Near death clarifies a few things for me
Published 16/05/2016 | 02:30
It has been a year since I've presented a television show. And now here I go, back into that madness. And madness it is. I often think that the qualities required for success in the entertainment industry are the qualities of a sociopath.
I definitely think that many people who are too long in the game turn into full-blown crazies. Not only is it easy to get an inflated opinion of yourself in that game, it's almost required. So as you face into it again you have to watch for what you might call vertigo, or some kind of altitude sickness, that clouds your judgement and makes you crazy. Even the adrenaline is a weird and unnatural thing. Because you never get to fight or run or screw anything. You just get this build-up of adrenaline that you need to keep under control for an hour and then you have to try and shake it off afterwards. And no, getting pissed is not the answer. I think if there is one lesson we have learnt from the annals of show business it is that ingesting anything to try and bring you down, level you off, or prolong the buzz after a show, is probably not a good habit to get into.
And, let's face it, I'm not exactly presenting the Oscars. It's just a local little show on a Wednesday. But you can't forget that hundreds of thousands of people and many of the people you know are likely to be watching and they are expecting something to entertain them. It's not as stressful as doing open heart surgery, but it is, in its own little way, pressure. When you've been gone for a year it's a bit more pressure. And when you don't know quite what it is you are going to do, it's a bit more again. Obviously, I know what the show ostensibly is. But it's like Moby Dick or something. It's a mythical creature in my imagination for now. You catch glimpses at time. You get a taste of what it could be. But ultimately, no matter what the preparation, I won't see the beast properly until I stand in front of hundreds of thousands of people live, and engage with it. And that is the point at which you forget everything and try and inhabit it. Trying to be reckless and careful all at the same time. Trying to think really fast in extreme slow motion while also trying not to think at all because sometimes you have to trust your instincts. But your instincts can get you in trouble. Right now is the worst part. Before clarity and simplicity emerge, you have to go right into the fog. You have to go deep down, you have to face yourself. And then you can only hope that by the time the thing starts you will have emerged from your own posterior ready to face the world. You have to go through all this process, of stripping yourself naked with a bunch of people you don't know but you have to trust with your life, and then, five minutes before you go on air you have to forget all that ever happened and just dance.
The sea is a refuge right now, a moving meditation in nature's indifference. To remind you none of it matters, to get you out of your head and into the moment. And you learn lessons there. It was a swirling cauldron on Monday. But we agreed to just breaststroke a bit near the steps. And it was nice, being bobbed around by the waves, being reminded that you are just a cork really, and all these other random forces are what really decide your fate.And then I turned around to go back to the steps. And suddenly the irregular waves are coming from behind you, and every time you take a stroke you get a faceful of water. And it's not even regular. You can't get the rhythm of when to expect the slap. And you start to think this is one of these situations where a person in a relatively benign situation could drown. And your breathing becomes shallower and your strokes fast and panicky. And the final 10 metres to the steps seems like miles.
My swimming mate put a hand on me. He talked calmly to me, like you would to a child. "Slow down. Breathe easy, slowly." It seems to be getting wilder, like water coming to the boil. And then you are out, feeling slightly foolish for being so anxious, but reminded of the power of the sea. He texts me later to say I have conquered the cold, and the dark, and I can conquer the waves too. On Wednesday we go back out. There is a more manageable wave situation. I get in and swim with them, staying calm, taking it easy, focussed on not getting anxious. And I realise I can conquer anything, even Moby Dick. Waving. Not drowning.
'Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge' starts Wednesday, 10.10pm, on RTE1
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