Jean-Paul Sartre (an edgy bastard who I won’t even pretend to have read) once (supposedly) claimed that hell was other people, Matt Colquhoun corrected this by claiming that hell was the inescapability of other people – both were wrong, hell is the inescapability of other people’s small-talk during a wake. I feel weird as I write this mini-post, I’ve a funeral to go to in roughly eleven hours and I feel extremely voyeuristic to even mention this point – I’ll probably send this draft to a few friends (assuming I even finish the thing) before dumping it on this Neocities page and will presumably be unable to read it ever again after it ends up on there. I don’t want to dwell on this sense of grief or loss for much (if any) of this piece, I don’t want to play as some sort of victim and i don’t want to come off in a similar tone as I did when I sent countless emails to explain why my assignments weren’t going to come in on time for a while – I just want to dwell a bit on the weirdness of rural Irish culture as I start to experience it again (the first time I talked to a person who didn’t live in my house since March was as the family member passed on Tuesday). I’m not sure if there’s much of worth to whoever ends up reading this blog (if this is your first ill post, please go to my Katie Dey piece) but it feels like something I have to get out there – even if it does mean you miss out on a Thursday post where I just copy-paste half of some random book I read a month ago in an attempt to explain the internet.
There is no communication within Irish families (or at least the ones that I know of) – events, illnesses, and experiences lurk behind layers of shame and menial small talk and when something does surface it resembles the Deepwater Horizon. I never knew the specifics about the illness, whatever details I caught from overheard phone calls and the sudden appearance of lit candles in the kitchen were willfully kept silent – we never addressed it so it was never present (even when it was blindingly obvious). Something was clearly wrong but we never spoke of it – opting to instead have the same three conversations about Laois stunning Dublin, ‘Today with Maura and Daithi’, or just whatever was wrong with the weather. I feel that the only piece of literature that ever captured this fundamental miscommunication within our lives is Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ – the main character would shout ‘to hell with all strong silent men!’ from the safety of their room but then revert to talking about tyres once the opportunity to be open arose, an experience that feels scarily relatable as I type this out.
Another piece of media that comes scarily close to capturing this experience (and the one I use to explain it to Americans) is the final skit in the thirty-first episode of the scarily underrated RT webseries ‘Vipers View’. The host (a fictional character originally from our national ‘Trailer Park Boys’ knock-off ‘Hardy Bucks’) mentions how his brother is facing charges for drink-driving. We then cut to an excruciatingly awkward conversation between the Viper and some presumed relative – Viper’s replies grow increasingly dry as he focuses on playing Call of Duty and his relative begins to repeat sentences to the effect of “Sure I suppose it’ll give you a chance to get the aul suit out for something anyways Francis” over and over in the hope of getting some form of a response. This scene cuts hard for me because it represents the non-conversations that define any family gathering I’ve experienced, there’s an urge to make some form of discussion (after all why else would you be there?) but whatever attempts hit the same brick wall that Gar from ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ experienced as he reverted to reminding his father about the tyres on his van. The irony of this blog post (and everything I write really) is that even though I can diagnose this miscommunication over and over (and presumably bore my reader in the process) I will probably never transcend it – the people I will fail to socially distance with later on today will presumably know fuck all about me and I’ll probably revert to cracking minor gags about Dáithí Ó Sé to them. That fact feels oddly suffocating, even if it’s melodramatic as all hell.
There was a picture going around “Tuam and Granard didn’t happen” Twitter a few weeks ago of a large Irish family in the 1930s standing outside their home and something about the way that Americans reacted to it rubbed me the wrong way. A bunch of performative yank Catholics (read: nonces) treated the family portrait as this idealized fantasy, a weird sitcom world where all fifty-five in the family suffer some hardship but they all learn a lesson and get to be together at the end of the day so it’s all grand in the end – in the same way that ‘Normal People’ seems to be a power fantasy for people who peaked while writing their dissertation, this photo seemed like a power fantasy for people who weird out their local congregation by smelling like dead fish – “The type of family whose sons might have volunteered to fight alongside O’Duffy in Spain” some random person remarked, apropos of nothing. The thing that got me overthinking about this image was how easily the bleakness inherent to the lives of those who grew up in 1930s Ireland was brushed away – now I’m not going to claim that everyone was a miserable bastard (it just turns out everyone who wrote literature during that period was) but the way that these people look back at this family reminds me more of kitschy Apple Computer advertisements than anything concrete. Someone asked (presumably cynically) why people avoid having large families “when people back in these days had a ton of kids and had way less” and I feel like the one reply perfectly encapsulates the sentiment I’m chasing after – “ten of those kids left the country and there’s at least two small headstones in the churchyard”. It feels odd to see Americans view abject poverty as some weird tradcath vacation when you’re just about to bury someone who actually lived through it.
I’ve always been troubled about my semi-humorous deification of “culchie culture” (for lack of a better term) – perhaps I’m doing the same thing as these random sceptic tankies fawning over Dev’s Ireland when I joke about RTÉ’s daytime programming or minor local GAA controversies and that idea freaks me out. While working on my last zine ‘fiteclub’ I was obsessed with this idea of “reclaiming culchieism”. “It’s hard to make a piece of art that captures the feeling of finding out the neighbouring village had a major Cumann na mBunscol cheating scandal or realizing you haven’t left the house for days, but that didn’t stop me from trying” as I termed it at the time. I wanted to take the odd experiences of growing up isolated in the middle of nowhere and spit them out in prose at random with a certain detached appreciation. Everything was shite and a bit depressing, but shite and a bit depressing in a way that I found extremely interesting. I think that the small bandcamp netlabel Scauldwave Records gets quite close to doing what I aimed – with songs such as “GAA Lads”, “Carlow Town Is The Cyberpunk Capital Of Europe”, and “The 2015 North Kerry U-21 Championship Final Contested Between Finuge and Ballydonoghue (Remix)” that take a bunch of dense references to experiences I wouldn’t be able to explain to Americans and fills them out with techno presets. I want to ironically joke about mourning the loss of the Blue Bridge, going weeks without talking to people, or the constant rumours of our county getting a KFC but I don’t want to pretend that a younger version of me wasn’t misanthropic about it. Like everything in life it feels like I’m trying to balance my humour out to seem less American – but considering the fact that I’m writing this line at quarter to five in the morning it’s clear that I’m absolutely horrific at being balanced or responsible with anything.