Far from my sight
I stowed it
because it bled
I cut the string.
soft paper rustle
in my hand
a small desire
Oscar Wilde believed imitation to be ‘the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’. Let’s hope Neil Gaiman agrees.
You have one life.
Touch the red rose to enter the labyrinth.
Light every candle you find along the way. These may save you.
Do not throw stones at the goblins in the shed, the words they speak are powerful. Remember what they tell you. Thank them.
Step quietly where possible – noise draws unwanted attention. Practice fading.
Fight every battle with dignity. Always be honest; you will lose more than your life for trickery and lies. Stay between the lines.
Pay attention to the rules. Read the instructions. Take all the help offered to you. Lend help where you can.
When you get to the temple, pause. Take off your hat. Leave an offering.
Walk around corners, don’t run. You don’t know what you may meet, and it may kill you.
Don’t stand on the red beetles, just don’t.
Avoid the monkey in the yellow hat – his heart is cold as ice. He will deceive you.
Carry the old lady’s bags for her. She will give you a lamp – Guard it well.
The path is broken up ahead. There are holes. Do not fall – it’s a trap, and the creatures will get you. You won’t hear them coming.
Sometimes things fall on you from above. Look up!
Watch out for the rat-people.
You will be ambushed at the Stone Cross – everybody is, but you will recover . Let it go, move on, you don’t have much time.
The farmer’s wife will give you a warm coat and some food. You will need both. You must write her a sonnet on the back of an acorn before you leave.
You will meet many who seek to disrupt your quest, creatures who would see you fail. Be kind to these, as far as you can, for they are to be pitied. Do them no harm, and leave them a blessing.
When you reach the centre, leave your mark in the flames of the everlasting pyre. Do not gloat – there are many less fortunate than you, many who have been ensnared by the ice-spiders who lie in wait for the unsuspecting.
Congratulations, player! You have successfully beaten the labyrinth.
Dance on the lawn in front of the cottage to exit.
It begins in the middle, the way that most things do, as a spark, a ragged breath in the soft darkness where we go to dream, the secret place inside where tiny fragile things are born. It begins as a thought, no more than a shy flicker of maybe, and the sweet vanilla scent of chance.
In 24hours it will have crept into your being, established now, snuggly-deep in flesh and mind, and running toxic madness through your veins. Initial symptoms are mild and are often confused with those of lesser afflictions. Nothing will matter, though everything will remind you, lest you should forget. The ability to remember everyday things will desert you. You will experience some sleep loss.
Finally, it will become itself. At its most severe, it will present in shards of light, in fire, and heat, and waves of impulse never imagined. Concentration will be greatly impaired. Sufferers have reported episodes of dizziness which hinder any effort to engage with reality.
Extraordinary results are guaranteed. Enjoy the trip!
The Lesser-Spotted Us!
A colleague of mine ‘came out’ recently on social media. His name is Paul. Paul tells the world about the secret he’s been carrying with him all these years, the magnitude of it, and the amount of hurt it caused for so long, not only to himself, but also to those close to him. You can read here what he says. Secrets are sharp and oppressive, and supporting them makes us old and weary. Eventually we must make the decision to let them go, just throw them out and deal with what happens. Paul speaks about how we don’t realise just how heavy are the things we carry until we set them down. We grow accustomed to dragging these things, secrets, regrets, whatever they are, until they become so ingrained as to be part of who we are, and we take them for granted, we get used to the extra weight, we adapt. Eventually though, the strain will break us – It scratches away at the very core of our being, our truth, and chips away at our sanity.
Paul describes the feelings of isolation and loneliness he’s experienced because he felt he couldn’t be himself, and tells of the artificiality of the life he had to construct, just so he could fit in. I imagine a life in purple, the colour of a headache, with shades of angry, burning red. As a conclusion, Paul offers a suggestion that applies to us all – He urges us to take a good look inside our own closets, and to shine a light on the person who’s been hiding there in the shadows, not the one routinely trotted out in public, but the genuine article. He says we need to put on this old skin again, because it’s the only one that will ever sit right. It may be flawed and broken in places, a little beaten-up and dented, but it is who we are. This is the Lesser-Spotted Us. On reading Paul’s words, I started to think about my own fake life, and how my secrets have grown to be a little heavier than I’m prepared to deal with now – now that I’m old and I’m supposed to know what I’m about.
