Thursday, 8 August 2019

"What exactly is wrong with you?"

Instead of being initially heartily offended - as the textbook Cancerian I am - I find humour and new things to consider from reasonably bizarre exchanges.

I arrived at the hospital for a routine check-up. I was half an hour early so my better (and considerably taller) half had some time to kill in the main foyer, but there were no seats. A woman must have noticed my heavy sigh as I was clicked my heels to turn the other way.

"You can sit here with me," she said gesturing to her table, "I'll be leaving in a minute anyway."

Grand so, I said to myself. We both thanked her and sat quietly, not wanting to disturb her from her tea and cupcakes. I had a lung function test that day. I was focused on enjoying the quietness, not wanting to get involved in too-highfalutin chat that would tamper with my various levels that none of us really know the proper names of. I admired her floral ceramic reusable cup and let my mind wander to mundane things such as does the coffee dock here offer a discount with one of those?

She began asking some relatively innocent questions; "Are you visiting someone? Oh, you have an appointment, what's that for? Oh, you're from Achill - I cycled down there-"

She talked about her sons, what she hopes they'll do with themselves and how her eldest better learn to drive, "I keep telling him, once you learn it once - that's it."

There were questions about our studies and careers - and oh, just subtly about where we might settle(!)

Where would you get it?

By all accounts, she was probably a well-intentioned individual who didn't mean any harm in the questions she kept firing at me. My life is not a straight forward thing to be poking and prodding about with curiosity. It's true to say that could be said for almost all of us. It feels like a breathing exercise in itself having to tell a certain chunk of it, as open-natured as I tend to be.

"And, eh, do you mind me asking what, like, happened to you? Was it an accident or-?"

Jhaysus, stop the world and let me off. 

A few milliseconds passed between Chris and I playing eye-ball table tennis on how I would manoeuvre around this one. 

Half-smiling in the distance, trying to figure out how she could pin this one on me. I had not thrown around any orthopaedic buzz words or mentioned a 'bad back'. She must have noticed the way I walked when I arrived.

Do I walk much differently? Honestly, I couldn't tell you for a twopence. I probably do to a degree but I prefer not to know fully, sure I don't need to. I feel I know more than enough.

"Arah," I started. I gave her the brief two-line explanation I give anyone if they happen to ask. It is fair to say it's a knee-jerk reaction that I shouldn't feel I need to give on every occasion. Whether or which, between a rock and a hard place, I have synopsized 22 years down to a fine science.  

Having assured her I knew exactly where I was going, she insisted to walk down with us to the corner of the hospital where I was going to have my test. I was showered in the universal sentiments that I am (allegedly) an inspiration and "the rest of us really shouldn't take anything for granted."


Whatever I thought about it, the technician wasn't happy. My heart rate was higher than it should be. "Are you nervous about anything?" she asked.

I had been undergoing these lung tests as a precautionary measure due to my congenital scoliosis for as long as I can remember. I could nearly do the test myself at this stage. I explained about the chat and the questions I was asked, despite hoping for even 20 minutes quiet time beforehand.

"Ah," she threw her hands in the air, "well Mary has just ruined my test!"

I came out – albeit later than I planned - unscathed, thankfully. 

It made me think; how entitled are we to ask these things? Some might ask why I bothered going into it at all but in some respects, I would prefer to be asked politely about it rather than a pair of eyes to me gawking trying to figure me out. There is, however, little anonymity when it comes to disability. 

Having said that, there is ways and means of asking these things. Top tip: it might not be best to blubber out “what is wrong with you?” Don't get me started on the "inspirational" gold coin of the whole saga.

I’m not an inspiration, martyr or soldier. I have my own ways of dealing with it in response, I'd drop the hint in the strongest country-lingo stored in large compartments at the back of my head I usually keep a lid on in the Pale.

Arah, well sure look - this is it. The bills will be coming through and I have to find a way t'pay them, no more than anyone else. Sin sin, sin a bhfuil agus sin é.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Samhradh | Taking Stock

I have always seen and treated summer as a time to grow, learn or as we say locally – to “stand back and take stock.” Some people do this more typically in winter or the New Year. But for me, it marks the end of another academic year, a chance to gather my breath, find space for my head and process whatever has passed since the previous summer. Oh and yes, my birthday is smack-bang in the middle of the season, that might have something to do with it all of this put-things-into-perspective mullarky.

