Collected Efforts

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12th December 2016

by Colm Ó Cathaláin

“there’s a crack and you're leaving me left to wonder.


I’ve been pretty awful at gauging times and places lately, so I’ve been out late at night a few times, far past the time when a single soul stirs in the city. And in the depth of the winter night as the frost sets in everything feels like glass. There’s a thick fog in the city and the streetlights shimmer, and become one with the air; an atmosphere of sharpness; the world held in one place; my step and my breath the only motions; trespassing on harmony, risking to shatter the foundation beneath my feet. Yet there’s a quiet comfort in the crystalline glow, even as I curse myself for not bringing my gloves (again); there’s a hope in the silence, contentment in the feeling of sharpness, the strange coziness of the ethereal, and a certain longing to feel the sharp wind on my face again.

I’ve been pretty awful at gauging people lately. Luckily I throw no stones in a palace made of glass.


I really don’t talk much to some people anymore. And it’s nothing to do with them at all. Much the opposite — I’m watching friends take on the universe with ferocity and determination. I’m watching people redefine their boundaries, develop, grow, learn, experience. I’d imagined myself being more involved with that. Yet I feel a distance growing and I feel it’s to do with this sense of silence I feel myself bringing on and I’m not entirely sure how to escape that.

I feel a growing discomfort in my heart when it comes to my confidence of dealing with the people I look to most closely. I feel a distance. I feel a weird sense of insecurity. When I came home from Dublin I celebrated that I had kept alive friendships in a faraway place. Yet my final year of college saw me taking different classes, hanging out with different people, studying in different rooms, short time to get to do much together and with these growing shifts feeling more afraid that there’s something wrong with me.

And there’s a certain jealousy that eats at me a little now. It’s not fuelled by social media and seeing the picturesque happiness of people on Instagram or any of the things that I thought would trigger it. It’s coming from feeling this growing divide, but seeing the people on the other side of it seeming a little happier than ever.

In seconds I wonder if I’m to build a bridge or a boat. To summon the initative to try and mend the fraying cables and unite as well as I can. Yet I wonder if I’m to take the path to the unknown; forge new friendships, seek opportunity, and prepare for the storm to come.

Memories feel as the night walk home. A little hostile. Somewhat hazy and ethereal. Yet peculiar comfort inside. In the present, you’d nearly stand outside and wait for the cold to come.

2. Maps

Over the summer the things I wrote shared common themes: navigation, maps, losing and finding both yourself and your belongings in the physical world. Some of it came from the night I lost my phone in Dublin. Some of it came from spending hours finding my feet in a new city, cycling in some general direction, hopefully ending up where I wanted to be. Some of it came from the fact that life at this point feels much the same. As being lost, as being a wanderer, trying to draw maps of where we’re headed, with a pen drawing out the road we’ll travel. It feels the same as that little sense of impostor syndrome I got in rooms of people much smarter than me — navigating only by some strange intuition trying to figure out my true north. When my phone’s dead and I’m in a strange place, trying to find a way out. Both feel as familiar as one another. Both stand side by side in my brain. As I come to write, I often find a map. Connections. Locations.

I don’t know how apt that truly is though. It’s like I’m trying to ground myself. Trying to make myself feel better about where I’m lost by imagining some grand vision of the world beyond. A great adventure, a sprawling metropolis, and every nook and cranny mine to explore and experience with wide open eyes. Like that’s the vision I’m trying to summon to get my feet back on the ground.

To imagine myself a visionary. To know the key to the world lies somewhere beneath and ease my doubts.

Each November I make a little playlist. It started way back when I had a thing for a girl in secondary school. (she wasn’t ever going to go for it though.) Yet living a cliché, I made a CD out of it. The following November, I found it lying around, and for some reason thought it’d be fun to make a similar collection of songs even if there was no intended recipient; a few followed where I’d make one for anyone who’d appreciate. By the time I made it to college, it’d become a habit.

This year marks the 6th (one year was skipped because it wasn’t exactly a year for lovely songs). This year I made ten, because I wanted to design an album cover and a story to link together the concepts and songs and themes. I called it Cartographies and a little version of this section came on the back cover; a little map of the area around my home town, little locations marked as songs on it. On the front cover was a map of Dublin. The unconquered land. Tiny little familiarities burst out of it from my brief stay but for the most part it’s alien.

It was meant to open with Lyla Foy’s “Left To Wonder”. But when it went to hunting down CD quality audio to burn, I stumbled upon a certain remix that I spent hours hunting for for the last few years. I replaced it in the track order right away, in spite of my cute little back cover — the tracklist was still almost right. But the new first track perfectly captured the feeling of glass that I was hunting for. Little synth notes feel almost like a lullaby; and Lyla’s wispered vocals start to layer over one another — feeling like a tightly-woven tapestry of warmth and love. Like a stillness and a light, into sleep. It’s a little recording I hold dear.

The tracks flow between songs of love, loss, and being lost. As currents through water, I hope there’s somewhat of a movement through it.

In some way I never want to stop being the teenager that I was; counting symbols and steps and trying to hold on to the world on the other side. I don’t want to stop my efforts to be kind. I don’t want to lose myself to the ages ahead of me. Yet I’m counting and I see it. the ages lie ahead of me.

3. Ages (Twenty Two Steps)

Any time someone’s asked me how old I am lately; the bouncer at the Brog, some random commenter on Yik Yak, I’ve instinctively answered “twenty-one” and the thought to correct myself might arrive half an hour later if at all.

