Memoir and Belfast

Today’s my fifth day in Ireland.

I have been to Ireland, at least, three times before – ’74, ’83, and ’96. When I was 12, in ’74, I was with my mother, we were on a tour, paid for, I believe, by a small inheritance from my grandmother Catherine. And we were with my aunt Terry and a couple of hilarious great aunts. I remember riding on a tour bus, having a lot of laughs.

Then in ’83, I’d been studying in an NYU London summer program, gobbling up delicious chunks of Cadbury, Shakespeare, theatre, French Silk, and art history. In London, I’d dyed my hair with streaks of blue. My roommate was punk and she inspired me. My hair was basically platinum blonde, so the color of my blue streaks was green. Pretty. So I thought. Sure, I couldn’t get a comb through it. The day after I got home to Park Ridge, Illinois, my mother made me visit Arlene to get my hair cut and colored. From that day forward, my hair has been, semi-normal. Well, at my first wedding, I wore it asymmetrical, you know, one side long and the other short. But that was just cool.

During that NYU London summer, I’d stayed with Colin, my grammar school penpal in Belfast. We were frisked just going into the movie theatre. And to get into the city center, soldiers eyed you, patrolled our bus.

When I asked Colin, ‘Where are all those soldiers, riding in the back of the open trucks, going?’ He said, ‘Nowhere. They just ride around.’ With machine guns, they rode around then. I haven’t seen soldiers like that on this visit.

We had a lot of laughs in pubs and talked politics then. How we hated Ronald Reagan. I went to a party, this guy who hosted the party, this swank Iranian, made a recurring joke, more and more frequently as the drinking went on, about kidnapping me –because that was the thing then, the kidnapping of Americans by Iranians. And I didn’t think it was funny, but I went along, laughing. Because I felt it was impolite. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill in another country and say to the host of the party, “That’s not funny.”

That summer, when my classes ended, my boyfriend at the time, Jim, who would become my first husband, met me in London. We came back over to Ireland, rented a car and toured around. Mostly, we had a great time, going to pubs and driving the countryside. Snapping pictures. (As always, having a lot of laughs. My kids sometimes tell me now, ‘You have a laughing problem.’)

I remember thinking, Ya, it’s easy to take great pictures here. I took my pics with film, of course. And Jim, moody bastard, encouraged me, believing me to be a brilliant writer and photographer. So whatever other failings he/we had, I loved and was grateful for the way he encouraged me to write and take pics.

Then, 19 years ago, my godfather Uncle Kevin was taking his six siblings and their spouses and his two children on a round-the-country Ireland trip to celebrate his 50th birthday. And Chris, my new husband at the time, and I horned in on the journey (and I was self-conscious about that during the trip, believing I had imposed ourselves in their journey. I was/am sensitive.)

I was pregnant with Hayden. My aunt Judy told me, ‘This is probably the happiest time of your life – the pregnancy of your first child.’

And I remember being happy, so happy when I was pregnant, as if my purpose in life had been revealed, I was going to be a mother. And a damn good one. I had been a great babysitter. How different could it be?

I made a little video of Ireland at the time of that trip. I was still doing my cable show when I was pregnant.

***

I have had a lot of dreams in Laura’s sweet second bedroom in Dublin, near the docks.

My writing teacher Wendy Rohm said that her students report a lot of vivid dreams during the Dublin workshop. And, apparently, they also see ghosts at the Arts Club where her workshops were held. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t not believe in them. I’m like Scooby Doo, a scaredy-cat until they’re revealed to be the local real estate agent, trying to drive away tourists or something. Then, I’m all bravado.

When I visited the Yeats exhibit at the National Library of Ireland, I saw how Yeats believed in automatic writing as a way to enter into your unconscious — to use writing to find a deeper level of existence.

The Irish are mystics.

The Dublin writing retreat with Wendy helped me organize my thoughts on plot points, blurbs, the structure of my narrative. Those are not my strengths. (Probably not Yeats’s either.)

I like to meander in my writing, in my life. Travel is good for meanderers.

I’m writing this from the train from Dublin to Belfast for my work with United Methodist Women. I love the blessing (and occasional curse) of working for this group — and Global Ministries too. I love that these agencies love and support peace and peacemakers..

In the Shadow a Gunman by Sean O’Casey which I saw Friday night at the Abbey, the poet is not the brave soul. He is grand, dramatic, beautiful, full of bluster. It is the girl Minnie Powell who is brave. She is a perfect mix of idealist and pragmatist. I love her. I love that it was Yeats’s muse, Maud Gonne, who inspired him.

Women are mystics.

Women are more revered in Irish culture than American culture. Maybe it’s the inheritance of the Catholic cult of Mary. What’s not to love about Mary?

A mother of three young children is nearby on the train. She is reading a paperback with a pretty cover, How To Cope, a welcoming approach to life’s challenges. Something like that. The Welcoming Approach. I must try that.

Another woman, across from, looks exactly like my mother’s cousin with Maureen. But with a different color hair, blonde instead of black (not green or blue). It’s funny to be in a place where people look familiar, like family, yet are unrelated. I am half-Irish.

And I’m from an island, too.

***

I remember when we were in Nantucket. Just me and the kids on spring break. A Jamaican guy in a sandwich shop – or was it a teacher at the Whaling museum? – one of the two said, “People who come from islands do well on islands, like people from the Caribbean or Ireland do well on Nantucket.” And I said, “Ah, like me from the island of Manhattan?” I joked.

There was a beautiful assignment my children wrote at PS 87- write a poem, beginning with, “I am from…” I am from here.

 

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The displays at the Titanic Museum were so interactive and creative. Here’s me in front of one video.

The Titanic Museum was ah-mazing. Highly recommend.

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Under your feet is a replica of the remains of the Titanic.
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And, of course, the beauty of the Irish countryside, just spotted outside of my train window.
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