Luggage and mutton chops

Man with violin

Yesterday a man got on the train and I smelled him before I saw him. His fly was down and I saw that because I was sitting and he was standing and I really didn’t want to look up to see his face, but I thought that might be better than his open fly. He had dried snot running from his nose in tracks. His hip height, worn suitcase was overstuffed and he took his hand off the extended handle. Almost immediately the suitcase began to topple over and I absolutely did not want to touch it, but the woman across the aisle, white hair perfectly coifed, lipstick picture perfect, reached her hand out and stopped it. I locked eyes with her and hope I showed gratitude in mine—she had more courage than I did. I didn’t know what he’d do if I touched his bag so I was willing to let it fall.  She said, “Excuse me,” so he would turn and see that his bag would tip if she let it go. He didn’t hear and I heard myself more loudly saying, “Sir?  Sir, your bag?” mostly as a way to make it up to the woman who had more courage—and sense than I did.  He heard me and took the handle without a word, turned his head away.

I examined his bag, because, well, there it was. Bulging at its seams, worn away on its vinyl corners, filthy fabric straining under its contents. Sticking out of the front pocket was a Halloween flashlight. I could not think of an item that could be more over the top, more incongruous. Then, I saw that he had a luggage tag on his wrist, like a bracelet. It was not a tag that came with the tattered suitcase. I could tell because it was real leather and the suitcase was cheap. I had to look, even if it meant starting, I had to see the large tab where you would slide in your ID. Eventually, he moved his arm to hold the pole further up and I could spot the ID window, empty.

On the way home the train was crowded. I sat down next to a woman who had kind of let herself spread out a bit, had her head back and was obviously trying to relax. She said excuse me and adjusted herself so she was only using half the seat and I told her I didn’t mind. No sooner did we have this polite exchange than two guys got on the train, talking loud, carrying three or four plastic and canvas grocery bags a piece. The one guy had his hood up and a hat over the hood and he offered the only seat left to his friend. The friend looked like Frankenstein with long hair. I apologize for how rude that might sound, how obnoxious, but if I use those words you will come close to understanding what I mean.

Hood/hat looked to be about 30 and was grossly underweight, so much so that it was almost painful to look at his cadaverous face. I couldn’t help think about his elbows and knees and how sharp they must be. Long haired Frankenstein was at least 6 inches taller and maybe 60 pounds bigger, but Hood/hat ws definitely the alpha male of the two.

I could never begin to replicate for you the conversation these two were having. Well, mostly hood/hat was monologuing but Frankenstein would chime in every now and then, ask a question, like “Who gave you that bag?” pointing at one of the bags hood/hat was hanging onto.

Hood/hat replied, “What one?” even though all of the bags in his hand were plastic bags, from CVS and grocery stores, and Frankenstein clarified, “this one.”

Hood/hat said, “Joe. You know, old Joe. You know old Joe!”  and they shared some stories of old Joe’s shenanigans and his tips for getting away without paying at a toll booth (you throw a penny over the baske, but of course, the guy in the booth can’t tell what kind of coin you’ve thrown.

“They have to wave you through. It’s against the law to make you stop because it’s dangerous. So  just throw a penny,” Hood/hat repeated Old Joe’s advice.

They spoke of a 21-year girl they knew who gets slapped by her man “in front of everybody” with the emphasis on “In front of everybody” like the lack of privacy was the true offense.

What was more interesting than the performance they were putting on for the other riders on the train, is what was happening among us other riders, and that was camaraderie. People were exchanging eye contact and smiles. Some people were talking softly to one another and making comments. The loud, rough men in no way seemed a threat to any of us, they seemed oblivious to us, actually, and this strange exhibition brought the rest of us closer.

I caught the eye of my seat mate—it happened for us like it happened for everyone else—a moment came where you had to acknowledge that all of our attention was captured by the same thing–these two guys who wouldn’t shut up and acted as if they were alone on the train. I just decided to get completely transparent and said to her, “so ok—is this entertainment or an annoyance?”  like we needed to discuss and come to a conclusion.  She started to immediately say “annoyanace” but then stopped herself and started laughing and said, “No, if I’m being honest—it’s entertaining. You just gotta laugh, right? It’s not like they are not bothering anyone.”

