Wednesday, August 17, 2005


On the July 27 this year, two things happened to me. The first is that I entered my so-called “Jesus Year” since it was my 33rd birthday. The second is that my US driver’s license expired.

I’m fine with the first one – getting older is sort of fun. Or it least it is while I still look younger than my age. Ask me again when I’m 50 or 60. The second one is an inconvenience. And not just a “darn, now I have to ride the bus until I can get into the DMV” sort of inconvenience. It’s an expensive, hassle-laden inconvenience.

First, there’s the principle of the matter. I’ve been driving more years than not at this point, so not being able to just grab the car keys and go has sent me back in time to my early-teen-but-pre-driving years. This morning, I moved the cars around in the driveway so that Peter will be able to pull his dad’s car in when they return from their outing. It was a huge thrill – backing the big car up with careful precision. It was, in fact, the first time I’d ever sat behind the wheel of “our” Irish car.

Then, there’s the matter of replacement. Until I can get to Ohio, I’m going to have to pursue a license from the Irish system. The Irish system is expensive, convoluted and time-consuming. When I moved from Ohio to Illinois, I took my Ohio license and five or ten bucks down to the DMV. I waited for 3 hours because the computers were down – I used the time to read the road rules book from cover to cover. When the computers were finally operational, I had an eye test, took the written test, smiled for the camera and walked out with a freshly laminated bad picture of myself that also gave me the right to drive.

In Ireland, I have to start from the very beginning – I have to get a learner’s permit, which is called a provisional license. It means I can only drive with a licensed driver in the car with me and I have to display a large red L on my front and rear windows. Yup, L for loser. I mean learner.

Getting the provisional license is no simple feat. Much like in Illinois, I have to get an eye test and pass a written exam. Unlike Illinois, it’s not one-stop shopping. Any licensed doctor or optometrist can perform the eye test. The doctor down the road charges 55 euro. The Specsavers (think For Eyes but with less clever advertising) charges 10 euro. Guess where I’m going to go. The eye test report is good for four weeks.

Two offices in Dublin provide the theory test. I called the central number to schedule my test. Yes, you can’t just show up, you have to book an exam time. The cost of this is 34 euro and the earliest they could get me in was 30 August, 2 weeks away. Goodbye to my dream of having a provisional license by the end of this week.

When I have these two reports, two passport-sized photographs, a completed application and 15 euro, then I can go down to the Motor Tax Office, which is where they deal with these sorts of things. From the brief visit Peter and I had when we picked up our forms, I will have to wait in line for approximately 3 days. At the end of that, if all my paperwork is present and correct, I should have a provisional driver’s license.
I plan to take a couple of driving lessons to learn how to pass the Irish test. It’s rigorous, but not really in the right sort of ways. The trouble, it seems to me, with a lot of Irish drivers, is that they learn how to pass the test, not how to drive safely. So they can reverse around the corner, can frequently check their mirrors, and can operate the windshield wipers, but they can’t properly drive around blind turns on narrow country roads.

No matter, I have plenty of time to practice. The average wait to take the driving test in Ireland is 48 weeks. Yes, you read that correctly. I don’t mean 4 to 8 weeks, which is how long it will take for your collect-em-trade-em-race-em-be-the-first-kid-on-your-block-to-collect-the-whole-set free cereal prize toy to arrive. I mean it will take nearly a year before I can take the test.

In the mean time, I will have to do the things I did as a teenager. Get the learner’s permit. Have Peter take me for practice drives. Move cars around in the driveway. Volunteer to drive on every trip to the shop. And count the days until I can return to the land of the grown-ups.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Decision Making

I’ve quit a fair number of activities and pursuits in my day. A short list would include:

Swimming lessons. I quit swimming lessons when I was about 9 and again when I was 12. I quit the first time because I was unable to pass out of Polliwogs after a year of trying. I quit the second time because I could swim well and was terrified of the teacher – a tall Amazonian woman named Trudi who had an unplaceable Eastern European accent and a sadistic streak that included whacking us on the head with a long metal pole while we were swimming.

Cello lessons. I was in high school, just after freshman year when I quit playing the cello. I hated the kids in the orchestra and after a series of bad teachers, I’d fallen behind on my skills. I had a good teacher at the time, but I couldn’t just take lessons without being in orchestra, so I had to quit.

Many crappy service jobs. I couldn’t even list all of these. But the highlights include quitting a bus-boy job at an all-you-can-eat-buffet because in my first 3 days of work, I threw out enough food to feed China; quitting a job as a supermarket checkout girl after 3 weeks because I found myself imaging that it would be preferable to have a broken arm than to go to work; getting fired from Denny’s for bussing tables instead of standing at the hostess stand looking dumb while people asked me why they couldn’t sit at those open tables that were just vacated.

