"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong" Joseph Chilton Pearse, American author.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Do Not Disturb - Demons Sleeping (Diary Entries)

July 1997:
We finally set off on the family summer holiday to France.  The children were just about young enough not to be embarrassed in the company of their parents but old enough to appreciate the beautiful sights and sounds of both Paris and the Cote d'Azur.   The holiday was everything you could hope for, blue skies, warm sunshine, good food, Disney rides, the perfect vacation.

It was during the Paris leg of our trip that I began to withdraw into myself and my husband had to increasingly take over the domestic end of things.  The children were having a ball and hopefully didn’t notice the growing  change in my demeanour.  I was no longer preparing the meals (we were staying in an apartment) or rinsing out our small pieces of laundry.  Existing from hour to hour was becoming exhausting.

Finally, one warm sunny afternoon while walking along one of the many beautiful Parisian streets I emotionally collapsed and broke down.  While my husband walked ahead with the children (presumably to prevent them witnessing my distress) I dragged myself along, tears streaming down my face, not caring about the passers-by who by then were probably staring sympathetically at me.   Nothing existed outside of my tortured soul.

Shortly before leaving Paris I had a dream where I was in a long black tunnel, squashed by huge iron claws and feeling the excruciating pain rack every inch of my body.

On my return from France I had a very strong urge to give this dream sequence a physical entity so on waking the following morning I drew my image of the dark tunnel which I named “Birth Tunnel”.

Less than a week back home I had my weekly psychotherapy session with my now late therapist, Alan.   The depression which I had sunk into over the past couple of months had by this time deepened but was now also accompanied by a heightened state of anxiety.

It was during the hour long session that I became quite distressed.   Crying during my sessions was nothing new but this time there was a rawness to my distress that never really existed before.  I cried in despair, shouted, thumped the walls with my fist in anger, then sat shaking, terrified I was going completely mad.  I begged Alan to help me.  He very gently suggested I should be admitted for a short while to a clinic where I could have complete rest away from life’s hectic schedule.  He then phoned my GP and explained to him my fragile state of mind.

Later in the evening my husband phoned Alan to discuss my situation with him.  He wasn’t keen on the idea of me entering a clinic, he didn’t feel it was necessary but Alan explained the necessity for me to have care with possibly short term medication to help calm me and get me through this particularly difficult time.

At around 10.00am the following morning I went to my doctor who arranged my admission to the hospital where, he assured me I would be very comfortable as it was a small private hospital whose decor was more hotel than clinic.   Later, he phoned to say I was expected at around 2.00pm.

I arrived at the single story building around 2.00pm feeling totally lost and confused.......

As a result of the heavy sedation which I received over the first three days (standard procedure) I don’t remember much of my nine day stay.  However, I do intend at some point to document the snippets which have remained with me to try and establish an overall picture of daily life in a psychiatric hospital.

© Ann Brien 2013

Above image:  Me, sometime in 2011


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mountain Mine

My very first visit to the beautiful, rugged landscape of Allihies in the Beara Peninsula, West Cork was back in June 2001.  That was a family holiday with hubby, our two boys and Sandy, our much loved golden labrador, who sadly is no longer with us.

Each trip into the village with the sight of Mountain Mine towering high above us filled me with a sense of dread as I imagined the men and boys working deep within its mine shafts.  Apart from the obvious dangers associated with this perilous work the thought of being buried so deep underground terrified me beyond belief.

Nine years later, hubby and I returned to the same holiday home, the boys by now having moved out and Sandy well settled in doggy Heaven.   (Posts relating to this return visit can be viewed on my other blog, JOURNEYS THROUGH TIME under the label, "Allihies"). This time, walking beneath that massive structure didn't conjure up the same terror for me as it had back in 2001.  In fact, I was so intrigued by its amazing history that I wanted to encounter it at closer quarters, so, in October 2010, hubby and I climbed the steep pathway that would eventually lead us to Allihies' most imposing landmark, the Man Engine House.  So deeply affected was I by the terrible loss of life, especially the boy who drowned in Caminches Mine that some days later I wrote this little piece.

