Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Grovers Living Without a Gun

It’s dark in Oregon. Sunrise was at 7.40 this morning supposedly. I have a cold and hit the couch with a blanket and a book after bringing Lily to school. The good thing about having a cold is I can do this rainy day couch time without guilt. I drifted in and out of a few chapters, a few dreams and woke thinking about guns, my current passion. The sun did not rise.

When we moved to America this summer I wanted to live in a mixed neighbourhood. Our lilac tree and the weeping birch are eerily naked. The view from the couch has widened. Our across- the-street neighbours’ house is painted pale mustard yellow with white trim. They have a small motor boat and a trampoline in the back. Hilda, the mother over there, is from Nicaragua. Her husband is from Mexico. They have three beautiful young girls who bounce and ballet down the sidewalk each morning to the elementary school a block up the street. The littlest girl has a purple umbrella. I doubt they have a gun.

Our back garden neighbors seem sweet. They are young. I would guess that they live a bit on the edge. They have a Billie Jean and a Granddad in their house. Hey you, new lady. Look at the fence! It’s me, Billie. I’m small enough to climb through your fence. And she did. She just wanted to look at my glass chair. She sat on the plastic chair from IKEA and made it bounce. We got a dog. It nipped me. Now we have another dog. I tell my mother everything. Then she disappeared back through the fence. My hunch is they don’t have a gun.

Our neighbour to the left is originally from the Ukraine. He came to America when he was a child. He has a few small, battered American flags in his empty flowerbeds. He was in Vietnam and later worked as a bartender. He likes women and is a charmer. He was probably a bit dangerous before the stroke. Now he is sweet and doddery. If he has a gun it is most likely locked up somewhere, I think he knows his limitations.

Next door to him is a couple with two teenage daughters who found us fascinating when we first moved in, but we haven’t seen them in a while. The dad is a welder. He made a potbellied stove out of a barrel; it has a long thin neck of a chimney and two pig-like ears on top of it. He and the Ukrainian neighbor sit outside by the stove each night. They drink beer and smoke cigarettes and have a laugh together. It’s sweet. But the welder is an Oregon redneck, and my hunch is that he has a gun or more than one. His wife works at the cafeteria at the High School and tends bar at a Chinese restaurant a few nights a week. When they argue in the back garden I hear her stand up for herself.

An elderly couple lives on the corner. They have dozens of bird houses, metal daisies, gnomes. And two yappy dogs who look a bit elderly themselves. I doubt they have a gun, but they might.

It’s a good mixed neighbourhood. It’s a slice of America. It’s the aptly named Forest Grove. We are now Grovers. Newbie citizens finding our way.

We helped with the book sale at the Forest Grove library in October. In November we went to a Presbyterian church and helped pack boxes of food for the Western Farm Workers Association. Many workers lost two or more months of work because of last year’s drought. When we loaded boxes of food, frozen turkeys and bags of apples into our car to deliver them, I thought about guns. Was I crazy to have Lily at my side as I knocked on the doors of strangers? A gorgeous woman opened the door at our first delivery. She smiled and showered us with Spanish words and guns became the last thing on my mind. We carried the stuff into her shiny house. A dozen chairs lined the walls and I was sorry that we would be missing the party that was sure to follow. We got hugs at each house thereafter. This is America and I like it.

And then I stupidly get on Facebook and see comments written by people I used to know in Alaska, old high school people. Some that I really liked and still do; and some who are just part of the gang. Other people, too. Guns don’t kill people, people do…as if I’m some dumb-shit who doesn’t get the connection! Poor baby-soft guns. It is there, on the screen, that I wonder what happened to America in my two decade absence. There must have been a hardening. Gun-loving, politician-hating, flag-waving people who wrap themselves in bizarre religiosity spouting off about their rights and my ignorance. This is America and I don’t like it. I know Sarah Palin happened. She is now, thankfully, off the radar pretty much, but the damage she caused with her hate speeches lives on. Angst and hate about having a president who is black also happened. The hardening, what is it?

 I think of my Irish friends who give so freely to the world. My neighbors in Ballinderren who are helping refugees. My neighbour Joe who slept outside with the homeless to raise money. Ireland is not perfect, there are plenty of jerks there too. I’ve been heckled there more than once. They know about guns in Ireland, and they live just fine without them. Gangland criminals have guns, ordinary people do not. They know about terrorism, decommissioning; they know how hard it is to change and how awkward and clumsy peace can be when it comes. But even the biggest Irish jerk will  wonder why America tolerates guns and all the racist drivel from Donald Trump. Ok, Mr. Trump did get a red carpet laid out for him when he bought a castle in Ireland a year or so ago…all hallowed commerce won in that instance.

