in the wake of loss 

After my mother’s wake and a week after my mother’s death it fell to me to prepare dinner. My brothers, relatives and neighbours had tended to the job throughout the previous week but on this Wednesday it felt natural that I would make it. 

Like our other family dinners it would be plain and wholesome and everyone would have more than enough. That is, they would have enough if I could get it off the ground. A number of full but topless saucepans were barking from the stove. Roosters were bubbling while orange garden carrots boiling away gently began to soak up a little too much salt. This certainly wasn’t how Mam did it. 

 For the life of me I could not find the right tops amongst the confusion of lids, pots and casserole dishes that remained in our family home after the wake. There is a strange comfort in all of these ill fitting lids. Too large, too small, nearly right but leaving a gap through which steam can escape. Golidlocks, her bears and the warm cuddles delivered to us as children at story time came back to me. 

The confusion of lids is testament to the warmth and care of our friends, family and neighbours who banded together showering us and our wake visitors with beautiful food and treats. A chaotic meitheal of love and giving leaves houses like this one upturned just as our hearts have been upscuttled and undone in the wake of our loss. 

But we know that as lids are slowly returned to their rightful owners, hopefully with the right saucepan, our mother will pass her calm across us, tugging us gently through  the confusion, through the gauze of light that waits for us until we can take clear blue skies again. Thanks to all who helped us with such spirit and generosity. Xx

  

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Speaking of disease…

Bodies are flexible, responsive, malleable, strong, weak, resistant and precarious all at once. They endure more than we can possibly fathom. They live and they die and in between bodies do much to steer and determine the course of our lives. It is from the intersection between our environment, our dreams, our hopes and our loves that our sense of what it is to be human grows.

Engaging with that intersection when its careful organisation is upset by illness of any kind is humbling. Engagement with that intersection while illness pulls the carefully choreographed threads of a life and a life time, even momentarily apart, is an experience of feeling. It shocks us away from the language of bodies mediated through and constructed by policy, news, film, fiction, reality TV and the localised discourses of chat into a reality of negotiation between hurt and existence. It is a thoroughly humanizing and tempering experience.

Returning from this experience back into the world of mediated bodies can be both difficult and illuminating. The watching helplessness felt when struggling strangers and loved ones alike are  effected by illness is offset  by the stark language through which junior government ministers discuss bodies and illness on early morning television magazine programs. Their description of “burdens of care” falls heavy and hollow on ears  made sensitive to the tenuous immediacy of existence.

Reading newspaper articles advocating the continued “battle” against cancer or whatever other disease falls into the journalistic discourse of discussion on a particular day rarely does justice to the capacity of those  experiencing and negotiating a field of body changes and feeling. Even when newspaper articles challenge language the context in which they appear counteracts their argument. One such article appealing for the end of military language in the discussion of cancer appeared in The Irish Times on October 15  2014. “Don’t mention the war: cancer is not a battlefield” focused on the challenges of lifestyle in helping to avoid growing rates of cancer amongst certain image-1groups. In doing so the author Jacky Jones highlighted the need to move away from the military language of battles, growth and target. Jones advocates an approach facilitating the discussion of lifestyle changes. She also argues that the problems intrinsic to the notion we can treat our way out of any epidemic must be challenged.  Such a challenge however, requires a language space that allows room for the very recognition of these possibilities challenges would develop.

Paradoxically Jones’ article was  accompanied by the image above anchoring her discussion in the dehumanized space of battle and biomedicine, away from the human being at the center of the situation and the human beings responding to it. While theCancertolls image is far from the more explicit language of the 1980s HotPress article shown here on the left both image and language mobilise discourses of dehumanization. The  lazy recycling of an age old context shadows Jones’ point and, unfortunately, contradicts her overall discussion.

There is  noticeable and hopeful change at work  however. While those who work with patients deep in suffering may have been educated through a discourse of battle, burdens and biomedicine , they, by and large, have either the empathy, good sense or both  to know that    this somewhat aggressive type of discourse cannot be the discourse through which a human being’s experience of illness should be mediated. Rather they anticipate, and through knowledge, empathy and compassion alleviate pain as much as possible, they work with a body’s capacity to respond and the personality of the human being in front of them to carry out that very simple act of help and guidance back to health.

When news agencies and governments discuss the possibility of blocking care workers who have been at the “coalface” of Ebola, Swine flu or any other current epidemic from returning to their families, the humanity of help facilitated by empathy and supported through knowledge is ignored. It is often couched in discourses of fear and old fashioned prejudice. Even when the Forbes article “The problem with Ebola in the Media” published on November 10th 2014 critiques  the triumph of  the fear of Ebola over clearly thought out effective and compassionate policy it continues to utilize the language of toll and targets.

Narratives  that have developed around Ebola echo early narratives of AIDS and HIV and the situating of discourse of illness in language that protests against fear, dehumanization and anxiety. That same discourse however, simply presents these phenomena as the disease or virus in other ways as though  the description of the disease as such makes it thus. Both Jones’ article and the Forbes article are haunted by the very language of contradiction mobilised here in a 1980’s production of  current affairs program Today Tonight chronicling the AIDS crisis in Ireland. 

illnessasmetaphorcovAt the very least, at the most pressing of moments we should aspire to be as compassionate as we can and challenge the codes of talk that have come to form the ways in which bodies are discussed. In doing so, perhaps, we can return  to crucial moments of experience, carry them into the present thus challenging entrenched language of care, burdens and battles that are so very far from what Susan Sontag would describe as the “pain of others”.

