Repealed: a cause for celebration

(The referendum happened over four weeks ago and I have spent almost that long writing this blog post. When I started writing about this, I discovered that I had a lot to say on the issue and it took some time to wrangle all those words and feelings into something interesting and coherent and not 5,000 words long, but it felt worth doing.)

There has been so much written about the results of the referendum on May 25th and the work that was done in the lead-up to it, much of it incredibly heartfelt and very moving. There was also some sniping about how the (incredibly successful) campaign was run and how “inappropriate” and “disrespectful” it was to celebrate that glorious, surprising victory on May 25. I find it incredible that something thinks they can tell people not to celebrate after years of hard work, of time and energy dedicated to removing something that has caused so much hurt to so many people. It takes a certain type of personality to dictate to anyone what an “appropriate” reaction looks like, and I believe if the photos taken in Dublin Castle on May 26th were not predominately of young women, those articles would not have been written.

I’ve written a number of posts about the Eighth Amendment, about the Citizen’s Assemblymy own feelings about abortion and reproductive rights and the Artist’s Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and so it felt important, and appropriate, to write something about the result of the referendum. I also wanted to write about why this referendum result is something to be celebrated, and how people in power would do better to listen to women instead of telling them what is and isn’t appropriate.

In her essay I Wish Ann Lovett Were Out Buying a Swimsuit for Lanzarote, Emer O’Toole writes beautifully about the Ireland that existed when the Eighth Amendment went in to the Constitution and the journey the country has taken since then. I’m not going to go back that far. For a long time the changes in Ireland they were hard fought and incremental but also slow and gradual. It feels like they started to pick up speed in 2012.

In February 2012, recently elected TD Clare Daly brought a bill to the Dail to legislate on the X case and allow for abortions in limited circumstances. There was little interest from the rest of the government and the bill went nowhere. Six months later in September 2012, the first March for Choice was organised by the newly formed Abortion Rights Campaign. It was pretty small. We lined up at the Spire, in the middle of O’Connell Street, and heard a few speeches before marching to the Dail. It was a warm, sunny day and a good-spirited march. It couldn’t have been more different to the protests held in response to the death of Savita Hallpanaver later that year.

I remember standing in my kitchen, hearing for the first time how Savita died. I remember feeling both heart-broken and furious that this had been allowed to happen to her. There was also the question of how many other women had this happened to? I walked into work that morning feeling furious. That fury didn’t go away and after work I went down to  the Dail with a couple of friends, joining the many who had gathered there already, in the cold and the dark. A hastily organised gathering; we didn’t know what to do but knew we had to do something. It was the first of many protests that winter, the numbers growing week by week as we stood in the dark, holding candles, feeling the cold damp through our shoes, chanting Never Again.

SavitaProtest
Protest outside the Dáil in November 2012.

The death of Savita and the public outcry that followed forced the government’s hand on abortion. Twenty years later, they would finally legislate on the X Case. It was not something that would have saved Savita or any other woman in her situation,  but as we learnt over the next five years, very little could be done through legislation while the Eighth Amendment was in the constitution.

The debate around that legislation meant more protests outside the Dail the following summer and resulted in the woefully inadequate Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. This made abortion possible if the woman’s life was at risk due to suicide, as a result of the pregnancy. It came with a number of restrictions, and also stuck in the fourteen year jail sentence for anyone who has an abortion in the State if their life was not at risk, and seven years for anyone who helped them.

There was also the distraction of “Lapgate“; the incident in the Dáil when a female TD as pulled into a lap of a male colleague, he described it as “horseplay”. That this happened in a work place, during a debate about female health that was being broadcast live on tv (the incident took place at 3am but a sharp-eyed viewer caught it and shared it online) gives an insight into how the Irish state and members of government viewed women at the time. The night of the debate was also one of the most profitable nights for the Dáil bar that year.

PLDPBillProtest
Pro and anti-choice protesters outside the Dáil during the legislation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill in July 2013.

A few months after the bill passed, the devastatingly sad case of Ms Y showed that it was not fit for purpose. Ms Y was a refugee who came to Ireland seeking asylum. When she arrived in Ireland she discovered she was pregnant as a result of rape in her home country. She asked for an abortion and was refused. She was suicidal as a result of the pregnancy and the lack of help she had received from the place she had fled to seeking shelter and compassion. She was suicidal enough to be locked in a psychiatric ward but not enough to “qualify” for an abortion, and eventually, the State performed a C-section at 25 weeks. A caesarean section is a major surgical operation. It has a much longer recovery period than a medical or even surgical abortion, and it was a treatment she only consented to under enormous pressure because she didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. The Irish State really has an incredibly long track-record of torturing women, particularly the women in its care. Earlier this month the HSE has admitted liability and said it is willing to compensate Ms Y for failing to provide her with an abortion when she first sought one.

Then at the end of 2014, we learnt of Ms P, a woman being kept on life-support because she was pregnant and doctors were unsure if they could withdraw treatment under the Eighth Amendment because it would end the pregnancy. Like in Savita’s case, the pregnancy was never going to end in a successful delivery but because there was a fetal heart-beat the doctors’ hands were tied. This was always the big problem with the Eighth Amendment; it didn’t allow for a case by case assessment of the situation, for doctors to use their own judgement. Once there was a fetal heart-beat, doctors were limited in what they could do for the woman, her life and health immediately had to be balanced with that of the “unborn”.

