While the music lasts…

Like pretty much most people I know, my existence to date has been accompanied by a vast and varied soundtrack.

For each memory, a musical cue, for every tear, a tune. For every heartbursting moment of happiness, a matching chariots-of-fire-esque musical crescendo. Every song, every guitar riff or piano intro capable of transporting me back instantly to a defining – or utterly mundane – moment from my past. I imagine I’m not alone in this.

Recently, I met someone in a social capacity (ahem) who, over a couple of pints announced that he wasn’t “into music”. Astounded, I queried him further. Did he not like certain types of music? Did he not go to gigs? No, he said. He just didn’t like music. He’d never even bought a CD. Ever. In his lifetime. In 34 years. (Sport is his “thing”, apparently.) He switches off the radio when he hears music, because he doesn’t like the noise. He prefers to listen to debates, sports commentary, even the death notices! Anything but music. He’s never been to a gig, nor does he intend to. He couldn’t imagine anything worse, he said.

I was flabbergasted. I don’t mean to be judgemental. Everyone to their own, right? But I’ve met people who claim they’re not into music, but you generally will hear them at some stage humming along to some naff tune on the radio. Or you might meet people who don’t actively seek out music, or don’t have any particular preferences, or just “like the stuff that’s in the charts” (shudder), but this guy was a completely new and different animal. I’d never before met anyone who actively dislikes music, and  I was shocked.

Now this guy seemed like a decent guy, and in other circumstances, I’m sure we would have gotten on well. We’d traded GAA stories around the table – a sure-fire way to get me to like you – and he was quite a wit. But the minute he dropped this bombshell, I instantly stopped trusting him. I just could not comprehend how any living, hearing human being could knowingly dislike music. I still can’t, and to my mind, they are simply not normal. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I feel.

Music is so engrained in everything we do that I wonder how anyone who doesn’t like it can endure life without losing their mind. I mentioned how it holds over me the power to instantly transport me back in time, to a moment where I was utterly consumed in grief, worry, or unadulterated happiness. It can alter my mood in a nanosecond. I hear this song on the radio (not often enough, I might add) and it makes me cry. This reminds me of my formative years when I was just starting to find my tentative way in the world – when hormones ruled and the headiness of newfound freedom had just opened up a world of possibilities. This reminds me of the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. And one day, I hope to again listen to this song without feeling the searing pain in my heart it triggers now. Like a puppet on a string, I am at the mercy of the notes, the air, the melody. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My new acquaintance will never experience the sheer beauty of smiling to himself as he hears “their song”, nor will he drive cross country with the window down, singing at the top of his lungs and terrifying the roadside sheep and/or passing cyclists.  He’ll almost certainly never sing his children a lullaby. I feel dreadfully sad for him.

Music may leave us at its mercy, but while there is music, there is life, and heart and soul. While the music lasts, let us dance. Let us listen and sing and celebrate and squeeze the very life out of our existence before the needle lifts and the silence prevails.

file000299027600

Advertisements

Fond Friends Forever…. or a friend indeed

Another post written for the group writing competition, The Great Cake Experiment.

Do check it out – there are just two weeks left in this round.
___________________________________________________________________________

Once, a long time ago, when Kylie loved Jason, I loved Kylie, Snickers bars were called Marathons and everyone’s biggest ambition was to own a Walkman, I made a friend. We sat beside each other in the back row of first class, feet in white ankle socks swinging a few inches above the ground, sharing confidences. I learned that her dog got sick in the kitchen last night, and her dad shouted at her mum. She learned that at the grand old age of eight, I still sucked my thumb to get to sleep. We were best friends. She had pigtails. I, with my boy’s cropped locks, was jealous and begged to plait her hair, like my dolls. We made each other cards daily – middle pages torn from copybooks, adorned with pink marker pen, tin foil flowers, crayoned hearts and declarations of everlasting devotion. Together, hand in hand, we skipped around the playground, hopscotched and built dens under tree branches, where no-one was permitted to enter. We would be friends for ever and ever.

A rather frail child, I was susceptible to asthma attacks and chest infections. One such bout ensured I was housebound for a week. At lunchtime, between bouts of painful coughing, I could hear the screams and laughter of my friends as they ran and skipped and chased in the playground, from my home just metres from school. The week felt like seven rolled into one. Eventually, I healed and was deemed fit to return to the classroom.