While the multiplicities engendered by representation as well as the singularity of  discourses surrounding certain diseases seem to contradict each other there is a central move within current discourse to  recycle and perpetuate contexts of the body  weighed down by the undertow of history. It also seems hat  contemporary representations too readily take on the highly commercialized world of biomedical industries and technologies into  thinking of ourselves as  becoming machine like or as Deleuze and Guattari might describe us as alternative assemblages working in conjunction with  pre-existing systems.

Perhaps there is much we can learn from this language before we abandon it. If we think of treatment as a forging fluid that is worked around cells to  capture and coat them in a substance operating in labyrinthine ways  within the internal workings of the body, then we can begin to understand how  the substance and the body maintain their fluidity, malleability and capacity to resist. However, we become caught in moments of language that trap us in particular formations. Undoing those formations may require the incredible task of  untangling neoliberal society and  ourselves from language dripping in the past. However,  if  a fluid that can assemble itself machine like within a machine and work to  postpone, if not completely interrupt the development of a virus, syndrome or disease then the least we can do as humans is challenge the entrapment of our bodies in dehumanizing discourses that divorce us from our experience of what it is to be human. It is time perhaps we challenge discourse into representing the malleability of our bodies as being part of ourselves rather than as being outside of ourselves.

 

 

William Trevor and ordinary tragedy

article-0-01269851000004B0-913_224x350Unspoken tensions and  inexpressible disappointment dominate William Trevor’s novels and  short stories. Featuring the failure of ordinary dreams in ordinary worlds, Trevor’s fiction delineates the sometimes excruciating lines his characters thread in making conservative decisions blocking pathways to freedom, inhibition and  romantic love in favor of safe personal worlds. The strength it takes to make these decisions as well as the fear that motivates them are characteristic of Trevor’s writing as a balanced exploration of the tenderness and cruelty of humanity in the everyday.

Trevor’s novella Love and Summer sees protagonist Elllie abandon an opportunity of romantic love with a travelling photographer for a life  of tender security with a local farmer.  The middle-aged protagonist of A Bit on The Side also  leaves romance behind her in the foyer of a cinema for a life of singular independence. Faced with the charm offensive of a man lacking any authentic substance, she chooses to return home abandoning the  experiences that had seemed possible in the early evening.

In many ways leaving the possibilities romance seems to proffer highlights her strength and independence. However, the reader is also left with a suggestion of loss and loneliness that is tragic in its frequent ordinariness. Similarly,  The Piano Tuner’s Wives traces how the haunting loss of  romantic love forty years before the story takes place erodes the Piano Tuner’s second marriage. The unsustainable ghosting of the marriage by a decision made almost a half century before leads to a gradual and irreversible loss of love. It  is perhaps through this slow inquiry into characters’ actions that Trevor threads an appreciation of  humanity across his writing.

Trevor’s novel The Story of Lucy Gault  explores the tragedy of unrewarded bravery. Choosing to stay in the family home after it has come under threat from local rebels during the War of Independence, Lucy is  bound to the house by her past love for whom she has waited since the end of the World War One.  Remaining in Wexford after her parents move away leaves Lucy facing a life of indefinite and isolated loneliness.

As the daughter of the local Anglo-Irish family, she signals the end of the family’s line and the end of the Anglo-Irish in the  area echoing a past soon set to disappear. Lost romantic love and failed dreams, the stuff of mundane tragedy, become the closed cage in which Lucy is bound to wait until her tragic death. Taken by or given to the sea, Lucy misses the return of her first and only love by the shortest of time periods, leaving the novel’s conclusion bereft of joy and in mourning for  Lucy’s loss and, indeed, the broader loss her tragic ending signals.  In tune with the  quite grind of a life of loneliness, The Story of Lucy Gault is testament to Trevor’s capacity to humanise tragic loss that can be overlooked for its  ordinary frequency.

Ray Donovan: confronting Irish America as neither TV drama nor film have dared

images-4A corrupt present and a shady past dominate a number of  recent TV dramas and films featuring the Irish diaspora in the US. Amongst these is Mystic River. Mystic River,  based on a novel by Denis Lehane, visits the impact of sexual abuse and violence on a number of men who grew up in a working class neighborhood near the river.  The film itself leaves us with a sense of loss as we watch the haunting of the main characters by the effects and memories of abuse,  by the guilt associated with abuse and  by the fear  that its violences will stretch across generations.

Unlike Mystic River and other similar films TV series Ray Donovan confronts the darker side of Irish America in a way that has never been achieved so explicitly before. One reason for this is the nature of television series and their capacity to build slow burning narratives reflecting the livelong grind poverty, abuse, neglect and violence leave on a people. Another reason is the clever characterization evident across the series. Consequently, the series challenges the limits of established stereotypes providing an insight into not only the silent torture behind abuse but what happens when confronted by characters like Bunchy played by  Dashiell Mihok. Those stereotypes are not completely undone but Ray Donovan goes a long way  in developing beyond their traditional limits.

