Martin A. Egan 1952 – 2015

Martin A. Egan Promo 53 2011Martin Egan, my friend, died in hospital at 2.30 this morning. He had been suffering from cancer. Martin was a songwriter, a poet, a visual artist, and a prodigious journaller of life’s many joys and tragedies.

I met him at a book launch downstairs at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin in 20**. I found myself standing beside him in a crowd. As we listened to some very bad poetry he turned to me and muttered something about the work being performed being a ‘load of total shite’. I looked at him for a second, really surprised and a tad aghast. He smiled knowingly at me and knowingly raised his eyebrows a little. Then we both burst out laughing. In the midst of all the gushing naval gazing self-congratulation, his candour was such a relief. And I had no idea who this person was at the time. We shook hands and sat down together. He told me that day he was working on a biography of his life and, typical of Martin, he told me all about it. From this we began a conversation that was continued over the years with meetings and phone calls and the very occasional reading that we did together.

He lived the life of a bohemian artist, wrote songs on multi platinum albums, painted haunting self portraits – some of whom appeared on the covers of his own albums, struggled and overcame many demons both internal and external, and wrote some of the most searingly honest poetry that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. For Martin a life that was not honestly depicted and examined through the lens of art was an inauthentic one, and he had no time for anything other than truth, in the fullest lived, completely subjective, warts-and-all sense of the term. His vast reading and highly intelligent grasp of the nuts and bolts of writing enabled him to clearly depict the raw edge of life, of the life of an artist, of the search for what it meant to be a human being in the world, of the peculiarly Irish aspect of the legacy of addiction and sexual abuse, of the terrible heartbreaking loss of loved ones, and the scars one carries from failed relationships. He wrote and sung of the immeasurable joy of pure artistic inspiration, of the loneliness of being and innovator and finding an authentic artistic voice. More than anything he sought to accurately depict his own story, as for Martin personal experience rather than all the reading and listening to music and viewing of art he did, was the testing ground for acquiring authentic knowledge.

 Martin was also one of the funniest men I have ever met, and the hilarity of some of the conversations we shared over the years will stay with me for as long as I live. A few weeks ago he called me while I was out in the middle of a wood and told me he knew he was near the end of his life and that he was okay with that. He then went on to say that he had given the matter a lot of thought and he had now compiled a list of people he was definitely going to haunt. Martin was simply irrepressible.

I admired his talent, his intelligence and his commitment to his craft. He would ring me up regularly and ask me what I was writing and how it was going, and after listening to me he would in turn tell me at length and in great detail just what he was working on, the books and various authors he was devouring in order to complete the various projects he was working on, and what was the true meaning of art and what was its place in a society that was so addicted to the most superficial and pretentious meaning of artistic achievement. Our conversations would go on for hours and I would often find myself late for other appointments and having to ring up and apologise and reschedule, so enthralled and tired I would be after these Olympian discussions.

More than anything Martin was my friend, and he was an immeasurably loyal friend. We never once argued and we never once fell out with each other. We were never short of a topic for discussion and I have never met anyone more supportive of the life of the artist both in principle or in reality. I cannot accurately depict how much I miss him, as I know his many other friends and admirers will miss him. He was such a unique and lovable man. And such a marvellous artist.

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   A snapshot of a Last Wednesday poetry and prose reading taken by Sarah Lundberg in June 2010 with, from Left, Steve Conway, Bob Shakeshaft, Eamonn Lynskey, Oran Ryan, Martin A Egan, Raven and Ross Hattaway.

