Category Archives: ireland

County Kerry

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who are we, if we’re not our stories?

The Irish playwright Brendan Behan once noted that while everyone else has a nationality, the Irish have a psychosis. Of course, if you delve deeply enough into any culture, the level of dysfunction reveals itself quite readily, but Irish writers tend to take a no-holds-barred approach to laying open the particular madness to which Irish culture can lay claim. In some ways, it’s refreshing to see a people so matter-of-fact about societal ills and cultural trappings, while so many other people pretend theirs don’t exist.

Last week I had the opportunity to catch a play called The Walworth Farce, by writer Enda Walsh. It’s been performed a few times in the past few years, both in Ireland and the US (and elsewhere), and has always been well-received. The story revolves around a father and his two sons, originally from Cork, who live in a dingy apartment in London (on Walworth Road). As it opens, there’s a bit of confusion as to what is happening, but quickly you realize that the characters are themselves acting out stories, taking on other characters, and possibly re-enacting past events. There’s a bit of hysterical absurdity, a lot of physical slapdashery, and a sense of deeper currents; within this story of a story, there’s possibly yet another story occurring.

So some things are laid out straight – the father is Dinny and he’s nostalgic for the auld country. The elder son, Blake, seems suited to taking on the female roles in the stories they are creating/re-enacting. The younger son, Sean, seems to be the only one to leave the apartment ever, every morning as he goes to Tesco to pick up groceries (which are apparently used as props in the story-within-the-story). As the play opens, this morning, Sean seems to have picked up the wrong bag of groceries, and the next two hours follow the slow devolution of the family as cracks appear in the facade. When Hayley, the checkout clerk at the Tesco, stops by, the rollercoaster continues its freefall into both chaos and tragic and painful truth-telling.

Now take all of this raw potential and channel into one of the finest acting families in Ireland – the Gleesons. Brendan Gleeson plays the father, and his own sons play Blake and Sean. It’s not only so very meta, it’s also a casting coup, and a brilliant decision all around. They are first of all excellent actors,  but it’s discomfiting to watch a character who is violent towards his own children knowing that all of the actors are related. The whole thing is at times more real, and at times more absurd.

As an American, I’m fairly certain I missed a significant amount of the jokes, and the accents were sometimes difficult to follow as well. I’ll take the word of other viewers and critics that the play shines a critical lens on a number of issues current to Irish society – the nostalgia of the Irish abroad, dysfunctional families, money and all the troubles it brings, and many others. But one thing that really stood out for me was the fluidity of both the actors and the script in switching between the comedic and serious/tragic elements (something, I think, is well done in Irish literature). At times, the transition was so smooth that the audience was still laughing before realizing that an act of violence or a harsh comment was not part of the story being acted out, but actually occurring in “real life” for the family. Realizing this makes the production both more engaging and more disturbing.

As an aside, we saw the play on its last night. Proceeds for the show went to St Francis Hospice. We paid more for the tickets, but hospice is one of those causes where I just don’t think you can give enough. So it was an amazing opportunity to both be able to see this play and support an amazing cause.

(note: post title is a line from the play)

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The Walworth Farce

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Brendan Gleeson and his sons Domhnall and Brian performed The Walworth Farce (a play by Enda Walsh) at the Olympia Theatre recently. Beautiful theatre, intense and gripping story, brilliant and engaging acting. Picture is post-show, during announcement of raffle winner. Proceeds from the raffle and tickets that night went to St Francis Hospice.

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facebook free february

For the month of February, an Irish NGO issued a challenge to quit Facebook. Just for the month (though you can go longer if you’d like). The idea behind it is to examine your connection with social media (vs the real world). The hope is that, for the month, a person can reframe their relationship with online and outside, and maybe fill those now-vacant hours with other activities (going for a walk, a show, dinner; learning a new hobby; writing?).

