10 Lies College Tells You Before You Even Get There

College. There’s just nothing quite like it. You’re probably never going to have another four or so years with the same liberation, the same shoulder-shrug attitude to life. Eating cold pizza, passing out on your friend’s couch, forgetting arguably most of what you went there to learn. Ya….college….definitely just like the movies.

I’ve decided to write this blog to continue pumping the vein of my recent content. Why? Well, partly because I have the luxury/benefit/fear of being on the other side, staring back at my undergrad with an unwelcome hindsight. And if I’ve learned anything from my time on the gridiron, it’s that at first, most people really don’t know what they’re doing, then they think they know what they’re doing, then a year further on they wake up six weeks late to a lecture in someone else’s jeans and finally, they admit to themselves.

In college, nobody knows what they’re doing.

Perhaps the whole thing would run a lot smoother if we didn’t have so many damn preconceptions. Movies, television, friends. They all sell us a different college experience, most of them only half-shadows of the reality. But not all half-shadows are made the same; some fake news just sells better than others.

Here are the top 10 things I wish I’d never been told about college.

1. SUSI, be grand

This of course only applies to the Irish experience, but every country shares in the misery, the sad realisation that college, in fact, costs 1 x arm and 1 x leg.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you could do it all on the cheap. “Student Discount,” they said, waving fliers and free pens and a half-box of caramel Freddos. But in a world where that same chocolate now requires a tracker mortgage, you just can’t do college on a dime anymore.

freddo

Outside of the obvious costs of fees, accommodation, travel and your course itself, the day-to-day expenses are what really grab you, stab you repeatedly in the stomach and mutter “For the Watch” under their breath (seriously, if you don’t want Game of Thrones spoilers, get on out of here!) A cup of coffee might cost you a kidney, a lunch out could do you for a heart, and a night out?

Have you got, like, a twin?

2. Everything from the course is relevant

If working a job in your relevant field during your degree does anything, it’s to remind you that, career-dependent, very little if any of your theory might be relevant. Most students quickly realise that literally no future employer ever is going to swing round the door of their office and say, “Hey Mike, can I get Maslow’s Pyramids of Needs on my desk by lunch? Thanks buddy. You know, you really are the mitochondria of this place. What’s a mitochondria?” *Grabs by the face* “IT’S THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL”.

*Cough* Ahem.

Sadly, other students aren’t exposed to the working world until, well, they leave college itself. And it’s only then, facing a swarm of angry customers, that they back into a corner, shaking, tears streaming down their face.

“Pluzz, just form a normal distribution.”

norm

3. Nothing from the course is relevant

On the flip side, some students prefer the cavalier approach of announcing from the very first lecture “Haha, but in the real world x is y not z. Who needs z?” You’ll probably notice they also talk a big game about “making connections” and “engaging with real businesses” (they may forget to mention their parents own one, two, maybe twenty of those same businesses).

Of course, they encourage you to have the same attitude, to just rock up to the roundabout of life in third gear in the wrong lane with no signal and oh God what’s that behind the wheel, is that a baby?

*Cough* Ahem.

Some 9 to 5’s actually share a good deal of crossover with their college counterparts, and while there’s always that one story of “that fella who never hires people who got 1.1s”, it stands to reason to not throw your grades off a cliff just because it’s funny to hear them scream on the way down.

4. The food is great

When I first stepped into college, I kinda imagined it would be a bit like Zoey 101, maybe just fewer scooters and without the same GREAT theme tune.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that they didn’t have dacent sushi bars or foot golf or even that weird energy drink I’d been looking forward to. Instead, we kinda just got stuck with this weird alt-reality where all food came in roll format. Breakfast? Roll. Sausage? Roll. Chicken? *checks chart* Roll.

And at some point I realised that there was probably an Italian man sitting in the mountains above Milan, sipping wine at the pool, counting stacks of Pasta money.

“Ah Irish students, you make-a-me so happy.”

Is that racist? No, it’s Mario Kart. Mario Kart can’t be racist.

mario.jpg

5. The parties are awesome!

If I was let down by the food, then oh dear was I let down by the parties. That’s not to say those four years didn’t see memorable moments, but most weren’t the college dorm ragers I’d imagined. Often, they were nothing more than a few friends, five or six souls sharing a drink in the corner of a bar. A few close hearts wandering the empty backstreets or spread out under the stars, laughing at a joke they couldn’t remember. They certainly weren’t red cups and breakdancing and people swinging from the chandelier while Fallout Boy played in the kitchen.

The [insert college party at classmate’s house here] actually wore on me fairly fast. I’m probably an exception, but I think everyone would agree there comes a point three hours into the night where suddenly, collapsed in a chair, the walls start to look odd and you half-feel Stephen King is about to write you into a horror story. Everything in the house that’s supposed to have legs (chairs, tables, that room-mate who studies med) doesn’t while everything that shouldn’t just gets up and crawls off half way through the night.

You sort of transition from hearing the music to feeling it in your head to tasting it at the end of your drink.

*Spits* “Ughh. Why does Avicii taste like mouthwashed motor oil?”

prty

6. Study is easy. College is easy

I think after Leaving Cert most students feel they’ll never sit a real exam again. Just college ones. LOL. Hand me my A, teach!

Sadly, Leaving Cert sells you a lie. It promises you a world where there’s a limit, where you just have to learn to a certain point and then just hand it all back. In college, there’s no defined limit, just this vague space filled with a lecturer’s voice on repeat.

*Echoes* “How long is an essay? Well, how long is a piece of string?”

College correctors act as though nobody has anything better to do than to wait for Murray et al to drop their fire new lit review 2017. Reference something from over 5 years ago and you might as well hand up cave drawings in support of your answer. Give ’em anything not double-spaced and they’ll look at you as though you just tried to sacrifice them to the flames.

The harsh truth is that most people try for half the first term, give up for most of the middle, and then rush it all in at the end.

That’s weird. I just had this random urge to write the word Arsenal. Anyway.

arsena

7. I’m going to make so many friends!

This is sadly the saddest of all sads that one learns through college. We all pass through those doors thinking we’ve just inherited a fortune. A fortune of FRIENDS that is.

*Sigh* I digress.

Most people I know agree that you definitely make friends, lots of them even, but they’re all just really hard to define. Some are lifelong, others are temporary, and some just sort of hang around long after their expiration date which, to be fair, is very college-esque of them. You could rename college “Acquaintance Land” and very few people would know the difference. Not that acquaintances are a bad thing, but for those who want more, you really just don’t have the time to sincerely commit yourself to 200 people. In fact, it’s not fair on you or those people to try. Choices will have to be made, but with luck, you’ll filter out the racists and the maybe-serial-killers and the ones who won’t participate in pizza at 3 am. Which brings me to my last point.

8. Participate

This is as true about life as it is about college. We’re all sold the idea that people just want to get involved, that they’re on the verge of it, that any moment now there’ll be a coffee morning or a flash mob. In reality, there is Netflix, and tea, and bed. Participating in anything at all requires effort, energy that could be better spent at home enjoying blankets and chocolate and Season 2 of Suits.

But the great thing is that sometimes you can share a pizza  buy two pizzas.

And that in itself is why it doesn’t matter what they tell you about college.

Because nobody talks to you about the times they fell asleep at house parties and missed the night out, or the times they slammed their head on the table in the library, or the times they just sat in a corner of college and watched the other people drift by. Because you just can’t sell those things.

And that makes me glad.

Because you can’t put a price on them either.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. I lied, number 9 and 10 did not exist.

“What’s meant for you won’t pass you by”

Last week, I talked about the reality of the first six months in the real world. That post was a humour piece, nothing more than a joke, a quick jab at the 9 to 5 lifestyle I’ve become used to. This is slightly more serious, a whole foot further down the rabbit hole. I can’t decide which of the two posts matters more. I know the first was easier. It was a much simpler story to tell. But it makes me wonder.

Which is the story worth listening to?

Anyway, if you read between the lines the last time, you’d have seen it wasn’t all smiles and sarcasm. There’s no doubt about it: life’s tough out here in the borderlands.

We all have our own ways of coping-tea, exercise, music, maybe even a drink or two. When flustered, a lot of people also turn to words, quick little one-liners (like philosophical Xanax) that ground them in something palpable again. Perhaps one of the most well-known (at least in Ireland) goes a little something like this:

What’s meant for you won’t pass you by

It mightn’t seem like much, a bare seven or eight words thrown together, but small sentiments like this have a way of resonating with people, of lasting. A phrase like that simply endures. And yet, of all the soft hopes held dear, this is the one belief I’ve yet to subscribe to.

