Xanadu Reading Challenge – June 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  The sub-categories are only a guide, feel free to adapt and expand as you like.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

For , the theme is Language.

Sub-categories:

• a book in a language with which you are familiar, but don’t read in very often, if at all.
• (if you are monolingual) a beginner’s “Teach Yourself” book in a language you are interested in.
• a coding manual in a programming language you don’t know, or in which you have more to learn
• a book about the history of language or linguistic

Reading suggestions:

. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exúpery
. Harry Potter in any language
. Teach Yourself .. in 24 hours

I’m reading:

Teach Yourself Javascript in 24 hours

Come back next month for our July suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in May or June!  Happy reading!

 

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – June 2021

Our next Stitch ‘n’ Bitch takes place on Thursday, 17 June, at 6.30 pm BST, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Canadh agus Caint – Part Two

After a successful launch in April, Canadh agus Caint returns for a second session on Thursday, 10 June, at 7.30 pm.  We will start off by learning a simple song in Irish, and then see where the conversation takes us.  Irish speakers of all levels are welcome, from complete beginners (we recommend Duolingo) to fluent Gaeilgeoirí.  As usual, you need to register for this in advance by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com, and materials will be sent out in advance

This month, Canadh agus Caint will be hosted by Suzanne Ledwith and Julia Kennedy, with assistance from our artistic director Mary Tynan.  See you there!

Beidh an dara seisiún Canadh agus Caint ar siúil Deardaoin, 10 Meitheamh, ag 7.30 pm.  Beidh muid ag foghlaim amhrán simplí as Gaeilge, agus ansin, tar éis an canadh, an caint.  Beidh fáilte roimh daoine le gach leibhéal Gaeilge.  Mar ghnáth, ní mór duit clarú le haghaidh an imeacht – seol ríomhphoist chuig notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com – agus seolfaidh muid nasc agus focail an amhráin duit roimh an oíche.

Beidh Canadh agus Caint óstailte le Suzanne Ledwith, Julia Kennedy, agus Mary Tynan. Bígí linn!

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – May 2021

Our next Stitch ‘n’ Bitch takes place on Thursday, 20 May, at 6.30 pm BST, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – May 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

For May, the theme is Music.

Sub-categories:

. a biography or autobiography of a musician or composer
. a novel where music is one of the main themes
. a book that teaches you how to play an instrument

Reading suggestions:

. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
. Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday
. John W Schaum Adult Piano Course Book 1

I’m reading:

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Come back next month for our June suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in April or May!  Happy reading!

 

If You Build It, They Will Come

Happy Birthday to the Arts Centre!

We built it, and wow, did you come! In your droves, from every corner of the earth (although I don’t think we’ve cracked Antarctica yet)!

Notes From Xanadu – the online arts centre – is one year old today! We opened with a bang, featuring 21 pieces of new work over the May bank holiday weekend, and established a global audience right from the start, hitting six of the seven continents during the four days of our launch.  Born in the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic, we reached out to the growing online community with something unique, and we have continued to do so and to grow as one lockdown led to another.

To celebrate our birthday, we’re doing something similar to that launch weekend, over three days. We will be releasing new work at intervals over the weekend. We have photography, knitting, writing, comedy, music and more. Links to each piece will be provided via our Twitter and Facebook accounts as they happen. If you are reading this, and you have friends who you think might also be interested, please share the link with them in whichever way suits you. We will be delighted to get shares of any kind to any or all of the work featured during the birthday celebrations.

Going forward, the plan for the arts centre is to release work as an when suitable submissions are received, and to share news about what’s going on in the theatre, rather than having a regular slot each week. There will be posts in Twitter and Facebook when this happens, but alongside that a mailing list will be set up, so that anyone who wants to can be notified whenever new stuff is released. We will let you know when that is in place.

This will allow me, as artistic director, to concentrate more of my energies on the theatre: our regular events such as Stitch ‘n’ Bitch and Canadh agus Caint, alongside new plays and concerts (there’s a brilliant one of those coming up later this month, more details during the weekend).

Although we have a large team of contributors, actors, backstage helpers and so on, Notes From Xanadu is basically run by one person – a person who is chronically ill and disabled (would you be surprised to hear that the arts centre and theatre both operate out of a bungalow in the west of Ireland?) – so a regular PR campaign is unsustainable. But for this birthday weekend at least, we can pull out all the stops!

