swings and roundabouts

May 27, 2012

A post about nothing much.

So I’m struggling a little in work. I can’t settle. I have one eye perpetually on alternatives and of course, now that I’m working, there are suddenly interviews and little side-projects aplenty. Of course there are…famine or feast, eh? It’s only now that I am back to work and have something with which to contrast my office that I realise just how positive and mellow the little world which I inhabit actually is. I’m not joking when I say that visiting the prison in which I have my chaplaincy placement is like going to a funfair followed by the circus followed by pints in a cosy pub compared to a day at this office. O the dreariness, O the attitude, O the lack of windows. I sink a little lower with every passing hour. Thankfully my workdays do get book-ended with pleasantness by travelling with my friends, which is a very gentle and manageable way to begin and end my days in there. I am, despite appearances, a complete softie, you see.

Now I will, as if on the first day of school, write an essay akin to “What I Did In My Summer Holidays” except you can exchange “In My Summer Holidays” with “This Weekend”. :D

What followed my miserable working week was three days of absolute soul food. I cannot remember a weekend so good in so long. It just might have been perfect. I’m all filled up again and ready for the onslaught of the week. I am fed.

On Friday night, we drove for a few hours to share in a dear friend’s 30th birthday celebration at a little craft brewery north of the border. We ate our body weight in local sausage, steak and an angrily-prepared birthday cake, as well as a few choice beers. We sat in the blazing heat of the evening outdoors, with the best music from the last 30 years and real conversations and the sun setting behind us and the stars rising above. The husband unit and I stayed that night in a local hotel and our room was quiet and cool and in the morning, full of sunlight. We slept in luxuriously, travelled a short way to meet lovely and artistic Dave and Helen for coffee and pancakes and cinnamon scones, and then left for a day of sunshine, sea, sand in my shoes and theological debate with the beautiful and interesting feminine feminist at Seapark. She prepared for us delicious Greek things and taught us to make (and drink) Dark and Stormy rum cocktails (a revelation!) before we raced homewards for a night of rollicking-camp Eurovision frolicks with numerous like-minded Eurovision lovers. After several hours of laughter, and having exercised our democratic right to elect our new all-singing all-dancing overlords, we headed reluctantly for home just as the wee hours approached, but the weekend insisted on continuing! Today, Sunday, was my last day at the prison until September…and after worship there were tears, gifts, cards, chocolates, hugs and kisses all round, and even some lazing in the sun that broke into the grey concrete yard where the prisoners can get a little air. I left feeling like the richest woman in Ireland. I was greeted at the prison gate by the husband unit, who took me for picnicking in the park under a giant oak. We ate empanadas and pasta salads and ice creams and eventually wandered homewards for an afternoon nap, before meeting the extended family for reunions with the long-lost American brother, meat and beer and salad and cake and small children with burnt noses and bouncy castles. Home again by 8, curled on the couch with a glass of wine as the husband-unit revises for his last exam of the year, and the plan is to be in bed by 11. All is well in the house of Chip Monk.

It’s official, you know…I am alive!


ashes to ashes

May 12, 2012

One of my friends is this beautiful, dramatic, existentially-tormented artist. She has two small children who look exactly like her and make a lot of noise. She’s sturdy, freckled and African and always does the gardening in her bare feet. She rolls her Rs magnificently and pronounces Cadbury Cadbaaaaaaary. She loves Elizabeth Taylor, fresh seafood and anything rose-scented. When I’m with her I feel really calm because she is so expressive and passionate that I can just sort of…bask in her glow. It’s as though her very being is a mouthpiece for all of my pent-up emotions. When she prays she does so with passion and sometimes shouts at God while tears pour down her face.  Her house is full of strays (animal and human) and other people’s children. She’s one of the only people in the world who can tell me what to do and not only will it not irritate me, but I’ll probably do just as she says, too. And although I could write her a long love-letter here, this post is not actually about her, but about something that she has taught me by her life and which I feel I am slowly coming around to learning.

Christians as a whole have this tendency to slip into a kind of ill-aware Gnosticism. Gnosticism, if I can be reductionist, is essentially the belief that the body is bad and the soul is good, and that we can find our salvation in the mortification of the body. The body is seen as a kind of prison for the soul. (I can relate to this idea; having eating distress has meant that I have had a very broken relationship to my body, often wishing fervently for an existence that was not embodied.) This is a profoundly wrong-headed view for a Christian. It is because the body is good that it ought to be honoured and treated with gentle respect. And flowing from this pervasive yet unconscious Gnosticism comes a kind of rejection of nature itself, for fear that loving the natural world is a kind of paganism or even pantheism (pantheism being the belief that God dwells in all created matter). This is yet more nonsense, and my beautiful artist friend has taught me this.

