A Borrower from A Lender Be

Man, I love my Library.

Castlebar Library, County Mayo, Ireland. I love you.

But then I have been around a bit and, in fairness, I have loved all my libraries in their time. I’m like Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, singing about all the girls I’ve loved before, except I’m singing about libraries. That’s not actually the only difference but it will do for now.

Thursday was a bit of a pain this week. I’ll spare you the details. It was just a bit of a pain. Then, on Friday, I got two messages on my phone simultaneously. The first said that a book I requested online from the library was now ready for collection. The second message also said that a book I requested was now ready for collection. Just the week before, I had logged on and asked to borrow two books. The library had tracked them down in another library elsewhere in the country, had them shipped to my library and now they were sitting there waiting for me. I dropped in at lunchtime and there they were, two beautiful trade hardback versions of the books I wanted to read, my name neatly written on the labels attached to them. 

No charge.

Man, I love my library.

And it’s not just books, you know. Now that people are moving on from DVD and Blu-Ray and getting their entertainment via streaming services, the Library is replete with DVDs and box sets of all shape and sizes. Want to catch up on a recent movie or binge on a series? It’s probably in there, in your library, waiting for you. They’re great for music too. CDs and Audio Books and books online to download onto your computer, even in the middle of the night. Our Library even loans musical instruments. The first decent drum kit my son had, came on loan from the library. That way, we learned how much he loved to play before we bought the kick ass kit he has now. How brilliant was that?

Don’t get me wrong. I buy my books when I can. I enjoy doing it. I think you should buy books too. It’s tough being an author and they need our help and support, just like the libraries do. But I read quite a lot and I couldn’t afford to entirely support my excessive reading habit from book buying alone. That’s why the Library has always and forever been a lifesaver for me. More than that, it’s been a heaven. Sometimes, I can hardly get over what an amazing facility it is to have. A place that will lend you books and let you read them for free. It almost feels like it shouldn’t be allowed and I pray that it always will be and I fear that it someday won’t.

My library is what keeps me on a par with everybody else in the entire world. No matter how rich you are, no matter how powerful, I can afford to read anything and everything that you can read. Because of my library, nothing is held back from me just because I am not as wealthy as you are. All knowledge, all entertainment, is there. Access to it is my right. It is mine.

People say we should make use of our libraries as a sort of a political statement, to reinforce how important and how necessary they are. I have no quarrel with that. It’s true that we do need to defend our libraries in any way that we can and making good use of them is the most obvious and effective way to do that. I just don’t think it ever has to be a chore. Anyone who loves to read can grow to love their library. There are more books there than in practically any bookstore and they are yours to take down and look at and borrow and read.

On Friday, the high point of my day was going in to the library and getting two books I wanted to read handed to me with a smile. I read the first few pages on the walk home and didn’t walk in to a lamp post, as I sometimes do. Life was good.

A wonderful resource, the Library. Use the resource to save the resource but learn to fall in love with it too.

It’s that loving of it that will ultimately save it, I reckon.

Naming My Phobia

I’ve never had a phobia. All of my life, I’ve been totally phobia-free. But I think I might have one now. I’m not sure, let me explain.

But, before I do, I should just say that I don’t want to have a phobia. It’s not on my bucket-list of things to have and things to do. My writing about it now is not some attempt to cement it in my brain, to legitimise it and to authorise it. If anything, it’s my attempt to purge myself of it, to shout at it in the hope it might just go away.

I mean… who wants a phobia?

My phobia has always been a ‘thing’. I’ve written about it quite a few times, often to try to raise a smile with some silly embarrassing story told against myself.

That’s enough preamble, let’s cut to the chase. This phobia I think I might have. Actually I don’t really think I might have it, in case you’re worried or anything, I’m mostly just shooting the breeze on a Sunday morning.

That’s too much preamble now. My phobia (or not) is this; I think I’ve developed a fear of names.

I’ve never been any good with names, particularly people’s names. I’ve always struggled to recall them, sometimes to comic effect. It’s always been a ‘thing’ but has it become something more? I’m starting to wonder.

I probably won’t remember your name, if we meet. I almost certainly won’t use it, even if I do remember it, because I’d be fairly convinced I would get it wrong. Instead, I will greet you over-effusively, to emphasise the fact that I definitely know who you are even though I’m patently not using your name. I say stuff like ‘Hiya’ and ‘How’s it Going?’ and I infuse them with such intent and meaning that you might worry that I was genuinely concerned for your well being when, in truth, I’m mostly just over-compensating for my own failings.

It’s always been a ‘thing’ but why would I start to think that it’s more than a ‘thing’ now?

I know a little bit about phobias. Just a little bit, I’m not pretending to be an expert here. My eldest son had a long-standing fear of loud unexpected noises, as a child and as a teen. His worry about the potential for balloons bursting and fireworks going off kept him from parties and events for quite a few years. Then he had an excellent series of sessions of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which we both went to together. We learned how your thoughts and actions can affect the way you feel and we learned some ways of combating those negative thoughts and actions that make things worse. Thanks to some brilliant help, we sorted the noise thing out and things have been great ever since.

Along the way, as I said, I learned a little bit about these things. I learned enough to recognise what I’ve been doing with this ‘names’ thing. I have been conditioning myself to fail. By repeatedly explaining to people how I am ‘bad with names’ I have embedded the knowledge in myself that I am indeed ‘bad with names’ and I have given myself licence to fail whenever the question of a name arises. My failure is now a foregone conclusion.

Two moments from my last week.

