Archives For The Love You Take

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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.

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.

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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Thor’s Day

November 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

And on Thor’s Day, we celebrated the First Thanksgiving.

Just imagine Issy sitting at the table instead of taking the picture.

There is no Thanksgiving in Ireland. Nor in most of Europe, from what I can gather. It is not a uniquely American holiday, but there is certainly something very American about Thanksgiving.

Its origins lie in that old chestnut about the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down together to celebrate being best buds, but we all know that it’s a lot more complicated than that. But no one wants to dwell on the ill-treatment of the Native Americans by our ancestors, so….HEY! FOOTBALL!

We gather together to eat ourselves silly, collapse in front of the TV, then get up and do it all again a few hours later. (In my family, there can often be multiple celebrations to attend in a single day.) And the foods are these weird combination of things that shouldn’t be mixed together, but are, and are delicious. (I still don’t go near 24 Hour Salad, though.)

These are all the standard traditions and ideas of Thanksgiving that everyone mentions in Articles About Thanksgiving, so I won’t try to analyze it any more, because I’m trying to write something unique about the holiday. And this is the interesting part: I gathered together my Irish, English, and Italian gang of friends to celebrate a proper American Thanksgiving, hoping some new insight would be gleaned from their experience as First Timers, but it just confirmed everything that’s already been said about the holiday.

Eat too much? Check. Everyone brought food, and we tried a bit of everything during the three-course meal. (Well, except for the vegetarians.) They all had to go to work the next day, and everyone still seems to be stuffed from the night before, according to their Facebook status updates.

Marvel at the strange foods? Check. I made green bean casserole for them, which they found bizarre before even seeing it. When I took it out of the oven, I was puzzled by how runny it was, and then we realized that over here, their cream of mushroom soup cans aren’t condensed. So no proper thick, gooey, delicious casserole for us, but it was still somewhat edible.

The last of the sort-of Key Lime pie.

The foods I did get right were Grandma’s cranberry relish, which is served cold, as a nice palate-cleanser. I also made a variation on what we call an “Eagle Brand” pie, which is basically a Key Lime pie, made from graham cracker crust and condensed milk, but is also very, very delicious. And incredibly sweet. I think I gave everyone at the table diabetes last night.

It was all very typical, but at the same time it was one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve ever had. For my entire life, I’ve been an attendant at Thanksgiving, and the other big holiday gatherings like Christmas and Easter. I’m the Bachelor Uncle Guy with the Small Townhouse who doesn’t have to host, or make any food, doesn’t have any signature dishes, just bring a little wine, make a few jokes, then get cranky/lonely/sleepy. It can be rough for the personality when you’re a permanent guest at life’s major celebrations.

But thankfully, for once, last night, I was able to be the host. I got to invite people into my home, carve the turkey, pour the wine, and make the toast. This was Thanksgiving on my terms, and it was an incredible experience.

I don’t mean to come across as selfish or arrogant, mind you. (I’m looking at those previous sentences, with all of the “I”s and “my”s, like I’m a toddler who won’t let anyone else play with the blocks.) My students and actors may be used to seeing me as the Man with the Plan, but in the real world, more often than not I’m just shuffling along, riding in the passenger side of life. It’s what happens when you remain a single guy living within 25 miles of your hometown. You don’t get the chance to create your own traditions.

And so last night, we held the First Thanksgiving, in a small apartment just outside of Dublin. Linus and Arianna brought wine and starters, Elisa made two kinds of potatoes AND made the gravy AND helped me cook the turkey AND made French Onion dip, because she thought it would be something I would like. (No one’s heard of it over here, but Elisa grew up partly in Canada, so she’s able to tap into that North American cultural tradition thing better than the rest. Did I mention the cheesy potatoes?) Ken arrived on his magical transforming bicycle and made dream bars, and Donal and Issy honored the occasion by presenting me with a smallpox blanket and a bottle of whiskey. (It wouldn’t be an Irish Thanksgiving without them poking a little fun at the tragic legacy of the Native Americans.)

Smallpox blanket and whiskey!

I was short on cutlery, had barely enough wine glasses, no proper serving spoons, and we Frankensteined my dining table and my small desk together for the feasting. Linus sat in an office chair and questioned the thick slices of turkey I had carved. (Not sure if I carved them too thick, or if they carve turkey really thin over here.) And I played good American music like Wilco and June Carter Cash and John Prine.

