the trouble with facticity

July 16, 2014

To the philosophers who got here via google looking up facticity for your essay: move along. This won’t help you.

To the regulars who check in here every day risking almost inevitable disappointment: thanks. I think about blogging a lot, and there are several half-written posts in my drafts folder, but as you know, I rarely can gather my thoughts together effectively.

We are approaching our one year Aberdeeniversary. I realised this a couple of weeks ago with a jolt of shock. Since then I have been telling this fact to everyone who will listen. They seem less amazed by this incredibly speedy passage of time than I am.

Speaking of time’s illusion of rushing speedily onward, the husband unit and I will be celebrating our ten year maritalversary  in two months’ time. Well. That escalated quickly.

We spent the first year of our marriage fighting and cursing the heavens for our horrific mistake. This came off the back of a tough couple of years with family problems and illness. Then, year two rocked up and a switch flicked and we settled into that marital bliss everyone else goes on about. It’s been good ever since (although I admit we did spend the last 24 hours arguing through snot and tears over something that we have been arguing about for the entire duration of our 16 year relationship).

I am hoping that a similar switch is going to flick in my relationship with Aberdeen (nuptial bliss + occasional fallout). I had really hoped that by now I would feel settled and established here: that I would know this city’s corners and sweet spots and how to wriggle myself into them. No such luck. I feel un-anchored and not in the unlimited-wide-open-ocean-anything-could-happen kind of way, but in the I-am-totally-lost way. Freed but limited. I miss my soul friends. I miss not being a foreigner. I miss the visual landscape of my homeplace and many other things besides. I thought the heartsickness would shift and melt and fade but it hasn’t. Part of the problem is my indulgence of the homesick feeling – I am flexing its muscle and making it stronger, maybe. But then I still have these unsolicited disappointments, where I wake up on a Saturday morning and think immediately of meeting a particular friend, or going to brunch with the husband unit in a particular favourite restaurant, and then I remember I can’t because I am not at home. And that there aren’t any friends like that here that I can call on, on a whim, and that there aren’t any brunch places, cos this isn’t that kind of city. And then I feel sad. And then I feel annoyed with myself for how pampered and self-indulgent I am, and that doesn’t cross over into a sensible ability to laugh at myself, but rather into self-loathing and despair.

And all the while God continues to show his hand in providential encounters: guess who is moving to Aberdeen and who is going to become my husband’s new PhD supervisor? Stanley Hauerwas, that’s who. He wrote Living Gently in a Violent World, a book that changed my life. And such is the university culture here that we are going to get not just to meet him and hear him teach but we will be part of the same community, probably even the same local church. The husband unit gets to be schooled by the master: the master that inspired him to study at this level in the first place. Wtf. So again I see another clear purpose in coming here, but I don’t know how to reconcile those wondrous kinds of coincidences with my general feeling of unhappiness. Of course these coincidences centre around the husband unit, but is my contentedness really so utterly centred on me? We all know the trope of the father (or mother for that matter) that works tirelessly at a crappy job for the needs of their family and it’s all worth it because their family is taken care of. Well, essentially that is my role here. Work to take care of my (two person) family. And I am just too selfish for it to be satisfying.

Is my problem that I am addicted to an idea of something that is just honestly unattainable? I used to think I didn’t want much (ha!), but now I see that I actually want so, so much, and that this reality was hidden to me because I had most of what I unconsciously wanted in advance. The appetite I have for the things I think I don’t have is a cavern. I am in existential crisis, man! Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche ain’t got nuthin’ on me, yo. I thought I had discerned what I wanted to do when I grew up: become a prison chaplain. I did a lot of hard work to make that happen. That’s just not possible here. The only prison for a massive radius is 30 miles north of Aberdeen and already has a chaplain. So I am doing something else and like everything else I’ve tried, it just hasn’t satisfied. So I find myself asking – how do I learn to be content? What needs to change, my circumstances or me, or both? What do I add in to my life, what do I take out, what is within my control and what isn’t? Or ought I to accept unhappiness as inevitable? Is everyone as troubled as me by this shit? A lot of the things that I took for granted were actually central to my happiness – a stable church community, close friends, quiet home, easy access to a rich social and cultural life. Those things are gone and can’t be forced here. They might happen at some stage but they are not happening now. That’s the trouble with facticity: the thrownness of our existence. Chucked hither and thither. Go with or resist?

