Reading Around and About Ireland

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in March 2013.

Good reads. 🙂 Notice that foreword … by Dermot Healy!

I took a vacation in Ireland last year, accompanied by my sister, her daughter, and my good friend Margaret. Margaret and I are both book lovers, so as you might guess, more than a few volumes were purchased (and more than a few nerves were atwitter as we considered the weight limit for our luggage). We even had the experience of purchasing the same obscure book (High Shelves & Long Counters: Stories of Irish Shops by Heike Thiele and Winifred McNulty*) independently of one another, which just goes to show why we are friends.

Now, of course, we’re working our way through our purchases; we’ve both recently finished at least one each.

I searched specifically for Dermot Healy’s novel Long Time, No See on the trip. Roddy Doyle calls Healy “Ireland’s finest living novelist” (he’s also published five volumes of poetry), and that’s no small compliment. I thoroughly enjoyed the book—about a boy at loose ends after graduating from high school—although it’s not what you would call an easy read. It’s unconventional and very much in the spirit of other unconventional Irish writers like Flann O’Brien and, yes, James Joyce. It has a very tight POV, which has stream of consciousness written all over it. There’s lots of dialogue, lots of Irish humor too—and I could hear and see every moment of it.

Here are two reviews—the Guardian’s is by Annie Proulx and the other is from the Miami Herald—for American readers. The cover you’ll see on the American edition is interesting and lovely, like something published in the 1950s, but it seems misleading: the story is set in 2006, smack-dab in the Celtic Tiger years. The cover on my Irish edition has a photo of a skinny Irish boy next to the quintessential stone fence, facing into those strong seaside winds—it’s a perfect representation of the events in the novel. Don’t let that vintage American cover throw you off.

On the opposite end of that literary spectrum are the memoirs of the Blasket Islanders, one of which Margaret purchased when we were at the Blasket Centre on the Dingle Peninsula. Here’s what she had to say about it a few days ago:

I finished reading Twenty Years A-Growing this afternoon, the memoir of Muiris O Súileabháin’s (Maurice O’Sullivan, 1904–1950) youth on the Great Blasket Island, off the Dingle Peninsula and the southwestern coast of Ireland. I sometimes judge a book by whether I am truly sorry to finish it, and if I felt inclined to read portions of it aloud to whoever would listen. It was all that, and though translated from Gaelic, it could nearly be sung, the language is so fine. No doubt life on the island was not all humming bees, dancing to the fiddle, and hauling in fish to fill the curraghs to the gunwales, but we can forgive the author for focusing on what he loved most. Sadly, the island is no longer inhabited. Highly recommended.

That pretty much says everything that needs to be said, no? And remember, these Blasket memoirs have been in print since their publication (Twenty Years A-Growing in 1933); that’s a long time and quite a recommendation.

I like to travel, and I believe reading the literature of a country enhances one’s travel experience. Or you can simply do a little armchair traveling. I’ve done a lot of that too (thank you, Frances Mayes). Have you read a book that really gave you a taste of another country? I’d love to hear about it.

* And with a foreword by Dermot Healy!

The Next Step On the Road to Immigration

Oh, and you thought we were done! Nope. Not yet.

When the United States’ xenophobe-in-chief first started jerking around immigrants, I spoke up in my social media network. After all, we’ve been through the first of several steps in the process; I know it’s long and arduous, and that people who are trying to move here to escape war (or simply for a better life) but who aren’t married to a US citizen have even more paperwork and longer waits that we did/do.

But a few people I know gave me the “extreme vetting” speech. These people think that some people—primarily nonwhite people—should be subject to extreme vetting. We already know that the process is taking years even for refugees, the neediest, most endangered type of immigrants. But these people in my social media network had plenty to say about what refugees and other immigrants should be subject to, even though they—nice white people born in this country—have no actual experience with immigration.

So let’s talk about that, shall we?

