Some might remember my Geraldine story from Ireland a couple of months ago. In the midst of learning about sectarianism in Belfast, moving my stuff to Glasgow, and getting to know Scotland, I neglected to tell you the rest of that story.
When Geraldine and I hung out at Kylemore Abbey, she encouraged me to come visit her in the very tippy point of south west Ireland. I was very tempted to take her up on it but my time was getting pretty limited before having to head to Scotland.
On a sunny afternoon I was contentedly writing when my phone rang. It was Geraldine calling to reissue her invitation. Seemed meant to be so I rolled with it and agreed.
6 days later I found myself in her parents home. Her father passed away two years ago and her mother is in a memory care home. I met her nephew, a good lad going to university. Before long we headed out further west into rural Ireland where she currently lived.
In her home I saw her beautiful patio garden. She showed me her final project for her arts degree- clay coffee cups that were arthritis-friendly with a large base instead of a handle.
We spent the next day visiting the beach she played at as a child and wished her mother “Happy Birthday” in big, sprawling letters drawn in the sand.
We saw her mother’s childhood home and her father’s birthplace. I gave her some privacy as she placed fresh flowers on her father’s grave. Even in the distance, I could hear her sing to her father.
We talked about life, love, and the meaning of it all. Two virtual strangers having conversations I haven’t had with some of my oldest friends.
To be welcomed into someone’s life in such a deep way was almost overwhelming. Someone whose life had been so different from mine and yet not different at all in ways that really matter. I found myself immersed in generations old stories and thoughts for the ages.
Geraldine’s hospitality was warmer than a peat fire on a winter night. Her kindness is already one of the most memorable parts of this journey. As a thank you I sent her a copy of my favorite book on creativity – Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
I’m pretty sure she and I already created Big Magic of our own though.
Every once in a great while, I’ll say something that sticks with me. It can be an everyday conversation that is literally one in one thousand. It wasn’t even a fully formed thought when it left my mouth but somehow I (almost) accidentally spoke my truth.
Does that happen to you?
The Living Room
Three years ago today I had a quiet evening of drinking wine and writing post cards in a warm hotel lobby. My mom and I were on our tour of the UK. She had gone to bed and that lobby was my happy place. Even before two glasses of excellent wine.
The “I want to live abroad” trip I’m currently on was a dim idea in the back of my head when I wrote this three years ago. It was the attitude expressed in that post that got me where I am today.
My kitchen also just happens to be this color of green now….
Like everyone I know, I have struggled with figuring out what I want to do for a living. I have been very lucky to have spent a decade working for two worthy non-profits. I’ve had amazing leadership and passion modeled by Ann, Heather, Shawn, Lewis. and many others. But I’m still trying to figure it all out.*
Trying to decide my career future in a mundane conversation at the end of a normal day, I said to Daniel “I don’t care about climbing the ladder. I don’t want to even be on the ladder.”
It was a second half of that statement that was an unexpectedly deep truth for me. “I don’t even want to be on the ladder.” Maybe that means I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Maybe it means I want to stay on the front lines working directly with clients and customers. Maybe it means I haven’t found the right ladder yet. Maybe it simply means I had a shitty day at work.
Whatever it ends up meaning in the long run, it’s real self-knowledge that I will not let go of.
At least for me, speaking my truth doesn’t always feel courageous. Sometimes it just falls out of my mouth (or fingers, as it were). Where I do need courage is sticking to it once I know what my truth or my desired reality is.
*I suspect that when I’m done with “trying to figure it all out” I’ll be dead. I’m fine with that. Hell, I’m excited by that. Life is a journey, etc.
I grew up in a family that watched the evening news every night. My childhood and teen years were accompanied by Tom Brokaw’s deep voice reporting on the last few years of The Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement. I became fascinated with Ireland and this conflict. I never felt I really understood it. Now I am only beginning to understand.
Today I visited Derry, a town west of Belfast. Standing in the Museum of Free Derry, I saw a TV screen with 2 old photos of little girls, Bernadette (9 years old) and Carol (4 years old) both with the last name McCool.
My paternal grandmother was a McCool. So naturally my curiosity was roused. Looking at the top of the screen, I saw that these were victims of the Troubles here in Derry. Was I (very distantly) related to victims of The Troubles? Where there other McCools who were lost in these events?
Curiosity tugging me forward, I touched the screen. Yes, their father Thomas McCool, also died. He was a father of five and a devoted Republican (completly unrelated with US Republicans, this means those in favor of a uniting what is now Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland).
and several others (including his two daughters) were killed “when
a bomb exploded prematurely while being prepared in his home.”
