Do I KNOW you? 

There’s a deep joy to be found in REALLY knowing people (dead or alive) and knowing things about yourself but from time to time perhaps you need to put that knowing out there…..

Recently my Dad’s best friend died very suddenly – he was my Mum and Dad’s best man at their wedding (and forever after) – a man full of vivid living of and caring about life.  Chris was always a source of great entertainment and intrigue for me and my brother throughout his regular visits to our family home in Huddersfield.   He used to snack on pickled eggs and family sized bags of cheese and onion crisps washed down with a massive cider and bring us exotic pressies from far off places.  He lived in Honk Kong then Los Angeles and then on the Isle of Skye.  Chris fought corruption in Hong Kong, he wrote screen plays in LA, more recently he studied law in Hull and he was always coming up with ideas for screenplays and theatre scripts and organising group theatre trips.   He looked like Gandalf.  He had an artificial leg.  He was always so interested in our lives and our perception of world events.  He was proactively contesting Brexit on a daily basis and quite evidently baffled by why the rest of us weren’t doing the same with the same gusto.    In many ways he felt to me like one of the last living links to my Dad: he sat by his bed and read books to him in the hospice; he has religiously called my Mum for big long ‘phone calls every week during lockdown (every week religiously); he came to my PhD graduation (sort of representing my Dad too).  In short this was a blow, a horrible sad shock AND a flashback to my Dad’s death three years ago.  This isn’t going to be a blog about my expertise in dealing with death [1].  Actually, it turns out that I’m rubbish at coping with death.  We have yet to host a service and memorial for Dad, it was just too too hard at the time and we didn’t feel we could do him justice whilst in that state of utter sadness.  I don’t know how to talk to my children (now 5 and 2.5) about death and the constant sense of freefalling that is missing and grieving for my Dad and I don’t really want to yet.  To be totally honest I’m not good with bad news at all.  As a child I used to run away when I heard the news coming on the TV or radio at home.  I’ve been periodically dodging the news throughout the pandemic too which I realise is a form of immense privilege.  Edging out of my bubble back into the wider world of increased interactions, everydayness seems that bit more acute and tiny moments are full of magic.  For example, I was working from a local café (woohoo) last week and when someone complimented a woman at the till on her shoes I nearly wept at the beauty of the exchange.  I do find it very hard indeed to balance this experience of joy, the beauty of these sorts of moments, an appreciation of how beautiful fleeting and precious life and human relations can be with the awareness of just how awful life and some humans can also be.  I don’t know how to square that so I hope you’ll forgive me if I simply concentrate on something positive and on myself for now?

My experience of lockdown and grieving has made me realise what a joyous thing it is just to know of someone (even better to love someone) and that that knowing of someone can bring joy even when you can’t see the person for long stretches of time and even when you can never see that person again.  I’m not talking about knowing in the scientific sense like the three levels of knowing someone that psychology posits.[2] I mean knowing someone to the extent that they are always with you.  It’s an embodied knowing, knowing someone as another voice in your head, the absorption of someone into your subconscious mind. As you can probably deduce I’m at a loss for the perfect articulation but I mean to convey a sort of knowing that might be described as a co-presence, a real part of you – like a group of people you carry round in your soul, your very core (not to be confused with the sort of friendship imagery social media promotes – my Dad would HATE that).  It’s a knowing that means those people become part of your thinking, your thoughts, ideas, imagination – people that have truly made a mark on you and all other such phrases….I think you get the idea?  It’s taken me a while to cut through the grief to understand and experience that cliché of my Dad still being with me (it’s such a healing realisation when it comes) but he TRULY is!  And then blow me down lockdown brings me the realisation that this concept of deep knowing is not simply limited to those to whom you are related or have raised you.  So many of my other people that I know – family members, friends, and colleagues – are with me conceptually too so although it’s fundamentally sad I can cope with not seeing them for an extended, unknown period (zoom also takes the edge off). It is, of course, so much easier to deal with the notion of not seeing people for a period of time than the reality of not seeing someone ever again and (another ‘of course’ statement here) the people that I am lucky enough to see and know in real life / real time on a daily basis bring me deep deep joy – my partner, my Mum, my daughter’s childminder and her ‘bubble’ members, new found friends within my son’s school community but most of all my children (although knowing them can at times be brutal too).  