Just this week we spent an hour with our immigration attorney. We have another appointment set with her on 27 July 2017. In between now and then, I have a long list of documentation I have to pull together for Uncle Sam, documents with both our names on them that show we have and live a life together. Things like:

  • Tax documents (returns, schedules W-9s, etc.) for 2015, 2016
  • Bank statements showing activity in the account, 4–6 each year, each account
  • Credit card activity
  • Health insurance activity
  • Mortgage and property taxes
  • More photos
  • Any travel itineraries (places we went together)

Remember that binder of information I put together in 2014? You may have seen it it at our wedding celebration party last April. That was not A Scrapbook Documenting Fun Times, friends—it was actual documentation for the federal government, and it took me hours and hours of work* to pull it together. It was proof of our relationship, proof that we’d flown back and forth, proof that we communicated with each other on email, proof that we owned a home together, proof that we had married legally. Proof … i.e., vetting.

Now I have to do another one.

We’ll have to pay $680 to file all this information. And we’ll have to pay our attorney even more. (She is worth it.)** We’ll have to have yet another interview. (Currently that interview happens in Memphis. We’re told that perhaps they are going to open an office in Nashville sometimes next year. But you’ve had a good look at this current government by now; do you think it’s capable of sticking to a timeline? I don’t.) We’ll have to pay more money to keep the process moving, step by step by step. (Remember? And this?)

It will take at least a year to convert Gerry’s temporary Permanent Residency Card (you probably call it a green card) to a permanent Permanent Residency Card. We can’t even file for it (that’s the $680) until we’re ninety days from its expiration (expiration date is 24 October 2017), but the process—which used to take about ninety days—now takes at least a year, sometimes longer.

Um … so … “Don’t worry,” our attorney says, “once you’re in the system [i.e., once our case has been accepted, assigned a number, and entered into the computer], they’ll extend your temporary green card. They’ll send you a letter. You’ll travel with the temp green card and the letter.”

Here’s another interesting wrinkle: having entered the country legally, Gerry can actually apply for citizenship after he’s been here three years. In other words, he will probably be eligible to begin the citizenship process before he has a finalized green card. That’s not how it’s supposed to work but it’s a nice little world-gone-mad irony. Or something.

(Citizenship application brings its own set of costs and fees, of course. But we have to start the process for the permanent Permanent Residency Card simply so that he stays “legal” during this time of process limbo. For those of you who like to use the word illegals to refer to noncitizens, does this give you an alternate way of thinking about the vagaries of legal and illegal? Gosh, I hope so. You could really use some empathy lessons.)

This was good times, a small slice of a larger photograph. It was a gathering at our home of people who were in town for a professional conference, people I work with. That photograph—the larger one with all the people—will be in the new ICE scrapbook.

Again, Gerry and I speak the language, we are together (many immigrants aren’t actually living with their loved ones here), and we have the resources to hire legal help. (“Everything from this point on,” she tells us, “has to be litigated.” In court.) And I am white and my husband is Irish. Imagine the vetting that goes on for brown-skinned folks from non-English-speaking countries. So don’t bring your extreme vetting talk to me, because you have no idea what you’re talking about—and I’ve heard as much of it as I want to hear anyway.

* Some of which was lost when my computer hard drive crashed … which also was not fun times.

** Remember this? Remember the initial Muslim ban, and the hundreds of immigration attorneys that fanned out across the country and camped out in international airports to help stranded immigrants? It’s the International Refugee Assistance Project, and our attorney is one of them, for which we admire her even more.

Strawberry Therapy

A while back I (stupidly, stupidly, stupidly!) got into a heated Facebook discussion with a relative of two good friends. This was a the-current-state-of-healthcare discussion, and this person was lecturing one of my friends—the dear-to-me daughter of a dear friend—in a way that just (as we say here in the South) made me lose my religion.

It wasn’t opinion, what this person was spouting; it was factually incorrect.

And even when I pointed that out,* it didn’t stop her.

I quickly (and privately) said “I’m sorry” to my friends. Then I got up from the computer and went downstairs to engage in strawberry therapy (i.e., I had a gallon of strawberries that needed to be cleaned and sliced) because I was so utterly angry.

Strawberry therapy.

