Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Man Who Turned Into a Sofa

We have a bit of a motto in our family: “shit happens, and then you write about it.” It was devised in response to an intense two years of challenges (chiefly the combination of my spinal surgery and, twelve months on, my dad’s severe depression). Later, we joked about how such experiences become the foundation for stories, poems, articles... We dredge the dark stuff for material. There was (and is) a kind of compulsion to take all the crap and trauma, and shape it, trim it to fit into words. I guess that’s one of the things writers do – and I’ve grown up watching how my parents work.

I’ve been fortunate to live in a household built on books: lining the shelves, talked about over the table, written in order to pay the bills. It’s been an invaluable education – in appreciating the craft of a good sentence; in working as bloody hard as possible and then still needing to re-write multiple times; in editing and polishing and paring back; in knowing that publishing is a brutal industry that you can’t enter with any preconceptions. I’ve had a grounding in observing relentless (often unsuccessful) pitching and pragmatic approaches – although I’ve gone on to apply it in areas and industries my folks had no knowledge or experience of, or interest in. They’ve always written primarily for child/ young audiences, and neither of them has gone near fashion or journalism or essays/ opinion pieces. My own writing, so far, has been entirely separate from my parents.

Well, apart from this instance: we have collaboratively written a radio play that was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Weds September 17th at 2.15pm, titled ‘The Man who Turned into a Sofa.’ It’s a three-way piece, although remains essentially my mum’s project. A series of interwoven autobiographical monologues reflecting on dad’s depressive illness from our various perspectives, we all contributed initial written material that my mum then shaped and structured into a cohesive narrative. She’s done a stunning job (although I would say that). There are four voices – the man who is ill, his wife, his daughter, and the sofa that he sits on week in and week out, afraid to leave. Each of us also performed our own part, with actor Lorcan Cranitch providing the voice of the sofa. The music was composed by Will Goodchild and it was produced by Tim Dee.

Something we’ve discussed a lot as a family is the ripple effect of depression. Although there is a single individual at the centre, the one not sure how s/he will manage to make it through each day, those around the edge also bear the weight of that illness. Suddenly the person you love is altered, made strange. If the episode of illness is lengthy, then it’s like adjusting to a temporary bereavement – one where a cut-out image, an outward semblance of that person remains, but everything else recognisable is gone.

There’s a small irony in the fact that on the day my parents met, some 24 years ago, my flamboyant father walked into the school my mum was teaching at wearing a suit made out of colourful sofa/upholstery fabric: his performance garb. He charmed the pupils and my mum alike. I have a photo of him in this outfit in one of my many scrapbooks. When I was about 14, I captioned it with, “Let me just slip into something a little more comfortable – oh, I already have: a sofa!”

Little did I know what a prescient (and sad) statement that would prove to be. He was unable to leave the sanctuary of our sofa in the living room for months after he returned from hospital. It was the unlikely lynch-pin of our days, both integral and oppressive. Following his long, slow recovery, when my mum began piecing together a patchwork of monologues for a play, she realized that there were more than the three central characters – she needed to write an additional voice. And there it sat, constant, both set and player: “All seeing. All hearing. I wear grey wool with the felted feel of old school blazers.”

Now that wool is welcoming to all again – covered in cushions and rugs and the detritus of each day. What was once a place of refuge for my dad and of absence for us, has been long re-claimed.  I’m sitting on that very sofa to write this.

I thought it would be appropriate to dress in the colours of the sofa - grey (with red accessories). The cape (from a charity shop at a festival some years ago) is made from almost exactly the same fabric as the sofa.
"Greyness" is also a word used by some to describe aspects of depression, as though colour has been leached.  
Everything else I'm wearing is second hand/ vintage. My mum and I even managed to find a location yesterday that vaguely resembled some kind of blasted heath. 

Here is the link to the radio play on iPlayer. It's available to listen to until Wednesday 24th September. 

You can also read a review of it in The Spectator here, where it was described as "so powerful, so economical, so completely honest, each of the characters laying themselves bare, without pretence or excuse".  



Stephanie Gille said...

Incredible look!
Great styled.

LandGirl1980 said...

Just add the play to my recording list - cannot wait to hear it.

Sofie Marie said...