I told her about the guy I saw that morning with the suitcase and the Halloween flashlight. We giggle over not even being able to make details like those up. We came to our own philosophical conclusion: rather than be scared of guys like this, or even feeling bad for them, isn’t it better to just consider every day filled with surprises?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Later that day my daughter texted me, “Just witnessed a guy pouring hot sauce on a glove that was on the ground and then having his dog eat it….oh Philly.”  Hot sauce? I needed these questions answered in order.

HM:  Yes, she said he pulled a bottle out of his pocket.

KVM:  The glove was already in the street?

HM:  Most definitely.

KVM:  How did he get the dog to eat it?

HM:  He just led him there, and…the dog ate it.

KVM: …

these fringe people end up being purposed for the same reasons as reality tv “characters?” Simply to make us feel better about our own lives.

This morning I get up to the train platform and this short guy, standing near the edge, wearing a ski vest but looking normal, smiled at me. I smiled back and then focused in on what I was seeing, he had mutton chops, thick full mutton chops. He looked very much like Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.

Right about the time I made these connections, he started hacking and spitting on the cars below.  Like real, methodical, scraping up from the farthest reaches, drawn out coughing it up.

For some reason, I wanted to laugh. In fact, I think I started to snort. I know that I had to turn and walk to the other side of the platform. And then I realized that someone else could see me—the crazy lady who looked (mostly) normal but thought a guy spitting on cars was funny.

 

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Yoga women and Fire men

Yoga practice, tree concept for your design

At the only light in town, I sit stopped in my car and watched. On the right side, firemen worked on a big, shiny red firetruck.

On the left side, women spill out the back door of the yoga studio.

The men wear black uniforms—all I can really see is black, and leather and metal.

The women wear black yoga pants, consistently, but their tops and jackets, their shoes, are turquoise and fuscia and violet.  They are lava lamp colors, and look just as loose and fluid.

I need to pull over, I cannot just drive away from this scene. These women just did yoga, their mission to improve their ability to stretch, flex, balance, which of course, they already do; they are women.

The men’s mission is to do something to this truck, the softest thing about them is the white cloths in their hands, but their hands are so big and they have so much more metal and leather in their way, worn on their own bodies, that I don’t know if they can get at the truck the way they need to.

Many of the women are breaking up into sets of twos and threes, talking to one another, laughing easily and aloud.

The firemen, though singular in their focus, work silently, moving their clothes in concentric circles, silently.

The light turns green and I have to leave them all.

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Use caution when cleaning bookshelves

bookshelves

My house is filled with knotty pine and lots of built-in cabinets and shelves. Along one short wall of the living room, I always wanted even more shelves, for books.

After my husband Don died, I had a lot of reactions, as you can imagine, but as far as the house went, I made changes. I painted one long wall and one short wall of the living room yellow. I got new ceiling lights in the kitchen lights. I bought a palm sander and re-did two doorways. I bought a pole with a claw on the end to reach high things. And I had a graduate student who was in love with me build floor to ceiling shelves along the wall where I always wanted them and we had never gotten around to putting up.

Fast forward ten years. The shelves ended too short, they were not flush with the wall but stopped about 2 ½ feet shy. So, this time, I asked the man I’ve been living with for the past five years to add on to them. And he did, beautifully, in one afternoon.

And then it was left to me to re-organize the shelves, find at least one liquor-sized box to throw away. The reason I’m writing about it was this: I only had those shelves ten years and going through the books was like going through a lifetime.

Don’s books  were still there—fly fishing in the Adirondacks, trout streams on Pennsylvania, Native American Indians of New Jersey, A River Runs Through It. Ten years later I still couldn’t throw them away. Like his wallet, which still sits on the other side of the shelves, the ones that were always there, in the same spot he’d put it every day.

So many books are simply no longer necessary, things no one would ever use for reference, “A Student’s Dictionary;” “Reader’s Digest How-to-do Anything Guide;” “An Alphabetical Guide to Herbs for Good Health.”  It seemed amazing—as charming as boot scrapers at the stairs of old homes, gas lamp fixtures on the walls of our third floor. I could hardly imagine looking up the definition of the spelling of a word in a book, even though I lived most of my life that way.