My blog started off as a PHD tool but that was a seven-year part-time endeavour which took different twists and turns and in the end the blog didn’t turn out to be the right tool.  My initial intention was to research and share insights about the development of Orangebox[3] but I left (you can read all about that in my PhD thesis)[4] and then got pregnant.  So, this is no longer an academic exercise but maybe it’s a still a form of research, it’s still a tool to help me learn.   I’m keen to connect and hear from people and compare experiences especially about grief, about what it means to know people and the joy of knowing people. Is anyone researching this sort of knowing? Is it related to phenomenology? I bet there’s a whole field of expertise out there and to members of that field I send a big apology, this must be making you cringe but please do put me in the picture!   This post is also about sharing some of the things I know about myself in terms of things I want to do.  I’ve carried some of these desires and ideas around for a good twenty years now and I think it’s time to put them out there if I ever want to realise any of them.  I currently work as a freelancer supporting a range of arts individuals and organisations with all sorts of creative engagement ventures.  I love my work and the people I get to work for and with.  I’m busy until spring 2022 but as most of my current contracts wrap-up next year there’s an opportunity to think ahead about new and different things.  I’ve got a bit stuck and reached the limit of my own thinking about how to achieve some of my bigger dreams within the confines of parenting. I’m only available on a part-time basis at the moment and work fits around child-care – my children are 2 and 5 and I do most of the drop-offs, picks-ups and holidays etc – but that too will change over time.  So here goes, I’ll just put this out there and see what happens….. 

…..I’m a middle age, middle class, neurotypical (I suspect) white woman but if you can get over that then over the next few years fundamentally I want to get into making theatre again – most probably for children and families but not exclusively.  It’s what I want to spend the rest of my years doing.  I love theatre people and theatre spaces.  More broadly I will support any endeavours to create plays, storytelling, experiences, gatherings and events.  I also like to research, write and tell stories about the arts and care. I like to help people think about what they are learning and what they might do next.   I want to make more of my PhD and research interests (applied theatre and children and young people’s spiritual wellbeing).  I love supporting young people’s creative ideas and ambitions.  I love the model of artist residencies especially those aimed at exploring how to embed drama provision within the work of an entire school, organisation or community.  I carry dreams of starting a children’s theatre of the North or an ‘Ideas Factory’ in my local community where people come for support with events, stories or happenings that they want to make happen.  I see a gap locally for regular drama -based work with toddlers and pre-school age children and their carers.  I want to learn more about immersive technologies.  I like the idea of creating rituals and helping people mark big moments in life journeys so I’ve thought about training as a humanist celebrant and combining that expertise with knowledge of applied theatre practice (but I can’t afford to that at the moment).  Politically I’m incredibly excited by the potential of ideas such as Universal Basic Income[5] and A Job Guarantee [6] – I would love to lend my support to anyone who is up for trialling or getting such schemes up and running in Yorkshire.  I’m aware that not all of these things sit alongside each other but it’s the mix of interests, ambitions and dreams that make me who I am currently and how I might make a more useful contribution with the time I have left. 

So if you know me you can now start to carry some of these things about me around with you and perhaps help me make the shift towards these ventures? Or maybe we could get to know each other through making some of this stuff happen together?  Who KNOWS eh?!

Thank you for reading! 

More about my work history here: http:uk.linkedin.com/in/madeleineirwin

Contact me on: madiirwin90@hotmail.com


[1]  See instead https://www.cruse.org.uk and https://whatsyourgrief.com and https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/need-know-info/from-us-to-you/pop-up-good-grief-cafes/ and https://www.griefseries.co.uk/home

[2] See: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-personality-analyst/201011/three-levels-knowing-person

[3] https://orangeboxhalifax.org

[4] https://www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk/jrul/item/?pid=uk-ac-man-scw:319662

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_basic_income

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Job_guarantee

About madiirwin

Madeleine Irwin is a PhD researcher in the Drama Department at The University of Manchester. Madeleine is also an independent consultant specialising in creative education, applied theatre, partnership working, action research, and young people's participation http://uk.linkedin.com/in/madeleineirwin
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