University Express 2018/2019 Editorials as Byline Editor.

Editorial #1, Issue 1, September 18th 2018

Editorials are, to me, the personal side-note of an editor; a snippet space in the paper where an editor truly has free rein to write as and about anything they wish. Some editorials introduce the theme of that particular issue of the paper with reference to some of the articles, some express the editor’s own opinion on a topical issue, some feature an anecdotal story or piece of advice, but all allow readers an insight into the editor’s own personal life and thoughts and this is the reason why I love editorials. Who doesn’t love a bit of personality? What makes this particular editorial especially significant is that it is my first. Not significant to anyone but me, true, but this is my editorial after all, so I can write about it.

I love writing. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time now, and since starting college and coming to UCC I’m not only thinking that writing is what I want to do for a living, but also that writing is something I can do for a living. College; where dreams become goals. The first thing I did when I came to UCC in my first year was apply to be the Deputy-Features Editor for what was then called the UCC Express. I got the job, and that was the beginning. In my second year I went for Features Editor. I got that, too. This year, my final year, I am Byline Editor. Next year, who knows?

My point is this: if you have an interest, a passion, or even a curiosity about anything that you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore, now is the perfect time: do it. UCC offers a range of societies and clubs that cover all angles of interest, genuinely; there is something for absolutely everyone. That one little thing I did in my first year of college, joining the Express team, was the best thing I’ve done. Joining whatever club or society it is that has caught your eye could turn out to be the best thing you do in college too, so do it.

If you’re interested in writing for University Express, or more specifically Byline, do not hesitate to get in touch. My inbox is always open to everyone; for those who wish to write for us, express an opinion, respond to an article or topic discussed, anything at all. Even just a chat, I’m always up for that: byline@uccexpress.ie

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #2, Issue 2, October 2nd 2018

I’ve been having three or four coffees a day. If you think that’s a lot of caffeine, I probably shouldn’t mention the two to three mugs of tea I’ve been having on top of that. My stomach, and head, hurt. What’s worse than the amount of caffeine-heavy hot beverages I’ve been consuming, is the lack of decent food to go with it, and the lack of actual sleep I’ve been craving caffeine to replace. I say it’s because I haven’t had the time; I’m so busy, up the walls, can’t sit down for food, I don’t have time to eat, I’ll just grab something quick, an apple or protein bar will do, I can eat that while I walk to this lecture or that meeting or while I type…

It isn’t ok, though. The only things in life you absolutely have to do are breathe, sleep, drink water, and eat. Not having enough time is no excuse. There exists no valid excuse for not eating. You have to make time to feed and nourish yourself. The essay can wait fifteen minutes, you can send the email after, you can make that call after, you can push that meeting back a bit, to make time to eat. And to eat well. An apple for breakfast and a coffee for lunch is not enough, of course it isn’t enough, and we know it. I don’t need to go in to the many far better alternatives that there are, because we know them.

Sleep is one of the few things in life that you can’t replace. It’s psychological fact that once you’ve lost out on sleep, it’s impossible to ‘catch up’ on; if you get 4 hours one night, getting 12 hours the next will not equate to an average of 8 hours a night. Sleep doesn’t work like that. We underestimate the vitality of sleep, but I won’t go in to that either because we know at least the basics of the importance of sleep, and that should be enough for us to make sure that we get it.

One little thing I’ve been doing to help me switch off from the craziness of the days, the back-to-back jampacked schedule and the constantly-in-contact communication through the hundred and one group chats and emails: disconnecting my phone. After a certain time in the day, when I feel I’ve done all I’ve needed to do, sent all the emails I needed to send and contacted all the people I needed to contact to discuss all the things I needed to discuss, I put my phone on aeroplane mode and set it aside until the morning. We have this fear of missing out if we don’t have our phones constantly switched on and connected to Wi-Fi or 3G/4G ready to buzz the instant a notification comes through, but do you know what I’ve found? I’ve been missing nothing. Nothing of urgent import, anyway.

It isn’t going to kill you to turn off your phone an hour or two before bed (at a reasonable hour) in order to switch off from the world and allow your head some space to wind down and ease its way into a far superior, undisturbed sleep. Losing out on sleep and not nourishing yourself by eating well and enough may not outright kill you, but it certainly doesn’t contribute to your life’s longevity.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #3, Issue 3, October 16th 2018

How are we half-way through first semester already? I hear us all asking ourselves; starting to worry about up-coming in-class tests, assignment deadlines and the threatening reality of Christmas Exams getting closer and closer. “We have loads of time!” is no longer a comforting assertion because it is no longer true. We don’t have loads of time, but we do have time.

I always find that the thought of all the things I need to do, when I look at everything collectively, is ominously overwhelming; “I just can’t deal with all of this”, you think, and instead of actually being productive, making use of the time you have by doing things bit by bit, you just retreat into an “oh my god I’m so stressed” ball of denial and end up procrastinating to the point of not doing anything at all.

I can promise you that the thought of all you have to do is much less daunting than what you actually have to do. You might not feel like it, but you have time. Even if you don’t have as much time as you’ll need to get everything done, you have time to get a good chunk of that everything done, at least, which is a lot better than nothing.

Dedicating three or four hours a day to making out notes, reading a few articles, or getting a start on the research for assignments may not seem like an awful lot but it is more than what you will get done, or rather fail to get done, if you just think about it instead of doing it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but once you start getting into a routine of a little, perhaps, but steady productivity, you will realise how much time you and all of the people around you spend thinking instead of doing.

I really don’t mean to sound harsh or intolerant; of course down-time and relaxation is so important (extremely so, and I am a huge advocate of some decent, especially allocated ‘me-time’, as I call it) but you cannot keep declaring “I have so much to do!” if you waste the 5 or 6 hours of free time you have in a day messing around doing nothing really, and not being in any little way productive. Absolutely meet your friend for coffee or lunch for an hour or two, but spend the other 3 or so hours free you have in the library or wherever it is you work best doing some study or note making or assignment doing.

Time management. I hate saying it, even more than I hate hearing it (mainly from my mother, but I thank her for it… eventually). It’s a basic skill, and we all know how to do it, so I won’t get into the ‘how’. Using your time cutely will make your life a whole lot easier, most especially in the few weeks coming up to assignment deadlines and exams. Take a moment to think of all the time you spend scrolling through Instagram or snapchat stories on your phone. It might not be 3 hours in any one sitting, but if you add up all the minutes you spent on your phone throughout the day (some phones track this statistic for you, check if yours does) you’ll be shocked at the number.

If you do a little bit everyday between now and the week before your in-class test, your assignment deadline, your exam, or whatever event in the near future it is you are worrying about, you’ll have a lot less to do in the shorter time you’ll have to do it, and therefore a lot less to worry about and stress over. Less stress, more success, right?