Named after the protagonist, Ray Donovan, the TV drama follows the activities of a criminal with a heart galvanised against the past and the pressures of the present. However, the return of his corrupt father, Mickey, played by Jon Voight, adds immeasurably to those pressures. Where Ray evokes respect within the Donovan family, Mickey evokes some humor followed by the bile of acidic and painful memory. The teasing out of these psychological effect of these memories on the cool, calm Ray sees his character move from being numb, to engaging in rough and disturbing sex with his wife to falling for a journalist. Ray is certainly not an angel and is at times very frustrating to watch move towards what seems like impending psychological disasters, but the complexities of his behaviors point to the effects familial neglect leaves on adults.

Bunchy’s character  stretches stereotypes by using a self-help counselling group for men abused by priests to face his past. Having been left vulnerable by his father’s neglect of him, Bunchy was exposed to and abused by a particular priest. While self-help groups have long played their part as dramatic devices in  TV dramas, we have not seen them utilised by an Irish American character in this way before. Neither have we seen a TV drama challenge  perceptions of the effects of abuse the way Ray Donovan does.

Lifting his girlfriend’s son from his bath, Bunchy become frighted and doubts himself and his actions. We see him fling the young boy into a corner of the room and flee the apartment. Confessing to his fears and doubts in his self-help group, the series confronts one of the taboos of abuse: the fear that  abuse will (and sometimes does) perpetuate abuse is challenged by Bunchy’s brave admission of the confusion he felt when lifting the child from the bath.

Bunchy talks through the moment and delineates the difference between fear and intention demarcating a moment of  realisation when Bunchy begins to reconcile his adult self with his abused self, allowing  him to  to separate his past from what are fears rather than intentions or actions. Slowing, ever so slowly, Bunchy’s character is outliving and outgrowing not only his  terrible memories but  he also to begins to outgrow the stereotype of a silent, broken former alcoholic Irish American. Where Mystic River and other films and series  that deal with the same theme fail to challenge the past, Ray Donovan works at showing the difficulty and  the possibility of moving beyond the abusive actions of others.

The slow shedding of the Donovan’s father also suggests a growing space between the gangster glamour  of a past negatively dominated by an abusive patriarchy. Mickey is hateful and Voight plays him with the swagger of an actor who knows he and his character make the series. In the last episode of the second series Voight’s acting borders on slapstick serving to  momentarily  retire the edgy aspects of Mickey’s character. As Mickey chases his enemy through a plush poolside bungalow, Voight’s movements are all keystone elbows and limbs emphasising the  tension Mickey threads between criminality and the pathetic absurdity of a failed  gangster.

Voight plays on his own physicality in emulating the movements of a once rootless south Boston  purveyor of fear and violence while his character looses the respect of his children one by one.  In this respect Ray Donovan, the character and the series, handle aspects of the gangster crime drama in  awkward ways, but the treatment and challenging of the past makes a refreshing one albeit it played out against a backdrop of violence.

Memories of cats or the adventures of Claret, Simon and Ceausescu

Cats Claret, Simon and Ceausescu were a motley trio. Claret, soot black with an accidental mark of white on his right front paw, looked almost perfect. Svelte and agile, Claret  was the most noble looking of the three. Unfortunately, he had a tusk like tooth growing around his lower lip  contorting his almost perfect cat face into the visage of a monster. We loved him nonetheless, and as children our mother regularly told us tales of Claret on, what we now we realize, were very unlikely cat adventures in the environs of a dairy farm. At the time however, we were entranced by every word.

Where  Claret’s farm adventures were unlikely, Simon was equally  an unlikely farm cat. Of all the kittens born on that farm, Simon was the most unusual in that he was born a Siamese kitten in a litter of tabby cats. Angry and  terrifying with a  flexing paw that reached across rooms to scratch you, he could spit venom all the way to China. His anger however, was justified.  Simon was beautiful.  His fluffy coat gave him a blueish grey aura differentiating  him from his mud coloured siblings. His piercing blue eyes and tiny black pupils gave ample warning of his anger but as children this never deterred us.

We chased Simon. We chased him again and then we chased him some more. Trying to catch and cuddle a cat that never, ever wanted to be held was always going to to end badly. And end badly it did, each and every time. Scars of Simon have begun to fade  but they were a great source of competitive comparison as young kids. Children who chase a cat in order to cuddle them probably never deserved Simon’s response but children who pursued him aiming to incur battle scars deserved everything we got.

Ceausescu was the least memorable of the three. Indeed, I don’t remember him at all. I have no memories of scars, chases or cuddles. But I do remember my siblings and I named him on Christmas day 1989. The Berlin Wall was crumbling and the brutal Romanian dictator was removed, if you like, from existence. In celebration of the opening up of a gateway to the Black sea, we memorialized our nondescript and easily forgotten tabby cat him with a naming ceremony bestowing him with the title Ceausescu. Unfortunately he was named post humorously.

On Christmas morning 1989 Ceausescu had, through a unfortunate series of events, hanged himself in a trap set by young children aimed at catching rats. Why my  then very young brothers were trying to catch rats now escapes me but it was clearly a piece of engineering that worked. Poor Ceausescu became entangled in the trap and at the same time as Romania reclaimed  itself as a nation for its citizens, our tabby lost his life.

