Wednesday, November 30, 2005

My Inner Teenage Girl

When I was a teenager, I had a very skewed idea about what my adulthood would be like. I imagined a swirl of charity balls, a closet full of cocktail dresses and a posh apartment with wood floors and high ceilings. I thought I’d live abroad for a while working as a diplomat in the foreign service before eventually settling down in Washington DC.

The reality is so far from the teenaged fantasy, you’d need a satellite phone to communicate between them. I get partial points for living abroad but I’m not a diplomat. I’ve never even been to a single charity ball. I do get a few more partial points for owning one cocktail dress and a bridesmaid’s dress that could pass if I ever get off my butt and have the thing cut to tea length.

I’ve made peace with my inner introvert, but there’s still a teenage girl who lives inside me who thinks that adulthood is supposed to be way more glamourous than this. And every once in a while, something crosses my desk that makes this girl come out of her room and start asking for favours.

This morning, it was an invitation to the office Christmas party – black tie optional for men, cocktail dresses for the ladies and….this is the best part, the part that has my teenage alter ego on the phone to all her friends…masquerade ball masks required. Think Eyes Wide Shut but without the orgy or creepy possible human sacrifice.

While my inner teenage girl was searching for the right mask to match my cocktail dress, my actual adult was reminding her that the shoes for that dress are in storage and that we hardly know anyone in the office and that Peter knows no one in the office and that I'm painfully shy and incapable of staying up late on a school night.

I haven’t responded to the email yet, although I am 98% certain that there’s no way I can go to the party. I don’t know how I’m going to break the news to the excited teenager. Maybe by allowing her to indulge in the single purely good thing in an adult’s life – the ability to eat ice cream for dinner.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't Provoke the Girl Traveling Alone

The thing about riding the bus at about the same time every day is that you tend to see the same people. Besides the aforementioned Warsaw Pact, I also see:

  • The Young Lovers – a ridiculously cute couple who always snuggle together and fall asleep.
  • Danny Wallace – OK, so he’s not really Danny Wallace, but he looks a lot like him and he gets on the stop before I get off the bus.
  • Middle Aged Woman Who Wears Inappropriate and Impractical Shoes – no explanation necessary.
  • Sully – probably not his real name, but I suppose it’s possible. He’s some kind of workman, he’s Irish and he inexplicably reminds me of Sully from Sesame Street.
  • El Bandito – a youngish skinny guy who is fond of those insanely baggy trousers that let EVERYONE know he wears boxers, not briefs, nicknamed because ever since the weather got cold, his face has been hidden by a scarf. All you see when he walks toward you is a pair of eyes.

Today’s story is about El Bandito (EB), who gets off at my stop. This morning, EB was standing in front of me on the ground floor of the bus, waiting for our stop. The bus stopped, the woman in front of EB got off and EB just stood there. I gave him 3 seconds – he showed no signs of moving and the driver was starting to release his foot from the brake and close the door.

I pushed past EB and got to the door just before it slammed shut. When I stepped out onto the sidewalk, EB was right behind me. The innocent explanation is that EB simply spaced out, had had a rough night, didn’t get enough caffeine this morning and just didn’t realise it was his stop.

Now, I’m a total commie-pinko-liberal, but I’ve seen too much to believe that people are inherently good. My mind didn’t even consider the innocent explanation. My mind knew the following incontrovertible facts:

  1. It is 7 am.
  2. It is dark.
  3. There are few cars and passersby about.
  4. It’s a block to the nearest shop.
  5. We’ve been getting off at this same stop more days than not for at least the last three weeks.
  6. I can’t see his face.
  7. If I were going to attack someone, facts 1-6 would favour me and getting my quarry out in front of me would complete the set up.

So I stepped to the side to make sure he got out in front of me and I went into hyper-aware mode. He slowed down to try to cross the street. I slowed down as well – watching him and thinking about which object in my pocket would make the best weapon:

  • Keys – no, too difficult to hold.
  • Rock – possibly a good range weapon but impractical close up.
  • Cell phone – sounds funny, but it feels good in my hand, substantial and easy to hold, and the squat antenna could probably gouge an eye out.

