Last week was a first.
I couldn’t write. Well. I could, I did – but it was tripe. And there will be those among you who like tripe but I don’t. I sat and moved things round and tried again and my back (pulled muscle) hurt and hurt till I chose the pictures and put it all away. Of course, it took longer to find the images than it usually does. And that hurt more. Eventually I aligned it to forward to Dee my “hands” who puts it up, usually on a Tuesday, and gave in.
I went back to it on Monday and wasn’t sure. When I went back to it again I was even less sure. You must remember that, with a blog, you have your own standards to meet – or you abandon them and just blog.
I am my sternest critic. And of course my taste is not yours but over six years, we seem to have established a connection – we must have done, such a generous response, thank you, when I wasn’t well.
So at 4.45 on Tuesday morning, I emailed and cancelled the whole thing, wrote a note, chose a picture of a Canadian lynx and gave up. I couldn’t get to a physio until later in the week but I discovered that standing up was fine and lying down was fine. I just couldn’t sit without discomfort verging on pain.
On the Saturday – so often now the worst night of the week on television – I lay in a room with two candles lit and read a book. I was flat, all was quiet and the book was worth the effort. Thin Places described those places of time and nature
where the disturbed soul approaches peace – the other parallel world – and the writer Kerri ni Dochartaigh grew up in Londonderry, a savagely divided city, with a Protestant father and a Roman Catholic mother so she fitted in nowhere.
She evokes the various violences, the tension, the confusion – and she delineates the damages done and how she sought to mend herself – through this concept in Celtic Christianity called thin places. She also mentions in an utterly unhysterical way the effect of Brexit in undermining the hardwon peace, and the schism through occupation and brutality of Ireland from its own self – its natural world, its history.
We never know what it takes to make a book.
I think probably very few are the shape they come out in or indeed book shaped at all. I remember years ago being introduced to the woman behind a famous bestseller and being told that she had made that book – though only the trade gave her credit for it, another name was on the cover.
And on Saturday again by chance I switched into a documentary on a group of children in Syria, whom the film maker had recorded after their school was bombed – and he followed up several of them eight years later. There was a point in how many years, for the Syrian War goes on and on like the Troubles did in Ireland .
The children are young adults now, not all of them made it. And they are appallingly burned. In Dochertaigh’s book the damage is harder to see but just as profound and though she documents it, she isn’t self pitying. There must be a cost, she infers, and she had to pay some of that.
It is an odd book, it isn’t easy and I doubt if it will be a best seller but quite early on she writes “I hope you never have to try and sustain a child through such terror but if you do set them to watching, buy a magnifying glass” and paints a picture of herself in the mud of the tiny council house garden where her journey began. And I thought of how I have striven for every good, kind, beautiful moment and thing through this miserable year – one year, and I am so aware of the damage done. One of the worst things about humans is how slow they are to learn and how often they don’t learn out of good will or a willingness to share but out of tragedy and loss and upheaval.
But not to learn – that’s even worse.