These were the most public instances of the hurt and distress caused by the Eighth Amendment over a three years period but they were not the only ones. In 2015 other women started sharing their experiences with the Eighth Amendment. The X-lie Project began collecting and sharing stories and images of Irish women who had had abortions. Within a few weeks of each other in September of that year, Tara Flynn and Roisin Ingle spoke publicly about their abortions. Maser’s mural went up on the wall of Project Arts Centre and was removed after a couple of weeks, which got a lot of people talking. The Repeal Project was launched and those stark black jumpers starting appearing all over the place, and starting conversations. Una Mullally made a radio documentary for the Irish Times Womens’ podcast called The Year The Converstaion Changed, which captures the shift in attitudes towards abortion and the need for change.

But the big moment in 2015 was the success of the Marriage Equality Referendum. Ireland was finally coming out of the long shadow of the church and it felt like change was possible in a really tangible way. It galvanised people to push for change in other areas. The government couldn’t keep pretending abortion wasn’t a political issue. They couldn’t just keep hoping it would just go away. At the same time, it was still a contentious issue that nobody wanted to make a decision on, so they gave it to the Citizen’s Assembly.

March4Choice
The crowd gathered on Merrion Square at the end of the 2016 March for Choice. It was a miserable wet day, and there was a bus strike on in Dublin but it the people still turned out for it.

Though derided as a delaying tactic, the Citizen’s Assembly turned out to be pretty amazing. There was an incredible investment from the citizens themselves; when they asked for an extra weekend to be added to the schedule and when on the final day, they ran over time as they added more questions to their ballot on issues such as abortion for socioeconomic reasons. I was surprised and amazed and delighted with the final results when 64% voted for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks. I love Ellen Coyne’s article about some of the citizens on referendum day, when a similar result was returned.

The result from the Assembly was very clear. They were clear that the Eighth Amendment (or article 40.3.3 which was what they actually voted on, and which contains the Eighth Amendment) was not adequate, and they were clear about what should replace it. However, the government were not convinced by it and set up the Joint Oireachtas Committee to look again at the evidence. The majority of the Committee came to the same conclusion and the date for the referendum was finally set for May 25th, thirteen months after the Citizen’s Assembly returned their findings.

Once the referendum date was announced, campaigning could officially begin and Together For Yes was launched. Abortion Rights Campaign and Repeal groups around the country quickly came under the Together for Yes banner. This meant the campaign had a country-wide reach within days. These local groups organised training sessions for canvassers where they collected names and numbers for Whatsapp groups so people could keep in touch with others in their area and create their own canvassing groups. It truly was a grass-roots campaign with local groups and people on the ground empowered to get out there and make things happen.

For me, one of the most memorable and moving days of the campaign was the launch of Together for Yes’s crowd-funding campaign. The original aim was to raise €50,000 in seven days. It was done in less than an hour. The target was raised and smashed again and that kept happening over and over again throughout the day. It was incredible to watch the money pouring in. You could press refresh and watch the total jump €100 every 30 seconds. This was tangible proof of the support for the Together for Yes campaign and it was so uplifting to see. It was particularly satisfying coming a couple of days after an article in the Irish Times saying there was “No sense of urgency” in the Yes camp. Other voices in the media described the Yes side as complacent. This outpouring of money, in small amounts and big, did not lack urgency. The car-share groups heading out of Dublin to canvass in other smaller towns did not feel complacent. The fundraising to bring people home to vote did not feel complacent. The anxious and urgent conversations being had at home and at work did not feel complacent. It felt good to watch the total rise and read the comments people left and know that it wasn’t just your family and friends who felt like this, there were lots of others out there who felt as strongly.

Many of those people did much, much than donate a few bob to a crowd-funding campaign. There were people out canvassing around the country every night of the week, others working in the Together for Yes HQ, all finding time around work and family commitments to volunteer. They did it because this was important to them. They didn’t want to live in a country that would let a woman die in pain rather than perform an abortion, or one that could commit a woman to a mental hospital for wanting an abortion, or that would torture a grieving family by insisting that their loved one had to remain on life-support because of her pregnancy. On May 26th 2018 we moved away from being that country, and what’s worth celebrating.

That Saturday, the Taoiseach described the success of the Yes campaign as a “quiet revolution”. Those involved in the campaign have loudly shouted down this assessment. It wasn’t quiet when thousands took to the streets for the massive March for Choice in 2016. It wasn’t quiet on O’Connell Bridge during Strike for Repeal in 2017. The hum of anxiety we felt during the last week before the Referendum didn’t feel quiet. And there was nothing quiet about the hundreds of women who told their stories over and over again; stories of being abandoned by the medical profession, of being forced to travel for health care, of not feeling welcome in their own country. Those wonderful women gave up their privacy because they wanted to make Ireland a better place and I am so grateful to those women. I am grateful to women in the public eye who “came out” about their abortions and heart-broken that they suffered vicious attacks as a result.  I am grateful to women who shared their stories online in the last few weeks of the campaign in the hope of changing a few minds. Their willingness to share their private, painful memories are what won the referendum. 66% of people who voted Yes said that it was because of the personal stories they heard.

Strike4Repeal
Strike 4 Repeal taking over O’Connell Bridge on March 8 2017. It was a Wednesday lunchtime and it closed all the roads leading on to the bridge.