The next 30 seconds, until EB got his skinny, box-clad ass across the street, were incredibly tense. Had he so much as asked me the time, I very well might have exercised my W-given right of pre-emptive action. OK, maybe not, but I wasn’t dropping my guard for anything. Even two minutes later, when I bought my coffee, my first thought wasn’t the usual “Mmmmm, nectar of life,” it was “Good, more ammunition.”

A couple of years after I was mugged, I started to have a reoccurring dream in which a guy attacked me and I beat the holy living shit out of him. In the dream, I managed to get the guy down on the ground and I’m pounding his head on the curb – aggressively and repeatedly. The guy is bleeding like crazy, but I can’t stop until I am sure he’s incapacitated.

Peter finds that dream disturbing but I find it oddly comforting. To me, it’s my subconscious saying “Hey, we’re okay. No matter what happens, you can handle it. You have the tools to protect yourself.”

Do I worry about taking it too far? Sure I do and in all honesty, I am more of a flight girl than a fight girl. But if I have to throw a few punches or a cup of hot coffee to get to the flight part, then so be it.

So, guys, please think before you do stupid things around girls who are alone in the dark. Especially you, Mr. El Bandito.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Who Wants to be a Fifty Euro-Aire?

I have a freakishly fine-tuned memory, particularly for conversations. It’s the sort of memory that can remember conversations from 15 years ago, nearly word-for-word. Peter knows all about my freakish memory, which makes me wonder why he still makes sucker bets like this.

We were up in our secret clubhouse this weekend, with the I-Tunes PartyShuffle going as per usual. A dance song came up – “Flowers on the Moon” by Pinocchio.

Peter: I bet you &euro 50 that you can’t tell me the first time I heard this song.

Poor Peter, I knew the answer before the question was even completed.

Me: It was when “Black and White” , the first one came out. It was in a demo for it where the creature danced to the music.

Not only was this something I heard, thus prime fodder for my freakish memory, it involved the visual of a CGI cow busting a move. How could I possibly forget that? How could anyone forget that?

I knew I was triumphant when the “Oh, damn” look passed over Peter’s face. I was especially pleased because I owed him &euro 50 for making my own sucker bet about 2 months ago. (My sucker bet involved primary colours and colour theory, which is a stupid thing to bet on with a photographer. Although in my defense, I do think that my sucker bet was somewhat open to interpretation, which was why I hadn’t paid up yet.)

So now we’re even, at least until next time. It all started with a sketch on Saturday Night Live that poked fun of “Who Wants to Be Millionaire” and “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire” – “Who Wants to be Groped by an Eleven-Thousandaire?” I loved that phrase – “Eleven-Thousandaire” and we started making bets that began with “Who wants to be a five-dollar-aire?” or "I bet you all the money in my pocket..."

The largest amount I ever bet was $1,000 and I was crazy enough to do it twice. Once the answer was General Westmoreland and the other time, the answer was Jello Biafra. Both times, Peter guessed wrong and the $1,000 stayed in my savings account.

Would I have had to pay Peter $1,000 if he knew the answer? Damn right I would have. But this is the plus side of knowing each other so well, we’re usually able to calibrate the wager based on the likelihood of the other person knowing. In fact, I nearly won &euro 200 this weekend except that something held Peter back from making that offer. My freakish memory, probably.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

An Open Letter to My Body

Dear Body:

I feel like we’re having a failure to communicate here. I want to get things out into the open.

I think I treat you pretty damn well, but I feel you are betraying me. I give you regular exercise and I fill you to the brim every day with filtered water and a variety of fresh vegetables. I treat you to the occasional high-quality chocolate treat or a delicious beer or smoky-peat-flavoured whisky. Speaking of smoking, we don’t do it, ever, and we don’t hang out in places with people who do.

We have low blood pressure and we get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. I do all of this for us and I do not understand how you repay us.

First of all, there’s the little matter of weight gain. What the hell is up with that? How do you explain it? Yes, our clothes still fit, but that’s not the point. I know we’ve larded up and you know we’ve larded up, even if it’s not obvious to all and sundry. I know the cold winter is coming and I know we now live in a country with a history of famine, but, you know, central heating and the Celtic Tiger have made those dangers very dim for us. Trust me on this.

