Thursday, May 28, 2009


Here I am back in Boston as planned, and although my cats were immediately, visibly enthused to set foot on the terra firma of their American home sweet home, I am, on the other hand, very mixed about being here. I had created a life in Dublin.

What does that mean? It means that I'd found an Animal Welfare Clinic with friendly and caring vets for the cats. That I'd found food and a bed and litter box that agreed with them. I made my peace with the all-in-one washer/dryer, meaning I'd figured out how to keep it from ruining our clothes. I'd sussed out the best grocery shopping values, saving countless precious euros at the markets. I'd befriended the library and library card, located the nearest resale shop, a charity for the blind. I discovered favorite foods, walks, restaurants, parks. I knew the train to Howth and Bray, and was familiar with most of the stops in between. I'd made friends, developed my work and writing and photography. I figured out how to be comfortable in uncomfortable furniture. I learned my way around the city, the country, the culture, the kitchen. When passing people on stairways and sidewalks, I no longer moved automatically to the right. I'd adapted so well that I'm confused here now. It's that same confusion I knew during my first days and weeks in Dublin. Left? Right? It is all a jumble, and that part amuses me, actually.

I gifted my family at birthdays, at Christmas, even from that distance. I had built up to sufficient the stores and supplies in our drawers and cupboards. At the charity shop, I'd found pilsner-like flutes for champagne, prosecco, beer. Cordial glasses for the Bailey's, or when we only wanted "a thimbleful" of wine for aperitif or dinner. Nice plain white plates and bowls. At Marks and Spencer, we bought two good mugs for all that tea: I've never drunk so much tea! And we bought one large bowl that turned out everything from hennas to Irish breads and scones to dinner salads. One pot, one skillet, one small and medium saucepan: simple, and I liked that.

Now I am back in my home of 15 years, and even after multiple purges/thinnings down of its contents, there is still WAY TOO MUCH in these cupboards, closets, drawers. Too many mugs, too many bowls, too many skillets. I feel I could drown in this excess of accumulated goods.

Plus I could sense as I was about to leave Dublin that I was on the brink of making not just a life there but a home. First of all, Dublin is a gardener's paradise. Second of all, the flowers that I'd seen on arrival the previous summer were just starting to show themselves, signaling the onset of my favorite time of year. The weather was actually starting to feel summer-like. There was a writer's festival coming up in June, and "Bloomsday" as well. Regular, vigorous walking had done better by my body than my decade and more of daily swimming. I'd found the potted jasmine for the terrasse and was ready to purchase it along with some annuals for the planter boxes.

But here's the real truth of the matter: I'd fallen for Ireland, and happily adopted a European lifestyle. Ireland is not Europe by some Europeans' standards. It's not "continental" enough. But it was European enough for me. Impeccability in dress; decorum on public transit (you never eat on trains because the aromas might annoy another passenger); thick history and heritage in lands, in structures. The flour, potatoes, grains, the dairy, the meats: these foods had rich flavors for a change!

If there was a groove somewhere, I had definitely slipped into it.

What's more, I was just beginning to get clues that my work had a place there. Take the last cabbie who drove me to my flight. He asked what I did, and I told him. About Claritywork, he remarked,

"Oh, we have plenty of people who need some of that," he said, citing the economic "crisis" as the cause of a lot of unrest in marriages.

"We have an expression: when the money's not comin' 'tru the door, loove goes out the window."

Was I missing an opportunity? Why was I leaving exactly?

My mother, my siblings and their families, a hot Boston summer, Cape Cod beaches, my tranquil, spacious, beloved home, the cats' liberation, the bearded iris, the lilac: these were all reasons I was leaving, or so I had said.

And so I am here in Boston now making my house my home again bit by bit. I've hacked back the overgrowth in the gardens, started the car and circled the block with it a few times. I'm finding things, finding new places for things. Removing things.

