English

Sanctuary

We sat beside one another on a winter’s night, happy and snug, but quiet. Not still, for there was just enough activity in our suburban little apartment. Steam gently rose from our glass cups, the sweet scent of just-made Rooibos tea almost touching our faces. Three candles stood tall, adding to the room’s soft light from a metallic candleholder on the dinner table by which we sat. Four other candles lit the rest of the room; two on the coffee table, two by the corner table underneath the wall-mounted television, which softly played chillout lounge music. A small, white lantern hung from the curtain rail, holding within a tealight for those outside to see – an homage to a former president of our homeland, and a symbol of connection.

The Danes have a word for this warm, intimate, and serene moment; hygge. The nearest English equivalent is probably ‘cozy’, but it sounds odd when one tries to stretch its meaning enough to cover hygge‘s expanse. The Irish word, suaimhneas, might come in at a debatable second place, as a poetic term to describe peace and rest, but it doesn’t bear the same warmth. With my own native tongues failing me, maybe I should look north to find the right word.

Hygge may well describe that cozy peace, but it doesn’t encompass the relief I felt that night. Suaimhneas does, though. Like that moment after you’ve let out a massive sigh, knowing that you’ve come home after a hard day’s work, or after a badly-needed break-up, or cut out something that had been a burden on your life’s energy. It was that feeling of being done with the hardship of that past, whether that past was ten seconds ago or ten years ago. It was that feeling of returning to yourself, after being made to do, be, or say something that, until now, was just not you.

I look up from my barely legible scribbling. Our eyes meet. I smile. He gets up to fetch something for what he’s working on, and kisses me softly on my forehead. I feel safe. Protected from the cold. Loved. Here was our sanctuary; where time stood still and all was well. It was the home away from home, a refuge that reflected who we were in every photo, fridge magnet, framed poster and filled bookshelf.

It was, at its purest, a moment at home.

Standard
English

The Tale of the Forgotten Soldier

Let me tell you a story, but whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you. I’m not sure I fully buy it, either.

It’s a cold Monday night in Belfast. My friend and I have been out for a few beers to catch up, as I’m visiting his city for one night only before I fly to England. After a chilled out evening, we decide to get some food at some Turkish kebab joint.  Continue reading

Standard
A snapshot of the Irish Centre in Nottingham
English

Reviving Nottingham’s Irish Connection

“Tá mé thuas staighre, i mo shuí in aice le cófra na gcluichí…” 

To my surprise, I wasn’t the first person to arrive to the social event I had arranged on a cold Monday night in Nottingham’s city centre. Someone else had beaten me to it; someone I hadn’t met before, but who was now patiently, nervously, waiting for me to join him upstairs, beside the ‘games cabinet’ (which I had yet to discover) in the Malt Cross pub. His message came through on the Meetup app, just as I arrived into the pub with my partner.  Continue reading

Standard
English

Christianity, Secularism, and Ireland: A Response

In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I came across Father Brian McKevitt’s opinion piece in the Irish Times, titled Rite & Reason: Our world is dominated by an aimless secularist view of life.

In the article, McKevitt declares secularism – claiming it “Ireland’s unofficial State religion” – as the ideology to blame for changes in today’s supposedly lost society. In our search and desire for “radical” freedom (though one cannot be sure how freedom can be radicalised) we have redefined our moral values to be “guided by reason alone, with no reference to religious beliefs or a supreme being”. By the way McKevitt writes this, he makes it out to be a negative development in Irish (and Western) life, although it sounds perfectly plausible to this writer.  Continue reading

Standard
English

My Power as an Introvert

I’ve been told in the past that I must be extroverted: I’m bubbly, happy-go-lucky, easy-going, “bouncy”, sociable, and chatty.

I’m not. Not naturally, at least, and certainly not all the time.

There are times where I need to shut myself out from the world; times when I want to stay so still, that I blend into the background, to almost entirely disappear. There are times when I turn anti-social at the drop of a hat; not wanting to be around my friends, colleagues, family, or even my partner. There are times, when the only person I want in my life, is myself.

