Monday, July 31, 2017

Pastnowfuture

This month is the past and the future.

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The Customs House in Dublin, looking unreal, still adorned with the preposterous symbols of the United Kingdom, of the British empire as it was then, the lion and the unicorn. The monarch too perhaps, or another authority, making sure then to lord it above what was truly important - the collection of tax. Nearly 100 years independent from the U.K., yet Ireland retains these symbols on its public buildings, and this deference to and defence of the "truly" important.

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A sign for a place of learning on Dawson Street in the city centre - Infinity College. Is that what I'm now enrolled in? Is that where I have been a student? Will I always be?

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Fragile Handle With Care. This is a version of how I felt this month, recovering from the past, being in the present, preparing for the future.

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A chance photograph that ended up containing a great deal of now and then: Joe Daly Cycles, a very old bicycle shop in Dundrum where I got my bicycle as a child and, I think, also the bicycle I was given by my grandmother at age 12 that I still have now. This is their newish building, futuristic somehow in this setting and for their old-fashioned business. And a place I later came some years ago for other reasons,as they rented the office space to others, strangely revisiting an institution from my past in a new form. On one visit a sign in the shop revealed that old Joe Daly himself had passed away, something I would never have known had I not happened to come to their eponymous building that day. The car crossing past it was chance, it too a symbol of Ireland, still too in love with its planet-killing cars. Behind it the Luas tram bridge, trying too hard to be modern and confident, but in reality cheap and ostentatious, too desperate to impress. Carrying the trams, an old idea removed decades ago from Dublin when they were successful and efficient, and reintroduced at great inconvenience and expense in the early 2000s, re-experiencing today something of its former success.

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Ireland's Eye on the right and Lambay Island on the left, viewed from the beach near Sutton. Formerly strategic, periodically disputed, latterly largely ornamental and inaccessible. On Ireland's Eye the Martello Tower can be seen, a chain of towers in line of sight built all along the coast to warn of invaders and defend against them. These old stone towers with their thick walls still stand solid and proud, but what is their purpose now?

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OKNOTOK 1997-2017 by Radiohead. A special issue of OK Computer by Radiohead to mark its 20 year anniversary. A good and perhaps important album then and I still enjoy listening to it now. 20 years later, this box set contains art books, vinyl, new and old songs, and a cassette tape that most people will have no way of playing. The materials are beautiful and interesting, and strange yet comforting to recall two decades of this music and its impact. I saw Radiohead play in Dublin last month, and their new music is interesting and powerful and still trying to do something different that they believe in, and hopefully they'll continue doing that for many more years. It knows where its come from, where will it go?

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A treehouse at the Glen of the Downs protest in 1997. I took this photo in Wicklow around October 1997. A protest had begun that year against the planned expansion of the road nearby which would cut down parts of the forest. People occupied the trees in treehouses they built themselves, and lived there for months, to try and prevent the trees being cut down. The protest was the first of its kind in Ireland. I visited and supported the protest, and while I was only ever slightly involved, it was important to me, and, much more broadly, to the environmental movement in Ireland. It changed things. It's still changing things now.

Knowing the past and being here now helps me to be OK in the future.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What are we nourished by?

Recently I re-read Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism. It is a small book of "picture-essays" illustrating ideas and examples of anarchism in action, such as 'Solidarity Is A Pizza', 'Borrowing From The Library' and 'Deciding for Ourselves'. I found them inspiring, artful and simultaneously calming and energising to view. The writer Cindy Milstein and artist Erik Ruin communicate their ideas simply yet allow for complexity, and their works enabled me to envisage and think through how anarchist ideas do and could work in practice in today's world and future worlds.

I kept returning to one page of a two page spread entitled 'Food For Thought'. On the left hand side was an illustration of 'what are we consumed by?'. Some of the negative and harmful things that take up our minds and time were listed, in an illustration of rushing water drowning and swamping desperate individuals. I identified with some of them, others don't bother me, but I could in seconds, almost automatically, come up with dozens of alternative 'negative' things that I think too much about and which sap my energy and joy. That's only too easy to do and we're all highly practiced at it, so skilled at this negative generative capacity that we barely notice we're doing it. That page was not the one I kept returning to.

Instead I was drawn to this page, entitled 'What are we nourished by?'.

