datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: March 2017

Hypocrisy and Middle Ireland

There are few things as galling as enduring hypocrisy. And those struggling for abortion rights are having to endure more than their fair share of it. It often feels as if the only thing standing in the way of abortion rights is hypocrisy. It assails campaigners from all sides.

There are the tone policers. A section of the commitariat that has managed to misinterpret the marriage equality referendum as a template for all future socially divisive campaigns. They want clean cut, middle class women, to tearfully come out to their grandmothers about the abortion they had because the foetus could not survive. They want campaigners to hold the hand of Middle Ireland as it reluctantly agrees that some women deserve autonomy, in some cases, for some reasons. They want gentle. They want clean. No burst condoms, one night stands, poverty or careers. No bad timing, wrong circumstances or indeed anything that smacks of women refusing to take responsibility for the sex they chose to have. Of course, rape victims should have some physical autonomy, but please don’t mention the near impossibility of turning this into law.

Keep it clean and polite and all things nice. Our betters are certain they know how to win. They may not campaign, but they just know. They expect standards, but only from one side. The vicious and serial dishonesty of the anti-choicers is never even alluded to. The made-up statistics, the made-up links, the misleading agencies, the money and the overwhelming hatred of women who have sex. Not one comment. Whatever act of fanatical misogyny, they escape censure from the tone police?

It is Middle Ireland however that is most guilty of hypocrisy. A hypocrisy that continues to confound those of us who work for abortion rights. The polling evidence is clear, a majority of Irish people agree with some women, being allowed abortions, in certain circumstances. It’s as if the status of the foetus is unimportant. What matters is the woman. How did she arrive at the point where she has demanded (always demanded) an abortion? Are they nice and tragic or just buyer’s remorse?

The foetus doesn’t matter. What did the woman do? Don’t talk to me about the ten women who leave Ireland every day for an abortion. What has the woman done to deserve an abortion in this country? My country. My dear old Ireland. The foetus doesn’t matter. Middle Ireland pretends it does but even the anti-choicers won’t dare suggest a travel ban on pregnant women, by repealing the 13th Amendment. No anti-choicer would dare suggest that women returning from the UK be charged with procuring an abortion.

Middle Ireland knows that abortion is a daily reality for Irish women. They know it is commonplace. Many of them have taken the plane themselves for each and every reason that women choose to have abortions. From the nice and acceptably tragic to the ones they don’t like to hear about, women choosing to have sex. But they want their hands held. Spoken to gently. Told that their prejudices and hypocrisy are values and morals that deserve respect.

This can never be a rerun of the marriage equality campaign. Grannies could have their hands held. Their clean cut, middle class, gay grandsons could appear on posters. Marriage equality was zero-sum. Winners takes all. No reruns. It wasn’t some gay people, in certain circumstances, if they met the standard of Middle Ireland respectability, that could get married.

It’s taken decades to get to a point where pro-choice campaign groups can see the possibility of some sort of a referendum on some aspect of the Eighth Amendment. We’ve gone from being a country where Middle Ireland locked up pregnant women and sold their babies, to a country where abortion rights are debated daily. This is progress. Slow, painful and frustrating, but progress.

If the Eighth Amendment was repealed tomorrow and the right to free, safe and legal abortions was inserted into the constitution, the campaign for abortion rights would still not be finished. Those who hate women, particularly women who have sex, will never stop. So, we can never stop. And you can fuck off if you think we are going to start being polite to those misogynistic shits.

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On Noveling: Choosing a Title

I hate naming stuff. Anytime I write a blogpost I have to ask Paula for advice on the title. There’s a lot of expectation put on a title. It’s supposed to describe and attract, but using only a handful of words. Sometimes, just a single word. And to make it more complicated, one wants to exhibit a touch of class by avoiding ‘clickbait’ titles. That’s a lot of pressure.