I love these outfit photos, but even more so your writing. Very impressively preened and twined, beautifully worded.It is also wonderful how you've brought these bits and pieces together- living in a family of writers, your own very personal family issues, depression, funny memories and a sofa. Also an important piece of writing, I think many people will relate to- I certainly do, having watched close ones suffer with their mental health.

I will make sure to listen out for it on radio 4 :)

Willow said...

I can hardly even imagine how horrific your dad's depression must have been for your family, but it is just so wonderful and inspiring to see you all channelling that experience and pain into something so creative. A big (and very well deserved) "CONGRATULATIONS!!!" to you, your mum, and your dad.

I looked up your play, and can I just say that you and your parents have EXCELLENT names - especially for writers. Your mum's (gloriously alliterate) name really suits her.

Stunning, poignant reflections on depression both here and in 'Swimming and Spinning' (which I am off to reread after commenting here, even though it will probably make me cry - again). The play must be amazing, I can't wait to listen to it if I can. Once again, a huge, resounding "CONGRATULATIONS!!!" to you all. xx

PS Your family's motto is bizarrely similar to something that I have been saying this past year and a half: I will either say "if shit hits the fan, write about it", or "well, if all goes to shit, at least I've got something to write about" (even though my writing is a bit clunky and marrow-less, it's still one of the most effective ways for me to reflect and come to terms with things).

Closet Fashionista said...

1. That cape is AMAZING!!!
2. I wish my family had a motto.
And wow, what an accomplishment! If only I lived in the UK so I could watch.

Vix said...

How exciting! Having had the great pleasure of meeting your wonderful parents I shall be glued to the radio.
Love your grey cape - the most glamorous sofa I've ever seen. xxx

Ivana Split said...

I would very much love to see the show! I think it is wonderful how you all worked on it as a team- your mum linking it all. Depression is certainly a very serious thing, I don't think people realize how it really feels like ... how hard it is to struggle against it, almost like trying to move a mountain with you bare hands.

Interesting how you say that your mum was charmed by what your dad was wearing- I was just thinking how strong are our child memories and that in some ways our parents are our original fashion role models. I remember one occasion when my mum walked in the class( I was perhaps 9 or 10 years old) - the tallest most beautiful women wearing a long emerald green maxi skirt that had some kind of lace detail at the bottom. All the other children commented on it- I can't remember exactly how but unfavorably, I think it was the lace detail that was bothering them- but their comments only seemed to strengthen my opinion that was the most fabulous thing she ever put on!

Your inscription on that photo of your father feels somewhat bittersweet- it's funny but in the view of depression it is noting of the sort.

Likewise, I was going to say how much I love your outfit but now when I've read your text- I don't perceive it in a visual way anymore and it is impossible to comment on it as on any outfit...the image of it is mixed with sadness... perhaps because of it more powerful!


Mandy Bajwa said...

amazing outfit and blog!!


daisychain said...

Oh what exciting news, I can't wait to have a listen! x

Melanie said...

I look forward to hearing the play, probably the iPlayer version. To take that experience and transform it into art is a wonderful thing for your family and your audience. To have the family talent to do so is even more remarkable.
Your "sofa" is pure luxury, and the minimal, expansive backdrop is a perfect reminder that we need space to focus.

Lola Byatt said...

Congratulations to you and your family, I'm hoping this will be avail as a podcast. I love your family's strategy of using writing to unload, I've kept a diary since I was 10 but I am far too conscious now and lost the carefree way that I was accustomed to writing which I feel sad about. I have adored reading your words and I look forward to hearing the "the man who turned into a sofa", i'll probably visit the site tomorrow now. I must have just missed it today as I tuned in at around 4 today


Theresa said...

Beautiful photos -- you look like you're on a moor in the middle of nowhere.

Can't wait to hear the radio play.

Angela Young said...

The Man Who Turned into a Sofa is the most extraordinary and extraordinarily moving, poetic, beautifully-written-and-acted play. I had to stop my car to listen to the end - couldn't bear the idea of missing anything when I arrived back at my house.

I'm going to recommend it to Pick of the Week and I hope it's broadcast again and again and again - it deserves to be for its truthful portrayal of that difficult-to-define and even-more-difficult-to-live-with disease, depression.

CONGRATULATIONS to all of you.

Nihal Hirani said...

