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, 4 April, 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.

 

 

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.

The Watchers

In another piece of prose poetry, Ian Macnaughton imagines life in a post-Covid-apocalypse England.

The Watchers

The sky greys, blood-framed as it leeches edge in.
Drifts often tailed across the flat worn ground.
No one watches even I gaze without sight.
My breathe catches, phlegm lines my mouth, bruised and blistered. Guarding our shelter I lean and catch my flagging attention;
she dozes, fitful and sick. Has she long? I wonder.
The ashes are still warm. Though enough to warm a bevvy?
Most likely not. Our hide lets my eyes grasp the gap:
all passers, to’ers. But no fro’ers. Seldom see those now.
Them in the wood take their toll. She stirs, a cry;
my eyes drawn up, instinct, questioning how?
No birds seen since the long night. So why?

When the sickness came first we did not See.
Months rumoured a new illness.
Places with a name we knew not. All seemed vague and distant.
Which shrunk the problem. Made sleight, it becomes fiction.
But like a day dream we had to wake.
Which we did to a creeping shroud.
Slowly obscured the world we believed we knew.
Through its dense weave contrasts grew.
Life or death, withdrawn or at risk, shielded and key.
We had leaders then. Blind they be.
Listened, hearing nothing, threatening only
that which sung their song. Sated a thirst for the apex.
We belittled it. But no sense of scale
allowed our leaders to scale it wrong.
They, full of empty rhetoric, unmasked, grew silent.
Following the science in fits and starts, senseless or unconcerned.
They, only arse covering, hung back.

The cities like a slide revealed our demise:
hollow, eaten out. A ‘donut’ too sweet on the edges,
hole at centre remodels our true being,
broken from within. Grow disquiet,
as idle hands, eyes, desires, breed envy – and hate.

This was long time back.
Not stopped, slowed, seized,
without any maker to oil or note the stop.

Now is the time to clean, wash, purge; hands first and, with a count,
palms, knuckles, nails, back, lines are scoured with stone, safe saved,
then the outer garb and any skin or surface on which particles may fall.
Last is mask renewed. This time the only time I see my face –
and only me. She does not see me.
Only her sees her and I see I.
I know her eyes and the bridge that links but the rest is felt.
That instant in each eve when the mask is shed
is the one time I see self now – a stranger,
glimpsed in fragment.

Because we no longer make, things ran out over time.
Firstly parts so The Machine stops! Later fuel, lubricant,
oil, not because we run out. Because too few need.
So no one will make. So fewer will need.
and soon we are impoverished.

We can laugh, what makes man less feared?
A mask. How do we know? By their masks. If you
love them reveal it by not two.
Whom it may concern know them not.
As love is blind.

 

The Duck, by Jackson Lara

Episode Two of The Prison Podcasts is a tale that is known to correctional officers and prisoners alike. This time, Jackson is telling the story from the point of view of an inmate, so make sure to bear that in mind while listening!

(Please note: this piece contains some instances of strong language.)

Jackson Lara spent nine years working in men’s medium to high security prisons in New Mexico.  He first started as a correctional officer, then used his teaching credential to teach GED material to men preparing for the GED test.

 

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.

Philipa Farley

Generation Pandemic

The most socially awkward thing I’ve ever done.  So awkward I’m not going to * anything.

Have a baby in 2020.

But first, please enjoy the preceding few weeks’ hilarity in my meme and photo folder.

It was really awkward.  Not least because of how it happened.  One-time-only bad decision making, if you know what I mean, after a few glasses of Irish-cream-what-what from Aldi.  I mean, can we be more classy?  I’m thoroughly embarrassed as I type this and remember myself saying something like: “it’s the end of the world, who cares anyway?”  (April ’20).  In any case, one fine day sitting at the computer, the nausea hit me from my toes up.  My first thought was, no.  Just no.  No way.  And then himself got sent straight to the pharmacy.

 

Back to the awkwardness.  For a while, it just looked like the Covid Stone.  Then it started looking like a real baby.  I was stuck at home, as we all were.  Going literally nowhere except to hospital appointments by myself.  Time went on and it was just too late to say anything on all the work video calls.  I mean, what do you do?  Stand up and show off your belly in an ‘accidental’ side shot?  Yawn and stretch?  Or do you interrupt proceedings with an “excuse me I have some news?”  While debating these various different and equally awkward scenarios, so much time passed that it was nearly time to have the actual baby.  And then he arrived early.  So then the message had to very quickly turn into “hey, I’m off here now for a bit of personal time, but not for too long.  No, I don’t have Covid.  BRB”-type messages.  AFK for a few days.

