Archives For The Love You Make

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A former student of mine, now a good friend, gave me a call not long ago and we tossed around dates for me to come visit him out in Seattle. Nothing was gelling properly, and I have yet to make firm plans to get out there, but I know I will before long. But the conversation got me thinking about travel and other far-flung people I know, and so a plan was hatched to take a last-minute road trip out east.

Facebook can be a very interesting way to plan a trip. Last March I kicked around ideas for spring break road trip on a post and I was amazed at the number of people who suggested that I come see them in places like Colorado, California, or Massachusetts. So for this trip all I had to do was put up an Instagram picture I took of the northeast U.S. and within 24 hours I had a trip planned, based on the comments and suggestions people left.

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First stop was Asbury Park, New Jersey. Hometown of Bruce Springsteen and yearly vacation haunt for one of my old Limelight directors and his wife. After spending the morning having a run in the Manasquan Reservoir, I met them on the boardwalk and they showed me the sights. Asbury Park seems like its on the verge of something, and there are only a handful of reminders left that this was Bruce’s “city of ruins” for a while. The downtown is clean and trendy, the boardwalk is expanding, and people will always, always want to spend their summers on the beach.

Up next was Providence, Rhode Island and a Brown graduate I once taught, a long time ago. Same class as the earlier student. Hadn’t seen her in at least five years, and it was probably longer than that since we had a proper conversation with each other. So of course we talked about Harry Potter all night and our opinion of the new story. I got the grand tour of Brown, and we bounced around from place to place, eating and drinking, and enjoying each other’s company more and more as the night went on. A former student, now a good friend.

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On to Boston. I had originally planned to spend 2-3 nights here, but wound up trimming up this leg to just one night, once the meetings and work responsibilities started piling up. Saw a former work buddy of mine for the first time in sixteen years. I last saw him back in 2000 when I was helping my friend Randy move back from Baltimore. We chatted over beers and local cider and caught up properly, and I left that night happy that I still had this man as a friend.

And then it was time to head west and for home. While I drove through upstate New York I started sketching plans in my head for a longer visit next summer, maybe, hopefully. Hope to stick around in the states for my summer wanderings. And of course I still need to get to Seattle.

I stopped for the night in Eire, Pennsylvania, on recommendation from a parent of former students of mine, and yes, now a friend. I ate blackened swordfish and roasted potatoes and walked along the lakefront and watched the sun set, aware for the first time in a long, long while that I actually felt happy.

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I’m getting a ride to the Stratford rail station by one of the guys from Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He’s telling me his story. Went to a nice school on a rugby scholarship. Served in the British army, trained special forces in the U.S. for a time. Had to leave service when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and now he’s in the Enterprise management program. We’re talking about the London theatre scene. “The West End. That’s my thing,” he says. “Have you seen Billy Elliot?”

He’s a nice guy, and I appreciate the lift to the station. He recommends walking down the road to a supermarket to buy my lunch. Cheaper than anything I get on the train. We don’t mention the impending Brexit vote. No one does. It’s strangely absent from conversations and the London streets. 

I suppose it’s time to talk about Randy.

I’m in London to see Belle & Sebastian play the Royal Albert Hall. In honor of their 20th anniversary, they’re playing their first two albums (both released in 1996) on successive nights. Tigermilk tonight, If You’re Feeling Sinister tomorrow. I have tickets for both shows, purchased almost a year ago at 3 in the morning.

I am here because of Randy.

I had a blue cassette tape that I used to play in a small white car I have long since sold. Randy gave it to me one summer, a long time ago. A new band he discovered and thought I might like. “Tigermilk”, the cassette’s label reads.

I was surprised, I was happy for a day in 1975

I was puzzled by a dream that stayed with me all day in 1995

The opening lines of “The State I Am In” introduces me to the songwriting and voice of Stuart Murdoch and his Glasgow band Belle & Sebastian. I am in love.

To detail what this band has meant to me over the past (almost) twenty years would take far too long and would get way too personal. They often get pegged as overly-precious, something shy art school girls listen to while writing in their journals and clutching their favorite childhood stuffed animal.

Do I have an aspect of my personality that is shy and artsy and feminine and writes overly-sensitive entries in fancy journals while my favorite childhood stuffed animal looks on? Umm. Maybe. I’ll wear it proudly. They have been my favorite band for a long, long time, and I have shared them with many important people in my life. I have danced on stage during “Judy and the Dream of Horses” and I have skipped a show due to a mild panic attack during a rough spot in my life.