Describing all that as “quiet” just means Leo Varadkar wasn’t listening. Let’s hope that when they are drafting the abortion legislation, he will listen a little more attentively to the people it’s going to affect. The fight for free, safe legal abortion is far from over and that’s another reason why it was necessary to celebrate on May 26th. The referendum was one major hurdle that had to be passed but there is still so much to do. May 26th was a brief breathing space before we got on to the next thing.

The next thing is getting good, working legislation that makes abortion accessible to all, particularly in terms of cost and location. There are many things that still need to be decided on, things like exclusion zones, waiting periods and conscientious objectors. We need to keep the pressure on to ensure that abortion services are available by the end of the year. That is still the government’s aim, but we now know that the legislation will not be introduced to the Dáil before the summer break.

The next March for Choice is on September 29th and the Abortion Rights Campaign will be holding open meetings about the organisation of the March over the coming months. Dates and venues are usually listed on their Facebook events page. Of course, until the legislation is in place, women will still be forced to travel and the Abortion Support Network is still taking calls from women who need their help to do that. You can support their work by donating here.

March for Choiec - 29th Sept 2018 - Save the Date.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment was a glorious thing. It was a wonderful thing to be part of and definitely worth celebrating. It is also a great reminder that change is possible. In 2012, the majority of TDs in the Dáil had no interest in making abortion accessible to Irish women. It was hard-working and persistent campaign groups and ordinary people who made them take an interest, made them call a referendum and made sure that we got the right result!

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What would you do if you won the lotto?

Every time I do the lotto I convince myself that I am about to become a millionaire, and then I’m bitterly disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Every time I declare it a total waste of money and swear I’ll never do it again. I don’t play very often but I do like to spend time thinking about what I would if I won. Pretending I’m a millionaire helps me figure out how I feel about my life. It helps me to see what’s not working and what changes I need to make. It’s particularly useful if I’m feeling general a dissatisfaction with life but I can’t put my finger on why.

I discovered this trick nearly ten years ago, after I moved back to Ireland after three years of college in London. I was back about a year, living in a house-share with a couple of other women. It was taking me a while to adjust to living in Dublin and I wasn’t very happy. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the house or the people I was sharing with, I just didn’t feel very at home there. One night, as I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep and idly wondering what I would do if I won the lotto, I imagined being able to afford my own place. I imagined buying a house or a fancy apartment that was all mine. It made me happy. It was such a glowing sort of happiness that I was still thinking about it when I woke up the next day. Then I started wondering if it was something I could actually do.

I started searching on Daft and discovered that I could afford to live by myself, it wasn’t an impossible lotto dream. My budget didn’t allow for anything fancy but the possibility of my very own tiny flat still felt like magic! I was able to live my lotto dream and I loved it! It took my a few months but when I got there I loved my little flat and I loved that it was all mine. My own fridge, my own bathroom, my own pile of dirty dishes stacked up beside the sink. Having something that was mine, something that I made happen, made me see other things I wanted to change about my life. It opened me up to possibility. I became more social. I did more drama workshops. I tried roller derby. I put on a production of The Vagina Monologues in the Sugar Club. I applied for college. Eventually I left my wonderful, cosy, delightful, little flat to move to Galway and do a Masters in Drama and Theatre Studies. I still consider this one of the best decisions I ever made because I had such a wonderful time there and learnt so much. When I came back to Dublin I started working in theatre.

I don’t know if any of those things would have happened if I had stayed in the house-share where I felt vaguely dissatisfied but not actively unhappy, and accepted that that was how my life was meant to be. Living by myself meant there wasn’t anyone else to compare myself to, I had to figure out what I wanted my life to look like without the comparison and it allowed me to create a bigger life for myself.

My lotto imaginings were the spark that made me look for a place by myself but I know I was very lucky to be able to make that lotto dream a reality. It was early 2010 and my tiny flat in Drumcondra was €520 a month. The landlord put the rent up by about 100 euro when I moved out in August 2011, and the same flat advertised two years for around €800. The Dublin housing market is bananas. I have not been able to live alone since.

Making my lotto dream happen is not always easy. Earlier this year when I asked myself what would I do if I won the lotto, the answer was that I’d run away to Spain for three months and hang out with a couple of family members who live over there. That was not possible but I could just about afford a long weekend which I booked immediately and in a way, I got what I needed.

Recently my lotto answer was to do some renovation around the house and hire something to sort out my over-grown garden. I think that means I’m pretty satisfied with my life right now, and I don’t really feel compelled to do anything to make that dream a reality.

It’s a bit of a silly exercise and I think that’s why it works so well for me. My brain gets stuck if I try and figure out a five-year plan, but it’s fun to let your imagination run wild and dream up the possible lives I’d choose if money was no object. The answer usually gives me a pretty good indication about what direction I want to take.

The important thing is to think about how a lotto win would change your life; what would you do, not what you would buy. Then the trick is to figure out how to flip that big money dream into something you can do right now. It helps me. I’m curious to know if it works for any one else. Let me know.