Then, there’s the whole wonky knee issue. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but can you please make sure it keeps itself together and gets through camogie season? I promise we’ll see a physical therapist and get it sorted out if you can just last through one more training. Just try to keep the damn thing out of the way of sliotars and hurleys and the gym walls, okay?

Where are you going, Body? I’m not done with you. I’ve saved the worst for last. Now, I know we live with someone’s parents. I know we have a learner’s permit instead of a full driver’s license. I know that we recently spent the night babysitting. But all this does not mean that we are 16 again. So please, for the love of all that is good and holy, do something about the acne! You’re killing me here. We’re a grown-up now – we've already put in our time looking like the Before Girl in the Clearasil ad and it is not the sort of character-building experience that we are looking to repeat.

I do a lot for you, Body, and all I am asking for is a little consideration. I don’t want to have to threaten you, but if things don’t change around here, I imagine your coffee supply might be in danger. I also imagine that we might have to enlist the help of a personal trainer who will make our old trainer, Satan, look like a fluffy, doped-up kitten.

Please consider this your two-week warning. I shall be forced to take more drastic action if things don’t start to change by then.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

What Would a Lazy Blogger Do Without Google?

I saw the following Google Images “game” about a month and a half ago and it struck me as a good thing to do some afternoon when I wanted to make a post but wasn’t sure what to post about. I’ve seen it a couple of time since then, but I’m going to credit the original one that I saw, which was Ian from Australia.

The Ground Rules

  1. Go to Google Images and look for the following:

    • The name of the city where you grew up

    • The name of the city where you live now

    • Your name

    • Your grandmother’s name

    • Your favourite food

    • Your favourite drink

    • Your favourite song

    • Your favourite smell

  2. Pick your favourite picture from each search and let the posting fun begin.

I think it’s much more fun to just give the pictures rather than give the search terms that returned the pictures.

The City Where I Grew Up

I saw this church pretty much every day and spent many a happy hour riding my bike in their nice big asphalt parking lot. It was much nicer than our school’s pot-hole ridden parking lot.

The City Where I live Now

Yeah, it really can look that nice, in good light when it’s not raining.

My Name

Peter hates primitive art, but I kind of like it sometimes. I want to know where the road goes and what’s in the sheds.

Maternal Grandmother

I think my grandmother would have gotten a kick out of this picture. She probably would have loved to meet a robot. She believed in aliens and loved watching The X-Files.

Paternal Grandmother

This isn’t my grandmother, but I could see her in the same situation. She was big into fishing and camping.

Favourite Food

My all-time favourite meal. In a restaurant in Germany, I tried to order one of these for both my started and my main meal because I didn’t like anything else on the menu.

Favourite Drink

Mmmm. Single-malt whisky. We didn’t tour this distillery on our honeymoon, although we did tour Oban and Dalwhinnie.

Favourite Song

I had the most difficult time deciding on my favourite song. I’m not telling you the name, but I will tell you the band is a Dublin band called Guggenheim Grotto.

I picked the Sims photo because I find Sim-abuse really funny. There is probably something very sick and wrong with me, but I can't help it.

Favourite Smell

I’ll give you a hint. My favourite smell is not old-man. Old-man would have to be down near the bottom of the list, along with wet-dog and dead-fish.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Difference Between Being Married for a Long Time and for Not-a-Long-Time

Me: "I was so tired last night, you know, I really did fall asleep at 9."

Mother-in-Law: "Really?"

Me: "Yes. I didn't even get to see Peter at all yesterday."

Mother-in-Law: "That's wonderful!"

I suffer outrageous burst of laughter that results in strong shushing lest I wake the whole house.

Me: "It's wonderful that I didn't get to see Peter yesterday?"

Mother-in-Law: "No, it's wonderful that you were able to get all the sleep. Obviously, you needed it."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Quote of the Week

"The nice thing about stalkers on the Internet is they tend to be in some place like Kuala Lampor, not in Blackrock."
- Peter

Mental Commute

As another of the great philosophers of my father’s generation observed: "Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” When I first started this blog, I expected to chronicle my (mis)advenures in marathon running and my foray into the wilderness of book publishing.

