Usually at this time of year I get a little blue, a little down. There are cycles of ending, a need to discard and even shred stuff; energy is taken up by this exercise that is not left to spare yet for leaping into the new.
This year it feels different . I am making a conscious effort to discard what is not serving me well in my life, and that feels good. The clothes that are still in my wardrobe are being worn. The books that are weighing down my study shelves are being scrutinised to see why they are still gathering dust there -with their microscopic print and yellowing pages, in some cases. The self help books that have not worked will be recycled in case they can help others’ selves. Reading is re-emerging in my life as a pleasure, and I intend to read only what I want to read. How freeing is it not to have to wade through acres of text to get an A4 sheet attesting to the achievement. Can I let go of those gold framed certificates, degrees and diplomas? No longer relevant is how they feel now.
It’s a time for remembering, for calling home, for reconnecting with family and friends. For missing people who were here in the past. For wondering what this New Year will bring -what new opportunities through being open to change and growth; for realising that every moment is a gift not to be wasted; for giving with grace and receiving with joy all the abundance and blessings that life lived to the full can bring. Looking forward , not back; dancing to a new tune; not making resolutions I won’t follow through on. Happy New Year!
Recently I was invited to the opening of an exhibition called ‘The White Cottage’ by my friend, the poet and visual artist Jo Slade. The exhibition was housed in a remarkable old building in Limerick called ‘The Sailors’ House’, situated as you might guess, close to the docks, and around the corner from Dolan’s Warehouse. The building itself is fascinating – I think it’s owned by the Harbour Commissioners now and was at one time a Garda station in the city- it has been rehabilitated only to the extent that it is still standing and secure but internally the plaster has come off the walls, leaving an unfinished texture, bare stone in fact, and plenty of gaps for the wind to whistle through.
The exhibition opened on the first startlingly cold night we have endured this winter and the cold from the concrete floor came in through the soles of our feet. I began to visit the exhibition haphazardly but as I walked around looking at the images and small sculptures, before I had had a chance to contextualise or read the chapbook of Jo’s poems that accompanied it, the cold came right in . I saw images of people who had lost their identity, their physical identity, their freedom, their very being ; images of death, destruction , incarceration, deprivation – all brought about by the impact of war and the absence of humanity. It was a response to Jo’s experience of having visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2007. ‘The White Cottage or the Little White House was the name given to Bunker 2 (originally a woodsman’s-farmer’s cottage ) at Auschwitz-Birkenau . Many women and children were murdered there in 1942,43,44.’ as Jo tells us in the introduction to the poems in her chapbook. It’s a very powerful work which literally knocks the breath out of you .
On the last day Pauline Goggin facilitated a discussion which arose from – perhaps- reactions to ‘The White Cottage’ exhibition. Other memories of different wars – old (Northern Ireland for example) and new and frighteningly current (the ongoing destruction and displacement in Aleppo.) The word ‘witness’ as both noun and verb was important in the discussion just as it is important in the face of atrocity or in dealing with evil . Is witness enough? I found myself asking. Can witnessing , a form of calling it out, standing up and being there, be enough ? As students , damn nearly a hundred years ago, we thought that it was important to witness by protesting , for example against the University’s investments in South Africa; sleeping out all night at the City Hall in Belfast to protest about the Biafran war; bearing witness to what is wrong and arguing, debating, articulating in the hope of making change happen.
More, so much more, that needs to be done as the world lurches to the right and we close our eyes and our hearts – unless someone calls us out, to witness , to reflect, to remember, to take action, to open up.
Stylish after sixty- hell if you haven’t got a personal style by now are you ever going to get it ? What is that style ? Does it only refer to how you present yourself in the world or is it about how you do things? Other words float in here – elegant, spontaneous, eye catching , colourful, classic , boho, relaxed, comfortable- all relating to the idea of style as a visual, something to do with presentation. There’s a connection to grace, to giving , to generosity too -say it or give it with style.
When I think of style I immediately think of the era that I was born into, the Fifties, just after the austerity of the war years. The New Look was in fashion, introduced by Dior, as were the full skirts that we are seeing in vogue again at the moment. Women going out wore gloves- a lady was never seen without her gloves- and often a small hat perched on the back of their heads. I loved the T.V series ‘Mad Men’ because it evoked memories I have of my mother , glamourous in a peacock blue evening dress,a matching stole lined with pale pink draped around her shoulders, or wearing a strapless plain black full skirted cocktail dress with rainbow coloured taffeta underskirt, and high heels. That was style to my mind.
Being stylish at any age is being comfortable with yourself above all else.Being stylish after sixty is a little more difficult because the body is sometimes uncomfortable -and complains at being asked to wear for example high heels. You may be making a transition from working life, requiring a ‘smart’ or sometimes rather conservative style of dress, to a more relaxed, everyday, informal way of life-a life style change, which no longer requires a skirt suit, dress and jacket , shirt and tie, for example . Of course that’s all of an another era now too – the line between work and leisure clothes has blurred – not always in a stylish way.