Randy was my best friend for a long time, until he wasn’t anymore. The rough spot had its consequences. I wasn’t listening. But I learned, the hard way, and I moved into a better place in my life. You had to earn your friendship with Randy, and you had to work to keep it. But the times we spent together were good times, and I loved him dearly. He had a profound impact on my life, and ultimately, he made me a better person.

I ran into him shortly after I moved into my current home, riding his bike. We said hello and caught up a bit. He was back living nearby. I wanted to apologize to him, find a way to make things right and start again, but I figured I would see him again and I would have the chance to make things right.

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The band walks onto the stage and those opening lines from “The State I’m In” fill the Royal Albert Hall, this amazing, iconic English place, where Bob Dylan played at the end of Don’t Look Back, “the vanishing American,” shaking, joking with Bobby Neuwirth, “give the anarchist a cigarette!” Transformed.

A year or so ago I was sitting at home on a Saturday night, watching a film. A cold February night. I heard an ambulance go by and looked out the window, wondering if it was headed to my neighbor’s house again. It wasn’t.

Mike called me the next morning. Randy had a heart attack and died last night. He was gone, and there would never be a chance for apologies and buried hatchets. The sirens I heard last night were for him.

I once gave him a poster of the Tigermilk album cover, from a set I had ordered from the band’s website. He still had it in his apartment. It’s now on my wall.

The band has played the entirety of Tigermilk and the final verses of “Mary Jo” are wrapping up. It’s never been one of my favorites. (The flute at the beginning is unfortunate evidence of that preciousness I mentioned earlier.) But it works as a closing song amazingly well, wrapping up the journey the shy and damaged characters have taken through the album.

 

Mary Jo, you’re looking thin
You’re reading a book, “The State I Am In”
But oh, it doesn’t help at all

Something hits me. The tears are starting to roll down my face as it all becomes a bit overwhelming and the last fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years of my life collapse and collide and I wonder if I’ve learned anything from my life, all my highs and lows, my successes and my disasters. You think you’re fine, but there it is again.

Because life is never dull in your dreams
A pity that it never seems to work the way you see it
Life is never dull in your dreams
A sorry tale of action and the men you left for
Women, and the men you left for
Intrigue, and the men you left for dead

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The show continues and I am dancing to “The Boy with the Arab Strap.” I am happy. for a day at least.

You can’t outwit depression. It never really goes away. Fear and anxiety and sadness and the loneliness and this plague I carry in my head. I want it to stop I want it to stop I want it to stop. I want to be transformed, like Dylan in the movies, don’t look back as I cut through the park, walking briskly on Carriage Drive as the rain starts to fall on my way back to the hotel. I want it all to stop.

It’s someone else’s turn to go through Hell
Now you can see them come from twenty yards
Yeah you can tell
It’s someone else’s turn to take a fall
And now you are the one who’s strong enough to help them
The one who’s strong enough to help them
The one who’s strong enough to help them all

 

I’m down to my last day or two here in Dublin, and I’ve gotten behind in the chronicles, so I’m going to try and dash out a few quick posts before I leave.

After we celebrated my friend Linus’ 40th I joined his family for a few days in County Kerry, in the southwest corner of Ireland. It’s the gorgeous part of Ireland. Mountains, lots of green, lots of water. Lots of Kerrymen. The people in Dublin don’t have the highest opinion of people from Kerry. Well, from anywhere that’s not Dublin, really. Lot of City Mouse, Country Mouse business. As someone who grew up in a small town and comes from a farm family, I’ve heard it all a million times, but it’s sad to find the stereotypes yet again.

And yet…

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Photo via Broadsheet

This was found in the town I stayed, and NO, it had nothing to do with my booming teacher voice. We Americans are tagged as “loud” all the time, but I’m trying to counter that stereotype by pointing out that we tend to project our voices more than the Anglo/Irish peoples do, who tend to keep everything closer to their chest. It’s difficult to admit, but half the time I can’t hear what anyone’s saying if we’re in a pub or a restaurant with a lot of background noise.

Anyway. It felt good to be in the country, and see mountains and mist, and eat seafood chowder and spend some time with friends. We drove the Ring of Kerry and visited little towns and cafes and watched World Cup matches and let their little daughter play in the ocean for a while.

