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Ruairi Fallon McGuigan
Alone, a boat on a beach.
You can’t have it and if I can’t have it, no one can.
Abandoned, fluid rises and is sucked out from between its broken ribs.
Stripped away over time.
Tides rise and fall like lungs beneath your chest.
Ribs surround you like a cage and mum keeps on calling it prison,
how does it feel to be back there.
Six hour cycles as the accordion plays in the background.
Alone, arms raised up out of the sand like a toppled crab,
searching for something but what.
Eleven days or years with nothing but your own mind.
The accordion drones on.
How do you feel in there with your own memories,
it’s hard to tell what memories are anymore.
I’ve always loved writing and performing stand-up comedy. It’s like a sped-up version of my anxieties and depressive streaks in real life. In the week before a gig I’ll sit down to write or practice and I’ll be filled with self-doubt, even self-hatred. I’ll ask myself: ‘Do I actually enjoy this anymore?’ or ‘Who am I even doing this for?’ But somehow, regardless of anything, I will push through all of it and perform anyway. And then, maybe more than not, I hear laughter.
I’d be lying if I said all or even most of my insecurities melted away at the sound of laughter. To me, laughter is kind of like one of those little white noise machines I use when I can’t sleep, tossing with worries and woes. The sound temporarily disrupting those endless and exhausting spiralling thoughts I have.
I think that these thoughts are like little rewards for surviving my teens. It’s quite hard to sum up my specific experience of being bullied for an entire scholastic career because, as of five years ago, I came out as a transgender man. Meaning that up until I was twenty-five years old I thought I was a woman and so did everybody else. Funny, people spend your whole life mocking you for looking, sounding or acting like a man and then when you finally agree with them they’ll tell you you will always be a woman. Suffice to say, life was very lonely for me. Nobody ever really ‘got me’. Like probably most comedians I learnt that being funny was a simpler way to get somebody (and when honed) anybody to like you if even just for a second.
Granted, laughter is much easier to attain from a person than their trust or praise. And whilst the former is like a fine wine and the latter is more like boxed wine – I’ve always been a bit of a cheapskate – I can’t be picky about how I get my validation as, quite honestly, the sheer amount I require a day is often twice that of what the average Norn Irish is capable of per year. Perhaps this is why I’m so much of extrovert – I’d rather have a steady supply of sources of validation which I can ask for in manageable chunks than asking unwieldy devotion from a select few (despite what the media say about transgender people being a dangerous cult, I personally don’t have the project management skills to run one myself).
Like I said, stand-up often reminds me a lot of my experience in fighting mental illness. Despite it all, I just keep going and perform – whether it’s to my friends, family, co-workers or strangers. This all sounds so tragic, but it’s not always a bad thing! Sometimes you put on an act then someone laughs or smiles with you and suddenly it’s not an act anymore.
But then suddenly, I didn’t have an audience anymore. And I obviously do not just mean stand-up. Whilst some intrepid comedians and socialites moved online, I did not share their can-do, make-it-work attitude. No matter how much I tried, whenever circumstance – be it work or social – forced me in front of a webcam or front-facing camera, I couldn’t help but feel painfully self-conscious and woefully detached. Sure, I knew when to hit my cues: when to nod, smile, laugh and occasionally say ‘you’re on mute’ but I just couldn’t perform like I used to. Even when I managed to make someone cackle or crack a smile, their laughter never truly reached me. I initially just thought that it was because that indescribable magic spark of a person’s laugh must be somehow lost travelling through routers and ethernet cables onto a screen. Looking back, I realise that what was happening was that for once it truly felt like it wasn’t just me who was performing. Everyone was putting on their best and bravest faces. I wish I’d realised that sooner! Maybe then I wouldn’t have felt so compelled to fall back on my tried and tested method of ‘fake it til you make it’ which quickly spiralled into ‘fake it til you can’t take it’.
