Most of the species we’ve encountered have overcome all kinds of adversity without a caretaker. It’s the challenge of surviving on their own that helps them to evolve.– Captain Kathryn Janeway
The year I committed to living as though it were my last is heading towards its conclusion—and the one thing that has not changed is my need to reflect on what I have learned and to set goals for the New Year, for 2018.
A few months ago, when I decided I would do the Marathon Des Sables again, I sat down and meticulously made out a training schedule and financial plan. The events leading up to my doing it the first time plagued me, every time I went outside the door. I binned the training schedule after three weeks.
Despite looking for another race, nothing buzzed me like the first time I saw the Marathon Des Sables. I left it and told God it was over to Him.
Nearly six weeks ago now, I had a vivid dream. I had written a story called Apples and the dream revolved around events after its publication. Awake, I found that the details had plastered themselves to the lining of my brain, and no matter what I did or wrote, I could see it. Two weeks later, I could not take it anymore, typed Apples at the top of the page and began writing. At reaching nearly two thousand words, I stopped and could not continue. It was bringing me somewhere I didn’t feel ready to go to.
Last week I attended a talk given by Dame Marina Warner, part of the Truth To Be Told series organised and hosted by the UCD Humanities Institute. I left the house at 4.30pm to ensure I would not be late for the 6pm start. I hate being late. I hate being late because it is a practice I associate with being disrespectful. I parked my car at 5.40pm and walked around looking for a building I was not familiar with. To cut a long story short, the venue had changed, I was late and had to deal with the onslaught of shitty feelings for five minutes, before finally being able to hear what she was saying.
On leaving, I took my time walking through the corridors, enjoying the feeling of being in the halls of learning, and its particular smell.
Last Saturday afternoon, I attended a function held in the beautiful building that is the Boston College, hosted by the Women’s History Association of Ireland. I arrived ten minutes early and was welcomed by their current Membership Secretary Dr. Fionnuala Walsh and current President Dr.Sara-Anne Buckley. There were words delivered by; Sinéad McCoole, historian, author, exhibition curator, who spoke of collecting items and photographs and digitising them; Senator Ivana Bacik, who spoke about Votail 100, the 2018 celebrations marking women’s right to vote and finally Dr. Sara-Anne Buckley who spoke about the conferences, events and plans coming up in 2018. I was transfixed. I felt like someone who had landed into a secret coven, drinking up potions of knowledge made up by all these eminent, vibrant, wonderful women—finding threads of myself.
On leaving, I rushed back to my car so I could cry without anyone seeing me do so. The overwhelming sense of grief stayed with me for nearly two days—what might have been—if.
Over the course of the past few months, I have watched, on Facebook, fellow MDSers (Marathon Des Sables participants), announce their new racing challenges, set up their fundraising pages to raise much needed money for people who find themselves without a home. Some are doing the Ice Ultra, 230kms through the Artic in Sweden and one of the most gorgeous, generous, kind, thoughtful couples I know, Tanya and Genis from South Africa are doing the 6633 Arctic Ultra (Canada), as is one of my tent mates Paul Deasy, who, only last weekend, ran 100kms from Middleton to Clonakilty to run the Clonakilty Marathon—pulling a sled (Paul’s Fund Page), as part of his training regime.
But still, the sand called me. Still, the anger came back when I thought of Morocco. And still. I exercised patience.
I remembered during my second day in the desert, competing in the Marathon Des Sables, one of my tent mates and another competitor, who had already run their race that day, ran back into the night for a couple of kilometres to look for me when my tracking device had failed to locate me on their phones. It was when I was saying goodbye the following day that they told me they had done so. Although their action became the bar I would use to reconstruct my idea of friendship—it is only in the last few weeks that a clearing has become available for the emotional impact of that thoughtfulness to surface.
One of those men was Tom. Tom who, together with Lillian Deegan, last year ran the Wild Atlantic Way (all 2,500 kms) raising €10,000 for Pieta House and Billy’s World Ireland—Tom whose post came up on my Time Line on 5th December 2017 with a picture—MDS Peru. Tom had competed and completed the inaugural Marathon Des Sables, Peru, finishing 21st overall and 2nd place in the veteran category. I watched the video and butterflies started fluttering in my stomach—I found myself gasping for breath as they rushed down the dune. I remembered how fucking good it feels to feel challenged. I watched it nine times. Nine. All in a row.
Some time ago, a university in Ireland did a call out for papers for an upcoming conference (2018). I took the bull by the horns and submitted a proposal. It’s good. No. It’s really good. But. Today I sent an email and asked that it be withdrawn. You see, I have spent the last three years of my life scrambling out of a fire I was thrown into. Tending to the burns, layers of ugliness and effectively reconstructing myself. What I never imagined or anticipated was being introduced to a new set of emotions. I call them real because I do not at present have another word available to me. There is no mania or rage—no extremes to manage. Just appropriate emotions in response to situations—ones that require getting used to navigating, balancing and re-balancing.
After Saturday, I understood it will be a while before I am ready for such things—not from a place of vulnerability, but just to get used to these new feelings.
What I am ready to do is finish my story, Apples, because I know now, a place exists beyond it.
What I am also ready to do is get lost in obsession—schedules, training, visualising—my brain is mine again, wholly and completely (though I carry Medusa on my shoulder now, just in case) enhanced greatly with new goals and challenges to achieve, where dependency on others is limited.
My next collection of essays, far more comprehensive than my previous ones, is pencilled in for release, November 2018 —and my new divine goal — MDS Peru 2019 means I need to create a little more space and on that basis, I have decided that this will be my last entry for several months. I am also disappearing myself off my social media platforms until 2 January 2018—I need to be focused and clear bringing in the New Year — parce que, c’est une année pour moi - seulment.
So, on that note, I wanted to say a big Thank you to everyone who shared my books, blogs, art and tweets, sent me a smile, encouraging word or a compliment—all are remembered and greatly appreciated.
To everyone who bought and read my books, Thank you — hands up, I did an Ally McBeal Baby Dance when I got my first email advising royalties were being paid into my account, not a whole lot, but it brought home to me the reality that my work was being read.
And finally, wishing everyone a New Year that shows up EXACTLY the way YOU want it to.