I have missed this, writing slightly longer posts, sharing and blogging itself. I am not the first, and I will not be the last to say that the business of it has changed considerably. For those who are involved in it, you will understand this for yourselves. It has stepped away very much from the written word, and blogs being set up by people who enjoy the act of writing itself. It is now more visual (which is great!), but it can be said it’s become more superficial and more of a money racket. With each passing year, our attention span of consumers of media becomes shorter and shorter. This results in far fewer people reading this far into an article. 

For the last year or so I have felt very disconnected from it and I took a break. I started my journalism course and my attention was fixed more towards news and news writing and well, building a new life for myself. I had battled, and still battle the balance between both worlds; my interest in current affairs and broadcasting, as well as creative writing and the arts. There are more pressing things to worry about, of course. Though I will be coming to a crossroads in the next year or two about having to decide where I will start. Do I dive straight into a Masters programme after I graduate? What will that be? Will I work for a year or two first? Where will that be?

And the thing is, no one cares! Breaking news, just in; you have to make life decisions on your own and even if you think you don’t know what you want, darling, you still know better than anybody else. What’s the matter, Kitty? You have so much opportunity and CHOICE and you are COMPLAINING of such?

So I know only I will make these decisions, and no one else will care about them as much as I do, and that’s fine. It’s like assignments and grades, no one else can put the work in for you. That’s life in general, really.

But then I remind myself that I have made some pretty big decisions of my own accord the last few years and I have some headway.

Amongst other things, this is what I have been mulling over while we have all been basking in our heatwave. Summer is where I do most of my figuring out and writing at leisure, and it is at times and weather such as this that I am also reminded of my late sister. Not only did Ashling lap up the sunshine whenever she could, but she also had plenty to say! I can only imagine what she would be saying to me about what she reckons of things now, as we'd sit on the green, dodging the bog to "mind the house."

For anyone that knows me well enough, they will know that I am often actively putting things into perspective, and very few people will know just how often I do this. It’s something I have to do to just be okay with things, not take things too much to heart, combat the occasional bout of low-mood, to be thankful and humble, to not let life’s general fashion of passing overwhelm me. It can be rewarding, and tiresome – although the latter does not always rule the roost thankfully.

I look at things from all angles, all sources, as many eventualities that I can imagine, what gets what from A to B, and what makes that journey easier and what hinders it? Who is involved, who will benefit, who will not? It’s not about winning or losing, it’s just accessing the art of how things simply pan out. People are what I find most fascinating, so it is people who I try to understand as well as myself.

I am very much encouraged to think this way also, it helps when reporting for news. If you did not think that way for journalism, you would almost definitely end up getting sued.

Other annual notions present themselves between the months of May and August, I cut my hair shorter, more books are read, more physical ground is covered, I re-evaluate my skincare routine and get to be as fit as I can be. This has been jokingly and affectionately called by friends the “time where Catherine goes through a stronger hippy-dippy phase and sheds herself before the winter.”

In my own life, it is a beneficial exercise to make sense of things, and it can be carried out almost anywhere. I do not claim to be "all-seeing" and "all-knowing", either.

If I have been in your company, I have probably gone through it to some extent then without you knowing, or verbally dished it out in discussion if I feel I can. But often I neglect or turn less time towards acknowledging what I would think or feel about subject y. I would be annoyed at myself for just being annoyed in the first place.

I was told in recent months by a very close friend; “You are strong and I am proud that you seem so rational, but it is okay to acknowledge your own feelings and mark the logical operation for another time.”

They were right – although they usually always are to be fair.

Poetry helps to quieten things down, to see what I reckon myself and to solely understand, whether what is written is stylistically good, bad or indifferent. I may be crippingly indecisive to decide what film to watch or where to eat, but ask me something with a bit more substance behind the question mark, give me a minute and I’ll have a few more notions in the bank.

