On 2 October 2011, I pressed my finger on the ‘Publish’ button, and my blog took up its tiny place on the internet.
It was Andrew – someone whose life has taken him out of mine, but who for a short while was significant to me – who suggested I joined him and the thousands – millions – of people for whom the blog had become the modern diary; for many of us it’s no longer possible to have a thought or a feeling or a memory (or a dinner) without sharing it with a world of varying size and interest. My excuse was, I’m a writer now. I must write. And have a home for my words.
I backdated my blog, so that I could include ‘live’ pieces about the scattering of my mum’s ashes which I started in 2009, when she died (The Long Goodbye); of readings at various short story events that had begun with my first ever accepted piece in January 2010 (Short Stories Live and True Storytelling Live); of the first exhilarating steps into publication in March 2010 (Short Stories). And then I added to it, as a way of keeping track of where I had got to, where I wanted to go.
I illustrated it with a photo taken by my friend Sophie in February 2011, to accompany a non-fiction piece I was writing about my fear of poetry, head down, pen in hand, looking like a writer, and I pressed ‘Publish’.
The photo has changed. But the one that currently heads the blog is still a few years old – taken at my desk in an office that I left in May 2014.
And so much has left and changed in the five years since I pressed ‘Publish’.
The leavings: in May 2013, a heartbroken uncle, in his eighties and never the same since the death of his wife (my mum’s beloved sister and my much-loved aunt) in February 2011. In January 2014, shockingly and unexpectedly, my cousin Ron – one of my layer of family – the first of our gang of 17 to die. In the space of three years, the mother, father and only child of this branch of my family were cut from my life.
Then, in August 2014, Jim Hillier left, too. It hit me harder than I would have imagined, as I realised the impact he had had on my life. When I thought about how much he had changed it, what he had opened up for me.
It stopped for a bit, the permanent leaving. I may have left some amazing colleagues when I walked out of that office in May 2014, some of them hanging out of the window shouting after me as I tearfully made my way to a weekend in Leeds with another friend and escapee from that particular job, but the leaving was temporary. They are all still in my life, in one way or another. I attended the weddings of Alice and Kellye in June and August of this year. Only this morning, Dominic shared a memory on Facebook about a particularly hilarious time six of us spent as colleagues in Vilnius. My birthday last week was attended by Roberta (previous attendees Elaine, Tasha and Alice being on holiday or honeymoon; Dom now living in Singapore). As Jane prepares to return to Australia, Catharina will join the rest of us to say goodbye to her. Tasha now lives a few streets away from me, Matthew having accused me of drip-feeding her with propaganda about the area throughout the years we sat together in that office. Meeting for drinks, and parties, to eat food, to talk about life and books – all of these things still keep us together, because for a few years we were a perfect storm of colleagues who really liked each other, made each other laugh, spent riotous nights creating memories and hangovers, helped each other through the hardest of times, and so stayed in touch as one by one we leaked out of the cracks in that office.
But the permanent leavings: they’ve not stopped. We all know 2016 has been a bastard of a year; we all know about the high-profile deaths. But it started for me very early in January, when my friend Isabelle died from the cancer that had been discovered only 14 months before. At Easter, my cousin Ken, not one of the 17 I knew well, but one of the 17 nonetheless, died too.
In between that, Bowie. I liked Bowie. Always had. Not exclusively, not always enthusiastically, but he’d always been there; a backdrop, a soundtrack to every part of my life. I simply wasn’t prepared for the way I pinned all my grief onto him. I wasn’t prepared for the way I would become obsessed with having to hear his voice – not so much singing, but speaking. I downloaded podcasts and old interviews and as I wandered the streets of Limerick and Sligo on a work trip a week or so after his death, I listened to his cracked laugh – surprisingly regular and enlivening – and the sadness that slipped into his voice when he talked about his young daughter, about the possibility of not being there as she grew up.
Of course, when I cried about him, I was crying about Isabelle and the daughters she knew she would leave behind. And I was crying for my own past, for the things that I’d lost, or given up, or not taken better care of.
But then there is change. Good change.
New job. New friends to add to the old. Journeys to new places. New spaces in which to write and think and walk and swim and read. To recover and accept and see.
Ten stories published on websites, three in magazines and three in different fiction and non-fiction anthologies. Over a dozen public readings, including true storytelling revelations. A screenplay. An entire, complete screenplay.
The slow overcoming of the fear of the blank page, the blank screen.
And now a blank CD sleeve, courtesy of one of those new friends, a musician who has sent the writers and artists he knows a blank sleeve for his band’s forthcoming new release. All he asks is that we fill it.
And that’s the best thing we can ask of ourselves, of our lives, isn’t it?