Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In the House of Colour

I've just returned from a long weekend in Dublin. It's a strange place to go for a weekend retreat away from it all considering that I just left Ireland six months ago on the grounds that I don't want to stay in 'that hole of a place' anymore.
But Dublin was being its usual seductive self. The sky was blue, the streets were getting ready for Christmas and there was that buzz about the place that you just don't get anywhere else. When you've been away for a while you begin to see things with different eyes. And when you've been living in Germany for a while, you begin to value things like chit chat and common courtesy. You don't mind that the guy in the O2 shop who's title, I swear,  is 'account guru', does not have a clue on how you can reactivate your old account and scribbles down some vague phone number of a place to call, no, you only care that he was nice about his incompetence, and you leave the shop feeling good about yourself.
And you are more tolerant because it's Dublin and Ireland is supposed to be a bit higgeldy piggeldy anyway.
So I did the shops, buying a heap of things that I can get over here or online, but still having the feeling that I couldn't, and managed to end up like I always do in Dublin, sitting in a dingy little cafe with my shopping from Pennys spilling out of damp paper bags that were slowly disintegrating. One fish and chips later and I dragged myself along the quays heading out to see my friends.
But then I saw it - the sign: 'House of Colour'. Jeez. Would this be one of these Head Shops that they got closed down a few years ago? Turns out it was a hair dresser, and on the spur of the moment I decided to see if I could get an appointment. I needed to get the roots done, and if I was going to invest two hours telling my most intimate personal details to a total stranger, the dingy house of colour seemed like the perfect nirvana. And it's a cultural thing. Look, let's face it, if I go to a german hairdresser I'm going to get a german haircut, and the hairdressers will be honest and say things like 'your hair is not ze best' or 'i tzink that style vud not suit your age'.
But this was the house of colour and yes, they could take me. I just needed about 3 or 4 minutes in total to tell the girl at reception that I'd moved to Germany six months ago, that I had 3 teenagers, that I was divorced, what the set up was with the ex and all about our new apartment. She told me about her one daughter, the ex, the schools and why she would or would not think of leaving Ireland. You see this is why you need to go to hairdressers. They are all secret therapists.
My next therapy session was with the girl who put the colour in my hair. She was a young girl expecting a baby and I got to hear about the whole family from grandparents to siblings, let's call it happy therapy because I got to peep in at somebody else's life situation, and to do so was uplifting. Recently a woman I know in Germany was expecting and the only talk was around brochures on what the best wheels are for prams, and the colour coding of the baby room. But my hair therapist was all about people. I could almost pictures banners up in the house with 'Welcome' up for the baby.
So this is it, I thought, the house of colour, the house of real people who make you feel a warm fuzzy glow about life. Well, the fact that this place served rose wine for free probably contributed to the warm fuzzy glow, but still.
Then another girl washed my hair. She was going on about the amount of washes and rinses and conditioners and all that blurb that she was giving to my hair. I kinda switch off at that kind of thing, because no matter how kind anyone is to my hair, it always comes out looking the same: short, thin and a bit grey. But this girl was not only a hair washer, she asked me if I'd like a head massage. Would I what? This girl was Indian goddess with the head massage and gave me some little cold eye masky yoke for my eyes. I felt like an aging prima donna in the afternoon. I imagined that this was how royalty spend their afternoons. With about ten years of stress rolled off me it was back to the chair.
This was the cutting session.
"Would you like another glass of rose?" The receptionist wanted to know.
"Hmm, maybe a tea, I might get a bit tipsy with another glass." (See, I'm already becoming German).
But then the cutting therapist took over. This session was about learning that in order to relax, you must allow others take over.
"Ah no, she'll have a glass of rose for god's sake." (Never argue with a woman with a scissors in her hand).
I succumbed, hoping that this lady could cut hair as confidently as she could make decisions for weary aul wans getting their hair chopped.
She asked me if I was going out tonight, and I told her just visiting friends.
"Ah, but you'll go out after that, right?"
"Em, I don't know." I was very much looking forward to the night in, which to me was still a night out.
"Ah, you will, you have to."
"Ok, I will." This was the kind of lady who you don't mess with. If she decided that we were going to get up from the roaring fire and leave our 1995 Barolo wine in order to head off to the pub, well then we were going to do just that.
"What about yourself?"
"Nah, I'm not going out tonight, just going to the cinema with a friend."
Well like, hello, is that not going out? She explained to me that it wasn't going 'out out', and whatever 'out out' was for this beautiful dominant lady whose hair was Cleopatra meets Granuaile, I would have definitely left the fire and the wine to be part of her 'out out' night.
I rolled out of the place about a bottle of wine later. My hair was like it always is - short, boring and kind of greyish, but I was richer for the experience. The whole thing was cheaper than a session with a shrink, and I already had some great tips and ideas on how to change my life for the better.
One of them was rose wine, and as for the flex styler and rugged fix, can you only apply that stuff to your hair?
I'd grown up with tales from the house of the rising sun being the ruin of many a young man, but now I  had experienced the house of colour, and as I walked up the quays, the all too familiar grey clouds that had come out just held off the rain for a short while and started to wink at me...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Definition of Insanity

