Today, I’m at Jansen Art Center in Lynden, Washington on a writer’s retreat with 11 other writers. We’re all sitting in the library upstairs, sipping coffee and tapping away on our laptops. I’m pouring through photos of Ireland and trying to gain inspiration to finish writing the final chapter of my book. Yes, the FINAL chapter! And as I wrap up my thoughts on my journeys through Ireland, I find myself missing it again, longing for the rain slicked streets in Dublin, the perilous country roads, the rainbows springing up around castle ruins, and talking with boys in bars. Maybe one day, after my book is published, I’ll have the opportunity to go again. One, twice, three times – with some places, it’s never enough.
Top 12 Memorable Moments of 2012
2012 was a year of extreme highs and lows, surprises, and good friends. Here are 12 of my most memorable moments from the past year, with pictures!
1. Posing for Trish Harding
I am not exactly what you’d call model material. But, Trish doesn’t care. All shapes and sizes are welcome in her art classes. Dressed in costume, I modeled for half a dozen students as they sketched or painted, and I even earned tips!
2. The Deck Fire
In March, a house guest who visited from Ireland lit my deck on fire with a cigarette. Then he stuck me with the repair bill. Happy Birthday to Me.
I have since insured every aspect of my life. Unfortunately, there is no insurance for poor decision-making. We simply have to live with the consequences and hope for payment plans.
3. Little Brother
My 35th birthday was probably the worst on record. However, my brother Chris flew out to Seattle from Minnesota in May with his company, and his visit more than made up for it. They booked me a room in the Four Seasons, paid for my fine dining, a cruise around Lake Union, and a flight in the Evening Magazine airplane over Seattle!
4. Horseback riding for the first time
In July, I camped (er, stayed in a cabin with running water and electricity) in Leavenworth. I rode Titan through the steep and treacherous trails of the north Cascades and probably evaded death a couple of times. My horse loved the grass growing on the sides of the cliffs and wasn’t scared to walk right over the edge to get to it. He also liked biting the arses of the horses in front of him. Cheeky bugger.
I had such a great time hanging out with my girlfriends this year, I had to include a shout out to them. Our mantra can be summed up in a fuzzy cell phone photo. I’ll never tell what kind of danger we actually got into…
6. Meeting Jack McGee
I watched every episode of every season of the FX series, Rescue Me. Jack McGee played Chief Jerry Reilly for three seasons, and I loved him! In July, I had the opportunity to meet him at a gala to raise funds for the Burned Children Recovery Foundation and specifically, Camp Phoenix.
7. Ryan Stiles Celebrity Golf Classic
The day after the gala, I volunteered at the Ryan Stiles Celebrity Golf Classic. Again, this event was designed to raise money for the Burned Children Recovery Foundation. I manned hole #9 with Cerise Noah, and took lots and lots of pictures. In 2012, a total of $160,000 was raised for the BCRF and their Camp Phoenix program for childhood burn survivors.
8. NYC Pitch Conference
Even though the New York City Pitch Conference was brutal, I walked away with some dear friends. And, who can beat seeing this in their email inbox?
9. Discovering the rainbow over the Rock of Cashel
In pursuit of the perfect picture, I hid in the old ruins of Hore Abbey in Cashel, Ireland in October. Little did I know that when the rain passed, I’d step out of the ruins to spot a rainbow over the Rock of Cashel!
10. Seeing the Cliffs of Moher for the first time
Everything in Ireland is beautiful, and I had more favorite moments than I could possibly count, but seeing the Cliffs of Moher was one of the biggest. I woke up early to beat the rain and then battled the wind to get this shot.
11. Getting Published
Okay, this won’t official happen until 2013, but I found out in 2012. An essay based on one of my book chapters will be published in the next WhatcomWRITES, Loyalties Anthology. I’ll be reading the essay in early March at Village Books in Bellingham.
12. Reading at Village Books
I completed Laura Kalpakian’s Memory into Memoir class at Western Washington University earlier this year and was honored to read one of the chapters at Village Books. I didn’t complete my memoir while in the class, but Laura and my fellow “Skedgers” continue to give me great feedback that has helped me go from zero to over 250 completed pages. That is my greatest accomplishment for the year.
Who knows what 2013 will bring?