I had my baby on the 29 November, by section, in CUMH.  It was a Sunday night – change of shift time.  It was really scary and very unpleasant, with  Graeme (my husband) waiting outside in the car park for hours and nobody knowing what was going on.  I was admitted to the Emergency and was in for about five hours, in labour, on a narrow bed, not able to reach my phone.  By the time I got somebody to pass it to me, I was pretty much being dressed for theatre.  We thought I’d go in, be calmed down, and sent away again.  Not that simple.  Graeme was allowed in basically as they were cutting me open – after they had to repeat the spinal block that didn’t work the first time.  Just a really unpleasant evening.  He had to leave when they wheeled me out of recovery.  He hadn’t been able to attend a single doctor’s appointment with me.

Ruairí came out shouting the odds though and was pretty okay.  This was the biggest relief for me at that moment.  We had a difficult pregnancy, him and I.  Besides it being incredibly awkward, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  From start to end, the ball was dropped by the doctors and midwives involved in that regard.  If not for our GP and the village pharmacy, I don’t know if we would have come out okay.  That, and all the delicious healthy snacks Graeme made.  Endless snacking.  Snacking till the food is up your throat with the nausea.

To this day, I’m waiting for the South Infirmary to phone me back to get my sugar readings from about 6 months ago.  And yes, assholes, I left multiple messages on your various answering machines.  Can you tell I got sick and tired of injecting myself with insulin?  I have the biggest respect for anybody who lives with diabetes.  I did a needle count one day, rough estimation:  I had to prick my finger seven times a day in order to test sugars and inject insulin twice a day.  I will be avoiding the follow-up fasting glucose test for a while, possibly until the trauma subsides.

When I went into labour, they gave me medication for high blood pressure, as that was playing up too.  They explained at the time, but, honestly, I wasn’t listening to anything or seeing very much.  I met so many people there that Graeme remembers; don’t ask me who they are though!  That medication did something, and Ruairí’s sugars crashed at 48 hours.  He landed up in the neonatal unit with a sugar level of 1.9.  This was at 10pm at night.

After I had been told that afternoon that he had a murmur in his heart, I had to tell Graeme in a text message.  I couldn’t voice note or call because the other children were listening in.  Then I had to message, from the deserted basement passage of CUMH in the middle of the night, while our baby was being revived.  He got through that.  The murmur disappeared.  And then he was jaundiced.  So jaundiced he went back into the neonatal unit for a few days and sessions under the lamps.  We had been able to take him home for one night only at that point.  I had to go back to the emergency for very high blood pressure.  Sitting, alone, again, on a tiny bed, my milk came in leaking all over.  I pumped.  He drank.  We got through it.  He was allowed home when he was one week old.

I don’t think anything gets more awkward than this experience.

All that trauma with nowhere for it to go, in the middle of all the trauma of our lives every day these days.  At times, the awkwardness is really funny.  But, at other times, I cry.

When we need the hugs and the chat the most, they’re not there anymore.  We need to fix this.  Be kind to the people around you.  Ask how they’re doing.  Make space for people to tell their stories.  We’re all going through something, and we need each other.  Let’s take turns having a bad day and allowing ourselves and others to have a bad day.  We’re nearly there.  Let’s not leave anybody behind.

As my niece says, he is our tinnnnyyyyy piece of cheese.

 

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.

The Anxiety Song, by Futzy and the Bitch

Guests at the launch concert of Xanadu Online Theatre in September 2020 would have heard this song being debuted.  Many people have had an increase in anxiety levels over the past year, but does yours have a name?

Ficheall, le Gearóidín Nic Carthaigh

Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print. This is her third appearance at Notes From Xanadu.

Ar bhord íseal sa tseomra suite bhí an clár fichille. É foirfe fós, na píosaí go léir ina n-inead féin. Bhí Daithí ina shuí sa chathaoir uillinn, ag fanacht le go n-imeodh an teannas as a chuid matán. Bhí sé tar éis lá cruaidh a chur isteach, fear mar é, go raibh mórán idir lámha aige. Chaith sé braon fuisce siar. Dhóigh an leacht a scórnach, ach b’in é a bhí uaidh.