As I pulled some books down, photos that had been put in-between books fluttered to the floor: my best friend’s baby as she was delivered via C-section; my son at 3 or 4, posing astride his uncle’s Harley; my daughters at age 6 and 8, with their arms around each other and their heads thrown back, laughing.

At times, it was almost too much. I thought I was just cleaning and instead I was revisiting so much of my life…

I ended up giving two liquor boxes worth away, plus another handful, though I don’t know who will want the dictionary. I took a photo of the newborn baby and sent it as a text to my friend, just so should be rocking with memories too. I still couldn’t give away Don’s books; they’re on the new shelves. I put the found photos of my kids in frames, also on the shelves, and resolved to reorganize in another ten years.

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What to do and what not to do when you father swallows gas, plus don’t let your puppy eat your pot

70s_oil

The doctor said there is no getting it up and out, that we have to wait until it went down and out. My Dad, swallowing gasonline when he tried to syphon some from the car to use in our lawn mower. This was during the gas rationing of the 70’s, when it wasn’t unusual to see people standing in the gasline without a car, but with a can, as their car was already long out and couldn’t make it in.  In blue collar Pittsburgh people complained and moaned, but accepted this off new restriction, filling up their cars whether they needed to or no, because —because you just never know.

My father sat in our family room emitting gas burps, us children hanging around—too scared to move far away—what would happen next? We hung on over the arms of the sofas and lay on the floor between his chair and the coffee table, even though we were scared that one of those burps would come out in a blast of fire, like a dragon in one of our books, scorch our brows or even burn our house down; we still huddled around. We knew the word “combustion.” We begged him to put his martini down and drink the milk we had poured for him, its white creaminess our only hope. Surely, milk would help.

He smoked his cigarettes and pooh poohed us. Made fanning motions with his hands—not to dissipate the fumes but to shoo us away. “I got this,” he said, as he took another sip, pierced an olive with bravado, took another drag. “I’ m having your mother light them for me she said.”  And our mother, with a shrug and giggle, fanned us away, too. She sat on the ottoman at his feet with her Manhattan, and said, “I just hope it doesn’t sting too much when he pees” and then laughed and laughed at her own raunch, feigning chagrin. Sometimes bring it back up is worse than letting it work itself out.

Somehow, this memory of sitting vigil around my Dad, waiting for the gas to work its way out of him, however that would look, makes me think about our tiny 14-pound miniature poodle—I’d like to be clear that we didn’t poodilize our poodles, but left them floppy mops of yarny loops. Our puppy, as he would forever be a puppy, went under my older brother’s bed and found a bag of pot, dragging it through the second floor hallway, eating much of its contents, tossing it everywhere.  I don’t remember which of us saw it first, but Frisky was still wrestling with the bag, the scene was obvious and frightening.  Frisky ate the marijuana. The classic dilemma befell us: we didn’t want to get in trouble, or get Jerry into trouble, but we had to tell our parents—we needed their help.

My Dad called the vet before he even spoke to us; we knew that he was our Dad and that he would know what to do. But, the vet told him that there was nothing to be done—Frisky would puke and poop and before that, he would be stoned. The vet said that ultimately, our dog would be fine. We had to wait it out.

Dad came upstairs and went in Jerry’s room; he had to do something, so this was it. As soon as the door was shut we crept out of our rooms and gathered in the hallway, having to listen in to how Dad was possibly going to handle this. “Do you realize the shame you just put us through, Jerry. I had to call the vet and admit that this family had pot in its house. Do you know how that feels?”  I couldn’t see through the door, of course, but I imagine that he had his martini in one hand, his cigarette in the other, just like when he burped gas ethers for hours. Do I put these props in his hands in my head or were they really always there? And Jerry said the same thing, “This will pass. He’s going to be fine.” Dad wanted remorse from him and Jerry wouldn’t give it, confident that the dog would be fine.