Behold, then, my closet, my lonely room where the sun sometimes forgets to shine. It’s a room without much of a view, and it’s full of cobwebs and darkness. Here there are memories of things best forgotten, and there is a strong smell of damp and neglect. It’s cold here. This room is where I keep the secrets of a time long-ago: all the mistakes and broken hearts, the rotten choices and regrets. See here – here’s my collection of public faces; there’s one to suit every occasion, a different one for every person I meet. Nobody ever imagines they might not be real! Away there in the farthest corner, deep in a dusty wooden trunk, is where I keep the remains of the real me. There isn’t much to see now, not a lot left; a jaded smile or two, and the faint echo of a voice that used to be mine; just shadows, mostly, and fragments of a thing that was once real.
Because the world can’t cope with the broken bits, and turns its face away from failures and those things that slip through the cracks and can’t be saved, I’ve hidden it here, in the darkness and the dust, so it won’t upset anybody.
We, the ones on the outside, hide because we’re not what the world wants to see. We hide because we don’t fit the correct boxes. The world needs to hear about success to remind it that yes, this is indeed the way it all should work, this is normality. It wants to hear of people winning, achieving, climbing the ladder. It wants to see folk having lives, buying homes, paying bills, having children. It demands the familiarity of the habitual, the conventional, the things it can recognise, taking the everyday as its yardstick. What it doesn’t want are the things (and the people) it can’t categorise; those who don’t fit in with what should be happening in a life by age 20, 35, 40. It wants to squash us all into sections and divisions, and these will be our stations for evermore, and we will like it, and be grateful, goddammit, or suffer the consequences.
The world wants nothing to do with defeat or despair, because these are things which just don’t happen to ‘proper’ people, to those who’ve lived as they should in their designated niche, those who’ve conformed. It doesn’t know the meaning of “I’m losing my grip”, nor want to understand, so it closes its ears and turns away. This is sickness, and there’s no room for it in the lives of those who live ‘correctly’. They refuse to witness it.
In effect, we’ve learned that to be accepted by others means that we must be forever normal, and by definition, just like everybody else. We must smile, and give the appropriate responses, and never really, honestly, answer the question “How are you?”, because those who ask don’t really want to know. The greeting has become a stock phrase; just something to say after we say ‘Hello’. We must be the person the world expects to see, and fit the mould society has created for us. Has anybody else ever wondered what happened to the concept of individuality? Has the world changed so much that identity has no meaning anymore, and sameness has become the ideal? The woman standing beside me in the bus queue lives in a world which is very different from mine, simply because it is her world, made up of her experiences. The same can be said for the girl who sells flowers on the street – she sees the world differently to me – her struggles are not mine, her life is not mine, it’s not a greater or lesser one, it’s simply different.
Society does not think this way. It decrees that we must do as everybody else does, always wear a brave face, stay positive, get on with things, and above all, we must never show weakness, or let on that we might just be dying inside. Such character defects need to be stamped out immediately. We need to be tough as nails and grow a thick skin, or forever be regarded as miserable fuckers! We must comply.
Sometimes, though, the world is too intense, and far too loud, and it’s necessary to build walls instead of bridges, necessary to keep people out. We need to protect ourselves against the barrage of mindless, superficial noise around us, and to convince ourselves that it’s not selfish of us to take time out, time away, alone. We are not weak because we’ve run out of responses to the inane chatter, we are not weak for preferring our own company to that of the blustering halfwits who should, of course, be running the country. Instead, we need to understand it as an act of self preservation. When we have no more brave faces to put on before leaving the house, no more plastic smiles to bestow, no more fucks to give, what then? What do we do when we become so cosmically tired of the patronising stink of the ‘wisdom’ forced on us by others which will undoubtedly ‘fix’ the horse’s arse we’ve made of our lives?