A part of me thinks the reason reflects the bigger picture, the questions like “Why are we here?” or “What happens to us at the end?”. Spirituality, whether in the form of organised religion or not, requires a great deal of faith. Personally, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The saddest change of heart I ever knew was realising that one day I didn’t truly believe anymore. I just wanted to. And in my eyes, the above phrase is filled with the same sort of uncertainty. I definitely want it to be real, but that’s an empty argument for someone who founds themselves on logic and gears. It’s as if the sentiment isn’t physical enough, like I’d agree in a heartbeat if I could just reach out and touch it.

Maybe the biggest issue I have with this phrase is that the evidence just isn’t there for it. From where I’ve been standing the last twenty-three years, it sure seems like a lot of things passed me by. Whether they were meant for me or not I don’t know, but I’d like to think that they weren’t. How do I know that? Like I said, I don’t, but I’ve lived by the attitude that if you want something bad enough, you’d better just go out and take it. Life isn’t equal, and it’s certainly not fair. Your aspirations aren’t just gonna pull over, roll down the window and tell you to hop in. Nope. If you’re going to be passive, holding your thumb out and expecting a ride, those dreams are gonna put the foot down and leave you behind, choking on a cloud of dust as they roar down the highway. Of course, if you take the active role in this situation, those dreams won’t get far. Yes, you’re going to have to chase them, running like your life depended on it. You’re probably going to trip a half dozen times and bloody something, maybe even consider giving up and laying down in the shade. But there’ll be a moment when you climb over the last hill, see lights in the city below. There’s every chance that moment will be worth it.

And of course, the above probably sounds awfully negative, but I’d wager the opposite is true. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in the back seat of the car, watching fields ghost by, waiting for the journey to be over so you can claim a prize already yours. That’s what happens when life is in charge, when things are meant for you, when years simply pass you by.

But perhaps you’re like me. You’d much rather take the hard road and risk never reaching the end of it. You’d suffer years of stumbling and falling, rising quickly to dust yourself off again, all in a world where we’ll only know a single breath, where we run the road of a mortal life. With time against us, it’s no wonder people want there to be some sort of guarantee. But destiny is a beautiful lie, a cushion for the wary and the unenthused. On the contrary, what was it Robin Williams said: “Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.” Somehow having the responsibility in your hands feels a lot more reassuring.

And yet phrases like “What’s meant for you won’t pass you by” aren’t said as a statement of fact, more like a mantra or prayer. They’re spoken as if to quell the great unknown, put order to the chaos of life and reinforce the fact that in some ways it’s all been already decided. And I don’t blame them. It’s tough accepting the reality that every day you might pass your dream job on your way to work, maybe close the door of a coffee shop five seconds before your true love opens it. But all those maybe-moments are down to chance, and the mathematics are rarely if ever with you. There are just too many variables for you to ever ride off into the sunset with the wind in your hair. Odds-wise, it’s more likely you’ll just fall into a job you don’t hate, pay your bills and some taxes, find someone you love and work hard enough to make it stick. Every day won’t be perfect. In fact, more than most won’t be memorable at all. But somewhere years from now, you’ll realise you needed all that background noise-all that adversity and that grey. After all, the lights over the hill wouldn’t shine half so bright had you not hit a few bumps in the road.

So yes, what’s meant for you may pass you by; I’m almost sure that it will do.

But so what?

Look at all the things that weren’t meant for you, but that you learned from all the same. Things that were never wanted, just needed somewhere on the road. Things that made you curse, tear at your hair, cry in a dark room at 2 a.m. Things that made those few steps a journey. Things that made an imperfect life.

And when it’s all said and done, when you have nothing left but a small audience inside the warmth of a fire, isn’t that the story worth listening to?

6 Things Learned After 6 Months Graduated

If you, like me, are recently graduated and work a 5-day week, you may find yourself spending Friday nights in the corner of the local, hand wrapped around a pint, looking for solace at the end of the glass. That sentiment might sound a tad worrying, maybe even a little problematic, especially if one night lasts a whole weekend. But it’s a ritual some adhere to all the same. Next time you find yourself there, take a sip of your drink and steal a quick glance around you. You may realise you’re not the only one in the real world.

Most likely you’re just the newest.

The reason I’m opening this blog post in the drunk-warm comfort of a pub is because that’s where the idea for it came from. Over the last few weeks, talk at the bar always seems to turn to finishing college, moving on, growing up. Life (the adult mode at least), feels a lot like the big city, that promised land at the end of the highway. It’s a world of car horns and neon lights and ears ringing at 2 a.m. Paradise, sort of.

Yet all we think about are the broken fences and the dry grasses and the dust coughing in our engine as we pull out of that small town called home.

But we’re graduated, and since so many friends asked for it, here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed since I too packed up and left for the big city.

1.You die for the weekdays

I always wondered about this “live for the weekend” hype I saw in Hollywood movies and television and the lives of every other human around me. Newly graduated, youth on my side (ish), I decided this wouldn’t be me. So for the first few weeks I grabbed dinner with friends, stayed up late, went out on a Wednesday night. Then the workiness of work (which is surprisingly high) hit me like a freight train. There really are some nights where you just come home, collapse onto the couch, and wait for hunger to move you. It’s not that work is tiring per se, but there’s just so much of it, and it keeps coming, and it never seems to be done. You cut down one work and six take its place. Makes you feel like Hercules fighting a hydra except you’re not Greek and the only things you lift are pizzas out of the oven. When you were a child, you’d be fully awake by 9, battery life of about twelve hours. Now you’re an IPhone 4 that’s changed hands a couple times. You might be functional by midday. By five o’clock, screen’s gone cold.

6.png

With such little energy, meeting friends becomes difficult, leaving only the dark side of the weekend (the part where you’re not passed out in bed) for some semblance of a social life. Which brings me onto my next point….

2.”Is there anybody alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

Haha, lol. Yes, that’s a Titanic quote. But come back and laugh a year after graduation when a boat full of friends floats by and you dump your responsibilities in the Atlantic (sorry Jack, should have got on the door) so you can blow a whistle and hope somebody sees you. Ya, that’s pretty much your standard group chat.

61

The scariest thing about finishing college is that you realise how most of your friendships lived off convenience. Now, cut off from their supply, those same friendships go cold turkey and you don’t see your xox besto for six months at a time. When you do, they’re as you expect, rabid and living in the gutter  awkward if you strike up a conversation at all. Think of it this way, for the last four or so years your top 50, 100, maybe even 200 friends were all contained daily within a square mile radius. Now, someone puts them in a cannon and fires them all over the world. I have friends in London, the United States, even a few in the Midlands (I mean seriously, is that even on the map??).

Sadly, you quickly realise you don’t have time to keep up with everyone. Even if you do, they’re most likely not free. And so quietly, and without much fuss, you sort of just lose a few people, a bit like your social life dying of old age. By the time you take stock of the situation, you probably have two groups left, one from home and one from college. If possible, merge them. Safety in numbers. It’s dark out there in the real world.

3.Free time is actually v. expensive no joke

Now that you’ve rounded up the survivors of your life before the apocalypse, you realise the world is crawling with zombies. And you have to pay for them to eat you.

Honestly, nothing is as gut-checking as earning more money than you ever have before, yet still coming up empty. It’s as if you work 40 or so hours a week just to enjoy the thrill of handing out as much money as possible in the four hours after you get paid. And everyone is nudging each other out of the way to get to you first. Since when does coffee cost half an hour of work? Why does the car have such expensive taste?

4.If it’s applicable, it matters. If it ain’t? *shrugs*

A lot of graduates are shocked to find out nobody gives a flying fuck about the time they organised a coffee morning for AdoptATiger.com. Why? Because your boss sells insurance to young, mostly not-tiger, Irish people. Unless evidence surfaces that dwindling tiger numbers are related to road traffic accidents (Ahh, I can’t take it. Such a majestic animal *turns wheel sharply*), then you’d best leave your little token charity points at the door. That goes for, well, most extracurriculars really. If you can relate your love of volleyball back to your work in a call centre, then by all means spike Seamus from the Finance Department to your heart’s content. If you can’t, don’t think selling it in your interview is going to wow employers as though the concept of hobbies is simply beyond them.

