It has been, by most accounts, a most unusual summer for Ireland. The sun comes out most days, the temperature sits comfortably in the high 60s/low 70s, and rain has been fairly absent since I arrived in early June. This is not normal. When I moved over here two years ago, Dublin had just experienced two months of nothing but rain, and everyone had this angry, resigned look about them when talk of the weather would come up, victims of a cruel mother nature that just wouldn’t relent.
So this has been a good summer to be here, to spend some time doing Nothing for a while. A good summer for walks, for hanging the laundry on the line, a good summer for letting a cool breeze float through the living room while I work through a pile of books.
Summer in Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green at midday.
I’m also here to continue my own independent study in the world of theatre, so I headed to London last month to meet up with an old Limelighter of mine named Kevin, to see some shows and indulge our mutual anglophilia. (Kevin’s the real Anglophile, but I have to split mine with an equal love for most-things-Irish, which can make for an interesting and sometimes conflicting set of interests.)
While it would have been faster to fly into London, you can get a cheap Sail and Rail ticket and spend the day crossing the Irish Sea and riding a train into Euston Station, which was my plan. And it was all going well until there was a derailment (not on my train) and left many of us stranded in Crewe for a while. While we waited for news, many passengers wandered around the station in confusion, wondering when the trains would resume service, or if we’d get to London at all that night. I checked for updates on Twitter, and the National Rail app on my phone told me that there were several trains still scheduled for London that night. We’d be fine.
After an hour’s wait and a horrible sandwich from a W.H. Smith, a train bound for London was announced for Platform 12, arriving in a matter of minutes. Everyone gathered wheeled suitcases and oversized backpacks and rushed up the steps, across the walkway over the tracks, and back down the steps to Platform 12, and waited for the train to come.
Suddenly there was another announcement about the train for London arriving on Platform 5, and almost everyone panicked and headed back up the stairs and across to the platforms on the other side of the tracks. Almost everyone. Myself and a couple of others realized there were two trains coming in almost back-to-back on account of the delay. While everyone else crammed into the compartments of the train on Platform 5, we waited patiently until the next train arrived. The the three of us boarded the train via the first class compartment and one guy asked the train manager if it was okay for us to sit there. “If you’ve got a first class ticket you can!” he said back, chuckling. We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders. Hey, we tried.
We walked to the end of the compartment and were about to head to the next one when the manager whistled and said, “Go ahead. You can stay.”
So that’s how we finished the trip to London. Three guys sitting in first class, enjoying free drinks and sandwiches as the sun went down, occasionally giving each other a grin and a little nod. Sometimes it pays to be patient, folks.
I figure that’s enough for this post. I’ll get to London and the shows in a bit. (Part Two of this story can be found here.)
I suppose I should tell a story or two about what I’ve been up to for the past six weeks. I’ve been spending the summer back in Dublin in a rented house, with occasional short trips to London and Kerry. I’ve also had visitors.
Right after school ended I packed my things and set off for the airport, a Business Class ticket on Aer Lingus in hand that I had managed to finagle without damaging the pocketbook too much. This meant I sailed through security in 20 minutes and got to spend some time in an executive lounge, where I caught up on some final emails to parents from my classroom and finally started to relax. It was a long year with that group of students, although still memorable, as they always are.
Flight over was a blur of beverage and food and long conversations with a Scottish oncologist on his way home from a conference. Got into Dublin Airport before 6 AM, grabbed the Aircoach into town, then a taxi to the house in Terenure. It pays to travel to places you know well.
A good rule of thumb when trying to avoid jet lag is to immediately set yourself to the local time. I ignored that rule. When I crawled under the covers it was not even 7 in the morning, which was just before 1 AM “my” time. I hadn’t slept on the flight at all, and I was exhausted. And since I wasn’t on a hard vacation schedule, I just decided to sleep a few hours right then and there.
And that’s pretty much what I did for the next several days. Caught up with some friends, but spent a lot of time sleeping in and laying in bed watching Homeland on my laptop, via UK Netflix. For lack of a better word, I crashed, and looking back on it now, I realize how much i needed that week. I spent a lot of the past year stressed and sick, fretting about what I was going to do with myself, work-wise, worrying about Common Core and changing styles and the lack of a North Star in my life.
The Sunday papers
But then David and Rachel came to town, so it was time to be a proper host and show them around a city I’ve come to call a second home.
David is a cousin of mine, much younger than me, so there’s a bit of an uncle-nephew relationship there, too. This was his first trip overseas, and he and his girlfriend Rachel arrived in the Dublin port from the UK where they had just spent several days in London and Bath. My friend Linus was kind enough to help whisk them from the port down to Terenure, where we dropped bags and then headed back into town* for dinner and a short walk around a few of the more well-known areas of Dublin.
We spent the next day down in Glendalough, hiking in the soaking rain, but enjoying the chance to be outside among some fairly dramatic scenery, the kind we just don’t get in northern Illinois. The next day I showed them more of the city, including the Little Museum of Dublin, which I highly recommend for people interested in something not catering to the typical band of tourists.** We parted ways so they could visit the Guinness Storehouse, which I had seen on my first trip over in 2002 and didn’t need to visit again.