On entering the room, I was met with a state of disarray. Chairs facing the wrong way, teacher’s desk stood at the side of the room instead of the front and there were new pictures I didn’t recognise on the wall, and – oh! there she was! – my dearest friend, my soulmate, deep in conversation at a new desk with someone else. I tapped her on the shoulder, excitedly anticipating a rapturous welcome.

“Oh, you’re back”, she said. “Teacher moved the classroom around. You’re sitting over there. I sit here now. Beside my best friend.”

I froze. The world stood still. Hot tears stung my eyes. With a flourish of her pigtails, she swung away from me, and resumed her conversation. On the desk, I could see the telltale glint of a tin foil heart, a declaration of friendship forever, scripted lovingly pink marker pen.

A friend, indeed.

Town and Country

As is usually the case, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment. 15 other writers pit their wit and pens against each other, every week on a single topic. Why not have a read?
_________________________________________________________________________________

When I was 16, the gap in my mind between town and country was at its greatest. Living in the country, in what felt like hundreds of miles from “civilisation” (in reality, just 4.1) with the only means of available transport the passenger seat of an unwilling parent, or the rickety wheels of an ancient pushbike, “town” was the holy grail.

Having a bunch of townie friends didn’t help. My best friend and I, living within a mile of each other in “the sticks”, envied them the freedom having a base in Town bestowed on them. They could come and go as they pleased – they even had their OWN KEYS. Our parents didn’t see the need for such liberties. There was no sneaking out late at night for us, and lack of gainful employment meant a heavy dependence on those parental taxi trips (and consequently, necessitated good behaviour, for fear of such favours being withdrawn), with curfews imposed. They even collected us in town at ungodly hours after nights out. (Sometimes we were grateful.)

We did, however have the freedom to hop on those  bikes, and cycle to our hearts content in the sun, hair messed in the wind, exploring the nooks and crannies of our country playground. In this, we felt we had a significant advantage over our town-based peers, even if they didn’t profess much jealousy. We country girls even formed our own gaelic football team. How we bonded – us against the townies. Mercifully, no official records exist of our first competitive scoreline, but it is seared on my mind forever. Our crushing defeats were soothed over pints of lemonade and Tayto, bringing giggling chaos to our one-room local and disturbing the tranquility of the regular clientele at the bar. Our team may have sucked, but our friendships endured.

Fast forward a couple of years, to university. Sharing a house with four townie schoolmates meant that country/town divisions were soon forgotten. Hailing from the same area bonded us in solidarity against the city folk (or the other country folk). The quiet peace of the countryside was scorned and forgotten, as partying became a priority, and city life pulsed in our veins. You could say, without being wide of the mark, that Galway city isn’t much more than a country town, but it was a change of pace, and we relished it. And so it went, for many a year.

Years later, I impulsively booked a flight, and departed to sunnier climes on a personal adventure. It was a trip that served to demonstrate to me how closely the Irish tend to stick together. Country, town, county and provincial divisions are forgotten, as Irish abroad unite simply in their shared nationality. It occurred to me that we as a nation rely heavily on solidarity. We feel a need to have something in common with our companions, to possess and generate shared memories and experiences, and all too often, this connection stems from our shared Irish roots and shared sense of humour.  We adore the ‘6 degrees of separation’ phenomenon, and the fact that no matter where you roam, you will always meet an Irish person who knows another Irish person that you yourself know.

Sometimes, on my solo expedition, it puzzled me. All those miles away from home, but doing very little differently than they would back at base – albeit while adding freckles to the complexion. I felt my own experience was enriched by spending time in the company of other nationalities and I felt the groups of Irish hanging out in PJs and the like in Sydney every Saturday night, drunkenly singing Olé Olé as the nostalgia-laced dizzyhighlights of Italia ’90 were replayed on giant screens, missed out just a little. But each to their own.

Now, years later as I languish in corporate limbo in the capital, I find myself looking for an escape route. The city streets which once held so much intrigue, and pulsed with energy now tire me a little. Not physically, but mentally. My visits home, and my solitary walks by the wild Atlantic  have become more frequent. I relish the relaxed pace, the peace of the wide open spaces, the warmth of knowing your neighbours and find I need to tear myself away when the weekends draw to a close. I’m not unhappy where I am, though. I’ve carved out a wonderful “Dublin family” for myself here, and I’ve realised that it consists mostly of “country” folk.  The irony. I find, when I socialise, that I tend towards places that remind me of home, and where I know I’ll meet people I know and understand.

