“And who are you?”

From an untitled event held in Belfast on 4th November, 2012. By Padraig O Tuama. Read before the giving of a gift.

For all our talk of learning from the other, this is only a task that can be begun, and begun and begun and begun. It never ends. It only begins.

When you say “this is what I think”  you are, at best, only speaking for one of the voices that is in you – it may be the voice that is loudest, it may be the voice that is the smartest, it may be the voice that is the clearest, or the least afraid, or the most afraid.

You are, at best, only marginally friendly with all of the others that inhabit your own body. There are bones in you that you will never befriend, rarely listen to, and regularly reduce to silence.

Once, I was walking across a road and an old priest was on the footpath. As I crossed the road, he said to me “And who are you?” Even though I gave him an answer, the truer answer is “I will give you the answer to that question when I discover who I am with you”. We are only ever a bit of ourselves in any one moment. Today I am this bit, tomorrow that bit.

And that’s not really a problem. It’s probably just fine. It’s probably just fine.

Some of you were phoned, some of you weren’t. Some of you feel special, others don’t. Some of you were always the other – not picked for the sports team, not at the top of the class.

And you’re probably okay with this. And it probably won’t last for ever.

So, here’s a call for all of us. Come forward. Take a bit of a mirror. You will never know all of your self because your self isn’t all of its self yet… if it ever will be. Take a bit of a mirror. See a bit of yourself today. See a bit of your self tomorrow.

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Seven time zones to the East of me

From an untitled event held in Belfast on 4th November, 2012. By Jon Hatch.

My wife and my children are on the other side of the world. Right now, they are seven time zones to the East of me.

If you open Google Earth and go to West Mayo, zoom in to 33,000 ft., point yourself toward the western horizon and click the button to head in that direction, it takes 40 minutes to reach Bigfork MT. You fly until you see land then keep going until you see mountains, turn north until you see the Canadian border, then fly west again until you see mountains, then south until you see Flathead Lake. How do I know? I’ve done it. Why? I was sitting on my bed one night and I was bored and I was lonely.

The actual travel takes from very early morning to very late at night. How do I know? I’ve done it. Last December. And I will do it again this December.

We have been separated from each other for over a year now. I won’t be able to live with them until next April, when I complete my academic studies.  It’s been a hard time for all of us. For this time in our family’s life, we have communicated with each other just like this: by skype. I see Iain and Eilís for ten minutes a day before they go to school. They have breakfast and I have lunch. My wife Amy and I skype once a week, on Saturday, for an hour or so. We also have email and Facebook throughout the day as well. But our face time is on Saturdays.

As challenging as it has been, I am not complaining. It’s a hundred times better than what a husband in Ireland and a wife and children in America a century ago would have had. When my grandmother emigrated from rural Roscommon to America in 1914, she never saw her parents or her five brothers ever again, ever. The 5000 miles that separated America from Connaught was as permanent as the grave.

But, for a time, my family’s life together has been devoid of much of its intimacy. We don’t touch each other. We don’t breathe each other. A one-second delay gives conversation its own special challenges. And yet the technology, which every so often feels so deficient, allows us an intimacy that was impossible for the generations before us. So, the intimacy of technology is intimacy nonetheless. It is intimacy with those far away, as I finally complete my research and writing on the estrangement of people who are very close to each other.

Belfast exists in the intimacy of estrangement. For four years I have concerned myself with those whose intimacy is that their back gardens share a nine-metre high barrier or their neighbourhoods share a locked gate. Much of their interaction is only negative, when a bottle or a stone is hurled from the other side.

I am not unaware of the irony that my life right now is a tension. It is a tension between one technology that invites those far away to intimacy and another technology that allows those very close to never meet.

In one sense, my family that I adore and long after are, for now, the ‘others’. In another sense, the people who made my family so unwelcome that they had to flee are, for now, intimate companions.

I am far away.
I am so close.
I am the other.
The other is me.

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Hell is other people – Part II

From an untitled event held in Belfast on 4th November, 2012. By Cary Gibson.

