Musical Inspiration

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I hate days like yesterday when, no matter what you do, you just don’t feel like writing. Even the thought of reading over stuff you’ve already written feels  exhausting. On days like these, I find that putting in my earphones and listening to some music always helps to get the juices flowing. It’s time-efficient; you can listen while doing the cleaning, and I spend the time daydreaming  about what my characters are going to do next.

Here are five of the songs that motivate me to do some writing:

  1. Pompeii – Bastille:

This is a song that my sister Alex introduced me to back in 2013, and it really struck a chord with me. At first it was painful to listen to because I associated it with her (she’s living in Australia and I miss her every day), but when I listened to the lyrics I realised that this song aptly encapsulates the message of my ‘novel’ – the notion of a society that is reluctant to change: (‘If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?’) Every time I hear it, I think of the Independent Living Movement and how it sometimes feels that we are getting no closer to achieving equality for disabled people.

   2. Talking ’bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman:

Thanks to my friend Orla, I’m still a shameless Tracy fan. Almost thirty years later, ‘Talking ’bout a Revolution’ is still as relevant as it ever was. Our government continues to create social divide and while we are all furious, we can’t seem to change anything; revolution in Ireland sounds ‘like a whisper’. My love affair with Tracy Chapman started shortly before I read To Kill a Mockingbird. and for me this song – and indeed all of her music – demonstrates the importance of denouncing discrimination. All of her music is slightly uncomfortable, and again reflective of a society that is slow to change.

3. Dear Mr President – Pink:

This song is so different from Pink’s usual ‘in your face’ style, which makes it even more poignant. Although the song is addressed to former President George Bush, it could also be directed at Donald Trump or even Enda Kenny (‘How do you feel when you see the homeless on the streets? … How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?’) The line ‘how do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?’ hits me every time as I think of all the women across Ireland who were forcibly separated from their babies over the last century (including the protagonist of my novel and her mother). A history that, in Ireland, we are still too embarrassed to talk about.

 

4. Just a Girl – No Doubt:

The tone of this song is slightly more upbeat – and more angry. It’s the ultimate feminist song, a call for women to be treated equally. It’s sarcastic from start to finish (‘don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?’ ‘I’m just a girl, guess I’m some kind of freak.’) It’s a song about being tired of being defined and controlled within a patriarchal society. And I can relate to how annoying this is (‘Oh I’ve had it up to here’).

 

5. Turning Tables – Adele:

This is an important song to me because the music and lyrics capture the relationship between Rachel (the protagonist of my story) and Sister Anthony (the antagonist). Anthony is Rachel’s carer but she abuses her power, and her words and actions mould Rachel into a person who believes she is worthless. As Rachel moves away from residential care, Anthony’s words continue to haunt her (‘under haunted skies I see you, and where love is lost your ghost is found’). Rachel needs to forgive Anthony her mistakes in order to move forward, but has built an emotional wall (‘I won’t let you close enough to hurt me’).

 

Admittedly, these aren’t the cheeriest of songs, but they really help to get the creative juices flowing. Don’t worry, I’ll use headphones, I promise.

 

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#mebeforeableism

 

This isn’t going to be a long blog post (I hope). It’s one of these posts that I’m writing solely to motivate myself to do a bit of writing, and to unblock my brain (apparently, ‘writer’s block’ does not exist; I attest otherwise).

There’s been a bit of a shitstorm online over the last few days about the film, Me Before You, which is based on a novel of the same name by Jojo Moyes. Disability Activists have been  blogging furiously, slamming the (mis)representation of disability both in the novel and the film. The disabled character, Will, has chosen to avail of assisted suicide in Switzerland because now that he is paralysed following a motorbike accident, he doesn’t think that life is worth living. And *spoiler alert*, that’s exactly what he does at the end of the novel.

Is it wrong that I want to slap a fictional character across the face and say, ‘Cop the f**k on. You have to use a wheelchair, but you’re not the only wheelchair user in the world. You’re only in your twenties. Ah here?’ Is it wrong to want to slap the other characters for not slapping him across the face?

