Monthly Archives: October 2011

The 5 Day Parenting ‘Experience’

I haven’t written much in a while. The reason is I was very, very busy over last weekend. After that, I was recovering from my busyness.
Why was I so busy? Well, my host parents went away on holiday and I looked after Little Man (3 years old) and Baby Brother (8 months old) for 5 days and 4 nights.
It was strange experience. Somehow both harder and easier than I had expected. Let me explain further.
The first day was only a half day, as the boys’ Dad didn’t have to leave until about 2pm to get to the airport. I made the most of my last morning of freedom, slept in, and went into my favourite Kinsale cafe, the Perryville Tea Rooms, for a pot of tea. The cafe is always quiet, with classical music, dainty tea cups, flowers on the table with a calming colour scheme of lilac, grey and light blue. Its incredibly calming. I sat there for 2 hours, mulling over my tea, reading a difficult, ‘adult’ book called ‘The Economics of Happiness’, which I knew I would not have the energy or brain space for over the next few days. I reluctantly left the cafe and headed home, steeling myself for the coming onslaught.
But Thursday afternoon was really quite good. Little Man was reasonably well-behaved, we played outside for a bit, played inside for a bit, and then around dinnertime, we vegged out on the couch and watched ‘Fireman Sam’. He even went to bed very easily for me, no tears, asleep by 8:10pm.
I was amazed. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe how easily it had all happened. I watched some TV, did some writing on an application, did some essay writing, even managed to finish off a blog post. ‘I’m really good at this parenting thing,’ I thought, ‘perhaps this is my purpose in life? Perhaps I should consider a career change?’
Ah, no. Not so fast, Jenny.
I went to bed at 10:30pm, which is early for me, but I knew the boys were likely to wake up in the vicinity of 6:30am – 7am, and heading to bed at 10:30pm would give me a solid 8 hours. I knew I would also have to wake up and give a bottle to Baby Brother around 2am – 4am, so I didn’t want to risk only having 7 hours sleep and also having to wake up during the night to do difficult tasks like measuring out milk formula and holding babies.
I was supposed to sleep in the baby’s room for the 4 nights, in my host mother’s bed, so that it was easier if he woke, and easier when I had to give him the bottle. The boys’ aunt snuck over after they were asleep to stay in the spare room in case Little Man woke up, so I didn’t have to deal with the both of them, which was a relief. It also meant I wasn’t the sole responsible adult in an isolated house with two little ones if, say a psychotic serial killer, decided to visit. Which is, of course, my main concern in life. Avoid psychotic serial killers. So far I’ve been quite successful in my avoidance of them. Just need to keep it up for the next 50-odd years. Anyway, I snuck upstairs at 10:30pm feeling pretty confident about the whole weekend ahead.
But, then, Baby Brother woke up.
I had thought I was very quiet sneaking up the stairs, but Baby Brother clearly didn’t agree. Either that, or the gale that was shaking the house to its very core somehow disturbed him. His mother had said he would only have one bottle during the night, so not wanting to feed him at 11pm and have him starving hungry at 5:30am, I tried to get him back to sleep without his bottle. He wasn’t a fan of that. I tried everything. I rocked. I patted. I rubbed. I sang. I bounced. I put him over my shoulder and attempted to burp him. I checked his nappy. All the while he was doing this exhausted, heart-breaking crying which literally sounded like, ‘I am so tired, I am so tired and unhappy. Why are you making this so hard? All I want is ——–. Why can’t you just figure it out and put me back to bed? Where’s my mummy? You suck. Why did my mummy go away? What did I do? What’s wrong with me? Why have I been abandoned with this incompetent child minder?’
Ok, so maybe I was projecting just a tad onto Baby Brother.
Anyway, at 11:30pm, having tried everything else, I went and got his bottle. Of course, he was asleep within minutes. Cursing my stupidity and stubborness, I lay him down to bed and lay myself down to try and sleep as well. I fell asleep pretty easily, which was great.
Barely an hour later, however, I woke up to a coughing fit from Baby Brother. I ran over to his cot. He was fast asleep. I went back to bed. He had another coughing fit. I ran over to the cot. He was fast asleep. Then he started making little moaning noises. I ran over to the cot. He was fast asleep.
I think you can see where this is going. I hardly slept at all that night. Every time Baby Brother so much as sighed too loudly, I was out of my bed, running over to check that he was still alive, and the sigh I had heard wasn’t his last gasp of life as he quietly turned blue, suffocated by his teddy, or something. I finally fell asleep around 4am, after he had his second bottle (and spent 45 minutes moaning to himself as his body attempted to digest it in his sleep – bastard), but was woken about an hour and a half later as the aunt left the house. At 6:30am, Baby Brother woke up and refused to go back to sleep. 15 minutes later, Little Man was calling out for his mammy. I’d had 3 hours sleep maximum, but, I was the sole responsible adult in the house, so up I got.
I made breakfast in a haze. I whispered and croaked responses to Little Man’s requests. Every time Baby Brother cried or Little Man yelled, it felt like my whole body was being assaulted. I went through the morning in a daze, dosing myself up on tea, Berocca, ginseng and guarana in some sort of desperate attempt to get energy. When they failed, I raided the biscuit tin and dosed myself up on sugar. By the time Little Man was at school and Baby Brother was down for his nap, I was so hyped up, I couldn’t sleep, just collapsed on the couch in front of the TV and watched ‘Spooks’, attempting not to move a single muscle for as long as humanely possible.
That afternoon was much harder. I snapped more often, I didn’t have the enthusiasm to join in on Little Man’s games. I was desperate for a shower, but I didn’t know how I could keep Little Man occupied and Baby Brother happy for long enough. When do single parents shower? I suppose in the night time when everyone’s asleep. So, instead, I ate cheese and crackers. Energy, I need energy. Reading to Little Man at bedtime, I could barely see the words in the books, my eyes were going blurry from exhaustion and tears from yawning.
But, then, the eternal problem. I was exhausted, but suddenly, the house was mine. I wanted to sleep, but I also wanted to sit in the quiet, watch some TV, read my book, check the internet. I didn’t want to waste my alone time by just sleeping! I wanted to have grown-up time! I wanted to have me time! At around 9:30pm I forced myself to go to bed, even with great internal resistance. Of course, with the horrible weather, I lay awake listening to the windows rattle until 10:30pm, but eventually drifted off. I woke up on Saturday morning feeling better, but still exhausted. My one comfort was that Little Man was supposed to go to his Nanna’s that afternoon, giving me the option of having a longer break than on his school days. Nanna came by at about 1pm (later than she was supposed to – I tried not to be irritated and resentful), and when I put down Baby Brother down for a nap at 2pm, I snuck into bed to sleep as well. I’ve heard that new mothers are advised to sleep when their baby does. I think this is an excellent plan, the only problem being that baby usually doesn’t sleep long enough. Barely an hour later, Baby Brother was crying again, I jumped up in a daze, my head full of cotton wool. Nanna and Little Man were downstairs, waiting for me. I asked for 15 minutes to be able to have a shower. This was granted, and with clean hair, clean skin and a rested head, I felt able to go back to childminding. The afternoon was spent outside in some sudden sunshine, and the evening passed by reasonably easily.