Enjoy the weekend! Let the party begin!

Mary Tynan

Everyone who works on Notes From Xanadu and Xanadu Online Theatre is a volunteer. If you would like to join us in any capacity, please send me an email on notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

 

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – April 2021

Our next Stitch ‘n’ Bitch takes place on Thursday, 12 March, at the earlier time of 6.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – April 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

For April, the theme is Mental Travelling.

Sub-categories:

. a book from an author from a country you have never visited and have no connection to
. a travelogue about a similar country
. a novel about a journey
. a non-fiction book about the history or technology of one or more forms of transport
. a non-fiction book about space travel

Reading suggestions:

. anything by Bill Bryson
. Sovietistan by Erika Fatland
. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
. The Family Tree by Sherri S Tepper
. Endurance by Scott Kelly

I’m reading:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster

Come back next month for our May suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in March or April!  Happy reading!

 

Canadh agus Caint

14 April at 7 pm will see the launch of our latest live event, Canadh agus Caint.  We will start off by learning a simple song in Irish, and then see where the conversation takes us.  Irish speakers of all levels are welcome, from complete beginners (we recommend Duolingo) to fluent Gaeilgeoirí.  As usual, you need to register for this in advance by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com, and a short vocabulary cheat sheet will be sent out with the link, as well as the words to the song.

Canadh agus Caint will be hosted by our artistic director Mary Tynan and contributor Suzanne Ledwith.  See you there!

Ar 14ú Aibrean, ag a seacht a chlog, tá muid ag tosú le eachtra beo nua, Canadh agus Caint.  Beidh muid ag foghlaim amhrán simplí as Gaeilge, agus ansin, tar éis an canadh, an caint.  Beidh fáilte roimh daoine le gach leibhéal Gaeilge.  Mar ghnáth, ní mór duit clarú le haghaidh an imeacht – seol ríomhphoist chuig notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com – agus seolfaidh muid nasc agus focail an amhráin duit roimh an oíche.

Beidh Canadh agus Caint óstailte le Mary Tynan agus Suzanne Ledwith.  Bígí linn!

Server Sponsorship for Xanadu Online Theatre

Notes From Xanadu is delighted to announce that a new server for Xanadu Online Theatre has been sponsored by County Cork company ProPrivacy.  The server will enable us to customise the code for the theatre (we use open source software, in keeping with the philosophy of the arts centre), leading to a smoother and more exciting experience for both audience and performers.

ProPrivacy is a close-knit, family run data protection and cyber security compliance company based in Ireland. The company works with clientele in many sectors ranging in size, from small businesses to privacy departments in large multinational corporations.  It’s lead auditor and GDPR consultant is Philipa Jane Farley; if you think you recognise that name, you would be right – multi-talented Philipa has been writing the Farley’s Philosophy column for us since the arts centre’s launch in May 2020.  The ProPrivacy team have this to say about the sponsorship:

“2020 has been exhausting. More for some than others, but needless to say, everyone’s lives have changed in one way or another, some for the worst and some for the best. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has taken a toll on our entertainment community. It has affected our livelihoods, hobbies and the community around us.

While we may feel that we cannot control events on our own doorstep, let alone, globally, new and fresh ideas on how to charge through and grapple with such unknown times have emerged. New online businesses, video chats and social outreaches over the internet have been the new trends of the pandemic. New ways to connect with people have become a priority in a world where social distancing is now second nature.

This is where Notes from Xanadu has blossomed. Emerging from what was formerly an online magazine with Arts reviews and periodic COVID-19 articles, Notes from Xanadu transformed into a lively and active social page where artists from all walks of life could come together to continue doing what they do best even with the entertainment industry in complete shutdown.

Mary Tynan, who suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, has overcome extreme personal challenges and advocates to raise awareness of this neurological condition. Mary has taken back her life in a global lockdown and created this forum for her fellow artists to have an opportunity for creativity and to take the stage once again in a transformative way over the internet. And Mary has even dusted off her old coding skills, and learnt new ones, allowing her to customise Notes from Xanadu to her high standards.

