Flaherty’s Honeymoon Blues

When Fingers Flaherty got married, his (few) friends sadly shook their heads and whispered that the marriage would never last. As his battered car smoked away into the dusky distance, carrying the slightly happy couple to their new life together, his (few) friends wiped away the tears and prepared themselves for the inevitable catastrophe.

Flaherty wiped the cobwebs off his camera, determined to prove his (few) friends wrong.

He would create a photo album of the honeymoon, capturing the ecstatic promise of his first few days with his new (slightly damaged) wife.

The photo album was recently discovered in an abandoned attic.

 

Flaherty didn’t invite his (few) friends to his second wedding. Or his third wedding.

Out now: Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Crazy Blues

Fingers Flaherty wasn’t the first disgruntled lover to sing the blues!

People have been battling with the blues – or the “blue devils” as they once were known – ever since they started falling in love with each other back in those dark caves. They discovered that fire could keep away the prehistoric chill. And love could warm the prehistoric heart.

Time and time again, Saturday night’s raucous parties have given way to Sunday morning’s aching regrets. An intoxicating haze burns away in the harsh clarity of bloodshot eyes. And a heart that tingled with the promise of forbidden moonlit love is left battered and alone on the dusty floor as the unforgiving sun rises.

In the corner, a melancholy guitar waits.

Blues songs began to emerge from the dark night during the early years of the twentieth century. The form had been evolving orally for many years, but now damaged souls were being laid bare on sheet music. In 1908, “I Got the Blues” introduced this new genre to a wider audience. And in 1920, one of the first blues songs was recorded when Mamie Smith sang “Crazy Blues”.

Born in 1883, Smith was a dancer and vaudeville actress. In 1920, she recorded her first songs with her Jazz Hounds, going on to record many songs during the 1920s. “Crazy Blues” was the first commercially released blues record, and would sell 75,000 copies within a month. The song clearly struck a dark chord with people at the dawning of the Jazz Age.

 

The song opens with a familiar late-night blues scenario: insomnia and a lovelorn heart. The physical unrest mirrors the mental disturbance:

I can’t sleep at night,
I can’t eat a bite,
‘Cause the man I love
He don’t treat me right.

A common theme in blues music is that sense of overwhelming sadness as the lover tries (and usually fails) to come to terms with heartache. Left alone, the singer feels almost paralysed by despair:

He makes me feel so blue,
I don’t know what to do.
Sometime I sit and sigh
And then begin to cry.

Lost in her sadness, the singer feels the world outside merrily pass her by, indifferent to her plight. Everything else moves on, leaving her behind with her memories.

There’s a change in the ocean,
Change in the deep blue sea, my baby.
I’ll tell you, folks, there ain’t no change in me.
My love for that man will always be.

Although not the most uplifting of genres, the blues often does have a hint of gallows humour and comic surrealism. In this song, the singer’s sad plight arouses concern in others, but she dismisses their help. She believes she beyond all healing.

Now the doctor’s gonna do all that he can
But what you’re gonna need is an undertaker man.

Although “Crazy Blues” doesn’t follow the familiar AAB structure of most blues songs, its themes of lovesick despair and loneliness would be picked up and elaborated on (sometimes to gleeful extremes) by countless blues singers over the following decades. Like Mamie Smith, these singers would report “nothin’ but bad news”.

Out now: Talkin’ Squirrel Blues

Wintry watery blues

image

Life is an ocean, so the philosophers think.
Life’s an ocean, them dusty philosophers think.
Well, the storm’s a-brewin’, my boat’s startin’ to sink.
Fingers Flaherty

There’s a light, a certain kind of light, that pours over the landscape on a winter afternoon, enveloping the mountains in a languid melancholy, making the sea contemplate the ebbs and flows of its transient life. The birds have long since flown away, leaving behind their silent sad song. Summer seems but a distant memory. Spring is some vague promise from a casual friend. A promise you certainly wouldn’t bet your farm on. Anyway your farm has already been repossessed. By her new husband.

It’s Fingers Flaherty’s favourite time of the day…

Blue skies, blue eyes

image

There ain’t nothing new to see under God’s blue skies.
I tell ya, nothing new to see under them blue and shiverin’ skies,
‘Specially when ya look at them through bloodshot alcoholic eyes.
Fingers Flaherty

This photo was taken earlier this month in Omeath, County Louth, overlooking the sublime serenity of Carlingford Lough towards the stern majesty of the Mourne mountains. On a crisp autumn day here, you can feel the eternal spirit of nature vibrate in the depths of your soul. You feel insignificant and blessed in the same timeless instant.

What would Fingers Flaherty think if he were standing here? What would he see when he looked at this view?