The door to my closet, my little dark room, is always open to me. I don’t plan on shutting it. No matter how strong we like to think we are, we all need somewhere to hide from the noise of the world, and it’s a comfort to know I can crawl in to this small space and be me, by myself, without feeling I need to verify my existence to another person, without feeling I need to be somebody else. Here in the silent dark, for a while, I don’t need to pretend, and I can remove whatever face I’ve been using, and pack it away with the others. Sometimes I wonder how many faces one person can go through in a lifetime, and why we feel that we’re not good enough as we are, not worthy, but instead have to play at being somebody else in order for the world to tolerate us. It’s sad. It’s just really sad.
Sometimes the past isn’t as far away as we think. We can get there on the memory of a scent, or a word, or the way the light comes through the clouds, hazy, and distant, and shattered. Sometimes things happen, purely by chance, which send us flying back through years of living, back to the world of before ——-
Recently, in an attempt to restore a semblance of order to my life, I was sorting through some boxes of old books and papers, things I was sure I’d gotten rid of years ago, when I found, hidden beneath the spiders, (dead), and the dust, (plentiful), an assignment I wrote in 3rd year English for a module entitled Literature and Modern Ireland. What is it that made me reluctant to part with this? Was it perhaps because I’d been so sure this assignment was destined to fail, as I had no idea what I was talking about, but instead was awarded a 73? No. I think I kept it because of the memory, because somewhere in the darkness of my unconscious, I knew I’d need to live this time over.
Larry and I spent the entire first year of our BA being terrified , slinking around the campus, waiting for someone to come along and tell us there had been a mistake, and we didn’t belong at UCC at all, so could we please leave without further ado. (I think a lot of the mature student population have a similar experience. The second year is easier, guys!).
I signed up for Literature and Modern Ireland because one of the lecturers in particular was exceptionally brilliant, and also because Larry was taking it, and back then, there was safety in numbers.
This essay could very well have been the final one for this module, I don’t remember, but I do remember the despair I felt at having to write it. I will never be a historian, and I think politics flicks the ‘off’ switch in my head. Suffice it to say that I didn’t hold much hope. There were tears!
“All the writers of this period seem to have felt compelled in their work to take up a position in relation to issues of national politics” Comment in relation to at least two of the writers studied. (I discussed the work of Sean O’ Casey and W B Yeats).
Back in 2007, it was necessary to present yourself at the English Dept. office in order to have your essay returned to you. (Maybe that’s still the case. I miss how very civilized the English Dept. always was). Larry and I went together, this day, for moral support, you know. Certain as I was of my pathetic failure, I remember asking Larry if he’d handle the collection of said miserable essay by explaining how I was ill and couldn’t get there. I didn’t want the girls in the office to see my disappointment, my shame. I didn’t want to look at the thing ever again.
I was touched by the kind comments written at the end of my essay: “elegantly written”, “very well researched”, I mean, who goes to that trouble any more? I thought it was so…so…just lovely.
And I remember Larry laughing, saying in that soft, comforting way of his that we were both gifted creatures, and could make a valid argument out of anything…rocket science wasn’t beyond us, just give us the reading list and we’d have a paper on the desk in three days.
Larry’s not around anymore, and I’m so sad that I can’t ring him up and say ‘Do you remember that time…’, and listen to him laugh at how silly we were to take it all so seriously.
Rest well, my friend
It had gotten to the stage where I needed to choose between my bed and the books, and to be fair, I do love my bed.
For years I believed I’d be the last person to succumb to the pressure of e-readers, but I have to admit that I love it. It’s so great 🙂
Our house wouldn’t be the warmest ever, but I can now read sitting comfortably in bed, because I only need one hand to hold a Kindle, whereas it took two to correctly position a real book, (depending on the size). I’m also conscious of how many trees I may be saving by reading electronically. It’s all good so far.
I used to spend a fortune buying real books, but I’m damn sure that Amazon isn’t about to go out of business overnight because I don’t give them as much money as I used to, nor Waterstones either.
Of course there are still those books that only work in the printed format; those gorgeous ones that you just have to hold in your hand because they’ve got fantastic covers, or because the story is nothing without the illustrations, or because the book has been a best friend to you for all of your life. Those will forever need to be real, so you can lay your hand on them and know that you can open them and disappear into a sacred world.