And as I stood there in the kitchen, slicing, slicing, slicing, but embarrassed, too, I thought that sometimes it’s difficult for the person who “owns” the Facebook page where the discussion is happening to speak up. Especially to a relative. So as I calmed down, I decided I was glad I’d said my piece. I was able to go to bed, even, and sleep instead of fretting.

The next morning both of my friends contacted me and thanked me for correcting the person who had been mouthing off.

Trust me when I say I could have written quite a screed. I have strong opinions, but I am trying to behave like the sixtysomething woman I am physically, as opposed to the impassioned twenty-five-year-old I still am inside. But I am still her. I am still that woman.

* I knew better, of course. I’ve read about confirmation bias, which points out that “when your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

May the Blessing of the Rain Be on You

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in September 2012.

Before I visited Ireland the first time, I had the impression (as many do) it rains a lot there. (I packed a raincoat.) Here’s what the Irish Meteorological Service says: “In fact, two out of three hourly observations will not report any measurable rainfall.”

That sounds good. But consider this: “The average number of wet days (days with more than 1mm [3/100 inch] of rain) ranges from about 150 days a year along the east and south-east coasts, to about 225 days a year in parts of the west.” Well. That threshold for what constitutes a wet day is pretty low. And if you do the math, you’ll see 41 percent of the days in the east are wet while it’s wet 61 percent in the west.

So it’s no wonder, then, the Irish have a lot of slang for rain.

My favorite is soft, as in a soft day, which is characterized by a soft rain, which is actually more like mist. (Hence the soft.) A soft day is cloudy and sometimes the wet is a little more drizzle than mist. You might hear a day described as a grand soft day, which is, as best I can tell, no actual rain, just an elevated humidity.

Here are some other wet-weather words (and here’s a chart to help you decipher their relation to size and number of drops):

• Misht: mist with a country accent
• Drizzle: a little heaver than a soft rain, not quite a light rain
• Mizzle: very fine drops, but definitely raining
• Mildering: a light rain, regional version
• Light rain: looks soft, but don’t be fooled; it’ll ruin your hairdo
• Drop of rain: not enough to worry about, but take an umbrella
• Shower: enough rain to know you’ve been rained on
• Sun shower: raining while it’s sunny; watch for rainbows
• Wet rain: yes, they’re teasing you
• Pissing rain: hard vertical rain (not as much wind as lashing rain); an annoyance
• Lashing rain: diagonal, hard rain (due to wind)
• Driving rain: too much wind involved; stay inside or you’ll get soaked
• Heavy rain: you’ll want rain gear
• Teeming rain: heavy rain
• Raining cats and dogs: a heavy rain; careful, you might walk into a poodle
• Spate: a sudden, strong rain, out of nowhere
• Heavens opened: a spate of rain
• Downpour: a heavy rain
• Bucketing rain: you’re instantly soaked, like someone threw a bucket of water at you
• Sheets of rain: like buckets only steadier; walls of rain coming down
• Torrential rain: unrelenting; seriously, stay home
• Almost biblical: can’t get much worse

The real test, though, is the Gaelic. I found this list here, which post is also somewhat amusing for the dueling linguists:

• biadh an tsic (“food for rain”): rain in frosty weather
• brádán báistí: light rain
• braon: the dripping of the rain
• cith agus dealán: sunshine with showers
• ceóbhrán: light drizzle, mist
• durach mor: a big shower
• focíth fearthainne: occasional rain showers
• frás: shower
• fuarbháisteach earraigh: a cold spring downpour
• lá frasaidheacht: a showery day
• greadadh báistí: heavy (pelting) (driving) rain
• plimp fearthainne: a sudden downpour of rain
• síorbháisteach: a continuous downpouring of rain
• scáth báistí (“rain shield”): umbrella
• smurán: a shower
• stoirm ceatha: breeze before a shower
• stoirm shíobhta bháistí: a driving rainstorm
• taom fearthainne: a bucketing down of rain

You’re on your own for pronunciation, so if I were you’d I’d stick to the English. 🙂 And pack a light raincoat. You may need it!