I used to deliver training with a colleague who liked to kick off the session asking if anybody knew what the definition of insanity was. There would be the odd grunt, but the standard next sentence would be that she would tell them. 'It's doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.'
Then there would be a few more grunts and the odd time somebody might pipe up that they had heard this before, yes, and that it is a quote from Einstein. 
I've been reading a wonderful biography on Einstein recently, and he definitely did not say that. No, there are a lot of misconceptions about poor old Einstein, and he did say and do a lot of genial things, but  the closest I can get to finding this particular piece of misinformation by anybody of note at all, is Rita Mae Brown, and if you think about it, it definitely has a bit more of a Rita Mae ring to it than Einstein. 

So after a while of hearing this quote once a week, I began to wonder if I might be insane. Being overweight is definitely related to my insanity - I try the same diets again and again and expect different results. I have spent years believing in the good in people, over and over again I have given people the benefit of the doubt. Damn, I should have just stopped being nice after I was stabbed in the back the once. But no, I have always believed that if you treat people with unconditional positive regard, it would be worth it in the end. Turns out I'm insane.
But the thing is this, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity at all. It's just a catchy sentence from a chick lit novelist. What insanity really is, is the inability to determine right from wrong. It is defined in Law.com as:
Insanity.n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

Now it still might turn out that I'm insane, but not insane as in being persistent with things and not letting disappointments or bad results stop me from believing in the good in the world. You see, just because I've done tons of diets and never lost weight, does not mean that it would be insane to do another diet. Well, I suppose that's debatable...
I guess we all know what my colleague meant though. That if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. And even though that in itself is not strictly true, I do agree that one has to be aware of patterns of behaviour that can be destructive, and ones that work of course. But even if you do have quirky repetitive habits that do not bring the results you desire, it does not mean that you are insane. Stupid maybe, or quaint. It's what makes you your lovely self.

I assumed after two hours waiting that you had stood me up. Silly me.

Then of course there is the corny 'To assume makes an ass out of you and me.' Get it? An Ass (A,S,S,) out of U & ME. OH guffaw guffaw, how clever...
Thing is though, we need to navigate the world with assumptions. Assumptions are our findings, or conclusions, as such. I mean, how else can we ever put two and two together without making some sort of assumption. And again, yes, I know, some assumptions are not based properly on facts and we don't dive deep enough, and we see the world as we are, not as it is, but still, do you and I become little Connemara dwarf donkeys because I came to a conclusion that was not, strictly speaking, correct? The answer is, yes, indeed we do. Because to assume makes an ass out of u and me. And don't forget this one - if you point a finger at somebody, you are pointing three fingers at yourself.  I wonder was that Einstein, or Jesus maybe?