As I write this I am still unsure what the title of my novel is going to be. It’s a science-fiction story set about 10 millennia into the future. So, do I call it ‘Ten Thousand Years’ or some variation on that? It has aliens. Do I call it, ‘First Contact’ and pretend I don’t know there’s a Star Trek film of that name?

Why am I even stressing about this? Because naming your novel is the single most important thing you’ll ever do. That you can change that title ten times a day, every day, until it’s actually published is irrelevant. The more you focus on the title the less time you have to worry about writing the damn thing. I get to spend hours wondering about something that will be one to four words in length. That is so much more manageable than 60 to 80 thousand words.

So yes, it is a colossal waste of time. My most successful story to date was called ‘The Bucket.’ The Bucket! I still cringe when I say it but I don’t think there can be a better title for that story. It’s just so prosaic. I know that whatever I call my new story today, is not what I need to call it tomorrow, but naming it does have a function.

When I began this project, I created a new folder on my laptop. I called it, ‘Writing Project.’ That does not draw the eye. It does not inspire. It will not excite. A name, a title, gives the novel a life. A separate (even if wholly dependent) existence. It’s a form of anthropomorphism. I’m visiting with this entity, feeding and molding it into the finished being it was always meant to be. When the really hard work begins, it is this degree of separation and obligation that will hopefully inspire me to continue.

And again, that doesn’t mean I won’t change the title in a heartbeat if I think of something better. But the separateness continues.

So, for today and possibly all this week, my work in progress is called, ‘In Ten Thousand Years.’ I will now change the name of the folder and begin to think of this being called, In Ten Thousand Years. It’s a bold title. Well, it’s longer than my usual. I’ve rarely gone beyond two words. You can imagine the misgivings I’m already trying to quell.

Next week I’ll write about the characters. Or more accurately, write about writing about the characters. There are really only two in this story so that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Previous: On Noveling                    Next: The Characters

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On Noveling

I wrote recently about experiencing a level of anxiety that has necessitated me getting professional help. Part of that anxiety is fueled by my inability to write. And my anxiety is causing me not to write. It’s a sealed loop that I’m trying to unseal. I’ve not had a lifelong desire to write fiction. I can trace that desire to about fifteen years ago. Since then, telling stories has become an integral part of my identity. So, when I’m not writing, me and my concept of me get uncomfortably skewed.

It’s frustrating in the extreme. I don’t even like writing fiction. I like the ideas that swim around my imagination. I like exploring them. Putting them in some order. It’s just that communicating them to anyone outside my head is painfully difficult. What I’d like is someone with the skills and discipline to write a novel, to reach into my head and take those ideas for themselves. Create a bit of art that has its genesis in my idle musings. Save me the pain and absolute drudgery of trying to communicate those ideas through the medium of the novel.

I keep reading blog posts by writers who describe their process, hoping they’ll have the secret to making noveling easy. I haven’t found that secret. Writing a novel is, and always will be, hard work. A long and brain melting endurance test that doesn’t even guarantee a product anyone will care about. Yet here I sit, with anything up to ten different novel ideas fighting for attention in my head. I need to begin to get them out. They’ll drive me mad otherwise.

So, I have decided to change my entire life. Well not really. I’m going to gradually, incrementally and carefully begin to alter certain aspects of my life so that the process of writing a novel, becomes less intimidating and awful. The first step has been going to bed earlier. Yep, I know, how dramatic. I realised some time ago, to my surprise, that I write better in the morning. I had confused being able to stay up late watching TV with being a night owl. I’m not a night owl. I just lack a routine and when I’m tired enough to go to bed I spend a long time procrastinating because it’ll involve brushing my teeth, seeing to Arwen, unplugging stuff. I can get another 30 minutes of channel-hopping out of that.

The aim is to be in bed by 11.30, read for half an hour and then sleep until about 7.30. Get up and write for an hour. That’s it. That’s all I intend doing for the next four to six weeks. I have a long list of other steps but I know if I try everything at once it’ll be easier to give up. If I manage this small thing for that length of time, then I will add more steps. There is one other thing I’m including though.

