Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Me and General Robert Lee

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Complete Purple Notebook, Part Three

What is my purple notebook? A notebook of inspiring memories, of various kinds. I describe it here, and list the first few entries, explaining what they mean to me.

South African Paul. A student in the library, from South Africa or Australia or New Zealand-- it's hard to tell with his accent-- who is extremely friendly, chatty and well-groomed. I like looking at him just because he's so well-groomed. Somebody who is very well-groomed is like an island of order in a world of chaos. (Especially a man, since it's relatively rare!) I'm not well-groomed but I constantly have it as an ambition.

Macy's Parade. My first American Thanksgiving. I watched Macy's Parade and the National Dog Show on television with Michelle, and had a Thanksgiving feast later. I felt absurdly happy and in love. It was so different and fresh, a whole new world.

Painting, Lenny Henry, DJ Show. In my early teens, everything seemed to go wrong for me. I was failing all my tests in school. I was friendless and withdrawn. I was tired all the time. And I seemed to spill and break things constantly, especially in art class. One evening, I painted a picture for art class at home, and nothing spilled and none of the colours ran and I was amazed how neat and tidy it was, and how it worked out. "Life could always be like this", I thought. "Why not?" The English comedian Lenny Henry was on TV, on a terrible show about a pirate DJ.

You've Got Mail. My second favourite movie ever. Impossibly romantic. Romance of the everyday, kind of.

The Agony and the Ecstasy, Y------, fresh paint. I was sixteen. I was reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, a novel about Michelangelo and artistic creation. My father was painting at home. And we had a sex education course in school where we were talking about the changes of puberty. And somehow all these notions of growth and change and fluidity seemed to run together in my head, in an exciting way. For some reason one class-mate called Y---- is attached to this memory-- I didn't have a crush on her or anything. Maybe I just happened to notice her at a critical moment.

All Good Things. The last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Possibly the greatest hour of television ever, and full of uplifting messages. Especially the final scene, where the god-like Q character-- half-adversary, half-friend-- tells Picard he has passed the test, humanity will be spared, and that he is learning to open his mind to the possibilities of existence itself. He leans towards Picard to tell him some final secret, but then starts to float away, and says: "See you...out there!" as he recedes into the distance. It ends on a note of near-religious awe and wonder.

Foundation Series, Ballymun Library. The 'Foundation' series of science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov also filled me with a sense of wonder and awe. I would walk away from the library carrying one, or giving one back, aware I was on one spinning planet in one galaxy of a vast cosmos.

The Great Artists, flowing pen. I took Art in school. I enjoyed Art theory. On the Saturdays of my final year, I would go to Ballymun Library and read about artists in a bound collection of magazines they had called The Great Artists. I would take notes, and one Saturday I was taking notes with a very nice felt pen my sister gave me, as snow fell outside. A feast for the senses.

Starman, computer synthesizer voice. I woke up late one morning and my younger brother-- who was very into David Bowie at the time-- was experimenting with a voice synthesizer while listening to Starman by David Bowie. It all created a sense of futuristic wonder. Things always seem more impressive when you've just woken up.

Newgrange. A Neolithic passage grave in Ireland, older than the pyramids. I visited twice, once with Michelle. Both times I was awed by the sense of the sacred, even if it was pre-Christian.

World History Board Game. A board game of world domination that I played with all three of my brothers (we rarely did anything all together) when I was about seventeen. Life, and the world of knowledge, seemed to be opening up to me and so the geopolitical struggle on the board seemed entirely appropriate and a good metaphor for my new vistas.

"We have it in our power to begin society over again". I had two wonderful single-volume encyclopedias when I was a kid-- the Guinness Encyclopedia and the Hutchinson Encyclopedia. The former was in themed chapters, the latter was alphabetical. Each chapter started with a two-page photograph and a stand-out quote. The above quotation from Tom Paine (I may have misquoted it) was paired with a picture of some politically rally in Eastern Europe. There was such an excitement in the crowd. The idea that we could begin the world all over again was one that I found intoxicating-- and I still do, even though I am a conservative. Because if you can choose to begin all over again you can also choose to preserve traditions-- it's an active choice.

Mown grass, Carnival, summer night. A memory from late childhood or early teens. I was reading the novel Carnival by Compton Mackenzie, about a young ballerina growing up. It was summer. I remember one night catching moths and humanely throwing them out our bedroom window with my younger brother. Life seemed so full of early summer excitement and anticipation.

Morning I learned Irish history dates. One morning, close to the end of my schooling, I learned dozens of important dates in Irish history, really trying to get a handle on Irish history. They still form the nucleus of my understanding of the subject, all these years later. I am so rarely on top of things in my life that the rare instances where I do feel on top of things are intoxicating.

The specificity of a book on a shelf. The wonder of every book sitting on a shelf is that it's about what it's about, rather than the effective infinity of other things it could be about.

This Fellow with the Fabulous Smile. The title of an obscure book of tributes to a bad Irish poet. (All modern poets are bad.) But I like the title. I like how personal and emotional it is. It would take too long to expand.

Argos, town. When I went into the city centre with my mother, as a kid, I felt a sense of wonder that everything I saw was the product of centuries of human history and culture. There is a catalogue store called Argos and the classicism of the name seemed a perfect example of this. The ordinary and the grandiose.

Grattan's parliament, history and politics. In transition year in school, we had a 'history and politics' module that was several weeks long. One thing we learned about was eighteenth-century Dublin, which had its own parliament and was renowned for its elegance and splendour. And that atmosphere seemed to fill the classroom.

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