Extract from the Irish Times
Column, April 10th. 2022.
Headline: Give us an inspirational quote – or be a killjoy
Standfirst: ‘Make it meaningful but don’t agonise over it,’ the email instructed
Oh whoops, I’m right out of disinfectant wipes and inspirational quotes, and I’m damned if I’m going to join the snaking queue outside the supermarket to replenish my stock.
These are, as we know, unprecedented times and, to be fair, people do what they can to get through the days. Sometimes that might involve dusting the cornices (if you have a cornice) or grooming the hamster (if you have a hamster), or maybe you’re one of those people attempting to shine a light on the chaos of the accumulated years by rooting around in your drawers, unearthing your washed-out T-shirts and tie-dying them in the stock pot.
And then there are some who, in response to the times and doubtless with the absolute best of intentions, start email collectives in order to share “uplifting exchanges”.
I’ve received more than one email from such collectives over the past couple of weeks. The most recent, generated by someone I’d never heard of, instructed me to send a poem, thought or quote to names listed below the body of the text.
“Make it meaningful!” the email instructed, the edict given urgency by its exclamation mark. “It should be a favourite text, verse or meditation that has affected you. Don’t agonise over it.”
Don’t agonise over it? What do you mean, don’t agonise over it? Of course I’m going to agonise over it.
I was standing in my dangerously unhygienic kitchen with phone in hand, trying to remember the last time I was positively affected by a text, verse or meditation. I’m really bad at this kind of thing. Fridge magnets with morale-boosting mottoes and pictures of happy children sitting in fields of tulips leave me feeling vaguely nauseous. Pocket-sized books offering to guide me through the maze of life towards self-acceptance, via pithy verselets about love and healing and Mother Moon, bring forth a deeply unpleasant side of my character.
In short, being invited to suck on someone else’s meditation lolly is not my bag.
Meanwhile, however, I was still standing in the kitchen trying to figure out what to do. The emails also said that seldom does anyone drop out, because we all need encouragement! I’d noted the exclamation mark – was I going to be the killjoy, the little girl who threw up her jelly and ice cream all over the hostess?
I looked around me. The cat was attempting to scour last night’s baked-in macaroni off the Pyrex with her rough little tongue. (I’d just thrown a plastic detergent ball in her general direction to whoosh her off the worktop.) There was a pile of washed laundry on the kitchen table, a bigger pile of unwashed laundry on the kitchen floor. My desk in the corner was covered in crap, including a packet of shag tobacco – not mine – and two broken phone chargers.
In the yard, I saw weeds, frothy loose tulips, and a solitary Easter lily drooping like a disappointed groom in a cold bed in a country hotel on a wet Tuesday in Thurles.
I am so far from providing inspirational quotes to anyone.
I have not baked bread. I have not learned to strum The Streets of London on a dusty guitar. I have not taken up watercolours or conversational Spanish. I have not improved my mind or my liver in any way whatsoever.
I’m living, working, cooking, socialising and imagining in a small house with three other big people, two of whom swing from the pull-up bars that decorate the doorframes. I step over dumbbells to get to the kettle, I shuffle around the boxing bag hanging from the kitchen ceiling to turn on the heating.
I’ve been managing my deadlines and persuading myself out for a walk, though my usual haunts are now beyond my legal borders. Sometimes I lie on the floor and pretend I’m doing exercises, though often I just lie there looking at the ceiling, thinking that someone, maybe me, should paint it.
Sometimes I feel like a zookeeper. Sometimes I feel like a short-order chef. Sometimes I feel weirdly happy. Mostly I’m grateful for what I’ve got: a roof over my head, food in my leaky fridge, relationships that challenge but don’t frighten me.
I’m offering this as an apology. I broke the chain of inspirational quotes. I failed to provide encouragement (exclamation mark!). But if not thriving, I’m surviving. I sincerely hope you are too.