(I wrote this last week when I was in Belfast and feeling miserable. I’m now in Galway and having a rather lovely time. I find I write better when I’m pissed off though- it’s harder to write when you’re in buoyant humour.)
My head is sore. It is thudding and I feel stressed, and when I am stressed I have a tendency to choke. I have choked on water, which I was only drinking to alleviate my tension headache and render me more energetic and sprightly. My throat is now scratchy and I have caused some consternation in the coffee shop where I sit at the bar by the window, in a skirt which is perhaps a trifle too short for such perching. Wouldn’t it be great to be 25 again and perch wherever you wished with youthful insouciance?
I digress. I am thankful that no one else is at the bar and has not therefore been sprayed with lukewarm latte. The reason I’m in the coffee shop is that when Marian Keyes came to Belfast (as part of the brilliant CQAF) she made the mistake of asking if anyone had any questions. Up shot my hand, of course, and I asked if she had any hints for being disciplined and keeping at the writing. I asked because when I’m at home all day the lonesomeness makes me go a bit peculiar: I end up putting on load after load of laundry and starting, but not finishing, household tasks. I end up writing very little but accomplishing fuck all else. The whole experience is deeply unproductive, and unsatisfying.
‘Go to a coffee shop,’ advised Marian. I know that Jan Carson writes in coffee shops. Jan Carson writes in airports. I think that with the amount Jan Carson writes she must also write in the bath, on the toilet and perhaps even while she sleeps.
‘I can’t go to a coffee shop’ I tell Marian. ‘I know too many people. I chat.’
‘Could you perhaps go to a coffee shop that is further away?’ suggests Marian, in a kindly tone, but one that hints that I may be a bit cerebrally challenged.
‘I know a lot of people,’ I reply. It’s true. I could go to Coalisland and I’d know someone. And Newcastle. I have yet to walk down Newcastle High Street and not meet anyone. Or Donegal. Any part thereof. When on holiday I like to go ‘relaxed and make-up free’; a look which could frighten small children, and indeed sometimes does. This is not a look that works in Donegal, when every corner you turn, whether in Rathmullan or Rossnowlagh, you meet someone you know, and inevitably you look like a bag of shite and you have a face on you like a well slapped arse because it’s raining and your children are there, annoying you.
So today I’m in a different coffee shop and I’ve now sliced my finger opening up a packet of paracetamol. I now have a headache, sore throat and sliced finger. There are drops of blood on my new, rose gold laptop. I am in ‘District’ on Stranmillis and they have already offended my sensibilities by handing me a iced latte in a plastic cup. That’s what happens when you nip for a pee while they make your order. ‘What is this?’ I enquire.
‘It’s an iced latte’ says the girl.
‘I wanted a regular one-shot latte and I’m sitting in so I would like it in a proper cup,’ I state, as icily as the beverage that I didn’t actually order.
That’s Karma for you, she’s likely thinking, as I sit, coughing and bleeding in my t00-short-for-a forty-year-old skirt.
There is an American behind me chatting about his workload, setting boundaries, and Jesus. As you know, I have nothing against Jesus and would have a fair few conversations with Him myself, but not loudly, in a coffee shop. I consider asking him to say a wee prayer for me, but reflect that if he’s any sort of Christian he’s already noticed my pathetic self and has sent one up on my behalf. I fear too that he may suggest we pray together and there’s few things I hate more than public praying. The last time though, that I was involved in a spot of public praying, it had unexpectedly good results. It was in the winter a couple of years ago, on a wet Wednesday afternoon upon the Ormeau. I was trotting past St Jude’s Church of Ireland with the girls and there was George, their friendly rector, waving animatedly from the gazebo from which they dish out tea and coffee and hot chocolate, to believers and non-believers alike. In we dandered to say ‘hi’ and one of the young people (God love her, she’ll know again to keep her mouth shut) asked how I was, whereupon I subjected her to a rant about how dreadful life was and the unfairness and the terribleness of everything. She nodded, sagely. I then narrowed it down to one particular problem which was causing me a disproportionate amount of distress.
‘Shall we pray about it?’ she asked.
Now oddly, I hadn’t seen that coming, (though clearly that was naïve.) But anyway, pray we did and flip me, but on and on she went, and the kids were looking baffled and pulling my hand to go and we were, as I said, on the Ormeau, where I know nearly everyone and there I was engaged in this very public and very protracted act of praying. I was a wee bit embarrassed. But, and here’s the weird thing, and I know you don’t expect this from my Sour Wee Bastard blog and trust me, I don’t expect it myself and I’m as surprised as you are, but I walked away feeling almost perceptively lighter. AND the problem I had, all but evaporated. It just fecked off. I stopped agonising over it and felt a great deal better. I don’t know what Marian Keyes would make of that really.
So there you are. I started this post to write about feeling shit and it ended on the ‘power of prayer’. You just never know what’s going to happen when you sit down to write. One of life’s lovely surprises.
(I wouldn’t really recommend ‘District’ by the way. Bit pretentious and I don’t think they take the prospect of environmental catastrophe seriously, by the looks of them).