My friend Debbie tells me not to compare and she is correct. It's the hardening that concerns me. And the quietness of good people.

I will not be quiet.
Helen Mirren, in honor of her 70th birthday, said that there were two words she wished she had used more frequently in life: fuck off. 

We need someone like George Mitchell and Mo Molan, God rest her, (Ireland gets to keep Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams)  to help us reach a peace agreement. I have hope. We need to stop focusing on religions and focus on our own humanity and fix what ails us. The purple umbrella-ed girl gives me hope, as do two facebook “friends” who just today suggested that although they are pro-gun perhaps, erm, perhaps we could do without assault weapons. It's such a  ridiculously tiny statement; and in this dark week in America, so huge.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

97 degrees

It's 97 degrees. Seeking refuge in the library. Too much sun no fun. No wifi at home. Breakfast with Elvis at Mary's Cafe. Hagg Lake is mucky. And cool. We took neighbor boy, Billy. He loves Mindcraft. Different language. Filled up car with gas, 37 dollars. We have a car! 2003 Mazda. She is black, has a moon roof. We call her Roisin Dubh. Love our little town. Red brick, awnings. Too hot to walk to town. Weird. We drive seven blocks. Everything is weird. And lovely. Latinos. Americans. Gorgeous people. Punch drunk on heat. Stupid thirty. Short thoughts. May move from library. Cinema calling, air conditioning. Garage sales. Iced lattes. Buy a fan. Lily ok. Send rain to 1830 26th Ave, Forest Grove, Oregon 97116. Conditioned air. Stop global warming. Corn on the cob. Cherry tomatoes. Salsa! Crush on handyman. Ice in drinks. Understand. Windows open night and day. Send breeze. No writey. Black and white dairy cows. Winery. Times 12. No drinky. Brown lawn. We miss home. We are home. 97.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Miss Lily says Goodbye, Miss Emily says Hello

It has been a tough week.  Ireland is grieving the deaths of six young people who died when a balcony in Berkeley collapsed under them. America is grieving the deaths of nine innocents in Charleston. Alaska is on fire. Our house is upside down.

‘I don’t like all this dying stuff on the news,’ says Lily. She is learning about tiny deaths as we sort our transatlantic move. 

Her Special Olympic soccer team honored her yesterday. There were goals and a score of three all. Each week the score includes the word all. Then a party in the club house. Robbie and Tommy, the two sweet and fit Dads have helped the cluster of kids figure out how to be a team, how to dribble, how to get mad and get over it, how to shoot to the proper goal, how to shake hands after a match. Us parents gather at the side lines each week. We admire the progress and each other. I know we will meet many good people in Oregon. But these soccer people are kith. Irreplaceable, steadfast.

Everything was going well at the party. There was a cake with our names on it. We cut it together. ‘You have been the highlight of our week for years,’ I said. Then each soccer player gave Lily a card and a hug. Lily smiled. I did not wipe the pink of strawberries off her chin. I stopped doing that years ago. Sun poured in through the big windows that stand watch over the bogs and hills of Connemara. The coaches gave Lily compliments, and a photo of the team in a frame decorated with the word friends. Roisin Walsh gave a speech: ‘You are my best friend forever, Lily, I will miss you every day, I love you so much, my dear best friend.’

And then there were tears. From all of us, for all of us. More teenage hugs. Foggy glasses. ‘I’m all emotional,’ said Lily. The long good bye; the photographs of my tear-stained daughter with her peers show her smiling and crying at the same time, determined to pull herself together gracefully.

My soccer team equivalent has been my monthly writer’s group called The Peers. Ten years ago a letter came to me addressed to Mary Mullen, writer, near Kinvara, Co. Galway; an invitation to join the group. It was from Nuala Ni Chonchuir. For years we met around her dining room table in Ballinasloe. Twelve writers worked for three hours giving feedback, criticism, encouragement. The Peers became the rhythm to my Irish life. We watched Nuala’s two boys grow to teenage-hood and manhood and celebrated the birth of her daughter; we celebrated the launch of many books born into the world written by The Peers. We eventually moved the group to Dublin where Sara Mullen and Patrick Chapman hosted us.  Our June meeting was my last. More kith; irreplaceable, steadfast.
We ate Japanese food for our last supper, and we had a farewell drink at Panti’s bar on Capel Street in Dublin. Nuala slipped me a gift as we were leaving; an advance uncorrected proof of her third novel, Miss Emily.

