Tuesday, December 28, 2010


So I know I've talked a lot about my hair around here - the shaved head and the results of that and the whole spiritual growing it back out feeling and thinking and the dreads idea - but I wanted to talk a little bit more about where I think the dreads thing is coming from (besides that I've met a few women who have them and love the idea, the maintenance that would be perfect for my dream of hiking the AT with my family, and the whole naturalistic deal).

My heritage is mostly Celtic.  I've got some German tossed around in there, but in general, my ancestry, at least the parts that resonate with me most, are Celtic.  Irish, to be exact, and some Welsh and English, but the Irish is the part that has always struck me as most a part of my inner being.  My husband is Scottish, and both of us connect in a spiritual way with our Celtic roots.

It is relatively well know that the Celts had "hair like snakes" - which most people take to mean "dreadlocks".  It is generally thought that men and women of the early Celtic culture had dreads.  I'm interested in that sort of ancestral connection.  My Irish heritage has always been fascinating to me.  Perhaps that is the reason I chose to go to Ireland on a cross-cultural excursion during my junior year of college.  (That and I avoided taking another semester of Spanish by doing a cross-cultural.)

The journey to Ireland effected me in ways that I am sure I may never sort out completely.  The entire country pulses and ripples with spirituality, history, deep roots, pain, hope, music, and poetry.  It is a nation of people who, as Sinead O'Connor said, are much like children who have been abused by people they trust.

I spent much of my time in the North and had a home-stay with a lovely woman in the town of Baile an Chaistil (Ballycastle: Anglicized).  Experiencing the Irish culture in both Northern Ireland and the Republic was an insight into myself and my family and into a people largely misunderstood and improperly criminalized by citizens of the United States.  I learned much of Irish history and British oppression that simply isn't taught in American history books.  I found instant friends in pubs and on cliffs and beaches and listened to poetry drip from the tongues of the people amid every day conversation.  Heard yarns spun miles long in lieu of eating dinner because people are more important than anything else.  Music was spontaneous and joyful in spite of laws forbidding the public performance of it and outlawed songs were sung loud voices with raised glasses in the spirit of patriotism.

My politics were absolutely changed by my Irish friends and compatriots.  My views of our own government and that of our allies strangely interrupted, as I was forced to take a hard look at what it means to be the model of "freedom" in the world.  

But it wasn't only this that changed me, that turned my soul and twisted my heart in new directions.  

It was the outlook on life.  The deliberateness of caring for friends and family and the cashier at the supermarket.  The flirtatious exchanges between men and women of all ages that made everyone walk in a way that made them beautiful or handsome all the time, no matter their shape or size or age or status in society.  The beauty of language.  The mysticism that can be found in a place or in a gesture or in a poem or song.  Significance and meanings that have been lost in our constantly moving culture.  

I remember standing in a Druid hut and watching our guide, Brendan, as he smoked a cigarillo and passed them around to the boys in the group.  A few of us had our cameras in our hands, snapping pictures...  He laughed a little and said, with his sparkling eyes and handkerchief instead of tissues and wild curly hair and ruddy cheeks and generous belly:  "You're busy taking pictures and you're missing what's actually going on around you."  He had a lot to say about Americans and our inability to truly live in the moment.

It was one of the times in my life where I was forced to take stock of what my priorities had become.

I was documenting these things instead of living them in real time.  

In Rent, Roger accuses Mark of hiding behind his camera instead of living life - letting himself experience the moment - whether full of happiness or filled with pain.  Mark admits it's true - he hides behind his camera.  He hides behind his work.  How many of us do the same?  

Why does Rent resonate with so many people?  We see ourselves in the characters - especially Mark - who, while his life might be the least exciting, happens to be the truly main character in the piece.  When we look at our own lives, what do we see?  Who have we become?  

I think back on my time in Ireland - about the pictures I didn't take.  About the ones I can conjour in my mind:  a stolen hike and a glance through mysterious ruins.  Trekking with a friend on the beach and tea time in a Protestant woman's house.  Meeting "Patrick" in the pub and feeling lawless and patriotic and criminal at once.  Lighting moonshine on a silver tablespoon and watching it burn blue, fresh from the cauldron that steamed below the maps of England and Ireland with mysterious red and blue push-pins.  A poem from a fellow student who had chosen to leave the states and follow his heritage across the sea to Eire - his changing accent, his flaming red hair.  Singing Danny Boy over stew before a roaring fire while rain pounded down the roof and our German friends from the hostel drank their beer and swung their mugs with cheerful froth brimming over the sides and onto passersby.  Fish and chips in paper with vinegar and cheese from conservatives stands in the middle of town - melting in your mouth - a glass of whiskey you nurse all night and laugh at the Americans as they shoot the precious, hard-wrought grain down unthinking throats who seem to have no appreciation for the time and energy it took to grow that grain, to ferment, to flavor, to bottle and sell.  

My time in Ireland brought me home longing to savor life a little more.  To linger a little longer in conversations with family and friends.  I found myself frustration by our culture that seemed to move so fast and accomplish so little.  I missed the appeal of your fellow man.  Of dancing with friends you hardly knew to music played by locals on fiddles and guitars and accordions.  Of spontaneous drum beats and parades of fallen saints.  

Since my return to U.S. soil (and in spite of all my love for Ireland I was happy to be home - to feel familiar - to wrap myself in the warmth of a culture I understood - one to which I knew the rules and languages and turns of phrase) I have thought often about my time in Ireland and the things I learned there.  The way my life has changed since can most certainly be credited to those weeks spent dancing across swinging rope bridges and staring across a gray sea through misty rainbows at fishing boats and ferries and British soldiers in stagnate uniforms.  To murals of twelve year old girls shot for fun and sport on a man's twenty-first birthday.  I give pondering to my roots.  My heritage.  To those who crossed the sea so many years ago because of a potato famine - not because Irish people only eat potatoes, but because they were only permitted to eat potatoes.  I wonder about them.  I run my fingers over the few photographs I took so far across the ocean and I see the picture of Brendan and the boys smoking their cigarillos and the purple reflections dancing from the walls of stone and mud - some 800 years old at the least - and I try to remember that moments are fleeting.  That time is never still.  That I must grab the present and hold it fast - and at the same time, swim freely with the current.

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