62

I sat on maybe a dozen committees in my undergrad, but unlike a solid half of other students, I did it because I enjoyed it, not as some sort of promo video for my CV. Of course, relevant extracurriculars do look great, but as the old saying goes: “If you’re actually full of shit, you will be found out in the end (probs :P)”.

5.Success just ain’t what it used to be

By age 22 or so, you probably thought you had success all figured out. Maybe thought you had it placed in a nice little box, wrapped with a neat purple bow. But you haven’t. Success, much like a Games of Thrones character, is very grey, and just when you think you’ve grasped it, it’s gonna turn around and stab Robb Stark in the stomach (spoiler?).

In school and in college, we’re all pitted against each other, ranked on some sort of scale, given a tasty treat if we sit when we’re told to. In life, there are no such Pedigree Jumbones. There are way too many variables to ever truly know who made it and who ended up crying in their car outside work because their boss called them “the new girl” again after SIXTEEN YEARS. Ahem, anyway, success in the adult world is something that just can’t be defined. LinkedIn would want you to believe so, but everyone is a freak on LinkedIn (me included). I mean for Christ’s sake, Colm, you work as a network engineer in Meath. Why are you adding me?!?

In the end, only you can truly define your own success, your happiness, your satisfaction with your career and personal life. If you have a passion, you should probably chase it, unless it’s like, illegal, in which case you should just take up scrapbooking or something.

And it’s on such a note I leave you….

6.Hope

Leaving undergrad is a weird experience. It’s not quite “Naww you were in sixth class now you’re a little first year”, more “You used to eat chicken rolls daily now you genuinely laugh when your colleague says ‘Is it Friday yet?'”

But it’s not a bad change. Just a change. And like all transitions, you just have to roll with it, hope things level out and that you’ll be able to afford healthcare.

I leave you with a quote by a talentless hack hopeful writer.

A single, honest, familiar-face choice. That’s all there ever is. That’s all there ever will be, and it’s as easy as who you are.

How to Create a Fantasy World/Have No Friends in 6 Easy Steps

Hello again!

It’s Sunday, it’s spring and it’s sunny. Most people my age are catching up on their Vitamin D or relaxing at home, staring out the window at blue skies, secretly filled with dread for the work-week to come. Very few (if any) are wondering what the weather’s like above the palace in a land they’ve invented. But for those who’ve always yearned to write fantasy (or for those who are just curious to see the thought process of those who do), I’ve decided to make a quick list of everything you should avoid  stick to rigidly if your fantasy world is going to take its place among the Middle Earth’s and the Narnia’s.

1. Place

The first rule of creating a fantasy world is to take out a sheet of paper, draw two to three medium-sized landmasses and immediately determine which one is ugly enough to be the nation of Evil Villain. Label this country “Blackened McScorchBone” and fill it with dusty mountains. Then, pick the largest country and colour it green. This will be the home of all the nice people, plentiful water supplies and the only functioning agriculture in the entire known world. Over in Blackened McScorchBone, they eat….rocks…scorpions? I dunno.

Next, take out a blue crayon and draw rivers everywhere. In woods, in valleys, in mountains-EVERYWHERE. Ask google on at least four occasions where rivers are supposed to start. Once convinced, run them across the whole map anyway. To be safe.

Now that you have at least 1 x mountain, 1 x forest and 1 x river, you can start adding in cities and other places of interest. Most of them should be huge castles, far from any source of food, water, trade. They ought to have names like “King’s Tower” or “Elfdorm”. In Blackened McScorchBone, names such as “Clawtooth” and “The Dead City” are recommended. For good measure, call something “The Valley of Fear” and something else “The Grey Waste”, and don’t even remotely address the latter at any stage of your writing. Roads should be as-the-crow-flies, even if they cross hills, lakes, whatever. Outside of cities, pretty much the entire country should be abandoned, filled with a bit treasure here and there and a village if you look hard enough.

stereo

2. People

The world might be max half-Europe in size but there should probably be enough races to make the Olympics feel small. If there are dwarves, throw ’em up in the hills or under some mountains. And make sure to put all the pirates and the ugly things in Blackened McScorchBone. Ughh. Everything there has yellow teeth.

In green-means-good country, cities roughly a stone’s throw apart should have entirely different cultures, languages, ways of life. Literally no two cities should share any sort of common value or commerce. There will be one trade per city, please.

If your hero is <18, they must grow up in the only village you’ve got round to. If they’re an adult, they either live in the royal palace or “grow up in sight of it”. None of your characters should be different than, well, you and your friends. Diversity has no place in DragonLand.

Half of all people must actively serve in the military. How a nation like that is supposed to feed itself? Damnit, man, I’m a fantasy writer not a politician. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Politics

All places will be monarchies except Blackened McScorchBone which is obviously ruled by  a dictator  evil itself. The Kings and Queens should be loved by all. Democracy should be shunned especially if it interferes with any sort of century-long conflict. There should never be peace agreements, only BLOOD AND WAR. Legitimately no ambassadors should exist between nations and there ought to be very little reason for anybody to be fighting in the first place. If there is, go outside and kick a football. You will never make it as a fantasy writer.

Have in place what you think is a “Medieval Economy” but under no circumstances actually research what that might entail. Just invent several peasants, as many knights and one lord who will be fat (*elbow* because he can afford to eat).

4. Politics (again?)

Everyone in your world should be religious. There are no atheists allowed. People should practice freely and there ought to be no clear link between religion and state (lolz why would there be?). Evil Villain should be his own religion and should have millions of ugly followers despite not offering much.

Twice per novel, there ought to be a festival celebrating some God. People that live in the mountains will pay tribute to their……Sea God? *Shrugs* Makes sense to me.

5. Purpose

It’s best practice to just drop things all over your world that have no discernible place there. A giant snake monster that evolved out of nothing? Can’t argue that’s not cool.

You might also place huge value on members of society such as poets and ship captains though *glances both ways* literally nobody in the world ever mentions the arts or talks about the importance of the shipping trade. Everyone should have a horse, a sword and a house to their name even if they’re poor and working as a farmhand.

6. Powers

Just dump whatever fantasy you want into the pot and stir for 30 minutes. Dragons, hands that shoot fire, lay-people marrying the Queen. Have as much magic as you like but still have everyone walk around like it’s just another day in the 15th century. Give Evil Villain enough power to destroy the world twelve times over and then just park him in a corner long enough for someone to figure out how to defeat him. Never use magic for everyday convenience. Only use it to solve plot holes and other sticky situations.

And there you have it. If you do all of the above (plus paint your map with coffee-it looks so old!), you too can create your own fantasy world and say goodbye to what’s left of your social life.

 

These Fields of France

May 15th, 1916

London, Phillips Dance Hall

“My father always said a man should never drink cider on a night this warm.”

Slumped into a chair, George heard the voice but didn’t acknowledge it, kept his eyes on the bottle in front of him. The label was already coming loose, peeling off the amber glass like it had somewhere better to be. Anywhere but where it was stuck. George grimaced and rolled it into his hand, took a swig and prayed the woman standing over him would take a hint. Instead, before he could stop her, she eased herself into the seat alongside him.

“Alice,” she sang, extending her hand out in front of her so fast that it almost sent his drink from the table. She rushed an apology, laughed at him as he felt a smile tug the corners of his mouth. Her hair, Irish-wild, framed pale skin, the curly locks pinned into place as was the fashion. At least the officers called it a fashion, though George wasn’t so sure the women had much of a say in the matter. Well. That was one thing they had in common.

He forced a smile, wiped his hand on his trousers, and taking hers, planted a kiss on it like he’d seen once in a play. Drunk on whatever they were dishing out to the girls at the bar, she giggled and he felt his cheeks flush red. Fool. Maybe they’d find the gesture less amusing when he got to France.

“George,” he added, realising he hadn’t even offered his name.

Alice’s green-glass eyes danced; a tendril of hair stole from behind her ear and leapt free. Casually, she reached out and slipped the bottle of cider into her grasp, pressed it to her lips and drank. George decided it was rude to watch.

“Well are we going to dance?” she breathed, setting the drink back on the table.

He swallowed. On the floor in front of them, a few dozen couples stepped to an old tune, looking as though they’d only learned to walk moments before. Most of the girls worked in the post-office, the army offices, the hotel next door. They’d been rounded up and herded in there after “the men had finished dinner”. Now they took the trembling hands of boys and guided them to the dancefloor, showed them a one-two step they’d be sober enough to remember. This was their send-off, after all, one last night before they shipped off to the front. As far as most of them were concerned, tomorrow they became men. George watched a few couples push closer, whisper in each other’s’ ears, realised not all of them were happy to wait that long.