I would say that I navigate the world based on assumptions, but that doesn't mean it's the right thing. I would strongly advise never to take my advice about anything. After all,  it's coming straight  out of the asses mouth, and to top it, I am insane, right?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Strange Affair

My mother had an affair with a married man. An affair! A married man! It sounds like the stuff of movies was happening in catholic Auburn Road way back in 1980. But things are only ever as sensational as you want them to be, and the arrival of this man to our house on foot of my father's untimely death, was, well, something happy in the house for a change.
His name was Tom for the first 17 years, but when I named my own son Tom ( yes, a child named after somebody's illicit lover), rather than the usual 'Tom junior' being donned to my child, mother's Tom became known as 'big Tom', and that stuck.

Big Tom. I can only say what they all say about illicit love affairs: 'It's not like you think'. But really, I swear, it wasn't like that. You see, Big Tom and my mother were an item before either of them ever got married. They went out. She was never the mother to get close to her children and talk facts, so all I know is that he took her to Bray Head and she needed the toilet but was too polite to say. There were other things that I had to read between the lines. I think that she was worried he wasn't good looking enough for her, and despite the fact that he had his own business, he wasn't an academic. And if that might seem incidental to you or I, to an academic snob it was detrimental.
Poor (Big) Tom. I believe that while she was dating him she met and ran away with another dude. He was the dude who became my father, so ironically, without this twist in the affair there would be no blog about it!
And then, and these are things that I picked up as a teenager when she was half twisted and I was still a teetotaler, well then, my mother eloped to the UK with the dude who became my father and married him, and on the way to their honeymoon, apparently at a bus stop, (Big) Tom turns up looking for the mother. But the deed was done and the rest was history. He went back home and got married himself. Apparently unhappily and childless. That's what I was told anyways.

There are only a million and something people in Dublin and they all know each other, talk about each other and bump into each other on a regular basis. So about a year after my mother was widowed it was no surprise that the two ran into each other seeing somebody off to the ferry, or walking the pier or in a pub or something. And then (Big) Tom was in our living room and I was being a 15 year old and my mother was about to throttle me and he was being lovely to me, but not in a creepy way. He was actually the first adult, I recall, who seemed to find me cool.
The rest is history. This is a (fucking hypocritical hateful) catholic country. The mother never really let him into the family, he was a badly kept secret. She was afraid of it. But to me, he was a grown up who genuinely listened and took me seriously He never tried to impress, he was modest, he lent me books that I never gave back. He was the only person I knew in Dublin, apart from myself, who actually read Plato.  He took us out to dinner. My first ever dinner in a restaurant - Chicken Maryland, or something in a basket with chips. It was the most exotic thing I'd ever eaten. All of a sudden I was in the real world!
When my mother, my teachers, my siblings, all came the heavy on me, his comment was merely  ' I think we have a blue socks here'. I had to find out what that meant. And then I was gobsmacked that somebody could actually see me. SEE me! Somebody actually thought about what made me tick. Somebody cared.
He was shy. But  for a man who was predominantly a listener, when you got him on his own, he could tell stories to beat the band. He had a natural sense for something that I myself later needed to learn and appreciate: Unconditional Positive Regard for all of Mankind. He really did. He loved people
Every Father's Day hurt. I knew that I'd had a father, one who probably loved me, but not one who had really impressed me. I wanted to send Big Tom a Father's Day card, because he was my idea of what I thought a father might be. But I couldn't. And I understood the math, but still...
Years later, big Tom came to Galway. It was a golf outing. At that stage a retired golf outing, but we met up and we sat outside a wine bar in Quay Street. Just two glasses, but looking back, one of the most halcyon days of my Galway time. One of those rare moments in life when two people can express how damn much they regard one another, knowing that there will never be words for it. Just staring out in front of you at the world go by, and knowing you are going by with it.
You see, because the mother never let him properly in, because there was the (semi estranged) wife lingering in the background, because, because, because... it was hard to ever formalize Big Tom's place in my life. But did I need to?
I only know this: the man was inspirational in my life, and it is based on somebody taking an interest in me rather than judging me. Maybe because he was that bit on the outside it made it easier. I always find that the blood relatives can be overly eager to judge.
Big Tom spent his last months in one of those supposedly upmarket, yet pathetic nursing homes.
We went to see him before we left for Germany. Despite the dementia, he was incredibly lucid that day.  We chatted about all of the good old days and he told me about the ins and outs of the nursing home. I told him he should keep a diary. He said he was thinking of it. I told him he should write a book, he agreed with me. He said he might. We said we would meet up again for the mother's 80th in four months time.
I knew, I just knew, when I hugged him, that this was going to be it. I knew that it was goodbye, and I knew that neither of us would ever say that.
About six weeks later I was sitting on the terrace of a hotel in Luxembourg. My mother called me to say that big Tom had passed away. I said that I was sorry to hear it.
My new colleagues from my new high flying job asked me if all was ok.
I told them that yeah, all was great, just that a friend of my mother had passed away. Her partner, kinda.
'Was he old', they asked?
'Yeah, 80 something.'
'Ah, good long life.'
I ordered another beer and talked about leadership development.
When you're involved in an affair you do your crying in private.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Karlsruhe Poetry Slam