I won’t mention here about how great it is to find books for free on the net, or the convenience of using something like Caliber to store them and convert them to the format you need for your e-reader. I wouldn’t do that, that would be nasty of me. 🙂 🙂
I had a text today from a friend who reminded me that I don’t blog anymore.
A requirement of the MA I just finished was that I create and maintain a ‘digital presence’, and I suppose it could be said that I was successful in this, though it was obvious that I didn’t always give voice to what those in authority were expecting to hear. I don’t believe I was the person they were expecting at all 🙂 Nevermind.
So now that the college year is done, there doesn’t seem to be anything more to say, really. I kept a blog because I had to, not through choice. In truth, I’m rather boring – I’m not a blogger one would decide to follow, I don’t spout little gems of wisdom everyday for all the world to read. I don’t cook astounding meals and blog about the wonderfully organic ingredients I’ve used from my own garden. Neither do I have unusual interests I think everyone else should pay attention to – I don’t keep lizards in the back yard, or breed giant toadstools, or document the phases of the moon. I’m just me.
All my life I’ve wanted to be somebody else. I’ve always envied exciting people, and how their lives seem to offer one adventure after another, (at least, that’s how I see it), and everything is new and interesting and they always have a story to tell (usually uproariously funny). I remember how, as a child, I’d go to sleep secure in the knowledge that I’d wake up as somebody else – I really believed that this was possible, and all I had to do was wish hard enough.
Isn’t it disappointing to get to be almost old and discover that you’re stuck with yourself? I do think though, that social media has a lot to answer for here, in how it attempts to glamourise the lives of others, and hold them up as an example of how we should conduct ourselves in order to be ‘real’ and live our lives in accordance with some set of unwritten rules. Who says?, Why?, and What for? Were we not all really better off without social media? I tend to lean towards the ‘yes’ camp. It’s an opinion, and we’re still quite entitled to hold our own, are we not?
Atelophobia – the fear of not being good enough.
Welcome to the land of ‘Not Good Enough’. It is a grey place, a featureless world filled with impressions of banal and uninspiring, where we learn quickly that we’re not quite what is required. Here, we come to understand that we will be forever average; mediocre, and therefore lacking, never quite exactly good enough to be great. We begin differently – we imagine, and indeed are quite convinced, that one day we will ‘make it’, one day we will be recognised for the extraordinary talent we’ve kept hidden for so long, and those who knew us when we were nothing will have to revise their flawed opinion of us. One day we will be kings, and this will make everything alright, and atone for the mistakes and the tears and the frustration, and we won’t have been completely worthless all our lives.
The final requirement of the module entitled History and Theory of Digital Arts is that of creating some art inspired by that already submitted by the other members of our class. Disclaimer: I’d like to note here that I am not now, nor ever will I be, an artist. As a matter of fact, I know more about Nuclear Science than I do about Art. I just wanted to clear that up before I begin.
Andy Warhol proclaims “Art is what you can get away with”.This is certainly true when I look at some of Picasso’s work for example. (I don’t mean to single out poor old Picasso, I have nothing against the man, I’m simply using his work as an example.) Take the painting Nude Standing by the Sea. Does it appear completely alien to me because I know nothing about it, or is it alien to everybody else too? Must we have an understanding of the mindset of the artist before we can attempt to understand the painting and appreciate it? Was Charles Baudelaire right in saying “The beautiful is always bizarre”? Is my failure to ‘see’ anything in Picasso’s painting proof that artists see the world differently to the rest of us? (That’s an awful lot of questions, even for me).
Art is subjective – Whoopi Goldberg says it very well -“Art and Life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it”
Instead of showing myself up as a complete fool in trying to draw or paint something for this project, which would no doubt turn out to be appalling, I relied on words to come to my rescue. I’ve taken four items which have inspired me, and written a short piece to accompany each one. I need to express my thanks to Perry O’Donovan, Claudia Sartori, Bree D’Oh, and Aodhan Rilke, without whom my own ‘project’ would not have happened.