On My Own Terms

And all of that is healthy, for me. While I’m well able to enjoy being the centre of attention at times, or to enjoy being the perfect party host, my partner recently described my social habits perfectly well. “You’re sociable, but on your own terms”, he said — something that I initially took as a criticism, but quickly realised what he meant.

I’m not a fan of small-talk — in fact, I consider myself allergic to it — and banter is a foreign language to me, one that I’ve had to learn how to appreciate over the years.

For me, meaningless chit-chat is a drain on my energy, and if I’m in the mood to connect with people at all, it needs to be through stimulating conversation. That doesn’t mean it needs to be serious, but it does need to be valuable. If the conversation isn’t worthwhile, then I’d rather be alone, and will choose that option gladly over banal dialogue.

My partner, however, is the opposite in some ways; not that he prefers chit-chat, but he can deal with it brilliantly. Having spent many of his teenage years working in a Dublin pub, he knows how to deal with ‘banterous’ one-liners, to the nonsensical speech of a man who has had one pint too many. The “ah sure / there you have it / ah isn’t that the way” list of endless phrases he can fire up to use, at the drop of a hat, are admirable to me. What’s almost envy-inducing, though, is his patience and willingness to engage with people for no real reason, other than to momentarily ‘have the craic/banter’. In comparison, my lack of social patience — and sometimes, social appreciation — means that if someone approaches me in a pub to have drunken chats, I’ll turn cold. It’s not because I want to be cruel or rude, but it’s solely because I can’t deal with it… not sober, at least.

Public Persona

I’ve learned over the years that being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re the awkward kid in class, or the socially-inept guy at the Christmas work party. Introverts can be extroverted when the time is right, and when we’ve the energy to go into that mode.

I personally call it my ‘public persona’, a term from when I used to be a radio host. I’d turn on my extroverted side each Wednesday evening for my live radio show, each time that ‘Mic Live’ light turned red. I’d turn on the extrovert charm each time I hosted an event, from the community pub quiz, to garden parties at the Irish President’s residence. I still use my ‘public persona’ at professional networking and social events, from talks to business breakfasts, although I don’t always have to use my ‘radio voice’ nowadays.

In some ways, it’s that idea of ‘fake it ’til you make it‘, but I’d be doing myself a disservice to call my public persona ‘fake’. It’s not fake; it’s as genuine a part of me as my more silent self, but it probably only makes up 20% of my personality. Sometimes, I’d prefer to be on stage, or in the centre of attention, if I’m to be in my extroverted self at all. Why? Because it goes back to what my partner described; I’d then be sociable and ‘out there’, but on my terms, because I’m the one in charge when I’m hosting something. I’m performing, so I’ll know how the script goes.

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch

Most of the time, though, I don’t like the idea of being the centre of attention. I’d much rather be the one sitting on my own in a café; reading, writing, or simply watching the world go by. If I’ve had a busy or tiresome day in work, I let my partner know (in as nice a way as possible!) that I need some ‘alone time’ to recharge my social reserves. He’s exempt from requiring my social energy, because he supports me in many ways, but sometimes I still need to be entirely alone to recuperate.

My time alone means I get time to reflect on the issues playing around on my mind. Instead of running from work to home to the gym to bed to repeat (I left out punctuation intentionally there for literary effect!) sometimes I need the solitary downtime to assess myself; my mental health, where I am in life, and if I need to improve on anything. As I write this, my partner is off in the gym working on his physical health, and normally I’d join him, but tonight I needed to focus on the mental side of my health.

And that’s how being an introvert empowers me. It allows me to give myself the time I need to regularly check myself. It allows me to recharge my social and spiritual side, to be able to go out into the bad, busy world, and tackle the challenges and issues we all face everyday. It allows me to reach out to people in a different way than my introverted side does, and ultimately allows me to at least resemble a normal* person! (Note: Not verified scientifically.)

It also means I get time to people-watch, which is always great inspiration for writing stories. It’s amazing what stories you’ll come across over your cappuccino.

Standard