As a data protection company fortunate to be able to continue working through lockdown, ProPrivacy got to thinking about how we would be able to make a difference in this industry for which we have a great love. As we have seen the Arts take an enormous knock in this pandemic, Notes from Xanadu came to mind. ProPrivacy took this opportunity to support Mary and her endeavours to grow her platform in a small but hopefully significant way by sponsoring a server for her online theatre. ProPrivacy will continue to supply data protection and cyber security support for Mary to continue running her Arts centre with peace of mind. ProPrivacy feels incredibly privileged to be able to support a woman whose values align with that of our own, inclusive communities sharing resources to enrich those around them.”

The new theatre software is going to be built by Philipa and Mary working together, and we will, of course, share news of the development as it happens.  We live in exciting times for online arts and Notes From Xanadu and Xanadu Online Theatre will continue to do our utmost to stay at the cutting edge of the field.  If you are interested in working with us on a volunteer basis in any capacity, please drop us a line at notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

As of 2021, ProPrivacy are expanding their services to support small businesses through their offshoot, The Career Designer. This new line of services and digital products is informed by the company’s primary focus, data protection, privacy, and cyber security, and deals with the inner workings of starting up a business with an online first focus from scratch.

The Career Designer is to be launched within the next few months for people who want to make their ideas pay. It’s about helping people and transforming their skillset into a business, especially for those during this pandemic who are out of work or are struggling to make an income. Philipa and team want to share their many years of business experience and niche skills in an easy to understand way which can help people turn their ideas into stable and thriving businesses. They will walk you step-by-step through the process of building a business from start to finish, accounting to marketing and all the legal requirements in-between. Macro-knowledge for microbusinesses if you will, catering for business construction as well as business maintenance.

If you are interested in The Career Designer or other services offered by ProPrivacy, please visit their website, or email the team at info@proprivacy.ie.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – March 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

As March is the month of St Patrick’s Day, the theme is All Things Irish.

Sub-categories:

  • a book by an Irish author
  • a book about Irish history
  • a travel book about Ireland
  • if you are Irish – a book as Gaeilge. Children’s books are fine, but try to challenge yourself.

Reading suggestions:

  • Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes
  • The Story of Ireland by Neil Hegarty
  • Hitching for Hope: A Journey into the Heart and Soul of Ireland by Ruairi McKiernan
  • Short Stories of Padraic Pearse: A Dual Language Book (English and Irish Edition)

I’m reading:

Piano Mhín na bPreachán le Cathal Ó Searcaigh.

Come back next month for our April suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in February or March!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our February reads will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4pm GMT. March’s will be on Sunday, 11 April, at 2 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

 

 

Come back next month for our March suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our January reads will be on Sunday, 7 February, at 4pm GMT. February’s will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu – March 2021

After a very enjoyable first outing, we will be holding a second Stitch ‘n’ Bitch on Thursday, 11 March, at 7.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event is co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – February 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

The theme for February is Spring Awakenings.

Sub-categories:

  • a book about nature
  • a coming of age story
  • a novel where the protagonists are animals

Reading suggestions:

I’m reading:

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.

 

 

Come back next month for our March suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

The discussion group for our January reads will be on Sunday, 7 February, at 4pm GMT. February’s will be on Sunday, 7 March, at 4 pm GMT.  If you would like to attend either of these, please email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com if you haven’t already done so.

Stitch ‘n’ Bitch at Xanadu

In another first for us in 2021, we will be holding a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch on Thursday, 18 February, at 7.30 pm, in one of the rooms of Xanadu Online Theatre.  For those who haven’t heard the term before, a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch is when people get together to work on their various projects while having a natter and a bit of craic at the same time.

The Xanadu Stitch ‘n’ Bitch will be hosted by Aoife Flood, a highly experience knitter, who will be on-hand to answer any questions and offer help; beginners are welcome.  You don’t have to be knitting though: you can crochet, embroider, sew, or do any other craftwork you may have underway.

The event will be co-hosted by Notes From Xanadu Artistic Director Mary Tynan.  If you wish to attend, please register by emailing notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.  See you there!

