Category Archives: Adult Education

The flip side of the coin…

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family”. The opening words of the iconic monologue from the 1996 movie ‘Trainspotting’.

But what choices do we really have when it comes to living?

I believe that life can be a series of accidents and opportunities that are constantly dependent on outside factors that we have absolutely no control over at all.

Take that great job interview that you recently did. You know that you ticked all the boxes. You know that you are qualified for the job. You have the expertise. You presented well on the day and you answered all the questions correctly.

You didn’t get the job.

Outside influences may have played a major part. The Interviewer may not have liked the colour of your hair, or she may have had her best friend’s daughter interviewing later that day. You will never know the reason.

You will go over and over what it was that you did wrong, and never find the answer because it was nothing to do with you, it was to do with someone else making a decision that might affect the rest of your life.

You had decided on a particular path assured in the belief that if you completed A you would progress to B and then on to C. Mapping out our lives is something that we all do. We have goals and aspirations to aim for, and we hope that they will be realised as we all work toward personal fulfilment.

Achievements are celebrated and greater goals are set as we attempt to pilot our way through our lives, providing for our families, setting example by our standards and generally expecting that things will work out the way we want them to because we have worked so hard to make it happen. It’s what we have been taught to do. I cannot visualise my world without order, hope, expectations and dreams.

But life is actually so arbitrary. I realise this now, and it has taken me so long to understand it.

I realise that no matter how qualified I am for a particular job, it’s someone else’s decision as to whether I get it or not.

I realise that being an obedient citizen guarantees me nothing.

I realise that actions and decisions take place that impact on my life all the time and that I have no hand in them.

I realise that most of life is chaotic and unplanned, despite our belief that there is an order to the events that affect us.

I realise that no matter how much I try to protect the people that I love, I cannot keep them safe from harm.

I realise that I have to let go my feelings of desolation because life didn’t work out quite as I had planned it would.

I realise that life can be explained by the simple metaphor of a coin toss.

Heads you live – Tails….

Destiny can just be about flipping the coin of life and accepting where it lands.

Language and how we speak.

I have thousands of words dressed up in a carnival of colour regularly riding the carousel of my mind…. Like James Joyce writing Ulysses I live in a constant stream of consciousness. There are a myriad of thoughts, actions, voices, and images that surround me in every minute of every day although I don’t record or write them as they happen.

I have no aspiration or talent to be a writer and I accept this and can smile about it. I am much more mundane. I like being articulate when saying what I want to say and I have no great desire to make it to the best seller list. I generally just want to be understood. I want to verbally connect in the best way that I can.

Language is the universal way that we communicate and we all do it differently. I recognise this and I am a lover of listening to the spoken word as much as I love writing it. Language is powerful and how we articulate and use it can sadly set us apart.

I only have to listen to the voice of a news reader and compare it to a voice in my local community. Somehow the passion and spirit of a community speaker can be lost when their words are taken, relayed or broadcasted. By the time the message is conveyed through mainstream media these words have been altered and may not reflect the feeling of the original speaker. Passion becomes diluted, and voices and words are mixed and broken up into sound bites that are acceptable. This is all so wrong. I believe that in this way language has been sabotaged. Sometimes if you can’t be fluent and say what you have to in three minutes, you don’t get a shot.

For me, how we speak and communicate defines the narrative of our lives. Our memory bank of words is personally relevant to each and every one of us and is a reflection of how we have arrived where we are through our lived experiences, our families, our education and the people that we associate with. We listen and we mimic. We read and hear words all the time and we store them. We make them our own and use them distinctively. Everyone has the right to speak, to engage, to converse. To be heard and to be listened to regardless of how incoherent mixed up or inarticulate they are.

I communicate though my language. I use my own stored words. Most of them are like old friends, familiar and comforting. But I sometimes dip into my suitcase of words to root out the unexpected, to explain or to describe something that needs stretching out like elastic. For me, embellishing a word is my way of creating something beautiful in a sentence in the same way that an artist may add extra colour to a work in progress. If I strip the sentence back to its basic form it will still be understood, but it is missing the beauty and colour that I believe language contains.

Through my education and my lifetime love of words I am now more articulate in my life that I have ever been. I was that person who’s passionate voice was unheard because I wasn’t fluent or eloquent enough but not anymore. I can now say what I want to, but I add the colour and texture that language produces. This can make me sound like a right windbag sometimes, but as long as the sentence flows beautifully, sounds good to my ears and is clearly understood then I am ok with that 🙂

Destiny can be about looking at the things we take for granted and viewing them in a new light.

Valerie’s Gallery.

This was a phrase coined by Mark my brother in law in response to the amount of photos, posters and personal memorabilia that I have displayed in my downstairs loo. He said going to the toilet in my house was like walking into a gallery.

I figured that people who ‘used the facilities’ would ‘sit for a bit’, and if I could make their visit more memorable then I would. Inside this room there are photos of family & friends, posters, art work, and the general tack & tat that we all love to collect and which remind us of particular good times.

After Mark inaugurated the space about 10 years ago, my hubby Dermot had a handmade tile made for me as a gift and we stuck it on the door. ‘Valerie’s Gallery’ was born although there was no grand opening, and I didn’t invite guests to a cheese and wine reception.

This tiny area contains so many captured images of my life, and people who come to my house and ‘use the room’ are constantly surprised by how I have utilised this space. They remark on its colour and content and all the bits inside.
As they emerge they might ask ‘who is that in the black & white picture in the small car’ or ‘I love that pic of your sister and you’. It is a real conversation starter and I never tire of conducting tours although it can be exhausting with all that walking around!

Like in a real gallery there are some exhibits that never change, but every year I try to add to the collection although space is at a premium. It’s difficult to remove a picture or thing, but time moves on and this is reflected in the images that are featured.

I personally love sitting and contemplating all the people who surround me and who have been encapsulated in the smallest room in my house. I often gaze in wonder at all of these photos and paraphernalia that represent my life, and are beloved by me and mine. I have post cards, photos, billboards, and watercolours. In my view all the necessary ingredients that make up a good gallery.

Come pay a visit to my house and let me show you around. If you want to know me and my family- they are all there on the walls of my downstairs loo. Visiting hours are random and there is no fee. All are welcome.

Destiny can be about being surrounded by your past whilst still being able to see a future.

Friendship.

My close friends are jewels, full of colour, joy and happiness. They are like emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. Precious gems that cascade through my life with a brilliance, beauty and special individual quality that makes each and every one of them exceptional. They are like a treasure trove that lift me up and add sparkle when I need it, and I am never disappointed by the quality that they bring to my life.

Destiny can be like being a pirate and finding that special pearl.

What a difference a year makes……..

It is a year (approx.) since my two adult children left home.
One year- 12 months- 52 weeks- 365 days- 8,670 hours – 525,600 minutes.

Time has unglued us from being one complete unit into becoming separate people living apart. This has led to many changes in our individual lives.

Learning to live without the constant ebb and flow of my children coming and going has been difficult. It has brought a new quieter rhythm to the house and one that has not always been welcome. I miss the noise although I appreciate the quiet. I miss the mess although I love the tidiness. I miss the gangs of pals although I relish the choice of seats in the sitting room in the evenings. I miss their late nights out although I realise that I can relax and sleep soundly and not have to wait to hear a key in the door. I miss waking up during the night although I don’t worry now if the house is in darkness as I realise that I turned the last light out and there is no one else coming home.

This is the melancholy side of things….
On the flip side there is a whole new order.

Being able to come and go without having to be there for formal meals is a huge freedom. Our family tradition had us all at the dinner table every night at a particular time having dinner and discussing the daily national and political news. While I always loved that part of the day, it is far less interesting when there are only two voices in the foray. It can descend into a major disagreement in no time.

My dinner time routine has changed.

Sometimes my hubby and I don’t even have dinner! We have the freedom to up and go to mountains, lakes and seaside destinations and we do so regularly. We go to restaurants, pack picnics and are generally less rigid in our evening routine than we have been in the past. We absolutely love this new independence although I am usually the driver of moving beyond the kitchen table.

