“It was a scene which seemed the heart of this land. The lowing sun and the one star waking, white wings on a black water, and the smell of rain, and the long lane fading where a voice comes in the falling night.” ~ Jamie O’Neill, from At Swim, Two Boys

The dark horse, Liscannor, Ireland J0sh FCC

The Dark Horse, Liscannor, Ireland by J0sh (FCC)

” . . . they would tell me nothing, except that they had been commanded to travel over Ireland continually, and upon foot and at night, that they might live close to the stones and the trees and at the hours when the immortals are awake.” ~ W.B. Yeats, from The Adoration of the Magi

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and humid, 81 degrees.

I just read the most remarkable essay in Parabola, “The Search for One Thing,” by Betsy Cornwell.

Please understand: This is more than one of my casual reblogs. Cornwell’s words hit so close to home, almost too close. Everything she says, I have felt. All of her words have been my words at one time or another, but not in such a beautiful, linear fashion. This essay explains Ireland for me—the green that I have long dreamed of—all of it, it’s all here.

Sea thrift and the sea by slkovjr fcc

Sea Thrift and the Sea by slkovjr (FCC)

The Aran Islands have been in my dreams since I first saw them in some forgotten movie eons ago. The cliffs, the green, the sheep, the sky—everything that I have ever wanted in one place.

I don’t have Cornwell’s past with her father, yet I can understand her need to break away, to search on her own. For so many years I wanted to break away, but the curse of the only child is that your life is never your own, at least not until your parents are gone, not unless you want to bear the label of being selfish, and it was a label I couldn’t bear.

I don’t think that anyone has ever completely understood my dream of Ireland. Corey tries; he knows that it’s someplace I have always wanted to go, but it’s more than just wanting to visit. I want to spend time there, days, weeks, months. I want to walk and bike and, well, mostly I want to think about my life.

It’s not escape I seek. It’s clarity. The kind of clarity I will never have here, not here in this house in this city in this state in this country. Don’t ask me why I know that to be true, but I do.

This is the biggest truth I know: I need to go to Ireland, and soon, otherwise, I fear it may be too late.


 

The Search for One Thing
by Betsy Cornwell

“Give it one week of hard frost,” my new husband says, “and all the green will be gone.” He has slowed the car to let two adolescent does cross the road, and we watch them vanish neatly into the ditch on the other side. In the 4:30 November gloom, the perfect white of their rumps is nearly all we can see.

Irish Cliffs minniemouseaunt FCC

Irish Cliffs by minniemouseaunt (FCC)

As they pass through the high brambles of the ditch, Richie admires their fleetness, their nimble feet. I say the deer must risk the danger of the road only because it’s winter and they are hungry, but he says they wouldn’t be wanting yet; that’s when he warns me about the week of frost, and the green.

But here, even in winter, Ireland is so green that to walk through the countryside is almost to think you are underwater. And here a ditch is not a hole, not an absence, but its opposite. An Irish ditch is a raised thicket, a dense living tangle of blackberry and ivy and gorse. Twining through the ditch are innumerable tiny tunnels—through them mice and spiders wind. No snakes here, of course—remember St. Patrick—but the tunnels mimic their absence, their silent, assured sinuousness.

When I first came to this country, I remember thinking that even if I jumped from one of its many cliffs I wouldn’t fall, but float, until the cool wet wind of this place carried me back, softly, onto the grass that is so green it is like water, like every kind of life pulled together into one.

I came here to renew—something, although I didn’t yet know what. And to escape, well, everything.

Two years ago, at the end of my MFA program, I was broken down and burned out, spent twigs for a spent fire. I did everything quickly, heart in my mouth, because I felt sure that if I took any extra time I would collapse into ash. I was teaching three times the prescribed student limit, tutoring, writing, finishing my thesis and my classes, and editing my first novel for next year’s publication—all jobs that filled me with whiplash joy and panic and soul-crushing insecurity. A person I loved had shown me such grinding ambivalence that I’d had to let him go, and I spent far too much time imagining our never-to-be future together. There was a cushion-laden corner of the floor in my cheap apartment that was alternately a nook for grading papers and a nest to curl up in and cry until I fell asleep. I ate whatever I thought would make me feel better, mostly
cheese and Vernor’s ginger ale. My heart was broken and my belly ached.

I had a particular dream that kept me working: I wanted to go to Ireland. I’d come in second for a Fulbright arts grant to write about selkies in Dublin, and the near miss had left me determined to get there on my own. But when the summer came and I looked at my finances, I realized that even with my book advance I would have to choose between Ireland and more earthly concerns like healthcare and rent.

