Our Selves, Alone. (extract 1) Nthposition. 2010

Rather than pasting great dobs of text here of my various stories, I have decided to either post previews with the full text elsewhere, or dividing them into parts, as I have with That Damn Family.

This story was originally titled “The Last Agony Aunt” and, not unlike “The fifteenth of August”, owed quite a bit to Graham Greene’s The Last Word in original concept, if not in the final story. It also, like “The fifteenth of August”, has a very specific Donegal location, or at least is my attempt to locate the story in a very specific Donegal location.

The term “agony aunt” has always struck me as rather striking, simultaneously amusing and horrible.

My recollection is that this one of the last stories I directly sent to Val Stevenson at Nthposition without exploring other markets, and as was my wont at the time I had originally conceived this to be a much longer work but when it didn’t quite extend abandoned that.

I have often used academic frameworks in my fictional stories. While somewhat dubious about this, it does have the benefit of coming easily to me. Re-reading this story now, it seems very obviously to me quite concerned with psychiatry and its practice, to an extent I don’t think I fully noticed when I wrote it.

OUR SELVES, ALONE

“What kind of a psychiatrist were you, anyway? Did you follow a school of thought, like that of Sigmund Freudian?”

“No, not at all. It was Sigmund Freud, by the way. No, we really weren’t all that theoretical, or psychotherapeutic. Actually, we thought all that was nonsense, though we came to realize we had little else to offer but our selves. We just prescribed medications, mainly for lack of anything else to offer. We tried some of what used to be called cognitive behavioural therapy…”

“…that’s the primitive ancestor of the Rational Action Training, isn’t it?

“We didn’t see it as the primitive ancestor of anything, my dear.”

“Why do you call me ‘my dear’? I don’t know you.”

“It’s a figure of speech. It’s a bit like all those things that you people are all so afraid to say.”

“Figures of speech are misleading metaphors.”

“Yes, its that simple, isn’t it.”

“I’m not clear what you mean by ‘its’ in this context”

“But you know. You may not be entirely clear, but you know. And the mask is slipping a bit, isn’t it? You said ‘I’m not clear’ and ‘I don’t know you.’ It’s hard to keep it up isn’t it, even now?”

**

Aphorism # 37: When the anthropologists are interested in you, you know you’re on the way out.

**

15 DL 325. Kelly looked the car up and down. It wouldn’t be the first car of that vintage she had driven since coming to Donegal. The internal combustion engine, seen as terribly quaint and entertaining in other parts of the world, was a common sight here. Electric cars were too expensive, and a solitary electric bus made its way north east from Letterkenny through Kilmacrenan along the coast road, stopping at various settlements along the way. There had been airport once, in Carrickfin, she had been told, but she found this unlikely.

Kelly took out the iMe and checked for a signal. There was one at last! And yet no messages. She had hoped Rob would have sent something – a viddy, a quick verbal even – but no he hadn’t. She tried sending him a quick textual, telling herself that sometimes the iMe reception here could be very variable and perhaps one of Rob’s messages was stuck in the ether somewhere, needing the stimulus of a message coming the other way to push it into Kelly’s inbox. As she was telling herself this, she also heard Lynn Marie’s voice, that time she had grabbed Kelly by the shoulders and said look, sister, in the words of an old passivewatch classic He’s Just Not That Into You.

No point delaying further. The car rental in LIfford – a ramshackle structure, implausibly claiming some kind of affiliation with the Hertz International Electric Rental group, except the sign merely said ‘Hertz’ in a chunky, very late twentieth century font – was closing. She would be in Letterkenny in three hours. She had heard that petrol cars could go above twenty kilometers per hour, and even rumours that somewhere in Donegal road races took place with drivers pushing the vehicles to frightening speeds – thirty, forty, even fifty and even higher – but this was hard to believe.

Donegal! It was a gift to anthropology postdocs, preserving as it did so many characteristics of twentieth and early twenty-first century life, while being both satisfyingly remote and reasonably safe. Unlike areas of MidAmerica and the SuperBanlieus of Continental Europe, Ireland had fallen not into violent anarchy but sleepy backwardness. It was rudely said in Dublin that Donegal had had a head start on the rest of the country in this regard. In Harvard, Professor Joseph L Murtlock was beginning to build up his empire, postdoc footsoldiers doing the field work, Prof Murtlock back in Cambridge spinning the results into a web of anthropological data.

The world had changed much in the last forty years. This trip, however, was being undertaken by Kelly with one aim in mind. The Donegal Democrat, at this stage, was not yet the last print newspaper – but nearly the last. Over the coming years it would outlast the others still grimly clinging on to existence. Why would people still like to purchase a bulky item in the age of iME and TotalWeb? This had been the subject of Kelly’s PhD thesis. She had visited Donegal, spent time in the Democrat office witnessing the antediluvian computers being used to produce the thing, visited the printers in Keadue, and (most importantly from the PhD point of view) carried out focus groups among Democrat readers. Why did they bother with the Democrat?

She had expected the participants to be overwhelmingly old and perhaps a little slow. Donegal was known to be populated by the old and the very young, with no one of working age any closer than Belfast or Dublin, and more likely to be in Beijing, Bowash, New Moscow or Tehran working in construction, or in the armies endlessly warring in Africa. Some younger people worked in the hospitals in Letterkenny and public administrative offices scattered here and there, but on the whole they were outsiders, on a hardship posting for a year or less from elsewhere in Ireland.

She had been surprised that, while young people did not exactly predominate, how relatively middle-aged people did. They were perfectly conversant with iMe and TotalWeb, and argued in the groups that there was more inherent satisfaction in buying a physical object in a shop, carrying it around, and manipulating the pages with one’s hands to read it.

 

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