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...