Michael Harding: I wear a tie to Zoom meetings. It helps me play a role – myself

Like any good actor, I understand the importance of costumes and props

The tie, I explained, was a gift for Christmas. It’s 100 per cent silk and when I put it on I feel like I’m on stage in a play

The tie, I explained, was a gift for Christmas. It’s 100 per cent silk and when I put it on I feel like I’m on stage in a play

 

I was up early one morning because I had a Zoom meeting. When the screen lit up I was staring at a woman surrounded by photographs of her family, and she was looking into my room.

Behind me there were lots of books on the shelves, giving the impression that I read a lot, and I was wearing my usual tweed jacket, waistcoat and tie. 

“My goodness,” she declared, “you’re looking smart. Do you have a lot of Zoom meetings this morning?”

She thought the tweeds were a way of dressing up, like I might have done in the old days before getting on the train for Dublin.

“No,” I said, “this is the way I normally dress.”

The truth is, I wear a tweed jacket and waistcoat everyday because it’s cold in the room where I work.

“And why do you wear a tie?” she wondered, “in Leitrim, during lockdown, when you’re not leaving home.”

His nickname was Johnny Conceit, because people assumed that his insistence on the posh costume at his supper table was an unnecessary affectation

The tie, I explained, was a gift for Christmas. It’s 100 per cent silk and when I put it on I feel like I’m on stage in a play. Except that the drama is actually real life. I knot the tie in the bathroom, whispering: Showtime!

“I’m always acting,” I declared. “And I have a tie for playing the role.”

“So what’s the role?” she wondered.

“Me,” I replied. “I’m playing myself.”

Just as a nun might take the veil, so I take the tie as an emblem of a better me. I’m not a nun, but I understand the importance of costumes and props. 

Or to put it another way; like any good actor I wear a particular costume for a particular role.

When I lived in Glangevlin almost 50 years ago I heard stories about an old man in the mountain who used to wear a swallow-tailed jacket each evening at his supper. His nickname was Johnny Conceit, because people assumed that his insistence on the posh costume at his supper table was an unnecessary affectation; he lived in a house without a toilet or running water. But his ghost reaches out to me as I knot the tie before the mirror every day. 

I suspect he was wrestling with demons. He was playing the role of a cultured man; sitting to dinner with enough decorum to keep at bay whatever savage beasts lurked in his unconscious mind. Not much different from me as I button my waistcoat and knot my tie before breakfast.

“I get it,” the woman on the Zoom said. “It’s a version of ‘fake it until you make it’.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m faking joy until joy returns.”

In the wilderness all mental activity dissolves until there is nothing in the universe that distinguishes me from a blackbird

Later I went for a stroll up the hill, which is another strategy for banishing demons of depression.

In the wilderness all mental activity dissolves until there is nothing in the universe that distinguishes me from a blackbird.

Not that any blackbird comes up the mountain path with me. But after the walk I usually land back in the garden to find an inky rogue bouncing around and chasing kindred birds away from where the soil is rich with food.

He’s never earnestly chasing anything but like young lads in Donegal driving old Toyota jeeps too fast, he’s showing off; which makes me laugh.

The clarity of his little eye assaults me every day and I gaze back in awe while falling deeply into his presence. Depression is as insidious as ivy on a tree, but I am confident that no melancholy can gain a grip on me, as long as I focus on the blackbird and on his mellow song; the song that angels envy.

Melancholy always comes upon me from behind and unexpectedly. And it comes when my body is at rest. Even in the pew of a church or cross-legged on a yoga mat it can take me by the scruff of the neck. And too much television can bring on a sudden rush of gloom, as I sit stunned by the nihilism of Netflix.  

Those are moments when my melancholic self gets born; and I feel as heavy and as useless as a Christmas pudding in Lent, and the cosmos seems too small to contain the weight of all my sorrow. 

But I remind myself that depression is also like the raven, since it is only when I stay still that he comes to perch on my shoulder. If I move about he can never sit. And that’s quite a good reason for walking, and for knotting my tie with enthusiasm every morning.

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