100% agree

Pilgrim at Kerjacob said...

Listened yesterday afternoon.
You are a wonderful family and I especially like that you have not tried to hide this problem which so many of us have suffered from to various degrees.
How lucky also to have sushi supportive friends.


Willow said...

Rosalind, I have just listened to the play/poem/absolute work of art and it is just amazing. I am so, so sorry about what you all went through, huge respect to you and your family. I got goosebumps and brain tingles (do you ever get those? When you see/hear something powerful? A sensation at the back of your head?) from you and your parents' words. I just sat with my eyes closed and absorbed. It was so moving; I was tearful first from sadness and then happiness at the end. God, it was just so amazing. I actually want to listen to it again - I think I will! So amazing.

Katie Antoniou said...

Can't wait to listen to it. My husband has depression so I know how much it effects everyone around the sufferer. So glad your family handled it so well. xxx

MIS PAPELICOS -Mis P said...

The whole creative family reminds me so much or the Brontë family.
Sometimes you have to know how a glass soul feels to understand others.
Thank you to all of you


Oh how marvellous! I just had a listen on the BBC.
I am always stunned by your detailed style in your writing. Your mum also did a topnotch job with the play/poem. Well done! The grey ensemble is a perfect pairing--so fitting with the interpretation and environment.

Natalie Suarez said...

aww roz! I miss you already! And I really hope your dad gets well soon!

I'm going to send you the images I shot of you in London soon! Miss you babe, can't wait to hang again! x


Izzy DM said...

Have I already missed two of your essays? My goodness! Along with your writing, your discipline is inspiring as well. This month is flying by, even when it inches-- the rehearsal schedule has been brutal, tech week was referred to as "hell week", but performing has been wonderful and making new, talented friends who are SO excited to go to karaoke with me (instead of being dragged). Speaking of performing, I was completely blown away by this play. I didn't get to listen to the whole thing-- I had my own deadlines to make last night, trying to keep myself on a writing schedule even while doing this play/ caring for my toddler-- but I listened for about half, and would love to hear the rest if it's available again. Starting September 28, I'll have a lot more time! That said, I feel as if you're my own British Glass family that I've discovered, referring to Salinger's wildly talented and brilliant Glass family just in case that doesn't translate across the Atlantic :). Is he as revered to the point of ridiculousness over there as he is here? I think the first voice in the radio play was your mum's, right? At first, I thought from your description on Twitter or Insta that you were performing the first few minutes, and it almost brought tears to my eyes, because you sounded so mature and grown up. It's like I've been watching you grow up, since I've started following your blog so assiduously a couple years now, isn't it? Yes, because it was before the baby when I found your page, and she's almost two now! Anyway, then I got to the part where it was definitely you describing your journey back and forth from school to home, and breathed a sigh of relief. I could still recognize your voice from hearing you read your poetry, but I could hear you in your mum's voice and vice versa. Still a relief that though time is passing, it's not that quickly. Still, you and your mum have the same utterly, unfairly gorgeous intonation that is your birthright, you Brits :). That aside, what also struck me was a certain quality of description, a sensitivity to imagery, and careful, beautifully wrought detail that your mum and dad, too, have passed on to you. Perhaps you write about different things, but you have the gift of their voices, and it's a beautiful thing to hear the world through your words, spoken or written.
Izzy xx

Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Oh my dear, this photo shoot is just SO FUCKING PERFECT! (I'm sorry, I'm spanish and sometimes I need the bad words to express my feelings hehehe). I love the outfit by it self, but I love it so much in combination with the atmosphere of the background. It gives me a strong feeling of timeless and loneliness, but in a positive way, like if you were a witch that just appeared there. Strong, solid and powerful in the middle of an empty nature.
I love grey, but I love even more the olive green-grey of the boots. They are so elegant. And you have the elegancy inside of you.


Love and kisses.


claire pepper said...

Gorgeous photos Roz!
I listened to the play earlier this week and thought it was really powerful. You clearly have a very special and honest relationship with your parents and although it must have been a horrific time I think your take on it will be so helpful to others x

Melanie said...

Hands around crockery and tea and cake have never been so joyous - except for maybe a swim as you take photos. I just listened to your family's translation of a dark time into this moving, timeless piece.

© Rosalind Jana | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig