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I tweeted this video already, but want to share it here too. I left Ireland under very different circumstances than the current emigrants. When I left, Ireland was the fastest growing economy in Europe (or was it the world? I always get dizzy and disoriented with superlatives). The country was punch-drunk on boom times. I got back from a MA in Canada and didn't recognize my town anymore.

Dublin's grunge had been replaced by chrome cafes and flimsy housing estates. I hated it. It sounds like a right shithead perspective, but I left mostly for aesthetic reasons. And I left without looking back over my shoulder, with a ruthlessness that now shocks me and I wonder that I was capable of it.



And yet, this video resonates with me. Although I was a very solitary emigrant (the immigration officer in Canada said, Why would you leave? We think we should be there.) But, I think all emigrants are solitary ones. I mean, you can move somewhere with a bunch of your mates or with your partner, but belonging and identity are really things we end up finding within ourselves, not looking out into the world or hoping to be gifted it by a place or person.

On Christmas Day, I took a stroll through the Irish cemetery near me. It's most-often locked up, but it was wide open on Christmas Day. And I strolled among the headstones of Flanagans and Byrnes, Murrays and Hanlys, each with their birth-town named; Drogheda, Limerick, Trim, Mayo. Most of the people buried there were famine survivors and I thought about how they came here, how that path in the map is long worn by Irish people, long before myself and the current generation.

And I think of all that my own family lived through, though the specifics of our family history are forgotten. The Flanagans who stayed through famine and British rule, through war and the poverty of the sixties and seventies. Even the eighties, when we were still being told that Ireland was a third world country in geography classes taught by nuns. And I think how each generation of Flanagans might have said "we're staying" until it reached me. And I left, indulgent and unchallenged.


I'm nearly scared to go home in 2013, because my last trip left me so reeling. And as I change being away, I go back and see everything differently, see my own twenty-something judgements as hard and unequivocal and not admitting of ripped emotions that ought to be admitted. And as the reality of my life in Toronto has taken shape, I sometimes wonder was it worth it. Because of course, it's different than I hoped. Not that different is necessarily bad. And I like the video because it captures all of that and, in the end no matter when or why, we all stay or go from where we are.

Somewhat related: I wrote an essay on the subject of home for the first issue of Kindred journal, which is available for pre-order here and ships mid-January. Many of you have asked to read more of my writing, so thought I would share... I hope you enjoy it!

The alone and the in-between

I just got done spending my tenth Christmas alone in Canada. Well, that's not exactly true. Some years there have been visitors and others friends or groups of friends. But mostly it's been a solitary Christmas Day book-ended with some small gatherings and quiet gift exchanges.

It kinda sucks. I mean, I find ways of coping, even of enjoying myself, I've developed traditions that smooth the day along, favourite meals and movies, a walk around the neighbourhood. On Christmas Day, I went to Starbucks and there were many people there, with books and laptops. Perhaps they don't celebrate Christmas. Or perhaps they do and were, like me, alone. It's not a rare thing, though you could easily feel that way.

Most years, there's an element of choice in all of this. I turn down invitations on Christmas Day. I always feel like it's better to feel that pang of loneliness alone than the even-worse state of feeling alone in company. So, it's not like I'm completely depressed and a victim in all of this. I let myself feel a little sad, but I also embrace being alone, low-key and pandering to whatever I want for the day.

The part that's hard is the perception. The holiday is a complete encapsulation of those situations all singletons dread; the pitying eyes, the feeling that you're defending your life, explaining - no really!! - that I wouldn't have it another way. And that defense feels a little dishonest, because the truth is there are moments during the holidays when I bottom out. But, don't we all? Bottom out, I mean?

Yesterday, I took down my tree. Once Christmas Day is over, the lights and glitter have lost their magic for me. I wonder sometimes how much I've been role-playing all of it to make it less lonely. I think we do what we need to do. But on Boxing Day, I always feel relief and want to shed the skin of it. I clear out my fridge and clean my apartment. I feel lighter when a clean and open space re-emerges from all that cozy clutter. I open windows, letting December's frigid air raze my apartment.

It's this week between Christmas and New Year's that I really love about the holidays; the beautiful, low-key no-man's-land of it. Is there a time of year when we're more on the threshold of a door that's swinging open and close? I love this nothingness. The calm and the clean slate of it. All those feelings that I was so susceptible to only a week ago have evaporated. Instead, I withdraw, glazed over by the optimism of this in-between...

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Hee Haw

I'm signing off here until the other side of the holidays and want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

It's been a whirlwind of a year and although little has ostensibly changed I feel a seismic shift inside of me, things that I haven't overtly blogged about but I suspect you've picked up on here and there.


And I'm looking forward to drawing a line under all of that and starting a new tally, even though I've also talking about embracing continuity as much as starting over. But there's room for both and we can both evolve and start afresh, I suppose, and these things need not be at odds.

But most importantly, I want to thank those of you who have stuck around here. My relationship with my blog and with blogging has changed since the summer and I know those changes have lost me some readers. But, as much as ever, I appreciate every comment and e-mail and word of encouragement that what I do here is worthwhile and meaningful to some of you.


And, as I've done every year now for six years, I've got us all an annual gift of a donkey sponsorship from The Donkey Sanctuary. We've supported Cargo and his friends now for so long, it feels like a lovely tradition each December when the renewal forms arrive. I can't think of a nicer way to thank you all for another year here.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!


Images from The Donkey Sanctuary.

Support

I've been thinking about the blogworld and how we support each other. In particular the seemingly "automatic support" we seem to celebrate here. In this sphere, support is often portrayed as something we're entitled to, a default position we should all hold with one another, not something to be earned, not something hard-won and deeply held.

This is sometimes played as a pro-women, pro-indie card. It's implied (with self-congratulatory overtones) that what marks our blogging and indie spheres as distinct from, for example, male-dominated politics or corporate culture is that we support rather than compete; that we're not adversarial or mean-spirited towards each other and our enterprises. Of course, that portrayal contains a fair amount of spin, but I'll get to that later. Let's first take it at face value and look at the very idea of automatic support...

The unexplored spectrum

This either/or model of criticism and support excludes nuanced, reflective reactions. It is precisely unreflective, because it asks us to swallow something whole without giving voice to any reservations, questions or intelligent reflection. By adopting such polarized attitudes; that we must either support or become adversaries, we're actually portraying our community as split between saccharine supporters or venomous critics, with no in-between options.

But these two options exclude what I feel are my own more genuine reactions. There's an unexplored spectrum here between (1) being bitchily negative, (2) being constructively critical, (3) being neutral, (4) being meaningfully supportive, and (5) being blindly supportive (and I think we could thrash out that spectrum even further). I'm not suggesting that we should all look at everything with a desire to pick holes in it and tear apart, (1). But I neither think support should be automatic (5). There are in-between options.

And I do believe that we're witnessing some dire consequences of this "automatic support". Bloggers who benefited from automatic support early on are adopting practices that go unquestioned, unchallenged. I've seen blogs I once admired become mostly advertorial or marketing platforms for other sites the blogger now represents. Some even publish content plagiarized from other sources. But this isn't only about blogs. Pinterest and other sites that so many automatically supported early on have begun to look unfavourable in certain light. I recently started to look more critically about Etsy too, and Instagram as well.

I sometimes feel many of us, myself included, are now caught backpedaling away from things we wholly supported at the outset. But indie magazines, social-networking sites, retailers are really made or broken by that early wave of support. After something hits a certain critical mass, detractors are easily out-numbered and out-voiced. And yet we (myself included) have thrown our support and weight behind things and later questioned whether they really were all that they purported to be. Meanwhile, the tone of detraction seems to be going to the other extreme, e.g. GOMI forums, where bitchy name-calling and bullying gossip seems to drown the space where more constructive criticism could be articulated.

Perhaps all of this is a consequence of giving away that early support too readily, trusting that because all these organizations and individuals made the right noises about authenticity and integrity, and because they're part of our community, that they'd be steadfast and true to those ideals. Any quietly conscientious objections come now as late arrivals to an already raucous party.

The spin

But there's another side to "automatic support" — it's not always wide-eyed and disinterested. There's a quid-pro-quo behind a lot of that mutual fawning and we can see that repaid multiple times as uber-bloggers only link to one other, as blogs become sponsored by sellers who magically get valuable editorial space. Support is sometimes the most cutthroat business-sense masquerading as something more innocent and friendly.

We've all sensed the transactions (not necessarily monetary) behind some of those posts and retweets. Yes, some of that can be very sincere. And some of it is very smart and strategic relationship-building, but let's understand what it is, what it's for. And let's not mistake it for something actually real when it's not.

I have hard policies on my own blog: I don't have ads or host giveaways, I don't accept samples or gifts and I unsubscribe from press releases in order to limit the grey areas in my blogging life. I admire the few bloggers who seem to juggle all of these competing interests while still maintaining editorial integrity. For me, it's easier to just avoid creating more grey areas in an already very grey community where bloggers, media, retailers, PR professionals et al seamlessly mingle.