“We can’t dance,” he said, lowering his gaze back to the table.

“I can show-”

“It’s not that I don’t know how to,” he interrupted, pressing his forehead to one hand and balancing on his elbow.

Nearby, he felt Alice soften. She moved in front of him as if to cut them off, leave them in a world with only two souls. And this time, when her hand wandered, it didn’t find the half-empty bottle, but his own which lay lifeless next to it.

“It’s not a last dance,” she said crouching, smoothing her blue dress with a sweep, squeezing his palm heartbeat-quick.

He sighed, wondered was the cider turning his stomach. “I’m one of the last to leave, you know. All of my friends signed up two years ago. They went willingly to France, to the Mediterranean; they made their parents proud. My father won’t be there to wave me off tomorrow. He said now that we’re being forced to go, there’s no sacrifice to it.” His chest heaved. “My own family won’t be there to say goodbye.” His face collapsed back into his hands.

A few seconds later, Alice tapped him on the head. Before he could protest, she dragged him to his feet, held a finger to his lips and then walked him out of the room, ignored the new tune playing behind them.

Outside London was heavy, or drunk, like somebody had pressed a warm blanket to it, perhaps left it too close to a fire. The sun had disappeared behind the buildings yawning up in front them and shadows streaked down the streets. But even with the last light of day lingering, the lamps were already lit, casting pale light, illuminating nothing. Under one of them, Alice embraced him.

“I’m going to be here when you come home,” she said, her voice muffled against his uniform. “And no matter where they send you, promise me that you’ll come back here. Promise me we’ll have that dance.”

There was a long pause, a few minutes that passed between them as though they were years.

“France,” he whispered. “I’ll be sent to France.”

George didn’t know how long they stood there, or when he felt the first of his tears, or when his feet dragged underneath him and holding Alice he started to dance.


Hundreds of brown uniforms crowded the platform, some of them hugging loved ones goodbye, almost all of them smiling. Many, like George, had scarcely twenty years to their name, hardly a shadow across their face where a beard would normally take hold. Behind him, he felt the train coming alive, making panes of glass in its windows shudder. Something burned deep down inside it, eager to drive it, to carry their faces away so fast they’d all blur together.

“Thank you for being here,” George said, hauling in a breath, drawing Alice closer to him. His chest felt a little lighter with her face pushed against it, like she was bleeding weight off it, turning the place where his heart was dizzy.

“Write to me,” she said, her lips almost at his neck, her hand sliding something crumpled into his pocket. Those around them were too caught up in their own affairs to notice, or to care. Quickly again she was off him.

“Will I send you poems?” he teased, shuffling the bag on his back, suddenly aware how heavy it had grown since he’d first began packing it.

Alice smiled, rolled those field-green eyes for him and stole him from the moment long-dreaded.

“Tell me exactly how you feel,” she said. “That’s all poetry really is anyway.”

George opened his mouth to speak. Behind, there was a sharp whistle, a blast that made the few men still left on the platform jump.

“You’d best be off. Wouldn’t want to be late on your first day,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. Her dress, mourning-black, swayed in the soft London breeze.

He shook his head and grinned. “I’m sure they’ll wait. They need every man they can get.”

But Alice was right. The train lurched on the track, made an awful noise as its wheels screamed against the rails underneath. A few puffs of steam drifted down the platform.

“George, the whistle!” Alice shouted. Seconds later, the conductor blew harder again and the train struggled forward, the hands of men flailing out the windows, the engine roaring as though it’d explode.

A couple of cars had passed George by the time he had gathered himself. Turning one last time to say farewell, he saw Alice afraid.

She thinks that I’ll miss the train.

And so he ran, charged blind into the white smoke towards the thunder sound and the train snaking away from him, steam hissing sharp in his ears.

And he disappeared.


Blue = letters from Alice, a seamstress living in London

Red = letters from George, a British soldier at the Somme

Purple = voice of General Chambers

Green = voice of Jack, an Irish messenger in the trenches

 

These fields of blood, these fields of France,

such hero’s words that feign romance.

But no knights here of spear or lance,

no nights at all ‘ere we advance.

 

All day long machine guns chatter,

lick up mud, make carrion crows scatter.

And shells that scream leave us their fire,

leave us their smoke to choke barbed wire. 

 

We’ve dug in now to hold our ground,

our target but a far-off mound,

where Kaiser’s men hear brave words call,

of English tides against their wall. 

 

The letters now find their way home,

many marked a place named Somme,

and tell of boys who too soon fell,

whose lay to rest will hear no bell.

 

I fear that I’ll  too read those words,

find morning comes where there’s no bird,

to fill empty air with song and pity, 

for lives left behind, the half-dead city. 

 

I see you still as you catch that train,

and wonder was it all in vain,

to pray you’d never truly leave

for war at dawn, no peace by eve. 

 

Rain and wind turned fire and ash,

guns thunder-roar, guns lightning-flash,

shaking boots wet where mud splash’d

as nails to skin fan flame-red rash.

 

A leg blown off or a foot turned rot,

a peach-bruised arm, a wound seared hot,

a trench sick-wet for what men we’ve got,

a hell last seen by the men we’ve not.

 

Is Verdun nice this time of year?

The world’s gone black; few men know cheer.

But I hold on for your heart held dear,

for your small hand, should dark skies clear.

 

Oh, George, you make these tired eyes glisten,

‘gave father your voice; my sweet, he listened. 

They say not long ’til boats roll waves,

bring brave men home for far-off graves. 

 

To stand beneath the English sun,

and feel your kiss as two ‘comes one.

To lie beneath the fields of stars,

trace fingers pale across your scars.

 

A quiet dance on London streets,

a drink where two strangers still meet,

and dream a world of ever-spring,

of family, church and home and King. 

 

November brings the winter chill,

the frost biting for blood not spill’d.

And now they talk of one last push,

a thousand winds for one great rush.

 

Who knows what strength the Germans gather,

against a storm, can guns still matter?

The land out there has long bled-dry, 

the breeze above whispers a sigh.

 

And now the words of wealthy men,

command me stall my aching pen,

and fix knives long as morning shadow.

Goodbye, my love, ’til I next-

 

These fields of France, so bald of thistle,

George, stand up lad, mark the whistle!

Rifle high summit that trench,

Leave little left to feed those French.

 

[Watching from the English position]

Their guns applaud across the line,

a music sweet as well-kept wine.

But that’s no hymn men, that’s a dirge,

a funeral sound against our courage.

 

Press on chaps, they will yet yield;

we’ll leave the French an empty field,

where ghosts still speak of English pride,

on memory stones to those who’ve died.

 

[Rain on the Somme]

At last our charge their bullets meet,

our trudge to doom hacked at its feet,

as mowing fast they cut men down,

a valour fit for King and Crown.

 

Call them back, we’ve lost the day;

they’ve bullets still they’ve not yet sprayed.

Find us when there’s far less sorrow,

I want what’s left for more tomorrow.

 

[Report arriving from the battle]

Four from five, Sir, lost or slain,

that small gray hill, Sir, yet to gain.

And weather norm the Irish bain,

now swiftly thorns as English pain. 

 

Bury the thousands dead in the inch we’ve crept, 

hold back your tears, enough clouds wept.

Bogged down our surge in heaving muck,

I’ll keep my job if I’ve still luck. 

 

Draw up the names of those you find,

the letters, boy, I’ll let you sign.

 

[A month later, at the close of the Somme]

A letter, Sir, for one who’s dead.

Well come now, boy, give what it said.

But, Sir, words tender, hearts at home.

A general, boy, I’ll have you know. 

 

“I dreamt last night of those fields in France,

of silent screams, of prayers unans’ed

But if these words reach you, by luck-by chance,

know I dreamt too of our last dance.”

Arise a Knight: Social Justice and the Fantasy Genre

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking hard about the genre I’m writing in.

Perhaps that’s a curious way to open a blog post. You’re welcome to read it again.

It’s a sentiment that might seem a little odd, a little obvious, maybe even a little expected. But while there’s always a few sparks of fantasy to be found in my mind, lately it’s been a raging inferno. By the time the same fire burned out and I had a chance to sift through the ashes, I came to a single, disturbing conclusion.

I’m terrified that my words won’t matter.