I Am Still Speechless, But—

“Video of Police Killing of Philando Castile Is Publicly Released”
New York Times, 20 June 2017

Last week the video made from the dash cam of the cruiser belonging to the police officer who killed Philando Castile was made public by Minnesota state investigators. I’ve seen the video shot by Diamond Reynolds. I am deeply troubled by the acquittal. I don’t even know where to start.

Thank goodness Kimberly Hammers, a smart and thoughtful friend of a friend of mine, did know where to start. I have her permission to to reproduce her comments.

If this is not one of the most troubling things you have ever seen, try to remember a few things:

  1. This was a man with no violent criminal history.
  2. This was a man who was loved by his community, and reportedly took the time to remember the names of all 500 children he served in an elementary school cafeteria, and their food allergies.
  3. He was described as an ideal employee and role model for others.

While all of that is the more personal side of this travesty, and the one that I find myself responding to the most, here’s food for thought for all of the Second Amendment fans out there (and I’m friends with a bunch of you; I know because any time I mention stricter gun control laws I hear from you):

  1. This was man who was exercising his Second Amendment rights, with a legally bought weapon that he had a license to carry.
  2. This man had already complied with police officers by pulling over in a timely manner and providing his proof of insurance. He had been told to reach for his wallet, which contained his license and proof of registration.
  3. This man did exactly what he was supposed to do, which was inform the officer in a calm, clear voice “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me.”
  4. This officer was acquitted of all charges this week.

Just Mr. Castile saying those words, “I need to let you know that I do have a firearm on me”—that triggered this officer to grab for his weapon. You can see it clearly on the video. Note that the other officer, who reportedly couldn’t hear what was said, didn’t react until the first officer began shooting—because he didn’t hear that Mr. Castile had a weapon, nor did he see it.*

Also, you can literally hear Mr. Castile, with his dying breath, respond to the officer’s “I told you not to reach for it!” with “I wasn’t reaching for it …” Not to mention (also on video) the officer states, “I didn’t see the gun. He looked like he was reaching for something larger than a wallet.”

If you want to have your Second Amendment rights, fine. I don’t agree with the scope of it all, but fine. But—that is everyone’s right, not just the right of white people. Make no mistake that this man was killed because he was a black man exercising his legal right to carry a firearm. So theoretically you, gun-rights supporters, should be making the most noise right now. Your silence is deafening.

As I write this article, the Washington Post reports that the NRA issued only a halfhearted statement following the shooting last July, and has had no comment whatsoever about the acquittal. Slate’s headline speaks volumes: “Philando Castile Should Be the NRA’s Perfect Cause Célèbre. There’s Just One Problem.” You guessed it: “If Castile had been white instead of black, the NRA would have been rallying behind him and his family since the moment of his death and fundraising off his memory for the rest of time.” (To their credit, and in spite of Ms. Hammers’s—and my—personal experience, some NRA members have spoken out in defense of Philando Castile. Some have even resigned their memberships.)

I’ll be frank: I don’t like guns. I have personal friends who are responsible gun owners, but I believe we need more restrictions, not fewer. My father, though a military veteran, hated firearms. And I see no reason for people to be walking around my small town with a gun on their person. Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is not the Wild West. Take that gun to the shooting range, take it out to the country, but don’t take it to Kroger.

* In fact, the gun was found in Castile’s pocket by paramedics when they were loading him into an ambulance.

“Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead” *

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in March 2012.

Some years ago when I still worked in the corporate world, I was driving home from my job listening to NPR. It was late (yes: I worked late too frequently, even then) and they were running an interview with Nuala O’Faolain. She had just turned sixty, and the interview had to do with the paperback reissue of her first novel, My Dream of You.

Nuala O’Faolain. I lifted this photo from the Irish Independent. 🙂

Her protagonist, Kathleen de Burca, is an older woman who unexpectedly falls in love after having given up on that ever happening. There is much, much more that goes on in this layered and nuanced novel (I loved it), but the radio interviewer headed down that older-love path, as many of Kathleen’s details seemed to echo O’Faolain’s personal life.