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The reflectors on the side of the road look like the Irish flag! (At least in Waterville they do.)

I spent the next two weeks in almost complete isolation, just hanging around the house, going for walks, drinking tea, and reading a lot. Needed to be frugal for a while since I decided to take a second trip to London. (More on that one later.) I keep hoping I’ll grow out of this prolonged introverted mood of mine. I can spend days and days and days without coming into contact with anyone and I’ll be perfectly content. This is not exactly the best habit to support, so I was hoping that I would burn myself out of it after a while. It’s not good to wall yourself off into your own little world for too long, and I’ve neglected far too many relationships back home as a result. I dunno…maybe it’s a necessary thing. Maybe you need to cocoon yourself off from life for a while until you’re ready to head back out into it again. I won’t go into any tired metaphors about transformation and turning into a stupid butterfly. But I definitely feel like I’ve come to the end of something, whatever that is.

But after all that I got out of the house and went to the Galway International Arts Festival for the third time. Another couple of friends of mine from Dublin hadn’t seen me much this summer, so they decided to take a weekend away from family duties and join me. We met up in one of my favorite places to hang out while in Galway and stayed up far, far too late, but looking back it was more than worth it. My first and best memories of Ireland were spent in the Rosin Dubh and in Galway, and while they’ve ripped out the front seating area (for the most part) and turned the place into a late bar, with disco, it can still be a great place to have a pint and a chat.

It was brutally hot in Galway that weekend, and the tiny room in my B&B offered no comfort at all, so after a rough night of sleep and a full Irish breakfast we met up again and wandered around a bit before I left for a matinee performance of Ballyturk, the new play by Enda Walsh. It starred Cillian Murphy; kids, you may know him as the Scarecrow from Batman Begins. I can’t even begin to describe the play, as it was quite strange and brilliant and weird and profound all at once. Gonna need a bit more time on this one.

We had a nice dinner away from the crowds in Galway and found a quiet place called the Scholars Rest to wind down the evening and have some of the local varieties. “Thunder Road” played in the background and I could start to feel it. That little tug, that little reminder of American roads and restlessness. Tried to push it aside, but it kept reminding me of that little truth I sometimes like to ignore: America is your home. In the end, you’re just a guest here.

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The essentials

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Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren.

You can read more about this rock formation here. It’s a portal tomb, in short.

 

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A mass murder of crows, on top of a hospital?

Sunday morning comes and I walk from my B&B through the town centre, which is quiet and sleepy after the final mania of the arts festival. The buskers are out, though, ready for one more day, and a man in black sings “Over the Rainbow” in a deep baritone and once again I’m being pulled back, back, by those songs, those American songs, all about getting out and away and not looking back, and all they really do is slowly pull you home.

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Haroosh’s Last Trip

November 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

In Which Haroosh and I Take One Final Trip Together, and Some Lessons Are Learned

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Are you packing your suitcase again?

Yes.

Does this mean you’re going on another adventure?

Yes, Haroosh.

Wonderful! Do I get to come with?

Yes, of course. I think it’s important that you come on this one. You might learn something. It’s time to teach you about things greater and more important than Adventures.

Where are we going?

Florida.

For a holiday? I mean, a vacation?

Not exactly.

Oh. What is it, then?

I”m not sure what to call it, exactly. We’re going to see some family. To pay our final respects.

What does that mean?

It means that someone has died. In my family. And so my uncles and my mother and I are going to go say goodbye, and be with some of our family for a few days.

Oh. And I get to come with?

Yes.

It doesn’t sound as much fun as the other trips we took.

I know. This one is different. This is a trip we need to take together, my uncles, and my mother and I. The last trip, perhaps.

The last trip? For me?

For many of us.

Oh.

Are you okay, Haroosh?

Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I… I thought we were going to take a lot more trips together.

I know.

We were supposed to see the world. That’s what Kyle wanted you to do. With me. See the world.

I know. And we did. A small part of it. But that’s all done, for now. I have responsibilities, and it’s time you got back to Kyle. I’m sure he misses you.

I haven’t seen him in a long time. Will he be different?

Probably. He’s a little older now. He’ll be in high school next year.

Oh.

Will he still want to have me back?

I think so. I think you’ll be with Kyle for a long time.

I hope so.