It scares me, how much I’m beginning to sound like my Mum. It scares me even more how often I hear my friends telling me I sound like their Mum.

Oh well, take care.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #4, Issue 4, October 30th 2018

I write this at noon on a Friday, just after an exam which will be my last of this semester; all I have left to face is approximately 20,000 words worth of assignments and an in-class presentation – breezy (I’m kidding, of course, but I dislike exams more than I do assignments because of my inability to perform well under time-pressure, so I must admit I am relieved). I’ll enjoy the relief for the weekend; it being Jazz Weekend, I intent to make the very best of it. As a passionate lover of music, I’m very excited about finally, for the first time, getting to experience Jazz Weekend in Cork. You’ll be reading this after the fact, I realise, so I’ll hold back my Jazz discussion for the next issue. (Spoiler).

Over the past few weeks, University Express has been carrying out some very important research, which we reveal the results of in this issue. The aim of the research was to find out to what extent racism is an issue on campus; if people of various ethnicities experience racism first-hand or are witness to it, and also if students of UCC feel that racial issues, when they do arise, are well dealt with by the college. Ciaran Dineen, News Editor, reveals the findings of the Racism Survey, while Fergal Smiddy, Features Editor, delves into a deeper discussion on what the findings mean and tell us about racism, how prevalent it is and our approach to it, in UCC.

Although the response was relatively low (137 of 20,000 students), we believe that the research was successful in highlighting some of the issues that do arise in UCC, as well as opening up a discussion on racism. This discussion is important because racism still exists. Seems like an obvious statement, but we don’t talk about it as much as we do other social issues, which isn’t good enough.

In other news, tomorrow is Halloween. I was always fascinated by the way dressing up for Halloween, although becoming incredibly un-cool between the ages of about 10 and 18, spikes in popularity in college. You feel un-cool, or rather like you’re trying (and failing) to be cool, when you go out in normal clothes on Halloween night. Every year I am impressed by the cleverness of some students, and the clear effort they put into their costumes. Because of a lack of organisation or want to put in the effort (I confess my motivation for dressing up when going out on a normal night is low, not to mind on Halloween night), I always take the lazy route. One year I attempted Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction) and ended up looking like a drunken secretary who had left her suit jacket in the pub she was in before the club. And that was the year I made an effort. I’ve promised myself I’m going to try this year. I will let you all know how it goes.

Until next time.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #5, Issue 5, November 13th 2018

Why have my editorials no titles? I hear nobody ask.

I thought it would be cool to have a collection of editorials simply numbered rather than titled, so that they would appear as a list of chronologically ordered thoughts or mindsets, seeing as mine are more like diary entries or extracts from a first-person narrative – Life of Ciara D., ‘Chapter #5’. I forgot to consider, however, the click-bait theory; who reads a block of text without having the slightest idea as to what it might be about? I am beginning to realise there may be a flaw in my numerically aesthetic plan.

Apparently there is a ‘Five Seconds Or Less’ rule – people decide within the first five seconds of seeing an article whether or not they’re going to read it. It is the title that people see first, or at least it is the title that stands out most, and thus the title that is the determining factor. As such, it is worth putting careful thought into the title; it must convey the subject that the piece deals with, make clear the stand or position it takes, and be smartly phrased: short and sweet, interesting and clear.

A thesis statement, it being a title to an essay, thus needs the same care and attention when it comes to its composition. You may know exactly what you aim to discuss, prove or disprove in your essay, but compiling your position, aim, method and point into a concise, clear and eloquent title statement can be, to put it frankly, bloody tedious.

I have six essays due before Christmas, which could be why I am thinking about this. Productive or procrastination in disguise?

My point, I think, is that having an idea about what you want to write about and giving the idea a title before you even write the essay or article can be really beneficial. Having a title statement to refer back to, as you do to questions in exam situations, will keep you on point and prevent you from going off on irrelevant tangents, while also narrowing your focus and thus making research much easier. Keeping the title in mind will ensure that the information you seek out and use is relevant to your argument or discussion.

When writing an essay, it isn’t a bad idea to construct the title before the body of the essay. In the words of John Irving, “Titles are important; I have them before I have books that belong to them.”

For those that do read my editorials, my fortnightly musings (thanks for always supporting me, Mum, my number one fan), there are two things I promised I would follow up on: Jazz Weekend and Halloween. Jazz was, of course, great (I’ll be releasing a piece on that shortly so do keep an eye out). I ended up not going out or dressing up for Halloween, so sadly I have no embarrassing story about a failed costume.

Now for the issue at hand, or in hand (your hand). If you’re feeling like you need a good laugh, we have some great humour pieces from Humour Editor, Callum Casey and Joe Cunningham in the Film & TV section with Joe’s piece on the many types of cinema-goer (which one are you?). Cian McGrath is tying in nicely with Joe this week, discussing the trials and tribulations of game-to-film adaptations. Caoimhe Coleman, Music Editor, reveals her findings on weeks of research inspired by the uncovered scandals of many artists, deliberating the pressing dilemma: can we separate art from artist? If you’re feeling in need of some quality ‘me-time’, Rían Browne, Sexpress Editor has written a wholesome piece offering some great self-care advice. We have two great interviews this week; one with artist Will Sliney, the other with saxophonist and music producer Laura Misch.

I hope you enjoy.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #6, Issue 6, November 27th 2018

Who is excited for Christmas? I am. I can second Joe Cunningham’s reflection, expressed in his fantastic article about all the must-re-watch Christmas movies, that as we get older Christmas becomes less about the presents and more about other inarguably better and far more important things: the quality time we spend with family and friends, the fluffy PJ’s and movie nights in front of the fire, the Christmas songs, and the food of course. I love the weather, I love the cosy-dark evenings (when I get to spend them at home in front of the fire), the refreshingly cool, biting air (nothing cures a winter-celebration-induced hangover like the cold, fresh air of a winter’s day), but most of all I love getting my friends and family the best presents I possibly can.

Christmas shopping, the getting of the gifts and presents, can often add unwanted stress to the festive season for many that struggle to think of what to get, but also for those that are stuck (as students we feel this struggle acutely) for funds. But not to worry; you need not break the bank with gifts, and I have done up a little Christmas Shopping Special piece especially for this issue that I hope will inspire those struggling to think of what to get their family, friends and Secret Santas this year.

Not to mind the Christmas shopping, as college students we’ve also got Christmas exams and assignments to get through. Caoimhe Coleman advises how best to use music to accompany our study, a great piece which you will find in the music section. My personal favourite tip is the one about a playlist that is exactly 40 or 50 minutes long so that you know when it’s time to take a study break, to get up and stretch your legs. Be clever with the use of your time over the next few weeks so that you’re not left cramming and doubly stresses when it comes to the week/night before your exams – a little bit every day goes a long way.

