sunday evening. beth orton and me in an otherwise empty house.
it's been a quiet day. my past few days have found me immersed in alice walker, as i have voraciously read two of her novels in between mandatory medieval irish literature. i'm not sure why i have been so drawn to alice (if i may call her alice) lately; maybe it has something to do with gladness' recent email about her reaction to the color purple:
"My heart is stretched and 'bout
shredded. I want , Annie, for folks to get along, to understand and
appreciate one another. "
so. yesterday was my birthday. your faithful blogger is now twenty-four. years like hours.
it was a day of chicken-eating and book-reading. friends and laughter and honeycomb icecream with candles.
and an early evening due to migraine/stomache-achey ailments. but that's beside the point.
a few minutes ago, i decided that i would like to re-read annie dillard's an american childhood. i opened the cover and inside spilled out two poems: anna akhmatova's 'march elegy' and a napkin-scribbled poem i wrote for my sister, eileen, while on a plane to visit her in dallas, two years ago almost, for her birthday. a nearly forgotten day chronicled on napkins and scrap paper.
i remember visiting my friend, sherry, before going to the airport, hastily copying akhmatova's words of malevolent memory and hope; i desperately needed those words then. and tonight, i remembered sherry's own elegy-inspired words--her mournful, beautiful song called 'blackbirds'; a song that carries such weighted hope: i can be a churchbell, sherry sings, even now.
as for eileen's poem (do you remember, sister?), i read my own words tonight like they were written by someone else, stumbled upon. and they're my day-after-birthday prayer:
we have seen darkness
to recognize the light
and it is shining definitely
today is a gift and you're
alive (very much so)
so drink it in, sister
(we get to love each other)
keep your eyes
look around (it is good)
and promise yourself to
choose. truth. carefully.
and hold hope tightly--
it is yours (to keep).
we've got so many dogs around here. some of them on leads, most of them free. there is a big, fuzzy blackish one that wanders up and down connsbrook ave; sometimes he sprawls out on the pavement in front of his house, other times he hangs out at the chip shop or the co-op with his beagle-ish friend. i greet him with hands in pockets usually--i'm always the girl who gets bitten. famous last words: don't worry; he won't bite.
and there is the small lab dog, old and black with a white, stubbly muzzle, who follows behind the old man with the umbrella. he is a worried dog, always looking around, googly-eyed through cataracts. "it ain't too different a view through your eyes than through mine," i think yesterday, as i walk to the library, cold. "it's all mist and grey, regardless." i walk on, looking down, avoiding puddles, listening to beth orton's "paris train" on my walkman: sometimes, sometimes we can see beyond our history, the last place you hope to find is the one that's been there all the time. sometimes we can swim beyond the scenery and the first place that's on your mind is the first place you'd find each time
two blocks behind cataract lab is an old woman with a lead and no dog, it seems at first glance. then i pass her, and notice that she is dragging a grey poodle, who appears to be back-peddling, futilely, while continuously being pulled forward, forward along the wet sidewalk.
they painted a mural on the post office last week. i watched them secure the scaffolding and paint a heart, bright red. in a city of endless murals donning masked men with machine guns and frightening political loyalties, our new mural is quite the contrast. finished in just over 24 hours, the heart has the words "post office" neatly written in its center, and springing forth from it are endless letters (letters like mail, not alphabet). of course, there is the requisite mailman being chased by a dog (a vaguely familiar neighborhood dog, i'm sure) and laughing children: royal mail as bringers of peace and joy and letters from loved ones.
sometimes we can swim beyond the scenery.
hello friends. please excuse my absence; i've been away! josh and sandy (nashville roommates extraordinaire) came to visit our grey town late last week, and i have spent my days exploring with them, as well as with jenna and trevor. on saturday, we all drove up the coast to castle rock [read: five full-size people in nissan micra, which does not get its name arbitrarily], and spent the night at the downhill hostel (some great photos at this link). it was a laid back kind of weekend. lots of laughter and cardplaying. we walked on the very cold beach at sunset on saturday. the hills in the distance were blue and hazy. you had to run to keep warm. so i did. and i skipped. and i was very excited about making my own footprints in the clean slate sand.
our room was wonderful for sleep. right outside my window was a gurgly creek which immediately lulled me to sleep. jenna had a view of the full moon rising behind a cliff from her window: northern ireland illuminated. we were happy girls in bunkbeds.
yesterday was a cold day of adventure. we drove back down the coast, stopping at dunluce castle and giant's causeway. i've been to both of these places before, but i am still undone by them. dunluce, much like the nunnery ruins on iona, was so carefully crafted, stone on stone, and--after nearly 1,000 years of wind and war--still stands. and the causeway, with its uniformly pentagonal mystery of rocks is, as sandy says, "comforting to think that God prefers things to be orderly, just like me."
