I spent much of this weekend reading a biography of Thomas Hardy, one of my favourite writers. I surprised myself by crying when he died in the last chapter. I don’t know what else I could have been expecting to happen.
Hardy did not gradually diminish. As an 87-year-old, he was active, receiving lots of visitors, cycling a mile and back every day to see his brother and going for long walks. One morning, he found he couldn’t read or write any more, he took to his bed and he died in a matter of weeks. In those last few weeks, he would request his wife read to him, and one of the last things read to him was the account of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of St Matthew.
That’s what set me off.
Every Christmas, my family gathers in the hall of our house, my dad reads the account of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of St Luke, my sister then puts the Baby Jesus in the manger and we sing Away in a Manger, then we say a few prayers, light the candle and sing Silent Night. It’s a funny family tradition that makes me feel simultaneously awkward and Christmassy.
This year, my dad couldn’t see well enough to read the gospel and passed it to me for me to read. There are few things sadder than seeing someone you love age and seeing them lose their abilities and their independence. I read the gospel, as if this was normal.
It also makes me sad to be the only non-believer in the family and to feel the will and love all around me quietly willing me back to the “right path” while I read a gospel that I don’t believe for a group of people who do.
I would be heartless not to feel guilty for living so far away when my parents are so elderly. And of course I do. But I also know that life is there to be lived and I have to be my own person and all those other things too. I don’t know if there’s a right answer.
I have all kinds of feelings about my current situation. As I wrote recently, I feel very conflicted about my future and about my present. I gave in my notice this week, after shilly-shallying around for four days. I announced I would be leaving in April. Everyone was gratifyingly disappointed. But no one was angry.
It’s funny, while I was doing my PhD, teaching on CELTA courses was a lifesaver. Whether in Russia or Slovenia or Dublin, it was such a relief to be doing something that I knew I was good at and something that had a structure. That feeling is now gone. I don’t particularly want to teach the course again. I’ve done it over twenty times now. Enough. And I know for a fact that the management stuff I’ve been doing here is not for me.
Every morning this week, I’ve considered not going in to work. Just not. And I don’t completely trust myself not to walk out someday. Do a Reginald Perrin and walk away. Likewise with my new job in Istanbul. Every day this week I considered writing to Istanbul, making up some outrageous lie, like “I won the lottery and I’m never going to work again” and not bothering going there. It’s not that I don’t want to live in Istanbul. I do. I just don’t particularly want to do the job. And that’s bad when I’m still three months away from starting it.
I could change my mind, but at the moment, all I want to do is find my cottage/cabin/attic and write. I felt so tied down during my PhD. And I promised myself things would be different when it was over. And they’re not. I’ve just exchanged one jail of drudge for another. (I realise I’m being overly dramatic here, but when I’m fighting with myself every morning, persuading myself to go to work, it feels dramatic.)
One reason I can’t walk away is my loan. I have to pay Bank of Ireland €380 a month, which is a lot of money. And I can’t afford it since I moved here. I’ve missed my November and my December payments. And I can’t see how I’ll afford my January payment. I haven’t been this far behind since I left my cottage four years ago, moved in to my friend’s spare room and applied for student housing. I have no doubt the threats of debt collection agencies will start coming soon.
The address the bank has for me is my parents’ one and they’re sending more and more letters the longer I go without paying. I have an excuse ready for my mother about why they’re writing every time she calls, but I can only stave off her suspicions for so long. It’s a point of pride for me that I haven’t taken any money from my parents since I came out to them two and a half years ago. I can’t imagine they’d be able to help anyway. I think I earn more than anyone else in my family, which is one of the funniest, and at the same time one of the saddest, facts about me. And we all have loans. And none of us have savings. That’s the O’Donoghue way. I hope I don’t end up in debtors’ prison.
So I can’t just walk out of my job(s) without serious financial consequences. I don’t know what I’ll do. I know I can be very rational, but there’s a glorious and dangerous streak of irrationality at my core that could just see me take a job in a pub in Mongolia or marry a Canadian for a visa or join the French foreign legion or go off the grid in the Australian outback.
The reason I had the time to read an entire literary biography today is sharks. As I wrote in my last post, there will be no internet in my flat for the next TWO MONTHS. This is because the cable that brings all the internet under the sea to Vietnam has been damaged. And some newspapers are blaming sharks for eating the cable. It’s not just my building that has been affected. All of Vietnam’s internet is dodgy at the moment. The wifi at work is rubbish and, while the wired connection is fine, it breaks down every 45 minutes or so.
My Vietnamese colleague thinks it’s strange that I find this strange. Apparently it’s normal for the internet in a whole country to break.
