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Side Effects

orange eyeIt 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!

 

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The Lesser-Spotted Us!

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.

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Someone to be!

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?

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A fitting poem by a Master

shropshire picThe Land of Lost Content
by Alfred Edward Housman

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

This is how I feel at the moment 🙂 I’ve lost my old ‘un-digitial’ life somewhere along the way, and as Sam Anderson puts it, ”it’s too late to just retreat to a quieter time”. This quote appears in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, (a book I’ve been raving about for ages). It comes from an original article called ‘In defense of distraction’, written by Anderson for New York magazine in 2009.

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Farewell John Smith’s

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Well said, Stephen!

Today was a sad day in the history of University College Cork, as it saw the closure of the university’s bookshop. I can’t begin to describe how devastated I am on realising I can no longer wander in to browse through the treasures on the shelves, exchange a few words with the friendly folk who work there, and probably forget my umbrella because I’m so distracted at finding the perfect read to go with my cuppa.

I was going to write something to the tune of ‘given the current economic climate, it’s not surprising to see even university bookshops closing down’ and blah blah blah,  because that’s what people keep saying when I moan about it, but that would be a lie. It is surprising, it’s shocking even, come on, this is a university – who ever heard of a university without a bookshop? Really?  I understand that the decision to close was not up to UCC, and that there is no doubt a John Smith’s head-office somewhere which, in its wisdom, decided we didn’t actually need a bookshop – hey, we’re just a university, why would we need a bookshop?

I don’t hold with the reasoning behind the closure at all- that ‘most’ students are going online now to the likes of Amazon to source their books for the coming year, how many is ‘most’?  Not everyone is prepared to do that. Some still enjoy leafing through a physical book before they make a purchase, they like to see if it’s reader-friendly, what size the font is, the chapter layout, the overall ‘feel’ of the book, if it ‘speaks’ to them. Amazon won’t go to the trouble of organizing all your first-year English books by module and wrapping them nicely together so you know you have everything you’ll need. Amazon has no comfortable red couch downstairs for you to sit and breathe in the quiet book smell, or launch into the first few pages of your latest exciting find because you just can’t wait until you get home.

Perhaps another bookseller will see this as an opportunity and come to fill the John Smith’s-shaped space left now in Aras na Mac Leinn.  Let’s hope so!

 

 

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A Hallowe’en Poem

Under the Stairs

In the space beneath the stairs,
in darkness,
lurk the demons of my life.
They feed on twisted dreams
and liquid sorrow.
Sometimes they escape
and ooze their way
into my heart
waiting for me to scream.

Here’s a wordcloud I made of the text using Wordle:

wordcloud
You can follow my ramblings on Twitter

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Eureka

Don’t you just love days when the whole world is working with you, and sends wonderful people to help you along? Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time – I mean, one day a week would do me nicely, I wouldn’t want to be greedy. 🙂

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