That is what I am doing a lot of this weather; taking stock of more than one thing at a time. But all is well – as I come towards the end of my 20th year. The currach is swaying over my homely clear-blue western waters nicely, evenly and steadily.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Nine Grids | A Poem

How things go,
Their sequences
Left untouched
Present jump cuts regardless
Keep an eye on that aperture,
Watch the depth,
If the shutter speed is too slow you’ll
Miss the shot entirely,

What will your caption be, kiddo?

White balance calls to mind
Those rose-tinted glasses
We all wore at some point -
I lost mine along the line,
A bus from College Green to Ballymun last Spring
I pick up a pair the odd time
I feel the need,
Lose them again
And repeat.

Every person will take away
Something different from
Something printed;
Glossed and brazen,
But flimsy matter
Ignorant to scrutiny

I looked over the shoulder of
A young doctor
Reading my notes in his lap
As he quickly flipped
Through pages containing
Delineations of my windy spine;
“You probably don’t want to see these”
He said.

I made him flip back
To the page
And told him his learning
Does not stop at RCSI.)

A simple matter of trial and error
Balancing the wheel on the edge
of the curb,
Shift focus
Keep your finger halfway on the silver button,
Gently rested but
Ready for action,
You have it,
You have it.

You could frame it,
Give what you saw a
Sense of permanency
Until the colours fade;
Magenta -

In a hallway,
Bedroom wall
Or the top of a fireplace,
Far away from here,
By all means
Have faith in what
Your eyes see and have seen

For they take around
Sixteen thousand
Pictures daily anyway,
The ones worth storing
Could be found on a
Sheet of crinkled paper
At the bottom of a wardrobe
Or in a prized technicolored
Under my pillow

Through the looking glass,
The subject will shift as the
Eighty thousand people
You’ll come across in your lifetime
Flit in and out,
But the rule of thirds
Will keep you in line.

I said that you have it.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Under Glass | A Poem

Dear friends under glass,
You bear witness to stories told
From both sides of the Shannon,
Mainly the East for the
Time being,
As you would have it -
If you would have it;

I am not the same spirit of
Last winter,
Just made from a different air
That allows wind to swell and slip
Through tight corners of
Time and tidal waves
With more ease.

Someone flew to and from Germany,
And if they are back on home soil
I am afraid it wouldn't make 
Any odds to me.
Another village soul brought charm
To an otherwise dreary summer
Yet still managed to hide behind
A veil of suspicion come September -
Like a playwright scrambling words
For an inconclusive Act to the drama
And God help him if he bumps
Into me in Eurospar.

My friends under glass,
These names can fly in and out
As easily as the clock strikes 12 twice daily,
They do not stick,
They do not linger,
But you manage to,
We will not move your place from
The mantlepiece or hallway walls
Or the shelf of smiles by the
Front door.

Spring brings new growth, surely?
Let those withered brambles do away with
I had not been home in four months;
Umpteen hellos and inquiries of life's 
General fashion of passing -
It had been 13 years since I smelt
Lilies as strong as these
A child before -
A woman now.

There in the porch, he lay
Bead-covered hands wrapped
On top of a navy tailored suit
Hands of my grandfather that;
Drove trains in Birmingham,
Cut turf every May,
Sifted through cards in a game of 25,
Curled around the steering wheel of his
Volkswagon Polo to pick me up
From school.

A strong man,
A good man he was,
Our John.

What is life?
Is it an unknown act or art of progression?
Because even if one tries to quietly
Sit in a corner of Vicar Steet,
You may still receive three
Standing ovations,
As president.

But you will have the eternal love
Of your children,
As The King,
Even if you struggled to remember
Their names towards the 
Finishing line,
When the curtains draped over on
A life lived,

As you join my dear friends
Under glass. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

A Stream of Consciousness | For My Pals

There are many things in my day-to-day life that bring me sweet, utter and complete joy. Off the top of my head, here are some that are on my list:

Saying hello to people as I pass by them.
Facemasks and a chill playlist.
The first cup of tea in the morning.
Good company.

Today I want to elaborate on the latter.