Ag an am seo den oíche, ba nós leis a mhachnamh a dhéanamh.  Bhí tábhacht leis an oscailt is bhí stráitéis ag teastáilt. Gan méar a leagan ar aon phíosa, d’oibrigh sé amach ina cheann cén treo ina raghadh sé.  Ar deireadh bhog sé an ceithearnach bán chun tosaigh i lár an chláir. Imirt chlaisiceach, ach ba dheacair é a shárú.

*

Bhí fhios ag Daithí go dtéadh Peaidí Ó Dónaill ag spaisteoireacht gach lá i ndiaidh lóin.  Canathaobh nach raghadh sé fhéin ar shiúlóid chomh maith?  B’in Peaidí ar bhóthar an chósta agus é ag féachaint amach ar an bhfarraige cháite .

“Conas tá agat, a Pheaidí?” arsa Daithí.

“A, mhuise, ag treabhadh liom,” arsa Peaidí.

“Is conas tá an cúram?”

“Táid ag déanamh dóibh fhéin anois.”

Thosnaigh an bheirt fhear ag siúil.

“Bhíos ag cuimhneamh fé thigh do thuismitheoirí ar an sráid mhór.”

Stop Peaidí aríst.  “An raibh, anois?”

“Ní bheadh fonn ort é a dhíol?”

“Ní bheadh. Sin tigh mo mhuintire, is beidh sé ag mo chlann im dhiaidh.”

“Raghadh cúpla árasán isteach ann go deas néata, mar sin féin.”

“Níl sé ar díol, a Dhaithí.”

Tháinig faoileán anuas chun breith ar cheapaire leath-ite a bhí caite ar chiumhais an bhóthair.

“Ach gheobhainn praghas maith duit.”

Chroith Peaidí a cheann.  “Mar a deirim, níl sé ar fáil.”

D’fhágadar slán ag a chéile is chuaigh Daithí thar n-ais chuig an oifig.

An oíche sin, áfach, d’fhillfeadh Daithí ar an bhficheall.

 

Chess Middle Game

 

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.

Testing Times

So you’ve been feeling a tad Covid.

So you order a test, which arrives.

First off, they give you a three D cardboard box net to construct.

Great, you’re right at the top of your game. Love origami.

Not sure what it’s testing for though? Spatial awareness?

Then a series of bags and containers that have to be assembled very carefully in a specific order, Russian doll-like, when you do the actual test. Weird, I thought I’d already started, and then I notice in the book of instructions – that was in the bag – that I shouldn’t open the bag without washing my hands for 20 seconds, and that I should also clean all the surfaces before I get them out, but I haven’t finished the box; but then I shouldn’t have started, because I’ve got to clean everything first. How the fuck am I meant to know that, as, to read it, I’ve had to open the bag? So now I clean everything because it’s wrong. Could have Covid on it. So I go back and I wipe everything and I think I’d better finish the box, or maybe not? Maybe I should unfold and start all over again, in case I’ve missed something in the instructions? When I do read the instructions, I say “thank goodness I didn’t just see the big cotton bug and stick it up my nose and throat,” and then it tells me to do that anyway, but it must be an hour before the collection at our priority letter box, and we mustn’t touch anything with the cotton bud apart from two and half centimeters up my nose and the back of my throat. By this time I’m feeling so much better: I mean I’ve made the box, laid everything out and I’ve cleaned everything three time,s and I’ve learnt a lot about my area and where our priority post boxes aren’t, probably super spreading all the while. So then I find the link to the you tube video – which is handily in the booklet – so much easier to click on a link in paper instruction booklet – or rather it isn’t – but I manage to type it and link to Ali, the nice man who explains everything handily and simpl,y including which things might not be in the kit they’ve sent me. He says he know it’s a bit fiddly and frustrating but not too much he hopes, as I guess I could be feverish and confused at this point. He then reminds me to wash my hands for twenty seconds exactly. I nearly scald myself with the tap, but guess that’ll kill Covid as well. He also shows me how to stick a cotton bud in my throat and up my nose without touching anything else with the fabric. This all needs to go into the tube with liquid, and I must snap off the handle and close the tube without contaminating the contents. At this point I have a headache and have discovered how to stimulate a gagging reflex from the back of my throat without touching anything else. But have I rubbed my tonsils, and who knew they weren’t the dangly bits, for fecks sake? Also, this is where it goes into a second tube-  that I don’t have – and into two bags: one labelled bio hazard and the other with a pinch seal. All in a specific order, which is then all packaged in my handcrafted origami box, which has a special seal sticker that is in the bag in the box. Bollocks; still, it’s all part of a test, so I backtrack and seal the box thankfully with all the contents. I’m now running late for the priority collection, so in my feverish and somewhat confused state I, masked to the eyeball, stagger to the priority post box, narrowly evading non-socially-distancing pedestrians who ring the post box.

