This conference was an unexpected gift and one that I will value for a long time to come. I arrived in Swansea after a long journey on Thursday feeling squeezed and tired, and drove away on Saturday evening with a head bursting with stories, reinvigorated by the power of human connection, and with new and re-discovered narratives for my own life and work.
It is now two, nearly three, weeks on (I am embarrassingly late with this blog post) and I remain energised and inspired to broaden my work using writing in the field of health and storytelling.
Three performances have stayed fresh in my mind. I was mesmerised by STOLEN by the Devil’s Violin, a romping allegory of Daniel Morden’s cancer journey told with passion and vitality against a backdrop evocative string music; and
I no less affected by the strong and unambiguous patient voices that spoke out from Joseph Sobol’s Dispatches from the Other Kingdom and Karma Waltonen’s brazen comedy sketch about living with chronic pain.
At the Narrative Therapy Workshop in the wonderful reading room I used the tale of the Wizard King, and a method developed by therapists to help people to work through domestic violence and trauma, to rewrite the end of my own marriage and emerged as a wise and wonderful fairy godmother. In the same room David Alderson’s candid and haunting retelling of an operation gone wrong resonated with my own experience of a surgical bungle and revealed fresh perspectives.
The End of Life stories session stayed with me too and re-awakened a desire I have to work in this field. I can also recall the Pope and Feather joke that Dan Yashinsky shared with Milton’s wife as he lay dying – and I never remember jokes -- and the enchanting ceremony that he created with a patient called Ed to honour people’s lives in the storm of depression.
I wasn’t able to get to Jac Saorsa’s talk but was lucky to meet her when I went to see her Cancer Ward 12 exhibition one lunchtime and remain haunted by the strength in the face of a woman who had asked to be painted in her dying days.
My only disappointment was not to have been able to attend more sessions. This is a common experience at conferences with parallel sessions but never have I felt so torn on so many occasions, which is testament to the depth and richness of this wonderful event.
In particular, I would have loved to have heard Daniel Morden talk about the creation of STOLEN, to have taken part in the letter to the breath workshop and to have attended the session on Patient Stories.
Thank you so much to the organisers for their creativity and hard work.