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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 4 March 2021

'Today - agitated. Tomorrow - positive': Writers share their pandemic diaries

We have three extracts from the latest Stinging Fly for you to enjoy.

Cover artwork by Kirsty Woods and cover design by Emily Good
Cover artwork by Kirsty Woods and cover design by Emily Good
Image: The Stinging Fly

LIKE SO MANY publishers and publications, The Stinging Fly literary magazine is doing its best to carry on and adapt to the current situation, while continuing its mission to showcase new writers and new writing.

Printing of the summer issue has been delayed until the end of June. In the meantime, a pre-publication PDF sampler has been made available to subscribers and patrons – and to new readers who decide to sign up to support the magazine.

For the moment online sales and subscriptions are the only source of new income for the magazine and press. The sampler features essays, stories and poems alongside 16 specially commissioned ’Pandemic Notes from Contributors’. Robin Fuller, Lisa McInerney have stories, and Kathleen Heil a poem, in the summer issue. You can read those below.

The PDF sampler of The Stinging Fly’s summer issue is available to download now. The full issue of the magazine – which features new writing from Lisa McInerney, Max Porter and Wendy Erskine – is due to be published on June 29th and both can be ordered here

Today, Tomorrow – by Lisa McInerney

TODAY: Agitated. Recorded a fairly miserable time on my morning run. I can’t remember what I read on the Irish Times app on my phone before I got up but whatever’s left of it is needling me. Something I saw on Reddit’s r/Ireland board last night too, on why people believe conspiracy theories: they assuage insecurities, massage egos and allow for the righteous clarity of victimhood.

A bit of this shit going around my extended family. Might ask my closest cousin to check the Facebook account of my most belligerent uncle for mention of 5G masts or how Leo Varadkar wants us all to stay inside and lose our jobs because he’s about to usher in George Soros’s reign as new world emperor. I don’t want to know; another cousin hasn’t spoken to me since I called his favourite online hatemonger a steak-poisoned c***. Can’t work with that sort of codswallop bothering me on top of the poor run time and the nursing-home deaths and people having house parties on the sly.

Am I a curtain-twitcher now, Father? Can hardly concentrate as it is. Halfway through sentences I’m shrinking the document window to play Mahjong Titans. I haven’t finished a book in two weeks, and even then it was a graphic novel. Sabrina. All the characters were lumpy, passive. It is still troubling me.

TOMORROW: Positive. I’ll record my fastest ever 5k. I won’t meet anyone on the road or see any rubbish on the grass verges. I’ll bake a cake: polenta with macerated strawberries, espresso and walnut, or treacle baked cheesecake. Sugar rush and look at that, the numbers are down. Dr Holohan will say we’re doing it, look lads, that curve is practically horizontal.

I’ll read something inspirational from a page and not from a screen. I don’t need to be a curtain-twitcher because everyone’s got the hang of this now. Cop on will literally be common sense. My uncle will laugh warmly and tell me he never believed any of that shite about 5G. Leo Varadkar will declare himself a socialist but a real one, not a Bertie Ahern one. I will write a thousand stunning words and it will become my new normal.

One Hundred Ways Of Cooking Eggs – by Robin Fuller 

My weed ran out, and I went through the usual thoughts—you know this could be good, it would be a worthwhile experiment to go without for a while. I will eat less Tangfastics, drink no Dr Pepper. The days quickly got longer. I kept coming up with the wrong things to google—‘Dublin homeless coronavirus’ / ‘coronavirus Roma Bulgaria’ / ‘how many ventilators in Malawi’ / ‘ethnic conflict coronavirus’ / ‘Orbán’—and everything was bad.

In times of stress I reach for a villain. I turned to spitting at my computer every time I saw optimistic or ‘inspirational’ ‘content’, angry every time I read an article about how this affects people I deemed less relevant, furious when The Irish Times described ‘gangs’ of teenage boys in the generally empty and fox-governed city centre as ‘menacing’ for being guilty of the crime of sportswear. My dreams got longer. I was often on boats, boats populated by people I’ve known and thought I didn’t care about, boats heading places I wasn’t sure they should head. I became sincere. I sent text messages and emails to people on the edges of my life, blankly hoping that everyone’s elderlies were ‘safe and well’.

I got a number. I texted the number. I was then sent another number, and I texted that. Three o’clock at the park beside the cathedral. To facilitate a socially distanced transaction, I put the money in a book, One Hundred Ways of Cooking Eggs by Alexander Filippini. I let him know the money would be in a book. I let him know I had a beard and would be wearing a black jacket. This was to be the first outing of my spring jacket, and my first time in two weeks going beyond the curb where I leave my green bin. Through Slack, I let my co-workers know I would be taking a ‘late lunch’.

That evening, as I suckled on my weed vaporiser like a piglet at sow, it occurred to me that googling the impact of lockdown on densely populated Indian cities did nothing for the people of India and nothing for me. I started listening to weirder music and eating more, talking to my cat like a person, picking up books to place on my lap and rub while I stared at nothing thinking nothing.

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Articulating The Atlas – by Kathleen Heil

I did this tiny dance in my living room in Berlin on a Sunday in April.

You are invited to explore your own version of it.

Find a comfortable seated position with your feet resting beneath your sitting bones. Notice the space beneath the occipital bone (the ridge at the back of your skull) and the foramen magnum, the hole in the skull where the spinal cord passes, merging with the brain. Here is the atlas, the first vertebra of the spine on which the skull rests, forming the atlanto-occipital joint.

The only task is to articulate tiny movements from this place. Perhaps start by seeing if you can feel the connection between the opening of the foramen magnum and the opening of the bowl of the pelvis, the pubic bone. In my own body I can feel my heels connecting to the top of my femur bones, plotting a line up to the nerve endings of the brain stem. Then I notice how my shoulder girdle feels as though it is sitting awkwardly on the rib cage. I am doing too much, trying to hold my self together. Do less.

I let my desire to find more room around the atlas take me forward into a little ball. There is satisfaction in the contradiction of this position: smallness as safety, connection; smallness as openness, being left utterly exposed.

Here we are, together, now.

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