In this interview O’Faolain said (I’m paraphrasing) that as she had begun aging, she’d been essentially written off by younger people. They think I’ve given up “all that,” she said (meaning wild, passionate emotional and physical love), but I haven’t. I still long for “the Other.”

At the time, her words struck me right through the heart (I’d been divorced and alone for some time) and there I was, driving down the highway, sobbing like a baby. But this was her gift: as a writer and speaker she is unsentimental, painfully honest, eloquent in that way the Irish are—and sees right to the heart of the matter.

I’d never heard of her before that night (in Ireland she was a household name) but I went to the bookstore the very next day and bought My Dream of You. After that I read Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman and later her second memoir, Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman. I was moved, always, by what this woman had to say.

When I stumbled on the headline above, then, you can imagine my sorrow. I’d felt like I knew her! Less than a month before she died she did a sad but unblinking radio interview about her impending death. It was a sensation in Ireland. (You can read it here or listen to it here. It’s really good for seeing / hearing the rhythm of her Irish way of speaking, if you are interested in that sort of thing, as I am.) “It must look as if I’m an awful divil for publicity altogether,” she said.

Perhaps. But even now, her writing deserves your attention. Have a look. Let me know what you think.

*This headline is nearly a decade old; it’s from a story in the New York Times dated 11 May 2008.

I’m the Person I Always Was—Only Now I Say What I Think Out Loud

Yes. You’ve probably noticed. I’ve been speaking my mind. 🙂

When I got divorced in 1990, I became a very busy single mom working two and three jobs. Life continued apace, and the country had lots of interesting things going on, but I kept my thoughts to myself because I didn’t feel qualified to speak up. I’m a facts gal. I always have been. And if I’m not in possession of the facts, I’d rather be silent than be stupid.

Back in those days some male members of my family had a lot to say about politics—even knowing that I didn’t agree with them*—but I let it roll off because I didn’t feel like I was up on all the facts, so I couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about it. During that time, I prided myself on keeping the peace, and I’ve since prided myself on keeping things light. On the blog I talk about travel and my fortunate life. On Facebook I talked about my kid, my pets, my now-husband, the yard, my work … all the things I love and care about.

And as long as I did that, I was OK.

Oh, I watched all the ugly, partisan memes that twisted the truth (or often lied). I saw lots of them on my brother’s Facebook feed. I watched that angry, mean stuff from Alex Jones, Mark Levin, and Fox News (and so, so many others) posted by people I thought I knew. I heard the disgust in certain voices when the word liberal was spoken or written. It hurt when people I know used the word libtard in my presence. I didn’t like it, but I said nothing. I was “a good girl,” it seems.

But on 25 November 2015 in South Carolina, Donald Trump publicly mocked a disabled man, and I’ve not been able to move past that.

There’s a lot more than that, of course. Trump lies. He’s selfish and greedy. He’s a racist, a xenophobe, and a hater of the worst sort. He’s a science denier. He is a serial sexual assaulter. He’s also not particularly bright, which is something that really bothers me.

I kept silent a little longer. But now I just can’t. Staying silent destroyed my personal serenity and played havoc with my mental and physical health. “I cannot and I will not retract anything,” Martin Luther said at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” That’s where I’m at, y’all. There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

Interestingly, because I’ve spoken up now, because I’ve stepped out of my good-girl role, because I have dared to criticize the man they voted for, some people I know have called me a hater.

To those people I say: clearly you don’t know me at all. I have always had these opinions you don’t like. I’m just talking back now because I have my facts in hand. Oh, I’m a smartass, all right. Sure, I’m angry. And yes, I have a very low tolerance for bullshit (and always have). But I’m no hater. There’s a difference.

*Because I’ve had the same fundamental beliefs about life, and the goodness of it, and the notion that in the end we as humans and as a nation will be judged by how we treat the least among us since I was about ten years old, arguing politics at the dinner table with my daddy, who encouraged me in all things, even my renegade allegiance to the Democratic party.

“Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence. We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.”
Robert F. Kennedy, speech, “On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” in Cleveland, Ohio, 5 April 1968