Sean Burn’s blog | Write to Play year 1

By Sean Burn | Write to Play year 1, December, 16 2014

Heart attack and fine

I’m calling this post ‘heart attack and fine’ as tom waits almost sang. A friend / activist / disability arts campaigner texts hiy sean well well well I’m shocked that you’ve had a heart attack I don’t know why I should be but its maybe my belief that my friends are invulnerable. so yeah, I’ve spent a week on four wards across two hospitals following a night-time heart attack and follow-up angioplasty (plural) to unblock two arteries, tho a third remains blocked – too complicated, despite their best efforts. i witness a little heartless nursing – no dignity for an elderly patient living with dementia left to take their meds unaided – huge pressure for beds with ward sisters juggling discharging some and admitting more, but overall i see this jewel in the crown of the welfare state – the NHS, and something under attack like never before – we really are facing a con-dem march back to Wigan pier. during world war 2 we faced an existential threat from the Nazis, annihilation in an all-out war and fighting back any which way we could, and in the middle of this and no money in the coffers (unlike now) we dreamt, dreamt huge and birthed the NHS – and the NHS birthed us, in turn. and now – rather than singing out how one of the truly great things about Britain is the NHS, a national treasure, we see it under attack. i like my friends text its maybe my belief that my friends are invulnerable. we must live as invulnerably as possible but also we must write (or paint or dance or … whatever our chosen artforms are, as well as love) courageously and in our work be as invulnerable as possible – i firmly believe that. Andrew Bovell said write the biggest you can. right up to the end. suicidal and psychotic depression means two or three more plays would be nice, but every day right up until my end i have to put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, pencil to notebook – simply have to, tho i have no energy i keep putting one foot in front of the other. in my play for graeae – flowers of the forest – the protagonist malik is grieving for his lost father (grieving, like psychosis and depression, plus the environment are recurring themes in much of my work) and discovers a new subspecies of insectivorous plant on the border battlefield in Northumbria that he lives beside. he tries to live courageously, invulnerably but this amazing man standing in the middle of a battlefield and wearing a bright and beautiful dress is ultimately brought down not by money which he defeats, but by the deep state. like i said, another two or three plays would be nice so long since I’ve heard the word spacker – avoid catching that train, dealing with those replicants, wz the language meant for me? wind me in, i don’t fit & the thoughts racing in my head are – are they/yu out to trap? just cos yr paranoid dont mean theyre not out to get yu as a country singer once said. i spend the time around halloween & bonfire night (we earned a standing ovation for collector of tears in brighton on bonfire night) uncertain whether i’m seeing what others are seeing (all that blood & gore) for once – whereas mostly its visions of beyond which are equally hard to take & then shake off. after that standing ovation d.a.o. (disability arts online) ask why i always use lowercase … when i wz ten the local bishop wz due to visit our (non-religious) state school. teacher pinned up a wall of multicoloured sugar paper – we were each allocated a rectangle – mine wz dead-centre. & we all had to write a page describing god – fair-haired, blue-eyed, sandal-wearing etc. being in care, i told the teacher i’d write another essay but couldn’t describe god as he didn’t exist. others got on with their essays while i wz detained each & every break & after school (made to put all the chairs on the desks). gradually the god-wall filled, my central rectangle still bare. punishments got more severe, the day before the visit i cracked, wrote an essay – but ended by saying none of this is true, he is made up, a fairy tale. the bishop read the essays, read mine, exploded. I had spelt god lower case. i thought god was lower case – like flower or dog or car. if it wz a specific god – or specific flower or specific dog or specific car then i understood that required a capital but i saw god as dog, as cat, as cow. i got hit repeatedly with the metre stick in front of everyone – bishop included. I’ve used lower case ever since.