"I have a whole life back in Boston." I know I said this at least once over there, no doubt to an immigration officer, assuring that I had no designs on Ireland as my permanent home. So here I am in my "whole life" in Boston, and I keep looking at the sky. I'm trying to find some semblance of the Irish skies I fell in love with. The mountains I saw each day in every light, in every weather: I can't even bear to think of them. I had wondered how I would leave them each time a mere glimpse of them stopped my breath. Now I have left them, and I am wondering how.

How could I leave those mountains?

Somehow I left them, though my eyes filled with tears as the plane took off: there across a rare, cloudless sky stretched the entire expanse of the Wicklow range, tearing my heart out. That plane dropped me here where I am beginning a new chapter in my Boston story. I am skeptical about resuming my American life. I am thinking twice about whether or not I really want to register the car. I have continued to enjoy the European way: getting around by foot, bicycle, buses and trains. I am buying for the backpack: food and supplies in small quantities. I am buying in the European style, for the European-sized fridge.

My neighbor talked the other day of wanting to buy a freezer, and the notion was suddenly completely foreign to me. My Dublin kitchen was simple as I've said, and I'd like to keep mine here that way. Why do I have six kinds of mustard?!? No more stockpiling, I say. I have proved that I can live with much less. I know now that I prefer it. So I have a huge task ahead of me: converting the context of my former Boston life to accord with new content. I am convinced I can take that life with me, wherever I am, wherever I go. I'm sure going to try.

But there's no getting around it: the mountains are gone. And the skies too, and along with them their dramatic shows, their rainbows. I'm at a loss as to what to do about this. I feel as though I've fallen out of Paradise. What have I done? Where has it all gone? It's disorienting to say the least to take such a fall, to suffer such a landing: everything all askew as if I bumped my head. Surely before too long, I'll shake this off and regain my bearings, my balance, no? In the meantime, I'll abide this discomfort and call it good. Because it is good. Whether or not it feels so, I know it is good.

It could take awhile to discover all of what Ireland was about for me, to reveal the full extent of what that call was for. Something tells me I've only begun to know...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sweetness of Leaving

It's easy to forget when in the throes of one that endings are beginnings.

My life in Dublin is ending. By next Saturday morning, I will have gathered all my possessions either brought or acquired here, and fly them, along with me and two cats, back to Boston. It's one thing to fall in love with a place while on vacation--even on an extended vacation. But this was no vacation. There was "vacation" along the way, but as a whole, this was a life. I (co-)created a life here in Dublin, befriending Donnybrook and Ringsend, Ballsbridge and Temple Bar--even Howth, Greystones, Wicklow, Westmeath, Killiney, Dalkey and beyond. The westernmost Counties stole my heart, for sure. And although on one hand I preferred the time I spent in the countryside, I have grown a strong and sure affection for "Dublin's Fair City."

Then there is the apartment: the "terrace" the whole length of these floor-to-ceiling windows, the patio plants, the blooming cyclamen, the tea mugs in constant use, the egg cups-turned-candlesticks, the barmbracks and brown soda breads, the EuroSpar "pantry" downstairs, the rainbow hunts, and the countless hurried walks with less time than we needed to get to our film or gallery or meetup. Next Saturday, our life here goes "Poof!" It will exist no longer. Sure, the "candlesticks" and the tea mugs might survive transport, if one or the other of us takes them. But the apartment is already re-rented, the packing has already begun, the plane ticket is long paid for: I am going, and all this will be no more. Dublin's not going anywhere, I know. I can return. But I can never return to this life.

This life was a glorious, sometimes challenging, enlightening, joyful, and temporary life. I have been so busy feeling sad about the ending, I haven't paid a lot of attention to the ultimate source of the sadness: I loved what I am leaving. And it is thanks to that loving, thanks to the exquisite richness of the time, to all the components of that richness--colorful, vibrant fragments in the stained glass panel that is the sum of it all--that I am sad to leave it.

