November 22, 2016 § 3 Comments
On Sunday afternoon, I joined a hundred or so women in Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland. What began as an invitation to a small gathering in a friend’s living-room had expanded, within a week, into this bigger, sprawling, holy-seeming space with a stage and a ballroom, a balcony and curtained side-rooms, where we broke out into smaller groups to talk and listen and think and feel and share and organize.
A common cause connected us but, within that cause, our various and differing concerns and motivations nested like so many matryoshka dolls within the single, steeple-roofed space and, indeed, within our very selves. I helped at the check-in table and explained that, for logistical reasons, and to facilitate inclusive and meaningful conversation, everyone would have to select a single topic to participate in that day: Education, Gun Control, Immigration, LGBTQ rights, Healthcare and Reproductive Rights, and Energy and the Environment.
Their faces said it all as their pens hovered over the sign-up sheets. How to choose? Where to begin? How to prioritize when there is so much at stake and everything, everything, is so vital and urgent and cannot, cannot, wait? Those who know me know that, these past couple of years, I have been grappling with Time: the ways in which I squander it and how, knowing those ways, will I live my days from here? Few would argue that ‘activism’ is a poor use of one’s time but, accepting that we cannot do everything there is to do, how do we decide what our activism will be and look like, how do we choose what to do, where do we place our time and energy, to which people, and in which place?
In which place?
I am not from here.
I am a Permanent Resident of the United States, though the cynic or Buddhist in me smiles whenever I hear the word ‘permanent’ or ‘united’. I sometimes think of myself as an Alien, feeling, as I often do, as though I am living on a strange planet, trying in vain and in pain and in anger and frustration to understand. I was born and raised in Dublin. I am Irish. European. I am white. A few weeks ago, an older white woman engaged me on the bus. She was planning on voting for Trump and spoke at length about “those immigrants” and “those people”. I didn’t say much. I live in a progressive, tolerant, loving, echo chamber and was, frankly, fascinated to be talking to one of “those people” but eventually I must have said something because she noticed my accent and asked me where I’m from. “I’m Irish,” I said. “Ohhhhh!” she said, her face lighting up the way people often do here when they hear that. “Yes,” I said, “I’m an immigrant.”
The woman’s smile faded and her eyes flickered in recognition at the trap I’d laid for her, a trap she stammered and stuttered her way out of, or tried to. A Latino man to our left smiled. It was a sweetish moment, in the moment, but I wonder now what he was smiling at. The old white woman and her racism and inconsistent thinking. Or the younger white woman and her cleverness and privilege. Both he and I know that I am not and never will be an ‘Immigrant’, and all that word implies. In the days following the election results, unlike so many citizens, so many Americans, this pale alien could walk freely down the street and nobody was telling me to go home or that my time here was up. Unlike so many Americans, I was not harassed or intimidated or violently assaulted. Nobody looks at my face, my skin, my body and wants to end it, wills or wishes me out of existence. I get to make wry comments about permanence and the phrasing of my status but my status remains unquestioned and intact. I can play at being E.T., pointing my finger and saying, “America. Beeeee goooooood,” and pretend that I’m outside it all when, in fact, I am terribly within it and blend in all too well.
I get to say who and what I am. I have at least a dozen identities at my disposal. We all contain multitudes but I get to live them and can be this thing before breakfast and this other thing after lunch and who will I be tomorrow and what will I do and where will I go?
I thought about it. I hunted out my passport, put it in a safe spot.
It is an option and it comforts me to know I have a place to run away to but then I think of Virginia Woolf and her words in the essay, Three Guineas.
“As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”
Woolf was writing about the connection between patriarchy, war and fascism, and a patriotism that fights and kills for rights and freedoms that she, as a women, had not shared and probably would never share. But when I read it now in this globalized, highly interconnected world, it takes on another meaning and I see that there is no place to run to. That there is a link between America and that little Syrian boy and his face in the sand on a beach in Turkey. That there is a farmer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland who is under threat of being forcibly removed from his land to make way for the Orange Man’s luxury golf resort. That rising seas and famine and drought will come for all of us. That there is no place on earth that is untouched by the same forces of hatred and injustice and denial that we face in this place.
So, no. No going home. Going home is not an option because wherever I am, I am already there. And there is work to do inside of myself and right outside my front door.
February 13, 2015 § 3 Comments
I have a new story in The Stinging Fly. It’s about woodturners, sort of.
I haven’t done too much woodworking lately, not since last Spring when I finished my blanket chest. Our place is so small, there’s only so much room for another box, bowl, or coffee table. But some things from the past few years filtered into my story.
Like the woodpile at Ian’s parents’ home on the Oregon coast; the chalky cedary smell of woodshops; time spent in slow and patient purpose; bark, burl, rings; a little bowl I turned from some sweet-smelling apple; a tin helmet I saw when wandering around Portland one day; and this fog that won’t lift and makes me wonder is the world out there at all.
The Spring issue of The Stinging Fly looks beautiful, as ever, is available to order online, and will be in (Irish) bookshops very soon.
January 20, 2015 § 1 Comment
Please help fund my dream.
(My dream was that I was a sardine in a bait ball and you were a hammerhead, a great one.)
