Monday 20 November 2017

Imagine no possessions: Veronica Dyas' personal journey

When theatre-maker Veronica Dyas walked the Camino it dawned on her that she had all she needed in a small schoolbag

Veronica Dyas
Veronica Dyas
The Here and Now installation at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Sophie Gorman

Do you actually need your possessions? All those things in your house, are they part of who you are or are they instead just stuff? Even the most precious things, inheritances from people past: would you be changed without them? These are just some of the questions posed by theatre-maker Veronica Dyas, who has done what seems to be almost unthinkable and given everything away. Everything.

"It all started when I bought a small terraced house in Ballyfermot in 2000 through the shared ownership scheme with Dublin Corporation. At the time, I had a job as a hospital administrator, regular salary, but then I went back to college as a mature student. I didn't run into real difficulties, though, until I transferred to a full bank mortgage in 2008.

"It started out kind of manageable, I had help from some family members, but my whole career had changed by then and I was working in the arts with a part-time job as a drama facilitator with the Roundabout Youth Theatre in Ballymun. I had a lot of negative equity then and wasn't able to work something out with the bank. I couldn't afford to sell and I couldn't afford to stay. So, 18 months ago I moved out and became a landlord, renting my place out to cover at least some of the mortgage."

That could have been the breaking of Veronica but instead, somehow, it has emerged as the making of her. "Everything really changed for me when I realised I was spending my days teaching kids to tap into their potential and needed to take some of my own advice. I gave up my job and put on a show called In My Bed, a one-woman show about my life and the parallels with my granny's. And then I walked the Camino and learnt all that I needed to live.

"I did the walk carrying only a little schoolbag and that made me realise I didn't need all the things I had accumulated. When I got home to all the letters from the bank about arrears and the feeling that I was losing control of my life, I looked around at everything I had and decided that was something I could control, could change. So I gave away everything I owned, keeping just what I need to live in the here and now. I gave some stuff to charity and started a little library, I gave play texts and college books to Dublin Youth Theatre. And then I started gifting what I considered my precious objects to important people in my life. I did it like a living will, writing letters to them all explaining what I was doing and how much they mattered to me."

Although this does sound a little macabre, Veronica assures that everyone understood the ethos of what she was doing and the letters clarified why they were getting what they got. "My mother was quite afraid for me, that I was stepping into the unknown. Property means security to her, having a door you can close. But she also understood the situation I was in and she came around to it.

"I had two rings, one from each grandmother, and I gifted them across bloodlines. One to my sister and my goddaughter got the other ring, which she would have got when I died anyway; she just got it a little earlier. I didn't really have very much to give. My possessions were mainly precious just to me. I could have sold CDs and books, but not much more, and it didn't feel right. I documented everything I was doing and it was only in retrospect that I realised this gifting and giving away was how I processed leaving my house.

"One of the big things I learnt was to ask for help and it was something I had never really done before, though there were many times I should have, pride is a demon. And it was an extraordinary feeling to realise that there was a community of friends and family who would help hold me up, support me through this. At the moment, I'm staying with my brother and his family and I can help out there, so there is some sense of exchange, which is important to me. I have moved around, last year I was working in England and then travelled to Spain and France with one of my friends from the Camino and then came back to finish this piece of work."

This dramatic project will be represented in a major installation called Here & Now next week in the Project Arts Centre, Dublin (projectartscentre.ie), involving performance, film, exhibitions and even meditation. "It has been such a long and personal process for me, so I needed outside eyes to help me work out how to present it and I have asked different artists to respond to the work. There is an exhibition by photographer Louis Haugh and a documentary by Conor Madden, an installation and three performances."

And what is the future for Veronica? Does she plan beyond the day to day? "Work-wise things are beginning to pick up for me. I do a lot of facilitation work as a freelance. In terms of accommodation, I don't really know where I will be this time next year. I have learnt that I don't really want to be in one place for very long, I want to be able to move where the work is and not be tied down by a lease or mortgage.

"But I have no regrets about all that's happened to me. My main regrets are for the other 146,563 people in this situation of mortgage arrears who are not living their lives in a way they would have chosen, the stress this puts on everyone, the prospect of becoming homeless."

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