Friday, November 7, 2014

Well I finally did it.

Well I finally did it. I ticked another item off my 'oh my Gandalf I've turned 40 and I'm going to die' Bucket List. On Tuesday, November 4, I performed a five minute stand-up comedy set in the Ha'Penny Bridge Inn.

It went well. It went very well.

I've been going on about this event for weeks. I shudder to think about how many people must have muted me, on Twitter, to protect themselves from my incessant neediness. On the night, despite my near overwhelming nerves, I could not help but be moved by the wonderful, generous and beautiful people of Twitter who turned up in such large numbers to support me.

Not only did the denizens of Twitter show up. Friends and family, from Dublin, Meath and Kerry did me the great kindness of paying good money to endure what could've been an immensely uncomfortable disaster. In attending, some of my family did experience an excruciating calamity. The MC, Ruairi Campbell, realised Kerry people, all related, were in attendance. Kerry jokes about cousins abounded.

The night began with an improv group. I found myself tuning out as the realisation hit me, I would actually be standing up to make a roomful of people laugh. I tuned back in when the excellent Eleanor Tiernan did a few minutes of new material. She was very funny. Then I tuned back out. Ordinarily I might have tried some Dutch Courage, but an experienced comedian had advised against it. I suppose being a shambles is forgivable, but being a drunk one is just downright disrespectful.

I had prepared a seven minute set, but as things were running late, we were asked to reduce our sets to five. I gotta say, this really worked in my favour. I was so nervous I forgot bits. This led to my timing being perfect as part of my act involved relating a particularly filthy story about me, which would be interrupted by a timer I had on stage. The problem was, people took it as a genuine interruption and urged me to continue. I had to explain I never intending telling the story.

What I remember of the performance itself? Expending a great deal of effort on appearing calm. Remembering a lot more of my material than I thought I would. Thank you to the comedian who told me to rehearse. A lot. And even then, I think I should have rehearsed more. I remember the laughter but I wasn't in the moment enough to really take it all in. And I remember the applause at the end.

I went outside to calm down a bit, then returned to watch the final comic, Oisin Hanlon. Now he was genuinely funny.

When we had all done our bit, the MC did the 'victory by acclaim' thing. More than half the people left in the room were friends and family of mine, so victory was assured. Though it was a close run thing. Oisin was that good. I even got a certificate, which I will be framing my certificate. 

Then I got to thank everyone who turned up. Some weren't surprised it went well. Others were hugely relieved I hadn't died on my arse. My partner could finally admit how nervous she had been, a fact she'd successfully hidden from me from the very moment I embarked on this ridiculous venture.

I couldn't relax for hours after. It was a wonderful adrenalin rush. I now understand why comics would choose (or be drawn against their will) to a way of life that is so financially precarious.

What have I learned? First and foremost, I learned I have the coolest friends on Earth. That memory will stay with me forever. Second, I'm really good at appearing calm, even when I'm shaking with nerves. Third, I can write stuff that's funny. As long as it's about my deteriorating body. Finally I learned I want to do it again. I want to do it again, but be more aware of the audience and more aware of how I am feeling when I am on stage.

So that's it. Another item ticked, a new experience experienced, something new learned, and most importantly, a new item added to my over all Bucket List; finding out if I can be any good at stand-up comedy. Well not exactly good at it, I'll settle for being on stage and not being so nervous I have to shut down whole parts of my brain.

The very kind Ruadhri Ardiff recorded my few minutes. (May not be safe for work, depending where you work)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Identity and Sinn Fein

I've avoided commenting on Sinn Féin's appalling treatment of Maíria Cahill because truth be told, I've nothing useful to say about Sinn Féin. I despise them as apologists for murder and I despise them for their rabid nationalism. Though of course, I would say that, I am after all a member of Fine Gael. And there's nothing I can say here to convince someone that my antipathy predates my membership of Fine Gael.  

What I can do, is try to explain why I think Sinn Féin finds itself in a situation where it is, yet again and with great harm to its particular brand, defending a man like Gerry Adams. 

I have been on Radio Kerry a few times trying to promote the idea of secularism, as our present laws and institutions discriminate against atheists. The consistent response, and it is a hostile one, is that Ireland is a Catholic country, or if the caller is particularly openminded, a Christian one. There really isn't any answer to that, because Ireland is in fact a Catholic/Christian country. It is right there in the Constitution. 

More important than the Constitution however, is how people feel. How people view themselves. And in Ireland there is a preponderance of people whose national identity is almost indistinguishable from their religious identity. So when I argue a crucifix in the Kerry County Council Chamber is offensive and discriminatory, I am not (and it took me a long time to realise this) making a discreet philosophical point, I am in fact, attacking someone's identity.  