today is a dismal monday, wet and cold. i have tried very hard to be productive today, but have not gotten much further than a load of laundry and some grocery-shopping (though i did get those newfangled tetlea teabags with drawstrings that are supposedly drip-free...not sure what to make of the tea-drips on the counter, though). a couple phonecalls and some emailing. that is about it. *whew* it's enough.
in other news: my latest journal update is now up on finding balance. please stop by. thanks!
and now to some tea...
the children of east belfast are quite the halloween entrepreneurs, i'm quickly learning. last saturday, i got a knock at the door around 8 pm, and opened it only to look down upon a 4 foot satan-masked genius, with plastic clawed hands hoping for a handout. a muffled, demonic child's voice said from behind the evil face (in a cute irish brogue): "halloween is coming in two weeks. can i have some money?" with all my spiritual discipline, i was able to say "um, no" to the devil, and i shut the door. glory be!
since then, none of the neighborhood children have talked to me. (not that they had been before.) i wonder if i have joined the ranks of my childhood crotchedy neighbors, who would turn off all their lights on halloween night, and sit in the dark, quietly (and scarily) smoking their cigarettes like raymond burr in rear window. if one of us would be dumb enough to trick or treat at such an unwelcoming house, a nicotine-deep, frightening voice would yell from inside, "no soliciting!" and we'd run away.
i was 10 years old before i realized that the "no soliciting" signs on their front doors were not synonymous with "no trick-or-treating".
these irish devils wouldn't stand a chance in my neighborhood.
hurray for nashville bloggers. we're famous! read HERE for a lovely article on the nashville blogging scene. (who knew there was such a thing?)
for those of you who are visiting this humble blog for the first time: welcome! i hope you stay awhile. can i make you a cup of tea? (i've gotten quite good at that recently.)
and the same invitation goes to you regulars: milk with your tea?
attn: nashvillians: make sure you subscribe to the tennessean.
[thanks, carrie, for including me in your article.]
well, for the two of you who have asked for me to post iona thoughts once the words come: here you are. i have decided to take the lazy man's route, and post journal excerpts from the week. i really hope you enjoy them. iona truly is a thin place.
My fingers smell like potatoes and there are sheep grazing in the football field. And such is Iona: unconventional and perfect. Everything thus far has been community. Yesterday's travels found me patient and peaceful and mindful. I really had no stress about me the whole day, and I felt very aware of each rolling hill, each sheep, each body of water and waterfall. I stood on the top deck of the ferry, shivering, but refused to go in: everything was holy—even each crashing wave against the ship. Every created sheep that we found grazing in the road while on the bus across mull. Everything created. Everything holy. And now, I'm in the world of community. It's just after 10 am, and already I've set the breakfast table, cleared the breakfast table, washed dishes, and have peeled and chopped potatoes. Whew. What a full day! And soon, we'll go on to communion together: james from york, julie and karen from canada, miami janet, cali jennifer, grace from taiwan. Lars and stefan from sweden. I'm meeting people. And they're gorgeous.
The sun came out a bit today, and it's amazing how just a little light can make blue out of grey. I fell in love with the rocky beaches. I peered into the little pools, watching minnows and seaweed and stones. I climbed as high as I could in my slippy shoes, and sat, looking out on the sea. And, instantly—of course—I was brought back to Marlei and the Pacific, three months—and eternity—ago. Climb. Watch. Walk. Stop. Watch. I'm so quietly aware right now and I am surprised by every time I speak. My own voice sounds foreign. Each spoken word takes immense energy to form. And they're typically the wrong words anyhow. I'm not at all getting at what I mean. Janet told me last night at the pub that Maya Angelou spent seven years in silence, just listening. I wonder if she wrote. And Etty is reminding me about the contours and shape of silence. Such contours must look something like the white, sandy veins of water flowing between rocks, cutting deeper and deeper, quietly and purposefully—finding their way back to the shore. It's constant movement, nothing is stagnant, and I can see the evidence of it. I don't really know what I'm getting at; my face is frozen.
today is cathy's birthday. And today is the day that I finally got internet access. This is all very good news. As for now, I've just left my little internet hut (a shed next to the post office, right off the jetty) and am having a ½ pint of Tennent's ember at the pub. I have chosen not to go on the pilgrimage today. It is just too wet and windy and cold. Instead, I'm taking a whole afternoon to write and read (gulp) and take in the green and grey waters of the sea: clear waters. It's so rough today. Loud crashes on rocks. The anchored boats are rocking. There is no sun in sight, but these waters are still clear. And in them are dolphins and sharks and seals, hidden. I really can't put it all into words. Etty would do much better.