“For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments, [2]
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.”

from ‘Ulysses’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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On Not Having a Clue What to Write

 Getting Stuck – Writers Block

As life is pretty complex, as there is an infinity of time and space out there, as there are billions of events happening out there in time and space, as it is close to impossible to actually comprehend the sheer vastness of what is beyond the stratosphere of our small planet, as we are still learning and therefore continue to make determinations about the Earth, other planets, the stars and galaxies and about the universe, there is always, always, something to write about. The truth is every writer, no matter how great the talent that writer has, has to realize that, in the words of Fight Club’s Tyler Durden “you have to give up, you have to realize that one day you will die”. In other words it is impossible to express reality, it’s impossible to describe how it is. Why? Because information is infinite. And we are very finite. If I accept this, the question has to be asked. Why do writers get blocked? What happens when I sit down and find I have nothing to say? There are many reasons why this happens to a writer. Here are two:

1. A personal upheaval. Writing requires a certain rhythm and predictability of lifestyle in order for one to complete big projects. Huge emotional crises, though they might give grist to the mill of creativity down the line, take up vast amounts of emotional and psychic energy and can cause one to shut down for a while, mainly as a form of self-protection more than anything else. Probably one of the the greatest rookie mistakes is the young writer seeking what is loosely called ‘experience’ in order to write. In other words – going out to expose themselves to life’s vicissitudes for the purposes of being able to write something of substance before perhaps many of them are ready. This has the unfortunate effect of triggering the above mentioned upheaval and sometimes depressive episodes.
That being said in the great scheme of things, personal upheavals are impossible to avoid and sometimes not always for the worst in life. One thing is important. A writer has to carry on writing, even in the midst of a chaos he or she did not cause or did not expect. A journal or notebook might be the answer to these times. Keep talking to oneself. The big project might have to wait a while.

2. A death in one’s style. This is a serious crisis in the life of a writer. They become disenchanted with their own writing, and consequently cannot continue. It may lead to upheaval as in (1) or cause them to stop writing. Style is broadly speaking how a writer uses words. Specifically it is the manifestation of the writer’s worldview in words. In a writers style one hears his or her voice. A writers voice is that note of individuality that no one will find anywhere else. This is why for instance the same story is told over and over for millennia and it never gets old. There are a couple of reasons for this, all allied to style. Firstly that there is an infinity of perspectives and secondly every writer tells a story differently. For instance – Joyce’s Ulysses is basically a day in the life of an ordinary guy in Dublin. Yet as it comes from such a unique voice as Joyce, it is extraterrestrially brilliant. Joyce, because he never stopped experimenting and developing his style, he never became disenchanted with writing. In order to prevent the death of one’s style a writer must not (a) sell out – become that kind of literary butler who writes for a pay check (b) become lazy – churn out the same kind of book year after year simply because it is easy to do so or (c) become proud – think she is too gifted and accomplished for criticism. Ego is the destruction of more talents than one can shake a stick at.

3. It’s no longer fun. If the joy goes out of writing it’s time to stop and think about doing something else. Writing is too difficult an art and a craft to pursue without loving what one does. If a writer has a real powerful gift, that gift is its own reward. If one does it for the money, one will be disappointed. If one does it for the fame and adulation, one will be very disappointed. If one does it for the love of it, it never gets old and the fun never goes.

And Just for fun lets hear it for Tyler Durden

Eight things about reading at O Bheal in Cork that everyone should know

Ireland is replete with literary events and poetry readings. All literary events are literary, but not all of them are equal. O Bheal ( www.obheal.ie ) is a particularly good one, and it was a marvelously enjoyable evening for me.

1. Resistance is futile. You are made just so welcome. I am not a particularly nervous reader of my work (or indeed of anyone elses). That is, except about two minutes before I stand up. Then and only then do I generally get the most dreadful attack of nerves, which dissipates pretty quickly. Even if I were a sufferer from chronic stage fright, it wouldn’t matter. Paul Casey and his team of MC’s make one so welcome and comfortable. No need to be afraid.

2. Practice before. O Bheal, to my mind is an important reading. It had been over a year since I  had given a reading, so, feeling rusty, I prepared, maybe too much on reflection. I should have had more of an edge on me. Less smooth. Though when I turned up for the reading (way too early as it happened and wandered around Cork City for an hour) I was glad I had. One is reading to a discerning and humorous audience. If they don’t like the poem, they don’t clap. They aren’t rude or unreceptive or snobbish. Its clear, all too clear one is dealing with an audience who are there because they love poetry. I was relieved. I chose my words had my stuff ready, and read acceptably. So, even if you read twice a week every week, prepare yourself.