That is a wholly different game to the one I'd thought I was in. It's a game I'm not entirely sure how to play as I struggle to empathise with identities that are not malleable. I especially struggle to empathise with people who offer blind loyalty based on those identities. 

For example, I cannot empathise or sympathise with LGBT Roman Catholics. I understand that is a shortcoming of mine. My identity does not allow me to offer loyalty to anything or anyone who chooses to look down on me. I don't know if that is arrogance or self-respect, but I do know it colours my opinion of all Roman Catholics who are harmed by their loyalty to that church, yet continue to identify as Roman Catholic.

There are other examples. I was once a member of the Progressive Democrats. We were part of a series of governments that destroyed the Irish economy. The PDs rightly ceased to exist because of this. And while I have occasional bouts of nostalgia (I did identify with them from the age of eleven after all) I would not countenance their revival. There should be consequences for causing harm. Which is why I struggle to understand the massive number of people who still cling to Fianna Fáil. 

If by the next election, my party hasn't met my expectations of it, I will go elsewhere. As a political party is nothing more than a coalition of interests, be that coalition broad or narrow. There again I suffer from a failure of empathy. I can understand an emotional attachment to something, even if it is a massive failure, but a mature person moves on. A mature person is not bound by wistful thinking or is not bound to follow in their parents' footsteps. 

Thus the difficulties facing the individuals that make up Sinn Féin. For they are not in fact a collection of individuals seeking a coalition within which to better their interests. They appear wholly wedded to the myths and ideals of that organisation. Wedded to such a degree that the prospect of toppling their great totem, Gerry Adams, represents an identity crisis. 

Adams, may or may not fall. I wouldn't bet either way. But that there is even a doubt about it, points to the greatest strength and greatest weakness of Sinn Féin; its membership believes its own bullshit to a degree that would make a Fine Gaeler and even a Fianna Fáiler blush. 

(As an addendum, with FG, FF, SF and Labour now all discredited, isn't it time for the ego driven micro-parties of the far left to get their acts together. If they can't even coalesce with each other, how can they expect voters to give them the power to govern?)  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kerryman letter re atheism.

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 14 October 2014 edition.

Reading Father Brian Whelan (October 1) I was amazed by how defensive he seems. One would think we weren't living in a country with a sectarian constitution that bars atheists from high office; a country with a church dominated education system. How scared he seems to be of a noisy minority, despite the many privileges afforded his church.

To me his complaints and concerns about atheists seem bizarre given that a prince of his church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, suggests that atheists are not fully human.

Father Whelan is free to believe in the unseen and is supported by the laws and institutions of his country in that decision. Let him try not being a part of the majority tradition for a while, then he might have something to complain about.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Stand-up Comedy

I should be writing and rehearsing a seven minute stand-up set right now. Instead I am going to write about what I'm supposed to be writing. On Tuesday 4 November, 2014, I am going to realise an ambition of mine, I'm going to pretend to be a stand-up comedian for seven whole minutes.

From 9.30pm till 9.37pm I am going to have (hopefully) an audience, eager to laugh and expecting me to supply those laughs. To say I'm terrified would be an understatement. I've been to open mic nights and watching bad comedy is possibly the most excruciating experience there is. I've had a root-canal done, so I know of which I speak.   

The performance will be taking place in the Ha'penny Bridge Inn. It's €7 at the door, €5 if you mention my name. I really hope that's not the best thing I do for you that night. 

This is one of the more outrageously self-indulgent and ridiculous items on my 'oh my god I've turned 40 I'm going to die and yet I've nothing done' Bucket List. 

I can't promise you quality entertainment, but I will be putting my heart  into it, so if I die on the stage, it'll be with all guns firing. 

And at worst, it will be an opportunity for a comedy themed tweet-up. (I will also be sporting a truly stupendous moustache, that I've been carefully cultivating these last few months. It alone should attract some titters)

So please, even though it's a school night, I hope you can attend. 

See you there.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Rifle

Sam, Sammy to his friends, watched Jess delicately arrange the large bone between her paws, to gnaw in comfort. He watched her grey flecked snout curl back, as her yellow worn teeth scored the grey treat. Sprawled mere metres from the roaring fire, Sammy knew she was settled. The anger at having medication forced down her throat, forgiven and forgotten. Though the livid marks on his wrinkled hands, throbbed. He reached down to scratch under her ear. Chewing paused to fully enjoy.

Satisfied, he stood. Slowly working his seventy-three year old body upright. Greeting and countering each of the several aches and pains and tiny rebellions his body now insisted were his due, if he dared called upon it to act. Jess returned to her glee.

Shuffling as best he could, Sammy reached the bedroom. His bedroom now. Only his. He closed the door. He contemplated the photograph. A much faded, black and white, mired in dust and dirt, picture of a smiling couple from another time. He reached for it. The years of neglect shamed him. With handkerchief and spit, he restored the little window as best as he could.