I particularly love weekends. I am a volunteer with a national charity and my chosen slot is an early shift in Dublin City Centre on Sunday mornings. I finish around midday and my hubby usually collects me afterwards and we take this opportunity to make the most of the day and to enjoy the freedom of not having to be home for dinner. We go wherever the fancy takes us, and we stay out as late as we like. We have no one to please except each other and this adds a fun element and unpredictability to our lives. We are learning how to be a couple again after being parents for such a long time.

Our children still live close by and are welcome visitors all the time. They pop in unexpectedly for chats and impromptu meals that are conjured up in minutes by their Dad. They also come by for more formal ‘invited‘ dinners where the traditions are observed and the topical arguments continue. These dinners are special and very precious. Time tick tocks in the background as our lives move on independently but with habits and rhythms that bind us to each other.

I arranged to meet my daughter today and we spent two leisurely hours bantering and chatting over a delicious lunch in a local restaurant. If she was still living at home I don’t think that this coming together would have held the anticipation and ultimate pleasure of her company that I enjoyed for that short space of time.

Who knew what changes a year would bring.

Destiny can be about rearranging the jigsaw of life and seeing a different picture.

People- and the way they touch our hearts and minds….

Meeting someone pivotal in your life is often not greeted by cymbals and drum rolls. Sometimes they just slip in unnoticed and non-assuming, yet they can subliminally change how we think and act in quiet and unobtrusive ways. People like this are like jewels. Colorful treasure in a sometimes grey, monochrome world that can make us sit up and take notice of the beauty and sparkle that is inherent in life.

I met a man twelve years ago who changed me, fundamentally and quietly without his knowing. We met weekly and exchanged thoughts, philosophies, visions and ideas. He was older than I was and had a broader life experience and education than I had at the time. He spoke to and listened to me, and encouraged me to believe in my aspirations, beliefs and hopes. He supported me as I took the first tentative steps to thinking beyond the person that I was at the time, and he shaded my dreams with pencils of colour and substance.

Looking back, I recognise that I was at a crossroads in my life. My children were in their late teens and were on their own paths of discovery. My job at the time was well paid but I hated it. My husband had his career and was working hard at it. I was approaching my 40’s and I truly didn’t know who I was or where I going to. My life was predictable and mostly enjoyable, but it was lacking something that I couldn’t articulate or name.

This man encouraged me to read the works of great philosophers and writers, and to think deeply about the things that produced joy and happiness for me. He believed in the power of silence and self-reflection and taught me not to feel afraid in the quiet of my mind. Through our weekly discussions we explored what the universe had to offer us as humans and what we could give back.

We debated and argued back and forth about what was meaningful and relevant in a world gone mad with consumerism and greed. We agreed that it was people and how they felt that mattered most when it came to actual living.

I looked forward to our meetings and I was rarely disappointed. We were in a work environment so not all the time was spent chatting, but I loved having time out with this wonderful man learning something new in almost every encounter. He made me think in a way that I had never done before.

Trying to help my husband and children understand the monumental shift that was occurring inside me was difficult, as I was learning to think, to do things differently, and to reflect on where I was on my life’s map. I was also menopausal at the time which may have contributed to their lack of engagement with me as they all thought I was going nuts anyway. My new “Airy Fairy” way of thinking and my constant quoting of this man’s viewpoints made them laugh and dismiss me a lot, although they were never deliberately unkind. They just didn’t get what I was getting.

They didn’t understand the effect that this man was having on my consciousness. Although they listened to me, they didn’t really hear me or understand my new way of thinking. I knew that he did and I simply loved him for it.

I eventually emerged from the menopause mentally intact (although my family may disagree on this issue) and began to slowly build a new individual way of being, hugely influenced by this gentle man.

My thoughts and practices are different now and have been since I knew him. His gentleness continues to affect me in how I view the world and his wisdom will never be forgotten.

I do not see him now and have not for many years. Our paths diverged and we are not in contact. He has absolutely no idea how he influenced and changed my life.