I’ve noticed lately I seem to be struggling a lot with patterns and breaking them. I’ve been trying to write new material, but old ideas loop back in my mind, as though writing with the same metaphors and concepts will bring me any closer to the exit. I’ve been fussing too much over who I’m talking to and why I’m talking to them, and then saying not very much at all. I’ve been playing out all my stories in public, even the ones that aren’t all too flattering.

The day I got rejected for a job at Google (my birthday, my twenty second) after six months living and working in Dublin, I posted about it on Facebook. My parents questioned my reasons for “humiliating myself in public”. It was one of my friends who replied to the public call for help who gave me the lead that led to the job I finally accepted.

Someone asked me does it get to me that I’m trying to push myself into the spotlight repeatedly and hype up the million things I’m doing. I replied saying that I’m putting everything out there about everything I do just because I want to get an audience for others — people to read the stories of my friends, people to give feedback, and such. Thinking again about that answer, it’s maybe incomplete.

That is to say, on some level or other, I just don’t trust myself. Broadcasting my thoughts, documenting my steps, I’m trying to watch the steps I take in case I fall. I’ve written a bunch of starts of different messages and I treat every unanswered connection as a defeat. And yet turning inward I find myself not answering either.

Something underneath me is trying to stick to the script. Repeat the patterns, the steps. The parts of me that need to change feel stubborn under my initiative.

We’re all just a little busy.

4. Treaty

When the call came in that my summer had fallen apart and I wasn’t offered the job, that day I applied for anything I could find. I took on the task of finding somewhere better.

In a blink of an eye I’m at the table, arguing the price of the rest of my life. In the war room, with a map and a thousand points. I’m running the numbers and the distances. Counting up the hours. They’re rushing around with telegrams. My phone keeps ringing.

I’m thinking back to my summer. Maybe I spoke too loud. I’d been speaking a lot. I’d been talking to a bunch of people. I’d been looking for more options. I said those words a hundred times. “I’m anticipating an offer, but I need to explore my options.” Did they hear me?

My mother told me I’m too honest. That some criticism I offered probably rubbed the wrong way on someone and that’s why I didn’t get to stick around. I don’t think that’s it. I offered some criticism of some parts of the internship, but for the most part I hold it was a solid learning opportunity, and the people who taught me in that last job are among some of the most important educators of my life.

One of my brothers told me stand my ground. Sharpen my stories. Stories are the weapons we’re fighting with. Decode the questions they’re asking. Ask yourself “why?”, be tactical. Negotiate my offers. Learn to play the game and every position that comes with it, and get a job where I can offer my best, but best is offered to me, too. Make friends in new places. Have good conversations. But don’t settle until certainty comes.

Then the phone rang. I’d an offer, ready. Nice company, great location. Health insurance, reserved stock units. 42K/yr, stock at 10K/yr vesting over four years. I look into the stock prices. A finance website calls it the worst stock in the world and tells me it’ll inevitably go zero, calls out the ludicrous amount of stock offered to grads. Twitter tells me be cautious. The ratio is too high. I’m already cautious — of the programming language they use, the pace they’re looking to hire, the numbers, the emails I’ve received, the emails I’ve yet to receive. I stand my ground. I earn another week to figure some things out. I’m trying to figure some things out.

I send some emails. Some companies get on the phone, they want to organise interviews a little quicker. I’m interviewing abroad — well, over Skype or something. I’m sitting in a coffee shop on a bank holiday and I’m sharpening my stories. Building answers to every question. The phone’s about to ring again.

Another pin on the map. Lines and boundaries. London says they can’t figure it out right now but they’ll call me in a few months. Seattle is wondering about work visas. Galway’s not sure about how soon they’ll respond. Paris isn’t answering my emails.

And suddenly, clarity. After one final push, I put my name to paper. I’m moving to Dublin. I’ve got a nice little spot. I genuinely feel happy about it.

And after a month’s silence, London calls — looking to make amends for their mistakes. But my general’s days are behind me. I retreat.

Nobody told me how to make plans. How to negotiate. I knew how to say “no”, but not “let’s keep in touch”, “I’m afraid I’m not sure if that’s reasonable”, “well, given my understanding of the industry, you’ll have to do better”.

Nobody taught me any of this and I spent weeks on end mumbling into a private Twitter account about how the uncertainty was killing me.

For a happy ending, I still wish I was more prepared to get here. That the Careers Service would talk about negotiations, about dealing with a million moving targets, and what to do if I ended up making the wrong decision, spoke too early before something greater arrived.

But these educations were lost. Instead, I drafted a treaty to protect a nation made of glass.

5. Counterpoint

It’s not doomed, actually. I get that. The scene looks dark. I’m confused and keep talking shite on blog posts about how I don’t know where I’m going, and there’s bigger things to worry about, and bigger things to celebrate. Coming to the close of a year there’s been a certain sense of dread. This idea of a lack of empathy. 49 dead in Orlando, and their nation stumbles to elect a homophobic vice president, a president born to gaslight the world. We’ve read it enough times to the point of nausea. White supremacist kids hanging out on odd corners of the internet, hate growing in incubators. The Daily Mail’s egging on fascists again. Our government’s dodging, ducking, diving again. But it’s not doomed, actually. I’ve watched friends lead the way and light torches against the darkness. People who care about being the change. Being the light. I know more who resist than who hold back.

In fact, it’s better than it has been. I got through the worst of the year. I’ve time to look forward to. I’ve new friends to make and plenty of chances to fix the worst of it. I’ll make better of myself and I’ll be back once more.

I am so often surrounded by inspiring, successful people.

I’ve had a few wonderful cups of coffee lately with friends old and new. I’m feeling confidence creep back in. So many people are writing great new work. There’s a brightness. A hope. A stillness. A light.