I am about to progress onto my second year of university. While I am excited about what lies ahead and how everything will pan itself out, I cannot help but feel incredibly reflective of the year gone by. It is something that has dominated my poems of late ('Twenty', 'Coming of Age' and 'To Leave, To Live) but I have not elaborated to any great length or depth in the written word, here.

A young Catherine spent a lot of her time praying for the day to arrive where most things, or at least important things would fall into place. She willed whatever Greater Being there was to show her what it was like to feel understood, that she belonged. In school, she typically kept a lot of thoughts to herself and often did not pass comment in groups for fear of being talked over or her words falling flat in empty air. She clocked in every morning and clocked out in the afternoon, threw herself into homework in the evening and aimed to get enough sleep to get her heels out of bed the next day.

Often, looking at herself in the mirror in the morning to adjust the collar of her blouse, the same question would flash through her mind, “How in the name of God am I still able to do this?”

At her debs, towards the end of the night, a (rather intoxicated) classmate reminisced the “good aul’ craic” that was had over their six years of schooling together, to which she merely nodded. Walking back from the smoking area (which she only passed time and attempted to avoid second-hand smoke), he swung back to her to make a final comment:
“But you, Catherine, were always on the sidelines.”
Knowing there was no reasoning with him, and a high likelihood of him failing to remember what he had said, she kept a level head.

“Maybe that was where you put me and kept me, but that is somewhere I certainly won’t be for much longer,” she said before taking a swig of her drink and walking away with a swoosh of her skirt across the function room into the nightclub.

Fast forward two months later and I began to meet an endless number of people, who would without knowing themselves, go on to help shape how I delved into my personhood from there on in. This has involved everyone from my housemates, journalism crew, friends of friends, other supa fly peeps who came along the way and random drunken chats in the girls’ toilets (if we’re being completely honest here).

There have been small things too of course, more significant things that have hallmarked their way into my memory to stay, some of which I will list, in no particular order:

The high-fives I received from my friends as they walked in and saw I finally got the seating I needed for my lectures.

Nights in with my SWIG gang and our Christmas dinner to which I got “BOOTY-CALL” shouted at me for unfortunately having to leave early for reasons which were most definitely not of that nature.

One of my closest friends offered to meet me in town to bring me home after I rang her, aimlessly walking around a college campus not familiar to me following news I received which was not sunshine and roses. An hour later I finally got a bus home, but she met me at my flat with a bottle of wine and popcorn.

Having had only two hours sleep on said night above mentioned, I was adamant I would not miss out on a lecture. Someone popped down to me from the back of the lecture room with a scone in a brown paper bag, hugged me and said; “I know, and it’s awful. But he is irrelevant. I am staying with you next Thursday and we will do something fun.”

The willingness of anyone who has been happy to link with me en route from pre-drinks to the bus to town, or from town to home in the little hours of the night, you are honestly the truest gems.

Bonfire night, two mates came down for a visit. We tried to locate a “secret beach”, which ended up being the most well-known beach in Achill. I proceeded to suffer from the worst hangover in all eternity, but of course, completely worth it.

Leaving Hangar and my pal sitting in the front seat asking the taxi driver: “Whats your full name Mr Driverman?”

Literally, anytime I go shopping with the intent of purchasing hippy pants and/or bralettes (yes, shock horror), I always think of a certain Foody friend (I hope you’re reading this lol).

Playing Mario-Kart with my housemates and our friends, living life content with our Dominoes order. My lamp that made a number of appearances, was placed in the corner of the room to give a lilt of “ambiance” that humble student accommodation struggles to provide. We all loved that lamp.

These are only a fraction of summarised stories I think of regularly. They are some of the stories, though in their own small and big ways, have helped me to find peace with the world I am a mere spec of. There are stories I could tell that have come about more recently, but I would be here writing a book.

The one thing that they all have in common is; the individuals behind them all hold the kindest of hearts and free spirits. I think as a creative person, connections such as these can form the fundamental bones of tangible art which one can ultimately go on to feeling spiritually strong and content.

As whimsical as that may sound, that has what has unfolded in this chapter in this tidal wave of my life.

Thank you, my wondrous pals, let’s keep swimming.