If you like this this, you might like some of my other vaugely self-help style posts:
Successful planning and What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

 

The Citizen’s Assembly and Strike4Repeal

Last weekend, the Citizen’s Assembly met for the third time to listen to experts and discuss the issues around the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. I watched some of the proceedings online. The presentations are still available on the website. The whole thing looks like a staff think-in for a big organisation. Each table has a facilitator, who stood up to speak for the table. It seems to have borrowed the whole set-up from the business world. It’s an interesting entity as a part of democratic process. I like the idea of consulting experts, looking at statistics and having an open, informed discussion about the issue of abortion and reproductive rights but I wish it was happening throughout society and not just in a hotel in Malahide. It’s hard not to see it as anything other than a delaying tactic from a government that does not want to call a referendum on abortion. In the article in the Irish Examiner “Credit where it’s due… and that’s to 99 members of Citizens’ Assembly” about where things stood after the first two meetings it sound very likely that the Assembly are going to recommend a referendum be held, though the terms of that referendum are still up for debate. But I looked at the small print on the Citizen Assembly’s website and it doesn’t seem like the government have to follow the recommendations of the Assembly. The final line on this page says: “the Government will provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assembly and, if accepting the recommendation, will indicate the timeframe it envisages for the holding of any related referendum.” In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for a referendum.

The Irish government have a history of dragging their feet on around abortion. The only abortion referendum that I’ve voted on was the very confusing 2002 one when the government tried to overturn the results of the X case. You had to vote No to leave things as they were, and Yes to make things more restrictive. To confuse matters further Youth Defence came out for a No vote. They didn’t feel it went the wording went far enough because there was no mention of the protective of live for embryos before implantation. (In Irish law, life begins with implantation. That’s why the morning after pill is available though abortion is not.) The amendment was defeated by 51-49% but no legislation on the X case followed. It took 12 years and the death of Savita Halappanavar (and who knows how many other women) before the flawed Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill became law.

Savita’s family did us a great service in talking publicly about her unnecessary death, as did Amanda Mellet who took the case against the State to the UN Court of Human Rights, as did the women known as A, B and C who took the State to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. These public cases make it difficult for the  government to ignore the concerns around reproductive rights. And the campaigners mean the public can’t ignore it either. Five years ago I knew nothing about the Eighth Amendment or how it restricted women’s bodily autonomy. Now everyone seems to have an opinion on it and that’s down to the amazing work of a whole host of campaigners, including many who campaigned against the Amendment when it was first proposed 34 years ago.

At the end of the summer, Una Mullally made a documentary for the Irish Times Womens’ Podcast called ‘The Year The Conversation Changed‘. It’s a really great listen and covers the massive shift in public perception around the Eighth Amendment in 2016. It covers everything from the Repeal jumpers, to Maser’s mural outside Project, to the Rose of Tralee getting political, and at least half a dozen other things that I’m forgetting because so much happened last year!

Things are changing. Attitudes towards abortion are not the same as they were in 1983 when the Eighth Amendment was voted into the Constitution or even the same as they were in 2002 when we last had a referendum on abortion. The government is slowly catching up with that fact, but not quick enough. We need a referendum and it needs to call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. There should be no replacement and no rewording that makes it impossible to vote for. To reword it would be another delaying tactic. We need to repeal the Amendment because the constitution is not the place to define medical care. And again there are wonderful activists making that position clear. This time with the Strike 4 Repeal on March 8th. There will be no referendum set before then, the strike will definitely go ahead and it feels important to tell the government that there is an appetite for a referendum and that referendum should call for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Change moves slowly in Ireland, at least at government level. Don’t forget it took them six weeks just to form a government last year. It’s like change isn’t useful to them. It’s not what they want. Our politicians would prefer to be eternally debating things and flinging insults at each other than actually take a political stand or making bold changes. The lack of action on the homelessness crisis and the continued existence of Direct Provision is shameful. Enda Kenny’s strongest stance recently has been to keep things as they are – of course he’s going to the White House for St. Patricks’ Day, it’s traditional. They are meant to represent us but they need a push in the right direction.

Change is happening, whether they like it or not.

What to do when you’re feeling over-whelmed by the state of the world.

Image from a Buzzfeed article on 21 Perfect German Words We Need in English. Check it out, there are some beauties there.

There are so many things to worry about right now. So many things to care about and feel anxious about and powerless to correct.

For a start, in Ireland the number of people being made homeless is going up every week and the government don’t seem to be doing anything about it. There’s the shamefulness that is Direct Provision where the government is paying companies large amounts of money to keep people seeking refuge in intolerable conditions. Ibrahim Halawa will spending a fourth birthday in jail in Egypt as his trial was postponed for the 16th time and we are still forcing women to travel aboard for a basic medical procedure.

Further afield, there’s the uncertainty of Brexit to worry about as well as the hundreds of unaccompanied children that were recently moved out of the Jungle in Calais and sent who-knows-where. France is still under a state of emergency after two brutal terrorist attacks, refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean, bombs are raining down on civilians in Syria, millions who fled the war there are living in refugee camps and Israel cut off the water-supply to Palestine during Ramadan this year, just the latest in a long series on attacks on the Palestinians.

And that’s all before we start worrying about climate change or what will happen under the Trump presidency.

It’s hard. It’s hard to take it all in, to feel all that fury and sorrow. In the face of so much horror it’s easy to run out of feelings. Even when you feel like you want to help, how do you choose which of the heart-breaking issues to focus on? Sometimes it’s easier to throw up your hands up and do nothing, feel nothing and just try to have a good time because it’s becoming increasingly obviously that the whole world is going to shit. It’s a pretty bleak way of seeing the world and it’s hard to sustain because the horrors keep creeping in.

When the bleakness is threatening to overwhelm me, I take solace from this quote.