I remember him with fondness, thankfulness and a deep and abiding love. He provided me with a space that allowed me to express my feelings, my doubts, worries and dreams. He listened to me and never judged me. He encouraged me to be quiet in myself and to appreciate the silence that lies within us all. He taught me to accept people with all their frailties and vulnerabilities and to recognise that I have those feelings too.

He has been a kind of guru for me in how I live my life although he would hate to have that title. He believed in the sharing of life’s philosophies, education and knowledge, with the implicit acknowledgement that we have no ownership of them as they were never ours in the first place. I learnt from him that wisdom, kindness and understanding that is passed on is the greatest gift that we as humans can share.

Destiny can teach us about people and the unconsciousness power they have to individually shape our lives.

Being yourself….

Living in the shadow of someone else can be the most debilitating curse. Being compared to someone that everyone else perceives as being better than you can be privately humiliating, and the feelings that arise as a result can last a lifetime. It can colour how you live and how you justify your very existence. You can end up apologising for your life choices, how you made them and how you continue towards your destiny. Despite your choices though, you are always compared. This can be the toughest battle and one that is never really fought openly. It can be latent and subjective and it can burden in the most hurtful and inconceivable way.

31 years ago today I married a boy. I was 20 and loved him. He was 24 and loved me back. We set forth on an adventure that saw us buying a house, having a couple of kids, building a life as young couple’s do- raising a family together and taking life in its stride.

We encountered Joy, happiness, debt, hardship, isolation, personal problems, parenting issues, job difficulties etc…. Normal events in normal lives.

Throughout our early married years we had the benevolence of our parents, but in particular we had my husband’s wonderful dad who was a rock of sense. He was a Civil Servant who worked for the Department of Justice in Ireland, and had spent his lifetime working for the collective good of the Irish legal system- drafting pieces of legislation that are still a part of our constitution today. He was a moral and kind man and had wonderful values that he passed unknowingly on to his four children.

My lovely husband was the beneficiary of the morals, kindness and thoughtfulness of this sweet man who sadly died on the eve of the new Millennium on Dec 31st 1999.

Growing up in an affluent area in Dublin, my husband was surrounded by neighbours who had children, some of who had grand career opportunities that were granted to them because of their family connections. My husband had no such connections as his Dad was not in private business and who also believed that in order to get on in life you had to work hard and not rely on people giving you a leg up. His Dad had a total distain for stockbrokers and Merchant bankers and on his retirement when he was given a substantial amount of money for all his years with his State employers, he declined to invest in the “latest trend” and deposited his money in a regular bank with regular interest pay-outs rather than gamble on the stock market. He saw many of his colleagues lose their pensions on “sure things” and he passed on his hatred of stock trading and share purchasing to his children and I am all the better because of it.

This is a frame as to how we ended up living our own life, carefully and thriftily. Not showy and full on, but according to our needs and within our budget. Boring to so many who encouraged us to borrow and go on expensive holidays- to build on-or to buy a bigger house- to buy that car and to “have it all”.. We didn’t do any of that and we had a small life, lived within our means, but we were never desperately poor yet never extravagantly rich either. This was the example his Dad had set.

In comparison to some of his old neighbourhood peers, my husband suffered the indignity of mediocrity. They built empires while he worked as a skilled paramedic and Fire Fighter with the Dublin Fire Brigade. He provided a lifesaving service to the people of Dublin while his peers were busy accumulating personal wealth through business and entrepreneurship. His Dad was very proud of him and his chosen career and that is worth more than words can say.

The recent financial crash has left many of his peers broken, debt ridden and despairing.

My lovely husband knows what it feels like to live in the shadow of people who think that “they are all that and a bag o’ chips” … when really they are not even the bits in the bag when the chips are gone…….

I have always known his worth as a person. His Dad lives on in him. I married him 31 years ago today and I am so glad that we are still together. I simply love him and all the qualities that make him so dear to me.

Destiny can be about recognising goodness in people and grabbing that person and holding on tightly. x