Another Year Without Drink

For the second time in my adult life I can say that I have gone a calendar year without alcohol. When I didn’t take a drink for the whole of 2012 I saw it as a challenge for myself and a chance to clean up my act. At the same time I saw it as something temporary. When I started drinking again in 2013 my initial idea was that I would drink differently, moderately and responsibly. For the most part that was true but things started to fray at the edges and I started to lose control sometimes, I started slipping, sinking into that dark place where drink becomes an end itself. As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
This time it feels different too because I don’t think that I can go back without it meaning something terrible. I don’t trust myself any more or maybe I just can’t let go like I once did. My relationship with alcohol was always fraught because what I wanted from her was not readily available or definable. In fact drunken times that I would have once called some of the best in my life now look far less glamorous than they did at the time. It’s not necessarily a moral judgment where the temperate has become the intolerant though. There are times worth remembering, it’s just that so much was forgettable or indelibly, inviolably forgotten. So much was about losing myself rather than finding myself. It’s better off dead.
So maybe I am a different person now or maybe I am just better at being myself. It would have been better to learn this trick earlier but what was it that Samuel Beckett wrote that could be a maxim for life? “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

To Canada

When I was younger I thought a lot about going to Canada and I was actively looking at doing PhDs there until I decided to change direction at the end of my first degree. I read a lot of books about the history and politics of the country and read more Canadian novels than your average punter but I never actually made it over. Next week that is about to change because we are going on a family holiday to British Columbia. We are flying into to Vancouver and then we are going to spend some time in the Okanagan region before coming back for a week in the city.
The girls speak good enough English with Luna being the most fluent as you would expect but it will be great to spend a lot of time in an English speaking country. Of course we’ve been to Ireland together in the past but never for more than a couple of weeks. The girls are going to take part in a gymnastics camp in Vernon. Luna will be on an elite RG camp, Daisy will be doing a general acro/circus/RG one and Nadia will be doing more of play one. We think that it will be a great way to do their sport but also to meet some Canadian kids and speak English. Most of the time I am the only person they speak English to so it will be cool to meet new kids and interact in English. If they learn some new stuff in gymnastics that’s great but the main focus is fun.
We are going to be staying in a house near a lake in BC so I am hoping for great weather and a lot of swimming. It’s been a tough year so far with work and study and sport and everything so this will be a welcome getaway.

A Life Backwards

I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day about the fact that maybe we are at the mid-points of our lives if we assume an average life expectancy. It was kind of shocking in a way to think of it in those terms. It will probably seem delusional to say this but mentally I feel as though there are two streams in my mind that are in a continual state of conflict. There is one part of me that is continually growing and learning and that side makes me feel as though I am getting younger and not older. If I am finally understanding things that I never understood before then I am unlocking doors to new worlds and that just does not feel like getting older. Of course there is the opposite current pushing me towards old age in simple human terms. It’s hard to read another half point deduction in the quality of my eyesight as a sign of progress nor is my increasingly grey hair anything but testimony to decline. Yet even there I maybe don’t look at myself as some people my age do. The thing is that many people looked better at 22 than at 42 but I absolutely didn’t. I look back at the few photos that exist of me at that time and wonder what was going on (and then I remember the black years of depression and Weltschmerz).
Having children makes me realize too that parts of me are just the same as when I was their age. I can sometimes laugh with my children in the same way I laughed when I was a child and now I realize that when my mother was laughing that way too (back then), that she was laughing like the little girl she had been growing up on the farm and not as a mother and that is again something I have learned that I didn’t know (back then). In some ways too my children are helping me to live life again in the way that I should have lived it the first time. We have this (quite moralistic) scripted reality show on Dutch television called Brugklas about children at the start of secondary school. There was an episode about a girl being rejected by her friend because she was being called a nerd by the rest of the class. My kids were so horrified by this behaviour and I was telling my wife that that was exactly my fear as a kid in school, I was always afraid of being infected by unpopularity. I had one friend from my home town and she was never afraid to be friends with anybody and I didn’t see how mature and right her behaviour was back then but now I know that I should have learned from her. I can’t undo the choices I made but seeing life again through my children’s eyes is giving me a vicarious second life.
On the other hand I feel that these things going on in my mind making my life feel as though it is going backwards and forwards at once are making me drift farther and farther from the norm (wherever that may be?). I feel so little in common with my environment. I get on well with a few people and might even call some friends but my life and interests are so far removed from theirs that I feel adrift and alien. I love my wife and my children and I am happy with many parts of life but there is always part of me wondering why I couldn’t just make conventional choices in life. Elizabeth Bishop’s “Questions of Travel” comes to mind “Continent, city, country, society: / the choice is never wide and never free. / And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home, / wherever that may be?”

OU Diary #36 – Decisions, Decisions

The result of the E301 module should be published at the end of July so I am eagerly awaiting that one so that I can make some decisions. I was all set to do Spanish as the last module but I have gradually found myself reading all of the books from the A300 Twentieth Century Literature course and now I wonder if that might be a better option. It would mean getting a degree in English Language & Literature which was what I was enrolled for at the start. On the one hand I am pretty sick of writing essays but I think that it could be uplifting to write about works that inspire me and the material for that course is very well chosen. If I could get all of the reading done in the summer then it would make it much more manageable. I have heard that the course is very intensive but more because of all the texts to be consumed than anything else.
My mind really hasn’t focused back on Spanish yet. If anything I have been reading a lot more German and even French in the last weeks. In a sense I am in a phase where there is a lot of turbulence in my life and I have to allow my mind to decide what it wants to do. Maybe things will change over the summer when we have a long holiday but right now the decisions themselves seem too much.

