Pencil Breakers is a part of Powerful Interventions that involves original pieces of writing from queer, disabled and activist voices.
During Festival of Voice we'll be hanging four eye-catching, hand-painted posters up inside the building. Each poster contains a QR code which, when scanned by your device will bring you here to read or listen to each story. Stories read by Mali Ann Rees.
Ann the Superhero
To the rescue. That's me all over. The superhero with no power, unless my huge stainless-steel ego that stretches from my long toes to the top of my ridiculous hair counts.
I need a costume.
Maybe pink. Yeah, I like pink, as long as it's not a poor excuse for a pink, you know.
Teal, aqua, that ocean colour.
I'd need a symbol too. A recognisable logo.
Strong. Amazonian. Should I be saying that?
Shit, I don’t want to be a politically incorrect superhero, that’s so nineties. I need to look that up.
Don't panic. You can't panic.
Don't ever let them know that you're a panicker.
Who wants to wear a t-shirt of a panicky superhero?
I need to be the fierce, confident, tall, slightly intimidating woman that some people assume I am.
I've never even been in a fight. Does that matter?
Why do they think that?
Surely they can see it's just a uniform to shield the shy, tilted-headed whispering little girl that hates getting things wrong and letting people down.
The girl that was placed in front of Nain and Taid's tv to adrodd the poem for the next Eisteddfod.
The girl who would sing in chapel and school but would always, always, always lose her voice because she was keeping too much stuff down, keeping an emotional door shut. Tight.
I'm going to save the world.
I'm going to have a phone, one where everyone knows to call for help.
I'll fly all over the world rescuing people- oh fuck, am I a Saviour?
Ok, so maybe I will train local people to defend themselves, boost their skillset and provide the right facilities and opportunities for them to thrive and.... that's a shit superhero story, no-one's going to adore that.
It's not very super-hero-y.
Why do I want to be adored?
What will be my name?
Ann the Adventurer?
Ann's not a very super-hero name is it?
I need a whole new identity really but then that kind of takes away from the fact that I'm being this superhero because I feel my real identity is to be a superhero? So why would I pretend to be someone else? And why the fuck do I want to wear pink?
I need a side-kick.
I never learnt to crawl,
Never learnt to walk
Instead, at one and a half years old,
I got up,
Made it two steps before falling
Flat on my face.
My mother saw it as a sign,
Like maybe I’d grow up
And become an athlete.
When in reality,
It was a sign that I had legs made of jelly.
But mam still sent me to
Every single sports club
To embarrass myself over and over
With the fact that I could barely stand,
Let alone control the clown car of my body
Covered in skin that pulls away
Like tissue paper
Fashioning bruised, bloody knees
Every single day.
When I was four, she bought me a bike
And oh, how I loved it.
It was purple, glittery, shiny
With a basket for teddies and snacks.
My jelly legs standing as strong as stone.
With my new sense of independence I set off
Feeling the wind blowing through my hair
Like I was flying.
Only made it five meters before
Falling flat on my face.
Face down in the dirt
Tears streaming down my face
Jelly legs turned to water.
The doctors diagnosed me with
A chronic case of bike vs jelly legs.
Ladies and gents, gather around
And prepare to witness a fourteen-year-old
With stabilisers who still manages to fall flat on their face,
Googling “how the fuck do you ride a bike???!”
Because they forgot the one thing
People say you never forget.
“Difficult” you say?
Would that be me asking a difficult question?
Oh, no – it’s me, right?
Ah I understand… you find me, well… difficult!
Difficult when I ask you to try and listen instead of explaining?
Difficult if I ask you not to put that person down because of their colour or class?
Oh, I see…that’s banter!
Oh, I get it… nothing difficult about banter, having a laugh, taking the piss,
it’s just me! Why can’t I just let my hair down, fit in, stop being so, bloody difficult?
I will stop being difficult when you stop patronising, putting people down, putting your needs before theirs, when you look in the mirror and recognise your privilege.
When you step aside and let others step into the light.
Until that day, I will praise being difficult. I will celebrate it.
I will hold it up to the light and live by it.
I will continue to question and discomfort and chip away.
Because behind being difficult lies resilience and love and the power to change.
It is the brother and sister of resistance.
It’s the not walking away, the never leaving and the ability to see things through.
I tell you what - for once, let me explain.
It is difficult to find the right question, to work out a solution, to stay with dark thoughts and hold people when they are in pain.
It’s difficult to be compassionate and caring when you are tired and it’s the end of the day. It’s difficult when you want to run away and hide, to escape and find a simpler way.
So how about you stop and think, not once but twice and maybe thrice,
the next time you want to call me difficult.
I grew up in a big, pink house it had 4 generous gardens, a driveway as steep as Snowdonia and was next to the park. We had fourteen rooms, or what I believed to be different magical kingdoms to play in.
Pretending to be a fairy, witch or mermaid saving something or another. Endless hide and seek spots. We even had swings and a trampoline. I used to sit in my built-in wardrobe dreaming of owning clothes with a label that said Designed by Me.
I would build the most comfortable and cosy blanket forts in the Rhondda. I had fairy lights covering my room twinkling like little fireflies.
As I grew up, the mystique of my home began to vanish. The fairy lights ran out of batteries, the blanket forts fell down and the wardrobe became my hiding place. It was bland and empty.
The only entertainment was my baby sister throwing spaghetti at my mum. The nooks and crannies I used to play in now became my safe haven from the screaming. If I lay on my floor I could hear every word they spat at one another.
I listened like a spy, trying to make sense of where the magic went. It seemed like a dark witch swooped in and cast a melancholic spell. My biggest adventures now were to my roof, plotting my escape.
I felt like Rapunzel, trapped in a tower watching time move by without me. I wondered about where I would go and how long it would take them to notice I was gone.
Once upon a time, me and my sister found kittens in our garden and secretly took care of them until their mam came back.
We couldn’t bring them inside because dad had once told us he wanted to drown all cats because they are disgusting. I don’t think he ever found out. That was the biggest secret I thought our family had. I was wrong.
There were generations of abuse hidden beneath our facades. My parents. My grandparents. My great grandparents. My aunts and uncles. There are shards of our hearts scattered along every yellow brick road in Wales.
I have wondered if these patterns are destined to be repeated. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to feel the magic again. I wonder if the reason I don’t want children is because I’m scared of breaking them like I was broken.
Is it because of the generational abuse my family are together or is it because of their ability to overcome and persist?
Finding out such awful things about people you admire does something to your sense of self. When I think of those times today they still feel so unsafe. I still feel like I’m being hunted by the Wicked Witch. You begin to question everything.
The need for control becomes so powerful you have none. The imagination you once had which built entire kingdoms now builds endless possibilities of more secrets. Maybe one of us is adopted, maybe we have a secret family member, maybe, maybe, maybe.
Having a home is not about a roof over your head and food on the table, it’s the sense of safety and community you build. It’s about being able to heal when something breaks. Having all your needs met in order to feel secure, is a good family.
But it is such a fragile connection. It is hard to repair a bond with people you rely on. If the person who broke you is the person who feeds you, how do you process that beyond survival?
When I found out about everything in my family that safety and community became fragmented. The magic our home once had, which followed us everywhere we visited, dissipated.
The magical fairy dust which once covered everything was now just plain old dust. The same dust which once covered the boxes of our secrets. To process, we must know the truth of what happened.
I am trying to learn how to create a magical family which includes those secrets. Repairing my family is like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired by adding beautiful things into the glue, like gold or silver.
This does not hide the cracks but shows the continued beauty in an object despite its cracks. Our ability to persist is our magic. It’s the gold that binds our cracks.