Archive for July, 2019

Back to Alice

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags on July 21, 2019 by chateaucone

I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this before, but I have a little problem with left and right. I think it’s some kind of learning disability, because if I’m being truthful (which would be nice, yes?) I’ve always had trouble learning things that come in pairs. By which I mean, I never learn things that come in pairs. For example:

  1. Left and right (see above)
  2. Those greater than/less than symbols
  3. Its/it’s

That’s all I can think of right now but there are more.

There/they’re/their. No problem. To/two/too. All good. Things that come in threes work.

I remember the left/right lesson very clearly in kindergarten. There was a ditto (remember that smell? If not, you are too young to be reading this. ;-)) with an outline of a human body (kind of like a chalk outline at a crime scene) and we had to mark the left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot. No gold star for me that day. But then, we had to go home and look in a mirror and see how our left hand was our right hand in the mirror, and the right one, the left one.

The mirror thing was beyond me. I can remember staring into the mirror for a long time and just not getting it. My left hand stayed my left hand, and my right hand stayed my right hand. Or vice versa, because I wasn’t quite sure which was which. Truthfully, again . . . I really only understood one day recently that when I raised my right hand, the PERSON IN THE MIRROR was raising her left hand. It was like Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan at the well.

(I feel like I should attach my transcript here to prove that I’m not an idiot. Not my undergrad transcript, though, which would prove that I am, in fact, an idiot.)

Since then, I’ve learned that if I hold my hands up, index finger pointing up, thumbs perpendicular, my left hand will make an L shape, for left.  This works, when I remember to do it. But in a pinch, I am nearly always wrong.

Over the past few years though . . . decades, I guess . . . I’ve come to associate the direction left as being the way you turn when you are crossing over a lane of traffic. Right is when you don’t have to cross over a lane. So when I’m driving, I’m actually pretty spot on when someone tells me to make a left or a right.

Except in England. And Scotland. And Ireland. Where I am a menace.

I’ll spare you the multiple stories about almost getting run over here in the land of driving on the left. Even the words painted on the edge of the sidewalk saying, “Look right” or “Look left” don’t help. Because unless I think very hard, I don’t know which is which. Add to that the cars that are making turns off one street and on to the street I’m crossing—they are always a surprise. I only look for them where I think they might be coming from, and that is never where they’re coming from.

Yesterday, though. Yesterday I drove up from Anam Cara to Cork. By which I mean my new friend Maeve drove, and I sat in the passenger seat, on the left side of the car, giving her bad directions. Because my whole system for knowing right and left went to hell. Even after six weeks of flinching and gasping whenever I see a car making what looks like a really wide right turn into the left lane of the road, I am still waiting for the head-on collision. Because here, in Ireland (and of course England and Scotland and Wales), you have to cross over that lane of traffic when you make a RIGHT turn. Not a left turn. Unless you’re in my head, where right magically becomes left because you are crossing over that damn lane of traffic. We were actually at an intersection and I changed my mind four times about which way we were supposed to go. I was sure the GPS lady voice, and the map on the phone, were saying two different things.

They were not.

But Maeve and I are still friends, which is nice, because we are twins separated at birth. The only thing we don’t have in common is that Maeve knows her right from her left.

Today is my last full day in Europe. I fly to London tonight and to JFK tomorrow morning. You can tell I’m tired, I imagine, because I just wrote an entire post about left and right.

And now I have to get back to my anxiety attack that my luggage will be too heavy for British Airways and I’ll have to leave something vital behind.  Or piss off everyone on line behind me as I move things from a too-heavy suitcase to a slightly less heavy one, until the luggage-taking person gets sick of me and just checks them. I know, privilege problems again.



“Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll” by Vic Muniz, in the “Seen, Not Heard” exhibit at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. Although Alice was certainly heard. Nice to begin and end this trip with Alice.




Revision, and how it sucks. And dogs. Always dogs.

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , , on July 16, 2019 by chateaucone

The view from Anam Cara

So, here I am at Anam Cara, on the Beara Peninsula, in southwest Ireland. Anam Cara is a writers and artists retreat. You can see it here. This is my last stop before coming home, which is good, because I am tired. Not so much physically as that museum-tired you get after you’ve looked at too much art in one day. Over-stimulated. You hit the wall. (Privileged much?)

The country around here is beautiful, with green, rocky hills, and around every turn of the very windy, very narrow roads there’s another beautiful view. (And I’ve photographed every. single. one. Seriously. Come over sometime.)

I am once again struggling with an essay, which I guess in writer-language is called, “revising.” This is the piece about Scotland I’ve written about here before. I got some feedback on it from an editor I’m working with . . . and now I’m doing all this freewriting trying to get at the answers to the couple of questions she asked. It’s like when your therapist asks you the hard questions, and then doesn’t let you get away with the easy answers.

But, as luck would have it (luck, and having a very talented friend who blogs about her own writing process (That’s you, SKG.), I read these paragraphs just today—an hour ago—in her blog and had a little epiphany:

So my idea was that my play . . . is actually, essentially, about the seductive nature of narrative: how we are pulled in by other people’s stories, aroused by them, changed by them. How we try to adopt narratives, live inside them; how narrative sometimes saves us, but often fails us.