That day, my father called and said he wanted to know my schedule for next year because he was taking the family to Africa. We would go on safari and sleep in tents together.

But I have spent much of my life figuring out how to avoid being in the same place as my father, especially at night. And for the first time, that day, I told him so. One advantage of being so very tired, on the threshold of adulthood, is that your childhood nightmares start getting tired too, and it is harder for them to frighten you.

“I can’t go,” I said in a voice that shook but was still my own voice, coming out of my own body. “I can’t sleep in the same room with you.”

Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland by Jackie L Chan FCC

Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland by Jackie L Chann (FCC)

The other end of the line was silent. After a few seconds he said, “All right. That doesn’t make me happy, but I understand.”

We hung up soon afterward, and one weight was strangely gone from the fears I carried.

A few days later he called again and offered to buy me a ticket to Ireland instead, since I wasn’t going to Africa. It felt like hush money—if I was brave enough to tell him I remembered, whom else might I tell? I said I would have to think about it. I felt sure I would say no, but that dream was a hard one for me to give up.

I went into town to have coffee with Trish, a woman twice my age who feels like someone I grew up with, a friend whom I often call my spiritual guide. The Catholic school we attended, with its Planned Parenthood protests, homophobia, and rape apologism, tempted me to throw up my hands at even a nebulous, agnostic God—but it was Trish’s faith that kept me searching for my own. She combines her devout and somewhat radical Catholicism with dashes of Buddhism and a sharp flair for the intersectionally feminist, and I’ve always loved her for it. I liked to say that she was “Tapped In To Something,” because it was the only way I could find of explaining her radiant wisdom and kindness, the light that shines through her. (When she’s not giving spiritual counsel to frightened young women, Trish is a professor of sociology and a brilliant poet.)

As soon as she sat down I started crying—big, gasping sobs from a shy woman who can rarely even manage to raise her voice in anger. I don’t know if I’d ever shown that much emotion in public before.

Trish stroked my arm. I wept into my giant bowl of latte.

When I quieted, she laughed and said “Honey, I wouldn’t go through my twenties again for anything.”

Galway by Shadowgate fcc

Galway by Shadowgate (FCC)

Suddenly, I felt much better. I wiped my eyes, and she asked me what was wrong.

Trish is third generation Irish-American; three of her grandparents were born on the island where I now live. And it was she, in the end, who brought me here. I told her what my father had offered, how it felt like a bargain I didn’t want to make, and that I never wanted to owe him anything ever again.

She looked at me steadily. “You never will,” she said. “He could give you money until the end of the world and you’d owe him nothing.” He’d taken more, she said, than he could ever give back; and though some well-trained part of me thought I was being a Bad Daughter, I admitted she was right.

“But . . .” said the Bad Daughter, on the verge of tears again. I found I couldn’t finish my sentence, and I took a deep, shaky breath. “God, I’m so tired. I’m sorry about this.” I waved at my eyes.

Trish shook her head. “Go to Ireland,” she said. “You’ll rest there, you’ll write your book. It’s where the world keeps its magic. And don’t go to Dublin. In fact . . .” She pulled out her tablet and did a quick image search. “You need to go here.”

Galway, Panoramic from Claddagh and River Corrib WC

Galway, Panoramic from Claddagh and River Corrib (Wikimedia Commons)

She showed me a Google page thick with pictures of green cliffs, dark waves, and small stone-bound fields. A girl’s feet dangled over the edge of one cliff, her legs mid-swing and
relaxed.

“The Aran Islands?” I laughed. “It’s mostly sweaters there, right?”

“The Aran Islands,” she said. “See? You’re happier already. Go there,” she thought for a moment, “for at least a month. It will heal your soul.”

My soul leapt out for healing, and I knew that I would go.

Three months later, I am sitting in the warmest corner of Tigh Joe Watty’s, one of only two pubs on the whole island. I am smiling, and every part of me feels light. Tall, redheaded Uinseon McCarron dances a beautiful Australian girl named Sjonelle across the dark wood floor, and the rest of us at the table watch and admire them, their easy grace and easier smiles. Dave, the handsome, acerbic owner of the hostel where we all work, comes back to the table with pints of cider. I haven’t written anything in weeks.

