Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Little Blue Notebook

As I've said before, having a blog means never having to say you're sorry. I'd like to think that many of the articles (I'm not mad about the word 'posts') on this blog are fairly solid and informative and accessible. Others, I admit, are more personal and subjective. Still others...well, still others (there is no getting away from it) are downright self-indulgent.

Writing is a great pleasure to me. It's more than a pleasure. I really feel more alive when I write than at almost any other time. But there's more to it than that. I feel an anxiety (that seems to be the only word) to get my experiences and thoughts into words, as though they have only really happened when I do. And I find it difficult to write in anything but a personal way. No matter what the subject I am writing about, I lose all interest if I can't include anecdotes, digressions, personal reflections, and so forth. This is also the kind of writing I like to read as well, which rather tempers my bashfulness. Writing without personality seems utterly dead to me.

None of which is to justify this particular exercise, which is so personal and idiosyncratic that I can't really expect anyone else to be interested. What can I say? Anyone can read it if they want to, or not. I'm going through a bit of a tough time right now, so I am writing this for therapeutic reasons as much as anything else.

Some time ago, I posted an article entitled My Little Purple Notebook about a little purple notebook I carry around in my pocket (some of the time). This is how I described it:

My little purple notebook simply exists to remind me of precious moments in my life, moments charged with inspiration and wonder and even a kind of ecstasy. The very memories of these moments fill me with a new zest. They swell the sails of my spirit.

It is very difficult to explain this properly. They are not (for the most part) the happiest moments in conventional terms. Some of them could hardly be described as moments at all, since they don't refer to anything that actualy happened. If I use the term "revelations", the reader should understand I don't mean it in a mystical or religious sense.

But I think everybody has probably had these moments.

I then went on to describe some of the first few entries in my little purple notebook, and made some speculations as to the psychology of the thing.

Well, I lost my purple notebook. Then I bought a similar, sky-blue notebook instead. And then I found my purple notebook, and copied everything that had been written in it to my sky-blue notebook. So now my little blue notebook is everything my little purple notebook was, and more.

In this post I am going to write about the entries in my little blue notebook (apart from the few I've already written about in my previous post), and try to probe and explain what they mean to me. It is a voyage of self-discovery. It is an act of self-interrogation. It is also probably incredibly boring to anyone else-- and I publish them here only on the off-chance that they might be of interest to somebody.

Reading Yeats and Von Hugel in Richmond Airport. This was a memory of reading a book of essays on literature and religion called Yeats's Blessing on Von Hugel, while I was waiting at the boarding gate in Richmond international airport for a flight back to Dublin. I remember feeling very excited because it occurred to me that every single moment of life-- every sight and sound and smell and pause-- was a part of that great enigma that we are always analysing through philosophy and social criticism and literary criticism (since books are about life, no matter how many removes away).

Trinket Shops in St. Stephen's Green. There is a shop called Banana Tree and another called Ten Twenty, both in St. Stephen's Green shopping centre in Dublin city, that sell little trinkets like yo-yos and picture frames and "funny" mugs and...well, you know the sort. Browsing their shelves always makes me feel unfeasibly happy-- perhaps at the thought that life has room for such trivialities.

Projector in Art Class. In secondary school, our teacher used to show us reproductions of famous paintings on an overhead projector. I always loved the dark of the classroom and the glow of the screen. An overhead projector showing still pictures is a unique experience, as is the strange hushed unity of the people looking at it. And looking at anything in a sustained way tends to bring you into a whole different mental realm, one that is both more intense and more subdued than the rest of life.

DCU Sports Club. In my fourth year in secondary school, as part of a 'transition year' in which we tried all different things, we were brought to a local sports club as part of P.E. (P.T. in England, gym class in America). I remember thinking that nothing could be closer to Paradise than a sports club-- not only in the activities, but in the sounds and colours and design. I was always terrible at sports, and I always loved them. But it went deeper than that. I was depressed a lot at this time but came to a belief in possible happiness that I never renounced, in the face of all Schopenhauers, Freuds and Becketts. Somehow the very air of the sports club seemed like a symbol of that possible happiness.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute. The title of a short film about sweets (or candy, as Americans say) that was shown before one of the first movies I ever went to see in the cinema. I've never encountered such a thing again. There was something so worthy and educational about this that it always stuck in my head, and just thinking about it somehow makes me happy. It also carries all the excitement of my early cinema forays. And sweets en masse are so visually beautiful, as many bookmarks and mugs and pens attest.

Preparations for Christmas in Third Year Religion Class. I've complained publicly about my religious education in secondary school, and I increasingly feel bad about this. We did some good stuff. I remember we got to know local kids from a special needs school, we visited an old folks home, and did other public-spirited stuff like that. For a shy kid like me it was difficult. But I remember, in the last schooldays before on Christmas, one of our teachers (it was two classes combined) saying: "You've really done lots of good stuff for Christmas, now you can go enjoy your Christmas with your families." Perhaps it's not so good to look at good deeds as something you get out of the way so you can have guilt-free fun. But at the time (and even since) it seemed like a noble way to approach things-- that life could be fun and altruistic at once. And the whole idea of preparing for Christmas by actions and activities was somehow pleasing.

Sitting in our Sports Clothes in English Class. One year, in secondary school, we had an English class between two P.E. (P.T., gym) classes. The teacher told us we didn't have to change just for one class and could wear our sports clothes for it. It always seemed a wonderful novelty to me-- maybe an illustation of mens sana in corpore sano, which was my teenage ideal.

