New leaf

I love when I find echoes of a past happy time in my life. I love the symmetry, and also the trepidation. I love the feeling of connectedness, as though my life really is a narrative with themes and leitmotifs. I love the moments of uncertainty jolting through the familiarity.

But sometimes the most exciting thing about a new situation is that it is new.

When I was a very small child, I used to think that the clouds only appeared to move in the sky because the earth was spinning, but the clouds were in fact still. The sun, moon and stars were too far away for us to be able to perceive their relative shifting. But watching the clouds to me was like watching the road slip away under the wheels of a car. When I realised that the clouds do in fact move across our skies, I was struck with bitter disappointment. There had been something comforting in being able to look up at the sky and remind myself that we are moving forward.

The excitement of change reminds me of that. The clouds’ drifting spoke of the racing of time, of our own aging and development, and the amazing experiences that were waiting for me in my future, waiting to unfold. But I also was aware of the cyclical nature of time; that we may be hurtling through space, but we move in a fixed path, and the world spins only on itself.

And so we move forward, but also back on ourselves. The seasons come and go, and each time they come around we feel a content recognition, a familiarity. But each time they come around, we are different, we have changed. And so things are new even when we come around to them a second time.

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Recharging

My research project presentation is on Thursday, and I’ve been sick for about 10 days. So to cheer myself up and reward myself after a long day of sighing over my laptop, I’ve been watching movies in the evening. There are hundreds of movies that I’ve been recommended over the years, but it turns out that thinking of all of them is basically impossible. Still, I’ve been managing to get around to watching a lot of classics, the kinds of movies that everyone has seen and can’t believe when I tell them I haven’t. Yesterday, it was Groundhog Day. Today, When Harry Met Sally.

I used to feel like watching a movie in the evening was too long a commitment of time, but then I realised that if I sat down to watch an episode of something, I would inevitably end up watching at least two, and if it’s a 45-minute long programme then that’s the length of a movie right there. And watching movies is just so much more satisfying – there’s never the need to load the next episode and watch the first five minutes just so you can bring yourself to stop watching and go to bed.

I’m 22 minutes into When Harry Met Sally now, and loving it. I only know Billy Crystal as he’s looked in more recent decades, and I can’t believe how attractive he was. I do have a soft spot for short men, though, to be fair. It’s a fairly recent realisation, but I think I’ve probably just never allowed myself to like short men before now, because I was still self-conscious about my height (tall).

Anyway, this is a pretty rambling, pointless post, so I guess I’ll wrap up here. This summer has turned out to be very different to what I imagined – much more filled with college work than I had hoped, for a start. But I’ve been getting a lot of satisfaction out of little things like this – my movie dates with myself.

Choice

Is it possible to choose logic over emotion?

We feel hurt and anger, most often, in a place beneath logic. So it would seem that if you managed to focus on the logic of a situation – on the fact, on the circumstance, on the actual bare bones of the reality – you could avoid some of the more unpleasant feelings in life.

I have tried this. I am an innately logical person, I analyse and I try to understand other people. I am not without empathy, I am not unreasonable. But inevitably, the emotional aftertaste starts to colour the logic, and eventually all I am left with is the churning of feelings that an event brings about. The histrionics burst forth.

But it must be possible. Because there are things in life that make no sense to me otherwise.

This must be how people choose to hurt those they care about. The logical step – the logical conclusion. A decision made for the greater good, to be cruel to be kind. I wouldn’t know, because I have never made a conscious decision that I knew would hurt someone I really cared about unless I was retaliating in some way, licking a wound.

That will sound ridiculous. Of course I have hurt people, I have made hurtful choices, I have said hurtful things, I have repeated things that should not have been repeated. But there is this phenomenon that I have seen in a few people on a few occasions – something like a reverse martyrdom. The clear decision to be harsh, to be cold, to pull away. The email unanswered, the phone not picked up. The clear break.

The only way I can understand it is that they have somehow managed to choose logic over emotion. They have decided that this logical course of action will save them some hurt at a later date – or, worse, they have the presumption to assume that they are saving me some later hurt. There is some logic, there must be.

Because I do not want to think that they are acting on their emotions.

The violence of feelings

It’s like feeling through the dark.

Everything is vivid, but my eyes are closed. I am afraid of what I might see if I opened them. I stand in the dark, but I don’t turn away. I can smell the colours; I can hear the shapes.

I revisit old times, old feelings, as though searching for something. I read old letters, unsent and received, and pore over faded photographs. There is an answer, somewhere in the evidence of my past, but I can’t find it. I cry old tears, and afterwards feel exactly the same.

Those old wounds are not what I can feel before me in the dark. So why do I torture myself with them? Perhaps you must first move backwards in order to move forwards. Perhaps I am afraid of moving out into the world without context, without the sting of lessons learned still smarting on my cheeks.

So I let them go. The letters, the photographs, the text messages and emails – they fall from my hands like petals into a stream. I let them go and face into the dark with my eyes closed.

 

[I didn’t write it with my eyes closed, but the Boy With A Hat helped inspire this]

Strung

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My mother started playing the guitar when she was in college, back in the late 60s. She had always been musical – achieving grade 8 on the piano, and playing cello and clarinet for her boarding school orchestra. The guitar was a more 60s- and 70s-friendly instrument, one you could pick up at a house party to play a Joan Baez or Bob Dillon song.

