On the day before the very last day of my retreat I had a bit of a panic. On the one hand, I had come through my usual summer dip, wherein I discover, in a blaze of insight, that all my work is crap, it’s probably always been crap, why do I even both when it’s all crap, and there’s literally NO HOPE OR EVIDENCE that it will ever be anything but crap—are you with me? I came through all that, and found new focus and a better frame for the work I had come, verily, to Ireland to do.
On the other hand, I hadn’t done everything I thought I might do, i.e., write new poems, write revisions of all the old poems, finish all of it and have it ready, more or less, to win the universe. Did I really think I would do all that? No. But did I sort of really think I would? Yes. It’s my nature. I’m a maximalist. Why dream small when you can dream outlandish and impossible? is my motto and credo.
Also, the night before the day before my very last day, my sleep was interrupted by the long light, late and early, of my more northerly latitude.
Anyway, what all of this meant—having come through etc., my maximalism and shoot the moon disposition, my lack of sleep—was that I could barely figure out where to start on getting anything at all going. A revision, a new poem, a new mood, a new outfit—anything at all.
Late in the day, I went out for a walk, feeling rather out of sorts and possibly disgusted with myself. I ran into Will, one part of the dynamic couple that run The Moth and its various enterprises. He was taking a look at the lush hedgerow bordering their homestead.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
I offered an abbreviated version of the above. Possibly some of the out of sorts/disgusted with myself vapored off me.
He said, “But you’ve gotten a lot done, haven’t you?”
I assented, with a shrug. “Sure.”
“And you’ve got the whole year off, don’t you?” he pointed out, helpfully.
And, reader, the sun burst through the clouds. Metaphorically, and literally. “True,” I said.
“You’ll be fine,” said Will, with a small encouraging smile, and off I went, and when I came back, I wrote a big pile of notes for a new project, one that ties together an couple years old failed draft and its central gesture with a different subject matter, metaphors, and language, that works beautifully, I think I hope, with this current project.
It was a gift beyond measure to be able to to spend that time alone, to have that emotional crater and rebound from it, to find my way to new language and new poems-in-progress, and to do strong revisions of a number of poems. To be with my own self as a writer, to give priority to that. And it was something, to do it in this exact place, far from my usual diversions and entertainments and self-soothing mechanisms—it wasn’t just conducive, it was constitutive. I walked to that ruined abbey and round tower a couple of times, and seeing the time-wrecked place, abandoned and also not, with graves there dated as recently as the 2010s, helped certain questions and lines of inquiry about faith and its forms take a different shape.
Oh, how glad and grateful I am for this.
The day before I left, it was beautiful, sunny and balmy. We sat together in the garden as the evening fell, talking and laughing, then went into the kitchen for a little more conversation when it got a bit too chilly. It was perfect, the kind of perfect where you know things are coming to an end, but fittingly, and with such a conversation as an unsought blessing. The next morning, the family drove me into Cavan town to catch my bus back to Dublin. On the way, we passed a fantastic building, with a great dome, very imposing.
|Cavan Cathedral, can you believe it??
“What’s that?” I asked, gesturing.
“That’s the cathedral,” Will said. After a pause, “That’s where we were married.”
“Really.” I said. I mean, not that people don’t get married places like that, but REALLY.
“All the Cavan celebrities get married there,” he said.
Previously, I had seen Cavan in a jet lagged blur, and then really only the Aldi, where I bought oatcakes and whatnot. Everywhere you go, the reminders of what you have and haven’t done. No visits to the Cavan town sights, no Cavan celebrity weddings. On the other hand:
Two and a half hours later, I disembarked and I dragged my giant bag (refrain of this entire adventure: I dragged my giant bag through the streets of [town]) from the Dublin bus station to my hotel—across the Liffey, down some blight-y streets, then into a lovely street where my hotel gleamed. Lo, my room was ready, so I could drop my [giant] bag and go out. I walked until my feet felt a bit the worse for wear. Then, I saw Late Night in the Irish cinema with a bag of popcorn and a diet 7Up, which felt approximately perfect after walking amidst the ruins and the swans and loughs and the wilds of my own emotional and imaginative life.
I walked back on my the-worse-for-wear feet and ate a perfectly delicious dinner in the hotel lounge, cod and mussels and a delicious herbal-tasting tomato broth and colcannon fritters, dang! So good. I watched the US v France Women’s World Cup match, an excellent match, it must be said (and I am delighted with the outcome). Then fell asleep, first drawing the curtains so that I wouldn’t be awakened in the night by city light.
Friends: today is the Pride parade in Dublin! A factor which I had not calculated into my plans, or in my hotel choice. It turns out that the parade route goes right by my hotel, and the parade ends with festival activities on Merrion Square and environs, also right by my hotel. This explains why I sent this text to my daughter in Scotland, who happens to be in the same time zone as I am:
Two salient points: fam is arriving, and soon! And I have plenty of snacks nearby! Next phase of international adventure, IGNITE!