“Of course individuals can make a difference, but the fact is that evil has had the whip hand in this world since Cain. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be good, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves, either. Evil is not going to be vanquished. Our job is to resist it, and to plant the seeds of further resistance so that goodness never entirely vanishes from the universe.”

Chris Cleave, author of The Other Hand/Little Bee.

I like it because it lets me off the hook a little bit. Once I accept that I can’t fix everything, it’s easier to just concentrate on what I can do. I can’t knock evil off it’s perch, but I might be able to balance the scales a bit. It’s helps me feel less useless and more hopeful because it suggests that the little acts of resistance, of goodness, of kindness do make a difference.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing. It chases away the hopeless, useless feeling; at least for a little while. So what can we do? There’s the usual things – donate money, volunteer, get on the streets and protest, write letters to governments at home and aboard. Volunteer.ie have a database of volunteer opportunities. Giving blood is good if you’re short on time and money because it’s costs nothing and you can only do it once every three months.

But if you feel completely overwhelmed and really don’t know where to begin, or feel like you want to do more but don’t know where to start, I suggest getting a few friends together and start a “change the world” group. (Your first order of business may be to give it a better, catchier name.) It can be part support group, part action group. Meet up regularly, talk about the things that are upsetting you about the world and then decide what you’re going to do about it. You also get to hang out with your friends; have coffee and cake, or go for a few drinks. Changing the world has a bang of worthiness off it, like it’s not meant to be enjoyable. It puts people off. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Make sure your group is fun as well. You might decide to organise a big fundraiser, or buddy-up to volunteer together, or everyone might want to do their own thing, but they have the support of the group, and they have to report back so there’s accountability.

This idea comes partly from Malcolm Gladwell’s essay Small Change, about the importance of strong-ties between people involved in social activism, but mostly it’s because I think communities are important. The way we live our lives now makes it difficult to be part of a community so we have to make our own. Real-life social interactions are important, sitting in a room together talking about everything and nothing is good for the soul. But it can be hard to organise time with friends and we end up relying too much on social media instead. Organising a regular meeting means you will see your friends more often. People already do this with book clubs or dining clubs, why not a change the world club? I also believe in collaboration, often the ideas that you come up with in a group are better than the ones you come up with on your own. In a group it’s easier to stay hopeful and not let yourself or others fall into despondency. Hope is important if you want to change the world.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (More glorious quotes here)

And because I love Charlie Brooker, here he is singing with the Blockheads. This video also lets you feel nostalgic for the things we were fearful of in 2014.

Why I give blood

Last week I went to the blood donor clinic. You have to wait three months between each blood donation, but it’s probably been about 12 months since I’d last donated. Last time I went it was really busy and I left without even signing in. The time before that my iron was too low and I was told to go see my doctor and wait six months before donating again. I’m not great at giving blood regularly and I definitely haven’t given as much as I could. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years and last week was my 19th donation. (I think I get a prize for my 20th which is exciting!) But despite my patchy record, one of the nurses we looked at my chart asked me why I’d donated so much and why I kept coming back. I didn’t really want to tell him that I just did it for the free biscuits – though that is a big part of it – so I told him I did it because I know lots of people who can’t donate and it’s easy for me, so I do it.

That’s just one of the reasons. There are lots of others:

  1. Free biscuits. I can’t lie, they are part of why I go there. When I started there used to be free mini-rolls. Now it’s custard creams and blue ribbon wafer bars, but they’re still free!
  2. There’s a great view from the canteen in the Blood Donor Clinic on D’Olier Street. It looks down over O’Connell Bridge and you have to hang out there after you donate and enjoy the view.
  3. It’s a really easy way to do something good. There are so many reasons why people can’t give blood, varying from where they’d lived or the medication they’re on, to whether they’ve just had a baby or a tattoo. I feel like if I’m able to give blood, I should. I have no problems with needles and generally don’t have any problems after donating. I can’t say never because I nearly fainted in the canteen once. Thankfully the nurse behind the counter spotted me losing conciseness and had me lying on the ground with my legs raised before I actually fell out of the chair! They even have a pillow in the canteen for just this reason, which makes it seem almost normal and helped me feel less of a tit!
  4. The lovely staff. Everyone is really nice to you in the blood donor clinic. They thank you so many times for coming in, even when your blood is rejected! And my blood has been rejected many times. Mostly for low iron and once because I’d just had the mumps vaccine and it’s one of the few live vaccines that you can’t donate after.
  5. Giving blood is a sneaky way to get my iron checked. You are not supposed to give blood for this reason and it’s probably not even a particularly accurate way to test it because I think it only gives a tiny snapshot. I’m prone to low iron so I do find it useful to get a quickie look at my iron levels every now and again.

I give blood because it makes me feel good. It’s easy, it doesn’t hurt and it costs me nothing. I just hang out in the clinic for an hour, where everyone is really nice to me and gives me free biscuits. I do it because someone else needs that blood more than I do. While I’m munching on my free biscuits and enjoying the view, someone else is fighting for their life. Why wouldn’t I give blood if it can help? It’s so easy to make more that I don’t even feel like I’ve lost anything afterwards.

There’s a lot of scary things happening in the world at the moment – Trump, terrorism, Brexit – and it’s easy to feel helpless. Giving blood makes me feel less helpless.

If you’re interested in donating, for the first or fifth or fourteenth time – visit giveblood.ie to find out if you are able to give blood and where your nearest clinic is.