So, we’re going to all drive together? All the way to Florida?

All the way to Florida. Without stopping for the night.

What’s it like down there?

It’s warm. Very warm. I used to live there, a long time ago. We’re going to say goodbye to my cousin, who we used to spend a lot of time with, her and her sister and her parents, when I was younger. We went on camping trips together, rode horses together, had pizza on Friday nights. She used to drive me to school. I had to sit in the backseat, but sometimes they’d let me play some of my music on the car stereo.

Was she nice?

Yes, she was very nice. She was a teacher, like me. And she loved animals. Horses, dogs, cats, even pigs. She would have liked you very much, Haroosh.

I bet I would have liked her too.

Are you ready to go, Haroosh?

Yes, I’m ready. Let’s go. 


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The photos are from the last time we visited Lorri and the rest of her family, in 2004. We went down to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, and took a day to drive over to St. Cloud to see the old neighborhood and to catch up with Lorri and Jenny, Jane and Mike.

I’ll write a bit more about the trip, and Lorri, in the next day or so.

In case you’re wondering who Haroosh is, I suggest starting here and then reading the rest of these entries.

Ben and Sarah and Emily

October 2, 2013 — 3 Comments

This is one of those posts that talks about how awesome life can be.

I wish I wrote more of these. But I’m mostly tired and cranky these days, so occasionally I get sentimental and reflect on some of people I’m lucky to know.

When they write the book on me, I hope they give a good chunk of it to a couple of kids named Mike and Liz. Mike and Liz just had their first baby together.

Mike and Liz were both former fifth grade students of mine, too. That’s the awesome part. I talk about them all the time, and tell their story often, but I felt it important to lay it down properly.

I came home for their wedding last year. A year ago almost to the day, I think. Last minute thing. Didn’t think I’d be able to make it back from Dublin, but things worked out and I got a chance to get this picture taken:

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Liz I met first. My first job teaching full-time was as a 4th grade teacher at East View. Liz was in that first class. Liked to do theatre. Used to give me pictures of her dressed up in costume from her plays. Here she is helping me pack up the room at the end of the year.

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I moved up to fifth grade next year, and Liz came along for the ride. There was a new student to East View that year named Mike. Here he is with his D-Day project he made. “A BECH ASSAULT.” Mike, we need to talk about your spelling, pal…

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Fun Fact: The blond girl behind Mike? She just got a job teaching first grade in my building. So now we’re co-workers.

That summer I started a theatre company for the park district, and Mike and Liz both joined up. A couple of years later I wrote my first, full-length play, and they starred in it. The Last Dance, about a group of junior high friends. Loosely based on my own youth.

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(There are way too many people that I love dearly in this photo, but this is for Mike and Liz, so I’ll just stay focused on them. But hey, Renee and Freddie!)

Five years later, after many shows and even some ups and downs, we did one final one together. They played Ben and Sarah again, the same characters from The Last Dance. It was about goodbyes, and a journey. Most of my plays are about goodbyes and journeys.

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(From left: Mike Arney as Ben, Liz Husted as Sarah, Freddie Zimmer as Stuart, and Kim Skibinski as Amanda. All former fifth grade students of mine.)

Shortly before Liz had their baby they stopped by my house to drop off some paint supplies I had lent them while we were painting their new house. I was making dinner and invited them to stay. We told stories and quoted The Simpsons, as we’ve done for over ten years. We talked about baby names, and of our fondness for simple, traditional names like Sarah, Elanor*, or Kate.

Last Wednesday Mike and Liz welcomed their first child into the world. And they named her Emily. Perfect.

*I recently decided that had I ever a) bothered to start a family and b) really embraced my nerdy love of The Lord of the Rings, I would have wanted to name my daughter Elanor.

I originally wrote this piece about six years ago, after a pair of tragic events that hit my community. I was thinking about it recently, after the death of a former student of mine. I was thinking about how death comes to a town, or a school, or a family. How we deal with it. How we grieve, and how we deal with life, as messed up as it can be sometimes.

I’ve been seeing a lot of former students lately, scattered throughout the grades, some off in college, succeeding, and some struggling. Some of them will undoubtedly go through some very rough times in their lives. And if any of them out there are reading this, I hope they know that they can always come to me for help.