Her first guitar was one her mother owned. It’s lying around the house these days with no strings, no fret board. I gather it’s such poor quality it’s not worth the cost of getting it fixed up, so we keep it for its sentimental value more than anything. Someday soon it’ll be a museum piece.

Once my mother had mastered ten chords and some finger-picking techniques, she bought her second guitar. She met her French guitar teacher in the city, and together they picked out a guitar in Walton’s music shop, which is still the biggest music shop in Dublin today. It was the mid-1970s, and it cost her 25 pounds.

As a child, I played the violin and the tin whistle, and I surely must have picked up the guitar at some point, only to find that my fingers – long as they were for a child my age – couldn’t get to grips with the wide neck. But I didn’t give it much thought until I was fourteen. I was studying for my Junior Certificate in school that year, but I never had to do much work when I was younger to achieve good grades (that would change later, much to my shock and chagrin). I had just started listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Bob Dillon and Jeff Buckley, and I had a burning desire to learn the guitar.

So my mother’s second guitar became my first. Her music-playing days had gradually lapsed, and I was to carry the torch. I spend two or three solid years playing for hours each day, writing several songs a week during that time. I fell out of the habit, and never became really good, and now my shiny new Martin guitar sits in its box mostly untouched. But I still have a soft spot for that first Spanish guitar, and the memories it disturbs, rising like dust.

Re-reading

I’ve had a draft of a post sitting in my dashboard for two days now. It’s not getting anywhere, because I can’t seem to turn it into something that makes sense. For all that I hold back very little when it comes to this blog, there are some things that are just too private or too delicate to talk about openly. I have also been sick for the past few days, and that’s not helping either my clarity or my motivation. I think I’m going to find it very difficult to get back to work on the research project when I’m feeling better. Only 35 days to go, and I can’t wait.

So instead of writing, I read.

My re-reading of Night Train to Lisbon hasn’t been going very well. I think I read it twice before, and it moved me on both occasions, but this time I’m finding the translation extremely clunky and the story doesn’t grab me. I always find it interesting how books change when I re-read them. It has only been in the last year or two that I’ve found the experience to be disappointing. It’s a particularly devastating experience, actually, to pick up a book you think you loved the first time, only to find that it falls flat.

The Finkler Question was one such book for me. I had read it once, over a year ago, when I was doing some work experience in a music archive in town. I absolutely loved it the first time I read it – it was laugh-out-loud funny, moving, and the characters seemed real. But when I re-read it about a year later, I found it only amusing, and only some of the characters convincing, and it trailed off in the end, for me, in a disappointing manner. The political issues seemed now to cloud it, rather than acting as a sturdy foundation.

It could be that I’m becoming more critical as I get older. Or maybe the humour I’m in seriously affects how I read things. I definitely find that with The Time Traveller’s Wife – every time I read that book, it means something completely different to me. I can move from finding it uplifting, to utterly devastating. And I think it all depends on how I’m feeling at that time about love, about life, about fate and accident.

I used to re-read things in order to revisit a certain experience, but now I re-read things in order to see how they will change.

Sometimes I think life is too short to be reading the same books over and over – there are so, so many books out there to be read, it overwhelms me. Every time I talk to someone about literature, they mention about 10 more books I absolutely have to read, some of which I have never even heard of.

And yet. I continue to pick up the same books again and again. The ones that have remained the same over the years – The History of Love by Nicole Kraus, as a perfect example – are like a comfort blanket, a safety net. I know how they will make me feel. I know that they are well-written, and that they will make me want to live, want to write. So I suppose I re-read in the hopes that it will become one of these precious books, an integral part of my life, part of a collection of parallel universes I live my life alongside.

Sporadic sunshine

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Because of all the rain we’ve been having, our garden is incredibly lush and green for the time of year. Yes, Ireland does tend to stay green all year around, but the abundance and vividness of the plants this summer is truly incredible, especially when the sun does deign to shine. I’m not sure that it makes the rain worth it, but it is beautiful.

Happiness is

I think I need to figure out how to write about being happy. Seriously. I realised today that I haven’t felt like writing as much in the past few days, and then also realised that I’ve been (mostly, stupid research project excluded) very happy during that time. The two things, on closer inspection, seem to be connected.

I suppose I tend to write about “deep” things like feelings and major life crises etc etc, and those things are just more usually connected to negative feelings. I actually remember having this exact conversation with a friend over a year ago, where we agreed that there seem to be very few emotional states that are conducive to expression. Mundane feelings don’t cut it, but weirdly, it seems equally difficult to sit down to write about anything on the happy spectrum from mildly pleased to ecstatic.

Maybe it’s a good time for me to write about things other than myself, as that’s another thing I’m bad at. To be fair, I’ve rarely tried to write when I’m in a mood like this – the whole problem is that I don’t feel like it in the first place. Or maybe that’s not a bad thing? Unless I decide I want to make a living out of creative writing, I guess.

But I think I’d like to be able to express everything, to record everything. As it is, what I do record tends to be the more negative aspects of what I’m feeling about things, and the days when I smile all the way home slip between the cracks. I’d like to be moved to write simply because it’s a sunny day, or I’m excited about something, or I woke up feeling particularly happy. I know it happens sometimes, that the creative mood strikes at the same time, but I’d like it to happen more often.

Maybe this counts? It’s a start.