I did not understand, when I first came to Ireland, why I wasn’t writing. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel overworked, and suddenly I couldn’t work at all. I’d been manically, neurotically productive for years, trying to scratch my way into prep school, college, graduate school, New York agencies and publishing houses. And now here I was, not a student for the first time since I was three years old and my parents enrolled me in university preschool. I had my master’s, and my book wasn’t coming out for almost a year. I could support myself until then, meagerly, on my advance and hostel work-exchange.

Inishmann Teach Synge by Arcimboldo WC

Inishmann Teach Synge by Arcimboldo (Wikimedia Commons)

All my life I had wanted “to write full time,” but here I had all the time in the world, and I wasn’t writing at all. I would wake up early every morning determined to work, and I would hover over the Cinderella retelling on my computer, making small changes that meant nothing. I always ended those sessions at least a little disgusted with myself.

My afternoons, though, I set myself free, wandering through the cobblestoned Latin quarter of Galway City to the rushing gray mouth of the Corrib. I would walk the promenade from Galway to Salthill and back, looking out at the quiet bay, cold wind slipping over my face and silvering my hair and skin with salt, breathing air clean as miracles.

I’ve spent most of my life inside my head. In childhood my body was the site of fear and confusion at the hands of an adult protector; I became expert at curling up inside myself, where my senses would know and remember nothing. The desires and doubts of adolescence only made me retreat further. My body hardly ever did what I wanted it to; I have never even been good at sports.

As I grew older, this disconnect led me to think that my body had no needs of its own, and certainly not much value. It carried my mind and my heart around, and that was all. When I felt worn out at the end of school, I thought it was only my soul that hurt. I didn’t notice the knots in my back.

I struggled over my writing in Ireland, and as Trish had instructed me, I worked to heal my broken heart. It was my lungs and my legs, though, that first grew stronger, walking along the promenade, making beds and mopping floors at the hostel.

Galway gpoo FCC

Galway by gpoo (FCC)

Salt and clean air, and enough work to make you need them.

Healing was in my body, was stitching into my very cells, before I could even see it working, before I could see new words on the page. When I came here I thought I was failing, but something was already starting to grow.

In college, I studied literature and fairy tales. Some—”The Selkie Bride,” “Cinderella,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Tam Lin”—I’d read in different translations and retellings since I was a child. I have always loved, more than anything, stories. Stories helped me escape those parts of my childhood that I could talk about only years later. I told myself stories, too, even as I progressed into adulthood. I thought I knew what I wanted, whom I would love, how my life would lead. I was a good student, a follower of rules. Whenever I searched for something, I believed I knew what I would find, and when, and how.

I write fairy tales for a living now, and like many feminist writers I try to give my heroines the agency that they sometimes lack in older versions of the tales. The aims of women of my generation and the one before—and many, many brave and hard-fighting women before us—are all for choice and action. By action I mean achievement, agency, doing. I believe in these ideals; they keep the world moving forward, and help to give it some chance of (maybe, someday) being just.

But lately I have been thinking that these older princesses and witches and peasant girls have a kind of wisdom to offer us that has lately been lost: the wisdom of passivity, of stillness.

Those seemingly un-feminist stillnesses are nearly always there, in the most enduring of the old fairy stories. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood curled up in the wolf: what are they thinking, unthinking, as they lie there un-doing? Are they glad, un-chosen as it is, for the rest?

Whether they are or not, the stillness is part of the narrative, and therefore is itself part of the moving forward, the doing of the story. Even when they are still, their stories go on. And I have found, in the time that I have spent in this place, that stillness has a strength and power of its own. I believe now that I needed not to write for that time. There are many fields here that lie fallow.

Road through the Burren EoinGardiner FCC

Road through the Burren by EoinGardiner (FCC)

Soon after I met my husband on Inis Mor (the largest of the Aran Islands—oh, Trish, how right you were) he told me something that has twined itself through my heart ever since. In Irish, he said “faigheann iarraidh, iarraidh eile.” In English: the search for one thing leads to another.

I came to Ireland to write a book. I could not write, but if the soul is a place of quiet and stillness and peace inside oneself, I found mine, and the island and I healed it where it had been starved and broken. I met my partner, and I found my home. And nine months later, in the spring, living in East Galway with Richie, I began to write again.

“The mind is constantly trying to figure out what page it’s on in the story of itself.” ~ Ikko Narasaki

Egon Schiele Trees Mirrored in a Pond 1907

“Trees Mirrored in a Pond” (1907, oil on cardboard)
by Egon Schiele

                   

“You will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” ~ Abraham Maslow

Saturday afternoon. Sunny and too warm, 84 degrees.