I’m not one of the people who think Facebook (and other forms of social media) is a menace, though I can certainly see how it can be addictive for some, or a replacement for “in person” interaction for others. I can also see how it can create a skewed perspective of the world (a la internet trolldom). Of course, the things we see in others are often the last things we see in ourselves, so I could be fooling myself when I say I think my relationship with social media, although very deep, is healthy. Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, are useful tools for me to stay in touch with friends from around the world. They are also great sources of information – either through links posted, or through status updates/tweets/photos from people “on the ground”, as it were.

Of course, social media’s big drawback in all of this is that you curate your feeds. You only see what you wish to see, and if you don’t wish to see it, you can unfriend, unfollow, block, mute, etc. In some ways, I can see how this can polarize further our societies, and also how it can translate to “real life” in the sense that people can find it so easy to turn away from things they find unpleasant or distasteful. Of course, we do this all the time, turning off the TV or not reading the newspaper, but the difference with social media is the social aspect – it is a conversation with others that is being turned off, not a one-way push of news.

I do think social media can be a means by which “offline” life could be bettered. For example, social media could be a place to learn to skillfully manage conflict such that could be applicable in real life, but unfortunately, it becomes a way to tune out. It also becomes a way to hide behind anonymity or firewalls and not have to take responsibility for, or face the consequences of, hateful or offensive speech. People say things on the internet that they would be unlikely to say to another person’s face. The internet free-for-all, while a great equalizer for free speech, also becomes a breeding ground for hate. I suspect that in coming decades, we will learn to harness the strengths of social media for better in-person interaction, but for now we’re just children with new toys and we’re still trying to figure out the rules.

So, I’m 8 days in now on my own social media experiment. I’ve stayed off Facebook this time, though I’ve been tempted to log on and see what my friends are up to. One thing I realized is that I can use this time away to have some more personal interactions with people, so I’ve started reaching out to people to set up skype calls. Another thing I’ve noticed is that I seem to have a lot more time to watch Netflix and read. For the former, I’ve made a queue of interesting documentaries that I hope to check out in the coming weeks. But on the reading front, I managed to read 2 books since late Jan to now, and I’ve got a whole list in my Nook app to still check out. I also bought a book recently (actual tangible pages to touch!) and I’m excited to read it too.

I do miss talking to friends, and there are a few who I know are going through difficult times and I regret not being there to see how they are doing. I could do it on email, but sometimes the collective approach of the group is more comforting. Of course, this “ban” on Facebook is not absolute, and I could always go back if I wanted to. But for now, I’m exploring the possibility of taking this time for myself, and seeing to some personal needs.

One thing I thought would happen though – I thought I would have more time for writing. I do seem to be getting more work done, so maybe I’ve filled some hours with that, and I am spending more time on Twitter (something that should be addressed too, though Twitter fills a different niche for me). But I haven’t been blogging more, so I think it’s time I turned my attention to that.

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january check-in

January was an up and down month. I had two big projects I needed to finish, and got both of those done, but to the detriment of other things I wanted to do this month (such as working out!). So it’s not been great with the goals, but here’s a check-in:

  • Run 1000 km in 2015: Well, I got in exactly 12 km for January. February is going to be killer.
  • get back to weight lifting (2x a week): Not a single weight.
  • yoga reboot (this one requires further exploration): I went to pilates a few times, but no yoga classes.
  • make some ice cream (with the ice cream maker): Well, it’s kind of cold now. 🙂
  • 2 week Spanish immersion: I will think about this a bit this month, I think.
  • learn something new (or maybe re-learn something from previously?): I’m thinking I’d like to learn how to knit and how to drive stick. I’ll tackle both in February.
  • get a job: I’ve started looking around a bit for this. Will update more in March, I think.
  • write a novel: I have half an idea. I’ve given up Facebook for February, so I hope this means I have more time for writing.
  • knock out the rest of the ones I haven’t seen on the Things Not to Miss Ireland list: Nope
  • accomplish one more activity on my 10-year plan: Learning to drive stick and learning to knit will clear this one out.

So for February, I’m going to focus on yoga, running, and getting back into weight lifting. I’m also going to look into knitting and learning to drive stick, as well as outline my novel idea.