Hell is other people. Other people are mind-bendingly beautiful. They twist and turn our words and gestures into their own. They colonise our desires and bring us to our knees. They take pleasure from our pleasure and pain from our pain. They don’t know when to say yes or no or stop or start or touch or refrain or speak or hush. They arrive unasked and too early or too late. They touch something deep in us with no permission and draw our deepest longings up from our insides like moths to a flame. They leave us gasping for more and aching for more. They are puzzles that we did not ask for and can never solve. And on the day that we come across the answer – finally a way to understand, to make better contact, to know, to hold to possess – it is not enough. We stand helpless as the answer turns to dust in the face of the ‘thing’ that is THEM. The labels wash out. Categories won’t extend. Classifications buckle.

Nothing works. The other is other is other is other is other. They will not submit.

And then a voice. Listen to it. It rises from somewhere you do not understand. But you do not have to struggle. You do not have to strain.  You do not have to understand, to translate, to transpose, to negotiate, to contextualise, to apply logic, to display serious interdisciplinary concern, to squeeze between dialectical tension, to synthesise, to apologise, to undertake hermeneutical analysis or to smile through gritted teeth.

The voice speaks a word and the word is…..

Sssshhhh…..don’t say it. Watch it work….watch it bind your neighbor to his enemy; watch it open like a prayer on your white,  white bedroom sheets; watch it walk through this world in way you never can or will.

Watch how they are separated by skin. A skin you cannot get inside and to feel the deepest confession they utter. What a magnificent, terrible gift that separation is.

The word is…the word is many words…delight, dignify, celebrate, welcome, befriend, uphold, remember, embrace, bless, create, … listen.

And when you have submitted, when you have given up your secrets, your claims, your voices….then it will be cacophonous.

This is how to be here. When you hear you will be here.

Look around…they are among you….the others. They are a terrible & beautiful gift to us, the others.

Do not let them get away.

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Hell is other people – Part I

From an untitled event held in Belfast on 4th November, 2012. By Chris Fry. Read through distortion by an unseen face.

Hell is other people.  Other people are mind-bendingly frustrating.  They twist and turn our words and gestures into their own.  They colonise our desires and push them into slavery.  They take pleasure from our pain and pain from our pleasure.  They don’t know when to say yes or no or stop or start or touch or refrain or speak or hush.  They arrive unasked and too early or too late.  They touch something deep in us with no permission and draw our deepest longings up from our insides like moths to a flame.  They leave us gasping for more and aching for less.  They are puzzles that we did not ask for and can never solve.  And on the day that we come across the answer – finally a way to understand, to make better contact, to know, to hold to possess – it is not enough.  We stand helpless as the answer turns to dust in the face of the ‘thing’ that is THEM.  The labels wash out.   Categories won’t extend.  Classifications buckle.

Nothing works.  The other is other is other is other is other.  They will not submit.

And then a voice.  Listen to it.  It rises from somewhere you do not understand.  But you do not have to struggle.  You do not have to strain.  You do not have to understand, to translate, to transpose, to negotiate, to contextualise, to apply logic, to display serious interdisciplinary concern, to squeeze between dialectical tension, to synthesise, to apologise, to undertake hermeneutical analysis or to smile through gritted teeth.

The voice speaks a word and the word is…..

Sssshhhh…..don’t say it.  Watch it work….watch it bind your neighbour with the skin of the Jews; watch it cut eye-slits in your white, white bedroom sheets; watch it walk a catwalk in the Somali plains; watch it feed a bible to a starving child…..

The word is…the word is many words…exterminate, cleanse, obliterate, subjugate, alienate, ignore, humiliate, desecrate, undo, neutralise…..silence.

And when they have submitted, when they have given up their secrets, their claims, their voices….then it will be quiet.

This is how not to be here.  When you no longer hear you will no longer be here.

Don’t look around…they are among you….the others

Do not let them get away.

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Back at the MAC

Image!

Don’t be fooled by Facebook’s trickster plan to get everyone turning up early. It’s really at 7.30pm! Hope to see you there.

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Apparently we’re omnipresent now….

Since we won’t be at Greenbelt this year, on 25th August we will be staging IKONBELT: our own creative arts festival, in Jonny’s garden in Belfast. We’ve got a great line up including Rachel Austen, Burning Codes, Glenn Patterson,  and more. Sign up on Facebook.

We’re still a bit sad that we won’t be at Greenbelt though, so we thought we’d also appear at Greenbelt. If you’re going to be at Greenbelt, you can experience us not being there at midnight on Saturday 25th August in the InSense venue.

See you (or not) then!