MacPhisto and Me
The next day they took a day trip out to the Cliffs of Moher and I took care of some school business, but I met them later for dinner and pints in Neary’s, my personal favorite place to have a drink. Their final day was Kilmainham Gaol and an obligatory visit to Carroll’s souvenir shop to get silly gifts for friends and family back home. (I waited outside.)
While I liked giving them tours around the area, I suppose I enjoyed just hosting people, and taking care of them for a few days, making sure they were well fed and always had a drink in their hand. “When you’re at your Grannie’s, you can do what you like.”*** Hosting guests is something I don’t get to do very often back home. It was nice. And I would get to do it again two weeks later.
Next up: Shakespeare and getting “Punchdrunk” in London with a fellow Limelighter.
*While we might say “I’m going downtown” or “into the city” to describe heading in to Chicago, over here if you’re heading into Dublin proper, people just say “I’m going into town.”
**The Little Museum is not above capitalizing on certain aspects of Irish culture in order to turn a profit, mind you. The third floor is devoted solely to U2, and they’re currently featuring something “Mrs. Brown’s Boys: D’Exhibition.” Don’t ask.
Let’s just come straight to the point: I’m a teacher, and I get my summers off. And not everyone is as lucky as I am to have that much time off.
This is not going to be a screed about how we teachers “deserve” that time off from all the extra hours we supposedly put in, nor will it be an itemized comparison of salaries, job benefits, or a whine about how we’ve become corporate America’s favorite whipping boy. I’m not interested in that argument right now, because it’s not an easy one to win on either side. We get our summers off. Must be nice. ‘Nuff said.
In my fifteen years of teaching, I’ve taken a total of one summer completely off from working: 2012, when I packed up everything and moved to Dublin for six months to study theatre at UCD. Every other summer was spent working very, very hard for my theatre company I started. That usually wrapped up in late July/early August, and then I’d take my summer cash and travel overseas for a couple of weeks before returning to start another school year.
Directing “All These Will Be Worthless”, Limelight Summer 2010. Photo by Amy Weiland.
Last summer I worked for Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development, a program for gifted youth offering classes in everything from advanced math and science courses to the playwriting course I taught. The program gears more towards the STEM realm of study, and so they’re not offering my theatre course this year. There is a possibility of me teaching a documentary film class, but I haven’t heard from them in over a month about this, so at this point I’m ready to start thinking of other plans.
And those plans involve heading back to Dublin for a while. Things haven’t really been the same for me ever since I headed back, and I’m finding it harder and harder to get excited about The Future over here. Some in my profession are getting excited (or are at least preparing for) all of the Big Changes that are coming, but I am afraid that I am not one of them. Certainly not from a desire to keep doing everything as I was fifteen years ago; I’m not one of those teachers who fear change or progress. I guess I’m one of those educators that looks at it this way: we’re just swapping out one set of rules and instructions for another, and we teachers love our rules and instructions. I’ve always been one who takes a casual glance at the instructions, then works from my instincts the rest of the time. This works for some, but in a profession that tends to be populated by rule followers, it means I’m also one that exists on the margins of things, as my habits can be frustrating to some.
I had my turn when I was the guy on all the committees, the one deemed worthy and important by the Ruling Gods, the last time we had our Big Changes come through. We made new rules and new instructions and those lasted a few years until the Old Gods went away and New Gods arrived. And now we’re dancing to a very familiar tune and it’s a song I never liked much the first time I heard it. I’m dreading all of the “here’s how you do it now” memorandums that are coming.
But anyway. For now I am presented with a summer free from youth theatre, free from responsibilities, free from committees and summer school and recertification demands. I will make sure that I am ready for the Big Changes that are coming for next school year, but I am more interested in following my instincts and a desire to chase that side of me that craves wandering and creating. This is a rare gift to have, this time to myself, and I am aware of how lucky that makes me, in a time where so many are struggling.
I’ve carved out a deeply-important second life over in Dublin, and so I’ll return there to catch up with old friends, explore old places and new ones, and always, always to search for some sort of guidance or inspiration for whatever I’m going to do with the rest of my life.
Now that I’m feeling back to almost-normal, I’m beginning to socialize again. Caught up with some friends tonight, and saw their new baby, but I’ll save that story for tomorrow. Tonight, I’ll tell a quick story about my lunch with Sam.
Sam was a member of my theatre company, and was my leading lady for my last few shows. She was a great Olivia* in Twelfth Night for my final show with Limelight, and stuck with me through the difficult production ofAll These Will Be Worthless. And she’s recently returned from a semester study abroad in France.
Marty and Co. out for a night on the town. (Sam’s on the left with the awesome stink-face.)
Had I been living in Dublin last spring I could have shown her around when she came through for a visit, or I could have bopped over to France to see what life in Angers was like. (Side note: for as cultured as I think I am, European-travel-wise, I really don’t know my French pronunciations.) That’s one of my bigger regrets of not being able to live over there the full year: I never got to have any visitors. Plenty of people I know were in Europe last spring, and I know others had vague plans to come over and see me. Le sigh.