Something About Music and Love and Intoxicating Cocktails

When I was younger and I split up with a girlfriend there was often a period where the phantom limb effect tortured me incessantly. My mind kept making mistakes and forgetting that she was gone and then the whole healing process had to start all over again when reality and clarity reared their ugly heads. The patience process was just as necessary when friendships passed or letters went unanswered or ambitions were quashed. Time dulls these aches, time and distance.
What helps too is when something happens. It doesn’t have to be something big. It can be music and love and love in music. There was a time early in our married life, before we had kids where we would have these kind of super sentimental nostalgia sessions where we would play the songs that meant something to us, greedily pulling out CDs to play the next song that came to mind. “Sunny Sailor Boy” (Luka Bloom), “Song for Ireland” (Mary Black), “If Tomorrow Never Comes” (Barry Manilow), “Powiedz” (Ich Troje), “Niebezpieczna Miłość” (Michał Bajor), “Seven Wonders” (Fleetwood Mac)………. so many songs, so many.
You have children and other things happen, so many things. Still though, some things come back, things that had gone away. So now we have this new thing and it’s like the old thing only better because this is 2014 and not 2004. Now we get the idea that we want a song and we get the phone and connect it to the television and there are five us now but, you know what, there are songs that we all love together too. It’s hard to credit but the ORB cover of “Drunk in Love” is suddenly and miraculously a song that I love and that my daughters know the words of. The Thirty Seconds to Mars clips for “Closer to the Edge” and “Search and Destroy” at Rock am Ring and most importantly the iconic video for “Do or Die” are family experiences and music brings us together and the words that Martin (the fan at the start of the video) says get me every time and there is something about music and love and intoxicating cocktails that makes it easier to move on.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – Final Analysis

This year the national final ended up being disappointing again. After last year’s sixth place Luna was only able to improve to fifth place despite the Top Three from last year all having moved on. After fourth place in the semi-final we had hoped that she could make the podium in the final but it was not to be. In comparison to last year the scores were much closer and there were only 0.45 points between second place and fifth but unfortunately for Luna she was on the wrong end of the marginal differences.
Luna’s ball score improved relative to the semi-final. You can only really judge the D scores objectively but there she gained 0.4 on D with a better E score too. Her ball score was the fifth best which was fair enough except one of the girls in joint third lost her ball at the end of her choreo and still scored 0.3 better. In fact, her ball score was only one tenth behind the girl who came second overall! If you lose the ball at the end and it goes out you should lose a whole point with a 0.3 deduction from the jury coordinator and a 0.7 deduction from the E jury. It is hard to believe that she lost a point since there was no -0.3 P deduction and because the implication is that she should have been first overall by a margin, her ball going out lost her the gold medal.
Luna’s free routine was the fourth highest but lost points relative to the semi-final though it looked to me and to anybody else who commented that she had done especially well. However, it has been the same all season. Her performance looks good but it just doesn’t seem to get extra artistic points on the E scores. She had a very difficult pirouette in her routine which probably failed to score. If that one had have scored on D then she would have made the podium. However, every girl can say the same thing. Ifs and buts don’t win medals.
Overall it’s been a letdown this year. Luna would have been one of the favourites at the start of the year. She took silver in the District behind the eventual national winner but in every competition after that different girls have passed her by. If we actually thought that she was the fifth best in the country then we would be happy with the results but we think that she did enough in both the semi-final and final to be on the podium. Next year she will be a first year in a higher age category so she will have a much smaller chance of competing for medals. In a way this year was the big chance and it’s gone.

Rhythmic Gymnastics – Final Thoughts

It feels like it has been a very long season with ups and downs aplenty but the national finals are now just over a fortnight away so things are really building up to a climax. There will actually be Acro and RG competitions in the two weekends afterwards but the nationals in the Ahoy in Rotterdam are the high point of the season.
We are trying to enjoy Luna’s achievements in RG without automatically hoping for more. The results in Luxembourg and Romania were better than we would have hoped in advance. There is always room for improvement but what she did in competition was the culmination of lots of training hours and dedication on the part of her trainer, herself and the greater team.
There was a really nice collage with photos of the eight finalists in the A category on the RG Facebook page and that picture really brought it home that all of the girls have achieved something special. They are the top eight rhythmic gymnasts in their age group. Most people don’t get to be one of the best in their country at anything so the fact that these girls have put the hours in to develop their talent under the tutelage of dedicated coaches and get to compete in the Ahoy is fantastic in itself. 
Luna’s national results were mixed. She was second in the District, second in the qualifier and fourth in the semi-final. It would be great if she could fine tune everything and cut out some of the errors but that is what every girl will be trying to do in the next weeks.
Luna and her partner will also compete in the Hoop and Rope Duo finals. Their placings were sixth and seventh in the semi-final so they would need something special to medal in either but, again, it is a national final and an honour to take part. There can only be so many medal winners, the art is in appreciating that what has already been achieved and enjoying the occasion.