Successful planning

It’s the season for making plans. Making resolutions is easy but to make them a reality, you need a plan. In 2015, I became better at making plans. They say that the one thing you need to succeed is a plan, you have to have a clear idea of what you want. This time last year, I felt like I was not a good planner. I always had a to do list on the go and lots of a vague ideas about what I’d like to do but I didn’t have a step 1, step 2, step 3 kind of plan. I may not believe in God but I do believe that the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” has a lot of truth in it. Life is full of events that are hard to plan for.

This uneasiness about my planning ability followed me throughout the year. In July it became part of my application to take part in Cultural Freelancer group mentoring sessions. As part of the application process, we were asked to provide a ”burning question” that you have about your work or a specific project. Mine was about planning.

How do you make long term career plans in a precarious industry? How do you make even medium term plans (3-5 years into the future) when there are so many unknowns?

Cultural Freelancers Ireland have been running drop-in sessions for the last couple of years but this pilot programme brought the same small group together for four weeks, to offer support and peer mentorship one our individual questions. Over the four weeks, the CFI participants worked on answering our burning questions.

I found that my burning question was only a jumping off point. Through the discussions with the group, I learnt that it wasn’t my ability to plan that was troubling me. It was hard to make a plan because I didn’t know what I wanted. I needed to figure that out first.

At the end of each session, we set ourselves homework, things we needed to think about or work out before the next session. One of the first pieces I set myself was to write down “What does success mean to me? What does my idea of success look like?”

This was an important and personal exercise and it helped me figure out a lot. Money is not my main motivator but my idea of success still includes getting paid for my work, which is not always easy in the arts. It also includes having a group of people to work with again and again. It includes professional recognition and being able to make choices.

It was an interesting exercise that lead on to another piece of homework – figuring out what success feels like. To do this, I made a list of times in the past that I have felt successful or proud of something I’ve achieved. It’s a great exercise to do if you’re feeling a bit stuck or uninspired. It will remind you of past successes and make you feel much more capable. I wrote down everything I could think of – anything that gave me a feeling of joy or accomplishment, no matter how small.

When I had my list I looked for common themes. I learnt that I don’t really value the achievements that come easily to me – the challenges feel much more like successes. Looking at the past made it clear what I had to do to achieve success in the future. I had something that I could use to make a plan.

The CFI sessions gave me time and space each week to sit down and think about these things and that was really valuable. Having homework to do meant that I had to put time aside to think about what I wanted and write down my thoughts. Spending time thinking about what I want out of life, in this structured, homework-driven way, made me happier. I felt more in control of my life. Planning can be boring. It’s not very sexy but life is better with a plan. It means you get to call the shots and decide what success is. Decision making is easier when you have a clear plan – the thing you’re being asked to do either fits in with the plan or it doesn’t – decision made!

Another thing that I discovered was that a lot of the things on my list of successes involved lots of planning. I realised that I have a good track record of coming up with plans and seeing them through. My view of myself as a bad planner wasn’t true!

If you are still working out your resolutions and plans for 2016, these Guardian articles might help.

Put off procrastination…forever
How to be a moderately successful person

Are you watching The Good Wife?

After a number of political posts and an accidental month-long hiatus, it’s time for something completely different. Are you watching The Good Wife? The legal drama with Carol from ER and Mary-Anne from Cybil? GoodWife I became a bit obsessed with the show last year and sped through the first four seasons, then felt bereft when I got caught up and had to wait for new episodes.

The show is about Alicia Florick (Carol from the ER) who has to go back to work after her husband – the State’s Attorney – is arrested on political corruption charges. He’s also been involved in a number of very public sex scandals. After 13 years as a wife and mother Alicia has joined a big, fancy law-firm in an entry level position and has to get used to the world of work again, while competing with graduates half her age.

If that synopsis doesn’t have you rushing to Netflix, don’t worry – I understand. My sister has been raving about The Good Wife for years but I wasn’t interested. I over-did it on court-room dramas in the nineties – Ally McBeal, Murder One, Perry Mason – and I wasn’t interested in watching another show about lawyers. Even when I did start watching it, it took me four or five episodes to decide I actually liked it. Trust me, it’s worth sticking with it.

Here are four reasons why you should do yourself a favour and watch The Good Wife.

1. Great characters that grow on you
And at the beginning, Alicia is pretty annoying. She is the political wife who stands by her man; she’s a bit of a pushover, a bit too nice, a bit of a giant cliché. She gradually comes out of that bland, catatonic shell and starts kicking ass. It’s a joy to watch. The show is very good at making you like characters that you think you’re going to hate. Cary Agos – Alicia’s competition at the firm – is played by the same actor who played Logan in Gilmore Girls. At first he seems like the same annoying, spoilt brat who is used to getting his own way with a smile and a bit of smarm. And yet, somehow I ended up liking him. Nobody was more surprised than me. (I never really warmed to Logan.)

Even the non-regular characters are great. Clients like Colin Sweeney or other lawyers, like Louis Canning, a disabled lawyer who is a master of manipulation and regularly plays up his disability in court. They are awful people that you can’t held getting attached to. It doesn’t hurt that Canning is played by the magnificent Michael J. Fox!