I am a very vain man. I adore attention. That probably won’t come as a surprise to many people, but let’s pretend it did. Thank you. I intend using that vanity for something useful. Mornings will be for writing my novel. I haven’t a name for it yet and it may be more a novella than a novel, but it’s the story I intend concentrating on for this year. Anyway, afternoons and evenings will be for planning that novel and describing that planning process. It will offer an insight into how an inexperienced, unsure and struggling amateur novelist tries to novel.

I’m hoping that my vanity will encourage/force me to have something to write about. No doubt a few posts about not writing anything will be acceptable to a reader, but a litany is just that, a litany.

So that’s my plan. It may fall on its arse or it may spur me back into my groove. Either way, I will begin on Monday 27th March, with the aim of having a novel (or novella or even a novelette (shut up, that’s a real thing)) ready for publication next Christmas, Winterfest or Saturnalia.

Whatever happens, I hope you will at least enjoy my bitching and moaning and insights. I promise that no matter how unproductive I get, I will give a detailed weekly update on my failure. OK, yes, that was a terribly transparent attempt at lowering your expectations and garnering sympathy. But my first entry will be titled, On Naming a Novel. Both boring and pretentious so I do need to mitigate that by appealing to your emotions.

See you Monday.

Next: Choosing a Title

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Anniversaries

I hate nostalgia. Well, I hate other people’s nostalgia. I quite like my own. And I want to indulge my nostalgia as I recently celebrated being two years married to Paula. This isn’t just a piece of nostalgia about Paula. It’s also about Twitter. I’ve a somewhat rose-tinted view of old Twitter. I remember Twitter in 2012 as being a much gentler environment than the febrile maelstrom that it has now become. And it was in 2012 Twitter that I met Paula.

I’d joined Twitter with certain goals in mind. First, I wanted to meet fellow Middle Earth and Federation nerds. I had been assured that nerds lived in the internet and not in really rural Kerry. Second, I wanted to tout my blog. And finally, I’d declaim on politics. I knew everything and would enlighten the gentle folk of the internet machine with my incisive assessments.

I got a bit of a shock. I quickly realised the people there were smarter and more interesting than me. I reacted to this in a way I still take pride in, I enjoyed it. I learned a great deal and I made friends. Many good friends, but friends I never got to see in real life as they almost all lived in Dublin. I found myself quite jealous anytime a tweetup was being planned and I couldn’t go because of either work commitments or lack of funds. But I got to talk about Middle Earth and about why Deep Space 9 is the best Star Trek. And people read my blog. A blog I had to improve as I knew now the calibre of person I wanted reading my thoughts and opinions.

And Twitter being Twitter, it managed to combine my writing and Lord of the Rings into a meeting with the woman I eventually married.

Paula was on Twitter but we weren’t aware of each other. Irish Twitter was tiny so there was only ever a few degrees of separation between us all. The ‘degree’ between us was Andrew Madden. I’d written a piece that had been provoked by an unpleasant (not homophobic obviously as we aren’t allowed say that word anymore) Irish Independent column. It proved a popular post and was brought to Paula’s attention by Andrew. We began to follow each other. There was nothing of romance at this time as I knew Paula to be a lesbian.

I wrote my article on October 31, 2011. We met for the first on October 29, 2012. And we met because of Lord of the Rings.

The RTE Concert Orchestra was due to perform the music of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and as I’d been to the Fellowship of The Ring performance, I was definitely going to this one. It occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to arrange my very own tweetup. To finally meet the people I’d been chatting to for a year or so. It took place in O’Neill’s on Suffolk Street. To my surprise and joy it was well-attended and many of the people went on to be guests at our wedding.

Again, there was no romantic connection but there was a connection. I thought she was a lesbian so it didn’t occur to me that a romantic connection was even possible. But a firm friend she would definitely be. What I hadn’t read before we met, was a post she’d written, coming out as bi. We worked out a few months later that it had been published during a Twitter break I was on. Yes, even in Old Twitter, Twitter breaks were a thing.

