dirk would open his eyes to the realisation that it was still 1992, still the same weekend that he’d tried to leave behind.
Flashes of silver, voices, footsteps seeped into his consciousness. Perhaps he hadn’t made it home last night. Maybe he was tripping into the darkness.
But no, actually.
Cold fear mixed with shame slithered over him. He opened his eyes, marginally. Dirk tried to sit up. His eyelids felt so heavy. His head hung forward. One word fluttered like a broken butterfly across his consciousness: failure.
“Don’t close your eyes, Kirk.”
A voice to the other side of him spoke. As he felt her warm hand take his pulse gently, her soft voice and touch merged with the whiteness of her uniform and blonde hair. She was his light, like he had once been for his father. But now, in his head, there were more words than hers, streams of them, flowing, full of feelings.
His mother told him his name meant ruler of the people.
Neigh, he used to say as a child when he was nervous. Neigh. It gave him strength, this pretence that he was a leader bareback on a horse. It made him become the words put upon him: special; precious.
And now as the nurse whispered each beat of his pulse, in his mind he saw what had not happened. What, perhaps, had he logically thought of it, he would have liked to happen: a picture of his body at sea, floating, the sparkle of the sun as it bounced, at peace. And in his head there was a silence like he’d never heard before, like as a child when his ears used to pop up high in the mountains and the world suddenly seemed a more bearable place. Beauty. Softness. Warmth. Light.
“What? What’s he saying? Kirk?”
“His name. It’s Dirk. With a D. Read the chart, woman, read the chart!”
She clutched the chart to her chest. These nurses would soon learn the ropes. No time could be wasted with patients like these.
There were ripples of sweat on Dirk’s skin. The nurse had a palm pressed against his forehead. He strained against the pressure, groaning. His legs convulsed. He struggled to breathe. He was panicking.
“Have his stomach pumped and we’ll transfer him to Camillus Ward. Doctor O’Brien is on his way to administer Parvolex.”
She sneaked a smile.
This was good. He was fighting.
You can view and purchase Annemiek Hamelink’s story bowls and art here.
Purchase my novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere here.
If you have been affected by issues raised in this post, please contact The Samaritans on 116 123