I then wait for three days. For a result which by the time it arrives; merely confirms the obvious: that I’m positive. Never has positive seemed so negative or vice versa.

But the test is still not over, as I now get sent a link for feedback to ‘test and trace’ (not ‘track n’ trace’)? Guess they’ve changed the name in case someone asks about the missing twelve and and a half billion.  But to give them feedback I have to set an account with a password, so I offer my best password effort, and of course it’s found wanting, not strong enough. So I try a random selection of letters, symbols and punctuation. No, that won’t do, too short. I lengthen it and, oh no, it’s too sequential, so I try another and another. But they’re all sequences. Yes, surely that is the nature of a password. It has a beginning and a middle and an end. Finally, randomly, it accepts something.

What have I learnt?

That I wish hadn’t started.

I also know, two days after I need to know, that I can stop self-isolating, that is, if I haven’t developed another symptom, maybe confusion?


			

Welcome to Prison, by Jackson Lara

Welcome to Episode One of The Prison Podcasts. We asked Jackson to tell us a little bit about his experience working in prisons, and it turns out he has an awful lot of stories! Welcome to prison!

(Please note: this piece contains some instances of strong language.)

Jackson Lara spent nine years working in men’s medium to high security prisons in New Mexico.  He first started as a correctional officer, then used his teaching credential to teach GED material to men preparing for the GED test.

 

Philipa Farley

Welcome to 2021

Merry New Year to all of you!  I went AWOL for a good reason there – to be revealed in the next column as The Most Socially Awkward Thing I Did in 2020 and Ever.*  In any case, here we are.  Locked down.  Again.  The third time over.  Well, it’s more like the second time, as the time before this didn’t really count.  Or did it?  Time is a bit hazy at the moment.  I find my mind reverts back to our Southern Hemisphere, South African calendar in a Clockwork Orange-type blip from time to time.  Is it the start of the school year? Is it the end?  What’s happening?  It feels like July, but it’s not.  Will summer ever come back?  If I start posting pictures of crossed out I I I Is send help!

At least this time I’m allowed alcohol.  Counting down the days till my Kahlua arrives.  I plan on making copious amounts of Dom Pedros.**  The older children have asked for banana bread.  This is such old news for me, I’ve decided that we’re clearing a shelf in our front entrance little room which is as cold as a fridge.***  This shelf will be dedicated to all things baking.  I’m going full Martha Stewart this round of lockdown – minus the securities fraud and Snoop Dogg collab.  Expect a slew of overnight and two day fermented yeast baked good pictures if you follow me on Instagram.****

Other coping slash distraction mechanisms include binge watching series.  Schitt’s Creek has opened up a world of meme-age.*****  We’re onto Brooklyn 99 now.  It’s making me regret not going into the police service and becoming a detective (that is one of my lesser-known regrets – I think I would have made a very good detective.  I also have a queue of schmaltzy 90s and 2000s romantic comedies to get through; Sweet Home Alabama ticked off that list.  Mental chewing gum is where it is at.

Seriously though, what are you doing to cope?  Retail therapy is dire.  No more middle aisle shopping at Aldi and Lidl.  Who the fuck classified that as not essential?  Can we have a word, please and thank you?  I’m still on Amazon – yes, with my Prime account intact.  I spent a couple of days doing calculations and comparisons with .de; shipping is a monster, yoh!  Still cheaper on Prime.  And for those of you buy-local loyalists, the money I save buying on Prime gets spent on (Michael McIntyre Voice) spicey bags (normal voice) at the village takeaway.  My version of shop local.******

In any case, fuck Brexit.  Really.  I don’t say much about it publicly, but I am sad it actually happened.  I’m sad for all that could have been and now never will be.  I’m sad for people who believe they’re so much better than everybody else that they put walls up, slam doors shut, and retreat.  Small people with small minds.  Nationalism turned disease.  There, I said it.  Ugh.  In protest, I check out my items on Amazon one by one,******* while I watch my romcoms, eating alcoholic milkshakes and dreaming of UBI and communal gardens.