You do strange things when you move country. You start eating different food and talking another language. You drive on the wrong side of the road and if it is Germany you have moved to, before long, you start wearing sensible shoes and thinking that it's perfectly normal to hang out naked with strangers in a sauna.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when I found myself coming out of my retirement as a poetry slammer and performing in very bad german to incredibly large audiences who show up to see a bunch of the oddest people in the universe spout about anything at all for seven minutes. In Ireland it's three minutes, but that would be an Irish three minutes so it works out around the same.

But it's not just the time that's different, it's all a bit German over here. Last night I was invited to participate in a slam that took place in the castle at Karlsruhe. I mean, hello, the actual big huge castle, in a proper posh room with big chandeliers and about 200 people in the audience. A proper audience, with seats and tickets, it was even sold out. Not a room upstairs in a pub with a handful of people who have wandered in off the street because of the rain. And ah yes, rain. It was raining last night so I presumed that nobody would actually turn up. But they did. It was planned, they had tickets, they showed up.
I told them not to smile
It was like being a real performer. The 9 slammers were in a back room behind the stage. It was a room that also turned into a bar at the break time and it was full of drink, so the first real culture shock was being in this room with 8 other slammers and none of them ripping into the gargle. And they were young dudes, like all at least young enough to be my children - which made me want to say things to them like 'have you not got a belt, those pants are hanging down your arse' or 'your hair is a disaster. I know you think it's cool, but it's just not working for you, and I know, because I'm your mother.'
But I didn't. I silently reminded myself that I was not their mother, I was their co-slammer, and probably if anyone in that back room with the free drink that nobody wanted (they were laying into the chocolate and pretzels though) needed an overhaul, it was my good self.

The Slam itself was judged on the loudness of the clapping from the audience, so although they only used it to pick who went into round two and who was the overall winner, I would make a rough estimate that I came about last. Last is good. Last means you are an eccentric nutter. Second or third place is the worst you can get, it means that you almost made it but just didn't have the edge. So lets, for arguments sake, say I came last. Very last. Straggling in last way behind anyone else.
Afterwards was a bit like being famous though. A few people came up to me asking when I'd be performing again. I felt important. I thought the answer 'I don't know' probably sounded better than 'I guess never.' Afterward I thought it might have looked better had I said 'I need to check dates with my manager.' The biggest culture shock of all though, was when I got paid at the end of the show. Getting paid for slam is a rare occurance. Slammers are not really suited to having money. Let's face it, if I had money, I'd replace the need for recognition from small rooms of people with the need to go around the place in a flashy car. I could go shopping and I could have a therapist.  But there it was, with my name on it: Mags Treanor 15 Euro. I had performed for about 7 minutes which works out at 2 euro per minute which is 120 euro per hour. A handsome hourly rate of money for a wandering minstrel you must agree.
Then all of a sudden the room was empty and I had that anti climax feeling that you get after you have gone through the mad nervous adrenalin rush of fear, followed by the buzz of performing and getting a reaction out of the audience. Now they were all gone home. But I had 15 euro, and there was  a pub up the road, and my friend Ollie who was only too willing to go there with me.

In the end you're on your own

Yes, you do strange things when you move to a new country, but cycling home drunk at 3am, I couldn't help thinking that really, the world is the same everywhere. At least my world.