Having this little idea helped with my characters’ dialogue today. What stories did they want, or need, to tell? And what would be the consequences of those stories — as lived, and having been told?

Especially the part in red. That’s what my Scotland essay is about. (And, incidentally, SKG’s paragraph above pretty much wraps up my dissertation in a more concise, articulate way than I have thus far been able to do.)

You can (and should) read SKG’s blog here. Seriously. Especially if you create in any way. She is my idol, my role model for how to be a teacher AND a writer, and a thoughtful human being. And I’m going to steal her Artist in Residency idea.

But back to Anam Cara. Or Ireland in general. Last night I went to hear Anne Carson read her work at the West Cork Literary Festival. One of my new friends here at Anam Cara very kindly drove us to Bantry, which is about an hour away, where the reading was. (In another post, I will write about my apparent inability to stop flinching and/or outright gasping while in the car with someone who is driving on the left side of the road.) I would publicly thank her, but she’s kind of here incognito. She’s an Irish poet, and often writes in haiku. Anyway, in one of those “small world” moments, Carson talked about the writer John Cage, and so did SKG today in her blog. So of course I’m ordering his books so they’ll be on my doorstep when I get home next week. Sometimes the universe speaks. Or the sky. Whatevs.

Carson was extraordinary. She read this piece that was written as an autobiography of the sky, using the structure of the book of Genesis. And it was filled (filled!) with literary and scientific and political references that make me think Carson is the kind of person who reads AND absorbs. And who has read EVERYTHING in the world. And it made me wonder where the hell my brain was while I was in high school (and part of college, if we’re being honest—Okay, all of college). But Carson’s references all worked and made sense and added layers, and the sky, as the narrator, had a rather dry sense of humor. Carson’s delivery was perfect. (There is something about her that reminds me of Young Sheldon.) There was even an interview with Godot, about, as you can imagine, the non-arriving. You can actually hear a version of Carson’s reading here.

What else? It is July 16 and how the fuck did that happen? My brain stalled somewhere in June.

And I miss my girlies. A lot. And you, dear readers, if you follow me on Insta or FB, probably miss them too. You know you miss the photos. Be honest. Scout and Dill enhance your life. Way more than this blog post does.








Bad Poem/Good Poem

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , , , on July 7, 2019 by chateaucone

I wrote a blog post last night—almost 1000 words—and then I figured out that most of it was the missing piece of an essay I’ve been working on—that I put aside because I couldn’t figure out what was missing—and now I have no blog post. But I do perhaps have a better essay. And you, dear reader, are going to have to wait to read it until some lit mag takes pity on me and publishes it.

(The original blog post had a lot of misery about leaving Scotland. Seriously. Like a teenage breakup. If I’d kept going I’d have burst into bad poetry. Consider yourselves spared.)


The Forth Bridges, flying away from Edinburgh

I’m in Belfast now.

I have this thing where I hate any city I visit the first day I’m there. This is perhaps worse if I’ve just left a place I especially love, and didn’t want to leave.

My journal from my first day in Rome—July 2005—is full of, “OMG. This was a huge mistake. I hate Rome. It’s hot and crowded and confusing. Why did I think this trip was a good idea? Blah, blah, blah, self-pity, self-pity, self-pity, homesick, homesick, homesick.”

By the second day in Rome, I’d found the Porta San Pancrazio, looked out over Rome from the Janiculum Hill, and read one of my favorite poems about that very spot, on that very spot.  This was pre-iPhone-that-works-in-Europe, but I had the poem in my journal and my journal in my pocket.  “The sun high above a winter Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays.” Joseph Brodsky, “Porta San Pancrazio.” Of course I went back in December, on my way home—my last stop before leaving Europe that trip—and tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph the purple smoke above a winter Rome. But it didn’t matter. I’d fallen in love with Brodsky’s Rome.

And tomorrow, at the Giant’s Causeway, I will fall in love with Northern Ireland.

Here is the whole poem. I read it in The New Yorkerin college, back when I only sort of got most of the writing in The New Yorker, but thought I was really cool to have a subscription.

Porta San Pancrazio

The bees haven’t buzzed away, nor has a horseman galloped
off. In the bar Gianicolo, old-timers enjoy their salad
days, and the ice cube melts, cooling the ailing motor
grateful for sipping twice the proverbial water.

Eight years have scurried by. Wars have flared up and smoldered
families crumbled, scum bared its teeth grown older;
airplanes fell from the sky and radio mumbled “Jesus.”
the linen can still be washed, but the dermal creases

won’t yield to the gentlest palm. The sun high above a winter
Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays. The cinder
reeks of burnt leaves, and the fountain is glittering like a wobbly
medal pinned to a cannon at noon for its aimless volley.

Stone is employed worldwide to keep memory captive.
Yet cropping up is much harder than vanishing in a perspective
running out of the city straight through the years and further
in its pursuit of pure time, devoid of love and future.

Life without us is, darling, thinkable. It exists as
honeybees, horsemen, bars, habitués, columns, vistas,
and clouds over this battlefield whose every standing statue
triumphs, with its physique, over a chance to touch you.

–Joseph Brodsky, 1989