So I just spent the better part of the morning getting this blog caught up. I know. I know. It’s been a week since my last post. Such a week.

Hermann Max Pechstein Autumn Sea 1933

“Autumn Sea” (1933, oil on canvas)
by Hermann Max Pechstein

First, let me start off by saying it’s too damned hot for October. We already owe Virginia Power our souls because of running the AC, so I’d really like a break from that whole routine. You know? But no. Hot and humid equal need for AC, otherwise, I sweat and get too hot, and my head begins to hurt more. Plus, my esse is already acclimated for fall.

Speaking of heads, the migraine still hasn’t left completely. My pain management doctor thinks it’s so bad because it’s time for Botox again. Who knows. All I know is that light hurts and the pain is constant, although with the levels abating.

Also speaking of heads, it should be illegal to go to a pain management center wearing a smelly perfume. I walked into the waiting room and was immediately assaulted by a powerful fragrance. I haven’t been laid low by a perfume so badly since Giorgio was popular. Before the doctor got to my room, I was hanging my head over the sink splashing cold water on my face, trying not to throw up. It’s been that kind of week.

“I might enjoy being an albatross, being able to glide for days and daydream for hundreds of miles along the thermals. And then being able to hang like an affliction round some people’s necks.” ~ Seamus Heaney, from the Art of Poetry No. 75

Two hours between the last sentence and this one. I have a feeling that this post may take me well into the night. I want to write, but concentrating is hard. I’m in the midst of another bout of insomnia—difference this time is that I can fall asleep but not stay asleep. Yesterday I was fully awake at 7 a.m., and by 7:30 I was organizing the hall closet. Insomnia + OCD makes for a very bad situation.

Boats at Night 1947 by Patrick Heron 1920-1999

“Boats at Night” (1947, oil on wood)
by Patrick Heron

Today I am trying to force myself to sit here and finish something, but I keep getting distracted. Our neighbor across the street who helps when Corey is away came over to help me figure out why my water pressure was down to nothing. Yesterday the city was out in the street between our two houses working on the pipes. His water is fine, but mine is down to a trickle. Of course, I cannot get the city back out here until Monday.

I heard them out there working, but was in the midst of a meltdown and didn’t bother to go outside and investigate, so by the time I really noticed that the water was almost non-existent, the crew had already left. Friday afternoon, after all.

So I was sure I would be able to get to sleep early last night because I haven’t pulled an 18-hour day in years, but no . . . it was not to be.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Sonnets of Orpheus, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Marcy

Last night I had the strangest dream: I opened the door, and Corey was there. He had gotten home and surprised me. But it wasn’t Corey; I mean, it was, but physically, it was my Catholic boyfriend Johny. Corey/Johny had come home, but he had brought his entire platoon with him.

Cecilia Beaux Half-Tide, Annisquam River 1905

“Half-Tide, Annisquam River” (1905, oil on canvas)
by Cecilia Beaux

There was a reception, and at the bar there were all of these orange alcoholic shots in test tubes stuck in crushed ice. Surreal image, but it matches the field of sliced carrots that appeared later in the dream (don’t ask).

Several of the women from the platoon were surprised that I was there as they were unaware that Corey was married. But after the platoon in its entirety departed, I found a stash of medicine that belonged to one of the women, and I was worried that she had left without her medicine. Then one of Corey’s friends from the unit offered to take the medicine to her, but I didn’t trust him to do it. Michelle Rodriguez (the actor) made an appearance in her usual role of tough female.

It was all just too, too, bizarre.

Your only problem, perhaps, is that you scream without letting yourself cry.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Elmer Nelson Bischoff Boats

“Boats” (1967, oil on canvas)
by Elmer Nelson Bischoff

I’m feeling very in-between: in-between times, in-between moods, in-between states of physical being. There is a restlessness about me that is permeating everything I touch. I begin to do something only to find myself absorbed in some minutiae in less than half an hour. This state is directly tied to my inability to read. I realized that two whole months have passed without my immersing myself in a single book. A very unusual state of affairs, to say the least.

It isn’t quite ennui, as I am too frenetic for that. I am reminded vividly of a time during my tenure at ODU (not as in academic tenure, oh no) when I had morning classes to teach, but I found myself at 3 a.m. sitting in the middle of the dining room floor sorting and categorizing coupons. It was a completely inane thing to be doing, yet I could not stop myself.