As human beings, we have a natural connection to matter; to the stuff and substance of the earth. We are revived by wind – bracing walks that blow away the cobwebs of our minds. We are refreshed by oceans and lakes – even when we don’t swim in them – just being near can be enough. We are soothed by fire – we literally curl up beside it, soaking in its warmth, or leaping to cook on open flames at the merest sign of a dry day. We are nourished by the earth, both literally and figuratively – think lying on the grass in blazing sunlight or eating new potatoes with salt and butter or crisp salad leaves with lemon and oil.

Somehow I have become separated from these things, and I know I am not alone. I tend to stay out of weather. I swim in the local chlorine-filled pool. I flick a switch to heat my house when I can’t be bothered with laying the fire. My garden is comically overgrown as I avoid tending to it. I live a kind of ‘sterile’ existence…perhaps ‘synthetic’ is more apt. My home tends to be more of a laboratory environment than a sanctuary (well, an untidy laboratory). And I am unsatisfied. It is important for both body and soul to connect with the earth from which we come. The staggering poetry of the book of Genesis speaks of the Lord God forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man becoming a living being. Earth and air are where we come from, and water keeps us alive. Science describes for us our life journey during the Silurian and Devonian periods many millions of years ago from the oceans onto the land. And fire – fire is essential to keeping us alive – what else is the sun other than a ball of fire in the sky? Why do we spend so much time, Christians or not, in spaces that create a disconnect from our source? It seems to me to be essential to our common humanity that we live lives that treasure our connection to the earth. Why do we enclose ourselves eight hours a day in cubicles surrounded by noisy, hot machines in buildings where we cannot open the goddamn windows?

And although these are not things that my beautiful artist friend has articulated in so many words, I believe that this is why her perfumes are made from flowers; this is why she digs potatoes with her toes deep in the wet clay of her suburban Irish garden and that her clothes are made of cotton or wool or silk. I admire her determined connection to the earth, albeit a far cry from the wild plains and pools of her African childhood, and as I begin by reconnecting with my own dust, with the very flesh and bones of my own body, I look forward to learning to reconnect with the sources of my being: the earth from whence I came.

he’s one bad mutha… shut yo mouth!

May 5, 2012

So I am employed, albeit on a temporary, open-ended contract. And my boss is now Joan Burton, the minister for the Department of Social Protection; the most ironically-named department in the state. It’s a little depressing, but it’s an income. I am grateful to be working.

I’ve been thinking about doing a “scoop from the inside” type thing here, but I signed an official secrets contract, and unfortunately my name has been attached to this blog all over Twitter. I don’t want to end up being convicted of treason; at least not over this. :) Besides, the gossip at the water cooler ain’t all that. Suffice to say my colleagues are every bit as embittered as you’d imagine and heartily despise the public they serve; especially poor people. Of course, there are reasons – some valid and some not – and some exceptions, like my kind, firm and fair manager.

People who know me know I’m outspoken (ha, understatement?). I have a reputation for it. I try to say what I mean, and mean what I say, and as a result I can be a bit blunt. Some people like it and some people don’t. People might not always agree with what I say or my means of getting there, but I consider myself a clear thinker and a clear communicator. I’ve given up trying to censor myself though: I’m not a bitch (much) and I don’t say things with the intention of hurting people or putting them in their place, although sometimes I do fail in my own standards of gentleness. I have tact where necessary. I’m not however above apologising in any such instances where tact appears in short supply. If I had a euro for every time someone said to me, “Jesus, tell us what you really think” I’d have, well, several euros. My friend Marie was right when she recently quoted to me, “If you say what you think, don’t expect to hear only what you like”. I have a problem holding my tongue when riled.

So I find myself in a difficult position at work. I want to challenge the attitudes of my co-workers. I cannot abide calling people who have caused no offence, based purely on their clothing or appearance, “scumbags” “scobies” “skangers” “knackers” and all the rest of it. I am forced to listen to this kind of thing all day long. Long-suffering overworked people in my department exact revenge for the difficulties of their role by being purposely belligerent, dismissive and obstructive to clients they dislike. They vent their frustrations by discussing challenging clients at every break. The whole environment makes me feel oppressed. If I were to challenge every instance of aggression/bigotry/bitterness, I’d be nagging literally all day. Ugh.

My plan of action is to be slow to speak on any such issues and to attempt to express my views by my behaviour. This is  a genuine challenge for me. I do not need to be liked by my co-workers, but I do wish to be at peace with them. If anyone has any tips on remaining zen at work and not absorbing all the negativity, I would really, really appreciate it. For now I am beginning each day in gratitude for having a job when so many others don’t. This gratitude evaporates over the course of the day and needs renewing every morning. It’s like a fuel that gets burnt out quickly.

All right, so let’s do the glass half-full bit. On the upside, the wolf is from the door for the next few months. What I earn will cover living expenses and my college fees for the second year of my chaplaincy degree. My manager is great. I’ve met some extremely nice colleagues (although my section from next week will be separate to theirs). I also get to travel to and from work most days with a wonderful friend who lives and works near me, who drives me there in her comfy car, with minimal travel costs, which is a daily treat.

And…there’s always Dilbert. And beer!