You might wonder exactly what I mean by that. As always, I’m going to take a roundabout way to explain. But first, I’m going to have to ask you to kneel.

knight


You take another breath and stare at the altar in front of you. The stone, polished and white, is the only thing not covered in shadow. The candles the priest lit hours before have long since fallen asleep, leaving the room stuffy-dark, warm and cold at the same time. Your knees groan where they meet the stepped floor and you grimace, pray that soon they too will slip into slumber. The nightlong vigil yawns, drags, whispers a promise that it’s not long ’til dawn. And when the sun does rise, you know you may yet rise with it. A tap to either shoulder-that’s all that’s left to be done. You stare at your robes; the white, red and black cloth spills freely onto the floor. You wonder for a moment about the significance of colour, then sighing, you return to your prayers.


Social justice is a concept that has always found its ways into writing. As far back as Ancient Greece, Plato was wondering about the ideal state, a promised land of equal opportunity. That same idea, veiled by language and time, cropped up all over the world. The French Revolution, the Suffragettes, the Great March on Washington. All of these movements were born in hearts, then in pages, then finally out on the streets. Ideas, not all of them similar, were grown, documented and distributed by writers, many of them writers of fiction. Some were even writers of fantasy.

Today, multiplied in the information age, social changes are moving faster toward us, sounding different by the time they rush past. It’s becoming a sort of doppler effect, a wheel accelerating so fast that we’ve bought more personal freedoms in the last 200 years than we had in the previous 200,000. At the same time, this progress has left tension between generations in its wake. And though much ground has been gained by writers, it could be argued fantasy found it hard to keep pace.

knight2

Part of this is due to the fact that up until fifty years ago, nobody would have considered it a genre to start with. The big names-the Tolkiens and the Le Guins and the C.S. Lewis’-changed all that, defined something that we now recognise. All the same, the genre was largely ignored by the popular masses until the turn of the millennium. But then the 2000s brought film deals and Rowling and the Game-of-Throne-lead surge of a grittier kind of fantasy loved by readers and TV producers alike. Suddenly the social justice of fantasy worlds was being debated. Long unchallenged (long ignored), they found themselves sadly outdated.

That’s not to say there aren’t fantasy novels out that broke the wheel while it was spinning. If you’d like a list, here is just one place you could get started. But many of the names here aren’t household (even by fantasy reading standards), and that’s where the genre gets shaky.

It’s only now that we see big fantasy novels emerging that challenge gender, race, sexual orientation etc. Long kept at the fringes of the campfire, these novels are now bathed in light, shining for all to see. In terms of the role of women, for example, one could argue that the biggest steps were made by urban and post-apocalyptic fantasy first. The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight. All of them, merited by critics or not, made huge steps in terms of women both reading and writing fantasy, a genre long considered the boys-club of the literary world. More importantly, they littered the fantasy universe with characters these readers could identify with. Slowly but surely, ground is being made with other marginalized groups too.

knight3

I suppose why I wrote this blog is that ultimately, facing into editing a novel, I know the time for voiceless pages is over. A first draft has to have a plot, characters, maybe even a twist or two. But edited work ought to have more than that (surely). By the time Mist Rock (and I) come out the other door of the chapel, I’d be hoping to see challenge, strength, meaning. I’d be hoping to see voice.

A lot of that, as it always does, will mean writing for the times. I often think that’s the wall fantasy writers have to climb: talking about one world when they’re in another. But all fiction (hell, all art), has to say something. And if it can say something relevant, something lasting, that’s enough to make a few words matter.

I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about my genre a lot lately. Kyle has a world to re-visit, and he knows now that the characters have to speak not only for themselves, but for the reader, for the world that they can’t see through silver-glass. They’re going to have to fight a lot more battles than they expected to. Oftentimes, they mightn’t win. But I’ll ask them to fight them anyway, even if only because there’s plenty out there who’ll oppose them. After all, some people are still growing up in a world where to ask for reasonable social change makes them an enemy of the state, a vigilante, a rebel. These “social justice warriors” have hardly a banner between them. What they will have, I hope, is armies of people to flock to it.

We can’t drown the worlds we create in the troubled social politics of our own. Even so, the very best fantasy is rooted in reality. That’s why Harry longed for his parents. It’s why Ned Stark kept to his honour. It’s why Frodo wasn’t destroying a ring.

It’s why Frodo was saving the Shire.

knight4


Understand, the pen is not mightier than the sword; it is the sword, and you’re the writer who is wielding it. And though you have fought many battles with a fist closed round its handle, there was once a time it was new to you, a time you picked it up warily and tried to bleed a few scratchy lines about the whereabouts of dragons. But blunt though those first words were, right there and then, (though you wouldn’t know it for some time), that silver sword gave you a voice. A silent, shivering voice. A voice you hoped would grow louder.

And while there are no vows as a writer, there’s a wide world to fight for all the same.

So if you do rise, rise well. Arise a knight.

And should your sword prove as sharp as you hoped for, remember the promise to give a few voices back.

Clicks (or how flowers fought for life in the graveyard)

I’ve decided to write a follow-up piece to How journalism lost the battle, how journalism lost the war, a blog post I made recently about the current state of journalism in this alternative-fact, clickbait era. In the post, I argued the evolution of journalism can be compared to the landmarks moments of 20th-century military history. Today, inspired by a number of polls I ran on twitter about my own writing, I want to show you the graveyard those wars have left us.

flowers4

Perhaps the most liberating thing about writing in the 21st-century is that we have a platform to do it from. The most restrictive thing, on the other hand, is that we’re all struggling to share it. The metrics of running a blog are views, visitors, followers, numbers reached across social media platforms etc. The eyes of the reader become a sort of currency, a few gold coins that we’ll draw swords and pour blood over if needs be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say blogging is cut-throat, but there’s no room in the graveyard for names easily forgotten, no space in its garden for flowers afraid to bloom. It’s a bit Shawshank in that respect.

Get busy living or get busy dying

You might consider that quote a bit of a paradox. After all, a cemetery is home to a great many dead things. Even so, there’s life in these worn headstones, breath in these knotted grasses. A graveyard is a place where people are remembered, not forgotten, and nothing remembered can ever truly die. Writing, as a craft, is broadly similar.

Much of the day in, day out blogging you see from your smartphones is an homage to the words of those gone before us, a silent prayer to the greats buried deep. Their work has fed ours, as sure as soil feeds a garden, and we slender flowers rise to guard their final resting place. If that joyous sentiment was all there was to it, then blogging would be ever-spring. The problem, however, is that we’re not the only ones here in the grasses.

flowers3

Part of running a blog is acknowledging its limitations, the cap the world places on its growth. The first flower rising is often cut by the wind. Many blogs bring a new concept to the world only to see those behind, watching and learning from their mistakes, shoot past them and reap summer glory. It’s the risk that comes with innovation, with trying to punch through the frost.

Many more blogs, latching onto the light, fall into the trap of the seasons, the belief in the eternity of the high-shining sun. But reader taste is as fickle as the hand that flicks the pages of summer, and if ill-equipped come the whisper of autumn, even the most beautiful blogs are laid to rest with a shrug of the shoulders. Often, a few words are read at their graveside about the nature of fads.

Life in the garden also means growing under the shadow of trees, those blogs so dizzyingly tall that they must dare to scrape at the sky. In Ireland, these branched giants ply their trade in areas such as fashion, makeup artistry, activism, and tech. They are the “influencers”, the writers whose words seemingly matter so much that those visiting the graveyard will stake claims on their survival. And whether or not us flowers beneath them think their evergreen coats impressive, these aged trees are affecting us, tunneling their roots deep into the earth of society, determining the extent of our growth.

The battleground at the surface is so pock-marked and close-quarter that at first, we do not notice the weeds.

flowers-5

The greatest threat life faces in the graveyard is the economics of life itself. Food, water, sunlight. Perhaps a scrap of land to call home. That’s all anything really needs here to take root among the crumbling stones. But while flowers juggle these requirements with great difficulty, weeds have mastered the art of it. Their aim is not to flourish, of course, just to grow. But in life, growth is enough. These are the blogs, facebook pages etc that know traffic is what counts (if your entire revenue is ads especially), and are only too happy to sacrifice quality on the altar they’ve fashioned from a headstone. These blogs add nothing to the conversation, to the diversity of life in the garden. They simply want a click, to draw you to their page as a spider does a fly to its web. People rarely leave these sites satisfied with what they’ve read, but unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to pull the weeds up once they’ve gripped firm. LadBible, Benchwarmers, TheLiberal.ie. There are many species of weeds, their tactics all roughly the same.