It always amuses me that even within such a small country, there are such social factions. There’s a distinct vibe within my little group, and it smells of the Atlantic. Without even meaning to, I’ve sought out that sense of solidarity myself. 15 years later, and it seems I’ve come full circle. You can take the girl out of the country, but…….

Wake Up

Once again, this post was written as part of The Great Cake Experiment.

I look forward to the day I can write a weekly without prompting. In the meantime, why not have a read, and marvel at the talent of my fellow writers there?
________________________________________________________________________________

Looking for some inspiration for this week’s topic, and not trying too hard to think outside the box, I took the obvious route and googled the phrase “Wake Up” (including Boolean operators – do people still use those?).

That course of action resulted in this song circulating in my head for a few hours afterwards, which I didn’t much mind. I found this, which amused me greatly (but then there’s no accounting for my sense of humour). I also found this (Oh, the hilarity.) What struck me the most, though, was the proliferation of sites offering advice on “How To Wake Up Early”, “How To Wake up On Time” and “How To Wake Up Feeling Alert!” (“Alert” in my book = “Annoyingly Sprightly”.) All of which got me pondering why it is that so many people need assistance in awakening in the mornings. It appears I’m not so unusual after all.

I can only speak for myself, but waking up in the morning requires supreme effort on my part. It’s not that I’m lazy (Okay, maybe it’s that I’m lazy). I never sleep as much as I should. In fact, I’m almost permanently sleep deprived, and sometimes spend entire days in a state of dazed tiredness. But here’s the thing. I have no-one to blame but me. It’s entirely my own fault, because, well, I hate going to sleep.

This is a confession that few understand, and most greet with incredulous horror. Admitting such a thing usually elicits the same reaction as the one I garner when I’m spotted adding hot water to the milk in my Rice Krispies (I’m sick of having to explain why I do this, so I’m not explaining it here). Or, the response I received when I once admitted I’d never seen the Shawshank Redemption, a crime which, judging by the reaction I received to the admission is clearly on a par with eating one’s first-born child. The majority of folk are sensible, and enjoy winding down for the evening and curling up or cuddling up in bed at what my folks would call “a decent hour”. My genes took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, because my mum rarely stays up past 10pm. She, like most sane-minded people values a good night’s sleep.

Me … I’m different. I love the night. As the day wears on and most people fade, I slowly come to life. When others are fading, I’m starting to shine. It’s for this reason that I start work late and finish late. I’m at my most productive when most folk are comatose. It’s a pattern that’s continued throughout my life – school, university (cramming is king) and unfortunately, my work life. I sometimes wonder if I’m a distant cousin, twice removed of the old Count D.

I’m not sure why I dislike succumbing to sleep so much. Every night is a battle to stay awake, rather than go to sleep. Regrettably, when I really need to sleep, I never can. Oh, the irony! Recently, when I have had occasion to want to sleep, in order to not think any more, I find it eludes me – a shadow, escaping around the next corner, leaving only a trace of its presence as I chase. Ordinarily though, I love the solitude that comes with being awake whilst the world sleeps around me. I love the quietness in the country, and I adore the city at night. I feed off the energy; the lights, and the characters that only emerge after dark, the fellow nocturnal animals. Sometimes I take the car and drive high up the mountains when everyone I live with sleeps, and sit and gaze over the vista I have all to myself.

Oddly, I also adore greeting the sunrise… but only if I’m still awake. There’s nothing I relish more after a night of debauchery than wandering around the garden, preferably in my bare feet in the dewy grass, at 6am on a sunny summer’s morning, listening to the birdsong.  Oddly enough, I never partake of this simple pleasure if I have to set an alarm and wake up to avail of it.

Not sleeping has its drawbacks. Tiredness, I am told results in lower productivity and motivation levels, impairment of ability, and hormone imbalances that can lead to weight gain/loss, amongst others. Personally, I find that if I don’t dream enough, I feel stressed – I think dreaming is the brain’s way of processing and organising the things that happen us during waking hours (even if my dreams do so in the oddest way possible, but I digress). Lack of sleep can also contribute to poor skin, slower healing, and an overall sense of malaise.

So, no matter how much I love the night and reject sleep’s courting, as I get older, and need all the help I can get to stay healthy and sane(ish), I feel it’s probably in my best interests to stop viewing sleep as the enemy, take it by the hand into a quiet corner and get to know it a little better. My health of mind and body will thank me more, and the day will come… one day… when waking up will actually become a pleasure.