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April 14th, 2007

I wonder if you realize something. I wonder if you understand that all of us – me, the children who survived, the children who didn’t – that we’re all citizens of a different town now. A place with its own special rules and its own special laws. A town of people living in the sweet hereafter. 

– Sarah Polley as Nicole in The Sweet Hereafter.

A couple of months ago five teenagers from my school district died in a drunk driving accident. I didn’t know them. Their names were vaguely familiar, but I didn’t know them.

Last Tuesday a 16-year old boy stayed home from school and killed himself with a shotgun. I didn’t know him either, but I think I had met him once or twice. His mother teaches in my building, and his older sister had the lead in one of our productions last summer.

Needless to say, our community has had a rough year.

At first it was a distant feeling, the abstract sense of the tragic, the typical wondering of the why and how could it have been avoided. The puzzlement and the mourning once-removed. Death watched from the outside, looking in.

The days passed and the reality, the realness of it starts to become more apparent. What-ifs and the but-for-the-grace-of-God bittersweet understanding that you’re still alive and this kid isn’t.

Saturday the staff of my building gathered together and drove to the memorial service, to pay our respects. Drove with the principal, a good friend of mine, but still the removed feeling, the weight of the event strangely absent.

Walking a ways to the church, because of all the cars, because of all the people there, all the students and teachers and family and friends. There’s the football coach. There’s Curt, probably friends with the family. Ginny from the park district. Then some former students of mine. Some I hadn’t seen in years. A hug for tearful Katie.

Walk into the church, a church I’ve been in a lot, actually. Used to watch some of the girls sing and play piano when I was invited to their recitals. Because I was their teacher, or their director, or their friend.

More people I know. My co-workers, from now, and from then. Some more students, some friends of my roommate (who is friends with the boy’s oldest sister.) I make a small note in my head about how strange it is that I know so many people here, and yet I barely knew this boy whom they were remembering.

The service starts. Songs, readings, eulogy. I listen to it all from the hallway, listening to the pastor trying to make some sort of sense out it. At one point he says, “You are always something to someone. On your worst day, you’re still someone’s son, someone’s best friend.”

You are always something to someone. 

There was a moment, before the service started, that I need to describe. The church was very crowded, and so many of us stood in the halls or watched from the basement. My friend Jeff had been standing next to me, but had wandered away, and I found myself standing there alone. It was a strange, selfish thought, but at that point I was a little bothered by the fact that I was standing by myself. I’m alone too much of the time, and I started getting self-conscious of this fact. The outside-looking-in feeling again.

Then another former student of mine walked up to me. Someone I know very well, since he’s been in Limelight since he left that fifth grade room six years ago. We said hello, chatted a bit, and then the service started.

And he never left my side. As the service progressed chairs were brought out and most everyone sat down, but he and I stood there, sentinel-like, never moving, never speaking. We stood there, next to each other, and listened to the service.

When it ended everyone filed out, behind the casket, tears streaming, arms and hands together, holding on to each other for comfort. More and more students and actors and tech kids of mine started walking past me. My roommate, and the girl I had just interviewed a few hours ago for a directing position.

And there it was, more or less, the last ten years of my life, a world that the boy and I seemed to share in more ways than one.

You are always something to someone.

I didn’t know him, and there’s no way to tell him anything, change anything, and it’s a shame. He lived in this wonderful world, full of bright, loving people, all in it together.

Maybe he saw it, maybe he didn’t. I wish I could show him, let him know that it gets better, that even though the nights are horrible at times, it gets better. It gets better because of all those people in that church, all those people that he knew and I know, all interconnected.

I know a few guys his age, and I know they struggle at times, and that’s been the hardest part about this whole thing, from my point of view. Thinking about those boys that have been lost in their own lives, wondering what’s the point, wondering if getting through it all is worth it.

While I stood there next to this former student and friend that is so dear to me, I wanted to grab him and let him know how much he means to me, how much he means to everyone. I wanted to let all those lost boys out there know it: you are something to someone. You are something to me. You are something to all of us.

We are all in this together.

The Sea-Bell

March 17, 2013 — 5 Comments

Today I drove around for a couple of hours, to nowhere in particular. I do this a lot lately.

Trying to stay in one place for a bit, save some money for the next round of wandering. But I tend to get in my car a lot and just drive, mostly the back country roads, so I can listen to the radio and get lost in my thoughts for a while. I’ve driven these roads countless times over the years, so I’m always searching for a new, unexplored route.