Sunday morning, Little Man was taken by his aunt next door around 10am, and I was left just with little Baby Brother. This was probably the hardest day. Much as I love Baby Brother, he needs a deceptive amount of attention. You think, oh, he’s a baby, he’ll be fine, I’ll just give him some toys to play with and I can watch the TV. Not so, little grasshopper. After 15 minutes or so he’ll be bored of said toys and want something different. And when babies want something different, they obviously can’t say something like, ‘Oh, Jenny, I’m a little bored of the squeaky giraffe, would you mind passing the musical caterpillar?’ No, no. Its just, “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
As if the fact that you have left to play with squeaky giraffe (something they found very amusing 15 minutes ago) is akin to water torture or genocide. So, I went into the day thinking, ‘Oh, this is going to be easy, I can just do whatever I like all day,’ and about 15 minutes into it Baby Brother made me painfully aware that that was not the case, and I resented him greatly for it.
I did manage to watch ‘Its Complicated’ with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, which was perfectly aimed at my ability to think and engage with a story that morning, what with tiredness levels etc. Meryl Streep! I like her! Alec Baldwin! I like him, now that he’s on 30 Rock and I’ve kind of forgotten that horrible voice message he left his 8 year old daughter Dakota! Steve Martin! He has completely white hair and plays the banjo! Cool! Steve Martin and Meryl Streep stoned! Wow, that’s funny! Attractive people falling in love! That’s nice! Having an affair with your ex-husband! Ooh…. that’s… COMPLICATED. Touche, Hollywood producers, touche.
That night, Little Man was delivered home around 4pm, in the pouring rain, and his aunt asked if I would mind if she didn’t come over to sleep that evening. I was a little worried and upset, but said it was ok. I asked if Little Man had woken up at all the night before and she said no. I said, ok, that should be fine. I was mainly worried about the lack of sleep, and it felt like an even greater burden of responsibility on me, when I was already kind of cracking under the strain of the responsibility I already had. But, it wasn’t until it started getting dark that I realised the real problem.
Those psychotic serial killers.
I was alone. And they knew. Psychotic serial killers always know these things.
The weather outside was, again, miserable. Pelting rain, roaring wind, the whole house was creaking strangely, and it continually sounded like someone was putting one foot on one of the steps outside my bedroom and waiting for 15 minutes and then putting their other foot on the next step and so on (I don’t know why they weren’t coming up the stairs quicker, probably because they were too creaky. But, that was definitely what was happening). There was a tiny little door in my host mother’s bedroom, in front of which was placed a giant glass bottle full of coins. The tiny little door kept banging gently against the big bottle. Now, presumably, the big bottle was there to stop the tiny door swinging open with wind, but in my paranoid brain, that door led to the equivalent of Bluebeard’s basement of dead wives. There were a pile of murdered au pairs behind that door. No, there was a murderous gremlin behind the door and the coins and bottle were some kind of offering to keep him at bay. Then there was the baby monitor, which I suddenly had to use because I was now responsible for Little Man and Baby Brother, and the other baby monitor was down in Little Man’s room. Now, everyone knows that baby monitors are evil. You can hear all sorts of terrifying things on baby monitors. This is what horror movies have taught me (well, at least, this is what horror movie previews have taught me, as I know that I can’t watch horror movies, because if I did, I would have to move back to my parents’ house for at least 6 months, and would only be able to fall asleep with all the lights in the house on, surrounded by garlic and with an arsenal of weapons under my bed). SO, say your charge is possessed by the devil, you could hear all sorts of horrible things coming out of that monitor, that when you then go to check on them, they’re fast asleep. Or, maybe you could hear those psychotic serial killers in the baby’s room talking to you saying things like, ‘Have you checked on the children?’ Oh, baby monitors are evil. And now I had one right next to my head. Evil, evil, evil.
Sunday night, needless to say, was not a good night for sleeping. After I got over all the fear and paranoia (circa 2am), Baby Brother was doing his little moaning digestion thing, and I just couldn’t sleep. I was furious. I was exhausted. I kept muttering to Baby Brother, ‘would you just stop? would you just stop? I’ll just go sleep in my own room and you can stay up here and cry, hey? hey? what about that?’ Of course, I didn’t go to my own room. But, I did my own little protest and moved to the spare room next door. It was still close enough that I would have heard if Baby Brother was truly in distress, but I no longer had to listen to every turn of his head. I fell into a deep 3 hour sleep and woke feeling strangely refreshed, at 6:30am. Just enough time to sneak back into the other bedroom, and hear Little Man waking up on the baby monitor 15 minutes later.
I was in a ridiculously good mood all of Monday. Though, by dinner my exhaustion had caught up with me. I could no longer handle the slightest of yelling or screaming. Luckily, Little Man, at least, picked up on it and stayed reasonably quiet. Baby Brother was wrecked by 6pm, refusing to sit still in my arms, refusing to sit quietly in his buggy or his high chair, so, even though I knew it meant he would wake around 6am the next morning, I put him to bed at 6:30pm. I figured the early start was someone else’s problem, not mine. Little Man was getting harder and harder to put to bed the more he got used to me putting him to bed, but I wasn’t going to put up with any crap on this last night. He was asleep by 8:20pm and I had the house to myself and a day off coming up the next day. My host parents were arriving back at around midnight, so I still had a few hours of potential psychotic serial killers/demonic children possession to deal with (Little Man was muttering to himself in his sleep that night, and it was more than a little unnerving, this strange, whisper-y voice wafting out of his room, but I managed to keep hold of my emotions).
So, there you go. I’m more capable with children than I thought. I always kind of worried I would ‘break’ little children, but turns out, I’m perfectly able to look after them, so that’s nice to know (I’m sure my host parents are also delighted to find this out in hindsight…). Nice to know, but I don’t think that means I’m about to run out and have kids anytime soon. The lack of sleep, for one thing, is too hard. I know that you usually have a partner-in-crime (and, just quietly, I don’t know how single parents do it, so thanks Dad, I love you very much and admire you even more than I ever used to. I just don’t know how you got through it), but, still. I need my sleep. I’m a little pathetic that way. No sleep, and I go a little psychotic. I also eat a lot of sugar. A LOT. And I eat enough sugar as it is, so I can’t really afford to be upping that intake any time soon.
Anyway, I’m sitting in the pub as they close up around me, and my computer is about to run out of battery, so its time to end. More posts soon.