Sensitive to the horror the cat must have endured, we named him Ceausescu. Retrospectively the name is somewhat insensitive to the citizens of Romania having endured horrendous oppression under the dictator’s regime. Nevertheless he  has  been immortalized and his last horrors marked as ones comparable to the execution of a terrorizing oppressor  reminding me of  children’s awareness of global events and their sensitivity to the horrors others endure.

Should have gone to Specsavers!

150px-RWS_Tarot_10_Wheel_of_FortuneSpending a portion of a Saturday afternoon in sweltering heat in a velvet draped cubicle hardly sounds inviting. And yet I recently presented myself to a tarot card reader in a similar circumstance. Having listened to the whisperings of friends discussing their predicted futures, I decided to put their reader to the test. Could he convince a non believer? The answer is no. Indeed,  the  card reader’s capacity to roll his eyes and rock in his chair to  profound exclamations that “next year is going to be fantastic”, simply generated an uneasy cynicism, questions about performance and this man’s apparent failure to make a much needed trip to Specsavers.

His obvious short sightedness was bothering him. Each distribution of the cards saw him lean so near to the table I worried he could fall into a vortex opening up through his close dealings with time. This, in my book, is a credible possibility for a person who forecasts futures through arbitrary meanings suggested by icons of the tarot. Swooping towards the table in examination of the cards is, it turns out, all part of the performance, and while it is disorienting, it is no where  nearly as disturbing as his eye rolling.

images-2With every temperature  rise in the hot little cubicle came increased eye rolling. Each reading saw my prophet turn his head to the right leaving only the whites of his eyes visible through  half closed lids. Flash backs of Francis Bacon paintings came to mind. Despite the reader’s claims that next year was going to a great one,  a creeping suspicion set in that, in fact, next year would be dark and shuttered grey. Only escape from the cubicle could free me from the impending sense of doom my vortex falling telegrapher of messages  from the future was  generating.

Fumbling, mumbling and sweating I  proffered  €40 euro across the table, mindful of the possible vortex, and crashed out of the cubicle.  Short sighted he may be but he certainly saw me coming. Left gasping for air on George’s Street I wondered how to reach  the nearest Specsavers.  Call me a conspiracy theorist but they have set one up very close by!

keep-calm-and-go-to-specsavers-3

Don’t take sleeping pills on long haul bus journeys!

10559655_10152646373510987_6084850717316060587_nArgentina will stun you by day and Argentina will stun you by night. With terrain as diverse as its history is complex, Argentina  will enchant, shock and surprise. If you visit you will leave vowing to return to embrace the vibrant culture, to try to understand the complexities of a political, class and cultural system that  espouses equality but is experiencing the difficulties globalised money markets visit upon sovereign nations so very easily. While forging a new path out of its own history, it is also caught in the tangles of the past.

If wondering about the tangles of the past with the pressures of globalization, hedge funds and defaulting economies are Iguazunot your thing then seek out the highlights of the Argentine landscape for a much more dramatic escape. Amongst these highlights are the Iguazu Falls on the north eastern border of Argentina and Brazil. There is any number of  reasons to travel to Iguazu from anywhere in the world and each ends in the phrase “because they are breath taking!” Like wise there is a myriad of reasons not to take a long haul night bus to Iguazu from anywhere. All of these reasons end with “because from anywhere Iguazu is just too far away.”  If however, like many other travelers who decide to go, time and money force you into the semi-cama beside the toilets on a night bus, here are a number of reasons why you should never, ever take sleeping pills  to get you through the journey. Even when the stench of bloo loo fills your nostrils for each of the 18 hours from Buneos Aires to Puerto Iguazu take my advice and avoid sleeping pills.

10612658_10152687879490987_172338053553876944_nFirst of all when the bus travels across the pampas  and you have taken a sleeping pill you will miss the change of light as Argentina moves from day to night. The flat plains become a flame of colour with night red spilling across the thin line of the horizon. A sunset without a center, the pampas look as though the evening change is being poured flood like  across the Pampas grass tops.  This stunning sight is not to be missed. Neither is the steak dinner that will be presented to you anywhere between 8pm and 3.30am on the bus. If you haven’t had lomo at 2am, then I urge you not to sleep on the bus.

My top reason for not taking sleeping pills on the bus however, is missing out on cuddling gaucho resting on your shoulder. Argentinians are an open affectionate people. But it is possible that you may be unIMG_20140823_121747-EFFECTSprepared for the snuggles and the warm sweaty hand holding that may go on for a while before you wake up from your slumber. Don’t get me wrong – we are all humans and need a good cuddle every now and again. Iguazu falls are also worth it. But if the fondness of strangers is not part of your holiday plans, then take my advice and avoid taking sleeping pills on long haul bus journeys!

Sultans of Ping and the Absurdity of the Mundane

“You are not as attractive as they are, but you can overcome your ugliness with your wit and intelligent conversation”

If you ever become a rock star and escape with berating the audience  for their ugliness, then you know you are both loved and a master of stage craft. What is more, if you become the lead singer of a post-punk ska influenced indie rock band and pit one half of the audience against the considerably less attractive other half, and that audience screams louder, then you know you have a license to revel in the mundane. Neil O’ Flaherty, lead singer of the Sultans of Ping, has already arrived at this point relieving us of the pressure to fill any gap in the indie rock tongue-in-cheek market. However, for lessons in the celebration and jovial insulting of the ordinary, Neil is your go-to man.