I imagined I’d write a lot about sore knees and black toenails, Gu and Body Glide, PRs and negative splits, glycogen depletion and Max VO2 uptake. I figured I’d spend a good deal of time ranting about rejections, kvetching about the competitive nature of corporate publishing, and musing about the many ways your characters can tell their stories.

Then life happened and I moved half-way around the world to the home of Guinness, hurling, and urban cowboys. I began searching for a full-time job, learning the inner workings of the public transport system, and spelling colour with a "u". I find now that a possibly unhealthy number of my posts revolve around Dublin Bus and camogie. So, sorry if you’re sick of hearing about busses, hurleys, and sliotars, because today I’ve been thinking about my morning commute.

Waiting for my doctor’s appointment last week, I was reading a three year-old issue of Reader’s Digest (apparently, reading selection is the same no matter where in the world you doctor is) that had a section of work and life tips. One story was about how to mitigate the stress of working from home (that I could have such problems!) and it recommended commuting to your home office, even if it was just to walk your dog around the block. The idea is to get into the work mindset and to separate your work and home lives.

I have the most perfect commute in the mornings right now. At 30 minutes, it’s the right amount of time and the twists and turns of the journey allow me to prepare myself for my day.

When I get on the bus, I’m a bit fuzzy around the edges. Not sleepy, exactly, just unfocused. For a good part of the beginning of the trip, I space out. I let thoughts wash through my mind like the tide. I listen to music and just relax.

In Dún Laoghaire town centre, I start to pay attention to my surroundings. The store fronts are all dark and locked, except for one newsagents. Part of the road is cobbled and the ride is bumpy. The bus moves into the residential edges of Monkstown and we pass the apartments that my family rented when they visited for my wedding. Sometimes I remember my wedding day, other times I’m thinking about my current book or a problem I’m having.

We turn off the Monkstown Road and then take a right turn to sneak up on the village of Blackrock. We pass the house I’d love to buy, an end terrace with a great side yard. After passing through the middle of Blackrock, we take another right back onto the main road. From this point, it’s straight on into the city centre.

This is the mid-point of my journey and the start of my mental commute. This is where I accept the inevitably that I will arrive at work soon and will need to put in a full day.

My next landmark is the Elmpark development, where they are building some ridiculous tower block with allegedly fantastically appointed luxury apartments. It’s near a stretch where I can see Dublin Bay and it makes me think about trading the luxury of a backyard for sea views. (For me, the backyard wins every time.)

Elmpark reminds me that I’m about to trade my free time for paid time. I switch from music to news. I sit up straighter. I pay attention. I think about what I’m going to try to accomplish during my workday. St. Vincent’s Hospital, the Merrion Centre, and St. Michael’s College slide past the window.

When I see Bewley’s Hotel, I heave my butt out of the seat and make my way over to the staircase. Every morning, I think “Please, please, please, do not let me break my neck.”

Back on the terra firma of the ground floor, I look for my stop and ring the bell. I leave the bus with a cheery “thanks very much” to the driver. It’s about a two minute walk to my workplace. When I get to my building, my body is nearly at work but my mind is already at my computer, working on my To Do list.

When I get my desk, I’m ready to work and I don’t feel like I’ve wasted any time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Danger, Will Robinson, Approaching Social Interaction Limit!

In my wild and crazy college days, I made a concerted effort to change my personality. Nerdy little introvert – out. Wacky extrovert – in. It wasn’t the most successful project and when I got to law school, nerdy little introvert moved back in, set up shop and has not taken so much as a vacation ever since.

I’ve come to accept my introversion. Society would have you believe that if you are not a social butterfly with thousands of adoring fans – I mean friends – then you have either a desperate character flaw (shame on you) or an unfortunate mental disorder (shame on your brain chemistry – have some Paxil). But I’m pretty happy with my current life and introverted arrangement.