All of these quitting moments were fairly inconsequential in the course of my life. I made a decision that I was better off not doing something than doing it and then I didn’t have to do it anymore. And I was usually happier. No soul-searching, no regrets.

Then, the time came that I had to quit something big – law school. I was more than half-way through when I quit law school and now, 10 years later, my only regret is that I ever started in the first place. But at the time, I had no idea if it was the right decision. I was miserable, living in the pit that is Camden, New Jersey. I couldn’t imagine spending my life working with the sorts of jerks I was studying with. I hurt my knee rollerblading and was mugged on the same day. My roommate hated me and probably plotted ways to kill me in my sleep. Even after I got my own room, you can see how I could want to leave and never go back.

But I was still scared. Still worried about whether or not I was doing the right thing. I asked my dad if he thought I was a quitter and he said “Oh no honey, I don’t think you’re a quitter, I think you’re a bad decision maker.”

I’d like to think that I’ve become older, wiser and a better decision maker (one out of three isn’t bad, right?). The time has come for me to make a difficult decision and I think that this makes me a good decision maker, even if it does make me a quitter. I’ve decided, in light of having missed almost 3 weeks of training and due to the fact that I still sound like a TB ward, I am going to have to take a pass on this year’s Dublin marathon.

I don’t feel that I’ve been able to build the base of training I need to continue preparing for the marathon. I also think that I’ve missed enough runs at this point that trying to play catch-up would put me at increased risk for injury.

I’m going to go to a Plan B. When I am well enough to run again, I am going to work myself up to where I was when I got sick and hurt – short runs of three miles (Tuesday and Thursday), five miles (Wednesday) with a weekend long run of 10 miles. When I get to that point, I am going to hold there and continue to run that schedule until January of next year. Then I am going to pick a European marathon and get training for it. I’m thinking Barcelona in March. Or maybe Paris in April.

Such choices. I hope I can make the right decision!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Sleeping Policemen

In Ireland, they call speed bumps "ramps". Doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Ramps are meant to take you up and away. Speed bumps are meant to slow you down.

The French have a great name for the speed bump. According to my friend Deb, a French translator, they call it gendarme couchere - the sleeping policeman. It's the perfect name - descriptive and imaginative. To me, the name says a lot about the function on the speed bump, about how it acts as an external regulator to force you into observing the law. It reminds me of how on a certain Illinois highway, the cops would park a patrol car in a visible area on the side of the road. As you zoomed up on it, you'd slow down, only to find out that the shape in the driver's seat was a mannequin wearing a highway patrol hat.

Peter gets annoyed by speed bumps and he gets especially annoyed by drivers who tip-toe over speed bumps at 5 mph. I tend to take speed bumps in better stride, but then I'm not a very fast driver anyway. I find myself more vexed by figurative speed bumps. I've hit a few lately.

Marathon training. I'm on the bench for the next 5 days, at least, with suspected tendonitis of the right foot. I'm missing 11 miles of short runs and 7 miles of long runs. In addition, I had a nasty cold last week and missed another 8 miles of short run. Yes, add it up, math geniuses, and I've missed an entire marathon of running in my marathon training. It makes me edgy to miss runs and cheat on the training, but I can't run with a searing pain in my foot or when I'm coughing up a lung.

Book writing. I've been a bad kid recently when it comes to the 2 page a day rule. With the contract job, I spend 8 hours writing mind-numbing instructions for computer software. I don't want to even glance at a computer when I come home. This shirking of my writing does not bode well for my prospects when I get a "real" job. I'm going to have to buckle down big-time.

Post-vacation depression. Germany was so much fun, coming home was bit of a bummer. I had a few days of severe post-vacation depression, which made me grumpy and lethargic.

Rejections. I've struck out on the last three job interviews, which is wreaking havoc with my interview-to-job-offer ratio. I also got a "sorry, we don't publish young adult fiction anymore" letter from the publisher that I was most interested in. I know I shouldn't be taking these rejections seriously, but it's easy (and entirely human) to get a little demoralized.

What can I do, when I hit one of these pesky sleeping policemen? Slow down and pay attention. Speed bumps aren't put there just to ruin your day, even though sometimes it feels that way. They're meant to make you pay attention to what you're doing. I can't run, but I can use that time to write. And when I'm burned out on computers, I should still be thinking of my characters and trying to come up with new plot ideas. Just because my fingers aren't writing doesn't mean my brain can't be writing.

When the speed bumps are too many, too close together, it might be time to try a different road. I love driving in the country in Ireland because there's no right or good way to get anywhere. There's just a spaghetti pot of unnamed roads with sign posts to point you in the right general direction. As long as you're headed in the right direction, you'll get there eventually, no matter how many sleeping policeman you have to run over on the journey.