Mountain Mine

Across West Cork's Allihies landscape
Turquoise nuggets peer out from their scattered burial grounds
Shining remnants from a dark industrial past

High above the grazing sheep and florid dwellings
Like the sentry keeping guard
Stands majestic Mountain Mine
The Man Engine House
Its skeletal frame with brick chimney stack
Looms tall against the evening sky

Wild winds carry the warning cries of long-dead miners
Not to venture further
One foot across its chain linked fence
And you've arrived
Where certain death awaits
Within the gaping mouths
Of hungry shafts

Before I leave this well-walked ground
I pray God's light may shine
On those four men and boy-child
Who perished deep within Caminches Mine
With inward gesture
I place a lighted grave lamp upon their silent tomb

© Ann Brien 2013

Above images at Mountain Mine, Allihies taken by hubby and I in October 2010


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Comparing Moving House To Death Of A Loved One

I was not prepared for the deep sadness I would feel when our family home eventually went up for sale.  I knew it would be difficult leaving the house where our children grew up after a lengthy stay of thirty four years but nothing was harder than that first viewing when people I'd never met before began walking through our rooms, of course by then, I'd made myself scarce, the estate agent taking care of everything.  As the weeks are passing it's becoming more painful to see the people arrive, not knowing their comments, if complimentary or disparaging.

I know now what I am feeling is grief, very similar in ways to what I felt at losing close family members and that might seem very strange.  The rollercoaster of emotions is the same.  One minute, everything is fine then, bang, the tears start and you feel your heart being dragged out of your chest.  Yes, saying goodbye is never easy.

Comparing Moving House To Death Of A Loved One

The grief is much the same
Half-hour interval waves of choking sobs and held-in breath
Afraid of what the next out-breath might hold.

Your creation is not of flesh and blood
No bone or sinew
No soul to pray for when your brick walls crumble
Yet within your concrete breast resides more life than sometimes found on busy thoroughfares.

You feel pain too
You sensed my decision to leave you in the care of total strangers
Long before the agent's banner was driven through your landscaped heart.

I walk your rooms
Pass shadowy memory ghosts
Their stale breaths carrying accusations of, deserter! deserter!

I cannot and must not abandon you to the uncertainty of ownership
I pray your tenants will be worthy of you
I pray you will once again absorb the sound of childrens' laughter
And your creaking boards will become familiar footsteps to be avoided.
I pray, I pray.

This grief like an iron dumbbell weighs heavy in my heart.

© Ann Brien 2013

Above image via:  http://mariondigre.blogspot.com


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mistaken Identity

I wrote these words a little over a year ago while sipping coffee in the Irish Film Institute cafe, Eustace Street, Dublin.  I did see a young girl approach a gentleman but he was not the person she was looking for.  Perhaps she was meeting this man for the first time, a kind of blind date and didn't recognise him but it instantly reminded me of the well-known TV commercial for a certain optician.

Mistaken Identity

Roused from his dreamy wonderings
His eyes searched the intruder of his thoughts
She stood before him smiling
Awaiting his focus to fully establish her presence
A brief holding of gazes
Then she was gone

© Ann Brien 2013

Above image via:  www.guvenisg.com


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ann Brien Poetry Readings on YouTube

Just a quick note to tell you that you can now hear my poems being read by me up on YouTube.  I decided to try this after several people recently asked if I'd done any readings so as I haven't yet been brave enough to expose my writings to the public in general I thought this might be the first way to introduce them to a wider audience.  Any feedback, positive or negative, would be very much appreciated.  Hope you enjoy them.

Ann Brien Poetry Readings on YouTube


Friday, March 22, 2013

A Childhood Scene (Essay)

I am remembering a Christmas past, not for the usual activities associated with this festive season, but simply for a most truly memorable stroll taken by myself and the family dog, Scamp, through a beautiful snow-covered Ringsend Park.

It is a couple of days into the New Year of 1963 and just another few days remain of the school holidays. At this stage, time is moving in what almost feels like slow motion.

"Oh well, why should today be any different from the rest?" I think to myself as I lazily drag my tired body out of its warm nest. Having pulled the blankets and old overcoat back up over the bed to keep the heat in I move towards the window to see what the day has to offer.

A magnificent sight greets my eyes. Overnight there has been a heavy fall of snow. Our avenue resembles a scene from one of those old-time Christmas cards depicting images of snow-covered roofs, smoke swirling from tall chimney pots etc.  "Today will not be like any other day" I decide. With that thought in mind I quickly dress and hurry downstairs. After a warm breakfast Scamp and I set off on our travels to our beloved park, her favourite playground.

As I approach the gates I see before me a beautiful vision. Overnight, our park has been transformed into a snowy wonderland. There is not a soul in sight and as I walk along the sound of crunching snow beneath my feet is pure music to my ears. I begin to imagine I'm in another world. A world where no human beings exist, nobody to put me down or hurt me. Yes, here I can feel safe and happy. Scamp is having a good time too. She barks and rolls around and sniffs the snow for any juicy tit bits that might be lurking beneath.