Sometimes that change can be difficult to accomplish with style. and that’s where the services of a personal shopper or stylist come in. It’s also worth investing in the services of a good hairdresser as the right hairstyle can make a real difference to how you look and feel.
More than anything be true to yourself and cultivate your own unique sense of style. Do what you need to do to feel and be the best you can be – and be good to yourself while you’re at it !
The stone rolled back,
filled the garden with light
more gentle than sun.
I ached to hold him.
Who had unwrapped the linen
sweet with gardenias
that had spared his eyes in the darkness?
The tomb held no fear for me
its white coolness had berthed him safe and calm
after torture and treachery.
I tested its texture smooth on my bare soles
soothing after the long walk out.
I laid my head where his head had lain.
I stretched to fit the length of his form,
put my feet in the same hollow
traced the vein of the marble
green as spring sap rising
tasted the salt of tears on my cheek
thought of the angel’s wing on my back
thirty odd years ago.
Written some years ago- for the season that’s in it, feels right to share.
Happy Easter !
Woke up today to see golden light pouring in from the landing, to hear birds singing, and immediately jumped out of bed and got three major things done before breakfast. It’s promised by Met Eireann that the weather will stay like this all week so I am hoping that this surge of energy and optimism will last and spur me on with a few personal goals that somehow in the wet and grey weather recently I have been holding back on.
St Patrick’s Day is in prospect though I am not a lover of parades or public celebrations. Naturally sociable in most other circumstances, I am more inclined to stay away from these manifestations. I am fairly sure that like most things this aversion harks back to the parades that take place on July 12th -‘the Twelfth’ – in Belfast, where the beat is pounded out with gusto by the Lambeg drum, and the parades that routinely impeded out holiday trips to Downings,Carrigart and Marble Hill as we passed through the city of Derry. Though going under the bridges in Derry to avoid the parade made the journey more exciting, the sound of drums and band music still sounds threatening to me.
When I was a student in Paris, a lifetime ago, there were still a lot of student demos going on in the University quarter when I was trying to go to classes at the Sorbonne, and it was routine to see the CRS, or riot police, in full gear, poised to snatch potential trouble makers. So I’ll not be going to mass gatherings in Dublin to remember, reflect or even to re-imagine 1916. Yes I am a little claustrophobic and surprised at myself.But I may stay home and snuggle up with an account of it all on television – and perhaps revisit Ireland 1916-1923 a course provided by Trinity College Dublin on http://www.futurelearn.com last year .
Whatever you’re doing – whether celebrating St Patrick by drowning the shamrock – or remembering and possibly re-imagining our Republic – have a great time. I’ll be with you in spirit – just not on the streets.
Recently I had the privilege and pleasure of visiting the Eco Village at Cloughjordan, County Tipperary. It was one of our few bright days as we parked in the village and walked around the corner into the Eco Village itself, a community in development. We were the guests of Professor Peadar Kirby and his wife Toni who gave us lunch in their home.It was bitingly cold outside but the temperature in their bright well insulated kitchen/dining area was 25 degrees. We walked around the village with Peadar after lunch, noticing the Scandinavian style houses (as they seemed to me ). It seems that houses which are built in the Village have to conform to certain building specifications, but they can be built in different styles- timber framed and cob to name just a couple.
There’s a very popular hostel in the Village, spaces for educational gatherings, an open space which in the fullness of time may house a hall or communal meeting place. There is a feeling of space and openness walking around, and virtually no traffic or noise from traffic – only one car parking space is permitted at each house. A heating system fed by wood chippings from a factory in Ballinasloe distributes heat to each dwelling.As the village stands on a flood plain particular care has been given to drainage systems which prevented flooding during the recent storms.Sites are still available for purchase and for building; there is a real sense of a pioneering life being lived here. Community living is active and well in Cloughjordan and its unique features are attracting students and academics who come to live here and study what has been achieved and its ongoing evolution. Utopians, students of architecture, of the environment, of political science, all find plenty to occupy them, in the Eco Village itself, in the allotments that are allocated to each householder, in the farm that supplies seasonal fruit and vegetables, in the enterprise centre which houses a ‘fablab’ facility for design and prototype manufacture(I think!) There are ‘work/live’ apartments which can be rented out, and visual artists are working in some of them.
I found myself wondering how everyone gets on; and admiring the vision of those who have chosen this style of living, consciously engaging with the physical environment, respecting it, dealing with its daily challenges, working and living in a communal way. I came away thinking about courage and commitment, about living life consciously and making choices which are not always predicated on the most comfortable way of doing things.