Make sure also to feed and nourish yourself properly, and to stay well hydrated and reasonably caffeinated. You’ve got this, we’ll all get there; we’ll be hitting the 12 pubs in our Christmas jumpers and enjoying the festivities more thoroughly and guilt-freely come December 21st when all exams are officially over. (Enjoy your festive and celebratory drinks responsibly, and respect all those in pubs and restaurants that work through the Christmas – it’s rough enough having to work at Christmas without dealing with drunken, rude and ignorant people that show no patience or consideration for others around this time.)

Remember that this time of the year, as wonderful and all as it feels for the most part, can be a really lonely and particularly hard time for a lot of people. Look out for friends that you know have recently lost a loved one, perhaps have recently gone through a break-up, or are just going through their own struggles and may not be feeling the greatest this Christmas. Rían, our Sexpress editor, offers some great self-care advice if you’re feeling like you’re in need of a bit of TLC yourself. Do take care, of yourself and your loved ones, this Christmas. Wishing you all a lovely one.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #7, Issue 7, January 29th 2019

And we’re back. It doesn’t take long for it to start feeling like we never had the long break we did, but is that really a bad thing? A break is great, wonderful, and definitely well-needed from time to time, but it really is great to get back into a more structured, disciplined and motivated routine, even if we don’t like to admit it and/or complain about it the whole time.

I hope everyone had a wonderful time during the holidays, that you enjoyed some well-deserved rest and recuperation, as well as the essential seasonal indulgence and seshing, and are feeling refreshed and ready to smash secound semester.

Just think, it won’t be long now until we’re off for the summer – a scary and sobering thought with this also meaning the incoming of summer exams. However, at the same time, this is a very exciting thought as we’re that bit closer to the summer plans that await us after the dreaded exams.

Are you feeling the whole New Year, New You, or are you just throwing the phrase around ironically, like myself because honestly does it even really matter? What about you was in need of a change anyways, am I right? The beginning of a new year can be strange; we’re expected to feel optimistic and highly motivated, making no mark on a clean slate, but this can only leave us feeling awful guilt and defeat when things don’t suddenly, drastically improve.

You can make positive changes in your life at any time; it doesn’t have to be a new year or a Monday or any particular time at all. It was 5pm on a Sunday evening in mid-January when I finally did something, I’ve been saying for so long I’d love to do: I started a blog. Only took me 5 years of thinking about it… It’s ciaraday.com, if you’re looking.

Back to Byline. For this issue, we have a two-page spread dedicated to a new and improved Fashion section – give a warm welcome to the newest member of the Byline team: Fashion Editor, Sadhbh Sullivan! Sadhbh joined us in early January and has been working hard on the perfect first piece. We think it’s fabulous, and are confident that we’re not just being biased, but check it out for yourself! While you’re at it, check out Sadhbh’s amazing personal fashion blog sadhbhers.ie.

We have really spoiled ourselves in terms of interviews for this first issue of the secound semester, with one in the music section as well as the interview section. Caoimhe Coleman has an interview with King Nun in the Music section, and we also have an interview with the wonderful whenyoung, who’s gig in Cyprus Avenue I had the pleasure of going to. A really great band, and definitely a name to watch.

That’s all from me for now, unless you’d like to show a gal some love and give my blog a follow – that would be fab.

Yours, Ciara D.

Editorial #8, Issue 8, February 19th 2019

It never fails to amaze me just how relentlessly we as college students are dedicated to the sesh. I am not condoning our carry on. I am not condemning it, either. I am, out of sincere, non-judgmental fascination, simply making an observation of our creature-ness. We are filthy. I do not need to go into a list of examples or refer to any particular incident – one need only be on, near or around campus and/or college road at some point, any point, any time of day any day, last week. I hope everyone is treating their bodies to some much needed, wholesome nutrition and pure, unadulterated hydration this post-RAG week.

Further than physical, bodily self-care, here is a friendly reminder that in addition to the many other stresses that may be niggling away at your mind the weeks you don’t go out on a mad one or two or five, such an excess of alcohol and any other recreational substances that may be consumed can really aggravate an anxious, worrying or unhappy mind. So, when I say mind yourself I don’t just mean drink water and eat well. Take care of your head, too. There are loads of ways one can do this, and everyone has their own routine, but do make sure to put it into particular practice post-sesh. On top of the substance-induced stresses on the mind, such sessions can often, for many, come with social stresses and/or difficulties, too. Keeping this in mind, while looking out for yourself, look out for friends too. Check in, catch up, plan a wholesome, energy and motivation replenishing, re-charge night in.

Another very special (I say this with a sarcasm steeped in cynicism) event happened last week: Valentine’s Day. Or, as our humour editor Callum Casey refers to it in his section this week, the Capitalist Holiday. If you have a very special someone in your life and spent a lovely time with them this Valentine’s Day, then good for you. Genuinely, I mean that. As cynical and all as I am about the whole thing, good for you anyone who, in the face of all the cynical jokes, piss-taking and giving out that is done about it, went and planned something special for themselves and their significant other to enjoy. See, romance isn’t dead – its unavoidable, unbreakable, relentless it seems. It creeps in whether we embrace it or not. Cute stuff happens; between family, between friends, between lovers. We all engage in a kind of romance in some way, shape or form from time to time whether we are aware, accepting, or happy of the fact or not.

A few weeks back, I was delighted to get to speak with Finn, the man behind Uppbeat, a Dublin-based rapper originally from Mayo with a unique approach to his music projects. You can read all about it in the interview section. In this issue we welcome Sirius Speculation, constellation and cosmos specialist with a special talent for predicting the fortnightly fortunes of the zodiac signs. Find out your sign’s fate in the humour section. For those with an interest in the aesthetics of life, Sadhbh walks us through the need-to-knows of Fashion Month in the Fashion section, while the film buffs and fans of Liam Neeson who have been feeling hurt, confused and generally misled after recent headlines can find comfort in the logic outlined by our always reliable Film & TV Editor, Joe Cunningham. Much more fantastically interesting reads to be found throughout Byline, as always, brought to you by the most wonderful team of editors and writers whose praises I will never cease to sing.

Much love,

Ciara D.

Editorial #9, Issue 9, March 12th 2019

Before reading Éadaoin Regan’s brilliant Arts & Literature section, I had no idea what the word ‘penultimate’ meant. I misspelled ‘Brookfield’ on the campaign posters I made for the Student Media and Satellite Common Rooms referendum (I am an English student). I also mixed up my deadline dates so wrote all of what you’ve just read last week at five minutes to a non-existent deadline before figuring out I was a week early. If this doesn’t tell you how my final semester of my final year is going, I don’t know what will.

I am not the only one feeling like this. Even if you’re not in final year, which let me tell you adds a slightly more terrifying aspect to the thought of looming exams knowing they’ll be your last, it’s that time of the year where everyone is feeling up against it. Between exams, assignments, placement, sorting summer plans, and all of the other things going on at the same time, it gets to feel a bit much at times. You may start to feel overwhelmed and like you’re not ready or just can’t handle everything.

