Thursday, September 9, 2010

James O'Donnell offers Love Letters to the Sea

Posted By on Thu, Sep 9, 2010 at 10:43 AM

Tonight at Eyedrum, artist and Georgia State MFA student James O'Donnell reflects on the 15 journals left behind by his deceased, schizophrenic mother in Love Letters to the Sea, a multimedia show incorporating spoken word, video, and performance. Here, he offers his thoughts on the project along with a few journal excerpts.

This project began when I discovered 15 journals belonging to my deceased mother — four from around my birth and 11 that were written while my mother was suffering from schizophrenia. This came at a time in which I was just realizing that after spending half my life putting my childhood behind me that it would always be part of me.

My mother raised me almost entirely alone while living with mental illness from the time I was 8 until I was 15, when she was diagnosed with cancer. As a child, I shared in her fantasies, believing everything she said, and only later did I realize that the world as I knew it was not real. Exploring her journals brought many uncomfortable emotions and memories to the surface and I struggled with anger, sadness, and depression throughout my work.

However, as I came to better understand my mother's condition through research and readings, more and more I was able to empathize with her through her own words. While my feelings remain conflicted, the one inescapable fact is that it has always been her love that has kept me going — a fact reiterated in her writings. In making Love Letters to the Sea, I believed that our suffering could become something beautiful and meaningful in spite of the madness and, by sharing it with others, it is my hope that telling my story will give others permission to tell their stories.

From the journals ...

“All alone. Sure seems easiest to sleep and not go out anywhere. People talking and it doesn’t make sense — goes over my head. Only scares me more and more….want to just hide in the bathroom. All my life I have hidden as quietly as I could in a bathroom when I just had to cry so no one ever knows. I still cry every single last day each and everyday. Not one day has passed without crying but I have done well. No one can tell or hear.”

“Tried to explain things to Jim. Impossible. It is stupid to get upset with him. I’m concerned about him understanding what little I do know in case I die soon. I feel [like I’m] on death row and anxious about Jim staying alive. That he must understand clearly some things because I never had the chance. No one ever cared enough to explain any of this to me, spend time with me, talk to me. Now there is hate or just indifference. No one to care at all.”

“Why have I been writing a lot down? To hurt anyone? Never. I wrote everything down because in case of my death I thought it was the only way my baby, my little child, would know my thoughts at all. I wrote for him even when he was in my stomach. Looked at Jim. He knows I love him in case something happens to me. I’m sure.”

Free. 8 p.m. Eyedrum, 290 MLK Jr. Drive, Suite 8.

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