About our host: Aoife Flood’s knitting journey began on a trip to New Zealand in 2007, when she came across a book of designer knitting patterns while browsing in a shop. She decided that, if she wanted to have these designer clothes, the best way was to knit them herself. So that was it; she got the bug and has been hooked ever since. Aoife will sharing some of her wonderful work with us in a gallery exhibition in the coming weeks.  She is wearing one of her own pieces in the photo.

Xanadu Reading Challenge – January 2021

One of the lovely things about being an online arts centre is that Notes can Xanadu can feature writing and literature alongside other art forms.  With this in mind, we have created a reading challenge for 2021.  Each month there will be a theme, with several sub-categories, and the challenge is to read one or more books each month to fit the topic.  Feel free to add sub-categories, the only rule is that one book each month should be a new read.  The entire challenge can be downloaded in pdf format here.  We also have an Excel spreadsheet, thanks to Karin Hammarstrom, one of our participants, which you can also download, and use to track your progress.

Every month, we’ll introduce the theme and sub-categories in a post like this, and also give some reading suggestions.  Please leave a comment and tell us what you are reading, and whether you are enjoying it, or any other information that you would like to share with your fellow readers.

The theme for January is New Beginnings.

Sub-categories:

  • a book published in 2020 or 2021
  • a book given to you as a present (or bought with a book token) in the last couple of months
  • a book about a new hobby or interest
  • a book to do with a New Year’s resolution
  • a New Age book

Reading suggestions:

I’m reading:

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski, received as a Christmas present in 2019.

Come back next month for our February suggestions, and don’t forget to leave a comment below to tell us how you got on in January!  Happy reading!

Update: it’s been suggested that we have a live, in-person discussion group once a month (online) to discuss what we’ve been reading – if that’s something you would be interested in, please comment below, or email notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

Theatre at Home for Christmas

Fancy a trip to the theatre this December? In contrast to the usual visit to the pantomime, Xanadu Online Theatre invites you to watch an alternative Christmas show from the comfort of your own home – all you need is a computer and an internet connection.

Started in May 2020, Notes From Xanadu is, as far as can be seen, the first online arts centre in the English-speaking world.  Since its beginning, it has attracted visitors from countless countries on six different continents (we’re still trying to crack Antartica)! On 23 September, we launched Xanadu Online Theatre with a variety concert featuring artists from two different continents and three timezones.  December sees the debut performances from our in-house theatre company, with a double bill of classic tragedy and comedy: Riders to the Sea by J M Synge and The Proposal by Anton Chekhov.  Tickets are free of charge, but limited, and must be booked in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/theatre-at-home-for-christmas-tickets-129660125927.  Admission is per connection, not per person, so you can have as many people watching with you as you like.  More details are available at the website at theatre.notesfromxanadu.org.

The arts centre and the theatre are the brain children of Mary Tynan, a chronically-ill, disabled creative living in the West of Ireland.  For interviews please contact Mary on notesfromxanadu@hotmail.com.

Why Lockdown has been a Lifeline for me, by Mary Tynan

Lockdown may have made life smaller for many people, but it made mine bigger.

Unlike most people, I wasn’t that upset when the first coronavirus lockdown began.  As far as I could see, it wasn’t going to make much difference to my life.  But I was wrong: it made my life better.

As a chronically ill, disabled person (I suffer from the neurological condition Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) living alone in a rural location, I had long been used to spending most of my time alone.  Many weeks, if I didn’t visit a shop, I didn’t see anyone.  And shopping was becoming harder – I had already begun the transition to grocery delivery before the pandemic.  I connected with people mostly via telephone or, more and more as time went on, via the web.

I used social media such as Facebook for two main purposes: to keep up with people that I rarely saw, such as friends from my previous life as an actor in London, and to make new friends, especially within the ME and chronic illness communities.  I joined support groups, book clubs and other interest groups; I attended and ran virtual pub quizzes and parties.  I also used the internet for solo activities, such as practising and learning languages on Duolingo, and studying everything from Archaeology to Cyber Security.  I was well-practised at living life online.  What happened early this year is that everyone joined me.

