31 December 2007

Here below, to live is to change...

And so 2007 ends. It's been a quiet year in a lot of ways, certainly less tumultuous than 2006, thank God. I'm off to wrap it up at a friends' house in a few minutes. We're having a murder mystery dinner. I have narrowly escaped having to go in drag. There are some ways one really shouldn't start a new year, after all.

I was struck the other day by a passage in Father Martin Tierney's article in this week's Irish Catholic -- I'm rarely caught by Fr Tierney's column, but this one was a little different.
We come to the end of another year.
John Moriarty, the philosopher, was asked in a radio interview: 'are you happy?'
'That's not the question,' answered John.
'So what is the question?' asked the interviewer.
'The question is -- "have I grown?"'
If we have grown in holiness, wisdom, charity, and patience, this has been a good year.
Have I grown? It's a good question, and I really don't know the answer, though I think I have. I hope so, at any rate.

Certainly I've done so in how I've handled the ongoing mess in my life I tend to refer to as 'the War', and in terms of the decisions I've made regarding leaving academia and taking a new path. As for which path I'll follow, there are a couple of options that are foremost in my mind, and one of my main tasks in the next year will involve discerning which one's for me. I have hopes, but we don't always get what we want.

So what has the old year held? Well, I haven't got the work done I'd hoped to do, but then the war has rather been my priority -- justice needs to be done, I'm afraid, and to be seen to be done, and people need to be protected, so I've had to leave my own interests aside to focus on that. Yes, I know that my studies, my career, and my life have all been hurt in ways by this, but really, what option have I had? Could I have let things go, and still be who I am? And even if I could, should I?

Other than that, how does the year stack up?

Sister the Elder got married, and a new Brother-in-Law and a new niece joined the clan. Sister the Elder's wedding saw the Gargoyle clan in one exact spot for the first time in nearly ten years; once the photos were taken we dispersed, though not very far. Brother the Elder returned from America, and though I'd rather he hadn't had to come home, it's good to have him around.

Several of my friends enriched the world by bringing new people into it, though so far I've encountered only one of the offspring, who I'll be seeing again this evening; with luck I'll see the others soon enough. Two of my closest friends got together, following my nudging one of them into action. With nearly a year down, things are still going well, which pleases me more than I can say.

I had a lovely trip to Greece, where I tramped around battlefield after battlefield, renewed old friendships, spoke to one of my dearest friends while on the site of the 300's last stand, revisited a hill where my eyes filled with tears for the only time all year, and consumed far too much alcohol and not nearly enough octopus. And on the way back I had a decidedly strange night in Zurich.

I spent a few wonderful summer days in London, on the way there hearing a marvellous quote from Mother Teresa that has stayed in my head since, challenging me as much as it consoles. London was magical, with me seeing my niece for my first time, staying with one of the most attractive girls I know and lunching with another, catching up with a very old friend, falling in love with Westminster Cathedral, and saying goodbye for now to three people -- all of whom mean the world to me in very different ways, and none of whom I've seen since.

(I haven't had my hair cut since that week. This is a coincidence, I assure you, and since my barber offered me a charity haircut when I bumped into him on Christmas Eve, I shall probably be rectifying this soon enough. Five months of growth, would, I feel, be extravagant.)

I fixed a portrait that I'd been unhappy with last year and gave it to its subject, and managed my first ever mass-produced Christmas card, and smiled to see how my cartoons had been acknowledged in my old school's fiftieth anniversary yearbook. I made my radio debut, which was fun, and is still online if you know where to look, and I marvelled at the discovery that people are still buying my book.

I let my old blog die with a whimper, and started this one with rather more sense of what I was doing than I ever had with my old one. If nothing else, I think I deserve some plaudits for the colour scheme. I've started a couple of other blogs too, but I'm keeping them under wraps unless things turn really nasty in the war. It does no harm to have a few nuclear options.

Speaking of which, I visited the Oireachtas, and addressed a very old acquaintance as Deputy, and just a week or so ago I addressed an old friend and travelling buddy as Counsellor. Times have changed; all these things were new to me. Also for the first time, I made the front page of a newspaper; considering my story was on the front page the reporter did a remarkably discreet job in relating my vindication.

And for all my thoughts of old friends, I made some fine new ones too, especially one cloak-and-dagger evening where truths were told. Along the way I've helped celebrate a few birthdays in style, and bestowed a couple of Claddagh rings to mark two angels' comings of age, telling them what they mean. If I've returned even the tiniest amount of the kindness, the patience, the generosity, the love, and the loyalty that's been shown to me over the last couple of years then I'll have done some good.

Not enough, I know. But some.

I've spent much of the last year making feeble progress with Bleak House, but have along the way -- aside from academic books and sundry bits of the Bible -- read The Names by Don DeLillo, Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI, Rome Sweet Home, Letter and Spirit, and Reasons to Believe, all by Scott Hahn, Persian Fire by Tom Holland, John Nagl's Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, By What Authority? and Making Senses of Scripture by Mark Shea, The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, Garry Kasparov's How Life Imitates Chess, Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Ethan M. Rasiel's The McKinsey Way, William Poundstone's How Would You Move Mount Fuji?, Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland, The Complete Bone by Jeff Smith, Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Larry Gonick's The Cartoon History of the Modern World, Volume 1, and John Wagner, Alan Grant, and Carlos Ezquerra's Strontium Dog Casefiles, Volume 1. I've also reread Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and The Man Who was Thursday, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Orthodoxy, and The Everlasting Man, all by G.K. Chesterton.

I graced the cinema with my presence eighteen times, making this my most cinematic year in quite a while, taking in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, London to Brighton, The Maltese Falcon, Into Great Silence, Black Book, Perfume, The Man Who Would Be King, Blood Diamond, 300, Amazing Grace, Spider-Man 3, Magicians, The Lives of Others, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Stardust, Beowulf, and I Am Legend. It's an obvious call, but just as Pan's Labyrinth was my favourite film of 2006, so The Lives of Others was the film that impressed me most in the last year.

I'm afraid that a peculiar combination of necessity and opportunity saw me going to a concert alone for my first time, to see Ani DiFranco in what used to be The Red Box. It was the sixth time for me to see her play, and I was delighted to see that she hadn't lost her touch.

I also wound up seeing Henry V on my own too, enraptured for the best part of three hours in Manchester's Exchange Theatre. Don Pasquale in the RDS was rather more of a group outing, as were Julius Caesar in the Abbey and both trips to the breathtaking gate production of Sweeney Todd. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was a delight in Manchester's Library, as was The Tempest in the Royal Exchange. I'm afraid that The Vortex was just as uninspiring as my Fairy Blogmother had warned me it would be, while Things of Dry Hours proved rather surprising, not least in how it developed in the second half.

Oh, and then there was Alton Towers.

Any regrets? Quite a few actually, but barring my failures to finish my thesis or to master straight-razor shaving, not getting to see The Police or Ireland play in Croke Park, seeing only one decidedly uninspiring football match all year, and not managing to meet up with Josh and Clare anywhere, I think they'll be staying strictly offline, except to say that insofar as I can do anything about them next year, I plan to do so.

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