Through the miracle of modern technology we were able to have my family “join us” from Sandwich for a few minutes, and my two worlds briefly became one. And while I haven’t talked about my family too much on this site, I hope they know that I missed them greatly, and I tried to honor them in my own small efforts, with relish and Eagle Brand pie. And I thought about them often.

But for now, I am here, and it is important to stay focused on the here, instead of the “back home.” I’ll be back there soon enough, but I need to enjoy every single moment I can of living in Ireland, because it ain’t gonna last forever. It’s been an incredible journey, in many ways, and for the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve shared them with, I am especially grateful on this Thanksgiving Day.

A few more photos…

Starters! i.e. appetizers.

A view from the other side: Mom and Grandma talking to us via Skype.

I have LEFTOVERS!

The Journeys of Haroosh

November 12, 2012 — 13 Comments

Alright, so after reading this post, some of you may have wondered: who or what is a Haroosh?

Well, this is Haroosh.

Haroosh and an Apple Buddy

Haroosh belongs to Kyle, a former student of mine. He was a sort-of sidekick for Kyle, you see. Sat on his desk, listened to me read-aloud, went on aventures. He’s an example of what’s great about being a fifth grader: you’re starting to get a little older, but you still have enough of an imagination to create an entire life for a fake baby chick.

Haroosh was also around when Kyle ran the light board for a pair of shows I directed at his junior high. At the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after everyone knew I was heading to Ireland for a year, Kyle presented Haroosh to me and said, “I think Haroosh should go with you and see the world.”

Now, some of you may read this and think, “Aww, how cute!” and leave it at that. Well, for me, it was a very solemn, serious moment. This was someone giving up their sidekick, their animal familiar, their trusted friend. Haroosh was an expression of Kyle, from a class that was particularly good at expressing themselves in unique ways. (See: Apple Buddies, above.)

And so Haroosh has come with me to Ireland, to see what I see.

Haroosh stares out the window of 316.

He’s mostly been cooped up in the places I’ve lived, but he should feel very privileged to have been a brief resident of 316 S. Circular Road. Our first home, and “a remarkable place altogether.”

Haroosh watches the 2012 Olympics

Before school started, we spent most of our free time watching the BBC coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. Haroosh was quite the fan of Jessica Ennis.

Haroosh and Squid Pig

Here Haroosh joins a couple of other items that came with: Max’s Viking mug that I got for Christmas last year, and Squid Pig, another pet from another student. Hope Madison reads this and knows that ole Squid Pig made the journey as well.

Haroosh and I enjoying a small rail museum in Dundalk.

And of course Haroosh came with when I headed up north to Carlingford last month.

Haroosh looking across Carlingford Lough to Northern Ireland.

I’m starting to plan another trip that I’ll be taking once classes end in a few weeks. The Masters students are all headed to London in mid-December to catch a bunch of plays, but I’m planning something extra as well (as long as the budget holds), and Haroosh shall hopefully be reunited with one of Kyle’s good friends from that class.

And when I finally head home, after this journey is done, I hope Haroosh finds his way back to Kyle. And I hope that Haroosh stays with him, sitting on his dresser or his desk, watching him do homework, or tucked away in his bag as Kyle grows up and heads off onto his own adventures. It’s important to have reminders of who we were when we were young, when the only thing that mattered in life was a few good friends and a big imagination. (Maybe that’s all that still matters?)

When we grow up, we put away childish things, and we get serious. But that can be so, so boring sometimes. Maybe that’s why I was so good at teaching 5th grade. I never forgot what it was like to be eleven.

And I hung on to the things that matter.

Doggy goes where I go.

 

My first 5th grade class. The Millenium Class.

Well, I had hoped to have a great Viking-themed post written last week, but some unexpected events delayed that plan. Hopefully I’ll have something ready for you in another week or so, after I finish getting caught up on my classwork. Why do I need to be caught up, you ask? Well, as some of you may or may not know, I was actually back in Illinois for a week. Here’s why…

On Tuesday the 2nd of October I got an email from my mom about my great-Uncle Fred. He had suffered a massive stroke. It didn’t look good.

I spent the next day or so half-listening in class, as I thought about Fred, and home, and some other events that were happening back in suburban Illinois. There was a wedding I had hoped to attend, and it just killed me to miss it due to me being over here for a year. After looking at ticket prices, and finding one incredibly cheap, I decided to come home for a few days. I could afford to miss a week of school, and with everything that was going on, I felt it important enough to return home for a bit.