3. Its Not Trying to be Cool or Clever, It Just Is. O Bheal is run by writers and artists for writers, artists, and lovers of good writing. Terrible readings generally are either (a) over formalized or (b) over controlled by tradition or (c) given to a reactionary rebelliousness, or (d) so replete with establishment self congratulation true self expression is impossible. Real innovation exists somewhere between the twin horns of the dilemma of established tradition and innovation. O Bheal segues around this difficulty as it embraces both sides of the aisle. You can, within reason, read whatever you like, and nobody gets offended. I have had, in the past to temper my material to avoid giving offense to people. In actual fact, in order to avoid any such eventuality, I actually asked if there was any subject I might avoid so as to no offend anyone. I was told not to worry.

4. Winthrop Street in Cork is a Super Venue. Its not too big, not too small. Its a kind of Goldilocks venue, just the right size. Homely and welcoming, I loved it. Here’s a map:

5. Its Got a Good Mix. O Bheal combines an open mic, a featured reader, and what is known as the ‘five word challenge’. People suggest five words. and you have to make up a poem from the five words. The winner gets a pint free from the bar. Some of the poems are remarkable. My own offering was absolutely dire, by the way.

6. Its Social. Like Seven Towers events O Bheal has a strong social element. I got involved, despite being really tired from five hours traveling, and giving a reading, in all kinds of discussions about writing mostly. These included such arcane topics  as second century atheistic poetry in Muslim countries and Doris Lessings post colonial guilt. I got into my rooms about 2 AM, completely wrecked. Then I had the joy of listening to the loudest snoring I ever heard ever from downstairs. It sounded like the bed and breakfast had a dragon staying.

7. You get Paid and B&B. They put you up in a really nice B&B and they pay you. Enough said. This is important. Writers need to be paid. Thanks to Paul Casey and the team. Kudos.

8. The Reading. And heres my reading 8th June 2015 at O Bheal Winthrop Street. Cork

Enjoy, and check out the event. A great evening.

Six Types Of Writers

6types of writersI came across this on the net a long time ago . There’s a full analysis of each of these six types of writers at http://alexeimaximrussell.blogspot.ca, and the Writer and Blogger Alexei Maxim Russel is the originator of the above meme. I really enjoyed this the first time I saw it. And I kept it and often found myself looking over it again and again. I thought it not inaccurate at all when it comes to a generalization (nothing more) of the various categories of scriveners one comes across in the world of writers. As with most of these categories they only work to an extent, but they might serve as a compass along the often uncertain routes of a writing life. If there is anything the meme teaches its this: don’t be bitter. Writing is incredibly difficult. Too many people think that a few years and a few novels a writer makes. Not at all. Don’t be fooled. Follow your own dreams. The one true measure of a successful writer is that s/he always remained true to their artistic vision, and the only way to do that is to love what you do. That, a solid dose of common sense and a willingness to stick to a book till its over and sell it, and one will be fine. Oh, and have fun. Its never boring.

Ten things Which didn’t Make Our Ten Day Stay in Alykes, Zakinthos Sheer Perfection

Caveat Emptor:

THE WORST HOLIDAY OF OUR LIVES

(*SEE NOTE BELOW*)

  We stayed ten days in Alykes, Zakinthos  and it was

1. Drafty: The way the wind howled through the cracks between the windows and the doors during windy rainy nights and we were freezing and that no one checked on us after the night that the thunder roared overhead and the heating didn’t work and water washed past the front door of our apartment.

2. The Apartment: That our apartment was unclean (filty) and we had to wash it ourselves and the shower curtain fell over and there was a small open drain in the middle of the floor in the bathroom and one of the windows didn’t lock and I mentioned the air conditioning didn’t work and it was dreadful and unhealthy.

3. Garbage: That fact our garbage remained uncollected (I used take it secretly down to a local bin). There was even garbage on the beach. (The place is nothing like the website.)