But I do think these exchanges, gifts, quid-pro-quos are not always understood or represented honestly by many bloggers and retailers (despite guidelines). They drink their own Kool-Aid and congratulate themselves for being part of a big mutually-supportive community. But in many cases, that support has very little to do with real knowledge, authenticity or respect. And it can be fleeting and fickle unless that fire is constantly stoked on both sides, which makes it so much more insidious to me.

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No doubt, there are exceptions; individuals and business we can confidently support. Knowledge and experience are critical too — getting to know people, using and living with their products, reading a blog over time - these create experiences that go a whole lot deeper than reblogging a press release.

And sometimes it does all turn out just as you hoped and people and businesses meet and exceed your expectations in ways that are wonderful and worth sharing. But it's too easy for a blogger or business to make all the right noises about integrity and authenticity. It's more difficult to embody those principles and to grow while keeping them intact. There are also blog posts that I feel, in retrospect, I threw out there too quickly, too eagerly.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately because I hate seeing myself flip on things I once supported openly and vocally. It makes me feel like I was gullible, but also that I was rash when I ought to have felt a responsibility to be cautious. And so I want to instead commit to a more open kind of neutrality... an approach right down the middle of the spectrum. This isn't about being negative or cynical, rather not wanting to be in a position where my support wanes as deeper layers are exposed.

I really aspire to be a person whose support and loyalty is meaningful, long-held and true. I know I'll make mistakes and I know that I can't account for how people and businesses change as they grow. At the outset, I too loved the default positivity of the blogworld, but I've long questioned the substance and motivation behind that attitude (especially since writing this post with Hila). So, I'm going to hold back my support for longer in the future. And when I do give it away it will be something much more meaningful, for me and the person I'm supporting, and for anybody who is still reading.

Sunday best: Winter comfort

The days have been hard of late, in ways that occasionally escape my mind and then I recall what it is niggling the back of brain and make sense of myself anew. But I like those moments when I'm a mystery to myself and I have to unpack the world in order to get to the bottom of my own heart. And I think the brain is quite wonderful at covering up the crime scene of sadness.


I've been finding comfort in my neighbourhood. The days so far have been free of snow. And while this may seem like a travesty from a window-watching vantage, it lets me meander down side streets, picking a favourite, and then a favourite house, and then conjuring a little flight of fantasy in my brain.


I love to see wreaths on the doors or get a peek in the windows, seeing lights twinkle and blur behind old glass windows. And there's such stillness on the outside, rarely a person to be seen. Toronto has tricks up its sleeves for keeping its occupants hidden. Which conjures an even greater winter comfort inside those walls.

Until, eventually, I turn home, seeking my own.

Products: Sessùn eska sherpa boots from Madewell | United Bamboo Cowl Neck Sweater from La Garconne | Cathy Waterman Rustic Diamond Thorn Posts from Twist | Cigarette trouser from Toast | Mimi Classic Peggy from Mimi Berry | Night Series Nail Polish from NARS

Somerset Willow tree skirt from Rowen & Wren

Friday!

I was talking with somebody this week about getting over the idea of something versus getting over its reality. Reality is easier: When a person hurts me, it's a no-brainer to walk away. When a cup chips, I no longer want to drink from it.

But I live in the world of ideas. Ideas are like stones in my pocket. I roll them between my fingers when I walk. I panic if they're not there, grasping until I find them again. I mourn when they are lost and feel poignantly their absence, though I can't simply and immediately bring myself to replace them.

It takes me much longer to get over the idea of something than it does its reality.

Grief isn't only about losing an object or person. It's about letting go of the ideas you assigned to them, rightly or wrongly. The crown you let them wear; lover, friend, family. And about feeling those ideas left adrift, unoccupied once you lift them from a person, or place or object.

At the end of the year, I start to feel all this. This time last year, I was filled with hope about somebody. The reality quickly evaporated. But what they stood for, all too briefly, still has an echo that makes me want to reach for them, although I know it's only my own idea I'm reaching for and I might as well reach into my pocket as out to them.

But there's still a fine filament of thread connecting that idea to that person. And I have other filaments of ideas cast out into the world, to people and places and some are real and some are not. And many are my own fictions and can break my heart. But at this time of year I think about all of them and churn how we were wrong and how I'm still struggling to get over so many of my own ideas.

We talk a lot about the holidays as a time to spend time with family and friends and to tell people we love them, to reaffirm bonds. And we push to the side the truth that not all things are so constant and friends are lost as well as made, and family can be estranged, and love affirmed and optimistic last year can be gone this one.