Right at the beginning of Lockdown, some friends and I decided to set up an online school.  Ar Líne Le Chéile was small, and part-time, and wasn’t intended to replace or compete with anything that children were getting from their regular teachers – rather, it was to help combat loneliness and isolation.  In this it succeeded, and our small class of primary school children had formed great friendships by the time we finished in June.  As I was already an experienced teacher, I took an active part in this, the highlight of which was the weekly multidisciplinary lesson where we made virtual visits to such places as the British Museum, NASA and the London Underground.  It was a lovely feeling to have my own class again, for the first time since 2008.  A side effect of this for me was that my old interest in coding was reawakened by a Scratch class run by another teacher (Philipa Farley, the writer of our Farley’s Philosophy column), and I ended up learning the Python programming language during the month of April when Pluralsight offered free courses for a month.

There was so much life online all of a sudden!  Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and plays from the National Theatre, for example, were available to watch free of charge.  I attended an online 80s concert with a couple of friends, who didn’t know each other previously; we watched in our separate homes and chatted via text at the same time.  I joined an online choir, and played board games with friends all over Ireland via WhatsApp.

I had an online magazine, Notes From Xanadu, predominantly an arts review, which had been semi-dormant over the preceding five years.  I had written a couple of Covid-related articles, and was in the process of revitalising it.  Then I had an idea: instead of relaunching as just a magazine, why not do something novel and create an online arts centre?  I set the date for the May bank holiday weekend, and got in touch with artists of all genres.  Over the four days of the launch we had 20 different features, ranging from writing to opera (world-renowned soprano Ailish Tynan was one of our first contributors) to puppetry.  We had visitors from numerous countries on six continents, and have continued to gain new followers and artists since then.

Although I don’t generally manage to get out much, I always do something for my birthday, whether that’s a restaurant and/or pub visit, or a small party at my house.  I decided not to let the virus stop me this year, and organised my first audio-visual virtual party.  I had guests from as far apart as London and New Mexico, and we played games, performed music, chatted and generally had a “night out.”  Unfortunately, problems with internet connections kept a few people away, but the evening was enough of a success for me to decide to develop a theatre as part of the online arts centre.

On 23 September 2020, Xanadu Online Theatre was born, with a launch concert/variety show featuring artists from three different time zones, and an invited audience from countries stretching from Finland to the US.  Unlike other similar ventures that have begun since Covid 19 gave us the New Normal, which use Zoom and other such platforms, this theatre is embedded in the Notes From Xanadu website and uses the open-source software Jitsi, which very much fits ideologically with the values of the online arts centre.

As part of the launch concert, I decided to perform a short scene with an actor friend in New York, Ash Reddington, and thus I found myself practising my craft as an actor for the first time in almost 6 years.  I have since set up an in-house theatre company, and we are having our first show in December.  Thus, as a result of the virus, I find myself where I thought I would never be again – in the rehearsal room, preparing to act on stage in front of a live audience.

This is the first in a series.  Watch out for accounts of other people’s positive lockdown experience in the coming weeks.

 

May for ME

May is ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) awareness month. It’s probably the awareness month for several other medical conditions as well – let’s face it, we have more than 12 of them after all, so maybe we should be going for a week, or even just a day?

Whatever. I’m not going to be posting about ME every single day of May (we’re already on day 4, and this is my first one, after all). But I am going to be posting. Today, I’m going to start with a short description of the illness, and then tell you a little bit about my experience with it.

ME is a debilitating neurological illness with numerous symptoms, including bone-weary exhaustion, muscle pain, joint pain, stabbing neurological pain, headaches, intolerance to light and sound, sleep disturbances, light-headedness, orthostatic intolerance (inability to stand), inability to regulate body temperature, persistent flu-like symptoms, nausea and IBS, fibromyalgia, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, slurred speech and more. But the overriding symptom that differentiates it from every other illness is called post-exertional malaise (PEM). This means that patients have a severe, delayed reaction to exercise, and in many cases never return to the same baseline they were at before whatever sent them into a “crash.” Have you ever massively overdone it on the weights at the gym, and been in so much pain you were unable to move the next day? Add that to having influenza and the fatigue you might feel after doing your first marathon, and you might have some idea how it feels. Plus, if you ever do manage to return to our metaphorical gym, you will only be able to lift half the weight you could before. This is no exaggeration: I moved my sofa a couple of inches in mid-December last year (pushed it with my whole bodyweight), and I was confined to bed for weeks. I almost missed Christmas Day – I did miss singing with the church choir on Christmas Eve.