You’re not the only one, though – we are all going through, or at least go through, times like these. A lot of it is really exciting, though, and not at all as daunting as the thought. It’s like going to the gym – it’s the thought of it that’s the worst part; once you’re there you’re flying and have a great time, wondering why the hell you wasted so much time dreading it and putting it off in the first place. Just go.

Last Thursday, the 7th March, it was announced that the capitation referendum in support of student media was passed. I just want to take a moment right here to say thank you to everyone who supported us by voting yes. Apart from the massive beneficial difference it’s going to make to all students, it really does mean so much personally to those of us involved in student media. We wouldn’t be here without you, really, so thank you.

As always, the wonderful Byline team have us spoiled with the quality of the articles yet again this issue. Our Fashion section even has handy little cut-outs for those of us who struggle to understand what the hell all the little triangle pictures and symbols on our clothing tags mean – thank you Sadhbh! An interesting debate around the issue of violence in video games is bought to us courtesy of Gaming Editor, Cian McGrath, while Film & TV Editor, Joe Cunningham, satisfies the movie buffs by giving us his reflection on the Oscars and an interesting piece about the relationship between politics and TV. Caoimhe Coleman, Music Editor, provides us with a great lowdown of a band that’s created a community of its own – have you heard of IDLES? While we’re on music, do you know of ASH? Regardless, be sure to check out the nicely similarly vibed Music section and Interview.

This is to name but a few of the great sections we have for this issue, and the amazing editors we have here in the Byline family. Much love to them, and to you – our readers, because, like I said, we literally would not be here without you.


Ciara D.

Not-so-Dead Poets Society.

When you think of poetry, it is likely that you recall the work of the poets that were on the Leaving Cert syllabus (or high school equivalent); you remember resentfully the hours you spent reciting the lines from the poems you were told by your teacher to have learned by heart, the planning of essays, learning the poetic techniques and providing evidence in the form of quotations. This may be the extent of your knowledge of poetry; you may think of poetry as a dying art form, perhaps; hardly an adequate profession in the days of Bishop and Plath, never mind a modern-day profession, right? Who, especially nowadays, can regard themselves as a poet?

In definition, poetry can have a few different meanings or interpretations; poetry can be strictly defined as a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; it can be considered the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. In this way, isn’t music poetry? The lyrics written by musicians, the music itself is poetry in that it has a quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems. Movies and films feature poetry, the lines that stick with us and resonate in some way, the lines we remember and make reference to. Poetry may not be an obvious or prominent profession when we think of professions such as ones like nurse, doctor, teacher, businessman etc., but poetry is by no means a dead or dying art form.

Our regard of poetry as just a part of the Leaving Cert or our schooling days, just something that we had to get through and could forget about after, has caused us to have a limited knowledge of poetry and has resulted in us maybe being narrow-minded to the idea of poetry being around us, still, in everyday life. We seem to have created a stigma that views poetry as uncool and irrelevant. Modern poets (poets that are alive, and so many of them young, and writing today) are not very well known because of this. The works of these modern-day poets are very powerful and deal with lots of different issues that are relevant to us. One does not technically have to have their work published to be considered a poet. A professional poet does, perhaps, but in reality many of us are amateur poets, or at least we all contribute to the creation of some form of poetry throughout our lives. In some small way, we are all poets; we write passionate essays, articles that feature poetic qualities, we write songs, we compose heartfelt and meaningful messages to one another to provide friends with support, guidance and advice when needed… all of these things contain an element of poetry. Poetry is not an entirely abstract form of expression. Even the simplest of communications, such as a conversation, statement, speech, even a message, can feature elements of poetic expression; reminding a friend who’s feeling self-conscious of how beautiful they are, an encouraging message to a friend suffering from anxiety of how strong and capable they are, even as simple as telling someone you love them.

I realise this may sound ridiculous, but it’s just a little something to notice, and I thought with it being close to Valentine’s day and all that this would not be an unfitting time to talk a bit about poetry. Here are just a few incredibly talented poets that you should definitely check out, and a few of the poems I recommend to start with. You might find something that hits you in some way, something that resonates with you, or you might not. That doesn’t mean there isn’t poetry out there that you would get behind; these are just some of the poets and poems that work for me.

Many of you on Instagram or Tumblr may have come across short works by Rupi Kaur in the form of pictures, some may be pictures from pages of her book. Rupi Kaur’s poetry began small, “I was writing birthday poems for friends and love poetry for crushes”, and it developed from here into something that has become a powerful voice with an important message; she deals with topics that relate to equality, ethnicity, women and touches on feminism. A short, sweet and simple, yet utterly powerful poem reads: “our backs / tell stories / no books have / the spine to / carry” (women of colour). As an immigrant from India living in Toronto, Canada, her difficulty with speaking English meant that she had a lot of time alone as a child to spend drawing and painting. As her English improved, Kaur began to focus on her passion for writing from the age of 17 on. Her poetry is uniquely marked by the use of all lower-case letters and no punctuation. This is because of her desire to keep some connection with her mother tongue, Punjabi, “to write punjabi means to use gurmukhi script. And within this script there are no uppercase or lowercase letters. all letters are treated the same. i enjoy how simple that is. how symmetrical and how absolutely straightforward. i also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. a visual representation of what i want to see more of within the world: equalness.”. In November 2014 Rupi Kaur self-published her first collection of poetry in the form of a book entitled “milk and honey”. Rupi Kaur’s poetry is simple yet striking, and so accessible and immediately relatable, containing messages of encouragement and marvelling at the human spirit in it’s ability to flourish and heal; “and here you are living / despite it all”.

Rupi Kaur

Steve Roggenbuck is best known for his videos as a YouTuber and blogger, but he is also a writer and poet with six published works, and founder of Boost House, a poetry publisher with a mission “to build culture and community at the intersection of poetry, new media, and radical politics” by publishing “books which promote critical, empowering orientations to the world” with the “aim to use new media to make poetry more exciting and accessible to young people”. This project is definitely worth taking a look at, especially if you’re interested in writing and possibly publishing your own work someday.

Steve Roggenbuck

Patricia Lockwood has been unofficially labelled the poet laureate of Twitter. One of her most infamous tweet trends is a series of “sexts” that were inspired by the Anthony Weiner (an American politician involved in ‘sexting’) scandal. Surreal and brilliantly shocking, they poke fun at the over-sexualisation of many things in modern day life. Just scrolling through Lockwood’s twitter feed provides for an interesting and entertaining read, and I would also recommend checking out the poem that sparked the most attention when it was published on a website called “The Awl”; the poem, entitled “Rape Joke”, immediately went viral.

