On IWD2020

Hello Internet! Today is Sunday, March 8th – International Women’s Day!

As I sit in a little rental flat in Clarenville, drinking tea and hoping that the snow outside will abate in time for us to do our performance this afternoon, I am warmed, not only by the tea and fleece blankets and and the magic of electric heaters, but by the messages of love and hope that are being posted in honour of the day.

This tremendous message from the UN Women Executive Director, for instance, doesn’t hold back about how much work there is left to do to achieve gender equality; but the message is still one of hope.

Generation Equality, the theme of this year’s IWD, is about recognizing the work of the women who came before us, and of being supportive of the work that is still to be done, acknowledging the women and girls who are picking up the torch to guide us into the coming year.

As we react to every day’s news as it comes, it’s easy to feel as if nothing will ever ever get better, or as if we are going backwards, but that simply isn’t true. Policies and attitudes have been changing, are changing, and will continue to change, because of the hard work of the women and their allies who take to the streets, write letters, deliver speeches, sign petitions, or do any or many of the infinite list of things that can have an impact.

I encourage you to check out International Women’s Day’s official website, here. And to the women who inspire, support, and motivate me: have a very good day.

Some thankfulness

Hello, Internet, today is Wednesday, October 11th, the week after Thanksgiving, and I have some thanks to dole out.

From September 27th to October 2nd, skc originals had the opportunity to co-produce a workshop of a work in progress with brand new feminist theatre company Persistence Theatre. Persistence has just leapt onto the scene with an inaugural production of Robert Chafe’s Isle of Demons, which opened September 27th and ran until October 1st, so it was a busy week for them!

Persistence Theatre’s mission is feminist: they are working to promote the core beliefs of feminism through theatre. When Artistic Director Jenn Deon announced their mandate in January, I wrote her right away with original. I gave her a draft – a far cry from a full one, or a ready one, or anything even really resembling an actual script… but she believed in it anyway, and agreed to help me to produce a workshop and staged reading. Their fundraising efforts are nothing short of Herculean. (We need a mythological Greek woman to analogize here… Athenian? No, that’s taken. Nikean. There, that’s the word now. After Nike, who was a goddess before she was a sneaker.) Thanks to them and their faith in this project, we were able to double my meager budget, making the workshop possible.

That original meager budget came from the City of St. John’s, so much thanks to them as well. They get an bonus “thank you” for allowing me to spend their money on St. John’s artists, working in St. John’s venues, but with the staged reading taking place in Mt. Pearl because, well, good space is hard to find, and there is a GREAT space called The Annex behind Admiralty House Museum. Speaking of that, thanks also belong to the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl for arranging for us to be in The Annex for the reading, and to Business and Arts NL and the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre for giving us rooms to work in as we prepared.

It must also be said that the piece may not even have reached Jenn and Persistence’s receptive arms without the Arts & Culture Centre Playwright’s Unit, in which I was fortunate to participate from October 2016 to June 2017.

With Berni (left) and Sara after the reading

And of course, I have to thank the incredible artists who saw this workshop through: Willow Kean, Berni Stapleton, and Sara Tilley are wonderful, generous artists and women who immediately got behind the project and my vision for it. It is a direct result of their thoughts and support that the script took a huge stride forward in the 6 days of the workshop.

So, thanks to all of those amazing people. And the people who came to see me read my thing. And all the people who support my writing in general, and my playwriting in particular. Watch for original in Peristence Theatre’s 2018-19 season!

Sharon

An anniversary

Hello, Internet, today is Wednesday, August 9th, 2017, and 10 years ago today, I lost one of my very best friends to suicide.

The man who left my life – and the lives of so many others who loved him – suffered from a severe mental illness. There were, I believe, a number of other factors in his decision to end his life, but difficulty in accessing mental health care, and his need to keep the whole thing a secret, were the main players.

The early drafts of Give Me Back were an exorcism of my grief. As anyone who was with me in the development stages of the play can tell you, I couldn’t get through a session without crying. In 2012 – 5 years after the fact – we held a 3-day workshop of the play and I cried every day. I wrote new pages with tears streaming down my face. My dramaturge (who was marvelous) assured my readers, on my behalf, that my weeping was not about the notes they were offering me, and assured me that my emotional connection to the play was a strength and not a weakness.

Still, working on Give Me Back carries with it an emotional burden that regularly flattens me. Delivering this show to audiences is one of my very favourite things to do, but it drops my personal productivity down to almost nothing. Laundry does not get done. Dishes do not get washed. I require far more sleep every night and at least one nap in the day. I eat from stress, or I don’t eat at all. This is why, sometimes, I need to push it onto the back burner (or farther back, maybe even into the fridge to be dealt with in a few weeks or months). This is very likely why it took me 7 years to mount it at all.

In Give Me Back, Anna and Jonathan have this conversation by phone:

ANNA: It’s not depression, is it?
JONATHAN: What?
ANNA: It’s not depression. You have something else.
JONATHAN: No.
ANNA: Yes you do.
[…]
ANNA: Do you have schizophrenia?
Silence.
JONATHAN: That’s what they’re treating.

That interchange is an almost exact transcription from life. I was in a introductory psychology class at university and I figured it out, and then I asked. That’s how I found out. Most other people in his life, even the ones he trusted most, thought he had a depressive disorder.

After his death, I discovered just how rare the knowledge of his actual diagnosis was: his best friend had no idea, and years later I found out his brother didn’t know.

Sometimes I tell this story in Give Me Back talkback, and during this latest trip to Twillingate and New World Island (communities mourning a very recent death by suicide), I felt it again for the hundredth time: not being able to tell anyone about one of the most important parts of your life is isolating. And, separately, mental illness is isolating. And all research points to there being huge mental health benefits to having strong social supports, but if these two factors are constantly isolating you, maintaining social supports is difficult.

We, the average non-doctor, non-researcher, can’t do very much about the isolation resulting directly from mental illness (although, we can ask our elected officials to dedicate resources to effective mental health treatment, and we should, every day… more on that later). But we can do something about the stigma.

Things are changing. We no longer whisper the names of mental health care facilities in case someone might hear. Large corporations have made stigma-busting part of their ongoing marketing campaigns. But there is a long way to go.

In any given year, 1 out of every 5 Canadians will personally deal with a mental health problem. 20% of us… each year. Every single person in this country will be affected directly or indirectly by mental illness. That’s too many people not to be talking about it.

So, today, 10 years of real progress later, I would like to make a request: if it within your capacity to do something to make the world better for those struggling with their mental health, do it today. Right now, as soon as you read this.

Some suggestions:

  1. Write a letter to your MP or provincial representative. Find out their official policy on mental health and press them to improve it or act on it.
  2. Make a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association, which works throughout Canadian communities to build and distribute mental health supports and resources.
  3. Reach out to somebody you know who is feeling a bit down recently, and just say hi. Not “hey, I was just wondering how your mental health was,” but just “hi.” Maybe “how are you?” Work today to make yourself a trustworthy, supportive, nonjudgmental friend.

Go! Make the world better. In memory of a person I was lucky to know, and who I wish many more people could have known. Please.

Thank you.