Welcome to 2021, everybody.  The year we all eat less and walk more.  Or not.

 

*As in EVER.
**Discovered this is a Very South African thing.  Basically, adult milkshakes.  Double cream, ice cream, and whiskey whizzed up together.  Can substitute whiskey for Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico, etc.  I might try a chocolate/orange combo.
***We could right now skate on our swimming pool.  Yes, the above ground pool is still up.  Totally ran out of fucks to give.
****Don’t follow me on Instagram.  Most vanilla happy-snap account ever – more for my own amusement.  Twitter is where it’s at – JustCallMePips.
*****David Rose is a gift.
******Just go with it.
*******Avoid VAT and import duties: tick with Prime.  You’re welcome.

Opportunity

Once again Ian Macnaughton moves away from the column format, also with prose poetry, but this time on the sardonic side.

Opportunity
Take it from me
it’s the key.
You
See it
Everywhere
And in everything.
Someone else’s grief is your opportunity
So take it
Don’t hesitate
Cause if you don’t
I will grasp it with both hands and milk it
Because anyone who tells you that’s wrong is a killjoy
Life is for the taking
You, we, all of us choose our destiny
The proles see this corona virus as a sentence, a ball and chain.
But really it’s the dogs bollocks, it’s the wings.
See it the right way and you will go far.
So
Set up that delivery service for the shielded
Start buying up the PPE
The textile machinists for masks
The cemetery plots or the crematorium
Or maybe just shares in Amazon and Netflix
Because if you don’t someone else will….


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.

Art, by James Guinnevan Seymour

James Guinnevan Seymour is an Irish artist and illustrator who has just returned home after living in South Korea and Vietnam for 12 years. He is a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design and since his graduation in 2003 has had over 30 exhibitions with the majority of them as a member of the I.A.C (International Artists of Corea (Korea)) and Limerick Printmakers Ireland. He has also had a handful of exhibitions in America as well as some published work in a number of magazines, newspapers as well as for independent comic book companies. He is currently living in Co Mayo with his wife and two kids and is currently illustrating for two independent comic books as well as working on some personal projects.  James also runs the independent publishing company Red Skull Press.

You can follow James on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, email him on guinevan25@hotmail.com or visit his online store.

 

See No Evil

 

Draw Pilgrim

 

I’m Gonna Make A Monkey Out Of You

 

Byzantium

 

Speak No Evil

 

The Monster

 

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.

 

We Riders

Here Ian Macnaughton gives us something different from his usual Covid Life column: a piece of prose poetry based on his experience as a delivery rider during the pandemic.

Happen we ride, we  ride, take route pedal
Stepped hard thrust fully stretched down but we are
Free. To be riding, driving through for fee.
Cutting not corner. Slicing wind behind
And through the line. Furrow the holloway,
Grooves cut, burnt friction clattering we take
The back route, the cut through, clear of traffic.
That’s dead, slunk solid, jammed not going,
We gone. Looking back and grinning all way,
Through night and on, passed to the drop (beat),
Hauling rolling, wheels cut through muscle flesh,
Scars deaden, waking to stiff pushed locked legs.
A gap – we  ride it quick. Across darted
past, you hang alone. Our rhythm around
step that lifts again, shifting cogs whir, know
only when ground thrusts back and legs seem bruised.
Brutal, dis-jointed our frame dents no flex,
But take the beak between the thighs, and we,
born in newly strung bones, can translate stride
Into ride, step into schlep, harnessed (beat).
One with the bike, apart moving, mapped mind,
Motor transferred through the limbs as reflex
Involuntary, the will subject to
Wheel, channelled through the app becoming whole,
But still lingers in the surface fuzz a
Soul voice commenting in stream, washing clean
Through, like tears, wet, salty, anger, muted,
In play on the last rake, spit sprayed within
the hollow head of saddled puppet (beat).

The Internet is too small

The Internet is too small for me.