Coloured Lights in bar beside Michelle's. There is a wonderful ratskeller right beside Michelle's Richmond apartment, called Chiocca's. The food is ample and delicious, the atmosphere is dark and pleasantly ramshackle and laid-back, and if I was an ash-scattering kind of guy I think I'd like my ashes scattered there. One day I was talking to Michelle there over a sub and noticed the coloured lights glowing just behind here, and at that moment felt utterly content. The coloured lights are gone but it's no less wonderful of a place.

Star Trek and snow. Both snow and Star Trek (always The Next Generation) feature heavily in my memories. Something that had been causing me acute anxiety was lifted from my mind on a night that it started snowing heavily and my brother was watching Star Trek on television. I felt wildly happy and full of hope for the future.

Health and Well-Being Collection. This is the title of a self-contained collection of books on Level One of the James Joyce Library, UCD, where I work. It is full of books about how to study, how to eat well, how to combat anxiety, how to survive college, etc. Just looking at it fills me with positivity and optimism.

Can You Fool the Beast? The title of a Horslips song. Horslips were a band I discovered when I was seventeen, when my father bought me a Horslips compilation album, along with a sound system. They broke up in the early eighties and they fused Irish traditional music with rock. The unlikelihood of my father introducing me to a new band is staggering. He abhors all popular music after Frank Sinatra. I've asked him why he chose to buy this, but he can't even remember buying it. I have very happy memories of hearing that particular song that particular Christmas-- Christmas always seemed to me to be a time of renewal and optimism, and the very sound of the song is crisp and fresh.

Portugese Africa and the West, The Jungle is Neutral, etc. I had the great luck to grow up in a house full of books, and books of every sort. I have no idea who acquired Portugese Africa and the West, nor did I ever read it. But such titles inculculcated in me a particular ideal of knowledge and scholarliness that I've harboured ever since-- one that is public-spirited, humanistic, cultured, spiritual, grown-up and sober.

Moving Ship Model with Glistening Fluid. One Christmas, myself and my two brothers decided to pool funds for Christmas presents. (We had precious little between us, being only kids.) One foray into the city centre to buy presents stands out in my memory. I remember the smell of perfume in a particular shop, and I remember hearing The Life of Riley by the Lightning Seeds in another shop, and-- best of all-- I remember a kinetic model of a ship in the window of Brown Thomas, the swankiest shop on Dublin's swankiest shopping street. It was in a long glass box that was continually, and slowly, tilting from side to side, sending the ship and the liquid in the box from side to side. But the liquid in the box! It was a beautiful, rich, glistening, gem-like blue. It seemed like a symbol of all that is ornate, rich, classy, elevated.

Mystery of School Texts in Shops. I remember buying my school texts in the city centre with my mother, looking at the texts for the more advanced years and wondering, with much awe, how difficult and deep and mysterious they must be. Knowledge has always filled me with awe. I like to remind myself I am now an adult, in the deep end of the pool!

Take-Off, Reaching Out, a Whole New World. A series of English text-books from my primary school days. The covers featured picures of space-ships and astronauts. I loved the exploration theme. I loved many of the selections. The whole idea of reading attentively was a wonderful novelty to me, and made me see not only English but life as a great adventure. And, as with the above entry, I like to remind myself that I am now on the 'whole new world' to which the last title referred, and to keep my imagination humming with that.

Trillion Year Spree. The title of a history of the science-fiction genre, written by Brian Aldiss. My older brother was a science fiction hound so I read a fair deal of it. It also excited my imagination. Science fiction taught me that imagining a world utterly, utterly different from the real world is often the best way to see the real world itself with fresh eyes. But the title Trillion Year Spree excited me greatly, since-- to quote Groundhog Day-- "Sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes". Mankind is on a trillion year spree and we are part of that. I loved the cover, too. It showed some kind of bionic eagle-man against a brilliant blue sky. It's so giddy and heady and intoxicating, which is what science fiction should be.

I am not a big fan of cyber-punk, or dystopias about overcrowded worlds, or any of that revisionist science fiction. To me, the joy of science fiction is its faith in reason, progress, knowledge and mankind's better angels. The actual book Trillion Year Spree was not keen on such naivety, but that doesn't mean I can't use its cover as a symbol for same.

Billy peanut. I have a cousin called Billy. When I was a kid, I thought he was very cool. I was at a family party and so was he. He cracked a monkey nut, threw the edible part in the air, and caught it in his mouth. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and the atmosphere of that moment has stayed with me, and fills me with pleasure when I think about it.

Cowboy calendar. I remember coming home from secondary school one day and reading a magazine that was lying around the house and that had a page-long advertisement for various art calendars featuring cowboys. Somehow it seemed wonderful to me that people would produce and buy such things. I can't really explain it. I felt an incredible sense of peace and serenity as I read about them. The world couldn't be such a bad place if somebody had time and money to spend on cowboy calendars. And something about the calendars themselves, as depicted, was very soothing.

Oh well. I'm only seven pages into my little blue notebook, out of about forty pages. And I feel the therapeutic purpose of my post has been fulfilled. I may take this post down later. But I feel like posting it now. Thank you.


  1. First of all I must apologise for referring to some of your previous articles as posts.

    I think you talked about this before Maolsheachlann. You said something about writers adding their personality to their works. I think I said something about readers of blogs usually like reading more about the person behind the blog too.

    This was a really interesting insight into your mind and how you look at things in unusual ways. Even if not everyone can relate to your own experiences, I think we all have our own experiences that fill us with some sort of positive feeling that we would have difficulty trying to explain to others.

    Good article!

  2. Oh, I call them posts too, sometimes-- it's certainly not something to apologize for!!

    I'm glad you liked this piece. As I said in the preamble, it's very self-indulgent and I felt a bit embarrassed to post it, but what the heck.

  3. I would consider self-indulgence to be a bit more arrogant in tone. I don't think that's the case here. You're pretty matter-of-fact about how you feel. There's nothing wrong with that.