The first few days of spring have surprised us already. Over the weekend my city was lit up a little more with high skies, and things start to feel possible again. Recently someone told me his rule is to never make big life decisions in January when reliable feelings are in hibernation. Sound advice, though I would extend it to February too. Here we are now with the prospect of Dublin dragging itself out of the dark winter days to remind us of why we defend our decision to live here to others and ourselves. Yes, the early-year slump is a killer but think of those magic, light-filled days ahead.
Yesterday I felt like climbing under the duvet and never coming out again. Two bits of post landed at once and knocked me flat. One told me I’d made a stupid mistake on a funding application that I’d had high hopes for; the other was a curveball relating to my mother’s house, which we’re in the process of emptying after her death a few months ago. Both felt crap, but together they were overwhelming.
The past 16 months for me have been – what? Indescribable. I’ve never worked so hard. I’ve never been so public. I’ve never had people ask me my opinion so often. I’ve never talked so much about my inner moral compass. #WakingTheFeminists took all of us by surprise. I reacted by putting my head down and charging on as hard as I could in the push for equality for women in Irish theatre. I’m a pretty private person, but I sucked it all up and said yes to every opportunity to speak publicly that came my way. I realised we’d be the flavour of the month only for so long, so I used all my skills and energies during the year to see how far we could go with the campaign. It was terrifying, exhilarating, satisfying. And exhausting.
And then in September my mother died unexpectedly. My sister and brother and I quickly put together a funeral that was all about her and the extraordinary life she had created for herself – as an artist and as a single mother. I used my new-found public speaking skills to get through a short speech without breaking down. The word most used to describe her during the day was “fierce”. She was not, in any way, the archetypal ‘Irish Mammy’. People who were at the service and didn’t know her told me they came away with a new energy and desire to live life more fully, which is about the best tribute I can imagine.
Three days after the funeral my family and I met to take part in the March For Choice. There was a fierce, quiet strength in the drizzle as we moved down the quays in the crowd. I wasn’t entirely there I realise now – my mind wasn’t anywhere. I felt flattened by a week that had changed my personal laws of physics. We knew she’d have been on the march with us if she could – she brought me to my first pro-choice march as a young child. As we began to clear her house of a lifetime of collected things, we found a rusty turquoise badge from 1983 saying, “I’m Against The Amendment”.
There is so much to listen to at the moment in the world – so many opinions, counter opinions, lies and half truths. I addictively scan my social media while simultaneously wanting to cut myself off from the world entirely. I feel like I get into bigger personal slumps since my smartphone has been part of my life. But I also feel more supported and connected with my peers than ever. Still, I’m wary of adding to a general online wash of outrage, because I can find it so overwhelming myself. But at the root of it all, the voice at the core of me that’s being daily swamped by verbiage, is still insistently saying REALLY? Are we STILL talking about this shit? How come the pursuit of women’s equal rights isn’t the personal crusade of every intelligent human in the world? I remind myself to stay tuned to that voice.
I remember my mother once said to me, “I never did anything I didn’t want to do”. What an extraordinary thing to be able to say. Throughout my childhood I had the privilege, through her, of knowing people who quietly took their own path. Not always rallying loudly against a system, but embodying a quiet, dignified resistance in the way they chose to live their own lives. These were not the kind of people I saw on Glenroe on a Sunday night, but they were just as much a part of Irish society for me. It takes strength to not fall into step with everyone around you – get a real job, splash out on a wedding, buy that house, have those kids, settle down. I appreciate the people around me who resist the norm and don’t do these things; it takes energy and courage to live an unexpected life.
Spring is definitely on its way. We’ve tidied up her garden, ready for the new growth. Ready to sell the house. I saw the first few heads of daffodils there last weekend, pushed up through the black soil. I’m readier, steadier today. This quiet fight in me is getting back up out of the duvet, trying to stay true to the things that matter to me. A quiet resistance is enough for now, a persistence in trying to shape my world by doing things the way I see fit, not just the expected way. I’ll keep it close to my heart and hold onto it forever.