The Sultans of Ping on Stage in Cork 2014

The Sultans of Ping on Stage in Cork 2014

Blending irony and  exaggerated performance, this 1990s band  has weathered the twisting, turning tastes of popular culture to continue wooing contemporary 21st century crowds. Hailing from Cork, their first album, Casual Sex in the Cineplex,  is now over 20 years old.  In camping up the mundane, O’ Flaherty and his intrepid Sultans have  produced classics such as “Where’s me jumper?”, “Give him a Ball (and a yard of grass)”, “You talk too much” and “Let’s go Shopping”. Drawing on the everyday and engagements with the transitional maturation of  teenagers and early twenty somethings, the Sultans of Ping challenge the serious  face of punk rock, ska and the romance of 1980s soft rock.

In “Where’s me Jumper?” the Sultans immortalise the intellectual hippy claiming to be Karl Marx “eating mushrooms in the People’s Park” and an awkward nightclub moment when the potential  dancing presents is dashed by the loss of a jumper. “Where’s me Jumper?” chronicles an identity crisis marked by a lapse into disappointment and the quashing of titillation  “dancing bumper to bumper” initiates. The connection audiences at the recent Indiependence festival in Cork made with O’ Flaherty during the rendition of this classic reflects the continuing love and enthusiasm for these absurd chronicles of the mundane. O’ Flaherty’s provocative performance and  emphasis on broad ‘a’ sounds and screechy ‘e’s teases the audience into chaotic shapes vaguely resembling dancing. The Sultans of Ping are, in short, tremendous fun!

Indiependence Cork

Indiependence Cork  

Where The Streets of the early noughties wallow in the emotional upset caused by the everyman break up of romantic relationships, the Sultans luxuriate in a camp parody of laddish culture and relationships more tender boring moments. Admitting to liking Veronica, that two pints makes a great night  out  and that a couple, no longer able to endure the drug fuelled chaos of their youth, should put on their flip flops and  just “go shopping” together “dear”, foregrounds the ordinary in jilting melodies familiar to us all. Presenting the mundane in the new clothes of ironic wit does not change it, but when O’ Flaherty  strides with Mick Jagger confidence in white faux fur, the cathartic celebration of the ordinary lets us laugh in the face of it . Our subjection to it’s perfunctory pedestrianization becomes an hilarious moment. Next time you need to be cheered up try revisiting the Sultans, and if O’ Flaherty takes liberties by describing your half of the audience as noticeably less attractive than the other half, forgive his arrogance. The smile he will leave on your face will be worth it!


Roddy Doyle is my stalker…

Roddy Doyle is my stalker. Or at least at a certain point frequent path crossings convinced me of this status. Clearly, this recognition works two ways but for a period Roddy Doyle was everywhere. Near me in ques, in cafes, on public transport and at concerts. At times  it seemed there was certainly more than one Roddy. Not quite omnipresent, Roddy moved around Dublin and the midlands at pace ensuring a fairly persistent presence. When does he write books I wondered?

Vaguely chuffed at first noticing Roddy at a belting performance by The Return of British Sea Power in the midlands, I nudged my companion. Agreeing that Roddy was gathering material for a novel, we also hoped he recognised the strengths of British Sea Power from an early stage in their development. This, in the book of any half discerning indie music lover, is enough to earn the schreibmaster significant kudos. At the time, Sea Power were predicted to rise to heights now occupied by the likes of magnolia music makers, Elbow and chief churners of bland, Coldplay. Unfortunately, The Return of British Sea Power are continually eclipsed by easy sales, and as far as I am aware Roddy Doyle has yet to mention them in any of his novels. At this stage they could probably do with the boost Roddy!

Penning novels seemed to have been shelved at that stage however, as Roddy was seen shortly afterwards rocking out to the repertoire of the cult classic band Mercury Rev at Vicar Street. His penchant for indie rock was becoming increasingly apparent. Sporting spectacles only a novelist of substance can get away with, Roddy seemed to know his music prompting a mental note to read  his anticipated next novel on the music scene. Mental notes are sometimes interrupted at gigs by music and the outbursts of  other revellers. Both factors turned my attention to the hazy lights, the rock star profiles of a band putting their all into  Darkness Rising, and the torrent of beer the nearest hispter saw fit to pour down my jeaned leg. Lucky Roddy escaped this!

There was no escaping Roddy though! Twinges of suspicion began to grow when I saw Roddy on a bus in Dublin less than a week later. Coincidence is strong however, and Ireland is tiny so shoving twinges aside, I assigned the crossing of our paths to serendipity. The fact that he was sitting across from me on the Luas less than a week later was simply uncanny. However, when we both alighted at the National Museum I realised that Dublin’s matrix was closing in on me. Being Irish, I expected to find out any day that Roddy Doyle was in fact the third cousin of my neighbour’s wife. This didn’t happen. But what happened next confirmed my suspicions that Roddy Doyle was neglecting his writing to rush around in my path.