And then there is the wonderful Alan Cummings who plays the State Attorney’s campaign manager Eli Gold. He is sublime. I’ve been a fan since Bernard and the Genie, but in this show, which has so many fantastic, female characters – Alicia, Kalinda, boss lady Diane, crazy hot-shot lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni, scheming Patti Nyholm (who is played by one of the Goonies!) – Eli Gold is probably my favourite. He is a bit of a man’s man who has landed in a world full of strong, bossy women. I love watching him learn that he can’t tell them what to do and then slowly figure out how to work with them.
EliGold

There’s also Alan Cummings excellent facial expressions.

2. It’s all about the relationships between the characters but it’s not about relationships.
The relationships between the characters are allowed to grow slowly, the grudging respect that blossoms between Alicia and Cary, the friendship between Alicia and Kalinda, the firm’s private investigator. Alicia’s rocky relationship with her mother-in-law Jackie is great to watch, particularly when Alicia squares up to her. Alicia’s relationship with her children is also given plenty of screen-time – we see her juggling all the different aspects of her life.

It’s a show that focuses on female characters yet doesn’t revolve around their love lives. It’s probably not a coincidence that I started watching The Good Wife around the same time that I got bored of Grey’s Anatomy. (How many weddings or almost weddings has that show had?)

3. It’s a very feminist show.
Often overtly so in the cases they take and the causes that Diane supports but it’s also great to see so many women on screen at the same time. When I ran out of episodes of The Good Wife to watch and switched to House of Cards, the lack of women in that show was jarring. It felt like something was missing.

All the main characters are allowed to be flawed and have messy, complicated lives.

As an extra boost to it’s feminist credentials, it’s been name checked in Girls and Broad City, both times in weirdly sexual situations, and you know Lorelai and Rory would be tuning in religiously.

3. Great storylines – both individual cases and season arches
We see a lot of the characters personal lives but it’s still a show about lawyers so we spend a lot of time in the court room, in briefing sessions and depositions. However, the cases are interesting in their own right and not just an excuse to get the characters in the court-room together. They cover really interesting, contemporary topics. I know more about the NSA because of The Good Wife. I have a half-formed opinion on bitcoin and how it can be used to circumnavigate the law. There was a case that focused on sexual assault in the military. They created their own search engine – ChubHum and take regular pot-shots at it, often about how it’s search results are manipulated. The most recent season featured a real life, covert detention centre that is on the edge of legality. (I didn’t know that it was real until I read this article in the Guardian – ‘We’re all news junkies’: why The Good Wife writing team is one of TV’s sharpest. (WARNING: contains spoilers))

4. Great guest-stars
Surely I’m not the only one who gets great joy from seeing a familiar face pop up in another show. It pleases me to imagine that some of the guys from The Wire moved from Baltimore to Chicago and got a new job with a different drug dealer. Ugly Betty turns up in a couple of episodes, as does Chandler Bing. Gary Cole (who for me will always be the devil from American Gothic) plays a gunshot expert and Wallace Shawn (who was in The Princess Bride and Clueless) plays a frankly terrifying lawyer. Others famous faces include Nathan Lane, Rita Wilson, Parker Posey, Christina Ricci, Sarah Silverman, Jason Biggs, Jeffrey Tambor and Gloria Steinem, playing herself.

They are my reasons why you should start watching The Good Wife immediately. If you are still not convinced here’s another article from the Guardian, spoiler-free this time: Mad Men has the buzz – but The Good Wife is the better show

Happy birthday Smock Alley

SmockBirthday A couple of weeks ago, Smock Alley Theatre celebrated it’s 3rd birthday, or it’s 303rd birthday depending on when you start counting from. The refurbished theatre as it is today, opened in 2012. The first play I saw in the newly opened Main Space was Pan Pan’s A Doll House. I loved the show and I also loved the new theatre with it’s long, green seats and it’s smell of new wood. During the long years of transformation, Smock was often used during the festivals, so I had visited the space a few times over the years. The Belgium company Ontroerend Goed made great use of the Main Space for The Smile Off Your Face in 2010, when it was still an empty cavern and only recently excavated, ideal for being pushed around in a wheelchair while blindfolded! The Boys School was the Fringe Festival bar in 2009, when I did most of my volunteer shifts in Smock Alley and hung around the theatre for a week. Four years later, I spent both weeks of the Fringe Festival in Smock Alley, first with Come As Soon As You Hear’s Whelp (my first ever job as producer) and then working on Moving City. Most of the shows I’ve produced have been in Smock Alley and I’ve spent a lot of time in the theatre over the years. I was very proud to see my first play performed in the Main Space in February. On the night there was a lovely exhibition set up all around the walls of the Boys School as you walked up the spiral rams –  posters and programmes from all the shows that had graced the stages of the Smock Alley over the years. It was lovely to be reminded of the many great shows I’ve seen there, as well as spotting a couple of productions that I worked on! It’s a theatre that’s close to my heart. I am always happy to pop in and see what’s happening. All of which is to say that I am very fond of the place and was delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate their success. As well as being a great place for theatre, Smock Alley is also very good at food and drink. On the birthday night they were serving a new Smocktail – a pale green concoction with elderflower cordial, vodka and cucumber syrup. It was very tasty, very summer-y and went down far too easily! I also had delicious sausage rolls and a couple of tiny, boozy brownies. So if you haven’t yet been to Smock Alley, or you just haven’t been there in a while – go! There’s loads of Writers Festival events there over the next week, as well as lots of other things.