I have a seriously wonderful husband and a sometimes exasperating but always loving family (of both the blood and law varieties). I have a handful of close confidantes, a good-sized circle of acquaintances, and a camogie team. I have a rich imagination and a hobby that requires loads of thought and solitude. The only person I can spend all my time with is Peter and that’s only because after ten years, we’ve perfected the art of being alone while being together.

Taking this contract job has made me realise that I have a set number of social interactions in me. If I have to talk to a lot of people at work, my need to be alone when I get home is a physical ache, every bit as nagging and important as hunger or thirst. I would gnaw my own arm off for a few hours of blissful seclusion.

In the morning, I am particularly bad, although not because I’m against mornings or consciousness or waking up, but because I want to set the right tone for the day, conserve my interactions for later and use the height of my brainpower on things that are important to me. I’m a selfish morning person – I want that to be my time. If I had an Invisibility Cloak like Harry Pottery, I would use it to ensure that my two cups of coffee and morning reading/writing always went without interruption.

I wish I had a meter on my forehead to let people know when I am getting close to my limit. Like the one on my Hotmail inbox. (Speaking of which, email counts as social interaction for me, so that’s why no one’s heard from me for nearly a month. If I owe you one, now you know why.) If I had a meter, then when Peter gets frustrated because he has to go to another social function on his own, I would have physical proof that I really couldn’t attend. Sorry, honey, I’m at my social interaction limit. You don’t want me to have a meltdown at the canapé table, do you?

I’ve fallen into wearing my headphones nearly all of the time. Peter says I’m in danger of turning into a kid from an 80s sitcom, the sort who is always bopping along to his own soundtrack. I don’t think I’m quite that bad – I try to maintain at least partial awareness of my surroundings. I’m just comfortable with the illusions of separateness and disconnection that the headphones provide.

I don’t hate people. I enjoy intelligent conversations and without some of my friends, I don’t know how I would have gotten through certain parts of my life. It’s just that I need time by myself. As we say in the software industry, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Seven Things I Wish I’d Thought of First

(In no particular order)

Harry Potter. 250 million books sold, a personal fortune that exceeds Queen Elizabeth, a series of hit movies – but all that is just the icing on the cake. The real achievement is the creation of a series of books that presents human, fully developed characters who grow and mature along with the writing.

Insurance. You pay me money, which I invest for my own person gain. If something bad happens, I agree to pay for your damages. Except that when the bad thing happens, I conveniently find some bogus excuse or lame technicality to avoid paying your damages or to weasel my way into only paying part of them. Genius, pure and simple.

Boy Bands. A crime against music, but who cares if it enables you to retire before age 35? Plus, I really enjoy reading about teenage girl frenzies.

The Alphabet. I would have patented the crap out of it and everyone would owe me zillions in royalties and license fees. I’d be so rich, I could have entire house of coins to swim around in, just like my hero, Scrooge McDuck.

Pop Rocks. Crackly, sweet and wholly devoid of nutritional value. Just make sure you use them for Good and not Evil. Yes, Ms. Fori, I am talking to you.

Mellon collie and the Infinite Sadness. Quite possibly the best title of all time.

900 Numbers. Nearly as big a scam as insurance, except that at least a 900 number provides a valuable service, like your horoscope or phone sex.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dude, Where's My Bus Stop?

This morning, I awoke to the upsetting discovery was that the Internet was broken. Yes, the whole damn Internet was banjaxed. I know this because I carried out extensive diagnostic tests (namely attempting to open a variety of sites on the browsers of two separate computers) and then performed the single act of Internet healing that I have in my arsenal – I rebooted the cable modem.

All this, resulted in a big fat nothing. The magic I-Mac couldn’t find Google. My nifty laptop couldn’t find Google. Ergo, the Internet was, in fact, well and truly broken.

Peter is the only one in our house with sufficient Black Magic skills to fix the Internet and he was sleeping. I weighed my marriage against my email/blog addiction and the marriage won. I’m not going to tell you the margin (I don’t want anyone getting complacent or, on the flip side, unduly worried.)

A thing like a broken Internet could wreck my whole morning, but it ended up okay. My second novel is deliciously close to completion and I used the extra time to proofread and make minor adjustments. Breakfast, coffee and proofing were all had and I was still on schedule.

I left the house at the usual time and walked the 100 feet or so to the bus stop across the street, where two Eastern European guys were having a discussion that involved a lot of whispering, gesturing, and looking around. My paranoia instantly kicked in and I was sure they were going to kidnap me to sell me to a Russian drug lord. As I was frantically plotting my escape should the worst happen, an Irish guy in a high visibility vest arrived and his presence put me at ease.

Shortly after my hero arrived, a third Eastern European guy showed up and the whisper/gesture/looking around thing started anew. It only lasted about a minute, then the guys walked off together up the road. Strange, yes, but who ever said that people made sense? Maybe they didn’t like yer man’s “Arrive Alive” vest. Maybe they thought the pickings for lone scared girls would be better down the road. Maybe they were just using the bus stop as a meeting point.

Whatever, their leaving left prime real estate next to the bus stop open, so I moved up closer to the actual bus stop. I should stop and explain bus stops in Dublin. They basically come in three varieties:

· Deluxe bus stop – has a shelter of some sort, usually plastered with advertising, but doesn’t have seats because, you know, homeless people might sleep on them. Instead, the best you can hope for is a rail to lean your ass against. Usually also includes a standard bus stop pole with a schedule.

· Standard bus stop – a blue pole with a yellow circle on the top. The circle lists the numbers for the busses that stop there. The schedule is printed on a cylindrical tube that’s at eye level and you can spin it around to find your bus number’s schedule. Although it’s not really a schedule. For a Dublin bus, it’s more like recommended arrival times.

· Abandon All Hope bus stop – just the blue pole, maybe with a yellow circle, if you’re lucky. You find these on deserted rural roads and I think they’re actually traps to cull the gullible people out of the population. I don’t believe that busses ever actually stop at them. If busses actually stopped at these stops, they’d display a schedule, right?

Our bus stop was the standard variety. So, this morning, when the Warsaw Pact moved off, I went to stand closer to the pole. But…the bus stop was gone!

"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and suddenly silenced."

Or at least one voice – mine. Where was the bus stop? How does an entire bus stop disappear overnight? I was truly flummoxed by the missing stop. Mr. High Visibility Vests appeared unconcerned though.

I looked a bit closer and I’m pretty sure that I could see some concrete or spackle in the hole where the bus stop pole used to be. I couldn’t see any sign that the stop used to be there. No chunks of bus stop, no flakes of blue paint, no stump of a pole. There also wasn’t a sign or memo informing the loyal Dublin bus customers of the fate of the Rochestown Avenue bus stop.

When the bus rounded the corner, I put my arm out to flag the bus, the way I do every morning. After I paid, I asked the driver if that was still a bus stop. He had a wonderfully thick Cork accent and spoke like a man who shot caffeine directly into his veins:

Him: Yesyessoitsoitis. Tha’sstillabusstopsoitis. Yeapwhathappensissometimesthestopsgetstolen, but what’lldoiswhenIgetbacktothegarage,I’lltellthemthat’saftergettingstolen,soIwill.

Translation: Yes. Sometimes the signs get stolen though so I’ll let them know at the depot.

Him: We’llstillstopferyeocourse weknowwhereallthestopsare

Translation: We’ll still stop if you stick your arm out.

At this point, he took his hand off the steering wheel and indicated how to wave down a bus in a vigorous fashion. I was a shade concerned as I like my bus drivers to keep both hands on the wheel, especially the ones who are hopped up on caffeine. Oh, and it goes without saying, I like them to keep their eyes on the road.

I made the decision to thank him politely and swiftly before he crashed the bus on my account. As I was walking to the stairs, I heard him shout something back to me that sounded like “Ah look, here it is.”

I looked out the window and saw a shiny new stop, about 500 feet from the old stop. Standing at the stop were the Warsaw Pact. So, apparently, the bus company moved the stop, but didn’t bother to inform the drivers or the riders, which of course, for an Irish semi-state agency, makes perfect sense.

The reaction of my fellow bus stop users was very interesting. The Eastern European guys obviously wanted to stand at the official bus stop. The Irish guy didn’t care – he’s probably seen thousands of bus stops come and go in his time. I wasn’t worried about the bus not stopping, I was just confused.