I bounce from classroom to classroom during the week, a different teacher every day. Some days I sit in the corner of a high school class while they watch 40-year old films to learn about World War II. Some days I entertain eight-year olds and they think I am a god.

Often I see former students and former Limelighters, and it is always a happy reunion. Still smiling about the bear hug I got from an eighth grader I had a few years ago; he stopped by my room every passing period of the day, just to keep saying hi.

On one of my drives I swung by my house, where another man now lives, where my neighbors are complaining of branches that are creeping across the divide into their patio. I forgot to bring any branch cutters, and so the small tree continues to grow and trespass onto another property.

Sometimes I stop driving and I walk inside a school and I sit in the back and watch my former company of actors and directors move on without me. During the intervals new ideas flood into my head and I scribble them down in a small black notebook. I have lots of ideas these days.

I continue work on a new play I started last fall, back in the writing course I took at UCD. I dust off an old one and I strip it back to only what’s necessary. I outline, I write dialogue, I collect pictures and think about color palettes and light plots and scene design.

And I think about teaching, the real job, and I wonder what I’m going to do with myself.

The old life is right there, if I want it. I can move back into my old house, my old classroom is waiting for me, and all my old friends are here. Everything could go right back to the way it was.

One of my best friends mentioned something about “getting it out of your system” when I moved to Ireland. My grandmother said the same thing. A lot of people say things like “Well, now you can say you’ve done it, and you’ve got no regrets.” Like it’s a box I wanted to just tick off on the Brian Fauth Bucket List.

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Once upon a time, I could have settled down and loved a woman and raised a family, and maybe that would have been a good life.

Once upon a time, I got on a plane and I flew across the ocean and I saw great cities and I met lovely people and I climbed green hills and I watched a continent pass by my train window.

Once upon a time, I thought I could go back to doing what I did before, and what I did better than anyone else, and I thought that would be enough. But that was a long time ago.

I’m like one of those guys in the old stories, the ones who forget the instructions and accept the gifts of the Fair Folk. There’s always a price to be paid when visiting the Twilight Realm; when you return home, nothing is ever the same again. You drift through life as a shadow, and try as you might, you can never find your way back again.

And so I drive and I drive and I drive, through the end of a bleak and cold winter, and I watch the snow melt along the roadside, and I stare out into the horizon, searching for a new route to take me home.

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There and Back Again

December 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

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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.

*   *   *

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.

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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.

The Swell Season

December 9, 2012 — Leave a comment


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My time in Prague was brief, but incredible.

Prague has this annoying association still attached to it, one of those cities that young backpackers always go on and on about. “You gotta go, man. Prague is amazing.” I avoided it until now partly for that reason. But it is the site of Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution, part of that fall-of-the-Iron Curtain era of history that I’m so fascinated with. And ever since a family I knew from my 5th grade days moved there this past summer, I had vague plans to travel there to finally see it for myself. And with school wrapping up, and my time living overseas coming to an end, I made it the first stop on the Last Tour.

I was able to see Ian’s school, a small British-style international school that, aside from the small class sizes and some cosmetic differences, didn’t seem that much different than what we were doing back home. The teachers are all ex-pats, travelers from around the world looking forward to teaching in a foreign country for a few years before they eventually move on. I looked into something like this several years ago but couldn’t quite pull the trigger.

For three days I wandered the city, spent time with Ian and his family, and ate heavy meals and washed it down with a few good Czech beers. The language barrier was only a small inconvenience; Czech is a difficult language to understand, but there are enough people here that speak English, and you get by.

The city is gorgeous, but here and there you see echoes of the former Communist past. Gloomy, boxy buildings made to service the proletariat but add little to the grandeur of the older architecture. The older folk carry that heavy, resigned grumpiness that comes from being occupied by an oppressive power for decades.

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When you teach fifth grade, you get the kids for a short nine months, three seasons and then you pack them off to the junior high and you say goodbye. Most of the time you never see them again, occasionally some stay in touch, but even that fades in time. But if you’re lucky, sometimes you build a relationship with a few that last for years and years. Sometimes, you even get to go to a wedding.