I, like many other bloggers, hope they’re a flower in the garden, though that is no easy task. It means the hard road to summer, and oftentimes the sure hand of death in the winter. It means contending with the swift-choking weeds and the long-reaching trees, even if only to one day feel the light slip through the branches, warm our face for only a moment.

But it’s honest. It’s head-down, hone-your-craft honest. It’s giving readers what they deserve, not what a clickbait headline sells them.

flowers2

Above all, it’s honouring those in the garden. We flowers are the watchfires, the timid little things that shiver against the onrushing night. But instead of dying, we continue to burn, to stand guard, to remember. We continue to live among the fallen.

And if the names faded from these gravestones could whisper, perhaps that’s what they’d ask for.

flowers

How journalism lost the battle, how journalism lost the war

William never really liked the term “British Intelligence”.

He sits at his desk and watches the monitor flicker. On a field of blue, two red dots are edging closer, the little lights certain to meet. Around him, the Yanks are shouting, pressing alarms as they slam down their phones. He turns back to his computer and tries to ignore them-tries to forget why the whole room is in chaos. Blinking, it seems as though the Russian ship has stopped moving. William rubs his eyes, pushes himself close to the screen. The ship, one bright drop in a dark ocean, freezes for only a moment, just long enough for a sigh of relief.  But then, even as that breath comes, it’s off again, knifing through the water towards Cuba. At this rate, it will be less than an hour until they’re forced to take counter-measures. War games, much like chess, tend to happen with such sobering speed.

William looks at the picture on his desk, a black-and-white shot taken twenty years previous. The three men are sitting there: Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill. The last had his hat off, his legs crossed, his eyes pressed to the floor. The Tehran Conference. Hadn’t they decided to storm France that day? William feels they had. In fact, he’s sure they made a great many decisions, determined what pawns would be sacrificed.

He brings his attention back to the screen and frowns. Yes, he really did hate the term “British Intelligence”.

I’ve decided to write about journalism today, more specifically about the death of it. Even so, I’d like to start by focusing on the positives, acknowledging that it’s not all quite doom and gloom just yet. We’re at a cliff-edge, to be sure, but we might still be able to climb down, remember the precipice as only a reality-check. After all, the top of the mountain is what we aspired to, and if this is indeed the summit, there’s no use only dreading the fall.

Journalism has come a long way from the few-copy newspapers of the 1700s. Recently, its transition to the digital landscape has made for some amazing strides forward. Now, journalism is not only instant, it’s ubiquitous. Anybody with a smartphone can break a story, debate world issues, be a voice for the people around them. Where before our interpretation of events was filtered, stirred and flavoured as to how we might like it, now we’re brewing coffee ourselves, sipping-happy before “big media” has even pulled out a cup. When bombs rained down on Palestine, the world knew. The evidence was all over Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. It came right from the very source, live, and when the heart of that story beat we listened. With the internet, the news is always pumping, a constant lub-dub tap of fingers. We’re taking pictures at every angle, analysing, debating future history on a scale of millions. Digital journalism has become the great equaliser, a platform for professionals and journeymen alike. The online community is now our ultimate conversation, the great pinnacle of human interaction. We’re talking, we’re shouting, we’re screaming. Marching on Washington online. Interestingly, we’re still being heard. Because now businesses and governments both can’t ignore us. There’s money in this new journalism. And whether or not it’s healthy-whether or not you like it, this journalism is shaping public opinion.

William looks at the only other photo on his desk. In it, his eyes, fixed in a younger face, stare back at him unmoving. Perhaps they don’t recognise him. Alongside his younger self stands Peter. Well, not Peter-Piotr. Simple, smiling Polish Peter. In the background are a pair of Spitfires, their brilliant colours lost to the camera, the heat of that British summer day gone with them. That’s our only photo together, William realises. The Few. That’s what they called us. The room grows as loud as an engine, voices roaring in his ear.

Two weeks after the happy little moment in the photo was captured, they’d gone up against the germans again. The Luftwaffe: Hitler’s well-behaved boys, who’d gotten bored of lighting up ships and factories and instead turned their attention to cities, to people. Break their moral. Hit them where it hurts”. That was what the high-command wanted, and so day and night the waves of bombers lapped up over the British coast.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. William had those words in his ears when he climbed into the cockpit. Shakespeare-at a time like this! Mad. Fitting.

They met the Messers and those Jabos just outside of London, English fighters screaming across the sky, lions leaping at their prey. Black clouds and black wind. When the lions bore their teeth, they chewed off a wing or two, sent metal drops of fire into the countryside below. They must have looked awfully funny from the ground, the RAF, flying in V’s like King George’s ducks. Was that what the children thought the Blitz was-a squabble, a great mess? Those of them that weren’t in tunnels pointed to the wrecks, listened for bombs, watched tracer fire light up the sky. Guy Fawke’s every night of the summer.

The morning after the dogfight, William found out Peter had gone down with his ship. Almost British of him. A boy had found him in a field, face down, maybe still smiling. “Look Mummy, that Pole got covered in Red.”

In London, William tried to find Betty. Maybe she wasn’t at home, he thought, when he saw her house had blown half way into the street. They’d been courting for a year: dinners, walks, the occasional trip to the cinema. And oh-my was there talk of marriage. Now he saw her mouse-brown shoes sticking out of the rubble, a scene like the Wizard of Oz. She’d loved that one, talked about the fields of poppies all the way home.

William later found out Hitler liked it too.

‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’

Perhaps the first sign of the shift in the world of journalism was the tabloid. It isn’t a modern phenomenon. Not really. They’ve been around for quite some time. A condensed version of the news, often geared for the masses. Is that really such a dangerous concept?

The battle began in earnest when these papers challenged the grip broadsheets had on the news. After all, they’d already conceded to radio, television etc. If they were to lose on their own soil, were they really a news empire to be reckoned with at all? Tabloids, outside of their physical and read-easy convenience, gave people a side of the news broadsheets had for decades shunned away from. There’s a lot of money to be made in gossip, scandal and the shiny world of celebrity culture. Tabloids fed off that, made an arsenal out of human emotion. It wasn’t long until they felt bold enough to challenge the status quo. They cast the first stone, moved before broadsheets could stop them. It came to a head about twenty years ago, one great battle to establish a victor. For broadsheets, it may have been their Waterloo. Instead, it was their Trafalgar. Their Kursk, their Midway. Their Stalingrad.

The movement of news to online platforms gave broadsheets the much-needed jolt they were looking for. They might not have had a copy in everyone’s hands, but their words were getting out there nonetheless. They were surviving, making key moves to close out the war. Enigma broken, tabloids followed but lost all their ground. They certainly looked feeble on D-Day.

On the screen, William watches the dot come to a halt. Is it stopping, or is the computer slow to keep up? He thinks of the cogs turning in the Russian war machine and wonders can they match the pace. Once, he’d hoped the wheels would turn faster, back when the USSR had been allies, back when they’d been friends. You come from the east, we’ll come from the west. Hadn’t that been the way of it?

He remembers that day in the boat, his stomach rolling inside of him. The nausea of flying had never been that bad. They were off the French coast, backs to the white walls of England, bobbing towards Normandy. William the Conquerer, come again, sent back the other way to France-that was how he felt as he sat there. They must have made quite a sight for a German boy with his binoculars. A thousand ships, the ghost of a fleet setting sail for Troy. Wilhelm would have a Luger in his shaky hand. Which way would he point it?

They hit the beach with dawn, landing on the Gold sand, sweeping over the German lines as though they were high tide. They had at least expected a welcome party. Over at Omaha, the Yanks were damming up the English Channel with their dead. The Germans there must have had British ancestors. A proper good way to greet guests.

William sat on the beach after with the others. From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother.

More Henry V.

William remembered smiling about it. Shakespeare, his namesake, must have known a thing or two about writing.

Once the move to an online platform had been made, journalism lost a run of itself. Now that everyone had access, whole armies of writers swarmed over the internet with blogs and forums and start-up magazines. I’m counted among them. The sad reality of being a part of it is that it’s hard to be heard anymore, one voice lost among thousands. Very few people at all will ever read this, too busy with the rest of the noise. The more dilute our information becomes, the less impact it has. Perhaps the integrity associated with journalism is gone. It’s drowning in a sea of click-bait articles, viral videos and facebook-rants-of-that-fella-down-the-road-who-thinks-he-knows-Enda-Kenny’s-thought-process. The amount journalists invest in pieces nowadays is measured in puddles, not oceans. It’s not about what you write; it’s about how you promote it, how you get a response out of as many people as possible. You want their likes, their views, their retweets. Their emotions are sort of desirable, so long as you get the traffic.