Patricia Lockwood

Here’s another interesting and very cool one: Morgan Parker has based a lot of her poetry on Beyoncé; Parker explained, in an interview for The Paris Review discussing her book “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce”, “One thing that interests me about Beyoncé is who her predecessors are, and how she’s a kind of symbol for all the different ways that black women are revered but also surveilled in a really intense way, put on display. That happens to me just walking down the street… I was interested in that line between awe or reverence—and also exploitation. Where is that line? What does it mean to be at once upheld and at the same time continually made to feel less than? All these questions belonged in the manuscript, which I think of as kind of a tome of black womanhood”. Parker is known for her use of pop-culture figures and references in her poetry which has sparked a lot of particular interest and attention, but Parker feels that this is no different to what the likes of poets such as O’Hara and Eliot did; “My first book has a lot of pop-culture references as well—Jay-Z, the Real Housewives, all kinds of media and celebrities. I write out of trying to archive and record my particular experience. It would feel false if I didn’t include all those things that really shape contemporary life… I’m using pop references, but not in a light or gimmicky way… My references may look different from someone else’s, but in my life I experience the Real Housewives more than I experience Greek myth. These are my contemporary myths and symbols”.

Morgan Parker. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

There are many more incredibly talented writers out there today producing brilliant poetry pieces relevant to human nature and to our modern day, 21st century world; Amber Tamblyn, Tracy K. Smith, Richard Blanco, Tina Chang, Meghan O’Rourke, Ernestine Johnson, to name just a few… “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it”; this is Ferris Bueller kindly telling you to take some time out, to give in to your soppy side for a minute, and read some poetry.

This article was originally published in the UCC Express newspaper in February 2017. It has been amended and updated for this blog post.

Sonic Brainwave

What would life be without music? According to Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, poet and cultural critic, life without music would be a mistake. This may seem a rather radical statement on the role that music plays in our lives, but it is entirely true; the importance of music in our world cannot be overstated. Music, it seems, has always played a major role in each and every society and tribal community throughout the course of human history, all of which had some form of music that was influenced by their culture. It is believed that the origins of music itself may possibly date back around 55,000 years. What’s more, the power and influence of music goes further than that level of societal and cultural importance; music “expresses that which cannot be said” (Victor Hugo), it “gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” (Plato). In the words of Jimi Hendrix, “music is a safe kind of high”, and a high it most certainly is.

It seems as though the power and influence of music holds no boundaries. Music has the capacity to evoke strong emotional responses from within us; music can make us feel euphorically happy and elated; music can make us feel intense sadness through sound alone, or through nostalgia for the memories that we attach to particular songs. Music is very strongly connected to memory. Just as we associate particular smells with different people or places, we associate particular songs with different memories; “I’ll Be There For You”, the Friends theme tune, will forever and always bring me back to my graduation night in secondary school. We also associate particular songs with particular people; the song your crush showed you will most likely remind you of them, or you’ll remember slow dancing with your boyfriend or girlfriend to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” whenever that song is played. A study carried out in 2009 by University of California, Davis, which mapped the brain while people listened to music, found that specific brain regions that are linked to autobiographical memories and emotions are activated when we listen to familiar music. The author of the study, Petr Janata, said “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye… Now we can see the association between those two things — the music and the memories”. These little phenomena beg the question: What does music actually do to us, to our brains, when we listen to it? Here are just a few of the occurrences explained…

What is actually happening up there, in our brains? First, the auditory cortex decomposes the music into its most basic, fundamental features such as volume and pitch; it works with the cerebellum to break down the musical information into its component parts: pitch, timbre, spatial location and duration. This information is processed by higher-order brain structures which analyse these components of the music and create a rich experience for the listener. The cerebellum has connections with the brain’s emotional centre, the amygdala, which is heavily involved in impulse control. The amygdala is processed by the mesolimbic system, which is involved in arousal, pleasure and the transmission of neurotransmitters like dopamine. This initiates a dopamine rush – the same dopamine rush we feel while eating deliciously satisfying food or having sex – producing that sensational feeling of “chills”. So yes, music is up there among the greatest joys in life; food and sex.

The Power of the Beat. According to neuroscience, our brains process rhythm differently to melody. Researchers led by Michael Thaut of Colorado State University’s Center for Biomedical Research in Music found pattern, meter and tempo processing tasks activated “right, or bilateral, areas of frontal, cingulate, parietal, prefrontal, temporal and cerebellar cortices,” while tempo processing “engaged mechanisms sub serving somatosensory and premotor information”. This has led to some intriguing discoveries: groovy music promotes corticospinal excitability, which is the cause of the strong urge to dance. Music can also cause blood to pump into the muscles in our legs, which many believe is what causes people to tap their feet. Rhythm can cause changes in heart rate and respiratory patterns, which can result in these internal cycles falling into sync with the music.

“I see music. It’s more than just what I hear.” Could Beyoncé be right here? Can one see music? Do you find yourself imagining yourself featuring in a music video for the song your listening to, creating scenarios and going through all the drama in your head? This is because listening to music activates the visual cortex found at the back of the brain in the occipital lobe. Research has found that some music caused listeners to conjure up appropriate imagery to match the changes, progression and mood of the music they were listening to. And so, there is in fact scientific validity behind Beyoncé’s claim that she can see music. Nice one, Bey.

Can music heal? Yes, it can. Research carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has shown that one in five young adults aged 19-24 experience mental health problems. Alternative treatment methods include art therapy, meditation and yoga, but music, because of its universality, easy accessibility and transmission, has perhaps the greatest potential in terms of alternative methods of therapy, and can aid people who may be unable to access other forms of care. Controlled treatment outcome studies have shown that music therapy improves symptoms and social functioning among schizophrenics. Music therapy has also proven efficient in independent treatment for reducing depressionanxiety and chronic pain. In the UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing, a paper from 2006 about the ‘Effect of music on power, pain, depression and disability’ stated that listening to music can reduce chronic pain from a range of painful conditions, including osteoarthritis, disc problems and rheumatoid arthritis, by up to 21% and depression by up to 25%.

Music has a positive effect on health in three main ways. Firstly, through the positive physical effects of music, which include direct biological changes such as reducing heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. Secondly, relatable and thought provoking lyrics that act as a way through which we can express ourselves help us to increase positive thought, aid in our ability to empathise and promote helping behaviour; music along with lyrics touches people, and may be able to reach more people than psychotherapists could. This ties in with the final mechanism, that music is a connecting experience; it brings us together, and research has shown that improved social connection and support, which can be brought about through music, can improve overall mental health outcomes, and have a profound impact on individuals’ mental health.