So…that bomb probably wasn’t being made without his knowledge. In all likelihood, he was making, or helping someone make, a bomb. As I dug further after visiting the museum I found he was indeed a member of the IRA.
Semantics and Perspectives
far do we extend the term “victim?” Those two girls were
certainly victims. Victims of the conflict? Victims of their father?
Was Thomas a victim of the conflict? Certainly not an innocent. But
with no conflict there would be no bomb-making in his home.
is listing him among victims truth or propaganda?
On a tour that morning I was told that Derry only had 12 members of the IRA before Bloody Sunday. On Oct 5, 1972 the local police attacked a peaceful civil rights demonstration. The protesters were inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the US and demonstrations in South Africa. The participants were asking that Catholics be given a fair chance at a job, given “one man, one vote,” and to end the gerrymandering by Protestants.
After 13 people were killed that day, the IRA’s numbers grew exponentially. “Everyone wanted to join the IRA,” said Kathleen Hutton. Her father was killed in this same explosion as the McCools, dying two weeks afterward.
Republicans (largely Catholic) were understandably angry and afraid of the Unionists (those who did not want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland), Protestants, and British police and soldiers.
the story goes that while the IRA did some bad stuff, it was in
retaliation for excessive force by the local police (state-sponsored
Protestant and/or British-leaning men).
But Thomas McCool was killed in 1970, two years before Bloody Sunday.
No one is really arguing that The Troubles started with a stand-alone event. Tensions in this area go back hundreds of years. But when a tour guide tells us this information with a “they attacked us” undercurrent, it’s easy to pick a side. Without asking what the other side argues or reports. Such as why IRA members were making bombs in 1970.
It can not go without saying that this tour guide was the son of a man shot dead by the British police on Bloody Sunday in 1972. He was 7 months old when his father was shot in the back. The story of investigation, justice, and responsibility for this act (and the other 12 deaths that day) would go on for another 40 years.
the interesting part of this story is not whether I have any real
connection to this family. The interesting part is that this is one
of a thousand microcosms showing how complex this conflict is. Even
with my simplifications for length, clarity, and sheer ignorance.
There is your truth. There is my truth. What do we do when they are not the same truth?
No one I’ve talked to feels that the process is finished or wounds healed. There is faith that the next generation will get it right as the older generation steers them away from violence.
Want to know the story of the soldier who killed my tour guide’s
father? The story of how the town I visited is contentiously known as
both Derry and Londonderry? What is Free Derry free from? I have
only skimmed the surface of my (relatively scant) knowledge here. But
I don’t want to bore you.
When I conceived this trip I wanted to spend 6 months in Ireland. Turns out you can’t do that without being a student or some other special status, hence the impending move to Scotland.
So after three months in Dublin, I am headed to Northern Ireland and then Scotland shortly. I have spent the last three months absorbing everything I can about Ireland, its’ history, and its’ people. And I’ve learned a lot.
The word “Dublin” is descended from Duiblinn (“Black Pool”, referring to a dark tidal pool where the River Poddle entered the Liffey). In 841 the Vikings invaded and called it Dyflin. The city has survived the Black Death, multiple invasions from England, and the Great Famine.
It was also the setting of the 1916 Easter Uprising that ultimately lead to declaring freedom from Britain after 800 years of oppression.
Dublin sounds like seagulls, traffic, and haunting Irish ballads that spill out of the pubs at night. It smells like fish and chips and salty sea air. It tastes like an old favorite (Guinness) and a new favorite (gin and tonic). It looks like an old Georgian city that’s starting to live up to its potential in the Silicon Docks. And it feels just a bit like home.
A little while ago I was talking with a dear friend about staying in hostels. She said she was never one of those people who can make a new friend and then you see them post something about “this cool place I went with my new best friend.” I’m not that kind of person either, I agreed.
I was wrong.
I just spent my day with a super cool hippie from the south west corner of Ireland. I mean a literal Birkenstock-wearing, dreadlock-having hippie.
Geraldine and I started talking in the hostel kitchen last evening. She was headed to Kylemore Abbey in the morning. It’s a 5-minute drive or a 50-minute walk along a narrow, windy road. So I asked her if I could hitch a ride with her in the morning. Her 56-year-old self and my 38-year-old self laughed like giddy girls at finally getting to see this beautiful place when we arrived in her car this morning.
This was a great moment for me because as a teenaged girl, I bought a poster of Kylemore Abbey from Hastings in Yukon, OK. That poster hung on my wall for years. And now I was seeing it for myself.
This was a great moment for Geraldine because after her father passed two years ago she became very depressed. She made a list of things she wanted to see and the Abbey was one of them. “And you’re here today Geraldine. With a big smile on your face,” I said to her.
