Blog Archives

The Winter of Our Discontent?

          

a local park in Pamplona… pondering the leaves, the pigeons, the life about the park benches and how long we’ll be allowed to look at it this fall – will the gates close before the last leaf falls?

   The Winter of Our Discontent?

.

.

We sit and watch autumn fall upon us, daily;

The park employees still sweep up leaves,

Now the last grass mowing has past.

Pigeons and ducks tuck into tossed bread, 

Filling up for colder times, robins arrive from 

Colder climes, while we wonder whether 

Gates will weather open all the way to winter:

.

A thought neither here not there for the

Twittering finches in the turning trees

Above the bench as I write, depressing

Ideas of Christmas devoid of cavalcades,

Parties or people we would gift our presence.

.

To live with this disease in our midst, we need lifts:

Standing amid pines, or plans to participate,

Smiles and simple hugs: scenes to celebrate.

.

While robins free to fly away in warmer weather 

Pigeons will persist on unswept seeds, 

Finches filled with felicity, we will sit inside,

.

Pining, and chastising ourselves this idiocy;

Sitting watching screens instead of celebrations,

Imbibing wine in place of cherished faces.

A delayed St. Paddy’s Day post…

I started writing this last week, but incredible as it might seem from quarantine, I’ve been crazily busy in my little box!

so here’s what I wrote,

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone

It’s a strange one. Hopefully just a blip on our normality, one we’ll remember for being the odd one out rather than the first year of a few way of doing things, a new way of life.

It’s a day to think about all the Irish around the world – which in turn makes us think of all the other migrants, emigrants and immigrants of every other country and culture that venture out into new lands and mix and mingle to make a more united world.

Some of those would like to be home now. Because they don’t know if they’ll get home soon, or when, or if ever.

And there might be loved ones they’ll never see again. Some who won’t be there when this is over, and whose last goodbyes we won’t be able to attend, either in the hospital or over a grave.

That’s a hard thing to say, though everyone is thinking of it – and if not, well, they’re really not aware of what we’re facing here.

And that reality of death should drive home to us – and definitely drive us home, where we all need to be right now, staying a good distance from those outside our immediate family/friends circle with home we’re sharing air and surfaces – the important things in life.

These are those same friends and family, both whom we can touch and not right now.

The simple things we never think of, like simply going for a walk.

Fresh air, exercise.

Sunlight.

The sight of a tree, of a sparrow, a butterfly.

A smile from a stranger, a neighbour we’ve never talked to, the cashier at the supermarket.

 

And the unimportant things. Like hedge funds. We need hedgerows, not hedge funds, someone said.

We could simply stop trading for a few weeks, and we’d all be better off.

If they’ve closed the bars, and the shops, why not the stock exchange? How vital is it, really? What’s needed now is work, willingness, good faith and a calm comportment. Not overabundant in Wall Street.

 

Meanwhile we’re all inside, life is busily going on outside without us, glad for our absence. Songbirds can be heard now the traffic has gone down, the air is cleaner – for those blessed with a dog and an excuse to get out, but also for the rest of us with windows open to the spring – and I can only hope that the park maintenance has been reduced to unnecessary and the personnel redeployed to cleaning tasks (the street cleaning machine still trundles down past our house first thing in the morning though I doubt there’s much rubbish to pick up) so the grass and wildflowers can grow a little more unruly and insects can have a boon from our misfortune.

I only know that the first place my children and I will visit when we’re allowed out of our flat will be the park, to run in the grass and fall down in it and pick daisies and blow dandelion heads.

Till then, we’ll survive on our houseplants and fish tank and the tree outside the window and the birds that visit it.

Paddy's day.

 

And the knowledge that every day we stay inside the air quality improves, planes stay on the ground, and people realise they can survive perfectly well without buying plastic trinkets and clothes to fill their closets and that the water in the tap is good enough without having to fight over bottled water.

 

Stay safe, stay home, stay well.

 

A blogpost in place of a poem

I lost a friend the other day, died of cancer, the way many do, after a decade or more living with the disease in varied bouts of beating and being beaten.

I often write a poem when someone important dies. This time no words came out of the void in a shape that made me think it should be a poem.