I guess tomorrow I’ll go to the new bus stop, although I’m curious how long passengers and drivers can keep the old stop in operation.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Cosmic Dope Slap

Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day in a mood that you could only describe as mopey. Severely, irrevocably, and annoyingly mopey.

My knee decided to impersonate the joint of a 90 year old, which limited my running abilities. The weekend had zoomed past, leaving me staring at the formal Sunday dinner with a mixture of exasperation and “don’t wanna go to school blues”. I’d just wrapped up the ending of my second novel, which should have elated me but instead had left me feeling empty, unworthy, and apathetic about knocking out the dreaded query letter.

I sound like a right whiny bitch, don’t I? You could only imagine how I was acting. That Peter, recently returned and exhausted after a week photographing deepest, darkest Cork, didn’t drown me in a roadside puddle is a testament to his unconditional love.

I moped through a visit to our friends’ house in the afternoon, a quick grocery shopping trip, and the aforementioned Sunday dinner. Peter suggested a trip to the local video store, so I went along for the walk., but the shop had nothing that really interested us. When we got home, Peter had to pull our car into the driveway.

He got into the driver’s seat and, just for funsies, I decided to get into the back seat behind him. Climbing into the back seat, I whacked the side of my face against the top of the door frame. It was a one in a million shot – a combination of how I was bending my body into the car and some fractional movement of the car door. As I rubbed my throbbing cheek, I saw this for what it was – a giant dope slap. A cosmic “I’ll give you something to cry about”.

Even though my face smarted and my eyes were tearing up, I had to laugh. Perversely, it was exactly what I needed. I left my mopey face in the back seat and spent the evening happily working away on my newest project - Subjective Voice. In the words of a philosopher from my father’s generation:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You just might find, you get what you need.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How to Make an Auld Fella in Cork Smile

This past weekend, Peter and I went on a trip to deepest, darkest Cork. The original plan involved a week’s holiday in a rented cottage in the western part of the county. The scenery in that part of the world ranges from interesting to spectacular and since Peter’s been working on augmenting his Irish photography portfolio, it seemed like the perfect working vacation location.

I sort of messed up the original plan when I accepted my contract position, but since Halloween is a public holiday here, I was able to accompany Peter on a long weekend. He’s still out there, snapping away in the wilds of western Cork. Last I heard from him, he’d shot about 15 rolls of film, gotten soaked to the bone on three separate occasions and discovered some beautiful locations. You’ll hear more details about the trip on Travels with Grandma, when I have pictures to accompany the report.

I booked a train ticket to get from Cork to Dublin on Halloween. I was traveling fairly lightly – just a regular backpack and my hurley. You might find this hard to believe, but my hurley is the secret to happy photography outings. Peter takes his photographs and I run around like a mad thing, whacking a sliotar around wherever we happen to be. I stay out of the shot, far enough way not to damage anything and close enough for him to call me over if he needs help.

It’s much better for me than sitting in the car or reading or laying around on the grass. I enjoy physical activity and I need a lot of practice to become competent at my new sport. Peter practices his craft, I practice my sport and we both go home happy.

On Monday, Peter left me in Cork about 2 hours before my train was due to leave, so I walked around for a while to pass the time. During my wanderings, I learned an interesting thing about old men in Cork – they love to see a girl with a hurley.

I got smiles and “hellos” from much of the male over-70 crowd. One guy sidled up to me and asked “Yer not going to beat me up with that are ye?” I laughed and told him “Absolutely not. You’re not wearing a helmet.” I had a couple of other auld fellas make similar jokes. Apparently, the charms of the hurley are not limited to Cork or to old guys. I had a nice chat with the cab driver in Dublin, all of it started after he asked me if I played camogie.

It’s not a great time to be an American in Europe. Eleven years ago, I had a wonderfully warm reception in Ireland – I never bought a drink the whole time I was here. I could walk into a bar and have cheerful conversations within a few minutes. When people heard my accent, it made them want to talk to me. It was easy and I’ve wondered if part of it was just that I was at a different stage in my life – I was a young, single woman traveling alone.