I let The Peers stroke the cover. ‘I have to read the first page,’ said one. ‘The dialogue is flawless,’ said another. 

I devoured Miss Emily, a story about Emily Dickinson’s Irish maid and her relationship with Emily Dickinson. My eyes sped along each perfectly researched sentence. Nuala (New-la) Ni Chonchuir (Nee Coo Hoor), for the purposes of this book, used her given surname, O’Connor. She has been chided for doing this. (The world of writers in Ireland is often vicious.) I applaud her for doing so. O’Connor is the most common surname in Ireland and also the name of Nuala’s mother. It will easily roll off Oprah’s tongue. 

Miss Emily, published by Penguin Books in North America will be a huge success. An overnight success after twenty years of writing three hours a day, driving an old banger, producing volumes of short stories and poems, juggling three children and a supportive husband, maintaining a friendship with her ex-husband, being a sister and a daughter, winning prizes and nominations, hunting for the right agent for years, quietly bringing other authors to their fullest, being the target of ridicule by lesser writers; standing tall all the while, Nuala’s work will burn across North America like wildfire.

Miss Emily will be released in mid July. Beyond the relationship between Miss Emily and her maid, Ada Concannon, the story is about classism, racism, love, New England, coconut cake, violence, kindness. I would like to tell you the story, but I won’t. 

The story is a tribute to good writing and to thorough research. You can’t have one without the other.

Meanwhile, belong. Kiss your kith.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Yes for Marriage Equality, Yes for People with Disabilities

I have four genetic nieces. We share thick hair, blood, height, big smiles, book-worm tendencies, politics, talents, generosity of spirit. Then one day a few years ago in California one of the Fab Four married a woman and gave me another niece. I am proud to claim her. I would die for them and their love if I had to.

In forty eight hours Ireland will vote, hopefully, for marriage equality. A YES vote will give same sex couples protection under the Irish constitution. The No campaign has twisted this simple protection and recognition into a dark and complicated discussion about surrogacy. Holy Catholic Ireland is a complex place. My hope is that the YES vote wins by a landslide. If so, the stranglehold the church has on Ireland will be lessened, loosened.

I believe in the separation of church and state. And I honor people who have strong faith. Have it, live it well, do something with it that helps humanity. When I was a very Catholic child a series of priests who were all about civil rights and loving each other worked in our parish. One quit the church and married a woman with five children. Another one married a nun. They made our small world big and made us think more lovingly about the world.

A YES vote will save lives. I'm convinced that many young people who commit suicide do so because they feel unable to be who they are sexually. A terrible tragedy. We can send them a huge loving message this Friday: you are perfect.

Because of the Lunacy Act of 1857, my daughter Lily can not legally marry in Ireland. In fairness, this law was most likely meant to protect her from some asshole who would take advantage of her vulnerabilities. It is time to re-write that horribly-named act; it is time to address her independence, her lack of lunacy, her profound strength, her capacity for being a brilliant partner to a similarly-abled sweetheart.

Finally, the No Campaign should be ashamed of themselves for those posters that say 'Every child deserves a Mom and Dad.' How dare they place those archaic and hateful words every 500 feet along our route from home to school. Lily has come home extra tired all week. 'I know I don't have a Dad,' she said after a few nights of gentle probing...'the signs say I'm supposed to have one.'

No campaigners: you are not helping children. Fuck off.

For a very intelligent and powerful speech about the Marriage Equality referendum, google Mary McAleese's speech about her son.

And thanks to the LBGT people who help Lily and I live a fuller life solely by being your brave and loving selves: Ginger, Sally, Mike, Mark, Kevin, Enid, Brian, Nancy, Kitty, Barney, Doug, Dwayne,
Larry, Suzanne, Bernard, Liz, Billy, Alex, Simon, Martha, Iggy...