Today I am thinking about grey. Kathy Galloway and I actually got to talk about greyness this afternoon over lunch. I told her I was buying her book, A Story to Live By, and that I loved how she refers to the glory of grey. We went on to briefly discuss the greyness of Iona: the multilayered kind of grey. The hues are subtle and beautiful. I called the Iona grey a thin veil of hopeful things. Kathy called it a permission to be melancholy. I find it interesting how much this one seemingly unimaginative color has become such an integral part of my life over the past couple months. Once again, I'm brought back to the thought of Marlei and how she planted the hope of grey in me.
Last night was a good kind of wind-down for the week. A beautiful communion service led by Kathy Galloway, and it truly was communion between this group of new family. Onward went the communion—all the way to the pub. There, we all laughed and shared our beverages and crisps. Margaret--with her spiky, white hair and shirt with all the owls on it--of course, was deftly comedic, and I was again her captive audience. And then she would come down and be serious, exposing herself. She told me she thinks I am a beautiful woman, for which I kissed her head. Earlier she had told me: "I have one daughter and she has no children. I am the grandmother to a dog. However, I am quite fond of this dog." Dear Margaret. She is a good one. And Runa. I had known all week that she was a doctor in Palestine for many years, and that she had done a lot of good. What I did not know until last night was that she is eighty-six years old! And she wrote a book called Exile in Israel. And she is going back to Palestine in ten days. As I watched her with her big black bag on her back (the one with straps and wheels) and requisite jeans and loafers, walking around the ferry and train, I smiled in utter appreciation for her vitality. I really have no idea how surrounded I have been this week by amazing people. Slowly, the truth is revealed.
[attention: read the october 8 entry at [jp/p]'s BLOG. do this right away.]
good morning from belfast. i arrived home at midnight,waterlogged, after a rainy day of travel. i feel a lot like sarah harmer in her song, 'uniform grey': it's perfectly suited/this uniform grey/there are no bearings to the day/ i came down from the air/ and i'll leave by boat...
(she forgot about trains and busses, however.)
there is still so very much to process about a week of community on an island, integrated and isolated. so. please don't be upset if you find no iona words here for a little while. i'm still trying to find them.
my most profound thought as of this morning: the difference in travel between last saturday and yesterday. on saturday, i sat in giddy anonymity at an outdoor caffe in glasgow. yesterday, i sat in the midst of dear friends in glasgow, sharing a meal; sharing ourselves.
in other news, you can read my recent aimee mann review for relevant magazine HERE. enjoy (please).
over and out for now, but expect more soon.
have you seen the shipping news? i feel like a member of the cast right now, layered in sweater and jacket and raincoat. and i'm sitting in a shed at the post office--the only place on the island with internet access--checking in. this is just a brief hello. and there are so many words i wish i had the time to say right now. everything in its time, right?
for now, i will say that iona is wind and waves, green and thousand year old crosses still stretching to heaven. it is sheep and beaches. it is candles lit and the quiet awareness of the presence of God, settling on all of us like the grey dusk every night.
and it is well.
more will come as i can write...
(pee ess i've written, daily. and i'll write today. this is the biggest miracle.)
and...HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my dear sister, cathy. [i love you]
it has rained all day today, and it's been windy. i ran into susan as i was walking home from the library--drenched in all the places my raincoat didn't cover--and she laughed at my bedraggled self. "welcome to fall in belfast," she said. "the trees don't change colors and there's no sunshine here; it's all grey and rain!" and then she drove off, dry in her car. and i went home and made soup and tea.
(i hear the icecream truck, despite the rain. and it's playing a lullaby. lullabye...and goodnight...lalalalalalala...hmmm.)
but anyway, i am very proud to be the newest card-carrying member of the belfast library.
onto matters of more cosmic importance: on saturday, i am going to iona, an experience about which i'm nearly speechless. i've known about the island of iona since 1996, when i was introduced to the music of a band with the same name, and have since dreamed of somehow getting to go. when i met karen turner last year, she introduced me to a whole new world of iona, as she lectured on her experiences there...and i can see how the iona community has left its mark on her soul. as karen and i discussed (many times) my possible three month stint in belfast, we hoped out loud for the opportunity for an iona adventure. and so it is about to come to pass...
in three days, i will board a plane to glasgow.
from glasgow i will take a train to oban.
from oban, i will take a ferry to the island of mull.
i'll take a bus across mull, and another ferry to iona.
and then i will stay a week (with no internet, sorry...it will feel like fasting...) in community. in prayer. in open eyes seeing sea and green and history.
the faithfulness of God.
hey, the rain has momentarily stopped.
and the icecream truck is gone!
now it's silent except for the airplanes...
i think i'll read awhile.