Poor sheltered culchie that I am, I hadn’t encountered someone who was bi before. I wasn’t entirely clear of the rules. But over a few months of DMs we decided a date was called for. And it just so happened that I’d be in Dublin for the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. We’d planned to see each other on 17th as I was going to the cinema on the 16th. But we decided we couldn’t wait so we met briefly on the 16th, before I headed to the cinema. We married 15 months later. Half the guests were friends we had made on Twitter.

I am aware that I remember old Twitter through a fog of nostalgic bliss. But I think you’ll agree that my excuse for doing so is a good one. Because of Twitter (and Lord of the Rings) I met my wife to be. Because of The Hobbit, I went on my first date with my future wife. The only sad part is Paula couldn’t give a shit about Lord of the Rings.

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Learning Shame

I still remember my skin crawling when Tony Blair apologised for the Great Famine. Now, as then, I could not help but feel the act to be mawkish symbolism. Though I am in the minority. It was a well received apology. The devastation of that famine cannot be overstated. And that efforts to ameliorate were minimal is uncontested. Blair was head of the government of the nation who had to power to relieve, but chose not to. That the famine occurred over 150 years ago, is considered immaterial as the entity known as the UK still exists.

That is how we look at the world. We have divided ourselves into nations. And there are rules to being a nation. Everything your nation has ever done, is doing or will ever do is your responsibility. Everything our nation does is our business and we’ll only take responsibility for those acts we choose to take responsibility for. We expect and demand shame and pleas of contrition from others. We carefully educate our young to only see what is commendable about us.

In the last few years the head of government in our nation has had to make various apologies for how our nation treated its most vulnerable citizens. It is the closest we’ve gotten to admitting that the imagined nation created for the consumption and indoctrination of our children is wildly different from the nation that exists in reality.

We only exist as this nation because we have taught our children that this nation exists. We only exist because for generations we have taught our children that we exist. And this belief is bone deep. It is unshakable. It is an integral part of our core identity. We are Irish. We exist because we have always existed. We exist because being Irish is better than not being Irish. We are Irish because our ancestors are Irish. We are Irish and proud to be Irish. We exist because we have taught ourselves to exist. We are this nation and no other. We are this nation because we are proud to be this nation.

How then do we integrate shame into this self-perpetuating identity of exceptionalism and pride? The dead generations (and not so dead generations) that took a nation and forged from it a state, stand now accused and found guilty of callous cruelty. Not the personal cruelty, confined to home and hearth, but a cruelty made into custom and law. A cruelty of intellectual and material poverty. A cruelty of devotion to virginity and faith. A cruelty of rigid conformity and hypocrisy. A cruelty of gender and class.

A cruelty that only idealism and patriotism can fester.

How do we weld shame onto pride? How do we conjoin identity and reality?

And worse, so much worse, is the money. We might forgive the dead and not so dead generations for their wanton obedience to a vicious ideology. We could patronise them for their naivety and simplicity. Even excuse them for being in the inescapable clutches of an all pervading custom of hate. But the money.

This was not simple idealism. This was profit. This was not punishment and rehabilitation and salutary lesson. This was profit. Babies were sold. Hair was sold. Labour was sold. This was profit.

In this more enlightened age we understand the power of faith. It can animate those in its power to acts of unimaginable callousness. Many of those who imprisoned pregnant women, took their children and forced them to work probably believed that this was the right thing to do. I imagine it is easy to hate women, especially sexually active women, if one is taught to hate women, especially sexually active women and with a particular vehemence, sexually active women who aren’t married. And why would one even ask about the boys and men who got these women pregnant when one is taught to hate sexually women and only sexually active women?

With the correct interventions and therapies, one could possibly counsel this hate away. One could learn to forgive these poor souls lost in their hateful faith. But the money. The money. The money. They sold babies, hair and other people’s labour.

How do teach ourselves the shame we expect other nations, other states, to feel? Do we just leave it to the Taoiseach du jour to apologise and the taxpayer to give inadequate compensation? How do we teach the shame of our nation colluding in the kidnapping and selling of babies?

