Belfast Telegraph

How did being out in the real world become such hard work?

By Nuala McKeever

How do all of you do it? All you people who go out to work? How do you handle all the stuff that comes at you every day? I've just had week one of rehearsals for Eternally Scrooged, the Christmas play at Theatre at the Mill, in which I'll play Evangaline Scrooge (pronounced the French way – Scroog-ay), a romance writer with a heart of stone.

Sounds fun? Well, yes, it will be, once it's all rehearsed and ready for the public to enjoy. But right now, it's at the early stages when any play, especially comedy, is hard work.

I'm not complaining. Far from it. What's to complain about being allowed to go and make things up and mess around and call that work and be paid for it? Bloomin' luxury! It's certainly not going down the mines, or piecework in a factory.

So, it's not the work I'm asking about, it's the intensity of the stimulation of being out in the world among people all the time. How do you stick it?

Take one typical day from last week. Wednesday, say. Alarm! Awake! Oh yuck, it's still dark. Right, grab phone and drag self up on to one elbow. Spend few minutes checking emails, messages and Facebook on the phone, just to ease into the world cyber-ly before actually entering it. So, from vivid, dream-filled sleep, straight into facts, figures and opinions.

Look at my child's highland dancing outfit! Tories demand tighter immigration controls! Check out our winter sales online! Want a flat stomach by Christmas? Sign this petition against female stereotyping! Stop global warming! Like my friend's interior design business! Look at my cat's funny tail-chasing video. Bomb alert could have been deadly. Police expect thousands at flag protest.

Lose pounds through juicing. Smile! Like us! Take a stand! Don't miss out! Take a break! Grab this offer! Escape the world! Save the world! Don't follow the herd! Look at my cute baby singing in her car seat!

All that before I've even gone to the loo.

On the bus, heat turned up to sauna-setting. Extricate self from hat, scarf and coat, trying desperately not to touch passenger in the seat beside me. More and more badly dressed, depressed looking individuals board the bus, yawning and looking suspiciously at everyone else while not actually making eye contact. One older man says something cheery. Everyone else looks petrified. The thought bubble, 'Oh God, please don't let the weird friendly guy sit next to me', is almost visible.

Into town, walk past at least five sad Romanian women squatting in the cold, trying to get money from the people trying to avoid them. Pitiful snatches of broken English, "Beeg Eeshoo, bay-bee, pleese, hello lad ...."

Into rehearsals, warmth, laughter, friends. And then more opinions, some of which are mine. Join in. Check phone. Answer emails and messages. Make decisions. Have more opinions.

Lunchtime. Out into town, stink of roasting animal parts from City Hall market permeates the air as pale-faced young professional guys in ties and anoraks walk through the crowds clutching obscenely enormous hot dogs oozing sauce. Overhear intriguing snippets, "Where? Oh, Matabili land ..? I thought you said Ballybeen. I wuz wonderin' why he'd have been going up there."

Bus home in dark. Bodies squashed. Everyone on phones, scrolling through Facebook from others who're squashed on other buses scrolling through Facebook from others. Everyone together. But separate. So much stimulation. Never satisfied.

Boy, this real life, eh? It's like a big bag of cheesy Doritos – strangely addictive even as it repels. I don't wanna get hooked.

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