Not actually the kids I look after. Just so you know.
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Old Head

This post is a long time coming (see other later posts for an explanation), but I did want to write something briefly, before I forget.
Not last Sunday, but the Sunday before, I went with some of the local au pairs on a bit of a road trip around the Kinsale area. It was my first trip out with the Kinsale au pairs, and I found another nice kix of girls, two French, one German and one Swedish. Most were quite young, but they were all lovely, and the Swedish girl was a bit older, has been here for a few years and has decided to move here.
We had planned to go to Old Head, which is out on the edge of Kinsale and has an old lighthouse at the end of it. You may remember, however, from previous posts, hat Old Head also hosts an exceedingly exclusive golf club. I kind of remembered the uncle from my previous family telling me in March that there were many protests over the fact that said exclusive golf club did not allow the ‘right of way’ over their golf club, which is upheld in most other places in Ireland. The right of way is basically where, if there is no other path to get to your destination except over private property, then the private property owners are supposed to let you through. The right of way would definitely be in force to get to the lighthouse, as its at the end of a peninsula, and the golf club completely cuts access to it (unless you want to scale rocky cliffs). However, said exclusive golf club does not allow the right of way. Which we discovered once we drove there. It even had a little wooden cabin at the entrance, with a serious looking guard checking club cards/entrance fees that kind of made me think of Camp David or West Point. Not helped by the giant American flag flying next to the Irish one above said wooden cabin. We met some lovely Canadians outside of the course who had also wanted to go in, but couldn’t, and they were (quite rightly) confused as to why the American flag was being flown. I said I presumed it was to do with money. The Canadians nodded sagely. Of course. The rich American tourists. There are a lot of them about in Kinsale. Though, apparently not as many as there used to be. Good ol’ GFC.
So, anyway, instead we went on a bit of a road trip. We drove down past all the beaches between Kinsale and Timoleague, watched the absolutely insane Irish people encasing themselves in wetsuit materials and then attempting to go surfing on the non-existent, freezing cold waves and chatted. We got to Timoleague and went exploring the old friary that I had admired from a distance many times, but never went inside of. It was incredible. Higgledy-piggledy gravestones from 300 years ago right up to the present day. The ruins of the church were amazing, you could stand in the old aisle and look towards the nave, and where the altar would have been, but instead of seeing glass, or a cross or anything like that, you looked out the windows to see beautiful blue sky. And then a flock of pigeons suddenly flew up into the air and out into the sky.
As we were leaving, a huge process of vintage cars drove into Timoleague, which has been a biarrely common occurrence for me across the Irish countryside. I’ve seen similar processes on at least 5 separate occasions. They’re always for some vintage car show, but I’m surprised by just how many vintage car shows one county seems to be able to support. I’m sure I’ve seen some of the cars before, so maybe its just the same people driving round to different towns every weekend and showing off their cars. Fair enough, the cars are pretty gorgeous. But, it does seem odd behaviour. And not like something that the general populace would be particularly interested in. Ah, but who am I to talk? I make theatre. And no-one in the general populace is really interested in that, no matter what I try to tell myself.
We drove back to one of the beaches, where there was a lovely little pub on the cliff, ordered some tea and coffee, and drank it outside in the gorgeous sun, admiring the perfectly blue sky and flat sea. The lady gave us a special price (5 drinks for 5 Euro – BARGAIN), because the local sporting team had won some sort of event the night before. You can tell I’m very up to date and care deeply about what it was and who had won. But, I did care greatly for my bargain basement pot of tea.

Old Head, Kinsale

So, anyway, it was a lovely day. And it was nice to meet some more au pairs, though also odd. I felt some strange loyalty to my Bandon au pairs, almost as if I was betraying them. And it did feel strange to be ‘starting again’ so to speak, with new au pair friends. But, its nice to know some more people in the area.

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Escape Ideas

1) Accidently (on purpose) fall asleep
2) Pretend to faint
3) Actually faint
4) Climb out my window and run away
5) Pretend to get sick
6) Actually get sick (food poisoning – find some old food and eat it) 
7) Say an obscure relative died and I have to go to the funeral
8) ‘Oops! I forgot my flight home was booked for TODAY! Gotta go!’
9) Get a friend to ring up and say I died
10) Sprain my ankle
11) Break my ankle

Yes. Good.

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In Praise of Winter

A good friend of mine doesn’t believe I like the cold. He insists that nobody actually likes the cold, and that those of us who persist in saying that we do like the cold are deluding ourselves. So, in honour of the fact that it is getting deliciously close to the Irish winter, and in the last few days its dropped below 10 degrees (that’s celsius, for any of you American readers out there who just freaked out about how cold I said it was), and the fact that these things have made me realise that I do love the cold (though, I was deluding myself about loving the rain… that’s a much more complicated relationship that myself and the rain have), I am writing this list of things of why Winter can sometimes be the loveliest time of the year.

1) Mittens and/or Gloves
When it starts to get cold – and I mean, really, really cold, not like that fake, pathetic cold that you get in Sydney, where its 18 degrees and the sun is shining and everyone’s all like, ‘ooh, its a bit cold in my singlet top and thongs (flip-flops, you crazy Americans), I might put a cardigan on,’ but then you forget, because you’re too busy adjusting your sunglasses and getting a tan – well, when it gets actually, really cold, you’re allowed to wear mittens or gloves and you don’t look like you’re an affected twat who saw someone wearing mittens in the latest issue of ‘Vogue’ and thought they might complete your look. No, you’re allowed to wear mittens and/or gloves, because without them your fingers might be lost to frostbite! Yes! Frostbite! Hooray! Now, why would this be a wonderful thing? Well, I have a soft spot for woollen things. I particularly like woollen, knitted things. And, if they are also a bright red colour, that makes me ecstatically happy, and liable to fall in love instantaneously, or do a little jig in the street. Why so? Well, I think woollen, knitted, red things remind me of childhood. Or, at least, a picture-perfect childhood I was sold in a Grace Bros catalogue (oh, nostalgia. Remember Grace Bros? *Sigh*) There’s something so sweet and old-worldly about them. Plus, when you’re hands are encased in red wool, its kind of difficult to use them properly, which also kind of makes you feel like a kid too, in that you can’t actually do anything properly anymore, and need to ask random passerbys/adults-with-no-gloves-and/or-sensible/chic-leather-gloves to assist you. You can’t pick up things, you can’t undo your laces, you can’t use your touch-sensitive technology – its just like being a kid! The whole world is an adventure! How will I push the shuffle button on my iPod and skip all this ABBA music I’ve had since I was 12? Oh, I can’t, I’ll just have to listen to it and pretend its Winter 1995 and I’m 12 years old! Wheeee, Mamma Mia!

