Sipping at the Bad Things

I need to rethink my Social Media a little. Change it a bit.

My Social Media is like having a friend who farts a lot. He’s quite a good friend but, man, he farts a lot. 

I moan about it quite a bit but I kind of need it too. Actual, real-life social interaction is thin on the ground and, at least around these online parts, there’s always some level of dialogue and diversion. I find I need a bit of that. If I have more than two friends in the world, then it’s there that I’ll see them. I can’t let that go.

Still I don’t use Social Media quite like I used to (which was a lot). These days, I tend to drop in at weekends and late in the evenings. It doesn’t touch my weekdays. Actually, it’s getting easier and easier to consider letting it go altogether. The ‘farts’ are getting louder and more pungent and lingering longer in the carpet. It’s tricky. You like the guy but he stinks. What are you supposed to do?

I’ve written about Social Media before and there’s one point I always come back to. When I refer to ‘Social Media’, I’m not talking about your Social Media or anybody else’s Social Media, I’m talking about mine. We all have different views on the world through the frosty window panes we create on our phone or computer. It all depends on the people and things we choose to look at. If I loved model trains and I filled my Facebook and Twitter with people who also loved model trains, then mine would be a ‘Model Train-Biased’ sort of a Social Media and would be utterly unlike yours. I’m being ridiculous to illustrate the point but this is applicable down to the smallest degree. We all carefully make our Social Media beds and then, for better or worse, we lie in them. 

I’ve been doing this Social Media thing for quite a while and, in the same way that stones on the beach grow when little specks of sand are blasted on to them by the waves, so the Social Media structure grows and grows. But it also changes over time. Some people go away and others change their interests and their points of view and outlook on the world. Things just change.

My Social Media is full to the brim with great people. Creative, funny, kind people. But my Social Media has also become obsessed over politics and world events and moral outrage and anger and disillusionment. Not without reason, God knows. There is hardship and repression and pain all over the place. Our politicians fail us by rote. There is indeed much to be angry about.

And when a person is angry and disillusioned and expresses it, that’s great. It’s to be applauded and encouraged. It’s just that, when three hundred people (or three thousand people) all echo the same anger and disillusionment in one tidal wave of negative emotion, then it can become overwhelming and even despair-making to repeatedly witness. Every single person can have a valid point and every single person certainly has a right to their anger and that is without question. 



But to have to sit and watch so many people doing exactly the same negative thing, over and over again. It becomes hard. 

That’s where the change I’m making lies. It’s not a physical change. I’m not blocking anybody or unfollowing anybody or even silencing anybody. The change is simply in how I think about it all.

Previously, I thought I had a responsibility to look. To open my eyes and to see all the people in their fear and their anger all of the time. Now I am going to think otherwise. I don’t have to look, not all the time at least. Certainly, I need to get the messages. I need to continuously understand that there is grave ill abroad in the world and that this ill needs to be defied and challenged and stood-up-to. I need to see all that. 

But I don’t need to see it over and over and over and over again, every single day.

I just don’t. 

I know many of you will see how the world is in a state of chaos and will feel the importance of opening ourselves to all that uncertainly and pain and sorrow. To hide is to encourage the evil to rise again. There is something to that, I know there is. But what if watching all of it ruins me? What if I debilitate myself in a deluge of such repeated sentiment. What use will I be to anyone then? 

I need to sip at the bad things, taste how awful they are, understand and rail against them. But I don’t need to open my mouth and try to drink the entire river of pain that flows down my Twitter feed ever day. I won’t be much use to anyone if I continue to do that. 

So, whilst keeping a beady eye on all of the anger and the outrage, I will also point my beak a little more towards the things I love. The human stories, the creative successes, the shared music and film and theatre thoughts, the memories. 

The Fun.

I will watch the other stuff. Just like I always do.

But I won’t watch it quite so hard. 

That will be my change. 

In Praise of Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

I think ‘Solar Bones’ by Mike McCormack is a really fine book and I just wanted to tell you that.

I don’t think I’m going to embark on some attempt at a high brow review or anything like that so rest easy. For me, ‘Solar Bones’ is a book about what it is like to be a man and to exist within the various guises that come with that title. Guises that include those of Father, Husband and Son.

What sets it apart, in my opinion, is the level of honesty and authenticity that Mike has tapped into. The central character is like a real man in a real world. Ironically, he is neither of those things but I don’t want to dwell on that. Mike embeds his novel in a real landscape with real politics, real history and real concerns. As a result of this, when he deals his blows, the blows fall hard and true and they leave a mark. At least they did on this particular man.

I first became aware of Mike McCormack when I came home from London for a visit in the mid-nineties. I was driving along somewhere when the afternoon arts show came on the car radio. The then-proprietor of the show, veteran broadcaster Mike Murphy, was singing the praises of a new short story collection by an exciting new young writer. I sought out ‘Getting It in the Head’, bought it and brought it back to England with me. It make an impression. Here was someone to watch out for. 