We toured the house and walked the enormous walled-garden. She pointed out plants she knew and told me stories. I did the same except with less knowledge of flowers and vegetables. When I mentioned mint tea is my favorite, she told me about the chocolate mint growing outside our hostel.
After our lovely day together Geraldine kindly dropped me back at the hostel before she headed on to her next destination. We exchanged addresses and promised to send each other a post card.
In my social media profile and on this blog, I try to maintain a positive but real vibe. I am not a fan of the “show you’re awesome stuff all the time” because there’s a boatload of research on social media, comparison, and the damage it can do. Aside from the research, I’ve felt it. You probably have too. I do not like the possibility of contributing to that. But laying it out there on rough days is just a tad more difficult….
It’s very interesting for me to note that in moments of vulnerability, my “I’m going to talk about the good and the bad” tendency starts to falter. Like everyone, I want to hide on the rough days.
Birthdays can be a bit of a trigger for me. It’s when I need friends around to celebrate and enjoy the wonderful, fabulous community of friends I am lucky to be a part of. There have been a couple of years where I didn’t have that and it was a tad depressing.
So I knew that if I wasn’t careful, my birthday last weekend was going to make me sad. Yes I’m living my dream of living in Ireland. Yes it’s awesome. But it’s also sometimes lonely.
It helped that last week included seeing several people I can now safely call friends. But that doesn’t replace hanging out with all my wonderful peeps that I really miss. Damn I miss ya’ll.
Part of choosing happiness is making it easier for yourself to choose happiness. So planning a few activities was a must if I wasn’t going to be sad on my own birthday.
After painting I headed home for a 2 hour “it’s-my-birthday-and-I-can-indulge” 2-hour nap. Which made it easier to enjoy a late night at the pub hanging out with a few friends. By coincidence, they happened to have planned a get together on June 1. I didn’t bother mentioning my birthday. I don’t like the obligatory “Oh it’s your birthday!” moment nor do I want people (kindly) buying me alcohol that will likely go beyond my limit.
My 21st birthday happened to fall at the end of my study abroad tour in college. I was alone in Paris. I went to Versailles, called my parents from a payphone (remember those?), and had a dessert of champagne-soaked strawberries in a Paris cafe.
Having that birthday alone didn’t bother me then. Not sure what that says about my 21-year-old psyche versus my thirty-mumble psyche. Or today’s culture and it’s effect on how we feel about ourselves. I’ll ponder that and get back to you.
In either case, I had a lovely birthday. Even if I miss my friends and family, I’m in freaking Ireland!
I may be in introvert but I need people in my life. As the thrill of I’M IN IRELAND! I DID IT! has begun to wear off, there have been a few lonely evenings. I knew that would happen so I have been pretty dedicated to going to meetups and the like.
That means I’ve introduced myself a hundred times. It’s a little hard to convince yourself that you want to go to a new group and do it yet again. It’s also hard to convince yourself to go to events alone. It doesn’t bother me too much but it was/is starting to get old.
But – it’s paying off!
Last week, I’ve was invited to a dinner party in early June, attended my first Iftar (sunset meal breaking the day’s fast for Ramadan) at a friend’s house, had a night out with my former AirBnb hosts, and ran into a friend at my new coworking office. And I’ve made friends with a couple who frequents Edinburgh so I’ve even started a community in Scotland for when I move there Aug-Oct.
One thing about being alone in another country- you start to really appreciate things like invitations or accidental run-ins with friends. We take these things for granted, forgetting that they make us smile and feel welcome.
Speaking of Coworking Spaces, What’s all the Fuss About?
I did not previously understand what I might gain by paying for an office to go to when I had a desk at home. I have a dedicated office at home in Denver. A desk in my bedroom here in Dublin is not the same. A coworking office membership has allowed my to separate work from life. It has provided additional focus and motivation as well as a much-appreciated community.
The enhanced focus and motivation to get work done without attending to distractions hopefully means this endeavor will pay for itself. But the community aspect is almost priceless in a city where I know so few people. Something as little as having a chat with the front desk staff in the morning becomes quite meaningful. Not to mention free pizza and beer on the last Friday of the month.
People from Everywhere
I have made friends from Turkey, Algeria, France, Italy, and of course Ireland. It is my hope that at least some of these connections will continue through the future. Either way, I am meeting and learning from some pretty cool people. I’ve met people who’ve moved here for love, for work, for school. And just because.
Denver is an Ace in the Hole
The Irish and many others know the US well enough to know Colorado is cool. I usually get a delighted “Oh you’re from the Denver” reaction and have been told my American accent is fun to listen too. Many have not been to Denver but love the idea of skiing or hiking in the mountains.