Now you know why you get those indescribable, incredible feeling ‘chills’ when you hear the songs you love; the goose bumps that prickle your skin, moving in a wave over your arms, emanating from that shiver down your spine. You know why your heart flutters, and falls into sync with the rhythm of the music; the music is evoking emotion and you are experiencing such powerful feeling, all of which is caused by the sound; the beat, the tone, the timbre, the rhythm, the lyrics, all combined…. There is hard scientific and biological reasoning behind the why and how music makes us feel the way that is does. How incredibly awesome is that?  

This article was originally published in the 2016/2017 UCC Express, in February 2017, available online from March 1st 2017 at uccexpress.ie.

A chat with Dawn Williams, co-curator of the Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art.

From July until October 2018, The Naked Truth art exhibition ran in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. Perfectly timed with the curating of University Express’ special edition magazine, Sexpress, I took the opportunity to interview the woman who co-curated this exhibition for the magazine as I felt it fitting. Here is the conversation I had with Dawn Williams, with a friend of mine with a far more extensive knowledge of art than myself.

This interview was originally published in University Express’ 2018/2019 edition of Sexpress magazine.

It was a miserably wet Tuesday morning when myself and my good friend Thomas Daly met with Dawn Williams in the Crawford Art Gallery to talk about the Naked Truth: The Nude in Irish Art exhibition, which ran in the gallery from 13th July – 28th October 2018.Curated by Dawn and London-based Irish art historian William Laffan, the exhibition was highly successful; the gallery were up five thousand visitors a month in comparison to figures from last year since the running of the exhibition. Our chat with Dawn was fascinating; we learned about the motivation behind the exhibition, interesting facts about the art, and had some very interesting discussions about the representation and reception, both historically and contemporarily, of the naked body and the nude in Irish art and in Irish society in general.

The idea that there was no real history of nude in Irish art, an idea which was coming through contemporary scholars, was the main motivation driving this exhibition as Dawn and William believed this was simply not true. “When you look at the facts,” Dawn explains, “you’ve got the likes of Robert Fagan, Daniel Maclise and James Barry from the 18th and 19th century who were lorded in England for being the best artists to depict the nude and the naked – that got us thinking.” Noticing that there hadn’t been an exhibition on the nude in Irish art since the one curated by Brian O’Doherty in 1971, Dawn says “We got our thinking caps on and started researching.” Dawn went through some of the many instances of the nude being represented in Irish art throughout history, right through to the contemporary, “You can go back to the medieval works such Sheela na gigs; we have a male and a female Sheela na gigs [in the exhibition] brought from the Cork Pop museum… we have Amanda Coogan, and other emerging artists such as Pádraig Spillane to prove the crux of the exhibition, which is to assert the existence of a history of the nude in Irish art.”

Dragana Jurisic ‘100 Muses’ (2015) © The Artist, courtesy of Caoimhe Lavelle

As Dawn explains, “It’s not that there has been a lack of representation; the exhibition is just a small sample of how the Irish artist and indeed artists all over the world have used the naked and the nude in their practice.” Rather, it is a lack of celebration of Irish art that features the nude or naked body. I asked Dawn what she thought of this rejection of the nude, traditionally, and what it said about Irish society. Was it a comment on the conservativeness of Irish, Catholic society and its tendency to turn away from the sexualisation of the body, and thus the nude? “That’s a big question,” says Dawn, “It does of course raise the question of why there hasn’t been this thematic [presented in exhibitions] in such abundance before, and yes that is probably down to the restrictions placed on society by the church and State.”

It is no lie to say that there was a stigma placed on nudity and the naked body in Irish society, but I wonder if this stigma still exists in some way. Is it still a problem and something we need to work on as a society? “I think it depends on how you contextualise the representation,” explains Dawn. “For anything, the context is always an important thing. Of course I would hope that we’ve gone beyond the body being shamed. We all have them, and it’s strange that we still don’t have the language to talk about our bodies and how they function. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it’s always to do with the context and how you mediate discussions around the body and sex and sexual behaviour or bodily functions.”

A lot of thought goes into curating an exhibition; careful consideration of factors to determine what works you select to feature in it, but also the very particular layout and order you display the works in. Dawn explains why they selected the works that they did, and the reasoning behind the non-chronological ordering of the works in the Naked Truth exhibition; “We wanted to select works that were either important within regard to the artist’s overall body of works or that were particularly relevant to theme. The way that we’ve hung the works is not chronological, and that’s important in order to create dialogs and, for want of a better word, juxtapositions between the centuries. As you come into the exhibition you’ve got Robert Fagan’s 1886 Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia, and on the flipside of that you’ve got Patrick Grahams 1982 portrait of My Darkish Rosaleen (Ireland as Young Whore), both showing these themes of using the woman as a sort of mythical mother of Ireland or a bastardised version of a woman to offer the same political standpoint within the work, so it was important not to have a chronological layout.”

Robert Fagan – Portrait of a Lady as Hibernia © Private Collection.

What is the message, the bottom-line note, that you wanted to send to the public with this exhibition, the reaction you hoped to evoke?

It was interesting to hear from Dawn as a curator herself what they were hoping the reaction would be from the public. Every exhibition aims to display or portray a particular message or evoke a particular feeling or thought, and this exhibition undoubtedly had many implications, both intentional and unintentional. “The reaction has been incredibly positive,” reveals Dawn, “We see families with younger children, we see teenagers – it’s brought a younger demographic in. We see people talking about the body. A woman came to me after seeing the exhibition to say that she doesn’t feel so body-conscious anymore. I didn’t think the exhibition would have that kind of an impact – it gave me gooses bumps; this woman looked at various different woman and men and thought about herself, how she evaluates and criticises herself, and she walked away feeling quite free of those constraints afterwards. If you can do that to just one person, your job is done.”

This brings up the idea of the idealised body. We see it in media and in the fashion industry all the time. Even in art, there seems to be idealised body trend throughout the centuries, but many artists have attempted to challenge this idealised form in their work. A striking aspect of this exhibition was undoubtedly how raw and real the body was represented. What this exhibition seems to have achieved, perhaps unintentionally, is a more realistic, honest and raw representation of the real body. As Dawn explains, “While you do have Hibernia, the idealised creature, there are many instances of how bodies truly are – there is no ‘norm’, there really isn’t, and there’s certainly not an idealised form presented here as much as there is in media.”

This idea of an honest portrayal is suggested in the title of the exhibition. I asked Dawn why the exhibition was called the “Naked Truth” – the word ‘truth’ being key to my interest. What does ‘truth’ mean in the context of the exhibition? “It’s called Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art because it was important to have the word ‘naked’ and ‘nude’ in the titles; there are discrepancies and different meanings when these two words are applied in different contexts. The word ‘truth’ is there as the crux of the exhibition is to assert that there is a history of nude, naked painting and sculpture in Irish visual art, to assert the truth that it does exist.”