If you’ve heard only one thing about Mike’s latest book then it’s probably the fact that there are no full stops in it. People have made a big deal about this. In fact, it’s not a big deal. It’s certainly not any kind of barrier to reading and immersing oneself in the book. Some people have called it a single run-on sentence and maybe, in some technical world, that’s what it is. I think that is misleading though. I think it suggests a massive block of text running through hundreds of pages, deep and impenetrable. Not so. The writer employs paragraphs and spacing to present a manageable flowing text which does not impair the reader’s passage through the pages. In fact, this device successfully evokes a flow of consciousness that is slightly other-worldly and random and that serves the story well. 

When I talk to people about the book, we tend to recall events and moments from it much as we would if we were recounting an actual life. The characters who accompany the man through his life are vividly sketched. Strong wife, distant son, artistic daughter are all people in their own right. Despite these characters being ‘told’ to us by the man, they quickly step out of his description into their own space. His father, for me, was particularly well drawn. The strong inclination now is for me to start to describe him for you but no, better you go and meet him yourself. 

One thing I wonder. The book is set here, in my place, in my locality. Located, as it is, firmly within my own stomping grounds of Mayo and Galway City, the narrative seems doubly true and convincing on account of my knowing the turns he makes on the road, the bench he sits on in his lunch break. It makes things perhaps more visceral than it might be for someone who has never set foot in the West of Ireland. So I wonder, does that matter much in the end. I have concluded that it doesn’t. At the moment I am reading a book by Ron Rash called ‘Above the Waterfall’ and I am enjoying it very much. I don’t know anything of the setting. The Appalachian Mountains, Virginia and Shenandoah are nothing more than romantic far off places to me. Still the story and the people in it leap up from the pages and grip me. So, I think, it will be for Solar Bones. I may get a 1% kick from knowing a particular derelict hotel but the story will engage where ever you are.

If I could have had one thing differently, I would have had a cover on this book with no text on it other than the title and the author’s name. I feel that the text, such as it is, subverts the expositionary nature of the book and undermines, at least in a small way, the potential impact of the story telling. If you can, read the book without reading the cover. Then, afterward, you can read the cover all you want and tell me if you see what I mean.

That’s only a small thing. 

Solar Bones made me feel mortal like no other book before it has managed to do. This is how the book left me feeling, as I closed the back cover. Mortal, finite, destined to end up nothing more than a memory. Because that’s what I didn’t say up until now. Mike McCormack is a wonderful writer but he has never been an easy writer. Even back in Mike Murphy’s day, he was dealing with harsh truths and not flinching from the candle. This book is excellent but it may scorch you a little, as it did me. 


Get scorched.

It’s worth the burn. 

Reluctantly Writing About the Big Stuff

I’m not so good at writing about the big stuff. It’s not what I do. I like to operate down at ground level, among the blades of grass. To be honest, I like to think that many of the truths about the ‘big stuff’ can be found down there among all the dandelions and the dock leaves. 

But when I got to thinking about what I might write this week, I can no longer see down to the grass and the soil and the rocks. There is, quite literally, an elephant in the room. An orange elephant with wild improbable hair and a horrible bullish manner. He’s blocking my view of the small things and I just can’t see around him.

So, ho hum, I have to look at the big stuff. The stuff everybody else in the world is looking at too. And you can be fairly sure I won’t have anything outlandishly different to say than the approximately 49% of the rest of the people who are typing right now. I ain’t got nothing wild or surprising in my bag. Normally I wouldn’t bother saying it at all. I just can’t think of anything else.

I wasn’t all that surprised when Trump got elected. I was utterly Horrified, yes. Totally Disappointed, yes. But not all that surprised. All during the days before, whenever people had spoken about the election, I had sighed and expressed my hope that Trump wouldn’t get in. And people had scolded me for it. I was being silly, apparently, sighing and worrying that he might suceed, when the figures and the statistics and the portents all stated so clearly that he would not. To clarify, I didn’t actually think he would get in but, really, I wasn’t all that surprised when he did.

Why not?

There’s a couple of reasons. 

One reason is the lesson I learned from the vote on Brexit and, before that, the vote in the most recent UK General Election. Back then, everything I saw told me how these votes would turn out. Everything I saw turned out to be completely wrong. I realised that I was living totally in an information bubble, lead by my social media and compounded by the popular press and TV. I had being told what I wanted to be told, hearing what I wanted to hear. So this time around, there was an element of ‘I Won’t Get Fooled Again’. The bubble I live in may be able to pat my head and tell me how everything is going to work out just fine but I’ve learned that that’s not real life. Not everybody’s real life at least. 