For a few days, Haroosh and I were reunited with an old friend, on the other side of the world, and I can only hope that it isn’t the last time I see Ian and his family. That last day of school, where everyone says teary goodbyes to the little community created within four walls of a classroom, gets worse and worse every year. Too many goodbyes, too many good kids you don’t want to part from. Limelight offered the chance to sustain a relationship for years and years, but now that’s gone too, a swell season of my life that has given way to a new, more uncertain one, but still full of promise and potential.2012-12-05 16.22.20 2012-12-06 11.46.13 2012-12-06 19.20.03
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316

December 4, 2012 — 6 Comments

When I first arrived in Dublin, I had nothing. Just a suitcase of clothes, a handful of books, and a laptop connecting me to back everything back in the states.

I had just moved out of my house of seven years. Packed everything up, sold some old bookcases and a decent couch, had a farewell party, and mentally started from scratch.

Needless to say, I was a bit emotional and discombobulated. I was in a foreign country, and needed a home.

For the first couple of weeks I lived in Dublin, Jack and Paddie gave me that home.

I had been inside “316” once before, after a wedding for Donal and Issy back in 2010. We ate and drank and sang songs late into the night. It was one of the best nights of my life, and I secretly hoped I would have the chance to experience something like it again.

Jack and Paddie are both retired educators, and had a spare room, and graciously offered to put me up until I found an apartment I liked. For nine nights or so, I ate with them, talked teaching with them, and stayed up very late drinking French wine and Guinness with them.


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(Delicious AND affordable!)

Paddie offered up ideas about helping out in area schools, and Jack and I made vague plans to catch a Hurling match sometime in 2013. When I wasn’t apartment-hunting, or sometimes sleeping past breakfast (ahem…it uh…took me a while to adjust to the new time zone), I helped organize a garage and silently took notes while Jack prepared delicious dinners night after night.

Eventually I found a place near the university and moved in, but it was a bit of a disaster. I rushed into renting a place, and later discovered it was horribly damp. (It was a basement flat.)

Passports shouldn't do this.

Passports shouldn’t do this.

A month later I found a new place, so all’s well that ends well on that story.

But back to 316.

(That was what everyone called Jack and Paddie’s place. Homes often get names over here, I’ve noticed. One of the little things I love.)

I had wanted to take Jack and Paddie out for dinner some evening, as a thank you for everything they had done for me during my stay at 316. But they were busy, as it turned out they were in the process of selling their home of 31 years. It was time to pick up sticks and live in the country a bit.

And so I headed back to 316 for one more night of singing and farewells.

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I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the evening, but it was quite wonderful, and I felt very lucky to have been there for the final gathering in their home. 316 had a long history of hosting extended visitors, and I was one in a long list of people who temporarily called it their home. Kind of like Sam Gamgee getting Ring-bearer status even though he had barely carried the thing.

Paddie gave me a big hug when I walked through the door, and soon I had a glass of wine in my hand. Many familiar faces from the last party were there, telling stories and laughing about the long history they had with 316. Jack worked his magic in the kitchen and piled food onto our plates.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And as the sky grew dark, everyone gathered in the front room for one more round of songs. I got to join in on the chorus of “Wild Mountain Thyme”, one of my favorites, and dug out John Prine’s “Paradise” again, at Donal’s urging. Guitar in hand, smiling and saying “I got your back on this.”

Lots of sweet, sad songs, and a meaningful goodbye to an important piece of many peoples’ lives.

DSC_0101I’ve started to think a lot about “what I learned” while I was over here. Sure, I learned the difference between semiotics and phenomenology, and read the complete works of Anton Chekhov, and I can now navigate the Dublin bus system like a pro. But really, I think, the most important thing I’ll take away from here is that there need to be places like 316 in peoples’ lives. A warm, inviting home that welcomes you with a big hug and leaves you with a full belly and an even fuller heart.

I used to love having parties, and hosting people in my home. But the place I have now is small and cramped and after a while I stopped inviting people over, and I also stopped wanting to invite people over.

My time spent in 316 woke something up in me. When it comes down to it, I think this whole trip has really been about me finally growing up and getting serious about life, and I would like nothing more than to one day have a place like Jack and Paddie’s. A home full of song and life and good friends and family sharing a few moments together. The light in the window for weary travelers. That would be a good life.

Farewell, 316. You belong to the ages now, but I won’t forget what I learned while I was there. And I’ll be back for that hurling match, Jack.

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(Most of these photos were taken by my good friend, and very talented photographer, Elisa, and are used with her permission. Thanks, ‘Lis.)