2) Layers
Along with mittens/gloves, there are all sorts of other lovely things you are suddenly allowed to wear when it gets cold. Jumpers! Cardigans! Leg warmers! Muffs! Tights! Scarves! Beanies! Berets! Ponchos! Jackets! Capes! YES! You can wear capes! Like a freakin’ wizard! Or a 19th century upper-class lady swanning around London! One of the most fun things about winter is seeing how many layers you can wrap yourself in. How much wool and fluff and mismatched colours and bizarre patterns you can fit onto your body. Tights are brilliant for lending a crazy, bohemian edge to any outfit. I’ve had a love affair with crazy tights since I was 9, when I had to get a pair for a production I was in. Dad was unable to find any zany tights in the stores, so decorated a maroon pair with neon pink puffer paint Halloween shapes. I’m still not convinced of that particular colour scheme (there’s a fine line between delightfully kooky and horrifically clashing), but they were admired nonetheless, and the passion for tights, and a season you could legitimately wear tights in, was born. When it comes to clothes, the bigger and the brighter and the longer and the more ridiculous, the better. I like to feel like I’m still playing dress-ups, and winter is great for that. Scarves are much more fun if they wrap around and around and around your neck until you’ve basically got a tire sitting under your neck, but they still then have enough material left to hang down to the ground and graze the cobblestones. Jumpers are much more fun if they are 5 sizes too big and cover your knees as well as your arms and chest. Ponchos are best when impersonating a portable, wearable blanket. When you get inside, and its warm, its like a whole adventure getting off all those layers and finding appropriate places to store them. Plus, sometimes, you can’t even remember what you actually decided to wear underneath all those chunky, knitted goods! Oh! I chose that dress! What a delightful surprise!

3) Quilts
There is something special about quilts. Quilts as opposed to blankets, duvets and doonas. Whilst I’m not opposed to blankets etc. they do tend to be store-bought. A quilt, however, is usually home-made, and therefore, has a story behind it. It has love and dedication. You just have to see that movie, ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ to know that quilt makers are one racy lot. Sex in artists’ studios, sex in lakes, sex on hillsides with your sister’s husband when your own husband is dying in hospital, extra-marital affairs, that’s what’s behind quilts, according to Hollywood. Seriously though, my mum used to make quilts, and whilst I don’t want to really think about that in regards to the comments I just made, the quilts she made were beautiful and special and unique and I still have the one she made me when I was 7, so, clearly they last for years, and you can make ‘friendship quilts’, which is so lovely, because, then its like you can wrap yourself up in friends, and you can’t do that with Facebook, no siree bob, so put that down as another mark against Facebook, it just goes to show how evil Mark Zuckerberg is, taking away all our real human interactions and supplanting them with fake ones, and oh, but, hey, there’s a money-making idea, what about a quilt that had all your Facebook friends’ profile pictures on it, and, oh, but, REALLY the point I’m trying to make here is, that you can only bring out a quilt, no matter how beautiful, how special, unique, or ‘friendly’ during the winter time, and that is a fact. Well, ok, sure, you might need it in an Irish summer, but, that’s just not a fair argument because Ireland is weird and an anomaly and doesn’t have real seasons, it just has ‘weather’. ‘Bad weather’.

4) Fires
Admit it. Everyone is, at heart, a bit of a pyromaniac. The difference between all of us though, and that crazy cat guy played by David Wenham in ‘Cosi’, is that most of us keep our pyromaniac tendencies to some matches, a gas stove, a fireplace, or, when we’re really lucky, a campfire. There’s something about those flames that is just so hypnotic, like they’re alive, like they’re little red and yellow demons jumping all over the wood and gobbling up the paper. And then there’s that delightfully smoky burnt woody smell that hangs in the air, and on your clothes, and in your hair, the smell that says, ‘I’ve recently been near a fire! I’m a real, live human being! I’m so rustic and authentic! I should be wearing heavy-duty brown pants and a knitted woollen jumper right now! I belong in a ‘Colorado’ catalogue (you know, back when that store existed)!’  This is where winter comes into its own. Fireplaces that sit empty and forlorn for 7 – 8 months of the year are suddenly crackling with little fire demons! You can sit in front of them, on a woolly rug, wrapped in a quilt, clutching a glass of wine and dreaming of your next pair of mittens. You can also toast marshmallows. And everyone knows that the only way to eat marshmallows is melted and so hot that your mouth is rendered useless through being burnt by molten-lava liquid pink sugar. Yes.

5) Hot drinks
Everybody loves a hot drink. Everybody does. That’s why your mum always made you hot chocolate or warm milk and honey when you had a cold. Because she knew that hot drinks were that much more comforting than cold ones. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll drink tea whatever the weather, but the fact of the matter is that its more pleasant to drink a great big pot of tea in cold weather, if only because you don’t break out in a sweat afterwards. Sitting inside with a pot of tea, a quilt and a fire, when the weather outside is lashing rain and howling wind to rival a tornado, is as much as anyone should need from civilization. Screw the internet and the iPad. Give me a pot of tea any day. And as a further note on hot drinks, some drinks that you think might not be good hot, say red wine, or whiskey, are actually better hot! That’s right! Better hot! In fact, I’ve read that some UK visitors feel Australians serve their beer too cold! And whilst I’m not qualified (not being a beer drinker, myself) to comment on that, I will say that mulled wine and hot toddies are Europe’s least-appreciated gifts to the world. Hot, alcoholic drinks have been well and truly overshadowed by things like Shakespeare, modern democracy and the tabloid sensation that is the House of Windsor. I say, next time you’re cold, give them a go (the hot drinks, that is. Not the House of Windsor).

6) Hiking
Well, ok, yes, you can hike in the summer. I have hiked in the summer. But, hiking in winter is delightful. Sometimes it rains, its true. Sometimes its foggy. But, these things happen in summer too. What is wonderful about winter hiking is that you may get one of my absolutely favourite types of days to be out and about. That is, a crystal clear, bright sunny winter’s day. Because there are no clouds about, its often colder, but there is a brightness on a clear winter’s day that is completely different from the garishness of a sunny summer’s day. Everything seems sharper, in focus, whereas sunny days are so often hazy, muggy. The sweat trickles into your eyelashes and suddenly you can’t see anything. You spend most of your day lying somewhere shady with your eyes closed. But, on a clear winter’s day, there is nothing better than being out and about on a hike, looking about you. Your cheeks get appealingly apple-red and rosy. Your eyes get bright and shiny (like Elizabeth Bennet’s). You can see your breath hanging in the air in front of you. Your limbs feel energetic and full of life, instead of sweaty and drowsy. Crystal-clear winter days are the business.

7) Sleeping
Yes, you sleep in the summer. Of course, you sleep in the summer. But winter sleeping is different. Its easier. Its longer. Its deeper. You never wake up in the middle of the night in winter, tossing and turning, kicking off the covers, making trips to the bathroom to splash your face with water, getting all the ice from the freezer and lying on it, and, finally, in one last desperate attempt, trying to organise and stretch your limbs in such a way that keeps every piece of sweaty skin away from every other piece of sweaty skin on your body (unless something’s gone wrong with your central heating). No, in winter, you can wear your entire wardrobe to bed, pile on every blanket you own and create a little cocoon of warmth, a little mound of hot happiness into which you will snuggle and not leave for at least 8 hours, knowing that no blazing hot sun is going to creep through the curtains at some ungodly hour of 5:30am and force you to get up and go jump in the pool, or go to the gym or something. Sleeping is made for winter. That’s why so many animals hibernate through it.