There’s another reason why the Trump win didn’t totally surprise me. I seem to have a rather dubious ability to step to either side of almost any argument and have a good look at it. This may sound wonderful and maybe it is but it definitely has its downsides. It tends to sometimes make me doubtful and wishy-washy on stuff when I should better know my own mind. Although I would never in a million years have voted for Trump, I can still sidle over that point of view and see some of the reasoning there. I can see the millions of disenfranchised people who watch the tiny political dynasties of recurring Bush and Clinton presidencies go around and around in their own rarefied worlds while, for them, nothing ever changes. For them, another Clinton, another Bush, another Obama even, would simply be more of the same. Their struggles to make ends meet left ignored, their ambitions for their own children still nullified. Why not, just this once, spin the silly-wheel? How much worse can that rather orange bullish man be than the big fat nothingness of the recurring dynasties? How much better would anything be than more of nothing at all? 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy it for a minute… but I can see it. 

For what it’s worth, I think many more of us need to see it a bit clearer. The omnipresent view that everyone who didn’t vote your way is some kind of a ‘Below Par Human Being’ is a luxury we can no longer afford ourselves. They way I see it, a volatile concoction of utter disillusionment and popular momentum is driving the world rapidly towards a most undesirable place. Not because the people driving it there are necessarily evil or stupid or insane but rather because they can see no viable option. 

I think the information bubbles that we all now find ourselves living inside are bad for a number of reasons. Fairly obviously, they doesn’t tell us the entire truth, only such truth as we want to cocoon ourselves in. Maybe a bit less obviously, that dim and distorted view we get of everybody who exists outside of our bubbles leaves them looking pretty horrible and threatening and, yes, even monstrous. We should also try to remember that those ‘monsters’ are in their own bubbles too and that we look every bit as bad to them. Through the concave distortion of that bubble surface, we must appear completely lily-livered and pandering and privileged and naive and childish and downright bloody dangerous. 

What do I know? I don’t know anything. I should stick to the ground level where I definitely belong. But here I am, up here on the big subjects because, this week, of all weeks, there’s just nowhere else to turn.

So. I’m here now. What do I think?

I think we always need to be working to make things work, from wherever we find ourselves. Right now, we find ourselves in a pretty dark and uncertain place. It’s by no means great but, guess what, we’re here now. What I really think is that we have to learn to listen to the other view a bit more. To allow some measure of empathy with the opposite stance, however distasteful that it, to better understand how to deal with it. 

And If you think I just sound all fucking ‘happy-clappy’ and ‘love conquers all bull-shitty’ then maybe you should think it out a bit more. If you don’t like the result and you think that the entirety of the forty nine per cent of people who brought that result about are all mini-hitlers and fuckwits then, guess what, you are firmly stuck in your own little bubble and you’re not really doing anybody much good. 

There are very bad things in the world and they have to fought and railed against and they have to be shouted down with all of our collective might. Like it or not, the promise of this new president, if his election campaign was anything to go by, is not a positive one for anybody. His election will continue to feel alien to us and, again to us, the people who continue to defend him will feel totally wrong.

But here’s a thing. We do not have a monopoly on goodness just by virtue of the good views we believe we hold. None of us do. We need to try harder to understand where the other views are coming from without first assuming that they are all invariably coming straight from hell. We need to burst these bubbles we’re living in. That’s what we need to do.  No, I don’t know how to do it either. Perhaps we can’t ever burst them but, maybe, by not living inside them so thoroughly, we might just slip out through their sticky albumen without ever bursting them at all. 

And it’s very hard to do. Even as I tidy this thing up for posting, the world is rapidly being flooded with an image of Trump and Farage, standing together in a golden elevator and grinning inanely. It’s simply awful and it’s quite unnerving. I don’t believe any right minded person can be warmed by that prospect. I don’t believe many people are. I believe that, of the millions upon millions who voted to make this a reality, most will like this just as little as I do. They didn’t vote for this to happen, they voted against something else happening. We really need to see why. 

It starts to sound like I’m suggesting we all try to see the fascist side of things, the racist side of things, the awful side. I’m not. I’m so not. What I’m saying is that we should try to see the side of the people who we think are fascist and racist and awful on account of how they appear to us from inside our bubble and on account of how they vote.

The truth is, I fear that there is not very much we can do up here on this macro level. We can use our vote and we can raise our dissenting voices but, even doing that, I think there is little of real import that we can achieve.

But on the micro level, down where I normally live (and where I’m rushing back to in a minute) there’s a shit load of stuff we can get done. We can: help, be kind, engage, debate, learn, listen, disagree, agree, argue, make up, help, help, help. 

I believe that every tiny malaise on your street is its own microcosm of all the greater ills in the world. Do something to heal that small rip and you will, at least, have done something. It might not save the world but, then again, it might and it might just save you too. 

We need to try to understand each other better. Where we come from, where we live now.

We always have.

And, lets just face it, we probably always will.