The sessions with older people with dementia are nearly complete, the meetings with the scientists are done, the carer conversations are over.
Now it is time to write!
But how to use my own approach to creative writing to bring together the different threads of the project?
From the outset, I have planned to create a series of Flash Fiction (short, short stories) because that is a form which seems best to reflect the fragmented mind of dementia. I want to demonstrate that, in spite of memory loss and reduced physical functions, true spirit and character still lies within each individual dementia patient. . Also, three hundred words of Flash Fiction can fit onto a poster and be read in a few minutes by a range of different audiences.
My notebook is crammed with snippets of conversations with older people with dementia that could be used as comedy or tragedy or calamity. But which approach best raises the awareness of dementia in a positive way, which is one of the aims of the project.
For example, one conversation went like this:
‘What are you most proud of in your life, Mary’?
‘Being a mother, she replied, ‘bringing up a family.
‘And how many children did you have?’
‘ I don’t remember.’
An embarrassed smile.
‘Five, I think.’
Imagine the agony of no longer being able to remember the names of your own children after decades of maternal love and exhaustion. I could turn that into either tragedy or comedy, but what message does it give about dementia? Will it feed the stereotype that batty older people living longer are just a drain on the nation’s resources?
Maybe I should demonstrate that in spite of their dementia, many older people still have strong opinions. One conversation went like this:
‘Betty, did you know this year is the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen on the throne.’
‘Can’t stand royalty. ‘
‘Not interested in the Diamond Jubilee?’
‘What have they done to deserve to have their arses wiped by someone else? ‘
Not the stereotypical answer that we might expect.
‘You’ re not a fan of the Royal Family?’
‘No I am not. And who did they kill to get where they are?’
I could not answer her question but it really made me think about royalty and its history in a new way.
Could I capture that in a piece of Flash Fiction which gives a positive image of a thoughtful and intelligent person with dementia – or would it come across as ramblings of a mad woman?
Another aspect of the project is to raise awareness of Newcastle University’s scientific research into dementia and the link between arts and science.
I have been surprised at my own response to write some kind of dystopian fiction that combines comments from dementia patients (‘Have you ever seen a group of women so quiet? Somebody must have given them all GLUE.’.)
with the image of the scientist in the laboratory, heckled by politicians and economists to sort out these irritating social problems of old age and dementia.
A cure? A control? Eradication of the disease? Euthanasia of the sufferers? .
Mmm. This could go anywhere- and may be best left for my own writing in response to the project.