I hadn’t seen Sam for almost two years, and back then she was a high school kid, so there wasn’t much conversing beyond casual chit-chat in-between rehearsals and performances. But she’s a seasoned European traveler now, and deep into her studies at school, so we had a long, long conversation about our travels, the experience of living in another country, the cultural differences, and the truths and falsehoods in this New York Times article.
Whenever people ask me about my time abroad, they’re usually happy with a couple of sentences and then they’re ready to move on. And I get it. While everyone else was busy working and raising a family, I was off having adventures and learning theatre from some fairly legendary people. But they were transformative experiences, and sometimes I’m just dying to talk about them, in detail, and what they all meant. And Sam’s the same way, so it was comforting to be able to open up and really talk about it with someone. We could look each other in the eyes, after telling a story, and we understood. And the one thought that kept forcing its way to the front of our conversation was always, “When are we going back?”**
*I was lucky enough to have two wonderful actresses named Sam play Olivia in Twelfth Night; I’ll talk about the other one another day.
**I will admit, there are many days where I feel like this guy…
Of course I’d finish this with a Tolkien reference.
To know me is to know my long love of The Lord of the Rings and my ability to connect any and all parts of my life to moments from Tolkien’s works. It’s been almost 30 years now since we were assigned The Hobbit in school, which I tore through in a matter of days and was halfway through The Two Towers by the time the class finished the book. I suppose I’ve outgrown certain parts of the story: the magic and the monsters, mostly, although I still dream of owning my own Hobbit-hole someday.
What stays with me are the small moments, mostly about travel: Bilbo quietly slipping away into the night after laying down his burdens; Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on the road, heading out of the Shire; the weather-stained clothes and long legs of Strider appearing in a corner of the Prancing Pony. And of course, the idea of regular, small-town folk finding themselves forever changed after going on a great journey.
I’ve traveled quite extensively over the past ten years or so, but after the wandering was done I always came back the same person, to the same town, to the same job. A friend of mine would always say she hoped I would find what I was looking for, after heading out on another one of my solo journeys. I don’t think I ever did, because I was never really sure what I was supposed to find. I was always happy to return home to my friends and family and familiarity.
He lived alone, as Bilbo had done; but he had a good many friends, especially among the younger hobbits. Frodo went tramping over the Shire with them; but more often he wandered by himself, and to the amazement of sensible folk he was sometimes seen far from home walking in the hills and woods under the starlight. He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams. He began to say to himself: ‘Perhaps I shall cross the River myself one day.’ To which the other half of his mind always replied: ‘Not yet.’
It took me a long time to finally cross the River myself. And the last six months certainly weren’t as dramatic or traumatic as Frodo’s journey, and there are others out there that have seen and done far more than I ever did while in Dublin. But it is no small thing to pack up your entire life and start over in a faraway place. For a while I thought I was heading over there for good, but reality and practicality have brought me back home once again. In my last post, I wondered what that would be like, and after being home for a week or so, I think I’ve answered my own question.
In the book, the four hobbits return to a Shire badly scarred by the War of the Ring, something the movie altered for a simpler ending. While I prefer the book’s version of events, the idea that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin return to a place completely unchanged has a different resonance now with me. They sit in the Green Dragon and toast each other and no one else has any idea what they’ve been through and how it’s forever changed them. And try as he might, Sam will never be able to convince the people of the Shire that he’s seen an Oliphaunt.
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This is the 40th post, and the last of the tales of my adventures there and back again. Tomorrow I turn 41. Normally I gather together friends and family at a local establishment and we eat and drink in honor of myself. Tomorrow I will probably just go for a long walk. But if I had my way, I would throw some essentials into a pack, grab a good walking stick, and quietly disappear into the night, in search of wild lands and mountains I have never seen. Or perhaps even head back to Dublin. A fine place, it is, full of people I am proud to call my dear friends. “Merry be the greenwood, while the world is yet young! And merry be all your folk!”
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Before I close, I thought I would add a little something for everyone’s enjoyment, if they like this sort of thing. One of the first posts I wrote on this site was called “Passengers.” A reference to a Lisa Hannigan song that ran constantly through my head while I was in Ireland, and also to those that I left behind: my friends and family, and especially my students. This blog was written primarily for them, and if they are still reading it, I hope that they enjoyed following along on my adventures. They, and everyone else back home, were passengers with me, and I thought of them often. So here’s a little something that sums up my time over there, in video form. Hopefully people don’t mind me using these clips of them. I imagine I’ll have more people upset that they weren’t included. Strange to see who and what I don’t have recorded; I could have used a lot more of my friends and family on here, and some students from way back, but hopefully I was able to capture a small slice of my life.
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Okay, one more thing. While the farewells in Dublin were sad, and the drive to the airport was just a horrible day all-around, I have to say that it was very heart-warming to have my mother (and fellow world traveler) meet me at the airport.
Okay, I’ve ended this thing enough times already. Thanks to all my readers, and please stay tuned: these are just the first 40 posts of the 4-T Tales. Even though I have just returned home, I think I am quite ready to go on another journey.