8) Magic
This is subjective. And, maybe a little ridiculous. But, as far as I’m concerned, winter is more magical than summer. Maybe its that everyone and everything is wrapped up and kind of hidden in winter. You can’t quite see everyone. Everyone’s just a little bit more mysterious, like a tall dark stranger in a Tolstoy novel. So, you’ve got on your layers, but, then, so does the environment – fog, mist, rain, clouds, snow if you’re lucky – all more usual in winter, and guaranteed to create a bit of atmosphere. And, then again, some things that you don’t normally see, you suddenly can see. Like, your breath. Or, the shapes of the branches on the trees. Things are kind of topsy-turvy. There’s more darkness, and everyone knows that its in the darkness that the little folk come out and the magic happens. When its cold you can believe that you live somewhere like Norway or Finland or Poland and that there are trolls living in your backyard, or a Golem that haunts the town. Apart from whether or not you believe in faeries or gnomes or golems or not, sitting inside, when its dark outside, you have to find something to do. One of the best distractions is, of course, a book, and nothing is more magical than a book.

So, there you have it. My top 8 reasons in favour of winter. I could go on and on. I could tell you about frost patterns. About the desire to cook curries and use a crock-pot. About how hugs and snuggling are suddenly so much more appealing and user friendly (I can get affection without getting someone else’s sweat patches transferred onto my clothing? Oh, glorious season!) But, its late, and its been dark for a good long while now, and my bed and innumerable doonas are waiting. So, enjoy your summer, Australia, its winter here, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

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Filed under Ireland, Random

Apparently, I’m an Art Teacher now.

Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in Ireland. No, strike that, yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had.
As part of the ongoing Creative Connections course, we, the participants, have to pass on some of the skills that we’ve been learning to the general public. So, over 6 weeks (starting yesterday) we have to run 6 public workshops for 60 women and children, both from Ireland and from other countries. These women would be broken into 3 separate groups according to the age of their children, and each group would be facilitated by a group of Creative Connections ladies. So, yesterday (Saturday) was our first workshop.
We had been planning for the workshop for two weeks, but, of course, as these things go, and it being our first time ever running an official workshop, we were still woefully under-prepared and disorganised come yesterday morning. I had volunteered to be my group’s team leader, as I am missing a huge number of workshops that are coming up in the next few weeks, due to work responsibilities of both the au pair and theatre types.
As team leaders, on the Saturday, we were meant to organise the running of the main activity for the day (printmaking), give a demonstration, locate and organise materials, schedules, and be on top of what each other member of our group would be taking responsibility for in the running of the day. All preparation had to be done on the Thursday before our Saturday workshop. For a while, the Thursday session went quite well. It was interrupted briefly to allow everyone to have a chance to ooh and aah over the 2 week old son of one of our group members (it is a group of women, after all), but we were having a great, if somewhat sleep-deprived hysteria induced, time for the first 2 hours of Thursday. Unfortunately, due to a variety of confusions, not least of all, what exactly we were meant to be organising, we didn’t realise the majority of the things that we were expected to have organised by the end of the session on Thursday. This meant that at 9:15pm, with the session finishing at 9:30pm (and my last bus back to Kinsale leaving at 10pm, with a 10 minute drive from the Mayfield Arts Centre to the bus station), the three team leaders were running around anxiously, not quite sure what to do or who to talk to, or where things should go.
Oh, ok.
I was running around like a headless chicken, picking up materials, putting them down, demanding people help me, telling them that I knew what was going on and they didn’t (when I really didn’t have a clue), and generally panicking about how I was possibly going to get this all under control as well as get the 10pm bus, so that I didn’t have to cop a 40 Euro taxi charge to ensure I got home in time to sleep and get up to start work at 7am the next morning.
I left at 9:35pm, with the assurance of our own group leaders that everything was under control, that we’d all be fine and things would work out on the day. I remained unconvinced, gripping my hands anxiously all the way to the bus station, sitting up bolt upright on the bus home, and devouring a strange concoction of baked beans and pasta when I finally got back to the house, my stomach rumbling due to 3 hours of anxiety and adrenaline. 
Friday evening I was babysitting, and I also spent an hour or so on Skype with a dear friend, babbling away about various things that had happened to us during the year, including my recent decision to leave the au pair business and figure out ‘something else’ to do. Whilst this was lovely, added to my already frayed nerves surrounding the Saturday morning workshop, my buzzing mood practically made it impossible to sleep. To get to Cork on time, I had to get up at 6:45am on Saturday. I eventually convinced myself to get into bed and read at midnight. 45 minutes later I was still sitting bolt upright in my bed, flicking back and forth through Vanity Fair and biting my nails. Convinced I was never going to get tired, I switched off my light, lay down and closed my eyes, hoping my body would get the idea.
It didn’t.
I woke up at 6:45am having had approximately 5 hours ‘sleep’ that had been consistently interrupted by anxiety-induced nightmares. I dragged myself out of bed and stared out into the darkness that is Ireland at 7am these days. I got into my clothes, got my bag together and snuck out into the kitchen. Little Man was already sitting up on the couch, watching the telly, with his poor mother fast asleep next to him. He took one look at me and demanded, ‘Where are you going?’ waking his mother up straight away. Whilst I felt guilty, the upside was that she said her sister (and our next door neighbour) would be driving to work in Cork in 15 minutes, and she would be able to give me a lift. So, I got a very comfortable ride into the city in a BMW, which included my very own, personal seat warmer. My bum has never been so toasty.
The problem with being so efficient getting into Cork, however, was that, when I arrived at 7:45am, absolutely nothing in the city was open. I hadn’t had breakfast yet, I was in desperate need of a tea, and I was freezing cold and being rained on, but not a single store was open. Not even the markets were set up yet. I did a couple of laps of the city, searching for anyone, anything, that was open, and, then, giving up hope of finding anything, continued to do laps so as to prevent my knees from freezing together. My sleep-deprivation and anxiety made me irrationally angry and I blamed the lack of open shops variously on a combination of the crap economy and lazy Irish people who drank too much on a Friday night and, therefore, didn’t get up early and go into the city on a Saturday morning for coffee and a bagel, hence no stores or cafes opening before the hours of 8:30 or 9am (dear Irish people – I don’t think you’re lazy or crap. Well, your economy isn’t great at the moment, but I’m fairly sure you were already aware of that. And I do not blame you at all for this occurrence. Well, maybe your politicians. And your bankers. But, not you, dear Irish person. Do not take my sleep-deprived, hunger-induced insults to be my actual view of the world).
Eventually, a cafe opened up and I managed to get myself a pot of tea, improving my mood immeasurably. After a crepe filled with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and feta, the whole world seemed brighter, and everyone, including my exceedingly surly and grumpy crepe lady, who charged me 50 cents more than her menu said she should have for my crepe, was my best friend and could do no wrong.
I got myself a few snacks for the day and then headed to the workshop location for set-up. Anxiety kicked in again. Once all the materials were out of the car, we had to start setting up. As the workshops were up to us to run, our trusty course supervisors were attempting to stand back and let us organise things. We weren’t given directions as to what needed to happen next, or what things should go where. An overall group leader hadn’t been decided on, so we were all standing around, debating what should be done. Eventually, I picked up a variety of things and started dividing them out amongst the tables. Other women started over jobs. Before we knew it, it was 10:20am, and women were arriving with their children. We (well, I) attempted to ignore them, keeping my eyes to the floor, continuing to organise materials, looking at the schedule and talking to my fellow group members about various activities. ‘Who should run the name game?’ ‘Where should the round robin be placed?’ Our group was looking after the women without children, and those women with children in the 0 – 2 years bracket (those a little too young to participate), but it soon became obvious that the group gathering around us were women with children aged 6 – 12. Our participants were starting to get a little tetchy, seeing that things weren’t quite under control, and that we weren’t quite ready to start at 10:30am, as had been promised (but, hey, this is Ireland, people never start anything on time here – except buses – so, what could they really expect?). We ran around, checking with people, until it became obvious that the age groups we had been expecting were different from the ones that had been organised. Things were put right again, and we were given our group of 10 – 12 women, plus one 2 year old boy with blonde cherub curls and a darling 1 year old girl with the biggest blue eyes seen this side of Hobbiton.
The mix-up with age groups and materials meant that I hadn’t had a chance to check with my group who was doing what and in what order. I asked one of the ladies in my group if she would run our first activity, a name game. She said yes, but then started off on a tangent about all the singing and dancing games she had for us to play. I said that was great, but what about the name game? She said she would like to give us a singing game to play. Before things got completely off schedule only a minute into the workshop, and showing my control freak side perhaps a little too early in the day, I took over and ran a quick name game. It was possibly too quick and too rushed, due to the fact that I hadn’t planned to do it, and that I was anxious about how things were going to be organised from then on, but, at least we had started going.
I then handed back to my original assistant. She started to show us a very simple song and dance call and response routine. It was completely different from the schedule that had been agreed upon on Thursday night, but as the aim of the activities was just to get people loosening up and moving, I decided not to get too precious about the whole thing, and just joined in. It turned out to be great fun, and a good starting exercise, because everyone was working as a group, and had to give up their inhibitions, trust what was happening, and not worry about the purpose and meaning of it all (or was that just me? No, I’m sure it applied to everyone…). Afterwards, I quickly ran through the planned games, and we ended with another song and dance.
After our warm-up games we went into our first art activity, which was a round robin pastel/charcoal drawing. The women all gathered around a table and started drawing a picture. At a designated point, they had to leave their picture and move on to the next one and start drawing there. The idea is to get everyone loose, working together, feeling free and not too precious about their work and activity. It went very well, was run by one of our other group members, and we ended up with a beautiful, colourful mural at the end.
Then it was my turn to take over. I was introducing the main art activity of the day, which was screen printing. I first of all showed the women how to do a basic trace mono print, which was similar to the technique we learnt at the start of our course, but without the printing press, and with some simplified materials. The women were delighted with the quick demonstration I did and went straight to work making their own prints. Every 10 minutes I introduced another technique, and the women experimented with the the images, the printing and all the materials that we had on offer, coming up with some truly lovely prints.
Before we knew it, it was an hour and a half into the workshop, and time for a quick break. Most of the women didn’t want to stop, so I let them go, whilst I went to the tea room and drank a gallon of water. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. My instructions had been simple and easy to follow, and the women had instantly jumped in and started to work. It was wonderful to watch how delighted they were with the results, many of them asked for the names of the materials so they could buy them and continue working with them at home. They were working together easily, talking, making friends and giving each other ideas of what to do next. Occasionally, you would jump in and make a suggestion of what could improve a print, or if they’d forgotten a step, or to complement a print, but it was mainly standing back and watching what happened, offering advice if needed and enjoying the enjoyment the women were getting out of the activity.
After a quick warm-up exercise, we did another 30 minutes of printing, with one more technique thrown into the mix, as well as showing a quick and effective way of displaying all the prints together. This was by making an ‘accordion book’, which is basically just paper folded up between two bits of wood and cardboard, so that it can be closed up flat, or opened up and displayed on a mantlepiece or table. Some of the women got all the prints displayed, whereas others took home materials to finish it during the week.
After the workshop, the Creative Connections ladies had to do a quick evaluation on how the whole day had gone, and, after that, some of us went for lunch. We were on such a happy, exhausted high, that we ended up sitting in the cafe for 3 hours just chatting about how it had all gone, our lives, what was coming next, anything that came up. We also learnt that the group had been granted funding to write a book about the experience of the course and what we have created within it, which is incredibly exciting, and we start work on that from December.
Anyway, the main point of this post is just how wonderful the whole session made me feel. Talking in front of groups, and teaching, is something that I find very easy, and its something I really do enjoy. You’d think, then, that I’d be much happier about my Master of Teaching, and the prospect of potentially being a high school teacher. Ah, not so, young Skywalker. See, one of the reasons I think I truly loved the workshop was because all the women were there wanted to be there, and they wanted to learn. Also, there was no curriculum, no expected outcomes. It was all about experimentation, about expression what you wanted to express, and there is a real joy and excitement in that. People so rarely let themselves feel that in their day to day lives. Its all about, I should do this, I have to do that. To be able to create a space and run a workshop that was nothing to do with making money, losing weight, learning useful things, getting fit, finding your ‘soul mate’ etc. but just about learning a technique for the sake of having fun and making lovely things, well… that was just delightful. I think I would be most happy running workshops like this, outside of the school curriculum. Of course, there is an argument to say that schools should be like this, that a talented teacher would be able to teach the curriculum in such a way that meets required standards through students’ experimentation, exploration, enjoyment and individual interests. But I’m also aware of how much harder it is to walk that fine line in a school scenario, finding the balance between the bureaucracy and the joy of learning.
So, yeah. The problem is that, if I’m honest with myself, I only really want to teach kids who want to learn. I’m kind of scared of the other type. I don’t know how to encourage them. I do have fantasies of being a Robin Williams-type in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’, or, even better, a Michelle Pffeifer from ‘Dangerous Minds,’ but, at the same time, I have enough sense to realise that just wearing a leather jacket into a Western Sydney school isn’t going to suddenly make them want to read Shakespeare with me.
But, who knows. Yesterday gave me hope that perhaps teaching is something that I could do, could do well and may even enjoy. Now if only I could get through the bloody course without going crazy.

Highly accurate depiction of how an art teacher looks according to Mattel. The brightly coloured skirt and kooky scarf evidently show how bohemian, left-wing and non-conformist art-teacher Barbie is.