I was at an event and I met someone I knew quite well. I knew their name and, in a rare burst of confidence, I used their name in greeting them. I used the wrong name. I knew I had done it the moment I had done it but we were just passing each other and there was no time to repair the mistake.

Even more recently, I was sitting with a friend having a coffee and I recalled another friend who had recently died. I could not summon the friend’s name. The one who had just passed away. My mind went around and round, trying to find the name as I hopelessly tried to explain who I was talking about. It seemed beyond belief that this name was not there for me on the tip of my tongue. The person I was thinking of was there in front of me, as clear as day, smiling benevolently but still the name would not come. It only took my hearing the start of the name for me to instantly have it all but, still, to not have the name of someone so in the foreground of my life is a rather disturbing thing.

I think this latter moment, in particular, is a very good example of how I have conditioned myself to fail. If someone asks me about a name, all kinds of walls and barriers shoot up in my head. These walls are plastered with graffiti that shouts things like ‘you will not remember this name’ or ‘you are bad with names’ and I get so busy reading these walls that I have no time or energy to simply say the name.

The first moment is more an example of the kind of event that adds to my conditioning. I am actually quite bad with names but every mistake I make, every failed attempt, reinforces the writing on the walls in my brain. I beat myself up quite a bit over getting that person’s name wrong. I even Facebook-Messaged them to apologise (I think they thought I was a bit deranged).

So, yes, I am now starting to think that my ‘thing’ has grown to something a little more than just that. I have conditioned myself into an active fear of having to recall a person’s name. It's a 'First World Problem', if ever there was one, but there you go.

And, as I said at the start, I’m not sitting here typing about this 'phobia' to try to make it stronger. I’m trying to weaken it, to undermine it. I witnessed how my son’s ‘loud noise’ thing was addressed. It was called-out and faced-up-to and weakened by a combination of work and consideration. I think I have the capacity to do the same for myself. I can force myself to use any name that I know. I can push myself to attempt to use names I think I know and risk some fallout whenever I get them wrong. I think I might try.

I delight in using a person’s name. It’s a compliment I pay to people that they will never even know exists. I just think I need to do it more and I should probably get on with it and stop whinging about it here in my head.

I looked it up. There is a name for my phobia, my fear of your name.

It’s called ‘Nomatophobia’.

I doubt I’ll be able to remember that.

But maybe I will.

The Moment You First Miss Someone

I did a few hours work in the office yesterday. No hardship. I wasn’t kicking down walls or drilling holes through concrete floors, like I used to do on my Saturdays many years ago. 

I had parked the car way up on the hill because my usual parking corner was occupied by the Saturday shopping folk. As I trudged up the incline, after I’d done my hours, I checked my watch and started to look forward to something in that low-wattage, back-of-the-brain sort of a way that you don’t even know is happening until after the feeling has been subverted.

It was about that time when the guy would be out sitting on his window cill.

Every day, around this time, this guy sits out on his window cill and has a leisurely smoke and studies the crossword. If he was deep in the consideration of some cryptic clue, I wouldn't say anything to him. I wouldn’t want to break his concentration or disturb his little well-deserved break from work. But if his head was up and he was looking around him, I would always say ‘hello’ and he would always say ‘hello’ back. Not much else. Maybe an occasional observation on the weather, as is customary around these parts. Nothing more than that though. A quick hello and then pass on. 

When I worked my way up the hill yesterday, at the correct time, I hadn’t done it in a month or two. Revised parking arrangements had meant that my car was now, more often than not, in that other place and the route to it didn’t take me past the guy’s shop. Perhaps that’s why I was actually looking forward to something as simple as a ‘quick’ hello and then pass on. I don’t know. It was always nice to see him there with his rollie and his folded newspaper. It was kind of reassuring or something.

But he wasn’t there. There was no sign of him. I was disappointed, in a little way.

Then, just as I walked past the place, I remembered that, of course, he wouldn’t be there. He had died, some months before. He was gone. I had known this, of course. I knew it at the time. I was sad about it and I remembered him with my friends. But I never really missed him.

Not until yesterday.

Yesterday, I missed him. I never really knew him beyond that occasional ‘hello’ but yesterday I finally identified the little gap that was left in my life as a result of his no longer being around.

I often find this. I often find that it takes quite a long time before I actually get around to missing somebody who has died.

This isn’t meant to sound all reserved and cold-hearted. I’m just like everyone else, when someone dies I am sad and I mourn them and remember them but, for me at least, missing them is something quite different to all that. You can’t choose a moment in which to decide to miss someone At least I don’t think you can. It’s like a burglar in your head that turns up when you least expect it and kicks your coffee table over.

I remember, after Dad died, I felt all the stuff you would expect to feel. In his later years, when he was on his own, I used to phone him up every night for a chat. Nothing much, just a ‘hello’ and pass on. One evening, months after he died, I had a good story to tell and I looked forward to telling him it. I knew he’d get a laugh, maybe tell the story on, with his own embellishments. I had the phone in my hand before I remembered. I missed him then. That’s how it tends to happen, to me at least.

I didn’t mean to go on about this today. It’s just the absence of the man and his ciggie and his crossword has stayed in my head so I thought that made it worth writing it down.

There are people who are gone from my life, important people, and I don’t think I’ve even really started to miss them yet. Someday, there will be some corner of a room or some conversation where that person should be and I will turn to them to see how they are and hear what they have to say and they won’t be there.

I’ll feel it then. I’ll miss them then for sure. It’s a good thing, all in all. It reminds me I care.