Over the last few days I’ve read Extraordinary Lives, a book compiled and edited by the Irish Wheelchair Association’s Joanna Marsden (who also edits the Spokeout magazine, a quarterly publication issued by the IWA), which paints some interesting pictures of disability. All of these stories have one thing in common: each person strives to be integrated into a society which sees them as deviant. They challenged stereotypical notions of being disabled and set about removing barriers to integration. They excel, not in spite of their ‘impairments’, but in spite of a society that doesn’t always think they are capable. Many of these people were instrumental in advancing the Independent Living Movement in Ireland.

I’ve been an active member of the Independent Living Movement for almost ten years now, and I worked in the area of Independent Living for nearly seven of those. During this time I saw first hand my fellow disabled activists protesting against cutbacks to Personal Assistant Services. I witnessed the introduction of medical card charges, the cutting of the Household Benefit Package, the scrapping of the Christmas Bonus.

I also watched what was going on in the UK, and what continues to happen: disabled people being refused their Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) because they weren’t ‘disabled’ enough to qualify; people being forced onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) after being told they were ‘fit for work’ (even though it has transpired that some of these claimants died afterwards either from terminal illnesses or suicide); disabled people being portrayed as ‘scroungers’ because of the benefits they claim,
leaving them to become victims of hate crime.

It has been hinted that Leo Varadkar is going to bring in a similar system over here, despite the negative press it  has received in the UK. Well, good luck to you Leo. I know of so many disabled people who have openly declared themselves as being available for work, and yet still struggle to secure paid employment. I know others who can’t afford to work because they will lose their medical card, making earning money a futile exercise. And you can launch as many disabled employment schemes as you like, but what we really want is to be accommodated in a ‘normal’ working environment, and recognised for our skills rather than offered a tokenistic job for the sake of massaging the unemployment figures. (Many disabled people don’t show up on the live register because they are on Disability Allowance not Unemployment Benefit).

So going back to Me Before You. On one hand it is just a story written by an author, doing her job as a storyteller, telling the story of her characters, one of whom just so happens to have a spinal cord injury. Fair enough. On the other hand, the reaction to it from  the disabled community should highlight how frustrated many of us are as being portrayed by Hollywood as hapless victims with nothing real or tangible to offer those around us. it’s time for us to stand up and show that it’s not that we are not worthy to live in society but rather that society must adapt and accommodate not only our physical needs, but our emotional and social ones too. We must teach people that our impairments do not make us tragic, and to be comfortable around disability.

Me Before You was written by a non-disabled author. Let’s not be afraid to write our own story.

* I feel I should point out that I use the word ‘disabled’ to denote people who are disabled by the society they live in, not their individual impairments.

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A Marriage of Minds

Today, I will celebrate my thirteenth Valentine’s Day with the same person I spent my first Valentine’s Day with. I was eighteen and a complete introvert. I wasn’t in the ‘popular’ group in school, I kept very much to myself, and the only makeup I had was a stick of concealer I’d bought when I was sixteen (in fact, I think I may still have it somewhere). As I smeared it on my face in anticipation of my first ever Valentine’s date, I remember thinking that it would probably be my last, and crying silently in front of the mirror.

Why? Because I had done the unthinkable.

I had fallen in love. This made me feel extremely vulnerable.

I now know that it’s not a bad thing to fall in love with someone, but that wasn’t part of my original plan. When I was sixteen, I had no intention in getting involved in a long term relationship. My dream was, and still is, to become a writer, only I had envisioned a grottier existence with yellowing paperwork and a couple of cats thrown in for good measure. (Think crazy cat lady from The Simpsons). This is what I was working towards. A relationship would be nice, but probably unlikely, given that I was the biggest nerd/introvert in the world, ever. And believe it or not, the words ‘disability’ and ‘sexy’ are not together in the thesaurus.