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Filed under Creative Connections, Introspection

Harry Potter Puppet Pals

I’ve written about how I hope I’m influencing Baby Brother’s musical tastes. But, I’ve also had the opportunity to influence the tastes of Little Man. I’ve had the opportunity, and the great privilege, to introduce him to… Harry Potter. In my defense, this wasn’t entirely my fault. Yesterday morning, when we were getting ready for school, Little Man said, quite out of the blue, ‘Put on Harry Potter.’
Now, Little Man has never (to my knowledge) seen Harry Potter. He has never read it. There are no Harry Potter DVD’s or books in the house. He’s only 3, so, even though Harry Potter is a brilliant, cross-generational, cross-gender communication tool, I think that, with 3 headed dogs, giants snakes that kill you with a look and evil wizards who murder your parents, its perhaps a little, shall we say, ‘advanced’ for a 3 year old. In short, I believed Harry Potter would scare the be-jeebus out of the little mite.
That’s not to say I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of introducing him to Harry and Harry’s wonderful world. Having brand new little people to read Harry Potter to is, I believe, one of the most compelling reasons for having children. Seriously. Its not just Harry, of course. I have already got my whole reading program organised for said potential future children. We’ll be reading Harry Potter (of course), the Little House on the Prairie series, the Chronicles of Narnia, Gerald Durrell, all of Roald Dahl, Round the Twist and Paul Jennings’ books, ‘Ramona Quimby Aged 8’ and ‘The Cricket of Times Square.’ Yep, I would consider having kids just to be able to relive all the books my Dad read to me when I was little (the less difficult option might be to set up a reading circle for children at the local library, but my brain doesn’t work that way).
Anyway, as I was making breakfast yesterday, and Little Man was watching Tractor Ted, I swear to God, he turned to me, took a deep breath and came out with, ‘Put on Harry Potter.’
I could hardly contain my excitement. To me, this was comparable to him reciting a Shakespearean sonnet, or suddenly declaring, ‘E=mc2’. ‘Did you say, Harry Potter?’ I breathed.
Blank stare.
‘Harry Potter? You want me to put on Harry Potter?’
Blank stare.
‘How do you know about Harry Potter?’
Blank stare. I tried another tact.
‘Did your cousin tell you about Harry Potter?’
‘No.’
‘Did you hear about Harry Potter at school?’
‘No.’
‘How did you hear about Harry Potter?’
‘Put on Harry Potter.’
Utterly delighted, but absolutely none the wiser as to how he had found out about my favourite wizard, I decided to stop questioning, and embrace the happy situation.
‘Where shall we put on Harry Potter?’
‘On the laptop.’
I might have mentioned before that I had been showing Little Man all sorts of videos on You Tube, mainly a song about dinosaurs, ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ and the ‘silage and Maize’ song. He really likes You Tube. So, I said, ok, once you’ve finished watching Tractor Ted, I promise to put on Harry Potter on the laptop. 
When we went out to the computer, I faced a bit of a dilemma. As much as I was absolutely looking forward to the prospect of showing someone Harry Potter for the VERY FIRST TIME, and also watching Harry Potter myself whilst at work, I was still a little unsure of the suitability of the series for a 3 year old. When I typed it into You Tube, the top hits where dark green and black coloured previews of the final film, ‘Harry Potter and the DEATHLY HALLOWS’ (emphasis mine). Perhaps the violence and dark undertones would pass over his head. However, I am still haunted by the image of Tom Cruise playing a Vietnman vet, sitting in a wheelchair with no legs, in ‘Born on the 4th of July’ (sorry, Dad, but its true), which I saw as a little one, so I thought perhaps, even if he didn’t understand the violence and scary images, that might even be worse.
Then I spied one of my favourite You Tube videos ever. ‘Harry Potter Puppet Pals and the Mysterious Ticking Noise.’ I watch this little gem whenever I’m feeling a little down, and it never ceases to amuse and entertain me. If you haven’t seen it (that is to say, if I haven’t forced you to watch it already), you should watch it now:

Hooray! I thought. A G-rated, Harry Potter-related, fairly short video to show the 3 year old charge. I wasn’t sure if he would like it, or if he would be scared by the bomb at the end, but I thought it was the best option I had. I put it on for Little Man. He was delighted. ‘Put it on again.’ After the 4th showing, he was chanting, ‘Snape, Snape, Severus Snape,’ along with the video. I chose to view this as his deep and clearly advanced understanding that the true heart and soul of the series was actually Severus Snape (and/or Alan Rickman), rather than the fact that this was the first name to be introduced in the song, and the easiest rhythm to remember.
It was about the 8th showing that he acknowledged Dumbledore suddenly took his clothes off halfway through the film. He turned to me with a very serious face and said, ‘He’s got no clothes on.’ Almost unable to conceal my amusement at this very confused little statement, I agreed that the Dumbledore puppet had no clothes on. ‘Why doesn’t he have any clothes on?’ Unable to explain the absurd and hilarious nature of this randomness to a child who can’t count past 10, I said I didn’t know why he had no clothes on, that maybe he had taken them off. Maybe he was being silly and taken off his clothes. Little Man considered this answer for a while and then said, ‘Maybe he didn’t like them. So he took them off.’ I agreed that was a very reasonable explanation.
On the 10th showing, Little Man started to giggle at the end of the film. He started to giggle more and more. ‘That’s a bit of a silly man,’ he said, in reference to Voldemort. I said, ‘Why is he a silly man?’ ‘Because he has silly glasses on!’ And he burst into giggles. ‘And he has a silly head!’ See, even a 3 year old can tell that Ralph Fiennes’ make-up in the Harry Potter movies is just a tad on the silly side. And he clearly can already understand the basic notion that Hermione puts forward into the first book, which is that ‘fear of a name only increases the fear of the thing itself.’ This clever little 3 year old could tell that by laughing at Voldemort, he made him much less scary.
His final realisation was that Ron was also ‘a little bit silly’. Now, I promise, I did not prod him any of these directions. He picked out Ron as the obvious ‘comedic relief’ character all on his own. He’s clearly a genius, who is destined to love the Harry Potter films as much as his (soon to be forgotten) Australian au pair.
I know how ridiculous I sound. Almost as ridiculous as these guys:

Ah, but I can’t help it.
I introduced a kid to Harry Potter!

