Before I Was A Bear Response by Young Critic Clodagh Chapman

Body Horror and the Visceral

Longing and heartache are stubborn feelings. They tend to get caught at the back of your chest, or lodged between ribs; the nudge in your stomach you get just before you start crying. Loss is a knot of thick linen that sits in the small of your back and grief is a weight just above the pelvis.

The idea of being out of control of my body is a stressful one. I hate the idea of turning into something or someone I don’t recognise – something fleshily, materially different. I’ve been in this body for twenty-two years and counting and it’s seen its fair share of changes over that time, but almost always slow enough to become accustomed; the scar on my right arm has gotten steadily smaller in comparison to the rest of me. I have a sense of how my body sits in a space too, whether it’s standing to attention or (as I am now) slumped on a pillow in my bed, head pressing into the headboard and laptop resting on splayed thighs. I want to keep that sense of myself, of bodily understanding that I type with two fingers and I sleep on my left side and I fit through gaps in tables if I stand on tiptoe slightly.

I fidget a lot too; swing legs, maybe just to give myself something to do. The problem with buzzing onwards from project to project is your body forgets how to stand still; it forgets how to be when not in motion. Have you ever been bored numb? Lips tingling, dry mouth; heavily weightlessness falling into the carpet. Beyond even counting sheep. Sometimes, when I’m like that, I wonder if my limbs will fall off my body, like a doll with no hinges, and I don’t even always have the energy to remind myself that won’t happen. Stillness and numbness and that lukewarm-but-cold, cotton-wool-white-noise feeling makes my skin crawl. The prospect of skin crawling makes me feel a bit funny, in the same sort of way that the idea of keeping your eyes peeled makes me feel a bit sick. Don’t even get me started on bursting into tears.

This is inevitably a gendered thing and a political thing; teenage(girl)hood is in many ways horrifying and tumultuous and messy. Our bodies change too fast for our skin to catch up and we stumble into adulthood, wide-eyed and profoundly not-ready-for-any-of-this. We glean as much as we can from the worlds alongside us; as much as the 2000s were a golden age for trashy pop, we took all that seriously once. We shouted and we cried and we sung along to Paramore’s Misery Business without giving a second thought to the loosely misogynistic undertones (for which Hayley Williams, blessed be her name, has since apologised). This was once the stuff our bodies were made of; all angst and heartache and terrible, terrible decisions; a longing for something that we can’t quite place.

Maybe embodying is harder than we give ourselves credit for.

Read more Young Critic responses to the double-bill at the Bunker Theatre here