Answers on a postcard plz. (No sympathy, thanks. Obscenely rude jokes an acceptable substitute.)

 

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growing or shrinking

March 11, 2014

A sincere thank you to all who replied to my last post. The responses came in floods – hundreds of views, new followers, texts, emails, phone calls and conversations in person. I was really surprised and touched. Thanks for being friends and well wishers (in that you mean me no particular harm).

One friend who does not identify as a Christian asked me if I was saying that my faith was growing or shrinking. I was really surprised by that question, too.

The answer is complex.

The Christian life is one that pursues sanctification. Sanctification is the process of the pursuit of holiness. Holiness is fucking hard, man, and apparently involves a lot of not using the word fuck. Holiness, and I have encountered it, is beautiful. It is virtue embodied, and it is usually very hard-won, but it is more than just that. It is bright and free and kind, and it delights to spend time worshipping God and in service of his people. It gets angry at the right things and forgives everything else. As I strive to live gently in a violent world (inside a violent body with a violent heart in it) I am striving for sanctification.

I am watching my husband be sanctified. He is better today than he was five and ten years ago. Smarter, kinder, gentler, brighter, gooder. He is unrecognisable from fifteen years ago, where all those virtues were little seeds in him, and now they are young trees that jut out his orifices.

So is my faith growing or shrinking? It’s hard to say. I remain as faithless as ever. I remain weak in virtue and bursting at the seams with self interest. I am regularly seduced by bullshit and the delusion that I can control my life.

What does seem to grow though is my view of God. My view is more generous than it used to be. God seems bigger and wider and that cannot be because he has changed. It’s a question of perspective.

Father Ted can explain it better than I can:

I suppose I am a little closer to him than before. It isn’t that my faith is bigger, it’s that I am allowing the object of my faith to take up more of my landscape. I hope that clears things up a little.


the ten series: two songs

October 14, 2013

If I thought choosing four books was hard? Well that ain’t nothin’ on choosing two songs out of all the many songs that have moved me. I don’t know how to make these choices. It would have been much easier to have ten songs and two secrets, although that probably would have been much less interesting for you the reader.

This whole ten-series thing is very ego-centric, so I hope you’ll forgive an indulgence where I talk about two songs that I love that I’ve sang at special moments. Having said that, I did not write the songs so can take absolutely no credit. Your relationship to a song changes when you participate in it rather than just listening. Its story becomes a bit of your story.

1. She Moved Through the Fair

Like many others, this song has been a party piece of mine for years. I have one or two friends who love to hear it and always ask me to sing it, and I love to oblige. I love the vocal trills and the sad storytelling and the lilt and the invitation to everyone present to join in at the key moment – it will not be long, love, til our wedding day. It’s a folk funeral ballad, based on an old poem altered by Padraic Colum, and sung to a traditional medieval tune, popular with travellers, and often mistakenly sung at weddings up and down the country.

One very sad day, a strange funeral day, I somehow found myself on the beautiful stage of the round auditorium of Old Cabell Hall in the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, a thousand seats rising up and around me, singing this song through tears as the faculty bluegrass band strummed behind me. The audience was just a handful friends.

I will never forget that moment as long as I live.

Here is a haunting version by the inimitable Sinead O’Connor.

2. The Trumpet Child, by Over the Rhine

This is an apocalyptic or eschatological song – in other words, a song about the end of the world. Its focus is the child who blows the trumpet that signifies the renewal of all things… in short, the hope of the Christian.