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What Are We Nourished By? In Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism by Cindy Milstein and Erik Ruin.

Here was water flowing to and around people, as they gathered and washed in it, gazed at the life-giving liquid as they cupped some in their hands. Each wave had something written on it that nourishes. Many of these I identified with, and just reading them fed me a little, felt like water to a thirsty mind. It felt good to read them when I first got the book some years ago, it has been good to re-read them, and it amplifies the good to write some of them out here. Some answers given to the question of what nourishes us:

Getting lost in good conversation, in person.

Labouring out of passion, not compulsion.

Being healed, on our own terms and via support structures.

Noticing the stars.

Participating in processes of our own devising.

Breaking rules that don't make sense.

Empathy.

Loving oneself.

Listening.

Producing what we need, in ways we enjoy.

Hanging on to our humanity.

Playing.

Reaching out.

Speaking truth, as our power.

spiring towards abundance for all.

Mentoring, teaching, learning, as something we all do, gladly.

Others.

Asserting the commons against the commodified.

Consenting.

It's so important to practice these things and others that nourish and support and strengthen us. It's telling how much harder it is to come up with these concepts, to remember them, to practice them, how much less skilled I am, and I think most of us are, in thinking of such nourishing ideas. How much less automatic it is. This positive generative capacity feels less, even though it is greater.

I could think of a few more:

Swimming in the sea.

Laughing with joy.

Understanding and being understood.

Being with true friends.

Eating sustainably produced food.

Sharing.

Rest.

Thanks to Milstein and Ruin and everyone else involved in this book, for illustrating these paths towards utopia in such an encouraging and energising way, that at the same time is complicated and imperfect, just as the path itself is. Here's to thinking more of what nourishes us, taking more nourishing actions, and practicing more often our capacity for the positive.

--- Read more and buy direct from PM Press (no doubt you can purchase this book from larger, well-known online booksellers, but you may want to consider getting it from a more ethical source):

Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism by Cindy Milstein and Erik Ruin.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beautiful things in May.

Here are some beautiful things I saw in Dublin this month.

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Deer in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

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Swimming out to the first buoy at Seapoint, Dublin.

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El Viz, Smithfield, Dublin.

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James Earley, Blooms Hotel, Temple Bar.

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Alison O'Grady Byrne, Dublin.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rocking up to the Rock of Dunamase.

Until yesterday, I had never heard of the Rock of Dunamase. It is a stunning, ruined castle perched on a high outcrop in Co. Laois, which I came across while driving home from Kerry.

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From the signs at the entrance, there was a 9th century dún (fort) on the site and the castle was built in the late 12th century.

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It came under the possession of the Anglo-Normans when Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, was married to Strongbow.

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It was a major military and administrative stronghold for at least two hundred years, but was destroyed possibly by the O'Mores and then in Cromwellian times.

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There are the ruins of two barbicans, gates, a gatehouse, inner and outer walls and a curtain wall, among other structures and large pieces of masonry.

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There is a massive two storey rectangular hall on the top of the hill, which was partially restored in the 18th century.

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Otherwise it has barely been restored or even preserved since it was deliberately destroyed centuries ago and then fell into decay. I quite like that locals and people who know it well don't seem to want it to be restored or changed, but enjoy it in its wild, ruined state.

It gives quite spectacular views for miles over the surrounding countryside.

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We happened upon the Rock of Dunamase, following our intuition more than the minimal signage from the M7 motorway. It's a beautiful and intriguing place, well worth a visit.

Discover Ireland website for Rock of Dunamase.

Megalithic Ireland page on Dunamase.

Irish Archaeology page on Dunamase.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A mixed month.

As has been the case for at least eighteen months, there is a lot going on. This week the UK triggered Article 50 and began the official two year process of leaving the European Union. I ostensibly live there, and am studying there, and as an Irish and EU citizen I am sad to see this development, to witness this process move to this stage. Meanwhile I've felt more in touch with, and both pessimistic and optimistic about aspects of my personal life and things that are important to me. At a talk by the wonderful artist James Earley on 18th March, I felt my enthusiasm for graffiti and street art being rekindled, after it had ebbed to a low point over the last several years. At different times this month in my home, the Daintree Building in Dublin, I've felt upset and profoundly annoyed by problems with the heating and hot water, and also joyous and excited by the building, its positive presence and impact as an ecological mixed use building, and the simple pleasure of living a good life there. I feel many important aspects of my life are swirling and changing, ebbing and flowing this month, and I look forward to exploring them more and finding more balance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Truth is powerful.