I had to do some interviews on Skype with potential candidates for the courses I’m giving in Turkey. Skype works in my office, but I can’t be doing work for my next job at my desk in my current job. I had to find somewhere else to Skype. The stolen wifi signal from my neighbour’s apartment wasn’t strong enough, so I set off into the centre of Saigon to find better internet.
Whatever I feel about the job, I’m delighted I came to Vietnam. I don’t think there is anything that makes me feel quite as alive as being lost on the streets of Saigon. The sights, sounds, smells and colours are so profoundly different from anything I have ever experienced before. And the atmosphere is so invigorating. I sometimes feel myself getting high from it. Before Christmas, I got lost and ended up wandering through a market, where I saw an old lady using a pair of scissors to kill and peel the skin off frogs. I have never seen anything like that before and it disgusted me, but in a liberating way. On Friday, as I hunted for internet I got completely lost and found myself on a street that seemed to be selling nothing but Tet decorations. Tet is Vietnamese new year and the decorations are awesome. Fake yellow flowers. Yellow everything. Yellow animals. Yellow children. Yellow trees. Yellow tinsel. Yellow glitter. Also, lots of sheep and goats. In whatever colour you like. And large cuddly watermelons. As I picked my way through stuffed watermelons, street restaurants, poultry and motorbikes, I felt profoundly grateful for having come to Vietnam.
Of course someone had to ruin it, as a middle-aged woman saw me passing, she grinned and reached out her hand and squeezed my upper arm. Having felt that, she moved her hand around to my chest and felt out a tit and gave it a good squeeze. I’ve been poked and squeezed by strangers on the street about eight or nine times since I arrived in Vietnam. This one made me feel the worst. I could feel myself stiffening, and feel my throat tightening.
I hate that I find it more stressful when I woman paws me than when a man does. I hate that misogynistic side to me that flinches when a woman touches me uninvited but welcomes a man’s touch. I hate big groups of drunk women or hen parties because I always fear that they’ll touch me. I remember being in a cowboy-themed late bar in Belfast with a friend of mine once and he was surprised to see how stressed I was when a drunk girl came up to me and felt my chest. I’m a touchy feely person and I like hugs and kisses and hand-holding and arm-linking from friends regardless of their sex, but when a strange woman touches me it freaks me out. It reminds me I of when I was small, I was reading about the lives of the composers (I was a very nerdy child and I spent a large proportion of my childhood reading about the lives of the great composers) and I read that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual because he had once seen his mother having an epileptic fit in the bath when he was a child and this had made him scared of women and their bodies. I hate when my own homosexuality can be reduced to a fear of women’s bodies and there are times when it kind of can be and one of those times is when strange Vietnamese women paw at me on the street.
Anyway, in my quest for internet, I eventually found a mobile phone shop. This shop was run by a woman of about my age and a boy who looked to be about nine or ten was helping. The mother would deal with people at the counter while the boy would climb on a stack of boxes piled up to the ceiling behind her at the back of the shop and get what she told him to get. The boxes were mostly half-empty, unstable-looking and precariously piled. And the child was no mountain goat. He wore glasses and slipped around on the boxes terrifyingly. The shop sold second hand as well as new items. The man in front of me asked to buy a charger for his phone. The little boy fetched it and handed it to his mother, who spat on it and cleaned it with her jumper before handing it over to the customer who paid without seeming to question this. I timidly asked for a USB modem or mobile internet of some sort. She didn’t have it. But she did try to sell me a second-hand iPhone.
I tried lots of phone and tech shops. Nothing. I went into a few cafés. Lots had internet. But it was slow internet. Bloody sharks.
After a few hours of trying to find a way to Skype Turkey, I gave up. I emailed the candidates I was meant to be interviewing and I emailed my new bosses in Istanbul who I haven’t even met yet to tell them I couldn’t do the interviews this week and I didn’t know when I could. I felt pathetic. “The shark ate my homework sir.”
Another impact of the lack of proper internet is that I haven’t been able to log onto Scruff since Thursday. Scruff is an app for Bears and the like, to meet and date and whatever. I had finally committed to a date with a charming young Vietnamese man, a university student. We were meant to meet on Saturday, at one of about nine cafés. I had suggested we meet for a coffee or a beer. He had sent a long list of cafés that we could meet at but said that he didn’t know anywhere that people could go for beer. Vietnam really couldn’t be more different than Ireland. Imagine an Irish university student not being able to name a single pub. Anyway, that was our last communication. I was kind of grateful to the sharks for that. Sometimes, going out in the streets here takes enough courage. I don’t know if I have sufficient courage to spare for going on a date.
Of course I do. I know I do. I’ll date again. As soon as the sharks let me.