Thomas brought up the point about British art critic John Ruskin being horrified by his wife’s naked body on their wedding night when he discovered that she had pubic hair, explaining how this was a pointing out of the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’, a difference John Ruskin clearly did not understand. “If his only reference point was art historical women painted,” Dawn suggested, “and the idealised Greek and Roman forms, sculptural forms, then there is a complete lack of pubic hair in all of those. Quite naïve, possibly.”

Amanda Coogan ‘After Manzoni’ (2000) © Amanda Coogan

I pointed out how this reminded me of the way in which the modern-day porn industry has skewed the expectations of young men, and even women, when it comes to what the bodies of the opposite sex will look like and how sex and sexual acts should or will go. It’s interesting how art back then had the same impact. “There’s nothing new about sex,” explains Dawn, “and how bodies are perceived and misconstrued and so-called idealised. But then you look at Ruben’s work in the seventeenth century and what’s become referred to as the Rubenesque body – a much more rounded, voluptuous, and, in some ways, honest figure – that was the form to be admired. Then you go to the nineteen twenties and it’s all a kind of androgynous look. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and it seems as though, if you wait long enough, your body will be in fashion. It fascinates me, and also irritates the hell out of me as well.”

There seemed to be a strong theme in the exhibition of a kind of defiance or rebellion against particular conservative or constricting aspects of society. There is a strong element of feminism, with pieces that challenge the ‘male gaze’ and very little pieces depicting the ‘male gaze’ (depictions of woman in historical paintings, often painted by men for men, where the woman is made an object, with an averted gaze never looking directly at the viewer). Some pieces offer comments on religion and Catholicism with religious iconography,  and at times a strong sense of homosexuality is depicted. This echoes a powerful statement by Alice Maher; “when you reclaim imagery, you take the power back”. As outlined in the exhibition booklet, “Maher’s delicate watercolours all challenge mythological representations of ‘the docile sexuality of the gender’, positing instead a more complex, experiential, self-aware embodiment of the naked female.” Thomas asked Dawn if perhaps they felt responsible for defining this kind of a perspective on these works.“I think redefining is too strong a word,” said Dawn, “We’re not setting out to do that – all we’re trying to do is encourage people to look at and consider each perspective. I think Dragana Jurisic’s piece 100 Muses is a very powerful piece in terms of not being the male gaze because it was devised by a woman artist and inviting woman to come forward and negotiate their own poses, choose their own format. She left it for a year before asking permission for those works to be shown in public. She gave each individual a year to consider, which is generous and proper – seven of those women declined, which is why you’ve got 7 gaps in the 100 Muses work. But she still honoured their presence by having those gaps there. That work is a very strong work because its woman on woman, and all the women are looking directly at the camera – they’re not doing the ‘male gaze’.”

Some would say that Ireland, at least traditionally, has a different and distinctive, attitude to the nude and the naked body in comparison to other European countries, or even other countries around the world in general. Thomas points out how there seemed to be, not a rage but, a sort of undercurrent of anger in a lot of the pieces, an almost punk attitude, particularly in the more contemporary works, stemming from the oppressiveness that has been present in Irish society for such a long time. “Think of Nell McCafferty in Mark Daniel Duffy’s piece, standing there proud and defiant,” Thomas says. Dawn agrees that “there is a defiance but, at the same time, it is a considered one”. She explains how it took Nell McCafferty, Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist, weeks to decide to be a model for Mark Daniel Duffy; “she just phoned him up one morning and said ‘right, I’ll do it but I’m doing it now and you have to bring coffee’… in the painting there’s a coffee cup lid, and that Duffy calls his own self-portrait.”

Daniel Mark Duffy ‘Portrait of Nell McCafferty’ (2008) courtesy the Artist and Private Collection

On this subtle point of rebellion, we also discussed in depth the series of large-scale photographic works, grouped under the title Icons, by Billy Quinn, which deal with broad issues of sexual orientation and sexual abuse and were created by Quinn to honour friends of his who had died from AIDS. Interestingly these pieces have been accused of a mockingly anti-Catholic tone in the way that they seem to feature some very prominent and powerful religious iconography, but, as Dawn explains, “Billy Quinn, in his writings about this amazing work, expresses how even he was surprised about how iconographical it was, how much gold there was, how much it did look like an icon from a Church. One of the reasons why Billy Quinn created his series was that he was fed up of his friends not being treated as humans because they had HIV or AIDS. It was a way to literally expose these people as humans.” Raising eyebrows and being described by Jack Meehan, national treasurer of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in an article for The Irish Echo, an Irish American newspaper, as “basically pornography masquerading as art”, these works were first showcased in New York in the early 1990’s and were apparently shocking even there, “which is kind of mad because you think of that place as a liberal place, so it’s not necessarily an Irish thing.”

“What’s more shocking about those Billy Quinn images, in particular that image [one of the images in the series, Billy],” explains Dawn, “is not the image but probably the text; what’s written in the text reflects back on the image and makes it even more shocking because of what you’ve read.” Underneath Billy is written: “Aids pushed me…It pushed all of us into the realisation of our own mortality”.

The naked body is a universal image. It says something about all aspects of society; it deals with the objectification of woman in art through challenging of ‘the male gaze’ as is done by Dragana Jurisic in her 100 Muses series, it deals with issues of health as in Billy Quinn’s series in honour of friends who had died of AIDS, as well as offering subtle comments on religion as we see coming through in Quinn’s work and William Orpen’s 1916 The Holy Well, and much more. The Naked Truth; The Nude in Irish Art exhibition is an excellent example of the many comments that the naked body and the nude have to offer on a personal level and on a societal level, and beyond.

“It’s not just about representation; it’s about how you feel, the context, what you bring and what your own histories are when you see a work, and what questions the work asks of you. A work should ask you a lot of questions if it’s a really good work – that’s my own point of view.”

Dawn Williams

Breaking the Fast

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
For a time, it was my only meal of the day.
For a time, it was the only thing keeping me alive.
But eventually, of even that I deprived myself.

It is difficult to explain what it is like to go through something, knowing it is an impossible thing to understand having not gone through it. I didn’t understand until it was over, until after I got better. I feel as though Eating Disorders are often misperceived as something one, in a way, decides to have; as if one day that person wakes up and decides “you know what, I’m kind of sick of eating and want to be super thin, so I’m going to be anorexic from now on”. This is a misconception, and a dangerous misunderstanding. You don’t wake up one day and decide you’re going to starve yourself. It’s not something you choose; the eating disorder chooses you. The illness happens to you. It haunts you; develops from deep within you, growing slowly and malevolently inside until it takes over completely and you’re helpless to stop it. It isn’t your fault. A mental illness is exactly that: an illness, and it is not something that can be fixed by a good pep talk or simple change of perspective.It takes time; infinite time, constant effort and consistent determination.

I craved the feeling of ice cold water trickling
down to fill an empty stomach with nothing.
Water could do no harm. Once it was digested
it was weightless, only passing through,
cleaning, cleansing, untraceable, invisible.