Voting

When the polling stations across Ireland open on May 22nd, I will be on a plane to Barcelona to celebrate my parents wedding anniversary. I didn’t plan to be out of the country for the Marriage Equality vote and it seems a little bit perverse to be celebrating traditional marriage while the country votes on whether or not to extend that privilege to all Irish citizens, but my parents are forty years married this year and I couldn’t really miss the celebrations.

The flights were booked weeks before the date of the referendum was announced. I am sad and disappointed to not be able to vote. The government has been talking about and promising this referendum for a very long time, it’s annoying to be out of the country when it finally happens. Voting is important to me. In 2002, in my final year of college, I travelled home to vote on the very confusing “abortion referendum” when Bertie Ahern’s government tried to over-turn the ruling on the X-case. It was confusing because a yes vote meant you wanted the case over-turned and the laws around abortion to become more restrictive, or you could vote no and keep things as they were. By a small majority, the people voted not to over-turn that ruling and it still took the government over 10 years to legislate on it. That vote was on a Thursday and I went home to vote on Thursday night and then back to college on Friday morning because I was in final year and we were finishing projects that week.

MarRefIf I was here to vote on May 22nd, I would be voting yes in the Marriage Referendum because I’m a big fan of equality. I’m not that bothered about marriage but I recognise that my ambivalence is a pretty privileged stance to have. I can turn my nose up at marriage and say I’m not sure it’s for me because I get to take it for granted. I can get married if I want to or not. Anyone who wants to get married should be allowed to do so. I’ve heard lots of people be very enthusiastic about marriage, that committing yourself to another person in that way can make you feel like part of a team, a true partnership. Why would you want to deny that to anyone?

I really want this referendum to pass because a yes vote would say so much about this country. I don’t want to live in a backward, mean-spirited, homophobic country that believes that it’s ok to treat people differently because of their sexuality. To me, that’s what a no vote says – it says you think LGBT people should be treated as second class citizens. I want to live in a loving, inclusive society where people are treated equally. Passing this referendum won’t instantly make that happen, but it would be a step in the right direction. It could be great turning point for Ireland, which, let’s face it – has had a rough few years. This could be the start of something new.

To me, the people against marriage equality are against change. They are backward looking and nostalgic for an Ireland that doesn’t exist any more. But to me, Ireland is not a country that can talk about the “good old days”. We are forever discovering new revelations about how bad things were in this country, particularly for anyone on the margins of society. It’s a big step for Ireland to finally step out of the shadows of Rome and Catholicism and make it’s own decisions based on what it best for it’s people. I believe that equality makes life better for all people. I don’t want to have more rights than other people – that doesn’t feel right.

So if you are here on May 22nd, and you are eligible to vote – please make your voice heard! Check now to make sure you’re on the register and if you’re not, you still have time to get a vote before May 22nd. All the details are on the Yes Equality website. Maybe you think I’m a bit of a hypocrite tell you to use your vote when I’m not using mine. I don’t care what you call me, as long as you vote! If the referendum doesn’t pass, I will feel very guilty for going on holiday.

And if I haven’t convinced you to Vote Yes, maybe Bosco can!

(I’m not sure how I’d vote in the Referendum on the Presidential Age of Eligibility. I can’t decide if age and experience is more or less useful than youth and energy in a President. You can still have a youthful outlook when you’re over 35 but is there any substitute for experience?)

Fringe application time

TigerFringeI spent a lot of time over the last few weeks putting together my application and supporting documents for the Tiger Dublin Fringe. This is the first time I’ve submitted an application. Despite being a long-time fan of the Fringe, and working on a few festival shows, I’ve never managed to take the next step and put in an application of my own. I’ve often thought of applying. I have attended many pre-application workshops and information evenings with a small idea that I thought might grow-up to be a Fringe show. But then the meetings would make me nervous – the amount of information, all the different areas you needed to consider, all the things that could go wrong – it just made me what to hide under the bed. And I would let the fear take hold and the application deadline would pass quietly while I stayed hiding under the bed.

This year was different. I still had The Fear, I still doubted myself and my own abilities and considered throwing in the towel at least once a day, but I was able to talk myself out of it. I feel ready now. The Collaborations show was a huge confidence boost, but I’ve also spent the last three years learning about the amount of work that goes into putting a show on stage and then getting people in to see it. Despite studying drama for many years, these are all things I learnt after graduation. Since I finish my MA in Galway and moved back to Dublin, I produced a couple of shows in the 2013 Fringe, a week-long show in Smock Alley’s Main Space and a dance theatre piece in the Boy’s School. I also worked on a national tour last year with Singlehood. With all that experience under my belt, I feel much more confident in my abilities to make theatre happen.

I’ve had the opportunity to see up-close how shows of different scales, styles and budgets are put together, where the money goes and different ways to sell tickets. I’ve learnt something from every single job. Helping other people is a great way to learn and get experience. I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to make theatre but doesn’t feel ready yet. Producers are always in demand, particularly around Fringe time. It’s a job that requires good organisation and communication skills, and a good dollop of cop-on. You will undoubtedly feel like you are making it up as you go along – don’t worry, so is everyone else! Signing up for the Fringe’s willing workers list is a good place to start, or just approach theatre companies that you would like to work for and tell them what you have to offer.

I have no idea if my application will be successful but I enjoyed putting it together and thinking about this show that I want to make, and I’m very happy that I finally took the plunge and applied for the Fringe Festival!