4. Value for Money: That the food was bad and overpriced and the supermarkets were overpriced and the taxis were overpriced and there was little fresh food and almost no fresh fish. They sure don’t cater for vegetarians.

5. Our Host: That the owner of the ‘villa’ (absolutely nothing like the photograph on the website) took our money and seemed to basically disappear for much of our stay after day three. (Did I mention no one checked in on us?) In point of fact he was called by another hotel owner we met on our cycling travels who berated him for being such a poor host.

6. The Unfriendliness: I could wax lyrical about the incredible sexism Iza endured, the whistles, the beeping of horns. It was awful. But let me give an example – We went cycling one day to the Blue Caves and turned up in a restaurant who didn’t accept cards (surprisingly only half the island accepts cards and has cash machines) and they insisted we give them our ID as proof of payment and we had to cycle 18 km with chest infections the next day to get our ID back because the owner just wouldn’t drive down to us (In fairness she was apologetic – but still …)

7. The Dirt:  Garbage left indefinitely in bins, trash thrown about, empty half-finished buildings everywhere, just sheer lack of cleanliness. I already mentioned the stuff on the beach.

8. Off Season: I thought all this was happening because we booked off season- or maybe they just didn’t like us. But other guests would turn up who had booked online and bang on our window in the morning looking for the owner who was nowhere to be found.

9. The Noise:  Construction work going on right beside our apartment, constant sounds of traffic, howling barking animals night and day, so bad that we had to move ourselves to another vacant apartment.

10. Stray Cats: That the place was full of stray underfed sickly looking cats living in bins and wandering the streets day and night. I mentioned the dogs. I didn’t mention they were chained up all the time – probably why they were barking and yowling day and night. You did see some being walked, just like you saw well cared for cats. But mostly chained up dogs or feral cats.

Those were ten things that didn’t make our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection. I thought about amassing photographs and publishing them here and bringing some kind of documentary proof and so on to show you, dear reader, the state of the place. After I had done that I thought of writing a few pithy lines about how unfriendly I found the locals, how untrusting, how much you  -‘tourist’ or ‘visitor’, were there just to get money from (I remember one joyous moment I bought a bottle of cough medicine and some antibiotics and was charged thirty Euro). But I decided not to. Why? It was my experience of it. It might not be yours.

But away from people with all the greed and the dirt and noise and the money grabbing, was the island itself. Arcadia. And it was glorious. I will never forget the beauty of the landscapes, the shades of deep blue of sea, the lines of waves and the sound of the Ionian Sea at night, the myriad birds, the flora and fauna, the olive groves, the orange and lemon trees, the bats and geckos and falcons, it was all transcendentally beautiful. That alone made our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection and utterly unforgettable. Just stay away from populated places, ok?

O. Ryan
Its that man again…in Zakinthos

 *NOTE*

Since this has been posted (11.4.2015), Iza and I have found to our distress we have been banned from holidaying in Greece. This is as a result not only of this post below, but of our posting about what was a terrible holiday in Zante on Trip Advisor. There is, according to some hotel owners we have communicated with in Greece, a blacklist “like the Banks System is all the Hotel Owners make it to protect the Tourism Industry from some “Serious problems”” (and I quote). I was told that tourists were not to be informed about the list, but its there folks, and if a hotel owner in Greece doesn’t like what you write on Trip Advisor, well what happened to us could happen to anyone. The thing is, we were the ones who had the terrible holiday. The place would be shut down in Ireland.