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas Envy
I remember only one ordinary Christmas from my childhood in Alaska.  I was about eight. Our log cabin smelled of pancakes and the six of us were delighted. The spruce tree was plunked between the sink and the dowdy couch, the lights on the tree were the shape of eggs and if you dared to touch the blue or green or red bulbs, they were so hot they’d bite you. Santa brought me a doll, I named her Suzanne. My Dad and brother built Suzanne a cradle to sleep in. I loved the cradle as much as the doll; building such a perfectly slatted present for me was the nicest thing anyone had ever done. When the cabin smelled strong of sage and onions steaming inside of the turkey, Bob Mackey, a quite bachelor with a big laugh who often said ‘that’s right’, arrived with presents for all of us. Mine was a round plastic container, bigger than my two small hands, and full of make up. Real make up. Rouge, powder, lipstick—real winter-sunset pink lipstick. Lipstick so powerful that it continues to out-shine other early memories of Christmas.
Since then all my Christmases have been unusual. There was that Christmas with Richard when I sweated over a sewing machine and created him a brown and gold kaftan bathrobe. All those stitches, all that velvet. It was like my love for him: warm, rich, laborious, sensual. He ran out on Christmas Eve night and bought me a French pot in which to make baked beans, his favourite winter slow-baked meal. I felt like beaning it over his head.
Then there was the Christmas with Bobby, a commercial fisherman, my soul-mate, my perfect captain. Bobby and I walked that Christmas, hand in hand, arm in arm. Our big boots crunched the snow through gaily-lit residential streets in Anchorage. Most houses had two trees decorated, one in the garden smothered with snow, lights on the branches projecting dizzy rainbows; and one inside decorated with tiny white lights, and mono baubles. Purple was in that year. The warmth we felt for each other ricocheted off the amber street lights which were softened by small, constant flakes.
‘So polite of them to leave the curtains half drawn so we can have a good look,’ he said. ‘Kiss me again.’
Giddy and high on each other, we walked through that Christmas not wanting to eat or gift, unaware that by the following Christmas he would be scooped up by a leggy waitress.
My best Christmas ever was in Hawaii, where seasonal affective disorder is cured by plumerias, where Mele Kamakamaka is spent eating pineapples on the beach, where the water calls you in, buoys you up and everything hangs loose in a world wrapped too taut.
I moved to Ballinderreen, Co. Galway, December 6th, 1996, when the village was genuine and quiet; before the three bicyles in each family were replaced by at least two expensive cars, before generation X dwarfed their parent’s homes by building mansions for themselves in the nearest field. It felt strange to land in the village right before Christmas, but I wanted to see what Christmas was like here. The pubs were packed day and night. Music was everywhere. It rained, then rained some more. No shops open on a Sunday. Everything ground to a halt for two weeks. I searched Galway for a fax machine to send important paperwork to Washington D. C. for a possible internship, but never found one. The pubs got hotter, more crowded; I was an exotic creature pursued by men who assumed all Americans slept with everyone. I assumed most of them were married, too merry to be real. Two kind families invited me over for Christmas dinner, I said yes to both and then stewed about how to get out of the other invitation. I chose the family who were good to my father for years before his death.
The four young children were delighted with the present from Santy and a surprise. I loved it that they were content with two gifts. The father and I were served a gorgeous dinner at the small table in the kitchen. I was mortified when the mother and children did not sit down with us. After everyone had eaten in shifts we watched Daniel O’Donnell on the telly and then a program about the life of Hitler and I was convinced that I had willingly moved to hell.
When my daughter, Lily, was three years old my mother, my sister Eileen and her two children, Enid and Kyle, and I went to a charming village called Vera, in Spain, for Christmas. We rented a house and my friend, Vera Svensson, from Stockholm joined us. Vera in Vera brought ingredients for a Swedish smorgasbord in her suitcase for Christmas day dinner. Too cold for swimming, we spent our days walking on sage-covered earth and our nights gawking at the stars. Epiphany week brought a parade of Wise Men to the ancient village. Wild coloured floats were loaded with joyful people wearing crowns who fiercely threw hard sweets to us spectators who were shouting, catching, rejoicing.  I had to put the rain-cover over Lily’s stroller to protect her from the sweet-pelting sky. She learned to walk in Vera, and I can still hear the darling Spanish grandfathers at the park—not noticing or not affected by her Down syndrome—cooing encouragement to her, my Galway girl who wore thick tiny pink glasses and stiff red orthopaedic boots.
I often envy people who have the same menu in the same house with the same people with the tree in the same corner and watch the same Sound of Music with the same box of chocolates quietly disappearing. Envy is not a good thing.  I atone the envy with monetary contributions to Childline, Doctors Without Borders, Concern and an Anti-Gun lobby. And I remind myself that Lily and I constitute a family. Perhaps we will find other exiles in Ireland to invite over for the day. They will know what it is like to carry another country in your warmest pocket and how good it is to share the same moon.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Whales, Walker, Jet-lag

I'm a writer trying to get back on my bike. I have two fractures in my pelvic bone, a house that must have shrunk when we were in Alaska, a jet-lagged teen, and a million things to do that are waiting for me to figure out how to do them while pushing a walker.

Like hanging clothes on the line. How do I get them from the washing machine to the clothesline? My favorite chore is now a challenge, and my arse can't sit on this chair for very long. I will have to figure out how to write standing up. Or laying down.