That is how I find myself now.

I saw my psychiatrist this past week, as well, and we talked about adding a mood stabilizer to my anti-depressant, but I really don’t want to do that. I take far too many medications now, and to add yet another one, to risk more side effects, just seems like a bad route. For now, she prescribed trazodone for me to take at night to help with the sleep. Of course, I have yet to go pick it up from the pharmacy . . .

“If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two.” ~ Marcel Proust from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 2

Have you noticed how I tend to include water imagery whenever I am feeling restless, leading me to post an image by Dali, one of the few of his that I actually like? A definite correlation, she said, apropos of nothing . . .

Salvador Dali Moonlight over the Bay at Cadaques c1920

“Moonlight over the Bay at Cadaques” (c1920)
by Salvador Dali

Since Corey left this time I have cleaned out and reorganized the front part of the garage in the area of the washer and dryer. I have done some more cleaning in the backyard. I have completely reorganized the hall closet, and I’m about to tackle my closet to do my seasonal switch in sweaters and shoes. I had to force myself not to start on the closet before I sat down to write.

It’s easier mentally to throw myself into a completely mindless project than it is to concentrate on placing one word after another. Speaking of which, I have been referred to a hand surgeon because my ability to use my left hand has diminished so much that writing with a pen is an exercise in pain if I hold the pen for more than a few minutes. Of course, as with most things, I have to go through a bunch of forms and releases before this new specialist will take me on. It almost makes me not want to bother.

Which, of course, leads to the whole health insurance thing. It’s open season for me; I contemplated for about 10 seconds adding Brett to my health insurance (as he still doesn’t have any; ask his father, beh) until I read the chart and saw that it would cost approximately $700 a month to add him. But no, this country does not need affordable health care. But that, my friends, is a topic for another time.

More later. Peace.

Music by Camera Obscura, “Your Picture”

                   

Photograph

I wish I was a photograph
tucked into the corners of your wallet
I wish I was a photograph
you carried like a future in your pocket
I wish I was that face you show to strangers
when they ask you where you come from
I wish I was that someone that you come from
every time you get there
and when you get there
I wish I was that someone who got phone calls
and postcards saying
wish you were here

I wish you were here
autumn is the hardest season
the leaves are all falling
and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground
and the trees are naked and lonely
I keep trying to tell them
new leaves will come around in the spring
but you can’t tell trees those things
they’re like me they just stand there
and don’t listen

I wish you were here
I’ve been missing you like crazy
I’ve been hazy eyed
staring at the bottom of my glass again
thinking of that time when it was so full
it was like we were tapping the moon for moonshine
or sticking straws into the center of the sun
and sipping like icarus would forever kiss
the bullets from our guns

I never meant to fire you know
I know you never meant to fire lover
I know we never meant to hurt each other
now the sky clicks from black to blue
and dusk looks like a bruise
I’ve been wrapping one night stands
around my body like wedding bands
but none of them fit in the morning
they just slip off my fingers and slip out the door
and all that lingers is the scent of you
I once swore if I threw that scent into a wishing well
all the wishes in the world would come true
do you remember

do you remember the night I told you
I’ve never seen anything more perfect than
than snow falling in the glow of a street light
electricity bowing to nature
mind bowing to heartbeat
this is gonna hurt bowing to I love you
I still love you like moons love the planets they circle around
like children love recess bells
I still hear the sound of you
and think of playgrounds
where outcasts who stutter
beneath braces and bruises and acne
are finally learning that their rich handsome bullies
are never gonna grow up to be happy
I think of happy when I think of you

so wherever you are I hope you’re happy
I really do
I hope the stars are kissing your cheeks tonight
I hope you finally found a way to quit smoking
I hope your lungs are open and breathing your life
I hope there’s a kite in your hand
that’s flying all the way up to orion
and you still got a thousand yards of string to let out
I hope you’re smiling
like god is pulling at the corners of your mouth
cause I might be naked and lonely
shaking branches for bones
but I’m still time zones away
from who I was the day before we met
you were the first mile
where my heart broke a sweat
and I wish you were here
I wish you’d never left
but mostly I wish you well
I wish you my very very best

~ Andrea Gibson

“You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world doesn’t need any more of that sound.” ~ Mary Oliver

Male Lesser_goldfinch WC matt knoth

Male Lesser Goldfinch
matt knoth (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

Mary Oliver references Rilke. Good stuff:

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

~ Mary Oliver

                    

Music by Birdy, “The A Team”