Magical thinking and Panto

Columbine and Harlequin

As a seven year old I danced the part of Columbine in a school panto, I have memories both of finding the masked Harlequin boy rather scary and choosing the material for the costume, white taffeta, with violet flower trimmings.

The fairly recent field of study into childhood memory has reported the improbability of adults being able to access memories of events prior to them being ‘age three, or few between three and six’

Some early childhood memories appear to me, partly tales we tell ourselves and part family rhetoric, often when I’ve read memoirs which include early childhood experience I’m struck by the amazing clarity of the author’s recall of events which they present as facts, mine are generally rather hazy, although I do have a fleeting image  of watching the Queens coronation, 1953, on a neighbours TV, I would have been three, another ‘event’ when aged 4/5, where I snapped the lovely pearl beaded  trim from a favourite dress, my recall of the material’s  colour, pattern and feel, seem clear, neither event huge traumatic incidents, why remember them, why now?

It is commonly thought that as you get older you recovery earlier memories in ‘detail’ whereas you can’t always remember what happened earlier in the day! Stress and depression also appear to negatively affect memory regardless of age.

Sadly some children experience trauma and abuse of an extreme nature during their tender years and the imprint on their mind, can not be denied, neither can its impact on their later emotional and mental outlook or recall, my brother traumatised in a number of ways from a very young age claimed to have pre and perinatal memory,  research indicates it may be possible,

My childhood, was far from helpful in aiding me flourish in several aspects of my development and well being,  one quirky thing about it was Mum discouraged me  reading many fairy stories, I had the impression she thought they were nonsense, her quest for ‘truth’ led her to over expose me to stories from scripture, portraying them as factual, some might argue these were equally as make believe as the former.  l went on to learn the traditional children’s stories at nursery and junior  school.

The  doctrinal beliefs  of mum’s religion used the Christmas celebration, with it’s ‘pagan’ trappings surrounding the  ‘real’ meaning. Jesus symbolic birth date, as a chance to distance themselves from mainstream religion.The magical gift giving personage of Santa Claus, was similarly considered nonsensical and fanciful.

People often feel sorry for kids raised in this way as though they ‘miss out’, however since they socialise with others who uphold the same beliefs they have a chance to feel ‘normal’, a lot depends also on how their parents promote the child’s self confidence and personal conviction, it aided me to have the courage not to be afraid  to be different, stand up for what I thought was right, I think that helped me to speak openly about my mental ‘breakdowns’ when they happened as an adult.

The mental and emotional sifting of ‘breakdown’ also enabled me to embrace some aspects of other belief systems and magical thinking. I had already, when I became a mum, re- discovered the the value of children’s stories and rhymes, things I had long forgotten, these returned sufficiently to sing or tell them to my daughter, bringing her up in a culture where little western literature was available,most of my story telling came from memory, she  loved the story of Cinderella. Although not considering myself part of any wave of Feminism, that story went against every grain of my  thought and experience as a woman. therefore I found it hard to relate it every night, on return to this country, pantomime proved an enjoyable and new adventure for us both. where else can you relieve pent up emotion in such a fun way? a good boo, hiss and stamping of feet I find very therapeutic.

Now of grandma age but not yet with the pleasure of grandchildren, I find myself drawn toward children’s stories and rhyme. Occasionally I child sit, it’s delightful seeing the youngster’s pleasure at reading books, watching fantasy film or playing  ’round and round the garden’ or similar games.

My patchy knowledge of fairy tales became apparent whilst writing a small ‘creative’ piece in which I described myself as an ice maiden, an after thought, perhaps I meant snow queen.

Snow Queen

I had the vague idea they both stood outside the stereotypical image of female characterisation, and that’s what I had intended, a brief look at Wikipedia clarified the difference of their characters……Ice Maiden – a comic book super heroine ‘her greatest ability is to become very cold and create ice armor in times of great stress. Her powers are closely linked to her mental state’, the Snow Queen is less altruistic and complex in her behaviour.

A few days later while visiting someone with an eight year old girl, the 2001 version of ‘Snow White: The Fairest of them all’,came on tv, the mum and grandma present were equally as enthralled as the kid, I was for a while. It didn’t seem to be true to the version I knew, it had a much darker interpretation  and seemed in dispersed with themes of the splintered mirror from the Snow Queen story, while it led me to read a little of the theme of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, I came across another completely different story about two girls, Red Rose, Snow White and one dwarf!

