Thursday, 8 February 2018

Women's Words Matter - Essay

Women's Words Matter 
Alex Keelan 
I have started this story so many times, I wanted to show you all my best bits, like a writers' selfie, I kept trying to get the angle right, to put the best filter on, but it was all a bit false and soulless. Not representative of my messy, sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful story.  
I am a writer, over the past 10 years I have (slowly) worked towards building a career as a writer, making writing my work.  This has been a lovely and very unexpected twist in my story, I didn't have any aspirations to be a writer as a child, I wasn't like one of those people you see on X-Factor, I didn't start writing in the womb, in fact, I didn’t start writing until I was in my mid-twenties Up until this point I use to regularly tell people that I was not creative at all!   I didn't think writing belonged to me, over the years, I've often told myself I hadn't read enough books, I hadn't read the right books, I wasn't clever enough and my stories didn't matter. It's true, I didn't grow up reading, I spent most of my childhood riding my bike (often in my beloved roller boots) I was pretty crap at spelling and grammar and I didn't go to the theatre until my twenties. These are however, just some of the sticks I use to beat myself with, to feed my fear, to silence my voice.   
I wanted to spend my 1000 words taking about a wonderful essayProfessions of a Woman by Virginia Woolf  that she read at the National Society of Professional Women in 1931, how that essay, written so long ago, spoke to me about writing and being a woman and how the judgements we face can silence our voices. It was going to be so good, about how it inspired me to write a play (Angel of The House) about a care worker from Manchester and how she found her voice thanks to the women that had gone before her. 
Angel of the House was about a young mum, from Manchester, working as a carer that had, up until the second act, never considered what she wanted from her life, what her dreams were, what she did and didn't like. Women are still expected to take on the majority of caring responsibilities in our society and it leaves little time for creative endeavors, little time for experimenting with your voice, making mistakes, writing a load of rubbish then salvaging a gem of a line from it, a little seed you can plant and grow your next story from. 
 It really was going to be a brilliant story but then I thought no, I'm going to share one of the most embarrassing nights of my life instead.  
Whilst working as the Women's Officer for Manchester City Council, I met the amazing singer song writer, Claire Mooney at thWomen's Awards. Inspired by Claire's performance, I told her I wrote a bit of poetry.  Claire asked me what kind of poetry and I said, apologetically, it's a bit political to which she replied "great, want to perform at a gig I've got on next month?" Fast forward to me, coat on, standing in a room above a pub in Levenshulme, half way through a rant (poem) about David Cameron, I went completely blank, I couldn't remember a thing, as I stared into the abyss I leaned into the mic and blurted out, 'my cat died today'. There was a laugh, it broke my panic and I quickly rifled through my coat pocket to fish out my poem and read the rest.  The truth was, my cat had actually died that day, it wasn't part of my set.  I was mortified, I finished my poem, got off the stage and walked right out the door. Claire Mooney followed me, and surprisingly invited me to another event she was hosting at 3MT.  
Why am I sharing this? This story is Manchester, I had a gomade a mistake, and it was ok. Claire, to this day, says that was one of my best lines! Manchester gave me permission to fail, my biggest fear happened and the ground didn't swallow me up (unfortunately).   The streets of this city are pumping with the life blood of creativity, you can't swing a miniature dog without hitting an open mic night, flash fiction night, script reading night, all aimed at new writing.  These nights in Manchester gave me the chance to sneak out (while my children were, sometimes, sleeping soundly at home with dad) and find my voice, make mistakes, build my confidence, get inspired.   
Stories are so important, they help us connect, process our lives and the world around us.  Writing still sometimes feels self-indulgent but it's not, it's actually selfless, in writing your story you are giving people like you permission to write as well.  Just like all the wonderful writers, poets and singer-song writers I have met across the city in the past 20 years that have inspired me and given me permissionI'm originally from Liverpool and never thought I would say this but, I love Manchester, this city has been such an important part of my story and my work, this city gave me the permission I was seeking, it's politics gave me hope and its' diversity gave me inspiration.  
"What is a woman? I assure you I do not know.  I do not believe that you know. I do not believe that anybody can know until she has expressed herself in all of the arts and professions open to human skill... you are in the process of providing us, by your failures and successes, with that extremely important piece of information." Virginia Woolf* 
That is why Women's Words Manchester is so important, we need more women's stories from different communities so future generations will start to know what a woman is. 
*Professions of A Woman, Killing the Angel of The House, Virginia Woolf

I wrote this essay for Women's Words
A new archive of life writing by women living, working and growing in Manchester. The project partners are The Pankhurst Centre, Manchester Libraries & Archives, Wordplay Community Arts and Soroptomist International Manchester. 

My essay has been published in the Suffragette Magazine along with other women's stories and poetry (available to buy at Manchester Central Library and The Pankhurst Centre)