The story of how JP and I met is embarrassingly cliché, in the disability world at least. I met my husband in a place called Clochan House. For those of you who don’t know where that is, it’s an uber-cool holiday centre with swimming pools, in the centre of Tullamore. (It is not, er, an extension of Tullamore hospital). When I walked in, there he was, quite simply the most handsome thing I had ever seen. He had the widest blue eyes and the gentlest features. And he was approachable, chatty and good-humoured. I knew then, that even if we did not get together, that my life would never be the same.­

It took nearly two years for me to gather the courage to ask him out. We were on a group holiday in another, more aesthetically pleasing respite centre. Having never asked someone out before, I poured my heart out to him like a gobshite. It was something like you’d see in a Disney movie if, after the princess declared her love for her prince, her beloved said ‘okay, let’s give that a go and see what happens’. Sooo romantic. I never wanted the ground to open up and swallow me as much as I did that day. But I’m still glad that I didn’t say something like ‘I want to get off with you’ as one friend suggested (though I’m pretty sure that’s what he heard).

The months that followed were awkward. On our fourth date to the cinema, my mum dropped me off. I had hoped she would stay in the car and do her embarrassing wave and then it’d be over, but no. Instead she walked up to JP outside the cinema, no hellos, no ‘I’m Sarah’s mum’, and said, ‘If you ever touch one hair on my daughter’s head I will hunt you down like a dog and kill you’ and walked off. JP had been holding my hand and he quickly withdrew it. Then we sat in the cinema, side by side, not touching or talking. We didn’t have a date again until before Christmas 2002. This was October. We didn’t even talk over the phone at this stage; all communication was via text. One Saturday, the toe-rag had the balls to come over from Laois to Tullamore after cancelling yet another date, and he later confessed by text! ‘I’m sorry, I’m nervous’, he said. My reaction did nothing to calm these nerves!

After Christmas 2002, the casual relationship turned serious very quickly. It was the year of my Leaving Cert, and from the outside it may seem like the worst time for a teenager to be in a super-serious relationship, but for me, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was studying relentlessly, killing myself physically and emotionally, and were it not for JP coming down every weekend, I would have ended up in a hospital. We made each other laugh, we liked the same music, we would talk long into the night/morning (sometimes these were like Ross/Rachel style conversations, the ‘where are we?’ conversations). He told me in these early days that he could see us getting married. The closeted cat-lady in me was looking for the nearest exit. In the strangest of twists, he’s the loving, dedicated partner while I’m the commitaphobe.

JP and I did a lot of growing up together. We went out a lot, as young ones do, especially when in the company of mutual friends. My favourite memory is our first holiday alone together to Blackpool, where we stayed in a B and B around the corner from the beach. Of course we totally underestimated how much money we’d need (plus the bank robbed us for each ATM transaction), meaning that we had £10 by the Monday of our holiday. And we weren’t going home till the Wednesday. To my disappointment, I found kicking the wall beside the ATM didn’t help.

So, let me tell you about my husband. JP is quite possibly the most generous guy I’ve ever met, not just financially but in terms in thoughtfulness too. I remember for our first Christmas together, he got me a white gold chain, a beanie teddy and a couple of CDs. I had got him a digital alarm clock. I don’t think he was impressed.

JP is (well, was) a serious Garth Brooks fan. ‘Unanswered Prayers’ is his favourite song. He always wanted to see GB live in Dublin. I’m sure the irony that this particular song is his favourite did not escape him in July 2014.

JP is anal about two things. Firstly, the ‘Coffee-sugar-tea’ containers must be in that order and facing out. Secondly, the dining chairs must be pushed in neatly when not in use. Sometimes, I deliberately leave them out or swap the containers around to mess with his head.

Working sometimes late hours means that JP sometime ends up watching crap on telly to unwind, such as ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘Road Wars’. Well, that’s his excuse for watching them anyway.

JP is the romantic one in the relationship, and I’m the one who laughs at any clichéd attempts at romance.

I am very thankful that John Paul Fitzgerald came into my life and I know how lucky I am to have someone to share all of life’s adventures with. While I’m particularly grateful that he has given us our beautiful daughter, I will always love him for who he is and will always admire him for his blunt honesty and his dedication to me, our marriage and our family.

Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. Sorry about the embarrassing blog but I couldn’t fit all of this into a card XXXXXX