Today I am dreaming of County Galway and the Connemara Loop, channelling the spirit of Ireland to finish my memoir. Next week I’m flying to New York City to attend a pitch conference and will have the opportunity to pitch my book directly to the editors of some major publishing houses. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. (Stressed out and panicked are a little more accurate.)
Sometimes I think back to being a little girl, living in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a one-stoplight town and dreaming of all of the things I wanted to do with my life. I always wanted to be a writer. I repeated that dream over and over again in my journals. But at some point in time, I lost sight of that – probably when I started noticing boys. They’ve always been a distraction…
My priorities are a little different these days. I’ve cancelled many dates to hang out with my manuscript, and honestly, I feel that has been the better time investment. My book, and all of my dear little word babies, are my pride and joy, and I feel like I am finally putting something good into the universe. 🙂 No matter what happens in NYC next week, I know I am doing my best to follow my dream.
Before and After the Shutter Clicked: Memoir is Therapy
Love is an unreliable lens through which to look at a person. The same can be said of vacation. The viewer is left with a romantic memory of an experience, bereft of all its glaring imperfections.
Memoir writing has caused me to confront my romantic notions of Ireland and to be brutally honest with myself. I look at the pictures I took during both of my trips and think of some of them – that was such a good day. I wish I could go back there and relive that moment. But then I put pen to paper and I remember that a photo just represents one moment, and it is suspended in a perfect grace in which the before and after are unknown and irrelevant.
I now question the past – before and after the shutter clicked. How happy was I really? Why, when I returned from vacation, did I feel like one of the crumbling ruins scattered across the Irish countryside? Why did I allow myself to travel so far for love only to lose it? Maybe I was looking for something I never really had in the first place; was my experience really as perfect as I remembered? Finding answers to those questions can make for some great writing. However, the process is painful to the writer.
Memoir can be summed up in an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.” I am in a perpetual state of Ireland. I don’t want to be, but in order to write about it, I have to continuously think about it and examine every last detail and all of my actions. And I fall in love with the same person, over and over again with the sad knowledge that my heart gets broken. Who, except for a writer, would voluntarily subject themselves to so much pain?
Some people pay for therapists; I write. And through the therapy of memoir I discovered the error of my thinking: Ireland hurt me because I held onto the microscopic pixels of memory like they were living things.
As I write my first book The Parting Glass, I am learning to be thankful for my Irish experiences and the opportunity to learn from the past instead of wallow in it. I love that I can now view my photo albums with the full color spectrum of reality.
I attended the Chuckanut Writers Conference this weekend and pitched my book, The Parting Glass, to 3 different agents. All three expressed interest. Two requested a couple of sample chapters via email and one wanted a completed manuscript. So, now I have the challenge of actually finishing my book. I’ve been so focused on perfecting every last sentence I write, that progress has been slow (although I am about 25,000 words in). Some valuable advice I got was to set a minimum writing goal. Each day, for example, maybe I write 15 minutes at an absolute bare minimum or maybe 2 pages. I can perfect it later.
I know many hours of writing and self-promotion are in my future, but that’s okay. It will all be worth it when I see my book on the shelves of Village Books. It will be worth it when I can actually do what I love for a living. I’ve never wanted anything so badly in my entire life. And to think (as my friend Sherry pointed out), I almost took a political science class last fall instead of Laura Kalpakian’s Memory into Memoir class. Sometimes one decision can change the course of your entire life.
There’s No Place Like Home
I fall in love with each country I visit. In 2006, I loved Scotland so much that I schemed for months to return as a tour guide for Old Reekie Tours and lead people through the haunted vaults of Edinburgh. In 2007, I became so attached to Tanzania I bought every book about Africa I could find and started the prerequisites for nursing school so that one day I could return and open a mobile clinic for the nomadic Maasai people.
Several years and trips later I ended up in Ireland, and not only did I fall in love with that beautiful country, I fell hard for a handsome cop in County Cork. I flew back to see him for my birthday last March, and the second trip wasn’t nearly as magical as the first – as many of you who have followed the story know. One year ago today I roamed the streets of Dublin, heart-sick and wondering what happened. The end result of all that roaming around upset was that a bartender took a liking to me and decided to fly over here (Seattle, Washington) to see me last week. This did not end well.