I’ve been asked to sing at over a dozen weddings over the years but this is the one that stands out in my mind. The bride and groom requested it for the church service, and I had the great privilege and pleasure of singing under the direction and guidance of the immensely talented Craig Skene and his band and the hired string quartet. The song itself is a carefully crafted work of art and their performance, and mine I suppose, was such that the whole congregation burst into spontaneous applause at the end (if you’re not a regular at church, applause during liturgy is very unusual). Spine tingling – and a complete privilege to be part of it. Oh to write a song that good!

The actual performance itself was kindly recorded by someone in the third row with their phone, but the phone couldn’t capture it fully and as a result it’s fuzzy and distorted. But here it is in any case; you get the idea.


the ten series: three films

October 13, 2013

In the same way that a retweet isn’t an endorsement, featuring in this post is not necessarily a recommendation.  Three memorable ones of the hundreds and hundreds:

1. The Exorcist. When I was fifteen this movie was re-released in the cinema in Ireland. I was absolutely desperate to see it. As a kid I was quite afraid of my parents so did not tend to step out of line or do naughty things very often. On this occasion, however, myself and my buddy S broke all the rules by sneaking out of her parents house at night while they were out and we were supposed to be in, to take the 66 bus into Dublin city centre and watch this movie in the Savoy cinema on O’Connell Street. Well. We were rightly shitting ourselves. It was a horrifying ordeal that was only partly enjoyable at the time and not at all enjoyable later on. We screamed and clutched at each other and trembled all the way home. I had flashbacks for years!

2. Dancer in the Dark. I have always loved Bjork and found her a bit mad and mesmerising. When I saw her in this movie I was simultaneously transfixed and all at once filled with dread at the appalling injustice suffered by her character Selma, who is charged with a horrific crime that she was not responsible for and sentenced accordingly. I sat on the floor of the living room of my rented student accommodation at the time and cried for a good twenty minutes after it was over. I think that was the beginning of me choosing my movies more carefully. Not that I wish that I had not seen it, but the misery of it stayed with me for a long time after I stopped crying. It showed me my own sensitivity and I have not been as willing to watch just any old thing since then. I am more discerning because it’s just not practical to go into mourning after watching a movie and find yourself not fully able to do your job or string a coherent sentence together.

3. High Fidelity. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, but immeasurably improved by being set in the US instead of in the UK, I include this movie because it is a tonic on a sad day, and there are quite a few of those. Everyone should watch it at least once.


the ten series: six places

September 17, 2013

Okay, these are in no particular order.

1. Dublin. It’s my town. I was born there and I lived there until I was 17. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since. When we return to the republic in 2019 we are settling in Dublin, hopefully for good. I love it. I love its disordered buildings and the rawness right there in front of you on the street. I love the mix of people, the tangle of nationalities. I love Moore Street with its fresh fish still flapping and feisty women selling you fruit as did their mothers and grandmothers; its cafes and junky phone repair stores. I love the hum in the streets. I love how awake it is, all the time. I love the lights at Christmas, the tinsel and bustle. I love its markets – from the hipster fleas to the antiques and rubbish to the farmer’s produce to the artisan craft. I love the eurosaver stores, the restaurants, the good humour with strangers. I love the marches, parades and protests. I love its coffee culture and its pub scene. I love the people who paint on the pavement. I love the city’s extravagant history. I love the live music everywhere, the street sculpture, the museums.  I like the cobbled streets and wide-paved streets and the walking tours. I like the cheese and the hand-made chocolate and the open-top bus and the Liffey river cruise. I love the macabre edge: the storytelling, the Ghost bus, the folklore. I love how it is a real place and that as soon as the sun comes out everybody strips off and soaks up every drop of heat and light. I love how Dubliners turn out for everything: nothing is a flop – they oblige at every festival, every market, every free show and workshop. I love the theatres, from the huge performances to the fringe shorts. I love its cinemas; something for every taste. I love the activism and the projects and the commitment. I love that you can always get a taxi. I love the Luas. I love the Nitelink. I love the train stations and the bus stops. I love its parks and nooks and crannies of green. I love its comedians and the cheap comedy shows. I love the old ladies who tell me I remind them of their daughters. I love its beaches and its fish and chips. I love its apartments and its flats and its ramshackle houses with the bathrooms that you have to walk through the kitchen to reach. I love the busking. I love the street performers and the human statues and the poets who self-publish and sell their work on the street. I love the stalls on O’Connell Bridge and the ability to find a cosy spot at any moment. There are things about it that I don’t love, but I don’t love those things only because they are destructive to a city and a people that I love.