I doubt anyone is truly comfortable with being open and honest about how mind-numbingly awful mental illness can be. Personally, I’ve always felt guilty whenever I try. No matter who it is, what I want to talk about, or why, when I speak to someone, I feel that I’m unfairly burdening them. Never more so have I felt this than during lockdown. With every forced laugh or tired-looking smile, I couldn’t help but feel that opening up (despite probably being exactly what I needed) was a cruel thing to foist on people already living through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
I’ve always felt much more comfortable revealing dark, ugly truths about how empty I can feel at times punctuated by jokes to break the unbearable tension – if I ever reveal those dark, ugly truths at all. Now I know that laughter is meant to be the best medicine, but maybe I’ve been misusing and abusing it. Like when your counsellor keeps recommending mindfulness or yoga when what you actually need is a steady job and a safe place to live.
Maybe it’s time to take off the clown shoes for a moment and let you know: I’m lonely and I’m sad. I miss hugging my friends, I miss hearing my dad talk about politics on the drive to my parents’ house, I miss dancing at a sweaty club and I miss those quiet moments where I can’t help but let my guard slip enough to say ‘I’m feeling so depressed’.
Believe me I’d love nothing more than to tie this all off with a pretty bow and a funny joke. At least that way I could finish this piece with my carefully constructed, albeit paper-thin, image of a happy-go-lucky person intact. But maybe it’s better for the both of us if I don’t. Maybe that gives you, dear reader, an opportunity to let your guard down enough to recognise that you too are suffering. Maybe you’ll give yourself a break for feeling tired even when you’ve slept twelve hours or when you’re trying to work from home but have mostly just sat on YouTube watching TikTok compilations. Maybe, emboldened by my embarrassing attempt at being emotionally vulnerable, you will have the courage to speak to someone else in your life honestly about how you’re doing. At the very least I hope you’ll feel less alone.
Thankfully, in this very moment – I do. So thank you for that.
I am never lonely in the classical sense.
None of us really are if we think about it -
Each time I hang a roll of wallpaper
My alcoholic father is there,
Slurring his speech and staggering
While he tells me how to do a perfect job.
And his posthumous advice is invaluable,
His drunken antics hilarious -
Now that time and distance have faded the wounds
Left by watching an addict devolve
Throughout my teenage years.
Each time I bake a loaf of bread from scratch,
Or peel potatoes,
I hear my mother humming tunelessly
And the sense of her presence fills the room
As the dog mooches around and her words
Of advice drift through my mind.
Over twenty years dead and she's still teaching me.
Each time I see a meme that reminds me of a friend
A friend I've lost through time and distance and disagreement
For a moment they are with me
And I see their reaction in my mind's eye.
It's as if we never parted, for a moment.
And the reasons we're apart may still be valid,
But the good times remain and repeat on me,
Like metaphysical bacon - but in a good way.
Loneliness for me is not being alone,
For the people who've impacted my life have made a dent in me.
And that impression bears their form, their wit, their scent.
Loneliness is being misunderstood,
Loneliness is being unseen.
This recipe is a hybrid of an old-fashioned make-do family dish called 'Homity' pie. Super Champ is a dish invented by friend Gerald – the king of comfort food. Wild ingredients always make their way in to my dishes and gathering is key to the enjoyment.
150g salted butter
1 tbsp of butter
1 handful wild garlic
1 handful nettles
1 handful scallions
6 rashers bacon
100g grated cheddar
2 eggs beaten
Place the butter in the freezer for 20 minutes. Once firm, grate the butter into the flour. Gradually add in the cold water one tablespoon at a time mixing with a knife until a shaggy dough forms. Press until just together. Wrap and refrigerate. Turn your oven on to 180°C.
Peel, chop and boil the potatoes until just tender. Add the sliced bacon to a cold pan and fry until crispy. Add the sliced onions, butter and a pinch of salt. Fry the onions until they are softened and add the wild greens (wild garlic and nettles with stems removed) at the last minute until lightly cooked. Mix together with the other ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.
Dust your counter with flour and roll out the pastry into a round to line your dish allowing any extra pastry to hang over the side. Dock the pastry with a fork and pop into the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden. Reduce the temp to 160°C. Dollop the filling in and add remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Cook for a further 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
‘Tanimai’ is my response to the notion of loneliness. Inspired by my memories of nature, growing up in Sri Lanka, and more recent reflections during ‘lockdown’. Sometimes it is challenging to be alone, with your own thoughts and fears, the mind can be a dark place. However there is opportunity to be still and listen, to watch the gentle movement and progression of nature.
A powerful connector, nature unites us all – a solidarity in loneliness.