Settling into a cafe in the Italian quarter in Dublin,  I set up my notebook to do a bit of typing. Being in a tiny cafe where Italian waiters encourage you to indulge in little chocolate luxuries and relishing a cappuccino, I felt pretty relaxed. Relaxed enough to ask the woman on the bench next to me to watch my belongings while I used the ladies. “No problem”, she said, “I am just waiting for a friend” and that has since become one of the most ominous sentences ever uttered. “I am just waiting for a friend”. The  explanation was needless and, yet, when I returned it made sense. Sitting across from her was her friend and, of course, it was Roddy Doyle. Who else could her friend possibly have been? At this point Roddy Doyle was not just recognising me but clearly  jokes I made to  friends about our frequent meetings were becoming reality. Roddy Doyle was my stalker.

Realisations have consequences and this one snowballed quickly. Becoming preoccupied with the perceived  fact of having a stalker, I began to revel in it. I gobbled up Doyle’s novels. Revisiting Paula who walked into doors was excruciating and following the movements of Henry back and forth through war torn Ireland into the under worlds of Dublin was thrilling. However, getting to know Jimmy  Rabbit again was easily the most enjoyable revisitation. Jimmy Rabbit, the protagonist of Doyle’s early novel The Commitments, is a dreamer seeking to over come the obstacles working class Dublin puts between him, soul music and managing a motley crew of musicians and fractured individuals into global stardom.

Regularly imagining interviews with Terry Wogan during which he modestly bats Terry’s praise of his imagined success aside, Jimmy’s wanderings act as a literary device filling the reader in on the future possible directions of the plot. Jimmy loves music, champions popular culture as politicised action and dreams of bringing a white soul band to the heady heights of Stacks and Motown. Aspirational this may seem but for one single beautiful moment, stardom is almost possible. Jimmy’s band misses success by the grace or gracelessness of  accident. His imagined interviews come to nothing and we are left witnessing Rabbit’s gracious acceptance of chance and what never came to be.

The grace of acceptance  Rabbit demonstrates is admirable. However, such grace can only work when followed by the enthusiasm to tackle aspirations from another angle all over again. Recently, when bombing down the M7 towards Limerick, the shock of seeing giant white star fish suspended and turning  above a valley jolted me out of  a day dream. Drawing closer to the wind turbines, my internal conversation with Tom Dunne, radio talk show host and former lead singer of the 90s band Something Happens, in which we were discussing my blogging joy ended. Conversations with Tom Dunne? Giant suspended star fish in the midlands? Clearly I have turned into the female version of Jimmy Rabbit. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is certainly not a good thing.  Admittedly, internal conversations with Tom Dunne in the car are  less embarrassing than interviews in the bath with an imaginary Terry Wogan, but they won’t  improve my writing. Work might help, but better still some tips from a former stalker would certainly be of much greater benefit. Roddy, where are you now? Your shadowing is required and there could be a couple of mixed tapes in it for you.

On being a nationalist #ntl

Being a nationalist in the 21st century is hardly voguish. After all nationalism implies hefty loyalty to a particular cause. It also requires a willingness to participate in events and media binding you to concepts of nation and nationality. More importantly it necessitates a profound and continuing sense of togetherness. In an age when the transience of our focus shifts from tweet to post with IMG_20140716_212508hitherto unexperienced speed, adhering to the specifics of nationalism is difficult, if not impossible. Impossible that is unless you have discovered Indie Rock band The National.  One night in a hot tent with a few thousand others in the west of Ireland in mid July listening to The National and you will be hooked. One night with The National and being a nationalist will become your new and, perhaps, your sole preoccupation. One night with The National and your love of popular culture’s mob tendencies, minus the ugliness, will be renewed.

Inflated and exaggerated these claims may seem, but having witnessed The National bring their audience on a “blood buzz” last week at the Galway Arts Festival, I am convinced of their merit  now more than ever. If this has happened to you in Galway or elsewhere then it has probably become  impossible toIMG_20140716_234430 avoid embracing nationalism. You will find yourself scrolling their Instagram posts, liking them on Facebook, waiting for notifications on Twitter and seeking out possibilities to hear them play once more. You will connect with other fans and seek out reasons to discuss the band’s  gradual yet stunning rise from the sparsity of their early albums to the beautiful craft of  Boxer and Alligator, and later to the heartbreaking layers of High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me. You can probably find little else to think about other than stunning honesty of Mr November or that suspended moment when The National yielded their acoustic offerings of Vanderlyle, Cry Baby, Cry to the audience. This is the kind of focus that makes you a new nationalist. And no, it doesn’t matter that you have already seen them play twice this year because The National provoke that kind of dedication in their fans.

But what is it about The National that prompts people to follow a band  that  in many ways are subtle, discreet and underwhelming? Perhaps it is the very honesty of their subtlety that appeals to their fans. Being a fan of The National allows you to join with others in melodic mappings of failure’s heartbreak, the vulnerability of human weakness, terrible loss and the fear of joy’s abrupt truncation. Matt Berninger and the other members touch these tender human traces  making their fan their peer and not their idoliser. The National pull the threads of pain and exhilaration out of all of us to form a binding togetherness that can only be described as being a nationalist. The loose binding of a hashtag #ntl goes deeper when you are a nationalist. Am I a fan? Just a little…

Insect Hotels, Force, Bruno Latour and our Power to Contribute.