Its never been a harder easier time to be a disabled artist – we are post-Paralympics, post-disability – David Cameron / Boris Johnson / Theresa May thinks so – yet they’re axing the independent living fund, have brought in the bedroom tax (sorry ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ – talk of language-games!), & attacking access to work (see Jenny Sealeys eloquent writing on this elsewhere on the Graeae website). when i told someone recently I was writing flowers of the forest for a rehearsed reading as part of Graeae’s (year one) write to play – they asked why we were so angry. um, see above?! its like were supposed to shuck snakeskins – become all smooooth. & all this written thru the permanent pain of arthritic hands, Iv’e punched too many walls. first came to theatre aged thirty – its not all ’emerging’ at sixteen to twenty-five, some of us come from different backgrounds and need the support at later ages.

How do i write – particularly this poetic and epic flowers of the forest (a pipe lament for the fallen of both nations) – and its tale of insectivorous plants grown huge on the blood of the battlefield? i like to come at writing obliquely – walk our (very large & friendly rescue) dog & daydream, (unless there’s plains clothes on their mobiles & watching yr front door (too many mornings in mine)), or lie on the settee in our living room, spin a disc & daydream – strange ideas come unfiltered & that’s where my insectivorous plants that need environmental protection from the hand of the developer in flowers of the forest come from.

Sean Burn’s third and latest full volume of poetry is that a bruise or a tattoo?available now from shearsman press.

luta continua
4 November 2014

So I’ve given up my lunch hour (and I don’t do breakfast mornings and I’m groggy with way too many meds from the night before, cant live with ’em, cant live without – side-effects, dependency and shaving perhaps a little off the edge of mind at my most optimistic) – so no breakfasts, no, not unless yu count espressos – mocha matarri shade-grown my drug of choice tho i’ve read much on recent hugely promising research (albeit with tiny numbers of participants) into successfully alleviating depression and other mental health problems via carefully administered doses of psilocybin (for which my spellcheck suggests lazybones lesbianism sibilancy), and yes i would legalise psilocybin and not just for us and yes the war on drugs has long been lost and yes i think for certain categories psilocybin should be compulsory – lets see what creative legislation the commons can come up with after chewing on that for ten minutes; and i’m sitting in a theatre watching a non-learning-disabled actor play a (very generalised) learning disabled character, the audience are laughing and catching each others eye and i’m so uncomfortable only i daren’t push thru the others in my row, step onto stage to get away and walk (but surely this is no time to be polite) and I’m wondering why it looks as if i’m the only person who has a problem with this cripping up and use of learning disability for the laugh-track; for my own practice i come across way too many examples of ‘nutting up’ (as i have coined it) – ‘I’m a little mad me’, ‘I had a breakdown once on a transatlantic flight’, ‘i once cried for three hours solid’, – there is a gulf – and elsewhere i read that winter pride is open to all artists and performers regardless of their sexuality (are we really post-queer? – certainly not according to the wonderful and poignant pansy project, long may they bloom) and i recently saw a performance pitched as ‘particularly suitable for blind and sighted audiences’ and some disability-led organisations are advertising that they want (i paraphrase slightly) to get the non-disabled onboard (are we really scared of discriminating against the non-?) and marketing hates the fact that my current play on tour (collector of tears) is about bisexuality and theatre is supposed to be that dark space where magic unfolds as the best of graeae’s write to play has shown, for me its supposed to be home (a long time coming), that’s what i keep telling myself yet somehow i feel more crushed with the cripping up, the nutting up, the up-itself-ness, and i walk to where i’m staying in the dark, trying not to lurch at the very real lengths of spine on the railway bridge, torsos half-sunk in the canal/river, blood seeping down the #144 bus stop, try not to get any on me – aim to get inside, lock the door, wash my hands thoroughly, put headphones on (das lied von der erde since yu asked) to drown out the very real voices, and a darkened room to stifle the visions – but then again that bloodthirst could have been placed deliberately to wreck me by enemy replicants (synthetic life forms that crowd the warmer climes of the south-east) who have been hunting me down since that psych-hospital and illegal act back when i was 13 and had no mentor, no support, none at all – back on tyneside the replicant glitches are easy to spot, reckon its the cold – ridley scott didnt invent replicants nor did philip k. dick – they just named them – and I’m hyper-aware that we are, as a community/ies of (the) disabled, getting scared again, we are running backwards, diversity is being squeezed, instead of which i propose write to play is a luta continua.