I had a lovely night last night. I was invited to read in the Irish Writer’s Centre along with other women writers to celebrate International Women’s Day. The event was organised by Eileen Cooney of the Centre of Gender and Women’s Studies in TCD in conjunction with the Irish Writers’ Centre.
The two big rooms off the first landing in this lovely Georgian building were given over to the event and I was delighted to see such a large number of young people at it. Most writers' nights I go to seem to be populated by the grey brigade (I’m one of them!). If I could find my programme I’d list the women who read but in typical middle-aged forgetfulness I put it somewhere safe last night and now I can’t find it.
Anyway, the women all know who they were and I think they’d agree with me when I say that we all instinctively write about the same topics. Big themes. Death, sex, birth and family. Little themes. Cleaning, cooking, gardening, child-rearing. Life. And do y’know what - we do it bloody well! It was a gentle humourous night, no barging maleness here, and although there were some men present, they were nice and quiet - afraid maybe to make a noise!
A lot of the women who read were in and around my own age and I was impressed to see how many of them had gone back to college as mature students and done degrees in Creative Writing. I’d love to do one. I’d particularly like to do the one in East Anglia. But I have no basic degree (‘cept in arse-wiping) and I’ve no money to indulge myself. Mebbe some rich philanthropist out there will fund me –‘gwan – y’know y’want to!
But just you wait world. Once I hit sixty and me kids are fled the nest I’m going to do degrees ‘til they come out of me ears. Philosophy, Social Studies, English Lit, History, Psychology. And I’m going to do them in Trinity College. And I’m going to join Trinity Players ( they must need older wimmin). In other words I’m going to start my life at sixty as I should have done at seventeen.
I did start in college, but because my mother worked part-time it pushed us over the income limit and I wasn't eligible for a grant. The money was borrowed to pay the first term's fees but even scraping together bus fare and lunch money was a strain on the family purse and I decided to drop out. That was the excuse I used to leave after my first term. The money would have been found if I had showed willing – I know that now. But the reality was college terrified me. Everybody seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing. Between tutorials I would sit in the cubicles in the toilets smoking and reading a book. Weird or what? I couldn’t handle the freedom, the being treated as an adult. I was a peculiar adolescent; went straight from being a child to being a surrogate parent - helping my mother with younger siblings – bossing them about. Mammying them. It’s no wonder they were always fighting with me! Bossy-boots.
So I missed out on the whole teenage and college experience and I never learned from my peers. None of my peers in the area I grew up read and I had no interest in clothes and make-up or boys. Well, I did I suppose, but I wasn’t great at picking clothes that suited me because I thought I was fat and ugly and boys terrified me. Rough, noisome creatures. So I left college with relief and got a safe job in the public service – I was only staying for six months - until I got a proper job. Thirty years later I look back and say how did that happen. If I could only time travel back and take my shy seventeen year old self by the hand and walk her through Trinity’s beautiful archway and spread the world of learning and literature and words, beautiful beautiful words at her feet. I would put my arms about her, say ‘You can do it Charlie Brown’, tell her she was statuesque, beautiful and intelligent and all she had to do was be herself. People would like her, she would make intelligent friends of her own age and her brain could be sharpened by the whole college experience.
But. If I had taken that path I mightn’t have met my Jemser. Nor found my beautiful Donegal – my spiritual home. Nor had my beautiful boys. And where would I be without my men? My rocks, they who accepts me completely even when I’m being totally irrational. Now don’t be thinking they're perfect! They're not – and no better woman to let them know that. The craithuirs. They have an awful handful with me as the woman in their lives - for the moment anyway.
How did this post start at International Woman’s Day and end with Jemser and me boys? Isn’t a woman’s mind a strange - sometimes frightening - but always beautiful place.