Ireland has changed a lot in eleven years. Cheap airfares mean that the country is inundated with tourists, not all of them very respectful or polite. Cheap airfares and the buoyant Irish economy also mean that the Irish get to travel more and are less interested in finding out what America is like from an American because they’ve already been there.

America has also changed a lot in eleven years. The go-it-alone-cowboy foreign policy of George Bush does not play well in Ireland at all. He’s seen as a dangerous fool at best and a hell-bent-on-destruction crusader at worst. I didn’t vote for Bush, but that doesn’t really matter. The majority of the people in the United States re-elected Bush so every American is guilty by association.

Assimilating into a new culture is a difficult thing to do, particularly when your country of origin is an object of ridicule, resentment and suspicion. When I started playing camogie, I was looking for an outlet for my energy and frustrations. I was hoping to make some friends and learn some new skills. I wanted to get fitter and faster. I never imagined that camogie and my hurley would improve my cultural acceptance. I guess that’s my bonus free in.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Halloween has always been one of my most enjoyable holidays. Right up there with Christmas and my birthday. Dressing up in a silly costume, carving pumpkins and collecting candy – what more could a kid want?

I lapped it all up as a kid, distanced myself as a self-conscious teenager, embraced it as a drinking opportunity as a college student and then finally re-embraced the holiday in my late 20s.

In Chicago (and later in Wheaton) we developed a beloved Halloween tradition. (At least I loved it. Peter liked it or tolerated it, depending on his mood at the time.) The centrepiece of Halloween at our house was a trip to a pumpkin farm about 40 miles outside Chicago. A long way to drive, but not so bad when you consider the perks:

  • The opportunity to pick your own pumpkins off the vines, out in the fields, not from a stack on the lawn or in a bin.
  • A café that served warm apple cider and the stupidly good apple doughnuts.
  • A tractor-drawn hay ride.
  • A petting farm.

I marked Pumpkin Day on my personal calendar every year and longed for the lazy Sunday afternoon that we spent in search of the perfect pumpkin. I also enjoyed the evenings we spent carving the pumpkins, using stencil kits mostly although I always carved at least one “off plan” pumpkin. Peter’s pumpkin always looked awesome and mine always looked like it had been done by a young child with a drinking problem.

Halloween in Ireland was a bit of a disappointment. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s a public holiday, so I didn’t have to go to work. I have complained so bitterly about the pumpkin selection that I am surprised Peter has not placed a sticker for Honey Hill Orchards on my forehead and taken me to the post office to ship me back to my spiritual home. The pumpkins here are disappointingly small. Last year, my pumpkin from Honey Hill weighed a little over 40 pounds. In Ireland, I would probably have to buy 3 pumpkins to make that weight. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen (a dwindling number, I assure you) that next year I am going to get a set-up that would make a pot head weep and grow my own damn pumpkins, nourishing them with top-of-the-line fertilizer and enormous grow-lights.

Kids dressing up for trick or treating happens, but it is localised to neighbourhoods that have kids and ours doesn’t. I saw 2 kids dressed for Halloween – a little pink fairy princess (and fairy as in with wings not as in fairy tale) and what could only be described as an Irish dancing witch.

In Ireland, Halloween is just an excuse to set off fireworks. And apparently, you have to practice a lot to make sure you’re in good form for the big night. The neighborhood kids and rascals have been setting off fireworks for three or four weeks and everyone told me about how much worse it would get on the actual night.

I didn’t believe them, didn’t figure it would be worse than the Fourth of July, but I was wrong. From dark onwards yesterday, I don’t think there was a second that I didn’t hear explosions. I was promised Beirut and Baghdad and it certainly sounds like it. Even with the windows closed, you could still hear the screech, whiz and boom of the fireworks.

I don’t really get homesick, but this weekend was a little rough. I miss having a house. I miss Superdog and Zorro, I miss Honey Hill Orchard. I miss our routines and traditions.

Sure, this is the opportunity to make new traditions I’ve shown that I’m nothing but willing to jump into the unknown with both feet. But, before I jump, I like to take a second and stick a toe in the water and think about how things used to be.