I was able to visit Fred one final time, although whether or not he knew I was there is tough to say for certain. Fred is a guy that I had an enormous amount of respect for, and he was always a favorite of mine from that side of the family. Fred served as a navigator on a C-47 during World War II and I always enjoyed talking to him about his time in the service. Last December we celebrated his 90th birthday.

Fred and the C-47 model everyone mistakenly thinks I gave him.

Mike and Liz were in my very first 5th grade class. Liz I had known already, as she was in my 4th grade class the year previous. Mike was new that year. By the end of the year I was in the process of starting up a new theatre program for the Oswegoland Park District, and both Liz and Mike were a part of that program in its first year. (Still are, as a matter of fact.)

Liz as Sarah from our 2003 production of The Last Dance, my first full-length original play for Limelight.

Eight years later, we were in the process of producing a new play called Heroes and Villains. It was the third and final part of a trilogy of shows I had written. Mike and Liz were in all three. This one was about growing up and moving on, and it was the last play I did with that original company of players I worked with year after year, show after show. It was time to start fresh, and I thought it was time for them to start doing other things as well.

Mike and Liz started dating that summer. During rehearsals of my last show with Limelight, they visited me to announce that they were getting married. And they had a request: would I write something original to read at the ceremony?

Mike visiting my classroom for a college assignment.

When I decided to move over to Dublin for the year, one of the hardest parts was knowing I wouldn’t be able to be there on their wedding day. I had flirted with coming back, but I didn’t think I’d be able to afford it. Someone else would read my piece at the reception.

So with all that, and with me wanting to say goodbye to Uncle Fred, I woke up very early on a Thursday morning and flew home.

I spent Friday working on class assignments down in my parents’ basement. I hadn’t said anything to anyone about coming home, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It didn’t seem right to make this big announcement about me coming back; I was supposed to be in Ireland, right? It would upset the new order of everything! Plus, I was coming home for fairly solemn reasons, and it would seem cheap and dishonorable to turn Fred’s illness into an “I’m BAAAAACK!” moment.

Still, I was anxious to get out of that basement and see some friends, so I impulsively drove over to my place of employment to surprise an old friend. Turns out I surprised a few former students as well. I think Nick is still picking his jaw up from the sidewalk outside the school.

Caught up with the doings at work, then grabbed some drinks and dinner with friends at my favorite restaurant in Oswego. It felt like hardly any time had passed. And through the miracle of Facebook, people started hearing about my return.

On Saturday I cobbled together whatever fancy clothes I could find, and I drove to the Hardest-To-Find Wedding In The World. The service was supposed to start at 5:15. I got there around 25 minutes past and just made it.

Right around the time Mike and Liz said their vows, Uncle Fred quietly passed away, surrounded by his wife and children.

During the reception speeches were made and toasts were given. It came time for me to read my piece, and…well…I would say that reception was mixed, at best. The crowd had been primed to expect something short and funny, and instead I gave them something long and heartfelt. Maybe some of the crowd wasn’t expecting a short story catching up with Liz and Mike’s characters from those plays we had done, but that’s what they got.

When you have two former elementary students, two founders of the only family I’ve ever created from scratch, two people who I’ve shard a lot of life with getting married...well, you don’t get up and make a sarcastic joke out of everything. You stand up and you say something true and heartfelt and earnest. You try to find words that sums up everything about where you were, where you are, and where you’re going.

 

A few days later I put on a black suit, and my step-Dad, Uncle, cousin and I wore white gloves on our hands and we laid them on Fred’s casket and we helped escort him into a small Lutheran church and we said our goodbyes. And true and heartfelt and earnest words were said about a quiet, decent man who did extraordinary things with his long life.

Last year Fred gave me a tour of his exhibit at the Plainfield Historical Society. After looking at his artifacts displayed in a glass case, I spent some time looking at the other historical pieces from that era. There was a woman’s uniform on display, either a WAC or a WAVE. In the story that accompanied the uniform, a woman talked about how when they were on leave for a night or a weekend, they would continue to wear their uniforms, because of how proud they were of the work they were doing.

I remember tearing up a bit when I read that, and even now I get a little lump in my throat thinking about her words. They were just so…genuine. I remember thinking: how different we are these days. We stick our heads in the sand and we ignore the ugly truth about our current wartime situation. We go shopping. We keep an ironic distance from everything. This woman was so proud of what her uniform represented, what her country was doing to rid the world of an ugly, unfathomable evil.

When the war ended, Fred flew repatriation missions in Europe, helping bring displaced peoples back to their homes. He called it the most fulfilling work of his life.