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Nine Weeks

I’m queer. My mother had a bit of an issue with that word. Her generation, I think, still struggle with it. I explained to her that ‘we’ had reclaimed it, that it was empowering. And further still, thought of it as a term of positive affirmation! To me it’s linked with creativity, oddness, left-of-centre principles, and fighting oppression. Some of my straight friends I call queer. Very few mind you. It’s reserved for extremely special cases. But there are some who get special dispensation. Anyway, my mother, who would have been 63 this year, had a very different association with this word. It reverberated with danger - a tool of hate chiefly used by cisgender straight men from her generation. And what a generation! Can you imagine being a young woman in early 1970’s Ireland?

My mother grew up believing she was less. Taught by a Catholic patriarchal society that she was a lesser being. She believed she needed a man in her life for support, because she couldn’t find it anywhere else. And I know she’s not the only woman to experience that. It has to be said - and it should be repeated because the effects are still being felt - shame on the Catholic Church. Can we please evolve past worshiping men?

I’m making a show in the Dublin Fringe Festival called Nine Weeks. It’s about the time I spent in Australia getting to know my mother again at the end of her life. I was sent over by her brothers and sisters to bring her back home to Ireland. She was terminally ill. Things didn’t go as planned, and my original plan of staying one week turned into nine.

I may have partially lost my mind over there, but I need to tell this story because I believe it has value.

I had a terribly strained relationship with my mother over the previous ten years. Most of that time she lived in Australia and I saw very little of her. We barely stayed in touch. I thought she just wasn’t interested in me. I couldn’t make sense of it - what had I done wrong? I loved her, but I felt the pain of her rejecting me. And every time we spoke, more often than not, it ended in anger and tears. The more I sought her love, the more it hurt me. I felt like a bag in the wind for most of my 20’s. If my own mother couldn’t love me, who possibly could?

Backstory - my father was a horrendous pig of a man, violent, abusive, hateful. He tortured my mother in the early part of my life. In my teenage years she fled, leaving me and my sister behind. She found another dimwit with a whole new set of skills to control and subjugate her. He wasn’t physically violent but he was just as abusive, if not more insidious. And when you come from a generation where your expectation of men is so utterly low, anything seems better than loneliness - this was how it was for my mother.

And so I’m making this show both as an homage to my (spoiler alert) misunderstood mother, and the suffering she endured over her lifetime, but also, as a lesson to be shared. Strength and power come from within, from believing in yourself (pass me a bucket I know, but it’s vitally true). Paradoxically, self-belief isn’t inherent. It is planted, nurtured and reinforced though love and support.

My mother fell prey to some of the worst men of that generation because it was designed to work that way. Because men held the system of oppression in place for their own benefit and exploited their power. And although this is not the story of every woman’s experience, I believe it happened more than it ever should have, and is still happening.

Anyway that’s the backstory as I said, you won’t get any of that in the show! But knowing all that helps cook the whole thing at the right temperature. Nine Weeks recounts the time I spent with my mam at the end of her life, dealing with her illness, managing her abusive partner, trying to get her home, and my own descent into temporary craziness.

Oh, and in the end, my mam was actually a little bit queer (special dispensation).

Nine Weeks previews on September 10 and runs until September 15 in Smock Alley - Black Box. To check times and grab tickets visit www.fringefest.com

This article appears in the 357 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 357 Issue of GCN