My ME journey began in 2004. I got a flu-like illness that never went away, although I suspect I had already had fibromyalgia for some time before that – it had been misdiagnosed as ankylosing spondolitis. My doctor thought the original illness may have been glandular fever. Strangely enough, the diagnosis made me feel a bit better – I didn’t know then what I know now about ME. I took a three (long) days a week teaching job and tried to just get on with it. That didn’t really work, and I had to resign from the job. However, shortly after that I discovered a local chiropractor, and spent a lot of money on intensive treatment which put me into about 95% remission, or at least that was what I attributed it to. I later learnt that it is common to go into remission in the first couple of years, and for it to come back again a few years later, in a more permanent form.

I spent the next few years working as an actor and also as a supply teacher – two very physically demanding jobs. I thought I was fine. I even did the couch-2-5k programme at one point with my friend Tracy – although I was a terrible runner: I could almost walk faster than I could run. I would train in the gym every day if I could, and I attended Body Pump and Pilates classes. I went clubbing when the opportunity presented itself. I did physical theatre and danced in musicals.

But at a certain point in 2010, I felt the illness return. In retrospect, it had probably been creeping up on me for a while, but I had been too busy to notice. I was temping in an office Monday to Friday, teaching GCSE English catchup lessons in a secondary school on Saturdays, and directing and playing the leading role in a play for which we were rehearsing three evenings a week plus Sunday. (I am a bit of an overachiever, but this is also what it took to make enough money to live on).

My next play was a physical theatre piece. I had to tell the director that I couldn’t do that part of it. Luckily, I had one of the speaking parts, which didn’t necessarily have to involve a lot of movement. At this point, I could no longer run, work out, or go clubbing, but I could still do the dancing required for a musical a couple of years later, go to two tap classes a week, swim, and walk for miles. Standing up for more than a few minutes was beginning to be a bit of a problem though.

Fast forward to late 2014. I had to give up the intervention teaching job I had been doing (in the same school, but through an agency) for several years. By this point, I could only swim for about ten minutes, there was no tap dancing, or cross-city walks, but I could do yoga. Standing for more than five minutes was problematic, as was navigating steps. I had one last stab at work a few months later when I took over the lead role in a play after someone fell ill. I learnt 70 pages of script in five days. I had worked with the director previously, and he set up the stage in such a way that I could sit down whenever I felt the need to. In the third week of our four week run (with a lot of my friends in the audience – it was St Patrick’s Day and I had arranged for there to be a half-price ticket night), everything went black around me, apart from the face of the actor who was right in front of me. I almost passed out on stage. I finished the run, but I haven’t worked since.

A few months later, I left London and moved to a house in the country in the West of Ireland. At first, I could still walk 5 k each day. It would use up at least half of my daily energy, but I prioritised it because made me feel good mentally. Things have got progressively worse since then, and I recently acquired an electric wheelchair. Some of the simplest household tasks are beyond me, such as changing my bed sheets. Although I live in a dormer bungalow, I rarely go upstairs.  Sometimes I don’t eat, because I’m not well enough to wash the dishes afterwards.

I have already mentioned the sofa incident. In early 2018, I spent three months in bed after a one-week visit to London. I can no longer travel by any form of public transport on my own. Before Covid 19, I was travelling to my nearest city maybe every 5 – 6 weeks.

ME is what is known as an invisible illness. If you see me, it will be because I am having a good day. If I am having a bad day, week, or month, then I won’t be going anywhere. If I seem to be enjoying myself at your birthday party, I probably am – but I will be paying for it for weeks afterwards. This is the reality of life for people with ME, especially those who live alone. There is no treatment and no cure. We are the #millionsmissing.

Mary Tynan

To understand more about PEM and energy debt, please read my article “Living Life with a Low-Capacity Battery,” which was previously published in The Mighty and Yahoo News.

Ar Líne Le Chéile – Online Together

Before I was involved in an online arts centre, I was involved in an online school.

The Covid-19 has involved a lot of “online firsts” for me, many of which involves using new software for face-to-face online conversation. Ar Líne Le Chéile was the first of the firsts.