Unlike the rest of us, who sniffled in the hallway everytime Frisky raced past us, his eyes not registering, not stopping for his name, his puppy heart revved up, as he traced the blueprints of our home, down the L shaped staircase around the banister into the forma living room, fast shot into the alcove and then a lap around the dining table.  A short burst into the powder room, a longer run in the family room and then boom, back up again, the L shaped steps the L shaped hallway, where we stood, waiting each time to see if he’d look any different , if he’d slow down when he’d hear our coo’s of “Frisky, Frisky. Come here baby, It’s ok baby,” with hands promising unlimited scratches outstretched.

I don’t know how long this went on. Dad trying to pinch regeret from Jerry, Jerry standing firm that this was “no big deal,” the four of us other kids listening to Friskie when we couldn’t see him, his mad romp as he outlined the house parameter of the house again and again.

Finally, in the long part of the L of the 2nd floor he stopped, he convulsed and puked green, right in front of door to the room I shared with my sister. I hit the ground like I was the one puking and Friskie passed out less than an inch from his pile of play-do green puke.

Again we were yelling for Dad before we consulted with each other on what to do. This was not a situation we could manage, too alien and important really, considering Jerry had broken the law and maybe our dog, and Dad sounded sincerely upset about having to tell the vet that there was pot in our house. Dad came out and saw the scene and knew exactly what was happening. He told Jerry to get rags and a bucket and clean up the puke. He assured the rest of us that the doctor had told him that this is what would happened next, that we should be glad that this happened and it was out of his system.  I lie down on the other side of his puke pile and lifted one of Friskie’s eye lids, I needed to make sure the the colored parts were right there and not rolled up in his head, I needed especially to make sure that he was mostly still here.

That’s how we spent the night. I slept half in and half out of my own doorway, face to face with my dog, opening up his eyes lid by lid, looking in and making sure he was still Frisky.

I lie on the floor in the doorway, face to face with my poor dog, and doing my best to avoid the damp spot that Jerry had cleaned up. My cheek getting impressions on the dark green embossed wall-to-wall in the hallway, my torso and legs on the pink and white variegated shag rug of my bedroom. Every time I drifted off, I was afraid I missed something, and I’d pull Frisky’s eyelids up, making sure his eyes weren’t rolled into the back of his head, make sure he looked like he was still with us.

Sometimes bringing it back up is worse. Sometimes you have to just wait for it to pass.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Tips for Parents of College Kids

I am going to work on this more for next year and see if I can send it out somewhere. Relationships between parents and their 18-22 year olds won’t have changed…

Your child is coming home for Thanksgiving, for 3 days or 5 days or a week. You haven’t seen him/her since parent’s weekend in late September, and what with all of your time together being in public—the school’s organized events, the restaurants, the hotel— that visit barely counts.

I’m a college professor, and your son or daughter has spent more time with me than you for the past two months. If I wasn’t also a mother, maybe I wouldn’t see the fear right beside the bravado, fighting for dominance on the freshman’s faces. I saw her on the first day, looking neither to left or right and fixing squarely on me, fussing with her coffee, because she’s allowed coffee in the classroom and so she must have some. I’ve seen your boy start to laugh at something and then catch himself, wonder if he’s blown any kind of cool he’s built up. None of them truly realize they’re all just as scared, no matter what we tell them.

I have watched your child establish certain patterns, the coffee, the route to class, the shelf in the fridge that’s his. But he is nowhere near mastering the best time to do laundry or how to quickly find his ID when he comes back into the building, what pocket he should keep it in. Your freshman is still very fresh.

And now your child is coming home, with everything that home means. You pick her up at the train/bus station/airport and have to drive so that part is ok—you have to look forward so you aren’t able to stare at her, which you’re both afraid you will.  Make yourself count to three when you hug,  or else you will lose track of time; she’ll hear you breathing her in. You chat about facts that need to be covered—who is at home; when others are arriving; the new butternut squash dish you’ve made for Thanksgiving.

But then you get home and your son reaches in the back seat for the duffel of dirty laundry and you notice for the first time something different about his face—an angle, a shadow that wasn’t there before. You are trying not to stare and your kid is out, up the front steps and shouldering the door before you are fully out of the car, you are just watching like this isn’t your driveway anymore. Don’t worry; it is yours, it’s just different.

