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A Love Letter

I may be considered a muse poet – of sorts – because I dedicate my poems and stories to people I love and admire. Platonic, romantic, whatever. On top of this, I find joy in the unknown; the people unknown. Mysterious, enigmatic, anonymous. No relationship between them and me. I am interested in the first impressions; what did they think of me, why do I think that of them? Is it possible for us to establish some sort of a connection those we have never met? I have, because of the Centra in Kilmuckridge.

For the last few years, Kilmuckridge Centra has separate enter and exit doors. Meaning if you want to leave you have to circle the shape of the shop in order to get out. The way out; a thinner than usual, shorter than usual corridor with a kind of a community board on the right and that kind of a shelf on the left. And all this kind of a shelf is the book swap that seems to have captured the local people.

This is where the love story comes in. It started with Susan Sontag, as most love stories do. American Jew, writer, philosopher. Most well-known, perhaps, for her essay Notes on Camp rejoiced by Lady Gaga, embraced by her droves of ‘camp’ readers. Ever since I first heard about Sontag’s relationship with her partner Annie Leibovitz that lasted until Sontag’s death in 2004, I’ve been quite preoccupied with the vision of them together. Even though neither of them ever revealed in each of their lifetimes if the relationship was romantic or if they were just really, really good friends. Having said that, Leibovitz’s intimate portraits of Sontag reveal another side to the photographer, the philosopher, and the relationship between them. Sontag outspread over a couch, staring aimlessly with a body of water in the background, smiling with her age becoming apparent in comparison to close-ups of her younger self. Leibovitz seems to be the perfect significant other for Sontag because of her photography. I’ve been obsessively preoccupied with Sontag’s 1997 collection of essays On Photography since my decision to deactivate social media. Not to pass off my screen addiction as an equivalent to the most influential philosophical commentary of the last 100 years. Sontag’s comments on his forced and false photography is intrigue me and speak to me; we pose, we edit, we crop. As I reflect on how practically half of my life has been spent ‘editing’ out my everyday life.

            The first book in this series of love notes wasn’t On Photography but rather another exceptional collection by Sontag; Against Interpretation. The cover, a black and white portrait of the writer’s side profile, caught me first. The minimalistic font, blue stem, blurb in various shapes and sizes encapsulating the points made throughout the collection. Then, the name of the writer. Sontag had been thrown into almost every philosophical discussion or political tutorial I had experienced in my recent memory; almost as though she is the perfect garnish to any argument, a crack of pepper or a shake of salt. On top of that, I was aware of the chokehold that Against Interpretation had had on the contemporary world. This book had been on my TBR for years, and here I was becoming acquainted with it far from independent bookstores or gargantuan libraries in the Kilmuckridge Centra.

            I brought it home and laughed to myself. Then, there was no feeling of overwhelming guilt that this book had been left for someone else. In fact, no one else came into the equation as far as I was concerned other than the person who had left it there and myself; two people that were bound by this ‘meant to be’. Me, overcome with questions and wonders why they would ever get rid of such a book in pristine condition more than likely bought recently brand new for a large price tag in a trendy bookstore. I took a picture of the book and posted it online, mentioning how – in complete amazement – I had picked it up in the local supermarket (Centra, Kilmuckridge). This, completely contradicts the point that Sontag is getting across in not only her commentary throughout On Photography; my effort to position and capture the book perfectly to post online, but also her remarks in Against Interpretation too; that I had posted this book with complete amazement, as though anyone would take interest in that, what about what I bought in the supermarket, why I was there, or why I thought to take a look at the community book swap?

            After a few weeks I once again visited the ‘kind of a bookshelf’ to find Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy. Philosophy was once revered as a fount of life's deepest insights and wisdom. In ancient Greece and Rome, philosophers were respected as authorities on life's most profound questions. However, the notion that philosophy can impart wisdom has come to seem bizarre and impractical over time. Today, philosophy is often viewed as an obscure academic discipline, detached from real-world concerns.

Ask a university philosophy department today to study ‘wisdom’, and you'll likely be shown the door in short order. Alain de Botton's book The Consolations of Philosophy argues forcefully against this view. It demonstrates how six influential philosophers - from Socrates to Nietzsche - were convinced that philosophy could offer practical guidance on how to live well. De Botton gathers perspectives from these great thinkers to conclusively refute the notion that philosophy must be irrelevant. Through their work, he illustrates the power of philosophical insight to positively transform our lives, even today.

Philosophy's withdrawal from real-world affairs is deeply unfortunate. In questioning life's meaning, values, and purpose, philosophy tackles some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. It aims to discern the good life, the just society, the truths we should live by. While philosophy may not always yield definitive or universally agreed-upon answers, grappling with its questions expands our minds and enriches our lives. Philosophy teaches us to examine our beliefs, assumptions, and way of thinking. It makes us more reflective and helps us better understand ourselves, others, and the world around us.

And I came across this book in the Centra in Kilmuckridge. Once again in pristine condition, not a mark. I took a picture, I posted it, I went through that cycle all over again. A cycle that allows little room for philosophical contemplation or cognitive development. Why had this book been left there? Had it been left like a message for another reader who would see the entrancing purple cover and know exactly who it was for [them] or had the initial owner grown tired of their possession in the book and decided to leave it for someone who would enjoy their reading [me]?

Is this the same person who left behind Against Interpretation, or is this someone else? Do they have anything to do with the books Dad picks up? Richard Osman, David Baldacci, Jo Nesbo, et al?

Around the time of my appointment as editor of The Boh’, I went in to Kilmuckridge Centra. For what, I couldn’t tell you. Although I can whittle it down to what more than likely was a cup of coffee from the Frank & Honest machine. Working in a supermarket, I tend to do the full shop with €5 off €25 vouchers and staff discounts. I can remember! A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. It’s also important to note that one of my closest friends works in Kilmuckridge Centra, and the position of the shop is also important to note here; the corner till that she is most commonly stationed at is positioned adjacent to the ‘kind of a bookshelf’ in question. So while I’m preoccupied with conversations about people we both know or someone only one of us is acquainted with, life in the big smoke, or common comments on working in retail, the ‘kind of a bookshelf’ is right there.  This time, it was full of Irish literary anthologies; some even as Gaeilge. If all of the others weren’t left for me, this wasn’t was. This was a sign, a message, a delivery, a parcel, a present, a gift. It might as well have been addressed to me, my name was written all over it, no one else in the universe – let alone the people living in my village – had as much of a connection to this pile of Irish literary anthologies as I did. Especially, at this time from my latest appointment as an Irish speaking editor of a literary anthology.

I hadn’t felt this excited in this supermarket since Pringles were on sale for €1 way back when I was a second-year in the vocational college across the road. There’s a story in that; arms full with tubes of Sour Cream and Onion, Smokey Bacon, Paprika, Prawn Cocktail, Cheese and Onion, and the controversial Original that I always had a soft spot for. But there’s a story there, and I’ll get to that another time.

This is a love letter to the anonymous character that has implemented themselves into my life to deliver happiness in a form unbeknownst to many. A pile of books that were walked passed by hundreds. A connection between two strangers. This is me being a muse poet, a muse writer, a writer feeling love for a person anonymous and unknown with a unique connection created in the Centra in Kilmuckridge.


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