I’m bummed that I’ll have to leave Dublin in July and start again in Scotland. I wanted to stay in Ireland for six months but couldn’t find a (cost-effective) way around the 90-day tourist limit. Edinburgh is beautiful and I found other reasons to be happy to go there as well. Far be it from me to complain about any little snags in an otherwise amazing adventure.
would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Open a coffee shop?
Make it big as a Broadway star? Invent the next Wonder Mop?
I like the question of what you would do if you couldn’t fail. Thing is, having your answer doesn’t take away the possibility of scary idea of failure.
what would you do if you know you might fail? What to do want so much
that you are willing to fail for it?
Let’s say you would love to fail gloriously at trying to be a Broadway star. You save up, take acting, singing, and/or dancing lessons and go to NYC for a few months. You get to the Big Apple and stop to think “I’m really trying this!”
You manage to get a few auditions. Maybe you blow it, maybe you do OK. Statistically speaking, you don’t get any parts and go home after your stint in The Greatest City in the World.
tried. You failed. Whee!
by some crazy chance an agent sees you and starts you on a path to
Broadway brilliance, all the better.
what did you get for your time and money spent on acting lessons?
What did you get for paying NYC’s exorbitant rent costs for a few
months? Not stardom.
you learned that you have the power to direct your own life. The
ability to set a goal and go after it. You were a brilliant failure
and an inspiration to others considering their own crazy goal. And
you probably learned many other things on your way to failure. If you
learned anything at all there is no real failure.
Until now, Daniel is the only person I’ve lived with (other than my parents, obv). People are often surprised to hear I didn’t do the housemate thing in college.
As an only child who had a choice in college, I knew then that having a roommate or living in a house full of people wasn’t for me. I attended a college that was primarily a commuter college so it wasn’t too hard to avoid this. I know my dad was afraid I was missing out on in important experience. And he was probably right.
I may have missed out on a “right of passage” but I feel I’ve collected enough experiences in the world to make up for that. When I was younger I was afraid to venture out much. Risk-aware is the nice way to put it. Not so much any more.
Anywho, back to life as an adult with housemates. As an only child, I gave those roommate horror stories a lot of consideration and decided it wasn’t for me.
I spent the first year of college commuting and it worked well. After that year I got an apartment of my own near campus. I loved living by myself. I could set my own schedule, not worry about being a nuisance to a sleeping roommate, etc.
But now I’m a 30-something living with 5 housemates. And I love it. Being in a house full of adults who are friendly, ask about your day, and then go about their lives is pretty great.
My semester abroad is a bit late. I have housemates in my 30s. I know I’m doing things out of order. But it’s better that way I promise.
My life looks more like the photo above than below. So I think I’m doing it right.
Also, searching for “bad roommate” pictures is just fun….
It’s a little anticlimactic but there’s been no one moment of “VICTORY IS MINE!” Instead, there have been lots of little moments of accomplishment. When I bought an airplane ticket last November. When I booked my AirBnB in January 1 this year (an auspicious start if ever there was one). Of course, these moments are interspersed with times of “well, crap there’s a housing crisis in Dublin” and “I can only stay 90 days in Ireland, what do I do the rest of the time?”
The goal was 6-9 months abroad. I knew 9 would really be pushing it. I figured if I said 6-9 I’d be more likely to make it to 6 months. I wanted the full time to be in Ireland but as I looked for ways around the tourist stamp with a 90-day maximum, I found Scotland to be a fortuitous alternative.
(Not so) Little Victories
Landing in Dublin on a sunny day, having a pleasant cab ride to my AirBNB, and meeting my wonderful hosts felt more monumental than if this were a vacation. It was making a reality of a 3-year-old goal. And it meant discovering my home (for a little while).
But of course this victory was only temporary. I had three weeks in my AirBnB to find a place to stay for two months thereafter. So began the apartment (or flat) search.
Whee, I found one!
There is a well-publicized housing crisis in Dublin, with rents DOUBLING in the last 7 years. Tax incentives have brought Facebook, Microsoft, Dell, Google, and more to make Dublin their European headquarters or at least a major office location. So finding a room could have been a serious stumbling block.
Turns out I’m a perfect fit for a house full of med students, with a couple of them heading home for two months between their exams and starting internships. They’re a friendly lot, with one American in the bunch.
So, what’s the point?
I can’t believe things have gone so well and I am so lucky. But I do believe that you create your own luck. I believe in smart bets.
I know not everything will go smoothly on this trip. But hopefully preparation will put me in a good place to deal with challenges as they come. I believe growth happens outside your comfort zone, which includes dealing with it when things go wrong.
But until they do, I’m sticking with this feeling- Holy crackers ya’ll. I did it!