I had intended to display these works as an exhibit using Exhibit-Builder on Omeka, but I’m having a few problems with getting it to behave as I want it to. This is nothing new, and so I’ve gotten used to it.
The first piece of art I thought about is one created by Perry O’Donovan as a promotional poster for his bookshop in Skibbereen.
Here’s what I wrote:
He was a giant of a man, and he let the cold in when he opened the door. The little bell didn’t have time to jingle before he shut it behind him again, so quietly for someone so large. He leaned against it, and let out a long ragged breath, as if he had run from the hounds of hell, and escaped.
I hadn’t had many customers that day and was considering shutting up early. The day felt grey, had done since morning; as if the sky was covered by a scratchy old army-blanket, heavy, dull, and colourless. Outside, the air smelled like soot, like a million coal fires.
The man’s face was ashen. He stumbled to one of the leather seats near the window and sank into it, his great bulk filling it completely, and I thought of the tiny chairs in a doll’s house.
I suppose I must have looked surprised, and maybe I was, I don’t recall. Sometimes on quiet days I almost resented customers, saw them as an intrusion into my solitude, my beautiful world of whispering pages and long-forgotten secrets. It was very easy for me to dissolve into another reality and forget about the things that happen in a life: the family I’d left behind, the bills I couldn’t pay, the loneliness.
For a long time he sat, motionless, silent, weighing every breath, watching the rain begin to fall and splash against the windows. For a long time I watched him, and the silence stretched out between us in long slow minutes.
Then he turned, as if he’d just remembered where he was, and looked straight at me. His eyes were wide and haunted, and a scar beneath the good one was bleeding. When he spoke it seemed the sound came from somewhere dark and far away.
“We should get going”, he said, “They’re here”.
The second is a piece written in response to a photograph taken by Claudia Sartori:
The Gates of Hell
‘Open the Gates at Dawn’ the memo said. So we did. There’s a lot more to opening a portal than you might think, there are rules to be adhered to, rituals to perform, things to be chanted. It took a while.
The thing is, we hadn’t told anyone, and so the volume of bodies wasn’t as large as He had expected. Well, the sun was out that day, and shone warm and bright on the earth, and melted some human hearts so that they were less inclined to do anything to offend the other guy. The Boss wasn’t best pleased.
Of course, those were the days before Twitter and Facebook, days of good old fire and brimstone, and raining down curses on humanity just because you could. Now a body has to wait for the broadband to kick in, or stand in the chimney until the signal finds them.
I think we all secretly miss the old burning memos, the comforting smell of sulphur, the singed fingertips, though of course nobody here would freely admit it. It’s true we may not reach as many souls by doing things in the traditional manner, but at least we didn’t need to pay attention to something called ‘Netiquette”!
This is number 3: A painting by Aodhan Rilke of Horatio Nelson’s head (from the statue).
Kiss me, Hardy!
Die well lads!
Glory tastes of brandy and camphor
in a small wooden cask
on smooth seas
for the last trip home.
Good name lives on in stone
on dry land
and a deathmask of charcoal.
Die well, England demands.
Finally, there’s this – a photo taken by Bree D’Oh of a sculpture in the Lee Fields
Dinosaurs in the Mist
“It’s what happens to metal things when it rains”, he said, “and don’t be a baby now, it’s not alive, it won’t harm you”. Jane was six. She knew things. She peered through the raindrops on her glasses at the metal monster, studying the red rash that the rain had caused. Today was Saturday, and she spent Saturdays with Dad. Sometimes she didn’t really want to, because they always went to places like this park, and they were always climbing things. Today she wanted to be at home out of the rain instead. It was cold. Dad got angry if she said she wanted to go home, angry in a way that he said nothing, just turned the car radio up. She had learned to smile instead.
They had come to this park before, and Jane still didn’t like it. She didn’t trust the red climbing thing. She knew it was really alive and just asleep in daylight, and it would wake up at night and start to move around. Dad wouldn’t believe her, he’d say she was silly. He’d give her that look, and sigh, and say “So you want to go home then? Ok, fine”, but he wouldn’t talk to her on the way home, so she always knew when he was angry.