You get in the house and exhale and see that your college kid has moved straight to the kitchen and you are thrilled—this is something you know how to deal with—how to feed your kid, so you bound into the kitchen, but try to hide your enthusiasm, your joy at doing something you so often resented. Assume the position you hated to find him in, just a few months ago, look casual while you prop the fridge door open on your hip, and stare inside, looking for something, and ask, “Hungry?”

The turkey sandwich is in front of her now, with salsa and mayo and lettuce, like–you forgive yourself for thinking this—like she has not had for 9 weeks. Sandwiches are always better when someone else makes them, and you are still her mother; yours are still the best.

But everything feels different in this November early dark and now you are staring at her. And you know you shouldn’t, that you have to stop, but you cannot help yourself, because look at her! The softness under her chin is gone. You cannot see that blue vein you used to stroke while she nursed. Don’t worry, it is still there, just under the surface.

Your other daughter finally pulls herself away from her room of devices and joins you in the kitchen. When you say, “We’ve been home 20 minutes,” she says, “I know” and holds up the flat face of her phone. You don’t know if they’ve texted or the returning daughter posted something on some form of social media. Know that you have to leave the kitchen very soon. They begin to talk, to say what they can in front of you and you can see so much under this surface talk, waiting to be said, leave the kitchen, like a good mother. Just as much as you are thrilled with the relationship between your daughters you can’t help but sting a little, be a little sore in a band right across your chest, because they don’t both want to share it all with you, only you, interrupting each other, sidling against each other to step just the one millimeter closer to you, to you, to you. Like after-school time when they were at the grade school up the street and came in together bubbling with stories, legs in pastels tangling, pastel papers falling out of their backpacks. They have things to say to only each other now, and as you move up the stairs they are already laughing, a different laugh than grade school, to be sure, but laughing; hold your fist to your heart in both joy and pain and continue up and away from them.

Prepare yourself: by Wednesday night all of the high-school friends are also home, and they pull together like magnets. It’s a good thing—of course you want her to continue these friendships, despite what Delaney’s mother told you about Syd, despite what you believe you can predict about any of their futures. They gather at your house , but it cannot contain them all, whoever they are now, and whatever it is that compels them back out cannot be stopped. They drive around. They text each other from two cars away in the convenience star parking lot—-still posing like they did in high school,  making decisions of import on whose house to converge on (and leave) next. When you hear them go out, know that they will be back. When they come back, hunker deeper in your covers, revel in the fact the kids are in their rooms, your family is breathing the same air. Rest easy.

By 11:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning your college student has not even gotten up to go to the bathroom. You know this because you have been downstairs banging pots and pans around since 8 a.m. Do not make more noise then you need to, but now, at 11:20 a.m. you do not need to try to be quiet. When they were little, the day before Thanksgiving meant watching a movie and ordering pizza, which you always joked about since your fridge was barely able to shut, the counters full. You didn’t let yourself look at the clock when he got in last night, but it was 2:45 a.m.

Keep cooking. You think you’re angry but you’re not. It’s just that you want him there, at the counter, right now. You want him there always. He will be down soon. Yes, somehow your son’s voice is deeper. Somehow he did grow two or three inches in nine weeks. Your daughter’s face is older in a way you can’t explain. She can’t already have wrinkles, can she, but yes, something has changed around her eyes.  You can hug her again when she comes into the kitchen; she’ll allow it if you count to three.

Later, when bottles of cider are being distributed know that no one is fooling anyone and don’t wonder how you will be judged if you hand her one. Have one yourself. Your sister will engage her in a conversation about immigration that she would never get into with you. Your son will drink orange juice out of the carton but take out the trash without being told for the first time in his life. Allow the pride and pain to battle inside you like her fear and courage, every day. You have both been in training for this since the day she was born.

 

 

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Victoria Lodge

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When I first arrived at Victoria Lodge I wanted to cry like a freshman who realizes the full implications of what she’s done, just as her parents pull away.