Perhaps it was because I found out the news over the internet – one of the few positive points about some social media sites that at least some use it for good, if sad actions. Many of his friends found out the same way. At the time I was in work, teaching in a school where nobody knows nor knew Tamir Teichman. As I found out when my grandmother died while I was in Boston, school kids don’t need to know about what’s going on behind the smile when you greet them in the classroom. The show goes on. So I’d little time to digest the news and let my memories return the way it would be needed to write a poem.

Instead, it’s a blog post.

Tamir bikeride.jpgI worked with Tamir for several years when I lived in Boston. We were two of three people in the CHS science dept., along with Anna Power, who’d been Tamir’s student teacher. They taught chemistry and physics, while I taught biology. We had three classes in a row, mine in the middle, joined by interior doors. We went in and out of one another’s class all the time, often leaving the doors open if one of us needed to use the bathroom. He made reagents for my experiments when I ran out, and was a great colleague. He was also a great teacher, who taught me a lot, and I hope in my own career some of what I learned from him has stuck and been transmitted to my own classroom.  He never varied in his frank and honest approach to his classes and the students. He was the same person in the classroom and out. His methods sometimes clashed with the administration’s views of how classrooms should be run, especially those of a new headmaster who after a couple of years fired Tamir – the laws in America are not usually much help to employees. The union had been ousted before I started in CHS and we had a right to work agreement in place of a contract.  Tamir saw the writing on the wall, but never changed the way he went about things. As far as the students are concerned, his way was clearly the right way to do things, as his friends could see on social media when a huge number of people declared he was the best teacher they’d ever had.

He was one of the best colleagues I ever had, I can tell you. And one of the best friends. We spent a lot of time together during the seven years I lived there, from going out for drinks on Fridays with the other teachers, to cycling along the Charles River on Saturdays, to a road trip we took in a U-Haul truck, taking some of his mother’s antique furniture from storage down in Boca Raton up to Brookline – a trip from Miami to Maine, all told. Living in rental accommodation, I was delighted to help him out in his garden, doing a little bit of landscaping in his house and the summer camp his family have on the shores of one of the lakes of Maine, where he’d invited me and my wife and we’d take in the wildlife and the silence. I’ve experienced fewer more peaceful places in the world – even in Wicklow the wind is always in your ears!

1935587_118775593689_6361097_n.jpg

Tamir on the open road

 

1935587_118787963689_3164299_n.jpg

At Kitty Hawk

 

1935587_118802188689_2743639_n.jpg

Tamir and my wife out on the lake

A dedicated environmentalist, he saved everything, from school materials to bike parts. One of his, and my, great disappointments was to see the old vintage benches of the labs torn up and thrown out rather than taken by an antiques dealer – it would have made an amazing pub bar. Before he left CHS, we donated lots of old chemicals and materials to one of my former student teachers who’d started in a charter school that needed stuff (in America, many schools rely on charity to do the best they can for their kids). He taught me how to cool a house at night and keep the heat out during the day, and for drinking glasses he used really lovely old jam jars to serve freshly squeezed orange juice in the humid summer.

He died after a long illness, which though debilitating at times never stopped him from his work as athletic coach, nor slowed him down on a bike ride – he outpaced me easily. He’d left another school since then, and was working in a less stressful job when I last talked to him.

P1070377.JPG

Our last bike ride along the Charles.

His mother had moved in with him, but she’d died just recently, coincidentally, or perhaps not. He was single, with two siblings living overseas and their children, two aged aunts and some cousins.

1935587_118693948689_4434350_n.jpg

Tamir in his mother’s car before we took a drive around Miami

 

Yet he leaves many, many mourning his passing. He leaves a multitude of memories among his friends and colleagues, and he has made a significant mark on the lives of his students. They will keep him alive. His actions have their ripples though the times to come, having helped form adults who will work to make this world, their world, a better place than the way it was when they were thrown it.

Whatever your view on the afterlife –I’ve no idea of Tamir’s, since we never talked much about religion, other than about his family’s history of having survived the Holocaust – one thing I’ve learned from this sad episode is that your actions during life will reflect on what happens when you die. Perhaps you’ll have a lot of kids to attend your funeral, have family to pray for your passage through purgatory and onto the pearly gates. Maybe you won’t. Yet even if you don’t, never think that your life hasn’t touched someone, that someone won’t mourn your absence, won’t think wistfully of the time you smiled at them, offered help, extended a hand, said a kindly word, gave your honest opinion and made them ponder, wonder, reconsider, feel some emotion.

