Eileen is a good listener and she doesn’t judge. “You’d be amazed how few people have those skills,” says the supervisor. She’s passed the roleplays, she’s got over her thing about volunteering only being for losers. We’ve seen the helpline number on the posters in the bar, we recognise that the drinking and the anger and the rudeness and the sadness are all symptoms of a crushing loneliness, that she is spiralling down, crippled with self-loathing because she doesn’t know who she is anymore. She’s lost her identity. The supervisor says she can start answering calls immediately. The camera zooms in on Eileen’s face. We get a close-up of her bewildered expression. “You want me?” she says.
It is Sunday afternoon. As I watch Ballywalter in the cinema, I sort of ache. Because only those who feel unwanted, those who have been repeatedly rejected, those who find themselves increasingly invisible, those who can’t prove their worth will know what that moment feels like. I’ve replayed the clip from The Bear too, the one in Season 2 Episode 1 where Tina finishes her shift at the restaurant. Sydney, her boss, stops her outside, tells her she’s recruiting for a new sous chef. Tina says she’s happy to put the word out. Sydney interrupts her. She’s asking Tina if she’d like to be her sous chef. With some training, she’d be good at it. The camera zooms in on Tina’s face. We get a close-up of her bewildered expression. Shock and disbelief transform into a massive smile. Beatifical, the critics said. The camera lingers. We’re allowed to soak in her joy of being seen. “You want me”.
“You want me?”. Twenty-something years working in a university, and when I left, I couldn’t list my transferable skills. I live with someone who doesn’t have to question theirs, who has a fully formed professional identity when mine has been broken and shattered into a million different pieces. “You have more likes on one post on LinkedIn,” I say, “than I have subscribers”. I initiate a recruitment drive. I want to make it to over 300. I swallow my ick. I say I only need six more. But it’s more like eight. It’s a tiny following. I’m a small fish in a big sea of writers who either sell sensationalism or give advice. I haven’t had a midlife affair with another woman. I’m not an expert on making your fortune on Substack. I can’t give you six steps to become a top-notch kink remover¹. I just unpack the inside of my head and give it to you. I share what’s been happening to me that week. I avoid places where I might be asked “What is it you do?”. “Do you have a CV?” someone asks me. I might have to pitch to progress. I realise I do not have a writer one, just an academic one I don’t use anymore. I want to inhabit the fullness of my creativity. I don’t know how to explain that on a CV.
In Ballywalter, there are barns with ‘Prepare to meet thy God’. “What is it you did?” He might ask when He meets me. “I was a half-hearted freelancer,” I’ll say, “I waited for people to want me”. Someone who gave me my first break emails me a link to a ‘Thought For The Day’². The contributor describes her friend’s valiant decision to leave her well-paid job. As she winds down and tidies up before her exit, she rings her in tears. She is truly fearful at the prospect of not having the status that comes with having a career, the loss of recognition that comes with not having a paid role. “Our entire lives are defined by work,” the contributor says. “It becomes our identity, our success or failure determined by our earning capacity. But, what if, those who aren’t in work are meeting their own needs or meeting the needs of others unpaid”.
“It resonates,” I reply to the email. But this is only the start of your tears, I think. I wonder how I could get in touch with this woman, bear her pain with her.
Eileen is a barista and an unlicensed taxi driver. She is “between jobs”. There’s a new opportunity in London. She’ll be leaving soon. In reality, she’s a university drop-out. She’s just trying to get by. Her CV is a mess. Her passengers insult her. Her mother is disgusted by her. Her sister humiliates her. “You don’t respect the bean,” snaps her ‘coffee house’ boss. She collects Shane each week and takes him to his stand-up comedy course. He is serving a six-month suspended sentence for driving under the influence. His marriage has ended. He is trying to hide behind a new identity, a funny one. There are lots of jokes about ‘bad dad jokes’. “You have permission to fail here,” says the man teaching the course.
I listen to a podcast about the soundtrack³. It took seven years to make Ballywalter - to find backers, source finance, navigate through the pandemic, cut it, tour the festivals, identify distributors. It is the director’s first feature, the composer’s first score. They met by chance when he was busking on Grafton Street. One recognised the gifts of another. There was no pitch, no CV. It is all improvised, the music recorded through WhatsApp voice notes. They have to clean up the clank of the heating. It is fractured, imperfect, beautiful, real. Someone I’ve never met sends me a message on Instagram. They have no idea who my husband is. They love my writing. “It’s raw,” they say. I’m delighted. It’s as I want. “I don’t like it to be too clean and polished,” I say. “I want it to have space to breath”. The director and composer talk about identity, how so many hide their wounds behind humour. At his first gig, Eileen encourages Shane to set the dad jokes aside and let his comedy emerge from his truth.
I sit in the cinema again. I watch Past Lives. “You’re where you’re supposed to be,” it concludes. “What are you doing today?” I ask my husband. “Meetings,” he replies. I’ll tell him later about my day, the breakfasts and lunches, the relationships, the people and places that touch my life, the stories I hear. It’s unpaid. I often think of James⁴. Those who feel the breath of sadness. Those who find they’re touched by madness. Those who find themselves ridiculous. Sit down next to me. I ‘interview’ a minister. I write up her story. I put an important line in it - “If you sense gifts in someone, it is important to tell them”.
People explain it in different ways, what Ballywalter is about. It’s about depression. It’s about a journey. It’s about connection. It’s about a chance encounter. It’s about two broken people with their defences up who can help each other. Edith Bowman says it’s about how there’s always someone out there who can take that next step with you. I say it’s about all of this but also “you want ME”.
Shane stands on a stage. He delivers his truth. “I wouldn’t be here without you,” he tells Eileen.
There is always a soundtrack to my content. The director and composer call it a sonic landscape. I shuffle my playlist. “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. And where you invest your love, you invest your life⁵”. They sing about how I was made to meet my maker. I have my CV. I hope I can mention I was a good listener and I didn’t judge.
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 The band not the apostle.
 Mumford & Sons Awake My Soul and the playlist.