Fingers would probably say the rain isn’t far off. He’d complain about the grey chill. And he’d start wondering where the next drink is going to come from…

#talkinsquirrelblues

Christmas lights

image

Christmas is comin’, the goose is gettin’ fat,
Christmas is a-comin’, baby, that goose is gettin’ fat!
But Santa won’t come near me, kitten. I’ve been a dirty rat.
Fingers Flaherty

Flaherty lookin’ for salvation

wpid-wp-1447243197898.jpeg

(c) Padraig Hanratty 2015

 

Jesus, lift me up, I feel like I’ve been cursed!
Help me up, Jesus. I feel low down and cursed!
Jesus said, “Ya gotta stop hangin’ out with the devil first.”
Fingers Flaherty

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues now available in paperback!

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues is now available in paperback from Amazon!

Buy Now

Print

Also available:

IMG_5613

Cover Image v3

The story behind a squirrel

My article about the genesis of Talkin’ Squirrel Blues was recently published in Writing & Me. You can find out where the idea for the Floyd the squirrel originated by reading the article here.

Photo cropped

Talkin’ Squirrel Blues ebook is currently available on Amazon.

Paperback available in November 2015!

Print

The Next Big Thing

Laura Elliot tagged me in the Next Big Thing Author Blog Hop. Laura is the author of three novels: Stolen Child, The Prodigal Sister and Deceptions.  Her books have  been widely translated and – aka June Considine – she is also the author of twelve books for children, including the fantasy Luvender trilogy, the Beachwood series and the two teen novels View from a Blind Bridge and The Glass Triangle. She gives regular workshops on creative writing and is on the board of the Irish Writers’ Centre.

You can read Laura’s contribution to the Next Big Thing at her blog.

How the Next Big Thing blog hop works
An author answers ten questions and then tags authors to do the same thing the following week on the same day, which in this case is a Wednesday.


What is the working title of your next book?
Sour Angel Blues

SourAngelv1

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
I’m working on a series of books based on the blues songs of Fingers Flaherty, a fictional Irish blues singer. My previous book, Dimestore Avenue Blues, was a novella. I found myself drawn to two of the supporting characters (Tiffany and Bill) in that novella and decided to explore their fraught relationship further in the next book. I knew Tiffany would need some help in rebuilding her life after leaving Bill. And who better to give her advice than a cynical, agnostic guardian angel?

What genre does your book fall under?
Comic romance, with a healthy dash of surrealism.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Bill; Michelle Keegan as Tiffany; Brian Blessed as Judo; Tom Waits as Fingers Flaherty.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Can an agnostic guardian angel help a cynical young woman find happiness?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
Self-published.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
This is a work in progress. Aiming to have first draft finished by end of February (2013, hopefully).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
The style aims to combine the edgy surrealism of Flann O’Brien and Douglas Adams with the humour of P. G. Wodehouse.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I enjoy writing surreal comedy. The idea of an unconventional guardian angel was, in part, inspired by the film It’s A Wonderful Life.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Each chapter is based on a verse of Fingers Flaherty’s blues lyrics.

The author I have tagged is:
Tom O’Neill had his book Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill published recently. He likes writing for both old adults and young adults. It allows him to spend time amongst strange characters and to add to the public body of lies. Other preoccupations: Africa, farming, and restoring castles. You can find out more at Tom’s blog.

Suffering in the Here and Now

I am a breath breathing in the breeze. I am one.

I am a drop of water falling into the ocean. I am many.

I am a ray of sunlight traveling through a flower stem. I am energy.

I am a flame burning on the surface of the sun. I am my own shadow.

I am a grain of sand buried in… Oh blast, my left leg has gone asleep! Focus on the pain. Just acknowledge it and let it go. Rise above the sensation of… Sod it!

I am a breath breathing in the breeze (Image copyright: Padraig Hanratty)

I am a breath breathing in the breeze (Image copyright: Padraig Hanratty)

Into a new year and trying to restart all those good things I forgot to keep doing in 2012. Such as dieting in moderation. Exercising every few days. Writing every day. Thinking before blurting out. And meditating.

The previous blog post looked at the past. And the one before that focused on the future. This one concentrates on the tiny sliver between the past and future: the present.

Every time I sit/lie/lotus down to try to meditate on the present moment, Van Morrison’s “Enlightenment” inevitably pops unbidden into my emptied mind. This song wonderfully encapsulates what is so attractive about meditating. And also hints at its limits.

It was the title song on Morrison’s 1990 Enlightenment album and was released as a single. (The album ended with “Memories”, a song examined in the previous post. The album also included the hit single “Real Real Gone”. I was lucky enough to see Morrison perform a gloriously ramshackle version of “Real Real Gone” with Bob Dylan in Dublin back in 1995.)