But in a world of political instability, increasing levels of hatred, declining mental health, melting ice caps and “alternative facts”, the importance of clear, accurate information is paramount. We don’t have the luxury of wasting away a day on LadBible anymore. The time to stand up and be counted is upon us. The hallmark moments of our generation are here.

*sigh*

Perhaps I’m just afraid we’re moving too fast, generating information that we just can’t handle anymore.

After all, if too few of us reach the enemy lines, we’ll hardly make an impression at all.

William smiles. The Russian ship is turning around, heading home, leaving them safe for another day. Perhaps they aren’t all that bad, those communists. He keeps that thought to himself. He feels an outsider enough as it is.

His father said in the First World War the Commies gave the Germans a lesson. Meanwhile, he added, they were stuck in French fields, going nowhere.

“I lost my hearing very early on”, he said. A howitzer blew a hole in the ground next to him, left a constant ringing in his ears. He hadn’t been able to mark the whistle after that. When they were going over the top, he saw the men around him stand up-that’s how he knew it was time. One day his friend George climbed up ahead of him. When William’s father followed, he found George had fallen, face pressed to the mud, almost kissing it.

“Come on George,” he said. “You won’t kill Kaiser from down there.”

For years after, he told William about the Somme: the rain, the explosions, the way men would trudge to their doom. The clouds never left those fields, he said. It was always dark on the Somme.

Near the end, he woke up screaming in his sleep and William had to run to his bedside.

“Turn off that damn typewriter,” he shouted, crying, rolling about in William’s arms. His son, terrified, waited until he calmed down, thought of the typewriter kept in the attic. Nobody had touched it in years.

On the morning of his father’s funeral, they passed the fields of flowers by their house, the bright petals waving to them in the breeze. And William thought of the memorial in France, where the names of the dead were engraved, the list running into thousands. He imagined that soon they would fade. He imagined that soon they too would be forgotten.

Later, after all was said and done, he took the typewriter out of its dusty home in the attic, thought of the simpler times it must have seen.

He pressed a single key, heard its sound and realised that his father, deaf, must have dreamt of the chatter of machine guns.

Candles

candles

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. To put it into perspective, my last post was titled “The words I spoke to Autumn”, and today marked the first day of Spring. That’s not to say I haven’t kept busy on the writing front, but so much of what I’ve been working on is in private, under wraps, sheltered away while I stubbornly polish it. Safe to say it’s a story for another day.

I decided to write this post, “Candles”, in response to all the noise out there in the world at the moment. There’s been a lot of news coverage around the fallout of the U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the conflicts in the Middle East and our own troubles closer to home. Regardless of your interest in politics, it’s becoming quickly impossible to ignore. Drowning airwaves, plastering TVs and seeping into social media newsfeeds-these events are perhaps the great hysteria of our decade, maybe even the landmark moment of our generation if certain commentators are to be believed. And yet, by and large, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

It’s hard to keep a finger on the pulse in this rapidly changing world, that same little flutter at the neck now starting to move and crop up elsewhere. Even so, I’ve managed to pin down one thing. One sober, irrevocable truth.

Confidence is almost extinct.

Acquaintance

A few months ago, I was chatting over coffee with someone I knew reasonably well. To this day, I can’t remember who it was, though for the sake of the argument it doesn’t really matter. At some point during our exchanges, the blurred face turned to me.

I didn’t know your parents had such normal jobs. It’s nice.

I can recall being taken aback at the time, sort of vaguely uncomfortable, like I’d just caught my name in conversation or blinked to find a light on my face. For a few months, I didn’t know whether to read the remark as a compliment or an insult, though I’ve now settled on the fact it was unintentionally the latter. And recently, it gave me pause, made me think about why they said it in the first place. My only conclusion is that the person assumed my parents were extremely well-off, and as a result, I must come across as the son of that, which in layman’s terms can equate to pretentious.

I think part of growing involves trying to see yourself in the eyes of others, attempting to become “self-aware”. It’s by no means an easy task, opening yourself up to the one person who knows you best. All the same, the above story is an example of what I call a minute-mirror, a quick snapshot of who you might be. And as with most photos, very few of us ever like how they turn out. Perhaps the silver lining here is that we can learn a lot from these polaroids, shaping ourselves in time for the next flash. What we can’t do, however, is change how the camera sees us.

The generation I was born into is the most over-labelled and over-scrutinized of all time. Scarce thirty years to our name, we’re already to blame for the deterioration of human nature, the collapse of what people considered good values. All the same, one of the only constants between us, Generation X et al is what I’d actually consider one of the more damning aspects of society we’ve allowed to continue.

Modesty.

Ronaldo

Saturday, 18th of June. A summer evening in the depths of Cork City, where alone I watch Portugal fight it out in a group game with Austria at the European Championships. The match is tied but the Iberian side have just earned a penalty. To nobody’s surprise, captain Ronaldo steps up to take it. Approaching slowly, perhaps waiting for the Austrian keeper to move first, he drives the ball into the post, watches it bounce helplessly away to safety. I’m on the edge of my seat and I sigh in disbelief. On the screen, the Real Madrid forward does roughly the same. And then, as if to rock my house to rubble, the RTE commentator explodes through the speakers.

“THE SHEER ARROGANCE OF THE MAN”, the man-child shouts, lambasting the Portuguese forward for literally kicking a ball wrong. He fails to mention the same player has been on fire all game, dancing in and out of the Austrian defence to shoot close on a number of occasions. And as Ronaldo’s side stutter even more, the man behind the mic pours on the grief.

I’ve often found the case of Cristiano Ronaldo rather unsettling. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most witch-hunted men in sport. Engaged in a never-ending battle with Barcelona maestro Lionel Messi, Ronaldo has become a pantomime villain of football, an easy target for budding sports journalists and that lad in the pub. All because he is confident.

I don’t believe Ronaldo is arrogant. I truly don’t. We see on a number of occasions in plain sight his genuine interaction with fans, his play-acting with team mates and his willingness to engage with the wider community. Yet all that is nullified in the eyes of the press when he complains on the pitch, takes off his top or celebrates because he’s on the scoresheet again.

Just so we’re all clear, we’re talking about a man who unknown to the world only a decade ago, has gone on to win three premier league titles, an FA Cup, three Champions League medals, a European Championship, four Ballon d’Ors, a rake of other individual awards, has more goals in the Champions League than anybody else, has more hattricks in La Liga than anybody else and has scored more goals for Real Madrid (arguably the greatest club in the world) than any other player. I’m sorry, but if a man who accomplishes that much in ten years wants to take off his top and be happy about a goal, fucking leave him off.

On the other hand, we have Lionel Messi. The Argentinian, likely to go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time (and rightly so), has become the people’s champion of football. The tricky forward, known for his solo runs, turn of pace and amazing vision, does not celebrate with as much vigour as Ronaldo, nor engage in as much sponsorship or modeling. As a result, people have elected him a sort of demi-god, a humble master of football who couldn’t harm a fly if it accused him of tax fraud. Though to be clear, Messi was not born yesterday. The Barcelona legend is not under some impression that he’s only “kinda okay” at football. Every time he’s interviewed he’s pointing at his team mates as though that goal where he slithered through six defenders on his own was “all down to the team”. It’s an attitude that endears him to thousands, makes it seem as though the poor crator hasn’t even come to grips with the fact that his legacy will endure forever.

The dichotomy of Ronaldo and Messi typifies the great issue we have with confidence. Messi is “one of us”, a shake-your-hand, smile-for-the-camera, aren’t-we-all-friends-kinda guy. It’s the same tactic politicians use to garner your vote. First, they are among you, then they are you, and suddenly you’re ticking a box with their name next to it. While being humble is applauded, confidence is viewed as some sort of disease, a blight likely to leave us starving if we tolerate too much of it. And yet confidence, so easily skewed into arrogance if your job is to make headlines, is undoubtedly the default position of human nature. The modesty we see in the world today is for the most part false, a cloak-and-dagger show put on by people who’ve learned a thing or two about Narcissistic Supply. Open up even one of your social media newsfeeds and tell me it doesn’t read so. Generally, the not-so-humble entries range from “I’m terrible at life”-25 year old with a car, a steady job, a long term relationship and solid family support to the more obvious “I can’t believe I went to the gym and forgot it was closed.” And of course, the point that I’m making is that those engaging in this behaviour are actually the victims. They are in all respects blameless, forced to reduce their self-worth to zero by a society that values meekness and obedience. A society that values shadows.