Strabane Men's Project
Strabane Men's Project are comprised of men in the age range of 55 - 80 years.
Brought together by a shared love of showband music and drama, the group perform a mix of songs, old and new, stories from retired musicians, poetry and vignettes to involve those who prefer a more supportive role.
This project has kept men linked throughout this pandemic, who would otherwise have faced isolation as widowers, carers and/or dealing with their own health issues and mental well-being. This has been a lifeline for them and their families.
Completed under the guidance of Terry McCafferty, Micky Joe Harte and Ronan Doherty (local professional musicians who have been committed to working with this group of 30 men over the last 6 years.
Music to your Ears been supported by various funding awards ACNI, Lottery funding and Covid Support funding and practically supported by the Alley Theatre, Strabane.
Visit the links below to see the lads in action:
Going Back by John Carlin & Alvin McLeood: https://fb.watch/56Spa7XK51/
John McGinley with 'Waiting for Covid' in conversation: https://fb.watch/56SswyNy1b/
Join expert special FX make-up artist Connie McGrath for a live session via Zoom at 15:00 on Friday 14 May.
To sign up and recieve a Zoom invitation to the workshop, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information, vist visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/2906735946272526/
Kitchen Cupboard Makeup Fx Workshop: Maggot Infested Wounds
The ingredients you'll need:
For the wound:
3. Foundation to match wound to skin tone
4. Butter knife/spatula for mixing/blending edges of prosthetic
5. Porridge oats for flaky skin (optional)
7. Note pad and pen
For the fake blood:
1. Golden Syrup
2. Food colouring: red, (blue & green optional)
3. Drinking chocolate powder
5. Fork to mash
8. Spoon to mix
For the bruises:
1. Eyeshadow (range of colours)
2. or the Kryolan Bruise wheel
For the Maggots:
1. Rice (white or brown)
2. Fine point black felt tip marker
Join modern artist Ruth Bate in his studio for a special Instagram Live edition of his YouTube show, Painting With Ruth Bate. Ruth will be working on a Painting from The Master series and listening to a curated playlist of his back catalogue of Alternative music from his work as a solo artist and his band Modern Blonde plus chuckles and chat.
Thursday 13 May – all day long on the NIMHAF instagram page.
Spark Opera Company brings #operasingersofinstagram alive with songs and arias tailored to suit you and your mood.
Using the hashtags #operasingersofinstagram and #nimhaf2021 send your suggestions of moods –melancholy, petulant, elated, jittery, anything goes! – and your favorite opera singers will create a sung playlist to match – all in real time.
With 4 centuries of music to choose from, there's bound to be a tune in tune with how you feel...
'Horrible Creature' was available to watch on the closing day of the 2021 festival on the theme of 'Loneliness'.
In 1915, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle traveled with their young children Giorgio and Lucia to Switzerland to escape the turmoil of World War I. Lucia later trained as a dancer and performed throughout Europe. In the early 1930s she was forced into psychiatric care and underwent treatment at various hospitals across Europe. Horrible Creature is filmed at locations in Switzerland where Lucia spent time, including her primary school and psychiatric hospital. Here, Lucia’s own writing, interpreted by a cast of international dance artists, conjures her world between 1915 and 1950. The film fearlessly explores her difficult family life, her unproven illness, and her undoubted talent.
Director, writer, choreographer, and producer: Áine Stapleton.
Director of Photography: Will Humphris.
Performers: Michelle Boulé, Céline Larrère, Sarah Ryan.
Sound: David Best, Ed Chivers.
Voiceover: Rebecca Warner, Aenne Barr.
Costume: Ivan Moreno Bonica. Editor: José Miguel Jiménez.
Sound mix: Kev Gleeson.
Running time: 68 mins
Funded by: The Arts Council. Partnered by Arts and Disability Ireland’s Connect New Work Award, Dance Ireland, The James Joyce Centre Dublin, The Embassy of Ireland in Switzerland.
Interview with Film Ireland about the making of ‘Horrible Creature’ - http://filmireland.net/2020/01/02/aine-stapleton-director-of-horrible-creature/
“A stunning visual experience” Film Ireland
“Visceral, sensory, vicarious, confusing, disturbing ... See it!” James Joyce Gazette Private
Curated in association with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.