Mindfulness meditation has become very popular in recent years, mainly through the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is a specific form of meditation that focuses on being mindful of the present moment, fully living in the here and now. It can trace its origins back to Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha advised, “Do not dwell on the past; do not dream of the future; concentrate the mind on the present moment.”   

This form of meditation often centres on being aware of your breathing or your body. However, it can also take place during everyday activities such as walking or eating. It involves being fully aware of and engaged in whatever your current activity is. Rather than remembering what you’ve done already or fretting about what you have to do later, you simply live in the present, doing what you’re doing now. This is alluded to in the song’s opening words:

Chop that wood. Carry water.

So, in other words, mindfulness doesn’t just occur on the yoga mat. It happens any time you’re mindful of what you’re doing. You may be a monk raking leaves in a garden. You may be painting a canvas or a back wall. You may be listening to your favourite piece of music. In Dimestore Avenue Blues, Jesse’s world stops when he listens to a blues song. For the duration of the song, all that exists for him is that song in that moment. He’s listening mindfully.

Another tool sometimes used in meditation is the zen koan. This can be understood as a riddle that cannot be answered by conventional thinking. Koans aim to bring you beyond thoughts of opposites and duality towards intuition, unity and enlightenment, no less.  The song refers to one of the most famous koans:

What’s the sound of one hand clapping?

However, rather than spending an entire song trying to recreate the sound of one hand clapping, Morrison admits:

Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.

Another aim of meditation is to make us aware of the transience of existence. Our time is limited and our life is constantly changing in that time. By fully living the moment, ironically you become aware that this present moment is different from the previous present moment. You can never step into the same river twice; the flowing river is never the same again and neither are you. As Morrison puts it:

Every second, every minute,
It keeps changing to something different.

One of the stepping stones on the path to enlightenment is non-attachment. This stems from the idea that unhappiness is caused by desire. You are unhappy because you do not have what you desire. However, no desire can ever be fully satisfied. No matter how nice and filling our meal today is, we’ll get hungry again. We will always want more, no matter what we get.

Non-attachment is a means of escaping the circle of desire and satisfaction. It is not just about denying yourself the things you desire. It’s even more than moving beyond frivolous attachments. Instead, you detach yourself from desire itself. Not an easy task, as Morrison indicates:

Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.
It says it’s non-attachment.

So if you really master meditation and live fully in the present moment, freed from desire, you’ll achieve perpetual happiness. Right? Wrong.

I’m in the here and now,
And I’m meditating,
And still I’m suffering,
But that’s my problem.

The Buddha reminds us that “life is suffering”. In this life, we cannot forever escape suffering because we are all mortal beings: “When I was a young man, near the beginning of my life, I looked around with true mindfulness and saw that all things are subject to decay. Thus all things are subject to death, sorrow and suffering.”

Meditation can make us more aware of ourselves and of the world around us. It can help us calm down the chaos of whirling thoughts, emotions, opinions, noise and information that assaults us every minute of the day. It can help us sort out the passing irritations and transient pleasures from the lasting concerns and timeless values. We become more willing to take time out and question what our senses are telling us. As Morrison puts it:

Enlightenment says the world is nothing,
Nothing but a dream,
Everything’s an illusion
And nothing is real.

This isn’t quite as nihilistic as it might first sound. If you’re willing to question your reality, you’re better equipped to change your reality. The self-help movement is based on the premise that people can change their lives; we may not be able to change what has happened to us, but we can change how we react to what has happened to us. We can change our perceptions of our reality. In Morrison’s words:

Good or bad, baby,
You can change it any way you want.

Indeed, the Buddha implies that we are ultimately responsible for our reality because we are responsible for our own thoughts: “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

And with our thoughts, we can change the world. Well, our world anyway.

All around, baby, you can see
You’re making your own reality every day.

Of course, meditation, mindfulness and non-attachment all have their limits. We can’t always live solely in the present moment. We need to learn from past actions and we need to consider the future consequences of our current actions.

And it’s not easy detaching ourselves from desire. Not all desires are bad in themselves or even in their consequences. After all, it’s our desires that spur us to action. Our desires may not always lead us on the good path, but, until we can escape the circle of desire, all we can do is try our best. Every second, every minute. Will that lead to enlightenment? Don’t know what it is.

Anyway, back to my meditation. I might just stumble on to enlightenment this time.

Empty the mind of all thoughts and distractions.

I’m breathing in.

I’m breathing out.

My breath is breathing me.

I am living in the present moment, silent on to myself.

All communication lines have been closed for now because… Oh damn it, I’ve forgotten to pay the phone bill! Better go do that now before it goes out of my mind again.