I finished Staring at Lakes recently, and it was a strange experience reading a book that mentions so many places I have been to, like Jampa Ling, the Buddhist retreat, and Galway restaurants. People I have met and people I know are in this book (including a reference to a street performer who is my friend and colleague).
Coming from a country with a population of over 80 million it still sometimes startles me how small Ireland is. Everything and everyone is connected and interwoven.
I was reminded of this when Nelson Mandela died and someone sent me this video of him dancing with the former president of the University I work at (who always chats to me when I bump into him, as he does with everyone) when Mandela received his honorary degree.
The man who is now President of Ireland opened a couple of group exhibitions I was in years ago and said nice things about my drawings. As Matt would say (putting on an indignant German accent), "This would never happen in Germany".
There are times this small-community feeling can feel a bit too constrictive and I crave the anonymity of a big city. Matt, who has spent most of his life in cities, always makes sure he never gets to know his neighbours, and there have been occasions I wished the people in my vicinity didn't know all my business. But two of my neighbours are also friends, and it makes me feel more at home.
I am guilty of ducking into shops or avoiding an aisle in the supermarket when I cannot be bothered to engage in small talk with someone I only know superficially (the Irish 'gift of the gab' eludes me - I am too much of an introvert and awkward and never know how to end a conversation smoothly, leading to overwhelm at the checkout as I am acutely aware of the person queueing behind me while I try to to respond to the witty banter of the checkout guy - and fail miserably).
But then there are so many positives. Recently at one of our events there were several of my favourite people in one room along with acquaintances whom I might not know intimately but whose company I enjoy (and in a parallel life we would all be one big family!). Walking down the street you get swept into impromptu tea-drinking because there will always be a familiar face somewhere. I like that spontaneity and leisurely pace; it is evocative of an era before mobile phones (though I do prefer when people announce their visit rather than just turn up at my door...).