As soon as the schools in Ireland were shut, on Thursday 12 March, three friends (Notes from Xanadu contributors Philipa Farley and Simon Woodworth, and electronic engineer Gerard Heaney) and I decided to set up an online school. We wanted to be able to help children of friends and family with any isolation and loneliness that they might be feeling as a result of the crisis, and to give them the opportunity to explore new ideas with each other. The next day, Philipa gave Gerard and me an introduction to Microsoft Teams, and two days later I ran a trial lesson with my niece and nephew, to make sure I knew what I was doing, software-wise (with more than a decade’s experience I was fairly confident on the teaching front).

As it soon became clear that the regular schools would be sending work home for the children, I decided to have a different focus – theme-based, multi-disciplinary lessons designed to whet the student’s appetite for further exploration or activity, in whichever direction might take their interest. The first of these was a virtual visit to the British Museum to visit the Rosetta Stone. We also used a hieroglyphic typewriter, and made posters. After a meeting with parents on the Monday night, the school opened with this lesson on Wednesday, 18 March, with 11 pupils.

We settled into a regular routine after that with the themed lesson on Mondays and an associated feedback class on Fridays. On Wednesdays, I led a half-hour conversational Irish class, whilst Philipa taught Scratch programming on Thursday. Gerard gave us an evening Introduction to Electronics on the second week. During what would have been the school holidays, I led a weekly “keeping in touch” session on the two Thursdays.

Ar Líne Le Chéile has pupils from Sligo, Roscommon, Dublin, Cork and Galway. The school is free, and the teachers are giving their time as volunteers. I asked some of the children and parents for their thoughts for an earlier press release.

“It’s a great way to learn – you feel connected with other learners” said Jack Keaney, a 12-year-old student.

Charlotte Gask, mum of three of the students, had this to say:

“For me, I think the subjects are great. It lovely that it includes lots of ages and abilities, but mostly I love that it is scheduled. It gives us an anchor for our ‘school’ day.”

Her daughter, Georgie Longstaff, added:

“I like it, it’s more fun than school.”

Philipa’s two daughters, Ruth and Zoë, love that they can help demonstrate and make a game (while learning). They also like helping their mother to teach.

We are currently on a two-week break, and there was some thought that maybe the normal schools might be resuming before the end of that, but An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement yesterday has made it clear that primary and secondary schools will not be reopening until September. Ar Líne Le Chéile, on the other hand, will be resuming on 11 May. Our students are the nicest bunch of children you could possibly hope to meet, and I am looking forward to seeing them all again on Monday week – nuair a bheidh muid ar líne le chéile arís (when we will be online together again).

Mary Tynan

More information about our school can be found at www.arlinelecheile.school.

Bringing it All Back Home – Online

Welcome to the relaunch of Notes from Xanadu. The next four days will witness the transformation of the site from online magazine to online arts centre.

Our homepage has always said Welcome Home. It’s been a place to come in, take your shoes off and relax with something to read, whether that be fiction, poetry, articles or reviews. We’ve never published a bad review – if we couldn’t find something good to say, then we wouldn’t say anything at all (but that never happened). We reviewed theatre, art, books, opera, film, eateries, and even, on one occassion, a karaoke booth. It was a home from home that gave you ideas about what to do outside the home.

And now many of us are confined to the home. On deciding to relaunch Notes From Xanadu at this point, it was decided to make it into much more than an internet magazine. I personally had a list of ideas for an arts centre, and decided to see how much of it could be implemented online – quite a lot, as it turns out. We have art, music, puppetry and of course writing, much of which explores the theme of staying at home or living online, as well as how the “new normal” is for the people who do go out to work.

For many people, the online way of life has been a reality long before Covid 19. I am thinking in particular of the chronic illness community, of which I am a member. Most of us are severely limited in how much time we can spend out and about; some are completely housebound; some are bedbound. The internet is a place for people to connect, share thoughts and ideas, and even study – for those who are well enough. This is particularly true for people who live alone. Other people may find themselves in the same boat by virtue of living in a remote location. We have always known how to do as much as possible online. The coronavirus has taught others the same skills. There is a lot of talk about the downside of the internet – people being addicted to their phones, not having real-life conversations, preferring the virtual world to the real world. But in reality the lines between the two are blurred.

And so here we are, bringing it all back home – online. Welcome to my world. Welcome to our world. Welcome to Xanadu.

Mary Tynan