I still had Mike with me, and I wasn’t going for 4 years but 4 weeks, but my disappointment was huge. When we got a bit of track and then got redirected and Yes, that awful building with scaffolding hanging off of it, in the middle of highway with nothing around it, that was my “faculty apartment on the banks of the River Lee.”

When I entered our apartment, I realized that it was a dorm, at best, though it leaned, deeply, into a psychiatric hospital: particle wood furniture, bare and barren. I was not excited by the possibility that I could brush my teeth and pee at the same time. That has never been a goal.

We made a list of things we could get that might possibly begin to make that place a home for a month. We left and went to the store and I help out hope that somewhere there would some of the charm I had seen all over the country, but to no avail. We were directed to a Twenty-Four Hour Tesco: the Irish equivalent of a Super Walmart. The Tesco had a mini mall attached, complete with a Claire’s and a EuroGeneral (ak.a. Dollar store—they were everywhere).

I felt that all of the quaint corner stores, pubs, independent bookstores, tea houses, I had loved all over the country were never to be be found again. My Ireland experience was over. It took me about a week to realize that the four feet of stagnant water outside my window was in fact the River Lee.

I was so stubbornly optomistic that first night, that even though driving around had shown me that there was no pub , café, or coffee shop in walking distance, I could not believe it to be true. Just on the other side of this next block must be something. But my efforts were to no avail and my optimism was crushed. Later, when I met locals and they asked where I lived, they said things like, “Why would you do that?”

In the entire country, Victoria Lodge is the furthest point between bars and shops.

In time, I never learned to love the location of that place, but I did learn to embrace the small room, small amount of clothes I had with me, the simplicity of a life with less stuff.

After a few weeks, when I’d open the door on my little insane asylum boudoir, I caught myself sighing, “Home.” I felt safe and tucked in that tiny space, everything I owned in that country in a 10 x 14 rectangle, single window open to the stagnant River Lee.

 

 

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Time Travel

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Our first night in Dublin we were so disoriented (we didn’t sleep on the plane the night before) that we didn’t realize that it stayed light until 11:00 p.m.

The next morning we checked the weather on Mike’s phone, while still lying in bed. We saw, “Cloudy a.m./Sun at night,” and laughed our asses off. We immediately had to check Sunset in Dublin and when we saw 10:42 p.m. we felt like we’d hit the jackpot. Which I still do. Every day is two days!

I play tricks with time all the time. I wake up at 8:30 a.m. and think, it’s only 3:30 a.m., I can sleep longer. When I do get up, I think “It’s only 4:30 a.m., I can screw around online before I get to work. And when I do get up and start answering work-from-home emails, I feel like I’m still getting a jump on the day.

All day long I remind myself of what time it is at home, so at 7:00 p.m. here I can have another beer because it’s only 2:00 p.m. at home, which means I can have another drink, something to eat, and STILL get home before it’s the end of the American workday.

We have been having two readings a week, and when they’re over around 8:30 p.m or 9:00 p.m., everyone is in the same head space of saying, “Sure, let’s stop on the half hour walk home and have a drink” because it’s still so very light outside, it feels like it’s 6:00 p.m.

I’m going to miss these double days the most, I think. For a person with my energy levels, (and work load) it’s a terrific way to live.

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Is this thing on?

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I did a synchronous session with my Drexel class directly after my class in Cork. Here’s the main thing I learned—I rely on my “audience,” so much. The thing I hadn’t thought about at all was that I wasn’t going to get affirming head nods and eye contact and smiles. I got a huge vacuum of silence, and it was the funniest to me when I made a joke—no one laughed! But they could’ve been laughing, for sure, alone in their own rooms or coffee shops or wherever they had decided to log in. No one was going to hit their “talk” button just so I’d hear them laugh or nod or even say, “Ok.” But here’s the best part: that didn’t stop me from pausing and waiting for it…

Also interesting to see how many of them didn’t turn on their video—let’s see—that would be–practically all of them. So I decided my only recourse was to turn mine off and on, off and on. That part is actually very hard, too, to watch yourself talk even though it’s a little window in the corner of the screen. Every time I drove myself crazy with how much I touch my hair or face I had to shut the video down. Next week I’m going to try to be more professional (or something) and turn it on when I’m talking for a bit, then shut it back off. That would make sense, right? Be the Big Brother talking head when I’m speaking, but shut my face down when I’m not.