And I may sound maudlin to be feeling all this right now. But the truth is I like those poignant moments when I let myself really feel a loss and really feel how much I wanted, and still want, an idea to find its reality. And feeling all of this helps me get over that harder part, the idea part. So that I can find new filaments to cast out under this new moon.

And some links...
The most beautiful thing I read this week.
A reassuring post for lonely bloggers.
The song I listened to over and over.
I still dream about having a writer's cabin.
And Edna.

Have a great weekend!

Paul Henry & Franklin Carmichael

When you call two places home, you spend as much time trying to bring them together as to pull them apart. And you find things from each place that lean against each other, perhaps only for yourself; ways to shrink the distance or to at least bridge it.


At the same time, you can always find things to oppose and juxtapose, things that leave you drawn and quartered by pins in maps that stretch across the ocean.


And both are false and true of course. Because it's always possible to see likenesses, to find common ground and a shared narrative, even if that sharing is your own projection and not something grounded in reality.


In that way, sometimes, when I look at Group of Seven paintings I find myself thinking about Paul Henry (1877-1958). And I wonder what he would have painted had he traveled to the shores of Lake Superior. Or what Carmichael (1890-1945) would have painting in barren Connemara. I could tell you similar stories, I suppose, from an art history perspective. Painters at the edge of it, away from the scene.


But mostly I like to look at them side by side and feel myself in both and in that way let them lean against each other and against me. Even if it's really just a fiction of my own selfish delight.

Image credits
1. The Turn of the Road (1941) by Paul Henry (via)
2. Cranberry Lake (1934) by Franklin Carmichael (via)
3. Unknown title by Paul Henry (via)
4. Grace Lake (1934) by Franklin Carmichael (via)
5. On Killary Bay, Connemara (1930-1939) by Paul Henry (via)
6. Bisset Farm (1933) by Franklin Carmichael (via)
7. Clouds at Sunset (1911) by Paul Henry (via)
8. Snow Flurries, North Shore of Lake Superior (1930) by Franklin Carmichael (via)

From my weekend

I often feel like I fail at allowing randomness into my life. It's such a meaningful thing to me to have places to go that have become an extension of my home; favourite coffee shops and bookshops, bars, restaurants, routes to walk. And that's the kind of life I seek out when I don't have it. Of course, when I first moved here there was nothing familiar. So building those things marked a kind of achievement, the sense that I've made this place home.


Yet, having established that, I know I ought to be looser with it and let the city's arbitrariness and sense of discovery wash over me, knowing as I do now that I belong here. And I suppose when I first got here it was hard to always be walking into a new place, seeing unfamiliar faces and feeling like the uncool Dubliner that I sort of hunkered down into one corner of the city because it was more manageable.

But yesterday, Laura and I strolled around the city and walked down streets that I used to live on when I first moved here, a terrible time really. But I found myself seeing those streets differently and we found coffee shops to sit at that I could imagine wanting to sit at more often. And I felt again how small I've made this city and what a shame that is. But I think people do that in general because casting yourself always out into the world takes so much energy all the time.


But it's nice to shake it up, of course. And even though it's winter now and not the best time for roaming adventures, I want to do that more often. And it's nice to feel a different kind of tiredness from walking different places, looking at different people, seeing different handsome bearded men from the handsome bearded men in my own neighbourhood. Never fear, though, all handsome bearded men are equal in my eyes...

Weekend images: Loot from City of Craft | Christmas Tree in my lobby | House I fell in love with | Coffee | Queen West - all Instagram shots

Friday!

My week was a wry kind of smile. There were certain ideas debunked and disappointments banked. But I seem more used to that than not and I was almost tickled by it, the familiarity of it, the yarn-spinning that goes with these feelings, the shure-isn't-it-no-worse-than-you'd-expect kind of humour.

But my sense of home (both homes) is strong right now and when I close my door each evening I feel enveloped by all things I love. And I read some beautiful pieces of writing this week, but this piece by Kevin Barry really stands out. He seems to be every where I turn right now. And I wonder if it's just the paths I'm taking around the internet, if I'm cycling Sligo roads somehow.

"The connection hissed more loudly and sputtered hard, and we held our breaths as the great network that we knew was out there tried to snag its digital hooks on the virgin nodes of Cork city, but it failed, and the room went silent, and we turned off the computer and got on with our lives." - Kevin Barry, The Dublin Review, via IT



And his book will be the one I read next and I fully expect to find myself here trying to find words to convince you that my sense of his genius is real and true and not just me spluttering exclamations at you.

