Saturday, 25 February 2017

Artist's Impression

It's four months since the first Touched By Suicide workshop. It's been a pretty eventful time since then for a whole lot of the usual life-as-a-freelance-artist reasons and a few other events, conundrums and brouhahas thrown in for good measure. Despite all that has gone on in the intervening period, one thing about the workshop that day has remained very present in my mind. 

It would be hardly surprising for anyone who works or has 'played' in this kind of professional art/community art/art therapy space to know that I have my own deeply held motivations and convictions about this kind of work. The desire to make this workshop was born out of an many often painful but ultimately clarifying experiences over many years in and around suicide and suicidal ideation. Yes, I imagine it is also no surprise for me to confess that subscribe to those oft repeated maxims in art and education: "Talk about what you know", and "Teach what you want to learn".  Those two ideas are a big part of who I am as an artist and teacher. They are more often than not my starting points for  the work I do. Naturally, that's where I started out with this workshop and that's pretty much the way it was designed and presented. My wonderful co-faciliator Zoe Warrick know's me well enough to be able to accommodate my approach seamlessly into her own inimitable style and consulate delivery skills and so together we progressed.

 What I didn't expect at all was the profound almost core-rocking experience that enveloped me at the beginning of the workshop. It was almost overwhelming. To explain further I have to set the scene so to speak...
For most of my adult life I looked for a sense of belonging and community in a variety of social settings and recreational contexts that never really delivered or sustained me as I had hoped they would. I remember they were entertaining, sweaty and sometimes mind numbing, but never really, if I am being honest, did they engender in me a strong sense of connection or belonging. Part of my own journey through depression and suicidal behaviours in my 20s and 30s was around my inability to find or sustain connection or a deep sense of belonging...

So it's the day of the workshop, Zoe and I have configured the space to our liking - the Studio of the State Theatre Centre of WA - Annette Eassie from CAN is here too providing support and marshalling. Our physiologist has arrived in case any of the participants are in need to support. All that remains is for the workshop attendees to arrive. And they do. As luck would have it they enter the dim space of the studio one by one, making their way down the aisle past the empty seats and onto the stage where we have the tables set up.

One by one I look into the eyes of each participant and welcome them to the workshop. I do not know anything about them except the context for their being here. I have never met any of these 24 people before. But I am looking into their eyes and they are looking directly back into mine and the strongest feeling of being home washes over me. I know this. I can do this. I am home...

It has to do with suffering and empathy. That's the best I can surmise at this point. I had the strongest feeling of being where I need to be of belonging or maybe of some kind of kindred spirit. That hasn't happened that often in my life and it was a shock. A good one but kind of shocking no less. 

Needless to say the hour and a half flew by and by the end there was the sense of a great journey undertaken by a room full of brave and generous souls and also of a pretty fine start made and what else can we do? Couldn't we do this more often? How many other places could we do this?

Walking back up those dim stairs in the studio with Zoe after everyone had gone I felt drained but sort of elated. "That was really something, huh?" "Sure was."

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