No Belief Systems Remain Unharmed by These Blogs

Raif-Badawi--008I believe in blogging. I am often shocked what other bloggers endure in order to keep on blogging, in a forum wherein one supposedly can engage in some kind of free expression. The most obvious one is that of the Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi who was recently sentenced to 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for ‘cybercrime’ and ‘insulting Islam’. Word has it Raif Badawi will now be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty. I did not realize Islam was so sensitive to criticism. In point of fact, I do not think it is, that is, normally speaking. Generally speaking any belief system that inflicts this type of extreme punishment against its dissidents is somewhat doomed. History is littered with examples of failed purges.  Anyhow Islam is a rather fascinating and magnificent system. Personally I don’t believe a word of it, but some of the finest cultural artistic and scientific advances have occurred within the context of Isalm, including the glorious invention of beer (which came not from Saudi Arabia which is our topic right now, but Iraq 4000 years ago, and developed there from through Islam) But to return to Saudi Arabia, it is not a country a secular atheist writer might feel the warmest of welcomes, seeing as it thinks little or nothing of administering rather brutal punishments on those whose views it violently disagrees with. There are other examples of Islam doing such things on unbelievers, many others like this. According to Sarah Anne Hughes (communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.) She writes “Recently in Bangladesh, the government removed hundreds of online posts by seven atheist and secular bloggers who “defamed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed,” according to the AFP. The country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish the bloggers who spoke against Islam. So far, four bloggers – including one who openly identifies as a “militant atheist” — have been arrested and now face up to ten years in jail if convicted of violating cyber laws.” (read the article in full here : http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-04-atheist-discrimination-the-weird-and-serious-ways-no )
I of course have no personal or spiritual interest in Islam, nor any faith, aside from enjoying the Koran the few times I read it. Faiths have been rooted out and destroyed and recreated in numerous indeed hundreds of forms throughout history. But that is another issue. Its also true in my experience that not one of the Muslims I interact with have ever espoused such extremist views as what one reads about. In ways it seems almost like an exercise in Islamophobia to read so many negative stories about the faith of Islam so often in the press. That being said, it’s outrageous to see fellow writers, or indeed anyone persecuted for their basic human right to free expression as freedom is freedom to express the self without harm to another. Given the crooked and labyrinthine world of the internet, it’s inevitable too that divergent views of all kinds will emerge in even the most narrow and repressive of regimes given the rise of blogging, a medium extremely difficult to control, and largely out of the reach of governmental control. Think of how easy it is to respond to, or write about the contents of another blog or post, for good or ill.

Torture, imprisonment, lashes, and religious or political police who take your ideological and doctrinal temperature and make of you a spy upon your neighbour or family is one way of controlling the minds of a population. It is quite effective, and the more bloody and brutal and spiritually inspired, its more justified. During the middle ages, for example, the justification for such torments inflicted upon Christian schismatics and unbelievers was the blessings of confession and forgiveness and as a consequence, the glories of heaven and the joys of God’s presence in eternity. But you can’t have that in the West. Firstly that’s just not legal, unless one whisks a suspect off to a black site injected with some kind of anesthetic and hooded where he or she can be tortured far from the inconveniences of the Geneva Convention, tormented and broken in peace, that is, until they confess their sins. Outside of purely political ‘terror’ suspects you just can’t do that to the general public. People ask questions. If you have them by their minds, their hearts and wallets will inevitably follow. Anyway by an large torture doesn’t work. Torture is an instrument of power. It doesn’t change your mind. Secondly we have the problem of the internet. It doesn’t matter how many people one questions, word spreads at the speed of light. For instance this picture was posted on Facebook and received seventeen thousand views and forty nine thousand shares. Facebook, like the NSA and MI5 and all the other governments involve in the intelligence community, keep count of everything.

Not exactly a political view an establishment superstructure would want propagated through the online community. Of course this is easily dismissible as merely a witty meme filled with politically apt language, giving something of a left of center conspiracy theory on the operations of a worldwide governmental military industrially manufactured control structure, a worldwide governmental conspiracy to spy on our every online move, that and just about every aspect of our lives, generate wars, and manufacture our consent to the status quo, whatever that status quo might be at any given historical juncture. Yes I expect one could dismiss it, if it hadn’t been proven by Edward Snowden’s revelations. If we don’t believe that Big Brother is really watching us, if we don’t believe that enemies are manufactured for the purposes of waging war to increase governments market share, if we don’t believe that we are given just enough education to be controllable, then we are simply ignoring the evidence that has been presented to us. We simply have not been paying attention and the lessons of history are lost unto us.