I also read Mark O'Connell's wonderful piece about unboxing videos this week. I loved how it managed to be both questioning and ebullient. I often think our self-conscious irony gets in the way of simpler pleasures, especially when it comes to consumerism, which has become a kind of dirty thing that we're all quick to distance ourselves from.

"It isn’t easy to account for the attraction of these videos; or more specifically, I suppose, it isn’t easy for me to account for my attraction to them. There might, though – and I advance this theory somewhat hesitantly – be something about unboxing videos that stokes whatever vestigial embers remain of the childhood enthrallment of present-opening." Mark O'Connell, The Dublin Review

I've written before about that transition a product goes through from being a thing in a shop to becoming a belonging, and even an extension of self. And I usually rush that process. There's something about gleaming newness I find embarrassing. I like things worn and familiar. So, I reveled a little in this (novel to me) idea of prolonging that process rather than rushing it, especially loving that unboxing doesn't involve turning the thing on.

Also, I should say that these two pieces of wonderful prose promptly made me subscribe to The Dublin Review.

And so, although I shun creating the gift guides myself, I must also tell you the wonder and pull I felt looking Stephanie's this week. And also tell you that I browsed for furniture this week and sat in an armchair I've been doing sums about since. And I picked out leather and nailheads and let the sales associate think I'll be buying it, which I may.

But I also swam in images of Shetland winter and loved Toast for sending me e-mails not selling anything at all. And we could be jaded and talk about clever marketing and how many tweets they got for that. But let's not. Let's think nicer thoughts and that this is just happy-making stuff for them, as well as for us.

Happy weekend!

Goals & revisions

I always start to formulate my goals (I avoid the word "resolution", it sounds too much like penance in my head) at the start of December. Something about the process of articulation and internalization makes them feel more real and feasible when the new year starts.

I also find December a very gestalt time of year. We're all living in the present and happy to defer new year decisions until that number on the calendar flips. And that brings a certain clarity regarding real wants and needs versus the more shoulding kinds (the "should" word too sounds like penance).

So my month has started off in a sort of easy, aspirational way. I know certain things I want to achieve and I'm beginning to indulgently formulate a few steps here and there, in the right direction. It's all beautifully gentle and accepting and I find it's a much kinder state to be in than the harsh goal-setting many of us take upon ourselves in January.

And it's calming to be in this gentle state of mind. To aspire to small improvements without conflating them into wholesale overhauls. To see that room for change too, but without chastisement. To feel like it can all be managed and even enjoyed, again like the darkroom process... An extra seconds exposure, the sky burned in a little, the tree dodged. The changes are miniscule, the image is transformed.

And my apartment feels like a very friendly place right now, in similar small ways. I moved things around to make room for the Christmas tree, repositioning a light here and my desk there. And in that way I come home and it feels a little novel, a little improved, but still my same home. But small experiences change; lying on the bed to read I notice the new angle of light and my space feels expanded.

And after years of dreaming of huge transformative and emerging change, I'm finding myself deeply appreciative of these small and considered revisions. So when January does roll around, the goals probably won't even take the shape of a list, rather a gentle mental gesture and sense of continuation.

Sunday best: Tree!

Yesterday was a busy day. Errands were run, visits were paid, work was turned in and a ritual tidy-up exploded into a massive clean-come-rearrangement of my entire apartment. All for the sake of a tree.


Today will be simpler. Me and my tree. I haven't had a tree in years and I'm feeling pretty Tiggerish about the whole affair. But the same ritual is being repeated in homes all around the world. Children are learning that early association between the smell of fir trees and all Christmas entails, unaware of how they'll seek it out later, burying their heads in conifers in garden centres and farms.

Ornaments are unwrapped and recollected. Some people make themes and colour schemes, but not the Flanagans: We're big on eclectic trees with a mishmash of memories and ornaments collected over our lifetimes. I'll remember too my favourite trees ever: The O'Hanrahan's and the Mrs Byrne's — hers always seemed to reach her ceiling.

And I'll remember just sitting on the floor, systematically tightening bulbs in strings of lights they don't make any more, the flocked reindeer we would put on top of the telly they don't make any more either. And dear old Baggins. How he used to sit under the tree, nosing the ornaments and glare when I reached for a red bow or a stand of tinsel to tie around his neck.

Products: Tree via | Alpaca Batwing Pullover from Toast | Belle Earrings from Workhorse Jewelry | Rag & Bone The Dash Jean from La Garconne | Spirit slippers from Stubbs & Wootten