Now I decide to build a snowman. Having rolled enough snow to make the body and head I set about putting him together. I want him to look happy so I carve out a large smiling mouth, turning it up at both ends. "He does look jolly" I decide as I stand back to admire my creation.

I remain in my winter paradise for quite a while after that, allowing my mind to wonder and absorb the great beauty which lies all around me. The already grey skies now begin to grow even darker as I make my way back home.I will always remember that morning. It is one of the magic moments of my childhood.

Above image taken by me in June 2005


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lady in the Bath

These words are based on a dream I had back in September 1993.  During that period I documented many dreams all of which were extremely vivid and at times, disturbing.   It was a time when my mind was quite distracted by grief following the death of my dear brother-in-law the previous year.  The cracked paint perhaps in some way mirrored my fragmented thoughts.

Lady in the Bath

The room is long and narrow
At the far end a window faces the claw foot bath
Wherein a cream-skinned lady
Reclines neck-high in rose-bud water
Her black hair draping the porcelain like a sacred alter cloth.

The walls, once vintage green
Now pockmarked by chipping
Resemble an acne-ravished face.

Slowly, the bath tilts backwards
She doesn't bat a damp eyelid
No sensation of crashing through floors
As her womb-like cocoon plummets through emptiness
Above, the lift floor moves further and further away.

The dream evaporates.

© Ann Brien 2013

Above image via:   http://www.davidmaisel.com


Friday, March 1, 2013

A Good Office Job! (Essay)

I was just under thirteen years old when I had my first typing lesson. I'd become a student for a year in the Holy Faith Convent School in Clarendon Street, Dublin and the reason I got to do typing was because shortly after I started the term I developed pneumonia and so missed out on a lot of class subjects particularly algebra. As I was hopeless at even basic arithmetic it was decided I should enter the typing class while my other classmates slogged at maths. I was thrilled!

To this day I remember the teacher drumming into us the "home" keys of the typewriter from which you moved onto every other letter. (See image above)

As I'd taken to the typing like a duck to water my parents were delighted as they always wanted me to have "a good office job" as they described it. I would be set up for life, I'd meet people from an educated background and hopefully one day marry one of them! After Clarendon Street I spent two years in the School of Commerce and Retail Distribution, 18 Parnell Square which now houses the Dublin Writers Museum.

It was there I excelled at the old typing coming first in every exam much to the horror of my fellow classmates who felt I had an unfair advantage having already had one year's experience behind me. Maybe they were right!

In the summer of 1967 I began my working career firstly as a clerk typist using a typewriter that would now be considered by the young as an ancient relic. It was an old Remington similar to the image above.

Over the course of four years I belted out letters, statements of accounts, credit notes and receipts on that sturdy monster of a writing machine that sometimes left you with aching fingers as a result of the sheer physical effort required to hit each key. Other drawbacks were having to change the spool ribbon when it wore out and if you hit the wrong letter the only way to erase the mistake was by using a piece of Tippex paper inserted behind the thingy that the key struck against. Hitting the key against the paper removed the offending letter whereupon you then typed the correct letter. God, how time-consuming!

The following five years saw me working as a book-keeper (what was I thinking?) for various establishments but thankfully for the final seven years of my working life I was back at the old keyboards again. This time it was an up-to-date twentieth century machine, an IBM electric golf ball typewriter, later to be replaced by the IBM self-correcting (one letter at a time if I remember correctly).

Looking back now I often wonder how us office workers managed without our high powered computers. I suppose like everything else, what you didn't have you didn't miss. You just got on with it.

Above image via www.typewriterhousecollector.com


Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Country Life (Essay)

My adoptive mother came from Co. Meath so every year, up until I was sixteen, we would spend the first two weeks of August (that's when my father had his holidays as he worked in the building trade) down the country in her wonderful old cottage where she and her many brothers and sisters were born. Two of those siblings, a brother and sister still lived there.

During those two weeks, plus a few days over a Christmas now and again, I would be transported to another world. As I had no brothers or sisters to distract me I was free to give full reign to my imagination, I was queen of my castle with my parents, aunt and uncle, my servants. I remember one time when all the hens were gathered together asleep I pretended I was a teacher and they were my pupils!

One day when I was about five years old I almost ran off with a travelling family. They used to pass by every so often in their beautifully coloured horse-drawn caravans. On this particular occasion they stopped by the gate where I'd been standing and invited me to look inside their "home" which of course I was only too eager to investigate. As soon as I was inside they immediately took off. I wasn't in the least bit upset probably because previously I was used to moving from family to family. The same can't be said of my poor mother who by then was chasing frantically after the speeding caravan! Happily, I was returned safely to the fold.

