Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Miscellaneous Musings

My blog has been so neglected recently, I decided I should write a kind of "catch-up" blog post.

Life has been very different recently. I've moved house and I've been living in Ballsbridge (closer to my work) for the last few months. This is the longest time I've spent living outside Ballymun, other than short spells in lodgings and rented rooms (when I was half-living in Ballymun, anyway, coming home regularly). Ballsbridge is in Dublin 4 (as is University College Dublin), a postcode that has long been shorthand for the liberal intelligentsia in Ireland. (It also houses RTE, the state broadcaster, which is not noted for its love of the Catholic Church or any kind of conservatism.)

The apartment is in an apartment complex, with a lobby and two outer doors. This pleases me vastly, as I enjoy the feeling of living in community. I like hearing voices and footsteps outside my front door. It's cosy. I can see the sea from my window, and I can hear trains passing by all day, and much of the night. Traffic, too-- I'm right beside a main road. Some people might enjoy the constant rumbling of cars and trucks, but I do. I find it soothing and reassuring. I grew up in a noisy house and noise doesn't bother me. Its absence sometimes does.

The apartment is tiny, but that doesn't bother me, either. All I really need is somewhere to sit and somewhere to sleep.

I can also walk to work. This is a big difference after twenty years of taking two buses into work. A new bus route, the 155, came into operation in the last few years, and went straight from Ballymun to UCD. But sometimes I would miss it and still find myself taking the two buses.

I like the idea of a "home town" and growing up in Ballymun was certainly memorable. Everybody knew Ballymun and its grey towers and flat complexes, offset by green fields, were instantly recognisable on television-- or even from the air. It also had a reputation as a "tough" area, though it certainly didn't make me streetwise. (Maybe it did a little. My wife, who grew up on a farm, often comments on my "antennae" for people and situations to be avoided, when we're out and about.)

I want to be sentimental about Ballymun, but I haven't been so far. I guess nostalgia takes a while to kick in. Besides, nostalgia for Ballymun (and it is more widespread than you might think) is generally directed to the "old Ballymun", before the towers and blocks of flats came down, and Ballymun came to look like every other suburb. In fact, there is a Facebook group called Tribute to the Old Ballymun which has new posts every day.

As for myself, I find myself suffering more and more from "cultural guilt" right now. I recently read a biography of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and I was greatly struck by the fact that a survivor of the gulags looked upon Western pop culture with almost as much horror as he looked upon communism. It's humiliating, really-- the untold hours (years?) that we've all spent watching rubbishy television shows, listening to rubbishy music, and watching rubbishy movies.

I could have been reading all that time. I could have been improving my mind, my grasp of my cultural heritage-- both Irish and human. I could have been writing. Yes, I did a fair amount of writing and reading and drawing and painting in my childhood. But it seems a drop in the ocean compared to all the mindless pap I sat through on television.

I'm even coming to regret my twenties spent in the cinema, although my feelings here are more mixed. The ritual of cinema-going certainly seems more worthy than the casual, half-aware, passive consumption of most pop culture. But I could have been reading all that time.

I guess, at forty-three, I realize I don't have all the time in the world anymore. I've probably lived more years than I have left to live. Granted I was unlikely to be doing much serious reading for my first decade, what have I covered in the subsequent three?

Whenever I do my stint of shelving in the library (a task I hugely enjoy), horizon after horizon of terra incognita looms into view. I accept now that I'm never going to read Being and Time by Martin Heidegger, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, or the Icelandic sagas. Well, probably not.

My ignorance of the Bible irks me especially. Even when I was an agnostic, I aspired to a knowledge of the Bible, purely on the grounds of its literary and cultural importance. After more than a decade as a believing Catholic, I feel I've hardly made any inroads.

Then there is poetry.

Then there is the Irish language.

Then there is Church history.

As well as this, I am embarking on a project that I don't want to say anything about (out of a superstitious fear of jinxing myself), but that will require an awful lot of research.

So I feel the weight of my ignorance pushing down on me.

But also, I feel a sense of excitement about life, the world, and the drama of being alive. The clash of ideas, and of ideals, is intensely exciting. It surrounds us every moment, even when we are sitting alone in a chair, reading a book. We get to play a part on that battlefield, in our brief moment walking the earth. In what direction can we swing our swords to best effect? That is the question that preoccupies me more and more. Especially as I strive to live up to the example of my father, whose sword never slept in his hand.


  1. Being the year 2020,I suppose it's a positive thing that one can still compare one part of a metropolis with another part of a metropolis without sounding ridiculous. We're not vegetable juice just yet

    1. That's true! Ballsbridge is very different from Ballymun even in lockdown!

  2. Lucky you not to mind noise!

    Of course, how many of those books would Solzhenitsyn himself have read? We can't read everything, and, in the modern world, simply remaining rooted and sane is achievement enough. Still, I know what you mean about the sheer volume of indispensable literature that we will never be able to read.

    1. Apparently Solzhenitsyn's library was so big it was a considerable logistical challenge to get it back to Russia after his exile! Of course, we never know how many he read!