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Filed under Ireland, Random

Back to Zen

This evening I headed back to Zen Buddhism for the first time since July, and had my first visit at the Cork dojo. I’d been given some advice by one of the people I met on Inishmor, that I shouldn’t force myself to go back to meditation, that I shouldn’t make it a chore or beat myself up about it if I didn’t go. I should just take it as it came, and see if I wanted to go back to it, and to only go back to it when I felt ready.
It was extremely good advice, which seemed almost tailor-made for me and my usual, general attack upon the world: ‘You must do this! You must do that! Why aren’t you doing more of this now? Why are you doing too much of that! You’re a terrible human being, because you’re not doing that!’ So, even though I knew that the dojo was holding meditations early in the morning and in some evenings only 30 – 40 minutes away from me in Bandon, I decided not to attempt to rush myself in there before or after work. I knew that I would only *just* make it, if I made it at all and it seemed silly to be getting all stressed and upset over an activity that I was taking up to make me feel happier and calmer and more at peace.
So, I left it for all of August. I didn’t even force myself to try and meditate on my own, or to look at Zen Buddhist principles. I let it lie. I told myself I would start up again, when I knew I comfortably and easily could do so, that is, when I was in Kinsale.
In the end, it was the end of September before I contacted the Cork dojo and said that I would like to come back to meditation. That gave me 3 weeks to settle into my new job, new family, new routine and see whether or not I had the time, inclination and energy to go into Cork on a Wednesday evening and meditate. Eventually, I decided to go back last week, but I was asked to work late that Wednesday, so I put it off. Again, I took a very Zen approach to the whole incident and said it was fine, there was no rush, and I would go back the week after.
That was today.
I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to go back to the practice. After my post a day or two ago about being sick and tired of being anxious and worried and constantly feeling like my brain is being pulled in 5 different directions at once, like it is being forced to concentrate and give energy and focus to a million different responsibilities, it was utter bliss to go somewhere quiet, and sit still, and calm and just stop for an hour and fifteen minutes.
Three of the people I had met at the sesshin on Inishmor were there, including the man who runs the dojo. I was met with such genuine warmth and welcome, and it was wonderful to see them again. Even sitting outside the dojo, there was a real feeling of peace and contentment. I was reminded of the practice, the correct way to do certain things, sitting, hand placement, and then we were into the dojo and preparing. When I sat down on my zafu, I felt like I was about to burst into tears from relief. I was so happy to be back, to have an hour and fifteen minutes in which I was not allowed to do anything but sit and breath and focus on sitting and breathing. When I could let all my thoughts and feelings wash over me and know that I couldn’t, wouldn’t, was not required, was not able, to do anything about them. I couldn’t fix anything, I couldn’t look anything up, I couldn’t eat anything, or drink anything, or sit in front of a laptop and will it to give me answers, or sit in front of a TV and will it to block out the problems. I hadn’t forced myself to come back, I hadn’t stressed about it, but at the same time, clearly I had been desperately missing it. In a way, it was probably a good thing I didn’t get stressed about it as well – I was already missing the meditation, it would have created even more emotional havoc if I’d started beating myself up over it.
With a start like that, when you are so grateful to be there, so happy, so delighted, of course the practice itself is going to be more difficult. It actually felt longer than the sittings we did on Inishmor, maybe because of the feeling that there was a world rushing by outside and that I would soon be on a bus, back to Kinsale, where I would immediately jump online and re-connect with ‘the world’. I was aware of a pain in my back, in my neck. I was slumping. But, we were given some actual teachings to consider during this practice, which also made things easier. And, whilst it seemed much longer, when the bell was rung to signal the end of the practice, I was hugely reluctant to move. My arms and shoulders felt heavy, and they tingled like muscles that have been tensed for some huge exertion and then been let go. They felt totally blissed out and calm, and they did not want to go back to tensing, and walking and typing and moving about.
I’ve been reading a book recently that I wouldn’t normally pick up, as it falls into the self-help/religious section of the bookstore (a friend once lost a job at a bookstore for sneering at a customer who asked to be shown the self-help books, and, apart from not wanting to lose his respect, I have a similar attitude towards the self-help aisle, so never go there), but I started reading it in the library and became hooked. Now, bear with me, o thou, cynical non-believer atheist, but the book talks about how modern Western life, with its reliance on science and rationality, has left us with a spiritual void in our lives, and how the common emotional malaise of our times, which often then develops into depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug abuse,  can be related back to this spiritual void, this lack of meaning, purpose and direction. Now, obviously its a big generalisation, and not everyone who has a problem would agree that they need to fix it with a religion, but its certainly something I have felt in my life, and particularly in the last few months, when I have been very uncertain of the reasoning behind my decisions, when my chosen career path (no matter how it looks from the outside) seemed to be slipping further and further out of reach, when long-term and lasting relationships appeared to be so incredibly impossible that I had truly resigned myself to a life as a crazy spinster in a falling down house infested with cats. My parents took the view that we, the children, should be able to make our own decisions regarding religion, though we were enrolled into Church of England scripture classes in primary school (and, look, I don’t mean to offend anyone who is a Church of England parishioner, but, all the images I can conjur up for that particular religion are King Henry VIII chopping off his wives’ heads and Eddie Izzard: ‘Cake or Death?’) My point is, up until now, instead of ‘making up my own mind’ regarding religion, I kind of took up my Dad’s atheism by default, as well as his respect and belief in science.
The problem was, I didn’t have the understanding and knowledge of science that my Dad did to back up this belief in its inherent rationality. I was like John Safran said in ‘Safran vs. God’: one of those pinky-lefty intellectuals who scoffed at religious people, basing my atheism on Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, a copy of which sat, unopened, on my bookshelf, because my BA didn’t give me the resources to even understand the index. So, in some ways, I was just as bad as the religious fanatics out there, clinging to a belief system that I didn’t understand the half of, that I understood superficially, defending it passionately, afraid someone might notice that I couldn’t actually back up my arguments, and I would be left, rudderless and confused, my only sense of how the world worked suddenly left in tatters at my feet.
This kind of sounds like I’m about to turn around and tell you all I’m converting to Orthodox Judaism. I’m not. I’m not even becoming a devoted Buddhist at the moment. All this is, is building up to is a realisation that I don’t know how the world works. I don’t even know how I think the world works. I don’t know what the point of the world is, what its purpose is, and, therefore, how could I possibly be expected to figure out what my little place in it is meant to mean. And, so, I’m dipping a toe. I’m experimenting and exploring, to see what I can find. I’ve got a lot of predjudices to work through. I have some hang-ups about religion in general, and Buddhism in particular, left over from high school and many a cynical discussion with friends and family. The story we were told during meditation tonight really irritated me, though I can’t quite remember why, now. Some of the precepts that were read out, panicked me as well, though, again, I can’t remember why. But, at the same time, sitting still, and having to only focus on my breath for an hour and fifteen minutes is wonderful. Maybe I could do it without the religion. But I don’t think I want to. I don’t think it would be the same without the ritual, the people, the incense, the gashu, the zafu, the chanting. All these rituals build up to give significance, meaning and importance to the act of sitting still and becoming aware of your sitting, your breath, yourself. And, hey, if I need that feeling of significance at the moment, to make me stop worrying about the future, beating myself up about the past, and just let me sit still, quiet and calm for a little while, then I am happy to go through it all.
And, there is something about being silent that seems profound and important in itself. This book I’m reading, it talks about how the prophet Eljiah goes into a cave, hoping to hear the voice of God. He doesn’t hear it in a storm, he doesn’t hear it in a fire, but finally, he hears it in ‘a silence so profound that it spoke.’ I’m never going to convert to Christianity, its just not going to happen. But, I know that feeling, that feeling of significance, of importance, of connection to the world, of a greater presence. And I want to figure out a way that I can incorporate those huge, inexplicable feelings into my understanding and experience of the world.

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