Birth and death sit firmly together in the palm of life, something Shadrick knows all too well as she nearly bleeds to death not long after giving birth to her first child. She had been afraid of shedding the skin of a woman just forming and taking on the shape of becoming a mother. Maybe she wouldn’t have ever been ready to set aside the pain she had been cloaked in childhood where she had been abandoned by her own father who still lived in the same town, driving by her without acknowledgement. Maybe it was the childhood in which she was warned not to touch surfaces or objects lest she marked them with her fingers, with her existence or even peering out of the net curtains became prohibited. Shadrick was waiting for her life to begin when it so nearly ended. What she hadn’t anticipated was the urgency to live the life she felt she had been denied with such great ferocity that she began it later, later when most women believe it is too late and resign to the idea that they need to let dreams go.
Shadrick’s dream was to write. This is not a memoir of a mother becoming swamped with the societal norms women feel they must adhere to as people on the outside watch your choice of parenting or judge when you leave your child to return to work, or your role as a home maker. It does have these things but to get to the true essence of Shadrick’s work one must understand something far deeper than what you see, this is an account of a pursuit to live an artist’s life. Yes, men can seem to wonder off into a cabin in the woods and drum out their magnum opus whilst a woman has to squeeze her art carefully through cracks and around large objects in the way in order to satisfy their soul’s desire- to live a life of art.
What happens then when a woman, who made her way to university, carefully chosen in order to be near Virginia Woolf’s haunts in Sussex, yet still does not believe her worth? Fears of not belonging begin to fall like a veil upon Shadrick’s eyes, so much so that she ‘shrank from it all.’ This sense of unworthiness hangs over the dialogue throughout her life but more so when it came to her right to be educated, she writes ‘What if I’d educated myself beyond my nature? And all this learning was only an awful mistake?’ What could the mistake be? Could it be the discovery of other worlds, of other lives differently lived; could they be enough to spark a yearning that may be out of reach?
When both her children enter full time education, she realises it is time to take the steps she desires from a place of urgency and she does this by leaving employment for the first time in her life in order to find what may be down the creative path, and so begins what she refers to as her ‘outsider years’ which begin with a body of water- the pool. With laps of swimming she begins to unlock and release the channels to write. She writes a story about a woman who gives so much of herself away that there is nothing left of her and so she dies, she is a ‘mechanism of excess generosity.’
Shadrick begins her artist life in a very interesting way; her work is like a form of performance art which begins with an act of repair. She wanted to restore the railings that ran around a communal field holding a vandalised eighty year old chestnut tree. Donning her uniform of apron and headscarf, she began her first performance piece in public for there is sense of danger in hidden spaces , in hidden spaces, kept behind closed curtains , in these spaces suffering could occur. As with becoming a scribe for the dying, Shadrick’s art involves social interaction, people gather around her as she paints railings or writes on long scrolls the length of the pool, to share their own tales whilst she remains quiet, absorbing their stories.
Shadrick’s writing is mesmerising and all consuming as her style has a unique, poetic quality unlike any voice before her. It is always special when you discover a writing style that stands out in such a striking manner but I believe not only will we read her work in books in the future but also may find her work in a gallery too.