What’s that you say, Google?  Seventy-eleven gazillion web pages indexed?  Pah.  That’s kindergarten stuff, a puny collection, about as impressive as Donald “Big Brain” Trump reciting the ten times table.  Sure, there’s lots of info out there: if I search for details of artists who work exclusively in the medium of baby duck faeces, for example, the web will ask me to “please specify type of duck”.  But if I then search for jobs for these envelope-pushing visionaries, the electronic ether smugly reports that it found no matches, suggesting instead that I might be interested in some crudely hand-drawn erotica which clearly violates Disney and Warner Brothers copyrights, as well as the laws of good taste, physics and most civilised nations.

This just isn’t good enough.  Now that we’ve sloshed about a bit on the oily, trash-polluted waters of this ocean of cultural bilgewater, we naturally want to sail on bravely, endlessly, like Detective Columbo in the Santa Maria, further and further over the horizon, chasing that last elusive Wikipedia citation on the episode where Pikachu teams up with Akira to defeat nine (yes, NINE!) Digimon in magic battle.

I want, as a bare minimum, blanket CCTV coverage of every celebrity (defined as min 5MHz, or at least five Mickeyhartes), with MMS alerts to notify me immediately every time they go to the bathroom.  I want 3D walkthroughs of every “ghost” estate of unsold housing in the country, schadenfreude-oozing showcases where our on-screen cadavers or avatars or whatever the hell they’re called can scribble begrudgist graffiti on the virtual walls.

I want jobs websites specifically for waterfowl faecal rendering specialists.  I want 10,000-word reminiscences of every politician in the country from everyone they ever went to school with, also their results, disciplinary records, and scanned PDFs of their homework.  I want insider revelations of every dirty trick used by every single profession, from actuaries to zoologists, to separate people from their money.  I want to download endless hours of whalesong, or at the very least a passable dolphin tribute act, to help my insomnia.  I want pictorial tutorials on how to replace every single part in every single consumer appliance ever made, from cars to electric chairs.  I want to know what the second assistant cameraman on “Metropolis” thought of director Fritz Lang, I want to know how many joints George Harrison smoked while watching Lennon and McCartney squabble over the creation of “Let It Be”, and I want to know exactly where in Upton Park my Uncle Billy stood as he cheered the Hammers on to victory over Ipswich in April 1986.

After all, information wants to be free [(TM) and (C) Selected Sarcasm Corporation 2020. All Rights Reserved].

Plank, by James Keaney

Those of you who were at the launch concert for Xanadu Online Theatre will know James Keaney as a talented pianist, who was the first winner of the Junior Musician of the Year competition at the Galway Music School in 2016. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – James is also a skilled bass player, guitarist and composer. Today he makes his debut on the arts centre with his new piece Plank. You can follow James on Youtube and Soundcloud.

Please note: this video contains flashing images.

 

The New Normal

What the fuck? The new? New, new, new what? Normal? Fuck no! Are you seriously telling me this is new? What, we weren’t governed by a bunch of self entitled, public school, ‘man of the people’ wannabees before this? No, and they couldn’t run a sack race or world beating track and trace before this either, yeah. This is not a revelation to me. Or you, I’m thinking, at least if you have a grasp on whether it’s Sunday or not and who Meghan Markle isn’t?

And have you heard it’s a virus that effects the poor, old, under classed, vulnerable, and ethnically other than white wealthy worse? What are the chances of that eh? Exactly, nothing abnormal or radical or different about this shite. So new that it’s no surprise. It’s exactly what it was before, the old unchanging order. Because, lets face it, the odds have been stacked breathtakingly high against the usual suspects for ever.

The only new is that that bunch of no marks are too incompetent to have worked out how to really squeeze the rest us of yet, even if their incompetent management is ensuring that those with least to lose are losing most. But don’t worry. they soon will have found a way of dodging the bullet – by using the rest of us as a human shield – even if Dominic Bummings and Dido Hardarse do decide to return to producing limp dance music. Because, while they are apparently very bright and see the real picture, they don’t exactly seem to be having the required surgical impact on the virus. They’re not the antidote. You need to worry though. You need to fire your fluffy little minds up about this, because their masters and mistresses are not up to the task of articulating a short sentence let alone killing the new cancer that is consuming our weakened corpse just as they throw away the EU drip.