The safe drew his eyes before ever turning to it. With a sigh and the written scrap, he tapped the code. The safe gave up its charge of a rifle, carefully wrapped, diligently cleaned, but long unfired and the box of .22s. 

Bared and placed on the bed, it lay in waiting. Reassembled. Loaded. Ready.

There was scratching at the door. Sammy's shoulders slumped. He knew what needed to be done. He let her in. Arthritic hips and arthritic back did not stop her reaching up to lick his hand. Her big wet tongue gliding over the damage she’d caused. Sammy dropped to the bed and then to the floor. Resting his back against the wall, he hugged her close and hard. 

Cancer had once left him bereft, the prospect of it doing so again, left him empty with terror. Rheumy eye, met rheumy eye. The dread shivered him. Not again he spoke into the enthusiastic licking. He playfully pushed her away, wiping saliva from his face with his much stained sleeve.

Months of agony lay in store, death and bereavement. Sammy knew his measure of strength. It no longer extended to hope after loss. Jess rested her large head on his knees, drool soaking through the fabric. With careful slowness, he reached his right hand to the rifle. His left hand never leaving the centre of his being.

Jess whined and in her curtailed state, climbed uncomfortably to a sitting position. Her face quested his. Her tongue tasted his tears. Her licks more frantic. She started at the sound of the bolt sliding the round into place. She pushed onto his lap. His aged knees rebelling at the weight. Her whines more desperate. Her paws looking for purchase in his chest. 

He didn’t resist, his heart already broken. He’d thought it through. He knew to the brain would be instant, but the mess of spatter horrified. Feeling for the heart he looked Jess straight in the face. Their ancient eyes made more opaque with tears. He pressed the barrel against the heart. Jess pushed harder against him, pushing it away.

He hummed soothingly to her, rubbing his head against hers. His left hand held the barrel back in place and his right hand reached and just found the trigger. Jess became more distressed. Her paws now ripping the tissue delicate skin of his chest. The pain didn’t reach him, couldn't move him. 

He pulled the trigger and she howled. The rifle dropped from lifeless hands as her licking now frantic, desperate to save.

the end

all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Am I islamophobic?

Am I islamophobic? I’m not sure. As I’m not sure, I should try unpacking the term a little. Does islamophobic speak to an irrational fear, much the same as my fear of spiders? A fear that even makes me a little suspicious of people who are not afraid of spiders. A fear that makes me vacuum my ceilings more assiduously than my floors. Actually I’m not beginning at right place. First is islamophobia primarily a fear of Muslims or is it more concerned with Islam? 

Or is islamophobia more akin to homophobia? The term homophobia (no matter the lies of homophobes) has evolved to mean an attitude toward gay people, that is similar to the view racists have towards people of colour and misogynists and sexists have towards women. 

So am I islamophobic? I still don’t know. 

I know that Islam scares me a bit as it has illiberalism sown into its very fabric. Then again, Roman Catholicism is similarly inimical to liberalism yet I am not scared of Roman Catholicism. More than that, I have no problem attacking the horrible nonsense that Roman Catholicism professes as truth. 

There are people who think Islam is a particularly violent and dangerous religion. That it inculcates its adherents from any regard for reason or compromise. It’s not a difficult conclusion to reach if one watches the news. The ‘Muslimy’ parts of the world are always providing us with terror, destruction and all things awful. 

How could one not be scared by the wanton death and destruction? 

Is islamophobia really that irrational then? Am I islamophobic?

I recently listened to Dr Ali Selim, extoll the virtue of increased inclusivity in Irish schools i.e. more should be done to cater to the religious prejudices of Islam. It’s not an outrageous request. Especially if one takes one’s religion seriously and when one is a minority in a sectarian country (as Ireland constitutionally and institutionally is). In this situation demanding space for one’s own religion is entirely correct.

Of course all I heard was his Islamic prejudices about girls, music and sex. The homophobia was unstated. I am after all a liberal so his words irked, perhaps even scared me a little. Islamophobic? 

I am terribly vain, so vain that I like to think of myself, (vain and pretentious) as a tiny player in the somewhat inchoate campaign to counter the misogynist, homophobic and anti-secularist tendencies that already exist in Ireland’s institutions and culture. 

So I get a little freaked when I see the other side joined by a growing and very self-confident interest group, which has at its core an irredentist religiosity that would make even the Iona ‘Institute’ blush. OK, maybe not them, but many other Roman Catholic interest groups. 

And of course the horror we see on the news and the words opinions of Dr Ali Selim are entirely representative of Islam. They represent the thoughts, aspirations, prejudices and hopes of every man, woman and child in Ireland who adheres to whatever version of Islam they adhere to. Don’t they? Is that islamophobic? 