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on writing, motivation, and these cold and dark days

I woke up this morning to some snow on the ground. It’s only on the sidewalk and pavement, so the contrast between the startlingly green grass (it is called the Emerald Isle, you know!) and the bright white powder on deep black asphalt is striking. In a few hours it will be gone of course, but in the meantime, the sky is suitably grey, and it all just looks so cold.

Three days ago I posted that I would try to blog at least once a day. And then I went two days without posting anything. I have an excuse of course – I was trying to meet a deadline, and then we went out for dinner, and drinks (found a cute new pub), and a movie. And then I spent some time with a friend yesterday and you know, the days just get away from you. But in any case, excuses are excuses, and in the end I didn’t do what I said I would do.

So then of course, I’m spending some time this morning making up for it with two posts. I love to write. I do. I have so many thoughts in my head, and most of them aren’t worth the time it takes to put them down, but every so often, there’s that one clear thought that needs to be expressed, but it hasn’t quite crystallized, and I think – write. this. down. Even just in the act of writing, thoughts can become clearer. Ideas can deepen. And maybe even new thoughts and ideas can emerge.

But I never do. Or maybe I put a piece of it on Facebook or Twitter, and then leave it there, like some half-formed thing, thinking I’ll take it up again at some distant point, clean it and polish it, or take it apart piece by piece to examine and perhaps reassemble into something that more closely resembles the seed from which the idea sprung. But mostly, it just dangles there, like that time you wanted to try sprouting lentils, and you put them in water in to soak, but you did something wrong (are you supposed to change the water every so often? refrigerate? add salt?), and they sprouted, but then kind of got stuck between the seed and sprout stages. Cute, and tasty, and it worked well enough, but not quite what you were going for. And ultimately they disappointed, because you just didn’t do what you should have done.

You’d think winter would be a good time for writing. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where the snow comes down regularly and cleanly, I suppose you’d spend more time outside. But when the days get shorter, the nights darker, the sun struggles to break through the clouds, and the wind, oh man, the wind is just cold here. Well, then you find it a bit cozier to be inside, turn on the heating, snuggle into a blanket, make some soup…. and write? Or not.

But it’s 2015 now, so time for new beginnings. Time to re-dedicate ourselves to all those things we meant to do last year, or five years ago, or maybe one day in the future, only the future is now, so this is it, this year I’m going. to. do. that. thing. And I’m going to start today.

Well, tomorrow, anyway. There’s still a small smattering of snow on the ground yet.

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down to the last drop

It’s no big secret that Irish weather is not for the faint of heart. But it’s been particularly hard to deal with the past few weeks, with constant clouds, rain, snow, sleet, hail, and the coldest, most biting wind ever. However, the past few days has brought a dry spell (and mostly sunny skies), which would normally be great news. Except, for reasons I am still trying sort out, the dry spell has coincided with water rationing. Continue reading

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blogging from the emerald isle

I’m blogging again. I’m fairly terrible at this. But when I was in Mongolia, I was mostly consistent about it, so think maybe I can be the same here. Mostly though, I’ve found tremendous value in reading other people’s blogs, and so perhaps one day my accounting of my experiences can be helpful to someone else. First up: a status  update.

On March 11th, I flew to Ireland. A few weeks before that, I left my job (of approximately 10 years) and became an independent consultant (note: if anyone needs a global health writer, hit me up). I’m in Ireland to undertake the process to be with my partner of 3 years, and am having not only the very personal experience of transition, but also the possibly more stressful challenge of navigating the bureaucracy to establish myself as a legal resident.

There is a decent amount of information on the internet, and some very nice people have posted the steps they’ve taken to make this work. I’m hoping to emulate their processes (tailored to fit my circumstances of course) and have the same success.

The goal is a de facto relationship visa. It will give me permission to stay (and work) for a year at a time. It is not an easy process however, and the first step is just figuring out what we need to apply. Stay tuned….

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