We were in a car crash July 24th. Lily was not hurt. When I looked at her in the back seat she looked like a fairy, her long hair covered in sparkles of glass, her face speckled with freckles of mud splashed on her through the blown out windows. My old Mom was hunched in the seat next to me, groaning. 'We will be okay,' I said. Then men came. They were just changing shift at the Department of Transportation. They rang the ambulance. The dispatcher wanted to know if we needed one ambulance or two. 'I don't know, just get us out of here.' My door was stuck. I wanted out. Mom's door was open, but moving her was not an option. Lily's was stuck, too. The airbags were small round white donuts, flattened and smoking. I was afraid of fire. A trooper came to my window. His presence calmed me. A pretty young woman in a pink shirt appeared at Lily's window. She asked Lily a few questions, kept her mind off of the 20 minute wait we didn't know we had until our doors were chainsawed open. I wondered who that pink angel was.

She was the driver who gunned her engine and sent our car flying into a light pole at 55 miles an hour. The light pole was engineered to collapse on impact. It bent like a straw. The car flipped end over end. We are alive.

And for a while, I don't know how long it will take, my life will be divided into Before Accident and After Accident.

Before Accident we had fun with family and friends; we settled into life in Mom and Peggy's house and took trips to the library, the bookshop, and to Homer. A few weeks later we went to Seldovia. We missed the Tustumena ferry from Homer to Seldovia, so we flew on Homer Air. A man from Nanwalek who was a child when I flew across Kachemak Bay to work years ago was on the plane. It was so good to see him. Lily shook with excitement as we flew over the Homer Spit, her smile as big as Alaska. Our friends in Seldovia took her up the slew in a three holed kayak. They were so good to us. After a few days in lovely Seldovia we took the fast ferry, owned and operated by the Seldovia Native Association, back to Homer.

Half way there the captain announced that there were whales--humback whales--he stopped the boat, invited Lily to stand by him and pointed to where a whale would surface in a few minutes. But there was more than one. There must have been two dozen. We sat in the pod for half an hour. A tail to port, another one just off the bow, Jesus, two to starboard! Their black backs bent into perfect C's, slow humps of joy, followed a second later by their beautiful W-shaped tails. The sea moved under and around us, peppered with a city of small black colored birds who were also feeding on krill. Black thrills, gentle grey swells, sunny lavender sky, Lily and the Captain. The silent swoop of black backs, the great exhale. The tail. Such a huge dose of magic; visuals we will carry forever.

After the Accident we had to stay a few weeks longer than planned in Alaska because I was not fit to fly. It was all very weird. The panic about my mother and her cracked ribs; the agony of her intense pain, so many questions about a woman in her nineties recovering from such physical trauma. My own pain. The reality of our family in crisis. The rudeness of well-meaning people; the insurance man wanting a statement when we were barely able to talk. The sweetness of friends who brought meals to Jean's house, where Mom was nursed by my cousin Suzanne. The non-refundable tickets back to Ireland. The stack of nasty letters from banks and credit cards. The ice cream and card games. Lily's guitar lessons from Mike Morgan. Floating hostilities, small miracles. The slopes in sidewalks that accommodate my walker. The nice people who pushed our wheelchairs in Seattle and Chicago. The tallness of life in a short wheelchair. All those writing deadlines I missed. My mother's remarkable will to live. My fear of driving and digging deep enough into the 'get on with it' well.

I think of all of this as my clothes sit in the washing machine. And I wonder if I will hit the post on this first bit of writing After Accident. And I think of the young lady in pink and hope she is coping. And the humpback whales. I fall asleep and wake thinking about them.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

I'm a Person First

 A short rant.

If I hear the words

 'she had a Downs';

 'He didn't want to date me because I have a Downs child'; (consider yourself lucky, Girlfriend)

'They have a Down's syndrome';

'That Down syndrome girl in...'

one more time I am going to...scream, stand on my head on the busiest road I can find, kick a tree, phone George Bush.
This is Lily. She is a serious student, a good neighbor, a friend, a daughter, a guitar player, a poet, a reader, a theatre-goer, an enviromentalist, a teenager, a door-slammer, a cat-lover, a soccer player, a basket-ball player, a fan of her two presidents, a rock-painter, a hiker, a dancer, a budding cook, a granddaughter, a niece, a dedicated recycler, a sister. Furthermore, she is not always happy. She is a person with a full range of emotions. She is not an angel, never will be.

Google Down Syndrome Ireland, they will send you two jpg posters from their 'I'm A Person First' campaign.

Meanwhile, use person-first language. 

Or feck off.