2. Around my kitchen table. I’ve lived in a few places and I haven’t always had the same kitchen or the same table. In fact the kitchen in my current flat is so small there’s no chance of sitting round anything or sitting at all. In fact the flat had no table when we moved in, so we bought a table and four chairs and squeezed it into the living room, because what kind of home doesn’t have a table in it? So yes, around my kitchen table. Over the years there has been some serious rejoicing and some serious mourning done round that table with neighbours, family and friends. It’s the heart of any home: endless cups of tea and bowls of soup and boards of cheese and grapes and great vats of beef stew have been consumed at that table – nourishment not just in the food but of course in the company too.

3.  Malta, and its Hilton Hotel. A few years ago the husband unit broke both of his arms in two consecutive accidents. What followed was a lot of surgery and recuperation and six weeks when he could not wipe his own bottom. During those six weeks we completely missed out on Christmas and on my dear friend’s wedding in Texas, where I was to be bridesmaid. We recouped some of the travel costs (although we lost our flights) and booked a hasty trip to St. Julian’s in Malta for five nights. What ensued was the best holiday of our lives. Every last detail was perfect. We were collected from the airport by the hotel  chauffeur and were in the Hilton within twenty minutes of landing. We were greeted with complimentary cool drinks which we enjoyed while our bags were taken to our room. Our room had a view of the marina and boasted the most comfortable bed I’ve perhaps ever slept in. We spent our days exploring the island on foot and by boat, eating local delicacies of rabbit stew and drinking fine wine. We ate in a restaurant that had a river running through it full of live carp. Everyone we met was gracious, kind and courteous. The sun shone on us for five glorious winter days and we felt like honeymooners. (Our actual honeymoon having been several years previous, was an unmitigated disaster, the misery from which we still have not fully recovered. But that’s a tale of woe and warning for another day.)

4. I say this tentatively…Aberdeen. Years ago I remember reading a quote from St. Theresa who was grappling with her faith. She said, God I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you. Not to compare Aberdeen to God, but that sums up how I am feeling. I don’t love this city and in fact, I don’t want to. Maybe I am afraid I will grow attached to it only to be forced somewhere else in three years’ time. But in a way I do want to want to love it. It does have things going for it, this place. There is a very wild ocean that roars and is exhilarating. The worse the weather, the more thrilling it is. There are huge hidden parks that alternate between natural forest and grassland, and manicured lawns spilling their guts with beautiful flowers of every colour. It has fortified castles and a salt-smelling harbour and most importantly it offers an opportunity for my weary husband unit to expand his thinking and talents in a community that is both academically brilliant and socially vibrant. Aberdeen we’ll get there.

5. Prison. I’ve never been locked up in one (well actually, I have, but I have never been convicted of a sentence and served time in jail). But I have had the privilege of sharing in the lives of a lot of people who live in prison. More than this: I have met with God there – in sacrament and in person and in liturgy and in tears and laughter in sterile hallways and poky offices and bare wooden chapel pews.

