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.
November 28, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last night I dreamed I was skating on glass. Nobody wants for mold to appear unbidden, and flourish, in the airspace between their double-paned windows; but, if it must, they can only hope for the crystal kind whose fine filaments creep into your nighttime with whisperings of snow.
From the Old Norse vindr auga came the word window: ‘wind eye’. Longboats and trade winds carried the word, along with other cargo sounds (fog, freckles, moss, gasp, sky), and it took the place of the Old English eag thyrel—eye-thirl, eye-hole. Words, like men, live and die. The Old Irish heard vindr auga as fuin deóc and their word for window is now fuinneoig. Sounds twist on the wind, morph, reshape themselves and, so, survive.
The mold on my window appeared slowly, at first, as a fog, but soon snow-like crystals surfaced like islands in a frozen sea: archipelagos of spores, remote colonies advancing slowly on the hazy center. A single stray hypha, trapped in the warm air between two panes of glass, has blossomed and burrowed its way into my dreams, a soft and silent invasion.
A dream is an invasion and it is also an evasion—from reality, the quotidian. The view from my window has become mundane; I hardly noticed it until the mold came, obscuring afternoon’s glow on red brick and the wooded slopes of Portland’s west hills. Nothing ever happens here is not the truth of the view, but only my perspective on it, which, too, may reshape itself.
By day, I think: I should call somebody, do something about this. But when night falls, I am skating. I am spinning fast on thin glass. Snow falls down around me and strange words float my way on the wind, replacing one world with another.
I was prompted to write this little essay when I saw a contest on The Paris Review website in celebration of Matteo Pericoli’s new book Windows on the World.
I like these kind of contests – with a limited word count on a specified theme (this contest was 300 words). Like all writing prompts, it alleviates the pressure to think of something (God, forbid!). I often procrastinate writing because I’m waiting for a worthy idea to strike.
Though, I must admit that I needed the incentive of potentially being published on The Paris Review blog to sit down and write about the view from my window. If I saw this prompt in a workbook, I would probably press the snooze button, but I was surprised at the imaginative places my mind wandered to when I thought it might be read by other people.
Writing these micro-pieces requires focus, restraint, and thoughtfulness as every word and sentence counts. I love when an unexpected sentence or idea emerges but, too, I found that I was frequently questioning what, precisely, it was that I wished to communicate, or what feeling I wanted to create in a very short space, and tried to adhere to that and cull the excess and extraneous.
Of course, these things are required of everything I write but it’s easy with a longer essay or story to hold onto a sentence because it’s pretty, or so innocuous as to go unnoticed, a good sign that it’s not indeed needed.
Anyhoo. These ideas are not novel but I thought I’d share them anyway. Needless to say, my strange little mold essay did not win the contest but it’s been a while since I posted a window into my world, so here you go!
(The replacement windows arrived last week, by the by. In case you were wondering if I ever did pick up the phone, call somebody, do something about it.)
November 2, 2014 § 3 Comments
September 4, 2014 § 1 Comment
Someone, put me out to pasture with an apple and a wand. No. Wait. Sugar cube and a cape.
May 3, 2014 § 1 Comment
…to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.”
– Seamus Heaney.
March 6, 2014 § 2 Comments
A periodic news and reading roundup
(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated of late).
I am procrastinating writing about my trip to Seattle for this year’s AWP conference. There’s a lot to process, a lot to think about. I learned a lot.
And in the spirit of ever and always learning…
The Writing University is offering free, online courses in creative writing and literary analysis. Associated with and supported by the University of Iowa, classes are a combination of readings and audio/visual recordings.
I just signed up for their first course, a close reading of the wonderful poem, Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman. The course officially started in February but, as there are no assignments or other requirements, I believe it’s not too late for you to sign up too!
Another exciting discovery (and by discovery I mean that I just found out about something everyone else already knows) is the Writing Lessons feature on The American Scholar website.
Each Monday a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist, or a scholar recalls a piece of advice or an experience that was most helpful to their writing career. I like this tiny essay On Weirdness by Nathaniel Rich.
“Life is extraordinarily weird. Art must be weirder.”
And on a completely unrelated note (or maybe not), this GoPro video of a pelican learning to fly is the best. The best!