Insect hotels occur in inordinate numbers in Switzerland. Rustic structures resembling a
insecthotelcabin, they provide gathering or swarming space for insects. Odd constructions, made even more odd by stumbling across them in the dark of a Swiss night, insect hotels are relics to the contributions individuals  and small groups make to our domain. But what is so special about insect hotels in Switzerland? Building quirky homes for spiders in a country that is hardly short on space or scenic landing spots for insects is testament to our capacity  to consider the vulnerable and what largely goes unnoticed. Little spots of industry, insect hotels are places where force gathers to percolate wisps of power outwards. Feeble it may seem, but that gathering of force in spots of energy builds, allowing us to reach out and around us enabling impacting connections. Spots of force that is enable us to make a difference.

Emblematic of a gathering power, these oh so dangerous in the night structures, and the wisping power insect hotels initiate, parallel “vibrations” of  domesticated power and undomesticated force. Bruno ConnectionsLatour discussed a similar type of “vibration” at the Digital Humanities conference in Lausanne, Switzerland recently. Referring to “double-click formations” we build online, Latour emphasised the significance of interconnections, and the gathering nodes of knowledge we form through online interactions. Building connections through technology, through our reading, through our activities we create “vibrations” across and between both knowledge and each other.

We capture and contribute to those ever-growing “vibrations” to create distinct nodes of   knowledge. Minor wisping contributions become knots of knowledge and nodes of power and, sometimes, those gathering nodes are enough to stop us in our tracks. Stumbling through the unmapped terrain of our new connections, these knots are the very launch pads from which we can contribute to our domains. Being open to building knots is the first step individuals and small groups must take in being brave enough to build and test their potential. Brave interactors have a lot in common with the builders of insect hotel and respect goes to their constructors everywhere!

*force – see Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus

“I guess we’ll just have to adjust”: Arcade Fire and why we need to be bored by The Pixies.

Pristine skies are something of a rarity in Dublin. June 29th however, was one of those welcome occasions when the weather yielded to neither cloud nor night cool. Ham Sandwich, enthused by the showing in of their idols, were adorable. The sun shone. When night came Arcade Fire filled it with light and sound. Guitars screamed. Voices soared and crowds echoed lyrics excitedly. Indeed, on June 29th we were all excited. Well, almost all of us. The Pixies bored and looked bored with only  hard-core Pixie fans staying attentive throughout.

Their flawless but sultry performance suffered from a certain rheumatic aura. Hit followed hit. image-fcfe85c8173d2129325b2cc35bd0dac69aa6f6971a7bd3e966226e9d7effc87e-V-1The crowd, populated mainly, but not solely by those of a certain age, swarmed stage ward after Ham Sandwich to be met with trophy number after trophy number. “Hey” and “Where is my mind?” had us on our feet  yearning to name our own consciousness while turning from tones of milky Irish to freckly red. In between the crowd lost interest and The Pixies didn’t seem to care. Younger crowd members, there to see Ham Sandwich and Arcade Fire, were given a lesson in rock’s cool detachment. What else might you want? Engagement with the crowd? Maybe. Deviation from a jaded performance that has clearly been repeated countless times? Certainly!

The Pixies have a scant reputation in terms of  crowd interaction. They bang out song after song regardless of those listening. This is their style. Knowing that however, does little to prevent the onset of disinterest. Cooing to “Caribou” is one thing but swaying jauntily to “Here Comes Your Man” when even Frank Black has openly expressed boredom is another. Watching one of the most impacting bands of the late twentieth century churn out anthem renditions of their most influential music is a little grinding.

Still, close your eyes and you can hear their influence echo down through the past thirty years. From Nirvana and The Libertines across the spectrum to Arcade Fire where indie meets rock, bands pull their roots from The Pixies’ exploration of punk, psychedelic rock, surrealism and old fashioned rock and roll. For this reason alone,The Pixies should never stop touring.

Boring to watch they may be, but we need The Pixies. Metarock, gigs where music is mediated by our mobiles, has spoiled us. We want bands that look good in pictures and cool as hashtags. The Pixie’s exposure to crowds whose attention is split between the event, social media and the music makes their performance seem something of an historical exhibition piece. In light of movement away from pared down rock towards roller coaster concerts dishing up explorations of light and sound, modest displays where music speaks for itself are necessary. They remind us what raw brilliance sounds like by itself.

These occasions, pristine but boring are likely to become much less frequent in the future. Unlike Arcade Fire, we will Mileyandthepopenever witness The Pixies donning a Bono or  Pope head to rip up a picture of Miley Cyrus with the crowd accompanying a flat screen  Sinead O Connor singing “Nothing Compares to you”. The Pixies will never blast the stage in white light and release confetti in a million pieces into the night. The Pixies, in this respect, are a much greener band than Arcade Fire.  However,  metarock is here to stay and The Pixies have not gone away. Not yet anyway.