In a secret place in the back of her memory, where nobody else could go, Jane had a picture of a dead dinosaur she’d seen in one of her schoolbooks. She remembered it now as she climbed.
Here it is as an Omeka exhibit: onewordaftertheother.net/cms/
So there you go! Is it art or is it simply waffle? Does it actually matter, once we can use all the buzzwords to justify our creation? If we have the confidence to believe in our own work, will this justify what we do?
As I said, I know nothing about art, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand some of it. Sometimes it’s good just to throw around some questions and let them sit for a bit.
I’ll leave your with a quote by one of my favourite authors. See what you make of this:
“I make art. Sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all”
Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane
As a continuation of this post, I want to share my experience of transcribing two letters for the Letters of 1916 project. I believe strongly in this project because handwritten letters and other items from the pre-digital world have taken a special place in my heart of late. For me, letters are records of thoughts and feelings from a distant and different world, and survive now as little pieces of history.
I was first introduced to this project when I attended a workshop entitled ‘Digital Skills for Research Postgraduates in the Humanities and Social Sciences’ (it wasn’t at all as scary as the title suggests).
The project invites members of the public to upload any letters they may have in their possession which date from this period (ie, November 1915 – Oct 1916), and are urged to search attics, old filing cabinets, and long-forgotten boxes of keepsakes in an effort to add to the already impressive collection, (1600 letters to date). It’s an all-out treasure-hunt, and a wonderful opportunity for everybody to get involved in the first public humanities project to take place in Ireland.
The first letter I was worked on was written by S W Griffin to James Smith on February 26th 1916, and concerned a complaint made by Miss Mary O’ Leary regarding the appointment of Bridget Cremin as dressmaker and nurse at Killarney District Asylum. What really struck me when I read this letter was learning that an ‘Office of Inspectors of Lunatics’ actually existed and that one could be an inspector of lunatics by profession. How times have changed!
My second choice was a letter from Malachy J Kelly to the Administrative Area Officer, and this was a strange one because there was no address, nor any official stamp. Another puzzle was that although the letter was from Malachy Kelly, and bears his signature, the words ‘The Administrative Area Officer’ appear at the end of the letter, almost under the signature, which would seem to indicate that Kelly and the aforementioned officer were one and the same person. I have no idea how to deal with this, and although the site offers very helpful guidelines for transcribing and uploading letters, along with a styleguide for metadata, I found no mention of anything relating to issues such as this one.
The website itself takes a little getting used to. Personally I found it very slow to load – so much so that at times I wondered if I had actually hit the button at all. I suppose this is understandable, given that all the letters are images, and images always take more time to load. I had trouble at first in finding letters which hadn’t been worked on already, not realising that clicking on one of the category headings, (‘Love Letters’, ‘Official Documents’ etc), allows the user to see at a glance those letters which are editable. Of course, it would have saved time if I had read the instructions first…Oops!
I would also have like to have seen a really obvious ‘Save’ button at the end of the letter I was working on, instead of one which read ‘Edit transcripts’. Although it has the same function, it’s not obvious enough for the new user. Perhaps this is all down to how slowly each page loaded, but I felt that I spent far too much time overall having to think about what the next step might be. Perhaps the site might benefit from a clearer, more user-friendly interface? In his bestselling ‘Don’t Make Me Think‘, Steve Krug tells us that when he looks at a webpage he expects it to be “…self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory”, and goes on to explain that he (or anyone else) “should be able to ‘get it’ – what it is and how to use it -without expending any effort thinking about it”. For such projects as this, where public participation is heavily relied upon, I think it’s very important to make usability a priority, and to ensure that the interface is as fool-proof as humanly possible.
Having said all this, I did have a great deal of fun with this project, and I found that the actual transcribing part, (the part I had been most wary of), turned out to be the best fun due to the cleverly designed Transcription Toolbar. Both of the letters I happened to find were typed, so I didn’t need to wrestle with deciphering handwriting, which no doubt would be far more difficult. I also found it was easier if I wrote out the letter myself before I started because this dispensed with the need to flick between screens. I will be returning to Letters of 1916 in the future to do some more transcribing, and I’m delighted to have been able to contribute in some small part to this great project.