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The Strong Story

By Shirley-Anne McMillan (Performed at ‘Hush’ on 15th January, 2012)

The Strong Story

(for Joel and Cary)

There was once a child who wanted to find a story, a strong story that would last forever, for longer than the child’s death and even beyond the death of death. ‘If I can find a strong story,’ they said to themselves, ‘I will truly have done something good.’

So the child set about thinking about the strong story. ‘It must be a story about love,’ they said, ‘Because I have heard that nothing is stronger than love, not even death. So if the strong story speaks of love it may be as strong as love. It may even last beyond love.’

The child began to look for the story. They travelled to the end of their village to look, but it was not there. They travelled to the end of of the city, but it was not there. They travelled to the end of the country. But it was not there. They travelled across every ocean. They travelled into the skies. They travelled over rainbows. But it was not there. They travelled to the outside edges of the ends of the earth. And when the child had taken their final step, there they found the story.

And it was a strong story. It spoke about birth- the thoughts before birth and the struggle to become alive. It spoke about life- the worship of childhood and the struggle to avoid death. It spoke about death-  the letting go, the nails in the coffin, the final collapse into the embrace of eternity, and the sleep of forever. And it spoke about forever, which was the best kept secret of the universe.

It was a good story, and the child, who was now an old child, lifted it in their arms and gathered it in, holding it close to their chest, and it began to seep into them in the way that stories do, and it began to make a dark protective outline around their heart. When the old child held it away from  their chest they could feel the outline fade a little and they felt their heart to be a little less protected and they felt a little less safe.

‘Everyone needs this story!’ thought the old child. ‘Nobody realises how unsafe they are without it! And as it is a strong story it will last as long as love, perhaps even longer, and people may feel safe forever if they hold this story near to their heart’.

And so the old child thought deeply about how best to share the strong story. It took them a long time to think about it because they could feel the importance of it stretching like the beam of a brilliant light, from the story in their hands to the far reaches of the horizon and further.

And eventually this is what they did:

The old child took the strong story and they tore it up into many tiny pieces, enough so that everyone on the planet might have just enough. Some would have have a part concerning birth to protect their heart. Some would have a part concerning childhood to protect their heart. Some would have a part concerning death to protect their heart. And, knowing that forever was the best kept secret in the universe, the old child kept the whole of this part to themselves and they locked it in a pocketwatch and they put it in their breastpocket, and they felt the heavy outline begin to surround their heart as they sighed the breath of the knowledge of safety once more.

It took many years for the old child to distribute the pieces of the strong story and a great many years more to convince the people to hold it close to their hearts. But finally it was done. The old child was an ancient child now.

The day after they had delivered the final piece of the strong story to the last person left, they sat down on a wooden bench in a crowded park. The bench was carved with the names of people who wanted to mean something and the ancient child smiled to themselves thinking that their life’s work would now be carved in the lives of everyone else.

It was a spring day and children were holding balloons of different colours and the wind was gentle as it shushed the tallest branches of the trees against one another. And that is when the ancient child noticed The Difference. It was hard to tell what it was at first but eventually they felt the source of The Difference in their heart. The heavy dark outline that protected the ancient child’s heart had held everything in it, but it had also prevented anything from getting out. The ancient child’s heart had stopped working.

In a panic the ancient child took the pocket watch from their breast pocket and opened it and in the safety of the words of the strong story was written something about forever which the child had long since forgotten and could no longer understand. They dropped the pocket watch and the piece of the strong story and put their hands to their head as the dark outline began to fade and their body began to disappear.

Just then a young child with a red balloon approached the ancient child. The young child reached out and took the hand of the ancient child away from their eyes and they looked at one another.

‘I have ruined the world,’ cried the ancient child in sorrow.

‘No,’ said the young child, ‘The part of the story which tells of forever has ruined you. All else is everything that the world already knew, and so those parts of the story changed nothing and our hearts remain fragile. The strong story is no more strong than this: that you are guilty of a small mistake which we will remember in honour of your great love for all people.’

With this, the remnant of the strong story that was held in the pocketwatch became a small blue butterfly and the ancient child watched it fly beyond the colourful balloons of the children in the park and into the spring sky and beyond.

The forever part of the story about love became a legend that people would long for and wonder about but they never forgot the love of the child who had wandered the earth to teach them what they already knew, that the parts of the strong story of love that we hold close to our hearts cannot protect us from harm but neither will they stop our hearts from working and although we die they will continue, carving the stories we make into the lives we leave behind, to the far reaches of our horizons, and further.

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