Not being an expert on Islam, I have to ask if it is inherently violent or is Islam merely the religion of the majority of people unfortunate enough to find themselves residing in a region, where despots are kept in power by governments from my liberal part of the world? 

I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that I can’t think of any religion without an ocean of blood occupying the space their consciences should be. Nor can I think of any time in history where oppressing people didn’t require overwhelming violence and the judicious use of idealism/religion. 

But what of Dr Ali Selim and his call for girls to be separated and/or to be allowed hide themselves in religious garb. He pushed my buttons. Am I islamophobic? 

Our education system is, for the most part, predicated on the concept of religious indoctrination. It’s built into the daily timetable. It’s just that it’s not his religion being poured down the throats of children, so his demands are perfectly reasonable. Well, perfectly reasonable if the aim is to separate our children from as early an age as possible. 

His words irked, even scared me, because their intent is to increase exclusion, but more, his words made me uncomfortable because well I forgot something important, two things actually. First, Dr Ali Selim was hawking a book and second, being on the radio does not equal representation. 

I know this because I have been on the radio several times speaking about atheism and will be again. I’ve even had a weekly newspaper column where I got to extoll the virtues of atheism. And of course both these platforms are perfectly meaningless. 

Am I representative of Irish Atheism? Of Kerry Atheism? Of any atheists? I figure about a dozen atheists know me by name and most of them think I’m a bit of a dick. So who or what do I represent? 

I represent the men (it’s mostly men) who love the sound of their own voices so much that they call radio stations and write to newspaper editors. I am, in fact, a loudmouth with a surfeit of opinions. I may firmly believe that I would feel more comfortable living in a secular republic, but I have no proof anyone else would. 

Radio stations don’t go out onto the street and ask random people, ‘are you an ordinary atheist’ or ‘are you an ordinary Muslim‘ and then invite them to speak about their concerns. What they get are the loudmouths. And it doesn’t matter how sincere the loudmouths are, we are outliers. So I can dismiss Dr Ali Selim.

But an emotion was provoked, does that mean I am islamophobic? 

I don’t know. I don’t get to say some of my best friends are Muslims because none of my friends are Muslim. But I can surmise, based on my opinion of my friends who profess a faith in Roman Catholicism, that I am not entirely without prejudice. 

I do have Roman Catholic friends, but I struggle to imagine sharing my life with one. I just can’t imagine the coming together of such disparate world views. 

I’ve seen it done, yet it still seems too unlikely to me. I’d feel the same about someone who believed in homeopathy or paganism or someone who thinks nationalism is anything more than a hobby to be indulged in on weekends.

Is it naive or cynical to think love does not conquer all? 

So am I islamophobic? I’m not sure I cam say without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not.

I do know for a certainty that I fear the addition of even more religiosity in an already overwhelmingly religious nation. I know I fear certain aspects of Islam and I fear the energy Muslims may give to the Roman Catholic conservatives who already have their feet on the throats of women and LGBTQ people. 

I am also subject to my own values, and those values do not allow for prejudice against minorities. And in my world, Muslims do constitute a minority. In my world Muslims should be as loud, proud, pushy and obnoxious as any culchie atheist shouting for more secularism in this god ridden country. 

So yes, I think I may be islamophobic, perhaps a little less than I was yesterday, but the prejudice is there. It’s there, living right beside an obligation to do something about it. 

Eighth Amendment? Women deserve better.

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 10 September 2014 edition.

Over the past few decades an unknown number of Chinese women have been forced to have abortions. This is because the Chinese government has a strict one-child policy. It is rightly condemned as a barbaric practice. We all agree women deserve better than this. 

When the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act passed last year, I imagined Ireland was going to treat women better. I was wrong. Women can now be forced to continue with pregnancies they wish to end. They can be threatened with force-feeding and pressured into consenting to major surgery. Don’t women deserve better than this? 

Why do some women in Ireland now face forced births? Is it simply the result of bad legislation? Is it because our politicians are too cowardly to offend the people who favour forced births? Or is it because they don’t think women deserve any better?

All law concerning women’s reproductive health has since 1983, been subject to the Eighth Amendment. No one under 49 years old has been offered the opportunity to remove that Amendment. Not a single woman of reproductive age has been able to vote on the Constitutional Amendment which limits their access to reproductive care. Surely those women deserve better? 

If our politicians remain steadfast in their cowardly refusal to address the Eighth Amendment they could at least seek to reduce the harm caused by the resultant legislation. We now know that only girls and women in poverty or in the care of the State are unable to travel to the UK for abortions. The government has it within its power to ensure no woman is denied an abortion because of financial straits or citizenship issues. 

It is the very least that women deserve from a government who refuses to offer them a genuine choice.