As I said on social media, mostly directed at my (our) former students who knew Tamir, nobody dies who lives on in memories. Tamir will never be lost from the thoughts of those who knew him. His positive energy will reverberate though our worlds.

Sometimes when a person dies, we say, well, thank god they’re gone. Think of Margaret Thatcher…. I’ve experienced a few of those thoughts. There are some people who are just arseholes. Even children and grandkids can be glad to get shut of their elderly parents and grandparents, truth be told.

Other times, after the sadness comes a smile, a contentedness, a (cold) comfort, that at least you had the privilege to meet that man, to know that woman.

That’s what I feel now, a few days later. I know my life has been enriched for knowing Tamir and hanging out with him.

1935587_118714943689_6904338_n

chilling out in Saint Augustine, Fl. Rest well, T.

I only hope a little of his teaching style rubbed off on me, and that when I die, some at least will say something similar of me.

 

So I have a new book out…

The_Ecology_of_Lonesomeness_by_David_OBrien-200

Your friends don’t give a toss about your new book.

That’s one of the first things authors have to learn when they first publish, along with not to read reviews, not to take bad reviews to heart when they don’t follow that previous rule, and certainly not to comment on bad reviews even though they want to gouge out the eyes of the reviewer.

Your friends are not your friends because you are writer, even if you’re a good one, or a published writer. They were there before you told them you wrote. They were there when you were clicking away at the keyboard in your spare time at work, when you told them you were holding out for the box set of season three of The Wire because you were really writing instead of watching television. And they gave you a pass, held off on the spoilers in your company, though they’d to bite their tongues to do it.

When you put away the notepad you’d been scribbling on in the coffee shop before they came in, they didn’t twist your arm and demand to see your poems, or short stories or whatever. And you were glad.
Now that you’re published, you can’t go and demand everyone read your shit, or get pissed off that nobody seems to give a toss that you have this amazing new novel out now (Spoiler alert: I have a great new novel out today, but I can’t give any more info because it would be spoiling). You can’t now do the equivalent of shove that notebook in their face at the coffee shop and tell them to check out what you just wrote before they sit and get a cup of coffee. The truth is they don’t give a shit.

Yet, if they did, would you be happy? I suspect, because I have no firsthand knowledge of such situations, that it would be similar if a Hollywood movie actor’s friends were all waiting for his or her new flick to come out, or asking them to give a few lines of whatever movie they were rehearsing at the time was. And you’d think they were just there because you were what you were, not who you were.

That’s what I tell myself anyway. It helps when friends don’t give feedback, when they don’t crack the book you asked them to beta-read, when they give you no, “hey, thanks,” or anything of the sort in response to the dedication you put in the book you sent them a copy of when it came out, because, basically, they didn’t even fucking look at the acknowledgments.

There will be plenty of people out there who delight in the fact that you’ve a new book out. They’re not necessarily your friends. They’re called readers. If you are lucky, there will be overlap. But there doesn’t need to be. There just needs to be people in both camps. Lots of people in one, and however-many you’re comfortable with in the other.

When your friends don’t respond to thinks like wedding invitations and photos of your children, you can worry. You might see your book as a newborn baby, but to some you’re basically asking them to get all teary-eyed over a work project you finished. They didn’t read your research thesis, nor the amazing 100-page contract you wrote for the sale of three thousand solar panels to a Chilean copper mine consortium, nor did they do much more than glance at the wing mirror you designed for the new Chevy Volt (is that car even being made?). It’s all work to someone, though it’s art to others.

(for the record, fiction writing is totally fucking art, though my doctoral thesis is also stimulating reading…)

The friend zone is often talked about in movies (often a bit silly in my opinion) but what I want to talk about is why someone would leave the friend zone – and it’s something people can only do together. Pat McDermott kindly invited me to ponder this on her blog, Across the Plain of Shining Books.

http://acrosstheplainofshiningbooks.blogspot.com.es/2014/09/david-obrien-five-days-on-ballyboy.html

Cover of Five Days on Ballyboy Beach

Five Days on Ballyboy Beach by David J O'Brien - 500

This is the cover of my second novel, published 19th September 2014 – I don’t want to reveal too much about what the plot is – best to just follow  the path and see where it ends up…

Available now at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and lots of other places via the book’s Tirgearr Publishing webpage.

You can read some of the reviews on the Tirgearr page, or here on this website: