I was at the Doolin Writers festival last weekend. Its my fourth year going to Doolin and the faces are becoming more familiar. I might even remember people’s names when I turn up next year. It’s strange how friendships evolve. I meet someone once a year in a workshop, share a few readings, become firm friends over a few drinks and then don’t see them again for a year or even two, and some people I don’t ever talk to, yet every year I feel a part of something at Doolin! I feel like a fish swimming in a shoal or a starling flying in a murmuration.
Usually, going to festivals, at first, I feel cautious, nervous like a rough sketch of a charcoal character, or a figure in one of Lowry’s paintings. Probably, it is what most people feel, but if the workshop facilitator is good, s/he is able to turn us all into fine art (not saying that Lowry is not fine art). This year the workshop facilitators were excellent and I was turned into a Yeats figure (particularly after a few in Fitz’s bar).
I loved Jessica Traynor’s Poetry Workshop. She is a very adept painter, to continue the metaphor. Her brush strokes were deft, detailed and loving. We discussed and wrote poems about winter – the cold, bleak rawness of winter. I had brought a poem of mine called the Grand Scheme of Things (after Arthur Rimbaud) to workshop. It is a poem about a slow realisation of how little our lives are in the grand scheme of things. It turned out to be the start of an interesting journey.
Pauline Clooney’s workshop on Memoir was fascinating and pointed me in a direction I wasn’t really expecting to take. When I was writing about the previous day, (as per one of Pauline’s exercises) I realised that I had not prepared for this writing weekend, it had merely been a date in my diary. In the morning, I had just got up, got the dog to the kennels, got in the car and driven . I couldn’t even remember which workshops I had signed up for. Describing my day, I suddenly realised that I had lost faith. It was also in the memoir workshop that I met my dad. From his bag he gave me a French baguette, a camembert and a bottle of wine so we sat down and shared it. It was an unexpected pleasure and made me realise how much I have missed him in the last thirty years. Kathy D’Arcy pushed me further down this self-reflective path on our Ginko walk on Sunday.
However, before that I went to Christodoulos Makris’ poetry workshop on experimental sampling which was brilliant. He was measured, gentle, quiet, a most unusual kind of rule breaker. I was still unaware at this stage but his workshop about breaking rules and patterns was to encourage me and gave me confidence to strike out on a slightly path. That path came with our Sunday morning walk with Kathy D’Arcy as a guide.
I had thought I was going for a wind swept guided walk over the cliffs of Moher – presumably Kathy would stop me taking selfies too near the edge. I was wrong – about Kathy and the Cliffs of Moher. The cliff path was closed due to the weather (it was wet and freezing) and Kathy pushed me over an edge I was not expecting.
Apparently, this was a walk involving exploration of self (remember, I had not prepared for this weekend). There were three parts to the walk and each section was to be walked in silence. The first section we had to think about our past. The second section we considered out present and in the final section we thought about the future, the goals we had, the challenges we were going to face. After each section we sat on a rock or a bench in the freezing chill winds and did some free writing – writing anything, without stopping.
I should mention at this point my feelings about the Doolin landscape. I think it is a startling one, but I find it unsettles me and this morning, it was particularly bleak, and cold. The harsh, sweeping winds, the vast grey sky was reflected in both the ocean and rocks of lime strewn around the land. The small white buildings scattered across stumpy fields, to me, look lost and forlorn. There are no distractions, little loveliness.
On my walk in the past I recalled being nervous as a child, unsure, always watching, and then forcing myself to plunge into life. Then, it occurred to me, life took over and somehow, I disappeared. Walking along, single file, in silence with the wind pumping at my eyes, I wondered what happened to that child. I couldn’t remember much about her. The only image I could recall from my past was giving birth to my children (and I think that was provoked by the white sea spray smashing against the black rocks). Thinking about my present, I felt the cold stone beneath the soles of my feet, and the freezing wind scorch my cheeks. I watched a sea gull balancing on the soaring wind, squawking. The manicured green flow and bump of the pitch and putt course reminded me of curvaceous shape of a woman lying down, oiled and massaged. I couldn’t think of anything else. Not only do I not recall my past, I don’t know what my present is, I thought to myself.
Thinking of the future, and my goals, my first thought was to wonder if I had one. Maybe I should focus more on me, I thought. I don’t seem to know very much. I can’t remember anything about my childhood. My present is just full of stones, wind, gulls and pitch and putt courses. Maybe, I need to discover more about myself.
I have enough self awareness to know that my way of dealing with challenges is to move on. I have always shied away from self-reflection, been sceptical about meditation, felt there were more important things to do, like tackling poverty, inequality, politics. I could try, I thought. Nah, I thought. Yes, I thought, I’m just scared. It would be good to know if there is more to you. Nah, I thought, its too self-indulgent. Anyway, I don’t know how to. I remembered Kathy said to think about the challenges. Possibly, I am my greatest challenge.
The last section of the walk we were able to talk and I asked Kathy how to even begin to try being more self aware. Write, she said. Try the Artist’s Way. Yeah, yeah, I said, instantly dismissive. Everyone says that, she said. I ordered it when I got home.
So, I will try this path of self reflection. I still feel sceptical, but, when I thought about the weekend, it was strange – everything pointed me in this direction. My lack of preparation, my realisation that I had lost faith (in everything), my choice of poem to workshop, my meeting my father at the memoir workshop, taking a workshop in experimentation and doing a Ginko walk – without checking what it was.
Susan Tomaselli, June Caldwell, and Donal Minihan were the key organisers of the festival. While, I will hold them responsible for whatever happens, I also want to thank them for a fantastic writing weekend.