My most precious memories from those times are being woken up each morning by the cockerel, walking with the whole family along the quiet country road to 8.00am Mass on Sunday mornings, being almost hypnotised by the sound of the buzzing bees on a lazy sunny afternoon, walking with my Dad in the evenings and hearing the crickets in the ditch, also in the evening listening to the wood pigeon, watching the sun set, lying in bed at night listening to my parents and aunt and uncle talking while the gap in their conversation was filled by the slow ticking of the grand mother clock above the fireplace. Life in the country was fine.

The above image which I took in 1969 shows the cottage with the porch extension added on a few years previously.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Return Journey

One morning last summer just moments after I'd woken up I was totally aware of hovering between that state where you begin to slowly move from unconsciousness into the waking world.  Already the day's ideas were invading that space.

Return Journey

In the stillness that precedes the first stirrings of wakefulness
Myriad thoughts flood the darkened chambers of my mind
Not yet focussed
Still dissolving the night's meanderings through ghostly dreamscapes
I struggle to shun the dawn light
Now creeping uninvited through patterned net curtains.

 © Ann Brien 2013

Above image: Sunrise via Wiki


Friday, February 15, 2013

The Big House

When I was a youngster sometimes I'd hear my father or someone else mention that such a person was in the "Big House" which years later I understood to mean he or she was a patient in a psychiatric hospital.  Back then people found and still are finding it difficult to discuss depression and mental illness in any form.  The hospitals were known as Lunatic Asylums for the Insane and other dreadful, frightening names, so no wonder we were scared at the very mention of them let alone the sight of them.

These institutions were huge granite or red brick buildings looming up within large high-walled areas usually containing a laundry, bakery, chapel and other smaller outbuildings. Three of our most famous Irish psychiatric hospitals, St. Brendan's Hospital (also known as Grangegorman and originally the Richmond Lunatic Asylum), St. Ita's Hospital (formerly Portrane Asylum) and St. Patrick's Hospital (originally St. Patrick's Hospital for Imbeciles) date back to between the mid-1700s and late-1800s, and, as some came into existence through either large donations from wealthy donors or Government grants, I'm sure only the finest building materials of the day were used in their construction. They've certainly withstood everything our Irish climate has thrown at them over the years, though some now are in the final stages of total disrepair.

In recent years it has been decided that these hospitals, both here in Ireland and further afield, no longer provide the proper environment or adequate accommodation required to meet the needs of the mentally ill.  Some patients are already in the process of being moved to other facilities, others, too elderly and frail both in mind and body to be disturbed, remain within the confines of what to them is home.

As a part of my research for an upcoming film in which I'll be playing a psychiatric patient I've been reading up on the care and sometimes barbaric treatments administered to patients in some of these grim institutions. At this point I hastily add not Irish ones although perhaps some of these too are not wholly exempt from blame.  I'm shocked to the core to discover the inhumane conditions these pure people had to endure in the name of healing. 

The following poem, part of which I wrote a couple of years back, is written from the viewpoint of a passer-by who has just walked through a psychiatric hospital ruins and is standing before the building questioning what really happened within its walls down through the ages. The hospital is purely fictitious.

The Big House

I stand before you asking
If your walls could speak
What horrors would they reveal.
You stare through sightless eyes
Your windowpanes once warmed by summer sun
Now shattered as the broken spirits of your long dead, forgotten inmates.

Your open doorways beckon from the storm
Creatures, winged and animal alike
As once they welcomed human souls in search of refuge from their demons.

Pills and potions were the menu of the day
And when chemicals alone could not mend the most broken minds
Temporal lobes were seared to exact the desired calm.

Your white-washed walls more befitting bovine habitation than human comfort
Now crumble piece by greying piece into the dust and fossilised bird shit.
On your few remaining iron beds manacles still dangle
Like the hanging Jesus on his Calvary cross
A grim reminder of freedom so cruelly denied.

Chimney stacks stand tall against the darkening sky
Two hundred years of desperate cries and splintered thoughts
Long carried on the wind.

Before they finally crush your wasted bones
Just let me say to those unfortunates who died within your walls
I'd like to think you left this world sensing someone cared.

No need now for barred windows for no one's left to flee your prison
Those still living seeking peace in new-found sanctuaries
Those no more at rest in dreamless sleep.

© Ann Brien 2013

Above image: St. Brendan's Hospital, Grangegorman, via Wiki.
Image used only to portray the poem's fictional hospital's state of disrepair.