The microphone screeched for the third time then the lights went out completely. In a confusing combination of elation and fear, Brighton’s famous theatre was plunged backwards through time, pausing only after reaching the Chinese year of the Water Snake, way back in 1893.
The auditorium was dark, it’s guests barely visible behind the stage lights. Only the shadows of top hats could be seen, and finely-dressed ladies and gentlemen waiting expectantly. The gaslights flickered and a girl in a wheelchair rolled onto the stage. As she made her way to the reading lectern, which was of course too high, Jo’s wheelchair squeaked and a silence as large and as pregnant as shotgun-bride descended on the theatre. Her heart fluttered like a caged bird.
“Get on with it!” Said a baritone voice in the crowd.
“She going to start or what?” Said another from the penny seats. Clearing her throat for the second time, Jo began.
“I suppose I should introduce myself. It has been a very long time.” Her voice was slight, and delicate, as if she hadn’t spoken in years.
“We meant to recognise her?” Said a man near the front. His wife nudged him quiet, her eyes fixed on the stage.
“I’ve been writing for years you see for magazines and such but until recently, quite stuck in bed in pain.” Her voice was now barely a whisper, and her knuckles a little white from gripping the book stand.
“Then what in God’s good name is she up to? What are you offering us? We won’t linger lest you share,” said a gentleman bellowing from the stalls, and folding his arms with gusto.
“I speak of an ailment.” People retrieved their kerchiefs and covered their noses, a wave of panic filled the air. “A sickness that is the sadness of souls. Their bodies are weary and minds tired too. The modern world is quick. She’s tireless in her attention-seeking, relentless in her demands. Now, as a consequence, people are forced to keep up. Faster, faster; spreading themselves too thin and made to sacrifice their creative expression for more mundane pursuits. Their inner life is crying out, un-nurtured by these ways but it need not be this way.”
“What she selling? Does it cost?” Said a woman in the penny seats, her face illuminated by the gas lamp. It was as old and thin as a rotten apple. “I ain’t doing it if it costs.” Murmurs of agreement surrounded her.
“It costs nothing. I offer you an invitation, a means if you will. Our consumer-fuelled culture is demanding that we live quite unlike we wish. Unless one does something a little wayward, a little funky, a little sly, we may all be stuck forever in this staid way of living, neglecting our very souls. Unless we are free to create I fear, well I fear said sickness will run all the more rife.”
Jo tried to make out more faces but could only see shadows. A page boy came in shouting someone’s name and ringing his bell. As its sound faded again, she continued to speak. “I intend to offer ways to liberate your creativity through nurturing your inner being. Ancient sages across the globe have given their wisdom so that we might distil it for our modern times, and use the gems offered henceforth to free ourselves of this sickness within. It is said that those Taoists of old believed to nourish the mind was all that you need do, for everything then falls into place.”
“Are you under the influence of liquor? Why do you force your company upon us?”
“I offer you an invitation, to an island.”
“An island? What the devil is she on about?” Said a man in one of the theatre boxes, his scowl all the more vivid in the candlelight. “She wants us to leave the Empire? Good God man, has she lost all reason?”
“I ain’t leaving Brighton, came down from London see,” said another in a voice so shrill, it seemed to cut across the crowd, grazing like brambles.
“If I may,” said Jo, now with more assurance. “The island I speak of is a place to nurture you and your creativity. We are and can all be creative but so often get in our own way. It is possible to live life well and contently too, if only we all dropped our masks of illusion and discontent, the very things that separate us, the very things that would allow us to unite. Behind our protective façades and guises we are after all the same.”
“That’s it,” said a gentleman standing up and fastening his overcoat. “This is not for me. The same indeed. Nouveau, artisan nonsense. We might as well be in Paris for la Belle Epoch!” He weaved his way out, and disappeared in the darkness.
“Writers, artists, it’s time to reclaim your dreams. Awaken to vast opportunity, articulate the wonder, find the sacred, the bliss and create. Our world has fostered unease, insecurity, fear. It is a world that judges, a world that scorns. We compete instead of helping each other, and make assumptions that are so often far from correct. We plunder the very earth that nurtures us, draining dry our resources and consume, consume, consume. Why would you ever choose to live like that?” There was heckling in the audience. “That is not nurturing, all joy comes from within. It is that which is key; our own liberation is in us.”
“But why? Why give us with tools you could otherwise sell? Not good business sense at all. Women shouldn’t be in business you know. Not suited to their feminine minds.”
“If I may speak plainly, because people think they are so limited, often quite unaware that they can escape their limitations. Some are even creating those limitations. Yet no one is coming to save us, we have to save ourselves. Empower ourselves and let it infuse our creative work. My wish is to twine a love of creativity, words and wisdom into celebrations of life, inspiration and joyfulness on the off-chance that it helps alleviate a little of the oppression [and enhance the expression] of the human spirit. To help keep the world creative, lively, joyful, and with enough flexibility to endure.” She looked her her wheelchair and back to the crowd. “Even now with such challenges as these, life is a wonderful adventure.”
“We certainly do not have said sickness.” said a man barely moving his lips as he spoke. “You’ll find such ailments are not for the well-born. Come along my dear, the hansom is waiting. Let’s not loiter for this nonsense.”
“Are you a writer, a bookworm, an artist, storyteller or day-dreamer?”
“I’m a night-dreamer.”
“Then come. If you find the conflicting information in our great age of overload irksome allow me to distil it to its juice. Inspiration and creativity nurtures the spirit, and when the deepest part of us is nourished, everything takes on a finer hue. Remind yourself of your infinite potential; find the marvellous, seek out the mystery, savour the splendor. This website is my offering, a humble hideaway for you. But wait, I must confess. Though not contagious, I have CRPS.”
“She does have a sickness,” said a woman rising from her seat, stirring others to follow suit.
“I write of that too, here: The Princess in the Tower. Though it’s a wonderful time to be a writer, it can be a heart-breaking time to be a disabled writer with hands that burn and a body that winces. Pain can make one’s heart grow sombre and one’s spirit weary that is unless I create, for creativity itself has saved this soul. It may be vicious, even capricious but I’m not one to simply wait for the right conditions. Even if this venture is too hampered by pain, at least I can [metaphorically] stand tall for in action there is boldness and joy, and to find the magic, sometimes it helps to make a little of our own.” The room was now so quiet, the page boy crept back into listen.
“Though I tell you this as sometimes it flares all the more, leaving me quite unable to do anything at all. It is in these times I go to my own island, a sanctuary inside my mind. Just as I seek release in this meditation, we can all find release in creative expression and even do so with ease. There is freedom in stories, whether on screen or in books. Some paint their liberation, others capture their liberty on film. Take a break from the drudgery, our merciless mistress of modernity. Writing itself has immersed me in more lives than I ever dreamt live. Now I offer you ways to empower yourself by fusing my love of storytelling and creative expression with all that I wrote as a feature writer, only with writers and artists in mind.”
“Empower from your bed or that funny wheeled chair?”
“Why not? Why wait for your ship to sail in when you can dive in and swim out. Choose to create and be free. Choose to act on your dreams. Someone has to get this show on the road and unless it’s you, well, what would you rather? This isn’t a rehearsal but your main act. Live. Love. In spite of the limitations, my desire to inspire is singing too strongly not to invite her on stage. So dance and dance joyfully. It’s in the darkest night that a single candle can shine its brightest. I am here to inspire, empower and create. If in the process I edify or enlighten, well that would be just fine.”
“This show isn’t what I imagined.” Said a lady near the front, as the lights came up and the wheelchair squeaked its way off-stage.