As part of her Guest Editorship on DAO, Dolly Sen talks to performer, writer, musician and therapist, Liz Bentley about her life and creative process.
My name is Liz Bentley. I am female, 98% heterosexual, age 54. I live in Peckham, born in Essex and didn’t escape home until I was 21. I was diagnosed with MS when I was 23, was bulimic, took recreational drugs and alcohol daily and was highly promiscuous. I was abused as a child. I went into therapy then promptly trained to be a therapist and have been practising for 26 years, working privately, in the NHS, colleges etc.
I have managed my physical and mental health with creativity, psychotherapy, homoeopathy, sex, swimming like fuck and staying away from anyone who thinks they know what’s best for me. I am now married after over 100 partners of some kind or another, (I’m blogging). I have a son age 18 and a daughter age 12, I have two stepdaughters aged 12 and 14…Oh my god, next year that’s four teenagers in one open plan living space at Christmas! I hate Christmas.
I am also a writer, comedian, musician and poet. When I was 30 and settled into my first council flat, my psychotherapist told me about Morley College. I started acting and writing and wrote a novel. A literary agent told me it was too personal and had too many descriptions of bodily functions for her taste and suggested it would work better as short stories, so I took her literally and made it into stories, reading out one at a spoken word open mic.
The audience laughed at what was deadly serious, upsetting stuff about a personal relationship. The applause over rid the sense of my trauma being publicly undermined and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to entertain others. This led to nearly two decades of 100’s of shows, performances, three published books and awards etc. I have performed at Southbank, London Literature Festival, National Theatre, Ledbury Poetry Festival, four Edinburgh Fringe shows (including one in the Fringe’s only swimming pool venue), Liberty, DaDafest and much more.
I create because it is an outlet for my extremely busy, sometimes confused, sometimes re-traumatized, sometimes too overly excited, too sexual mind. My thoughts can be pretty dark, and I have to find a way to channel them creatively as opposed to acting out in a destructive, self-sabotaging way.
Regarding the things I write and perform about, everything that is real to me and everything that has some sort of emotional impact – quite often anger. I struggle so much dealing with anger in everyday life so writing it down and performing it with a massive passive aggressive smile on my face helps enormously.
People inspire me, humanity and all that that entails. I would rather be in the big brother house than in a beautiful place alone. Anyone and everyone inspire me, from the Tesco Delivery Man (3 times this year it was a woman, mimics my sexuality I’ve just realised) to wondering about Hitler’s relationship with his mother or whether the Easyjet pilot is suicidal. I am so curious about how our minds rumble on. I went swimming today and spent most of the time wondering what the lifeguard was thinking about. It’s something I may write a story about.
And Freud inspires me. I love working with the unconscious and dreams. Dreams are brilliant. Last night I had sex with Andy Whitehead in a matchbox in the back of a scout van – that inspired me and will go in a story, if it hasn’t already. I think I’ve had the dream before!
I don’t get out much to see stuff, I need to, I want to more, but I guess anyone who keeps creating, keeps producing inspires me. Dolly, you inspire me.
Here are some short pieces. I literally just wrote the first one, the other two are published work, somewhere in my trilogy of poetry books.
Year 8 – On Sexuality
I’m not as straight as a ruler
Separation and Anxiety
My washing machine caught on fire
I will never leave it on its own again
Fear of Rejection
He had an Irish accent
But I woke up with an American
Goodness only knows what the future holds. Everything I have just written about is now past and I would now answer the questions differently and decide that my new poem needs work on.
My son has just left for University in Falmouth and I feel like I have a little bit more space for creating. Much has focused on the kids the last decade and the creative baton I have given to them is now coming back to me. I am excited that young people are seeing the world in a very different way that gives me hope for my own future. Young people are so out there, nothing seems “too personal” for their taste.
I want to publish more, I’d like to do more performing, but I am also content with getting to any/all audience just now. You reading this, you have got this far to read about me. Thank you, I hope it has been of interest, I truly appreciate it. It keeps me going. Another reason why I create.