It went fast and was fun, but I miss the energy of 20 people actually in the same room.

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Notes from Ireland

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Irish women love their white pants.

The other day in the University restaurant, I was asked if I would like chips (French fries) with my taco.

On Sundays, drapes are closed over the liquor shelves, even though during the week you can buy a bottle of Jameson (and anything else you want) at the 24-hour convenience store.

The weather changes about eight times in the course of one day. Also,every day feels like two—a good thing—because it doesn’t get dark out until about 11:00 p.m.

Irish bus drivers are nicer than American [insert service profession].

The bread is amazing and they seed everything, including croissants. I freaking love it.

Books, magazines, and regular paper are super expensive.

Real Men drink (Bulmer’s) hard apple cider.

Every Irish citizen knows every bit of Irish history.

I went to see an Arthur Miller production at Dublin’s Gate Theater. At intermission, some lovely Irish ladies said they were having trouble understanding what was happening because of the accents.

When you order a gin and tonic, you get gin and a wee bottle of tonic. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

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On being alone

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When living my normal life at home, I have a fair amount of time alone. Probably more than a lot of “normal” Americans—I work from home 2 days a week; I have a good amount of time each evening after the family has gone to bed.

But, that alone time is interspersed with interaction. Most days I work from home I go to the gym in the morning and chat a bit with others there. On days I work, I talk to 30-50 people—essentially, I talk all day. Every day at home, I talk from when I get in until 9 or 10 p.m. Even during my commute, I am not alone-alone.

But here, there’s lots and lots of alone time. Some of it has been self-imposed, but some of it is just because the nature of the situation. It’s a 20+ minute walk to campus. My flat mate has had family in and so has been running around and so, the majority of my time has been by myself—30% with others vs. 70% alone, the opposite of my homelife.

On the very first day that Mike left, after 2 weeks of no alone time, I was thrilled to be alone. I taught my first class, visited with people, and then came back to my wee apartment (which is a grand name for a teeny dorm room/bedroom and a common room w/ half a couch and a table for two).

I was jumping inside my skin—so excited to make a turkey sandwich and catch up with work I hadn’t done, watch Netflix, go nowhere.

Two hours in when I went to the kitchen to get some ice water, I was talking to myself. In my room, I panicked when xpn.org cut out. Silence. I couldn’t take the silence.

When I made my turkey sandwich I had to turn on the tv in the kitchen(ette). My choices: soccer or “Dublin Airport: Life Stories.” I went for the life stories (of course) and was enthralled by a man who lost his glasses, a family with Irish grandparents and an American life, and both the host’s cheer and her skill at finding drama. Great stuff. Made the turkey on brown bread with smoked cheddar from a Clonakilty Farmer’s market and rocket/arugula even better.

The next night I went to a reading and had drinks with people after and had so much fun.

Then I spent the next evening at home, in the same 10 x 8 box from 6 hours, and talked to myself.

On the bus ride with 63 people from Cork to Dublin, I found myself behind a pair of faculty members an among a bunch of students I didn’t know. I could chose to start up conversations, or I could sit quietly.  The thing that was most disturbing/hard for me was that I also realized that if I were to just disappear, no one would notice or care. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s really just true. No one was aware enough—I don’t even mean cares enough or anything like that…simply that no one was aware enough of my presence or lack thereof. It was more like commuting on the train is each day—Someone might notice that the lady that was just there is gone, but chances are higher that they wouldn’t.

I was for a couple minutes. Stunned, even. But ultimately, ok. This is a chance to get a glimpse of what life would’ve been like if I had taken different turns.

I realize that all of this reaction is just because it’s not what I am used to. I have spent most of my life/day being quite literally the center of attention—as both a mom and a teacher—3 kids waiting for my response—or 20 students.

Week One has just ended and I think I’m falling into a pattern and understanding myself a little better already. I cannot be completely alone for too long: I go a little batshit. But alone-alone alone time keeps me sane.

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