Stars

The interesting thing about human nature is that it differs from the individual to the collective. Alone, we’re somehow starting to have far greater company than with others.

Modesty is a social construct, akin to eating with cutlery or using politically correct terms. But while the latter two are virtually harmless, modesty can become so deeply rooted in the collective expectations of a people that to not conform makes you a pariah. We start to dwindle, quash our passions and accept that perhaps we’re not destined for anything at all. The only successes we share are those deemed suitable by whatever background generation we’re part of. Ten years ago the concept of posting “food plans” or “gym pics” to social media would have had you laughed out of any room in the country. Now, those are accepted in culture, woven into the fabric of the very small tapestry we allow the world see. Gym goals, car purchases, engagements. Throw in the common house cat and that’s about all you can share with the world without being labelled an egomaniac. And so we plod along, internalising all the pride we want to show others, belittling ourselves so that we can click “add to cart” on popularity.

Perhaps the only well-defined group of people who don’t engage in any of this finger-to-lips behaviour is celebrities. The culture we’ve built around them, as a result, is essentially escapism, a brief look at the sort of lives we’ve been denied. People wonder how hours are spent in front of reality TV shows, failing to understand we ogle these stars because they’re the uncaged birds, the liberated few, the candles brave enough to keep burning.

But even in the celebrity world, the weeds of a forced modesty are taking hold. Now even those privileged few who’ve come unshackled have to watch for the signs, knowing even the slightest slip would have the daggers of collective humbleness down on them. It’s not uncommon for an idle tweet to turn into character assassination.

“Et tu, Buzzfeed?” they cry, as the knives of social media plunge into them.

Storm

And of course, while reading this you may be rolling your eyes, thinking to yourself “Well yes, but I am truly modest, not modest because I am made so.” If so, I hope you know you are the humble-esque equivalent of those who say “Well I just don’t see colour” when confronted with the idea of racial prejudice.

And what harm, you say, if the world insists on a quiet voice here or stifled celebration there? Isn’t it nice just to keep hush, to play a ghost, to pretend we’re smaller than we truly are. Well, if Ronaldo didn’t take his top off tomorrow, the world wouldn’t fall down around us (probably). That being said, the pursuit of a pseudo-modest society has far-reaching consequences. Firstly, it impacts on us, the small wavy flames, the ever-candles who light the darkness. While it’s perfectly natural to have a lack of confidence, to tremble on a wick as you sit there, it’s artificial to make a wax out of modesty. If we you were to wake up to an empty world tomorrow, your default setting would not be modest. You would grow certain, sure of yourself against the things that life threw at you. As a candle, it might make sense to burn slowly, not waste oxygen or risk snuffing out. And yet, that attitude begs the shadows to come closer, draws the night on you before its due. Something similar was once said in Coach Carter

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us

And while modesty as a social construct lives at large in the world, it makes its home here in Ireland. This is the land where to be “a slob” or “a dote” is desired while “to have notions”, “to be brazen” and “to fuss” is almost a flogging. We’re a head-down, one-fist-pump-then-back-to-the-half-back-line society that values meekness over metal, silence over fury and death stares over well, anything resembling a solution. It’s a small wonder our elected Taoiseach will crawl over to Trump in March, holding shamrock as though it were a sacrifice. What was it Edward Burke said about the Irish-“All it takes for evil to flourish is for your man to say era be grand.”

And of course, those polarized across the political spectrum are relying on this modesty. It’s how religions rose, kings ruled and governments held us to ransom. They are trusting that we won’t come close to the fire, afraid we’ll only get burned, forgetting it’s cold out here in the wilderness.

And so here at last, I am asking you to turn your back on modesty, abandon a system as dangerous to mental health as it is human progress. Understand, this is not a world where to be not-humble makes you arrogant. You forget, Goldilocks found three bowls at the table, one of which, warm with confidence, was just right.

Vigil

The world does not benefit from you burning low, little ever-candle. Remember, there are forces out there in the darkness at work, people who would have you waver, flicker, go out without as much as a hiss. They’re counting on you being a meagre light, a pale flame, only a whisper of fire. But in times such as this, you can’t afford to play small. Because soon the wind will whip hard, and the stars will drop out of the sky and the moon will go black and all that’ll be left will be you: the soft, modest candle.

And seeing the gloom yawn up over you, watching it swallow all the other teardrop lights, you may realise something.

Perhaps it is time you burned brighter.

The words I spoke to Autumn

Autumn, without any great effort, is my favourite time of the year.

It has taken me twenty-three years on this earth to decide that, but more than any other season I look forward to these modest few months, watching as the heavy scream of summer fades and the blasted fury of winter takes hold. By comparison, autumn is relatively quiet-happy to talk to you of course, but only if you’d take a few moments to listen.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the colour of autumn’s skin. Indeed, it is perhaps the only thing about the season that’s celebrated. Deep red, burning orange and matted yellow; it’s a palette nature strangely reserves for rotting and death. Even the boldest purples, whites and greens of re-birth in spring are jaded by the subtlety of autumn’s beauty. And they should be.

For all the love I have for summer, there is something unsettling about its perfection, as though silver light would perhaps be easier to live with if only it would allow itself grey from time to time. Summer is an ideal, not a reality, and while we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t pretty, there is in a way a grander beauty about something scarred. Maybe true beauty is revealed by adversity, showing stronger with the shadow of death yawning over it. And that is what autumn is after all; it’s one last breath before the great shroud of winter comes down, an empty word of defiance. Somehow, even that empty word holds more weight than all the idle ones spent in the summer, which is, in many ways, ignorant of how it lets itself slip by. Buoyed by the ferocity of life in spring, it’s all too happy to continue the dance as though the music will never stop playing. Who am I to blame it? Nobody ever thinks it’s the last song until it’s over.

For me, autumn is dancing even after the music has stopped. It knows full well that the swift hand of winter approaches, and yet it puts on its finest and shows up all the same. Autumn might be quiet, but there’s a hidden resolve there I’ve come to admire. It doesn’t go down without a fight; it perhaps just knows that it’s not a contest that it can win. How brave of it to keep swinging anyway, even as we look on with indifference.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve finally arrived in autumn. The last few posts here were, in many respects, the setting sun of summer. They still had that damn innocence of thinking youth was something immortal, that we’d only come to look at winter’s void for fun and not as a means to prepare. And though I might move with the breeze of summer, I have felt the fresh autumn chill, pricking the hairs of my skin with its warning.

“Youth is not wasted on the young,” it says. “It is the young who are wasted on youth.”

It is peculiar to find yourself trying to make a difference in the world when you feel like a lamb in the spring. This time in my life and in the lives of my friends is an awkward transition from contributing to only your growth to furthering the growth of the world as we find it. Most of us have spent the last twenty or so years focused on getting by at school, playing in the evening and more recently, organising the next night out. It’s the great party of summer. Now, on the threshold of autumn, we are asked what exactly we’re going to give to the world. The world wants to know our price, our ability, our plan. Most of us haven’t seen it coming; most of us look unprepared.

At least, that is if we believe we’re still the flowers of summer.

Nobody wants to call time on being young. We think of it like rust biting into us, making us ugly and corroded. But rust is not underneath metal; it’s a layer that has grown on top of it. It’s a sign of our time in the world-a testament to our braving the elements. Eventually, we’ll all crumble, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always been winter.

Autumn is a time of learning and a time of preparation, and that is the greatest thing we do not appreciate. We sense the quiet October air and think that nothing is happening, even as all around us life takes stock and begins to make moves to defend itself. Summer is arrogant about being idle; autumn says barely a word about keeping itself busy. But now us summer flowers have arrived in autumn, I think it’s time we join in the good fight.

There’s a world out there that is changing, changing like the growth in the fall. It’s a world we can contribute to, but that means realising that summer is over. It isn’t quite accepting the words of House Stark, who warn us that Winter is coming, but it does allow us to ready ourselves for when those winds first try knock us from the branches.

That is why autumn is my favourite time of the year. With very little said, it continues to work, to go on and to look beautiful. It prepares, it perseveres and it regards the winter with a shake of the head, embracing change with gentle laughter.

And all the while it continues its fight-a fight it thinks it can’t win.

It’s funny. I haven’t told it yet, but a part of me thinks that it can.

autumn