6. The dole queue. No, I don’t love it. But it has been a significant place of learning for me. It has certainly been a leveller. My five year struggle to secure a permanent job, which ultimately failed, gave me an opportunity to reconsider my identity. I literally cried with distress for the first few years of having nothing meaningful to do. Being cut off from opportunities and money and the important social interaction that comes with working, only to get a three month placement here and a six month placement there, each one snipped just as I was getting comfortable, taught me something about myself:  I am not what I do for a living. If my meaning comes from what I do or what I earn, then what message of hope do I have for those who cannot work? My worth can’t be counted by Anglo or measured in the GDP. I’m pricey, yo. 


the ten series: eight fears

September 16, 2013

I don’t know why in this series fears get eight slots. Seems a bit neurotic. I’m not quite sure that I have eight fears. I presume there are some deep-seated fears that I shouldn’t put on the blog and instead explore in therapy, curled up on a crying chair surrounded by wads of balled-up tissue, with hair in my mouth and a river of snot to my chin. RIGHT LET’S GO

eight fears

1. That I am ‘too much’ or ‘too intense’ for people and that this means that ultimately I am a novelty rather than someone you really like to be around. There are only a few soul friends where this doesn’t worry me.

2. Slugs, snails and soft-bodied creatures. I don’t mind creepy-crawlies, but anything soft and slimy gives me the willies. I have been known to walk home in the dark on a wet night on tip-toe, shining the light from my phone onto my path. Stepping on them sends a shiver through me that lasts for hours. Anything without a spine definitely cannot be trusted. Take jelly fish for example (barf). Ah I can’t even talk about them. They’re too disgusting.

3. That my husband will die. It struck approximately one week after I married him. This is a stupid and pointless fear, because he definitely will die. And so will I. I suppose I fear the impending reality. On some level I think that I would rather die first, to never have to endure losing him. But then I think of how badly he would take it if I died, and I don’t want to put him through that. It is funny how as soon as you find yourself in a deep and loving relationship (not necessarily romantic, either) you suddenly develop this grip on the person as a reaction to the fragility of our existence. I went through a phase (which I think most children do) of deeply fearing the deaths of my parents. It’s incredible how this particular fear can hold us captive. It is the one fear that exposes how out of control everything is: how futile our attempts to hang onto anything are.

4. Small spaces. I have claustraphobia, for realz. It’s not an active part of my psyche so whenever it strikes I am invariably shocked as well as terrified. My most recent bout hit when I visited a museum in Aberdeen where you have to climb a narrow, winding concrete stairwell, built a few centuries ago, to get to the exhibit. UM, NO. About six steps up my brain shouted NO, WE’RE LEAVING NOW. GO GO GO. I had to turn back and leave immediately. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see the exhibit but if I had pushed on through I might have wet myself by the time I’d reached the top, and then had to endure tremors while wandering around but thinking about the descent. Another time that it struck when I wasn’t expecting (and now I think about it, it might have been the first time ever that it struck) was when I was on a primary school tour in a country park and we had to crawl through underground mud tunnels as part of some orienteering track. I had a massive freakout, underground, in a mud tunnel. Yeah.

5. Mountains. There is nothing you can make me do to climb mountains. I will most definitely be the person in the group who breaks their ankle or topples backwards to their grisly death. I don’t mind a friendly little hill. I don’t mind sloping trails in a forest park. But you will never ever get me on a mountain hike where there is even the remotest chance of losing balance and smashing my head open. To be honest with you, it’s not even so much a fear of injury. It’s fear of the humiliation of having to be looked after by the rest of the group and carried back to safety. DEAR GOD NO.

6. That my lack of a proper career will never end and I will be doomed to bouts of unemployment followed by stints temping in stuffy offices until the day I die. This one keeps me awake at night.

7. Being the minister’s wife. My husband worked for six years in a church and is now taking an academic break before going back to full time work in a church community as a minister. This fear of being The Little Woman (ha) has many layers. My husband outshines me in many ways. That is very difficult for my pride. He works harder, is more impressive, achieves more highly. He gets prizes, scholarships, job offers. I get the unemployment line, or so it feels. The church is a misogynistic place. My husband is a feminist and our home is an equal place. We both encompass qualities of the masculine and feminine. But I find myself constantly attending events where Husband-Unit is the keynote speaker and I am the silent wife in the background. I have met colleagues of his, repeatedly, who cannot hold onto my name. I am used to him having fans and followers who tack me on as an addition. This would be less grating if I had something of my own, but despite all my education, striving and very best efforts, I remain The Minister’s Wife. Even moving here to Aberdeen, I was shocked to find that 95% of the PhD students in his department are male, and that their wives and partners have started a women’s social group thing. I just can’t attend something where my identity is as an addendum to someone else’s.