Monday, August 01, 2005

For the Love of the Game

I became a baseball fan at age five, when my parents took me to my first game. The sparkling green grass, the satisfying sound the bat makes when it hits the ball, the awe-inspiring vision of towering home run shots – I fell in love with all of it. As a Cleveland Indians fan, I lived a life of dogged devotion and disappointment, even in ’95 and ’97 when they did so well. (In our house, the ’97 team is referred to only as “The Team That Broke My Heart”. Jose Mesa better hope that I never meet him in a dark alley.)

With the Internet and satellite television, I could probably remain a big-time baseball fan. But I know that the isolated nature of long-distance fan-dom would get to me. It’s not like I’d be able to go into work here and taunt (or, more likely this year, get taunted by) White Sox fans. So, when in Ireland, do like the Irish do.

I investigated the sporting options available to me and quickly eliminated soccer. I couldn’t figure out the league systems, it seemed like there was always a championship game going on, and the trading deals sounded even more messed up than baseball. Plus, I cannot take any sport seriously that has as one of its premier players David Beckham. I just can’t.

Rugby….well, don’t tell my father-in-law, but all rugby looks like to me is an opportunity for uber-macho guys to grope each other and not get called gay for enjoying it. Cricket seemed like it might provide a natural baseball replacement – and the rules aren’t that complicated once you wrap your mind around the basic premise – but it just seemed a poor substitute.

Then I investigated the GAA – Gaelic games – and it looked like I might have found my home. Football, GAA-style, looks a little like the demented love-child of basketball and soccer. Players use their hands, but cannot carry the ball for more than three steps, so they have to bounce it off the ground, drop-kick it back up to themselves, or send it on to another player. The goal area is like a football goalposts, with a soccer goal attached. It’s a point if the ball goes through the goalposts and a goal if it goes into the goal. Goals are worth 3 points. The game is fast and aggressively played. But it was not quite exotic enough for me.

My wanderings through the available sports finally led me to hurling. I suppose it’s sort of similar to field hockey. Players use a stick called a hurley, the business end of which reminds me of a large, flattened wooden spoon. The object is to hit to the ball, called a sliothar, into the opponents’ goal. Like Gaelic football, the goal has two section and it’s one point for getting the sliothar into the top area and a goal (worth 3 points) for getting the sliothar into the bottom area.

Yesterday, I went to my first hurling match. We saw Tipperary take on Galway in the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland Championship. We were sitting in the second row parallel to one of the goals. They were great seats for the close action although we were at a disadvantage when the play was at the other end of the pitch. But since we were right by the Jumbotron, which carried the game live, we were able to catch what we were missing.

It is impossible to describe how fast the game moves. One whack with the hurley and the sliothar can travel nearly three-quarters of the length of the field. The players were mostly tall, lithe and incredibly graceful. They have a great move for running with the sliothar that reminds me of that silly race where you balance an egg on a spoon.

The other thing about the game is how quickly the momentum can shift. Your team can lead by three points, but if the other team scores a goal, the game is suddenly even. We rooted for Tipp, for no other reason than that their colors were nicer. (That was my reason at least.) We had an entire family of die-hard Galway fans behind us. The one woman totally cracked me up. She looked like a pleasant mom-type – you could picture her driving the carpool or participating in a sewing circle. But did she ever have a potty mouth. “Aw Jaysus! Can you not just f--- it in there boys? Get it over the bar!”

Tipp had a good lead, about five points, going into half-time. In the middle of the second half, Galway scored a goal, then a second goal. They also had two decent goal-shots blocked by the Tipp goalie. A couple over the bar on each side and suddenly, the game was tied. Galway scored another point, to pull ahead by one, and that’s when Tipp fell apart. They went from concentrated passing and careful shots to just flailing the sliothar around. Galway took advantage and ended up winning by 2 points.

After the game was over, the two teams met in the middle of the pitch and started taking their shirts off. At first, I thought they were just warm after 70 minutes of running themselves ragged, but then I realized they were trading shirts with their counterparts. Peter said it was just one of those things that gets done from time to time, a show of good sportsmanship. It had been a good game, fairly played.

I’d been fairly certain before the game that I’d found my new sport. I left the game completely in love. And I still haven’t told you the best part. The G.A.A. is an amateur athletics organization. The players get reimbursed expenses for travel (and I think they might have endorsement opportunities) but that’s it. No multi-million euro contracts. No incentive clauses. No private jet privileges. They all have day jobs. All they play for is pride, enjoyment and the love of the game. Imagine that.