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Anxiety

So, I’m back in therapy. This will be the third time in my life I’ve had to enter into a long-term relationship with a stranger where I tell them all my deepest darkest secrets and they give me fuck all in return. Worse, I have to pay them large sums of money for the privilege.

It is very annoying to have waited until middle-age to become acquainted with anxiety. Depression I can handle. Been there, done that, bought the non-tax-deductible remedy. Anxiety however is new. Where depression I felt in my stomach and behind my eyes, anxiety appears to live in my chest.

What gives this unfortunate place of residence that extra soupcon of unpleasantness is that I’m a middle-aged man with a genetic predisposition to heart disease. A middle-aged man who has read a bit too much about the physical cost of stress and anxiety. A middle-aged man who is now paranoid that every twitch and twinge in his chest is a prelude to a fatal heart explosion. A middle-aged man who is quickly piling on all the pounds he had managed to lose last year. And all those pounds can be measured in take-aways and crisps.

I never thought I would miss depression. The thing about depression is that it has an element of anaesthesia about it. That numbing effect that helps one shut out the stuff a grown-up person is supposed to care about. You know, bills, relationships and Climate Change.

This anxiety thingy however makes me hyperaware of everything. And I’m using the term ‘hyperaware’ utterly incorrectly here. I’m not hyperaware, it just feels that way. And because my mind is signalling fear in the face of such mundane issues like my phone ringing, my chest tightens and this makes me more scared which tightens my chest ever more and in the end, I’m exhausted and drained.

It has shut me down professionally, creatively and socially. Again, that sounds very dramatic. I still turn up for work, I still have ideas, I interact with people I have to interreact with, but the effort is almost overwhelming. I’m shit in work, I can’t write for shit and I’d give my last cent to avoid any social situations that might extend to actually being me.

I am struggling to express myself. Yes, a straight white man who is writing on his blog about his struggle to express himself, is struggling to express himself. More ironing than you can shake a stick at there. Yet that is where my head and chest are at.

A typical day now consists of lurking on Twitter and Instagram and playing CivIII for hours on end. And not writing, not debating, not dieting or exercising, not in fact being a grownup middle-aged man who does want to do all these things but is stuck avoiding all these things because they make his chest hurt. And because he’s avoiding all these things his chest hurts. No wonder I’m reduced to forking out money I don’t have to speak at a professional who is tasked with using the silences for me to find my own solutions. Therapy is such a fucking racket. Life-saving yes, but still, a bastard fucking racket.

I am now in the accomplishing tiny little goals phase of the process. I am trying to write 1000 words a day, walk Arwen, trying to eat only one packet of crisps a day (a bloody big bag I’ll grant you, but still, baby steps, I haven’t even looked at the chocolate content of my day), read a bit (did I mention I’m even struggling to read?) and do a few chores. The sort of day that most adults manage before leaving for work in the morning.

Those 1000 words don’t even have to be creative. This blog post counts towards my daily 1000. And I’ve a bunch of other posts I’ve tried to write over the last few months that I can return to, to get my count up. Anything to get the expression muscle motoring again. Yep, I just typed ‘expression muscle’ and haven’t deleted it. But it, and repeating it, means four more words. So fuck it, it’s staying.

At this point I’d gut my entire family, even the ones I like, if it meant I could get writing again. If it meant relaxing the knot seizing my chest. Fuck, I’d even settle for the knot returning to my stomach where it has always been before when I’ve been unhappy.

Now I have to decide if 800 words is close enough to 1000 words to count as task accomplished. Which will lead to an internal debate about back-sliding and whether a bit of slacking is ok in the current circumstance or if settling for nearly there will defeat the purpose of having a daily task. That knot just gets tighter. If I could only afford daily therapy or even weekly I could dump this issue at the feet of my therapist and then watch him manipulate me into picking up that mess myself and deciding my own solutions. Like I said, a fucking racket.

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