Last week my book the Teenager’s Book of Life launched in one hundred Dunnes Stores locations across the island of Ireland. It’s a funny phrase – ‘to launch a book’. In reality the book has been launching in my mind for years, like one of those lanterns you light a match under and it slowly takes flight. It launched for real earlier this year. It was quickly a bestseller in Ireland and ordered online from the book’s website by people in thirteen countries around the world. But something makes me feel that the early success of the book is about to be eclipsed by what is to come, and with that success I will lose something I have come to love – my solitude.
Earlier this year I celebrated my 40th birthday. As a gift my sister gave me the book Silence: In the Age of Noise by the explorer Erling Kagge, and even after reading the first page the other day I can see why I am nervous about The Launch. You see, I have grown to enjoy silence and not having a large to-do list. And I have become protective of that time and space uninterrupted by activity. My recent infatuation with silence is partly because I am a dad to six-year-old and one year old boys, so silence is in short supply for the most part. But also because for much of my life I measured the success of a day, a week, a year by how much I had achieved, how productive I had been and what I could show the world I had accomplished. But in the last year and a half I have come to understand that that phase of my life is over. I had wanted to step off that merry-go-round for some time but was too scared to do so, petrified that if I wasn’t as productive as some of the insanely busy business people I had coached, I would feel terrible, see myself as a lazy, good-for-nothing and probably end up living on the streets. That’s what lay beneath my reluctance to giving up a life of high productivity and step away from the frenzy of activity that I had become addicted to.
Then Covid-19 hit and I could no longer coach those high achieving business people. And something interesting happened. I began to write, and I liked it. And one day I started writing a book for teenagers and their parents and it was like I had found the bowl of porridge that was just right. The words tumbled out and I followed where they led. It was a very intimate experience. I would go to a small office in a very ordinary industrial estate in a County Wicklow in the east of Ireland and I would just get lost in the words on the page. All the while I had a mantra that guided me. I pinned it to the wall in front of my writing desk, beside a photo of my maternal grandmother, who I always felt good around. That manta was:
Don’t write to please anyone, write with daring honesty.
And that’s what I did for nine straight weeks. It felt like I had opened up a new part of my brain and blood was rushing in and releasing years of pent-up energy. I wrote the book in the shower (in my head, obviously). I wrote it while driving (again in my head) with one of the most beautiful souls alive – my Greek brother-in-law, as he explained to me how the world needed to revisit its priorities. I wrote while I slept. I loved the experience, the creative aspect of it. And now the book is done and I am back in that same small office in that same industrial estate, except this time I’m surrounded by brown boxes full of the finished book. They lie on the ground stacked upon each other like lobsters in a tank, all awaiting hands that will one day hold them and open them and discover what lies within.
I should be pumping the sky with joy. And yet I feel torn. I want the world to read this book. I want teenagers to be reassured by it, soothed by it. I want parents to read it and then look at their teenager as if they are staring at a different person, someone they now take more seriously, trust more wholly and love more deeply. And so I will do whatever I need to do to have the book sitting in bedrooms all over the world. That would give me great joy. It would also mean I could make a living from writing. And yet, at the same time, all I want to do is to go to a cottage in the mountains and read and write and feel the comfort of aloneness. I want to be on radio, promoting the book to hundreds of thousands of people, but I also want to be walking across the squelchy heather of Corragh Mountain, hoping to see deer grazing on the wooded mountainside. I want to be on TV, beseeching parents to buy their teenager the book, and at the same time I want to be sitting looking at the clouds running across a darkening summer sky.
Someone once said ‘every new beginning is just some other beginning’s end’ and perhaps that is what this is. Yes, my book will be read by more people and that will mean new opportunities present themselves and this asks for more of my time. It’s just another beginning and it doesn’t need to rob me of the life I’ve found. I’ve discovered the healing balm in solitude in a mountain or deep in a forest. So if I can’t come to the phone right now, it’s because I am chasing the shadows of clouds across Corragh Mountain.