But surely bad people should go to jail? Yes. But only after a fair publicly accountable trial, not a mafia style hit by Special Forces in the dead of night.

Which brings me back to the importance of us all keeping talking to each other. Blogs help. Online communications help. The idea is that ideas matter. We need something to change our minds, and each of us has a unique perspective and that unique perspective has the ability to open other people’s minds. The best communication of all is face to face, physical meetings and physical confrontations, not that the gift of the internet has not been a good thing. So belief systems should be harmed by these blogs. And the more the merrier. Lets keep talking.

Charlie Hebdo Ate My Puppy

which is clearly not the case. Here is a picture of my ten week old puppy and she is zipping round our rented cottage like a pixie on amphetamines.

Puppy at rest. 5.5 kg and enjoying teddy bear #1

Charlie never so much as laid a tooth on the little creature. To accuse him of doing such a thing (as I implied in the title) is to cause Charlie grievous offense as Charlie is an animal lover and he used to regularly play with my puppy, who is quite the looker and is extremely well socialized, gentle and very playful, thanks to Charlie. In a sense I am way out of line accusing Charlie of puppy eating. I know the truth about Charlie. I know he is a good man, or I thought I did. And here I am flagrantly violating his ‘good’ name, and knowingly doing so, which is a low blow. The idea that I am free to spread lies about Charlie, to upset him with impunity, to ruin his life, simply because I have the power to do so is horrible. It is a monstrous act, especially because Charlie knows I write for a living, and I can sit here and fabricate things about him that might even sound credible. So I guess I am not free to do what I please. In fact I know Charlie spends his time rescuing animals and is a militant vegetarian. He believes deeply in animal rights. This of course adds hugely to the insult I am perpetrating on him if I were to write the Charlie Hebdo Puppy Eating Story. I think over the damage I am doing to his good name. I am attacking one of the pillars of his ethical stances. Its simply not on. I cant use my freedom to exploit another’s personal space, right to a good name, or in any other way hurt him, simply because I can. There is a core of natural rights belonging to Charlie Hebdo (and everyone else) that prevents him from being subject to my puppy eating accusations.

But then something happens in my long and warm friendship with Charlie. There is a room in his house I can never get into. Its always locked. I am a curious man. One day I find the key. Its filled with Nazi Paraphernalia.  I discover current membership cards for extreme far right organizations espousing xenophobic, racist political views. I make copies of the room and the cards and whatever else I can find just for the sake of having evidence. But it doesn’t matter. Deep down I am crushed. My bitter disappointment in my friend leads me to write a novel about him, this warm hearted charming fascist racist bigoted friend of mine. It sells five million copies and I am rescued from complete financial disaster.

But success is not without its suffering and its cost. Charlie sues me for defamation of character and loss of income (he lost his job after his party membership was revealed). Charlie and I are no longer speaking of course. He has put up his house for sale as he used to live near me. He wrote me a long bitter letter telling me what a terrible egomaniacal person I am and how little I care who I cause offense to so long as I can profit from the views of others. These views are private Charlie tells me. These views, Charlie says others have the right to uphold. After all, he says, he wasn’t hurting anyone holding these views. Millions hold these views. My novel sparks a huge debate. I didn’t actually think very much of my novel. I thought it was rushed and written with fire brigade emotions in my heart.

Oh, I forgot to mention the death threats. Charlie’s friends are going to kill me, my family, and my puppy. They are part of the same far-right groups Charlie was a part of. They nailed a dead cat to my door last night. Maybe Charlie had a right to his views. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.  Maybe I will survive this attempt on my life. Maybe the next time I write something, it will get me killed. I don’t know. I am not writing anything that is untrue. I am an enemy of extremism. I use my gifts to pillory the stupid, the bigoted and the downright dangerous. I cant help myself. Its who I am. I don’t discriminate between who I choose to satirise and those I exclude. After all Last time I wrote about Charlie Hebdo. And Charlie Hebdo was a long term friend of mine.

         

“100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing!”