Under blue skies, the blackness has changed

I’m not getting overexcited about anything and I’m not wallowing in despair. It’s a kind of equilibrium that I usually associate with fishermen

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Michael Harding at Lough Allen, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell


Spring is here already, and there’s a gush of joy everywhere; even on Facebook, where people are usually vain, inflated and cranky.

There have been blue skies over Lough Allen through January, and already I can see the sap turning the young briary branches of my wild rose trees green. Soon it will be St Brigid’s Day and I will look around for new friends and look inside myself to find a new playfulness. I will try to find curtains, too, for the window of my studio, to block the sun that stretches higher each afternoon and steals through the window on to my computer screen so that I can barely see what I’m typing.

And yet, amid all this exuberance, I ought to be feeling very bad, because the interior blackness has surfaced again in my psyche. But it’s a different kind of blackness. Maybe I’ve broken though some barrier in the dark, where depression turns into detachment and serenity. I feel detached now, as if the material things in the world were of no consequence. I’m not getting overexcited about anything and I’m not wallowing in despair. I’m in between. It’s a kind of equilibrium that I usually associate with fishermen.

Divine goddess
The only time I lost the run of myself recently was when I went to the theatre to see Druid’s production of The Colleen Bawn in Sligo. It was astonishing. The beautiful colleen on stage could not have been more beautiful: from the top of her head to the tip of her bare toes, she was as perfect an image of the divine goddess as the human race has ever imagined.

And I felt an intense sense of recognition when I saw the cripple dancing across the stage with wounded grace in the form of a broken man.

The Colleen Bawn is great fun, and I loved it all. I loved its unreality and the sense that the actors were having fun. Great theatre always convinces me that all phenomena in the material world are like illusions, and this was great.

But I was so overexcited by the performances that I longed to fall into the arms of every actor on the stage. I longed to run away with them or at least buy them all a drink. I longed to join the circus all over again but I didn’t. I know how overexcitement can lead me to social disaster, so I had curry chips in the Four Lanterns and headed home to Leitrim, through a soft drizzle, to the rushes and hungry horses, and to my solitary studio, where I face the blackness of the universe weighing down on me every day like clouds pressing down on the ridge tiles of the roof.

Youthful freedom
I was in the leisure centre the following morning, where two young men were paddling in the pool, like teenagers, recovering a youthful freedom from some long-ago summer. They were brothers, and one of them was to be married at 3pm. He was about to step over the threshold and embrace a woman in all her white bridal ruffles and be forever changed.

They dawdled in the pool and threw cupped hands of water at each other and stole each other’s swimming caps and chased each other around the edge of the pool. It was noon. They had an hour or so to paddle and play, and to be boys for one last time before squeezing into their tuxedos and heading for the church with rings and wallets in their pockets. The bride was upstairs in the spa, having her face and nails prepared, and the father of the groom was sweating in the sauna, worrying about his sister, whose flight from Manchester had been delayed. I know this because he told me so when we spoke in the sauna.

His two boys went underwater and held their breath while he and I discussed the spring weather, and whether or not his sister would manage to get to the church for 3pm. He looked out through the glass door of the sauna towards the pool where his sons frolicked as if he was worried about something.

“It’s about time them two bucks stopped the play-acting,” he said.

And at that moment, as if by telepathy, as if they were tuned into his anxiety, they came out of the water and gathered their towels, and walked towards the changing rooms with the gravity of men who know that the time of play is over, and that they must now begin to do deliberate things.

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