A little over a month ago I was at the Women's March in Dublin.

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There were at least five thousand people marching with me in Dublin, and I was marching with five million people around the world that day. Making our voices heard and our presence felt, making clear that we dissent and being clear that we have better alternatives. It was a good day, of quietly spoken and loudly shouted opposition to an unfair world and propositions for a better one. Those messages are as strongly felt now, they grow stronger and are made more necessary with each passing day. Let's not forget that experience and that presence, that massive, massive force. We'd do well to pay more attention to and take more sustenance from it, today and each day that feels bleaker than the last.

I think a major mistake is being made in that we - the media, the general public, commentators, writers, as well as those who have and stand for alternatives - keep playing the tune of a man we claim to despise and whose message for the world is destructive and dangerous. I won't mention his name as you already know it and it's better for everyone if it's not said. Instead of ignoring a man who will do anything for attention, we keep giving him the attention he craves for doing and saying things we claim to disapprove of. As we all know from childhood, this is not how to deal with an attention-seeking, ignorant, loud-mouthed bully. He appears deeply insecure despite being immensely powerful, and insecure people are very dangerous. We continually allow ourselves to be distracted by what he wants us to be distracted by. We ignore and fail to oppose the truly destructive things he is doing because we focus on the latest outrage he has concocted, particularly when that distraction is a nonsensical, inconsequential thing he's said or claimed is true, or indeed claimed is fake. We need to focus instead on opposing the actions that are truly causing damage and maintaining that focus unwaveringly until things change, and at the same time maintaining our efforts to create and strengthen better alternatives such as equality, fairness, solidarity, inclusiveness and sustainability.

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A first stage is to oppose his policies and everything he stands for. Examples were evident at the Women's March, with signs such as these reading "Love Tr*mps Hate" and "Untr*mp the world". At least these are a step in the right direction towards subverting his message, even inverting it, rather than parroting it wholesale with neutered shrieks of outrage attached, usually honed into Twitter-length bon mots that evaporate even as they are typed. But we need to go further than that. Just visible in the background was one of the most powerful messages I saw at the Women's March:

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"Truth is powerful and it prevails." I believe this. Perhaps it would be more accurate, if cynical, to say I believe the first part and fight for the second. Unfashionable as it is to say I think we need to focus on the truth. There is a truth. The truth. There are as many different perspectives on truth as there are people in the world, and all of those perspectives are part of the truth, but in my old-fashioned view, there is the truth, which includes all of those different views, different realities, different knowledges. And truth is different to falsehood, to lies, to fictions, to unrealities. I think we need to focus more on what is true. I think we need to do this particularly now when so much of what is true is under attack, and when so much of what is false is being lauded and elevated as all that matters. While simultaneously we are told that there is no difference between truth and falsehood, that what is true is actually false, that only the lies are real. We need to keep telling the truth, about the world as it is. And about how it could be. We need to voice too the truths that are not often heard. Don't let your post-modern sensibilities and the contemporary uncoolness of truth blind you to the dangers of believing habitual liars who happen to be very powerful. We need to refuse to be distracted by their fireworks, 'facts' and funny stories. Don't grant this man and his many associates the power to tell you what to think about, or what to think about it. I suggest ignoring the majority of nonsense that he wants you to be distracted and outraged by but ineffectual about. Instead focus on what matters, and remain focused on that. Focus on what is true. And then focus on doing something real about it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Action plan.

I have been trying to think about what we can do in these dark and difficult and rapidly deteriorating times. I have thought that there is a kind of template for action, that applies to any work to make the world better, and then there are the specifics of what needs to be done to counteract the actions of Trump as President of the USA, his administration and all those who support these destructive, hateful, inhumane ways of running our shared world. The template that has run through my mind has been:

1. Ready yourself

2. Educate yourself

3. Join with others

4. Show solidarity

5. Take action

6. Take direct action

7. Reflect

8. Re-energise

9. Sustain

Remember you're not alone. More are with us than with him.

Women's March in Dublin photos

More to come.