8. Driving. I smashed the car into the garden wall and caused thousands of euros worth of damage that has sent our premiums through the roof. I fear killing someone, wrecking things, causing a massive pile-up. This is a saga that goes on and on in my quest to get my licence. I feel like as soon as I get that goddam licence I am hanging it up and never driving again. That part is the biggest fantasy of all, as there’s no way I’m throwing a pile of kids into a cart at the back of a pushbike and using that to get us from a to b. I’m even worse on a bike than behind the wheel!

Oh, have we run out of room? Turns out I could have kept going indefinitely.


the ten series: nine loves

September 15, 2013

1. The Harry Potter books. Oh man. Forget the movies: they’re rubbish. (That didn’t stop me watching them all in the cinema on opening night, having endured weeks of hopeful anticipation in advance.) They are a supreme escape, full of all the thrills you desire as a child: being able to fly, magnificent food, four poster beds, living in a mystical castle, your homework being practicing magic. Adventure, romance, success, failure, pain, loss, heartache, fun, joy, celebration. Surprise twists and turns, grotesque horrors and exquisite delights. It’s magic.

2. Festival. Christmas, Easter, birthday, firsts, lasts, fine beers: I’m up for celebrating all of it. Growing up in a house devoid of traditions and scant celebrations, I’m up for a party and you’re all invited. (Except…you.) Feasting, drinking, dancing, singing, talking, laughing and being silly a must.

3. Silence. Oh how I love silence. I need a pocket of silence in every day or I go a little bit nuts. I didn’t always know that I needed that and spent more than a little time feeling aggravated and vexed because I didn’t make space for it in my life. Quiet, you!

4. Friendship. It is the most important thing that life has to offer us and it is the only context for virtue. It illuminates everything and makes the most wounding experiences livable. It is rare and it is soul-nourishing like no other thing. It is the perfect soundtrack to every experience.

5. Old fashioned desserts. Tapioca, creamy baked rice, semolina, bread and butter pudding…stodge, warmth, vanilla wonderfulness. I associate them with my grandmother, who was rather ungrandmotherly* overall, but was good at tapioca with a lump of HB ice cream in it.

*She once found a rat in her bedroom, grabbed it in a towel and broke its neck, and other stories.

6. The Counting Crows. It has never been cool to like this band, at least not in Ireland. It is probably less cool than ever now. I went to see them for the first time in the summer of, I think, 1999, with a boy I was besotted with, and his friend. No gig before or since has topped that experience and their music will for me be forever tinted with nostalgic memories of sun and wandering my city’s streets at night and feeling young and unfettered and alive.

7. Sunglasses. Every bit as universally cool as cigarettes, but without the ash-breath, yellow fingers and cancer. Slap ’em on any nerd, and they’re transformed into an adonis-like state.

8. Sleep. I don’t get that much of it, so I enjoy it when I do. Enhanced by the warm presence of the husband-unit.

9. The nineties. Like most teenagers of the nineties, I am obsessed. The terrible fashion. The unforgettable dance music. The new dawn of breakfast television. The economic boom and the sense of endless possibility. The Britpop. The Spice Girls. The movies – the legacy of Jurassic Park, Titanic, Terminator 2, Home Alone, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump and The Sixth Sense. The inexplicable feeling that those of us who identify with the era as being able to take credit for that stuff (you’re welcome). The Alanis-Morisette-Tracy-Chapman-Tori-Amos-Bjork-Sarah-McLaughlin-Beth-Orton-fever that gripped all us young women. The hot summers, the music festivals, the piercings and the purple hair. The oversized tshirts, listening to Longwave radio Atlantic 252, My So Called Life, Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five. Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese changing the political landscape for Irish women forever. Good times.