Yet the "Poof" and the awareness of the "Poof" has me cherishing it all with renewed vigor. Only nine days remain. In those nine days, I will enjoy the remaining ducks eggs, I will feast my eyes on the Book of Kells at Trinity. I will pore over Henry Clarke's windows at Hugh Lane and at Bewley's. I will imbibe one more long draught of the Yeats exhibition, buy my book of Wilde's wit and witicisms, and frolic amidst the deer of Phoenix Park. I will savor the last of the Polish confitura, the French picholines and Pomerol. I will kiss my sweet love goodbye, at least for a time. There have been tears and there will be many more. That's the thing about leaving, about endings when they are so final: they are bitter, but also sweet--that's "the sweetness of leaving," I want to call it just now.

Before me is yet a new variation on the canvas of sky that is the view from the apartment. Beneath that ever changing sky--never the same twice--is the "stage" of Wicklow Mountains. Across that stage the gulls are illuminated as they wheel and dip. Across that stage, planets and flying swans, moons, curtains of light and rain, of dawn and dusk have drawn: come and gone. I think I could watch this living drama for decades and never tire of it, constant surprise that it is. But maybe not, because the nature of staying is to stop seeing with the eyes of one who is going.

It's just a trick of thought, though: it is all going; we are all going.

I take photographs not to outwit this force, but often ignoring it, I realize. It shouldn't surprise me, as I walk around Dublin, that the early spring bursts--daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, primrose--I shot a month ago are all gone. Brown dirt patches have replaced those riots of color and fragrance, alight with honeying bees, that once dazzled the senses.

How much of life I live under the illusion of sameness, of steady-as-she-goes! Too often I forget it is all a grace and fleeting. I am grateful to this leaving for restoring me to the preciousness of that fact, grateful to this stage of earth, this canvas of sky for their reminder that change is constant, that there are no second chances.

And if I've said all this a hundred times before then good: it bears repeating. We are leaving everything all the time. In every moment, we begin again. Someday I'll really get this. Someday I'll master the dying that is required to really live.

Monday, May 04, 2009

For All Our Mothers

There are poems and there are poems, and this month's Love hug (and then some) goes to poet Sharon Olds good as capturing the infinitesimal infinity that opens between the beats of a hummingbird's wings: for the definitive poem.

To say I am moved by "To See My Mother" is a gross understatement. Reading it, I experienced all at once a prescient understanding, comfort, compassion, gratitude, admiration and awe to the point of tears. I felt invited into the tabernacle for a rare glimpse of something otherwise too sacred for the common eye.

I know first hand the life passage that is the death of a parent, having witnessed my father's two years ago. But I think (and anticipate) that the death of a mother is the greatest life passage of all--a second and final birth of sorts. Olds' poem confirms this, and in doing so, prepares me well--as if channeling it in advance--for the moment of my own mother's passing. It prepares me to be unprepared and instead to offer myself up to the inevitable cataclysm: to give it my heart to crush and to grace.

To See My Mother

It was like witnessing the earth being formed,
to see my mother die, like seeing
the dry lands be separated
from the oceans, and all the mists bear up
on one side, and all the solids
be borne down, on the other, until
the body was all there, all bronze and
petrified redwood opal, and the soul all
gone. If she hadn't looked so exalted, so
beast-exalted and refreshed and suddenly
hopeful, more than hopeful—beyond
hope, relieved—if she had not been suffering so
much, since I had met her, I do not
know how I would have stood it, without
fighting someone, though no one was there
to fight, death was not there except
as her, my task was to hold her tiny
crown in one cupped hand, and her near
birdbone shoulder. Lakes, clouds,
nests. Winds, stems, tongues.
Embryo, zygote, blastocele, atom,
my mother's dying was like an end
of life on earth, some end of water
and moisture salt and sweet, and vapor,
till only that still, ocher moon
shone, in the room, mouth open, no song.

~Sharon Olds