Rose Red and Snow White

These stories are frequently about the struggle between good and evil, within and without ourselves and happy endings abound, after all they are primarily for children, for whom magical thinking gives  a way of living in the land of  real giants, their parents. who at times are kind and gentle, at others harsh and shrill. Although professionals recognise such thinking as normal in childhood, if it continues in to adulthood it may receive diagnosis  and treatment and is even recorded in the DSM as a symptom of mental illness, where is the borderline between ‘abnormal’ magical thinking and fantasy? I think my fantastical ‘journeys’ keep me sane!

One pantomime without a happy end  in sight, is called the ‘Five Giants of Widsi’ who afflict the poor with all kind of want and illness, curtailed for a while by the good fairy, Well Fair, let loose again by the Mistress of the Thatched Palace on Thames, the Third Way Downing Labourers and the Three Boyes Poshe of Minstyre D’ytat, who use the elves, Pip and Esa of Credite de Universiale, to further tighten the belts of humble folks throughout their Kingdom,…. Boo, Hiss and Stamp!

A previous discussion in the comments area of this  blog touched on the theme of ‘the personal as political’, hopefully,  2013 will give scope for contributors to comment on the ways they combat  injustices which have affected their mental health and how they mange to generally keep well. I recommend a trip to the Panto, going as a large group often attracts good discounts.


Mapping reality

The nearest thing to a holiday for me this year was a trip down memory lane! ……  my childhood. den making fun in the ‘jungle’ close by our house, was recalled when I went to see the film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. The above map is a  fictitious map created by the film’s director for his island setting of his story, which he chose to call New Penzance Island. The theme of the story is about two young teenagers who run away from home in New England to a nearby island, making camps with fires, plans and mapping is part of their adventure.

These memories probably influenced my choice to partake in the workshop, ‘Campfire on Wild Cat Island’ at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, this being one of a series of free events currently running there.

Although I’m a bit of a kid at heart, and the event was advertised as suitable for all ages, I thought I might feel foolish among a bunch of kids…..there wasn’t even one! plenty of crayons!……love them!

Dr.Z.Reed Papp, the facilitator and events organiser at the gallery, was extremely knowledgeable about subjects related to her field of study: literature, history and cartography, she presented her material so enthusiastically, conveying the theme in a non ‘stuffy’ way.. .

We were shown a copy of the medieval Mappa Mundi from Hereford Cathedral and asked to consider that no map, even such as Google earth can be a true representation of an area, to do so it would require it  to be the same size! A massive scale globe has been created in British Columbia but to no practical purpose.

The speaker then focussed on mapping in relation to fictional literature. Authors often choosing to  first create a map as a setting before composing their narrative, among them, Ransome’s, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the first edition manuscript which is part of the University’s, special collections, being made available for us to peruse and handle!; Milne’s, ‘Winnie the Pooh’; Tolkein’s, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and from more recently, the debut novel of Reif Larsen,  about a 12 year old boy cartographer, T.S.Spivet, ‘his’ web site with it’s sepia graphics, very imaginatively captures the setting in a US mining town called Butte,,_Montana. Holly Lisle writer of futuristic novels, is another current writer who uses map doodling as a preamble to writing her storylines, this idea appeals to me, however when it came to the practical part of the workshop, creativity eluded me. I went right back to the ‘frozen’ mode of childhood when asked to draw something, representing  reality was not my strongest point. Intriguingly it was during and following an episode of hospitalisation for an acute manic episode, I felt dis-inhibited enough to free up and produce something i was pleased with, this with the aid of the artist Bob Mills of Prescription Art.

My childhood reading was by design of my parents along more classical lines, not many children’s’ stories, although I had some exposure at school, I guess this explains my present desire to read them, maybe draw a few maps and stories of my own reality.

Mainstream attempts to ‘map’ other peoples emotional experience by using diagnostic tools such as the DSM can be fraught with similar limitations as attempting to build a  global map and could be seen as an exercise in defining reality. Medical diagnosis and treatment for emotional distress does not necessarily lead to the person’s well being.