We now occupy an odd space where we can still remember gigs without all the tricks of  theunnamed contemporary festival. But we expect more. As crowds we expect light, sound, confetti and to be teased by both band and music. Standing between us and the band, our phones act as an immediate channel to the wonderful world of social media. Delights Arcade Fire and their ilk deliver are expected when parting with hefty admission prices. Nonetheless, The Pixies’ influence will last long after Arcade Fire’s capacity to draw huge crowds has diminished. We need The Pixies to bore us so that we know the raw enjoyment of rock before it disappears altogether. And when The Pixies are gone?  Then ” I guess we’ll just have to adjust!”

 

You know when you’ve been tangoed…

Emerging from the basement of the Globe bar on George’s street earlier, the evening settled powdered and blue across Dublin’s sky. Silken dusk scarves pulling themselves across the city for the night brought a certain peace to the moment. Half turning back to say goodbye, I moved off the kerb. This, I knew, was going to be awkward. The people in whose company I had just spent the last two hours were also finding the moment a little strained. My shuffling certainly didn’t help.

A strange sight you might think. A group of acquaintances saying goodbye with one looking upwards as though utterly entranced while twitching away from them down the street. Having witnessed the occurrences of our last dance class however, they knew it wasn’t strange at all. Rather it was required to alleviate all of our embarrassment. Sky focusing helped avoid their eyes. It was goodbye and we all knew it was for the last time. I wouldn’t be back. Both brief and tumultuous, my flirtation with tango has definitely come to an end. It was enjoyable at times but for once, I can safely say this relationship is over.

Tango requires poise, rhythm and a certain confidence. Most of all however, tango requires that your have two feet at the end of your legs unrestricted by dyspraxia. Your feet that is should understand simple instructions like leave the weight on your right foot and swivel, and swivel until the lead urges you to swivel in the opposite direction. That, apparently, is all it takes to perform a backwards ocho in Tango.

Trust your weight on your feet and turn on the ball of your foot. Look poised.  Now, pull your breath from your stomach. Lean in towards your leader. Push against him. Only move when urged to do so and read his movements. His movements, a body map, let you move through space together. Keep your legs loose. Move from your hips. Lean in. Not out. Lean in. Strike a spatial equilibrium between you keeping your embrace rounded and firm. Hold your hands in the centre. Relax. Forget that both of your palms are sweating profusely. Swivel. Extend your leg backwards. Keep your weight on the other foot. Turn, extend, move, swing, straighten up, breathe, listen to the music, so on and so on.  Poise, rhythm, a physicist’s capacity to interpret space and turn it into action are all the skills required to perform the basic moves of tango. Their absence however, brings embarrassment, extremely sweaty palms and the awkward collision of bodies. That simply isn’t tango!

Failing to dance opens up lots of possibility however, and not dancing tango in Dublin is just as interesting as dancing tango in Dublin. Just beware of the risk to your pride. Saving face is certainly important to the established dancers of whom there are many but they actually can dance. However, throwing all pride aside lets interlopers like myself become briefly privy to the politics of a well networked niche that has had people dancing across Dublin’s basements, bars and society’s for the past 20 to 30 years. Fleeting but fascinating that insight has now come to an end. And it is all a little disappointing. Rather than being an inability to accept that I will never really tango across a wooden floor in Buenos Aires, the disappointment towards my dyspraxic feet is more to do with the ending of this look into and at tango fanatics.

Lessons and melongas (social meets) in the Globe are just a small suggestion of the movements and interactions of Dublin’s dancers. Indeed, the capital’s tango fanatics meet five nights a week in places like the basement of the Globe, the Turk’s head, Wynn’s and the Pillar Room. The Pillar Room, a secret room tucked away behind the Rotunda Hospital on Parnell square, draws a “classy crowd”. This information, passed in whispers and with the confirmed confidentiality of a hand squeeze, suggests layers of hierarchy and a thinly veiled snobbery at work. Being poised and classy, it seems, is of central importance. The regulation and control demonstrated on the dance floor stretches across this network. This, after all, is tango, not rock and roll. The push and pull of resistance dominates this dance rather than what looks like the suggestion of tantalizing moves and sensuous chemistry that could explode at an given moment. It is a dance of control.

Knowing this of course does very little to quell the mortification of your patient leader moving you to the right with yet another ‘okay we can start again’. Tango bliss, a state far beyond any existential knowledge of our being, is further away than ever. Indeed, my encounter with tango has drawn out an inner child tripping around in her mother’s stilettos. It is back to rock and roll for me. It may be a short cut to a point outside ourselves but the slide of rock guitars and the safety of dancing boots are easier to trust. Sophistication and control may induce bliss but this woman knows when she’s been tangoed…

Nights like mornings

Approaching the summer solstice

Approaching the summer solstice

Mid June in Ireland offers nights like mornings. What seems like endless hours of daylight promises potential long forgotten  last winter. On nights like this, in a city like Dublin, anything is possible. Open air cinemas compete with museum hunts, late night music events and the  opportunity of a loose limbed stretch across the sands  licking Dublin Bay.

On the night before the solstice Dublin lured a friend and I away from the strand into a late evening gig at The Sugar Club on Lower Leeson street. The Fred Wesley Trio, headed by FW himself, pulled us into the intensity of their layered sound immediately. Bringing the whole audience on textured navigations of jazz solos and crescendos, FW’s sound was full of the endless return of solstice promise. Fred Wesley, we salute you!

Fred WesleyTriocrop

The Fred Wesley Trio at The Sugar Club