(My dream was that I was the last hermit crab and you were an old marmalade jar.)
(My dream was I was wandering in a narrow gorge and other people were also wandering in the gorge but we didn’t speak to one another.)
(I woke up to pee and couldn’t get back into this one dream.)
(My dream was just roaring and shouting at her.)
(My dream is often a vast, silent wave. Nothing can prevent it.)
(My dream was my cat had a British accent.)
(My dream was I was a girl, dancing on my daddy’s shoes, holding on to the loops where his belt should go but when I looked up it was our old friend, Dave Franklin. He said “Hi!”)
January 11, 2015 § 3 Comments
Finland 2007 moleskin journal, and the first scrawlings of a story that would eventually be my first published story in 2014.
Found in a box, hardly decipherable in parts, and quite unlike what it became, as far as I can read.
Pages smell strongly like linseed oil.
(But, also, I feel old tonight and wondering what I was doing for so long)
January 2, 2015 § 2 Comments
A periodic news and reading roundup
(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated on the www of late).
This Conversation between Dan Gunn and Lydia Davis at the wonderful Music & Literature.
This 1929 Soviet-era silent movie by Dziga Vertov, who once said: “I am eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see.”
Published a couple of years ago, but still – and maybe more so – relevant, Rebecca Solnit’s Diary in the London Review of Books meditates on the influence of technology and the quality of the time we spend in today’s day and age.
“A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing…. It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone.”
Solnit’s sentiments echo my own of late (though more beautifully and with considerably more clarity and conviction – I tend to vacillate between her perspective and one of the commenters who persuasively argues that Solnit is not the first in history to romanticize and misremember the reality of the past). Still, food for thought, and it nudged me into action concerning the way I do, and want to, spend my time. Day 2 of being Facebook-free and it feels okay!
Based on a couple of short stories I’ve read, I’m very excited about Irish writer Sara Baume’s forthcoming debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, from Tramp Press. Will certainly gush more about her another time. For now, though, I lately loved her little blog post documenting some artwork she made, and an installation of post-its titled All The Days I Did and Didn’t, while writing the novel.
I’ve also been seriously dreamy over the work of Mister Finch, a self-taught artist who sews delightful flora and fauna from vintage textiles. I want to fall down this lacy, threadbare rabbit hole and live in a world that looks like this:
There were other things, too, but these are the things I thought to share with you, whatever share means, whoever you are.
January 1, 2015 § 1 Comment
Make room for summer’s blooms.
Burn, then walk away.
A poem, by Naomi Shihab Nye:
Burning the Old Year
December 15, 2014 § 7 Comments
Forgive me, I am someone who seeks out synchronicity—that is, confirmation that I am where I am meant to be, in this exact moment in life and time.
It’s silly (is it?), but I need it (why?).
Last night, driving away from Portland, Ian turned the radio to a local station playing jazz. “Do you like jazz?” he asked. Almost ten years we have known each other, yet still some things to know and remain unknown. He told me about a college class he signed up for with this very radio station, a sort of internship where he’d learn the radio ropes and how to present a show, how he didn’t know anything about jazz and stayed up late at Powell’s reading and researching. But (alas, alack) it was one of those harsh winters and (oh, poor student) he didn’t have a car and wound up missing some classes and thus ended his career in local jazz radio before it had even begun. “Oh baby,” I laughed, “you could have been somebody.”
I was teasing, but it’s true—I think about it all the time: all the roads not taken or only half taken, all the somebodies we could have been and might still be. I can (and have) spend hours tracing back all the things that had to happen in order to find myself, here, now, in this place. And, though I am happy in this place, I am one of those people who can’t help seeking confirmation that all is as it should be, that there isn’t another place I’m supposed to be. Even the smallest of ‘signs’ can set me at ease for, oh, whole hours.
Last night, when we arrived back at the house we are watching for friends this month, the sky away from the city was clear and crisp. It has been so foggy lately and, so, we took a stroll up the back fields, in search of shooting stars. He saw three and I saw one and a bit. He deserved it. He gets up earlier than I do, works harder and longer, lights the fire before he leaves, leaves a teabag in a mug for me…
These things are important and real and good. And yet, I wake this morning thinking, Are we doing enough with our lives, should we be traveling or building or making, we should see more live music, we should write more, I should really learn an instrument—or to drive—I thought we’d have our Christmas shopping done by now, why do we procrastinate, are we wasting it, missing it, why did we just sit by the fire half the day?
And then, as it seems to go, I stumble across some words that still me, that seem to have been written in the stars for me, today, this morning, when thoughts and anxieties shoot and fire and fizzle across the fearful, doubtful spaces of my mind. A small synchronicity, a poem by Galway Kinnell, makes me forget the creeping daytime thoughts and focus on last night, and all those time in which we are great, and happy, as long as we are arm in arm and looking up.
On the Frozen Field
We walk across the snow,
The stars can be faint,
The moon can be eating itself out,
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth,
The Northern Lights can bloom and seethe
And be tearing themselves apart all night,
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.
You in whose ultimate madness we live,
You flinging yourself out into the emptiness,
You—like us—great for an instant,
O only universe we know, forgive us.