I woke up at 5 a.m. this past Saturday, and I heard a rustling sound in my living room – almost as if someone was opening and closing the blinds on my patio door. Figuring that was the bartender jet-lagging around the living room, I decided to ignore it. A few minutes later I heard what sounded like multiple people picking up and moving things around, so I got out of bed to investigate. When I opened my bedroom door, I first noticed the unusual brightness of my living room. The second thing I noticed was the orange flames lapping at the patio door glass.
I ran to my front porch to get a fire extinguisher, fuming with the knowledge that the bartender had started the fire with a cigarette. He’d been smoking on the deck earlier.
Caught up in the moment, I forgot about the little hammer dangling to the left of the glass container holding the extinguisher. Instead, I kung fu’d the shit out of that glass, cutting my hand but quickly getting to the red canister. The bartender appeared as I ran back through the living room so I gave him the extinguisher, and I called 911. I have fantasized for years, ever since I went through fire academy, of putting out a fire with an extinguisher, and it broke my heart to delegate that task, but I needed to get the fire department on the way. The flames shot past the top of the door, and I feared they had extended into the ceiling or roof – and we wouldn’t have been able to extinguish that.
Fortunately, the fire had not extended anywhere outside the deck thanks to my hardiplank siding. However, had I slept even just 10 more minutes, the fire would have eaten its way through the second pane of glass on my patio door, and I would have lost everything. That noise like rustling blinds I heard? That was the first pane of glass breaking apart.
After the fire department left, I looked at the bartender and said, “You’re going to need to find an earlier flight back to Dublin.” He knew what he had done and didn’t fight me on it. In 7 short hours, he was gone.
After all of this, I came to the realization that I love my home. I love the city in which I live and all of the wonderful people who come with it. I don’t need to travel to distant places and leave pieces of my heart around the world. I’ll still visit other countries, but I won’t be leaving my heart anywhere. I’m content, for now, to remain home and finish up my memoir about Ireland.
Ireland will always be Kieran to me anyway.
I think this will make a great final chapter to the story, don’t you?
A Picture without a Picture
I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s essays, “On Photography”. A few pages into the first essay she writes, “Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.” She refers to snapshots as souvenirs – and that clicked for me, so to speak. I don’t buy souvenirs, I take pictures.
However, on my first trip to Ireland I chose not to photograph one beautiful moment. I felt that capturing it would somehow rob the moment of its magic. 1,000 words could never do it justice, but I attempted to describe for my memoir what didn’t feel right to photograph. This short piece will be at the end of Chapter 6, about my first day in Dublin.
Lady in the Leaves
In a shaded courtyard somewhere outside the National Gallery, I sat down to rest my feet and lament my insensible choice of footwear. The wind gusted, and a squeal pierced through the sound of rustling leaves, attracting my attention. A few feet away, I saw her.
Alone, she drifted across the courtyard through a sea of autumn color. Arms outstretched, her weathered hands poked out from the tailored ends of her coat as the wind tousled the white curls above her wrinkled face.
Leaves like glowing embers showered from the trees, and she raised her arms to them like a child in the rain, smelling the sweet, earthy fragrance as they tumbled through her hands. Then she kicked through the brittle waves, her scarlet checks touching the gleeful corners of her pale-blue eyes as she watched them rise and fall.
Instinctively, my fingers ran across the buttons of my camera to collect the image before the moment vanished. But as euphoric notes burst forth with each kick of her polished shoes, I began to fear that the sound of my shutter would startle her out of her moment. And even if it didn’t, could I simply click and capture her joy – bringing her home like a cheap souvenir?
No, this flicker in time wasn’t mine.
I picked myself up, a hot pain radiating across my soles, and limped away unnoticed by the lady in the leaves. Her picture still hangs in the only place that it should, living and vibrant in my gallery of memories.
In Search of Autumn
In search of Autumn, I found a field full of flowers instead of beautiful fall foliage. I’ll have to try again next weekend. The trees will have more color anyway.
I’m a little sad right now, because a year ago I was planning my first trip to Ireland. People who have travelled there often tell me it haunts them. I understand. I flew there twice in 6 months, and it haunts me still. A memoir writing class is helping organize my thoughts, and I hope to have a completed manuscript about my experience by Spring. I wrote so much earlier this afternoon, I hardly know what to blog about now, and I’m dangerously close to just babbling. And now I’m at a loss for how to wrap this up…sooo, enjoy the photos! More next weekend!