First, I cut out sweets. No jellies or chocolate or snack foods. I was very strict, but my discipline wasn’t dangerous at this point; I was still eating all the other important food groups. It may have been okay if I had just gone as far as this. It wouldn’t have put my physical health in such a dangerous position or put my life at risk. But I went further; I slowly cut things out of my diet completely; bit by bit, I cut out bread, I cut out red meat, I cut out chicken, I cut out pasta and rice. Eventually I cut out most foods until all I was living on was fruit and water. As humans, we cannot survive on just fruit and water. We need food. Just as a car needs fuel to run, we need food to function; and even more than a car needs fuel to run, we need food to survive. And not just any food, but the right food in the right amounts. But part of the illness is the problem that arises when these lines are blurred, when you no longer trust what is the right food or the right amount. You construct your own rules and regulations, or rather, the illness does. It tells you that less is more and less needs to be as minimal as possible until eventually the most you can have is nothing. Then the voice; nothing is still too much, you need less less less and so you abuse your body in every way you physically can in such a condition to lose, shake off, get rid of the unnecessary, which is of course the necessary, the vital for survival, but the illness will not accept that.

I was always cold, as I wanted to be,
the warmth uncomfortable, suffocating.
Freezing all my softness, shrinking and
restricting until I was small enough.
But I was never small enough, and
just before it was too late I learned
that I never would be, I never would be
small enough. That was the trick,
the game, and no one ever wins.

You see the thing is; I was never going to be small enough, thin enough, good enough. Every step I took, even if I said it would be my last, was never my last. But I wasn’t walking alone; it was walking with me. Not even with me, but for me; I had no say. It developed slowly, little steps spread out over time, over months. But it builds up and escalates and then spirals too fast and out of control; and once you’re caught up in that downward spinning spiral, it seems impossible to get out; a rollercoaster of thought you can’t get off. It takes over everything; it effects everything. No part of your life is left untouched, untainted, undisturbed. The first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning, and the last thing you contemplate before you fall to sleep at night; what to eat (less), what not to eat (more), when to eat (timing is important, nothing after 7pm, only water water water), ways to hide it (make them think you ate), when to walk (as much as possible), when to run (whenever you physically could), you can do it, you can do it, you don’t need it (food), you’re ok (you won’t die), you can do it.

Tea with friends was missing out on
conversations because my mind was
overcome with contemplations,
did I deserve a biscuit?
Tea with a drop of milk was twenty already.
You see a harmless treat, I see
no exceptions for a week.
Another hour long walk, run
if you can, and sixty jumping jacks,
one hundred to be sure.

Friends and family and even strangers could see, plain as day, that you were un-eating yourself apart from the inside out. It shows in your eyes, the dark circles and gaping holes; it shows in the clothes hanging loosely from protruding bones; it shows in your hair, in how it was thinning and falling out; it shows in the weak and insincere “no thank you” smile every time you were offered something to eat. “Are you sure you don’t want a biscuit?”. Of course, I wanted a biscuit, I just didn’t know it. I wasn’t let know, because what I later came to call ‘the illness’ knew better, what it wanted was what I wanted. I had no say. I am not a liar, but I would lie; I would say I ate when I didn’t; I would wrap my food up in napkins or kitchen paper and throw it away; I would say I wasn’t hungry when my stomach was sore and screaming out for food, when my body was physically shaking, my mind barely tuning into what was going on. At the same time I wouldn’t let my mind stop ticking, constantly on high alert; think distraction distraction distraction; anything to keep me busy (take my mind off the hunger, the cold, the exhaustion).

All day every day, the calculator checklist
in my head would monitor every bite,
every move, even when empty
it was still too full.
Adding and subtracting,
taking more than giving.
Every bite alarm bells, every swallow
death resounding like a canon as in
the hunger games, only this was real.

You think of nothing else. All day every day it’s what you’ll eat, or rather what you will not eat; what you’ll do, the walking, running, anything to keep your body moving, going, shedding. Many people are under the impression that someone with an eating disorder only have that eating disorder because of a strong desire to be thin or skinny or slim, but that isn’t true for all cases. Eating Disorders can be more than a desire to be thin; they can stem from many things, one of them control. Mine stemmed from a bad combination of perfectionism and high-functioning anxiety. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, like I wasn’t doing well enough in school (meaning I wasn’t getting a perfect score in every test), I wasn’t getting at least over 90% in my violin exams, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t pretty enough, I wasn’t good enough, I just wasn’t enough.; in every way, I just wasn’t enough… But what is enough?

Breakfast is still my favourite meal of the day,
and that is ok, now that I no longer deprive
myself of the others. The calculator isn’t gone
away completely, it interjects now and then,
but I know now how to tune it out. I know
now, not only what I deserve, but what I need.

It wasn’t easy, getting better. There was no clear turning point. I didn’t decide one day “ok I’m going to stop this now”. At first, I was “getting better” for my parents. I was doing what I could to please them, to put them at ease, to get them off my back enough so that I could quietly, beneath the surface of what could be picked up on (in a place I managed to keep from everyone for a long time before I really started to get better), tick away on what I’d been working on. That’s what’s strange too; it’s like you are working hard on something, the illness’ own malicious little missions, and you were so secretly happy every time the scales didn’t show “an improvement” or so they called it. Once I distinguished the illness from myself, once I knew that this was something I was going to have to fight, things began to turn around. I managed to separate, at least a little bit, myself from the illness and in this way, I was able to begin my fight to get my life back. A 24 hour seven days a week preoccupation with food and body image is no way to live; it is no life. I believe that the three years I was ill for were stolen from me by the illness itself, and I perform a quiet background battle every day to keep that illness from taking me over again.

I played the game, and discovered that what I
once believed to be a win was not, for the
only prize is death, a losing battle all the way.
But I got out of it ok, and need not admit
defeat, for truth be told I’m better now,
I’ve gained more than what you see.

[If you are worried, either for yourself or for a friend, do not hesitate to contact the Student Health services offered to us here in UCC. You can call into the Student Health Department, Ardpatrick, College Road, or call on (021) 4902311 to make an appointment. A few more specific details; I suffered from Anorexia Nervosa, a psychological eating disorder defined by extremely low body weight relative to stature (BMI), extreme and needless weight loss, irrational fear of weight gain, and distorted perception of self-image and body. It is often shortened to anorexia which refers to self-starvation and lack of appetite. A few statistics: It is estimated that 1% to 4.2% of women have suffered from anorexia in their lifetime. Anorexia kills people; it has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness or psychiatric disorder; approximately 4% of anorexic individuals die from complications of the disease. But anorexia, or any eating disorder for that matter, is not unbeatable and can be treated. You can find more information on these websites; www.bodywhys.ie, www.eatingdisorderhope.com]

Ciara D.

Originally published in UCC Express newspaper, November 2016.