Some Final Thoughts

Here I stand at the end of my time abroad, a day and a wake up from home. I use the term ‘wake up’ loosely; putting a nocturnal person on an early morning flight is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. However, the crack of dawn struggles of a person for whom the world tends not to exist before nine AM are beside the point. The point here is that I have completed an experience, and that experience needs summing up. So, to sum up some of what I have learned in my time abroad, I present the following list:

1. Anyone who tells you they understand James Joyce is probably lying. It came up in discussion that there are probably only 7 people in the world that truly understand Finnegan’s Wake, and 7,000 that truly understand Ulysses. So, unless they’ve devoted their life to the study of Joyce or are waving a guidebook to Joyce’s work in your face, they’re probably full of it.

2. Going abroad, pay attention to the local speech mannerisms and idioms.There’s nothing quite so effective to getting to know the flavor of a place as listening to people talk, and if you want to be a writer as I do, there is no better way to improve dialogue in stories than learning how people speak. They speak English over here in Ireland, of course, but it is different. For example, ‘thank you’ is ‘cheers’ and ‘no problem’ is ‘no bother.’ I imagine the things one could learn about a language speaking one other than English abroad are even more different. One of the most fascinating aspects of my trip was just listening to conversations and learning how the idioms and slang were different. Unfortunately, I have to spare putting some of the more colorful slang here because a lot of it is words that are considered offensive by some Americans.

3. Ask people about themselves if you get the chance to. As cliche as it sounds, everyone’s got a story, and there’s a diverse range of interesting tales to hear. I got to know some of the most incredible and generous people here simply because I expressed an interest in their stories. Chances are, they’re interested in you, too. I got to compare my background to some Irish backgrounds, and it gave me an appreciation for cultural differences. Sharing stories is the best way to go to develop an appreciation for cultural diversity.

4. See as much as you possibly can, even if you’re tired and all you want to do is crash on the nearest park bench (which I considered while I was in the grips of jet lag). You can sleep when you’re dead. You probably won’t be back for awhile, if at all, so take it in while you have the chance. Get out and experience the area you’re in. You can’t tell anyone about your experiences or use them later in life if you don’t have any experiences. And be sure to take some people along. You’ll probably make some really great friends.

I could extend this list for days, but in the interest of brevity I will end it there. All I can say is that getting to experience Ireland and its literary culture was an amazing experience, and has given me lots of ideas on how to improve my own work. It’s a trip I’m glad I took, and I’d like to say a big, hearty ‘cheers’ to everyone over here that made my experience so memorable.

Storytelling

Talking to some people at home the other night, I mentioned that everyone I met here in Ireland has been incredibly friendly. It is to the point that I can ask any person on the street for directions and they are more than happy to point out the right way to go. I’ve been lost with some of my classmates in the city more than our fair share of times, owing to my horrible sense of direction, and people walking by overhearing our debates on which way we should go will just stop and help us out. Those back home seemed surprised to hear this; they’ve never been to Ireland and they had the assumption that the Irish were a bit standoffish to strangers. I don’t know where this assumption came from, because the Irish are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. Part of this hospitality comes in the form of sharing stories.

There’s nothing quite like hearing an Irish person tell a story.The Irish have an appreciation for storytelling quite unlike any other culture I’ve experienced; nothing is so well liked as a good storyteller (except maybe for a pint of Guinness, of course). The magic of an Irish story, however, lies not so much in the story itself as in the person telling it. My classmates and I saw a play by the name of “The Gigli Concert” yesterday evening. The play details the story of a severely depressed man seeking the help of a quack psychiatrist who is a proponent of a made-up movement called ‘dynamatology.’ Throughout the course of the play, the two men switch places. The depressed man slowly gets better as the quack doctor loses his mind. The play is touted as a look into the Irish male conscious. As I mentioned, however, the story itself is not so important as the person or people telling it.

I do not think I have seen a more beautifully and masterfully acted play in my entire life. The actors told the story in such a way that it became real for me. I believed the emotions in the play and felt them myself. I watched the two characters struggle against their personal demons to try and just make it through one more day. It was captivating, and it was at the end of it that I realized that the reason it was so captivating was not because of the writing itself, which was brilliant, but because of the humans that brought the writing alive. One can write the most beautiful prose in the world, but if there are no human elements to it, it is going to mean nothing. If there is one thing I learned from watching “The Gigli Concert,” it is that a truly memorable story is that which moves us to emotion, that which evokes a reaction. Watching the Irish actors, I realized why the Irish literary tradition is so strong; they are experts at making a story produce emotion in its readers. They are expert storytellers. As a writer myself, I hope one day I can spin a tale half as well as the hospitable Irishman.

A Sense of History

Recently, I listened to a former professor of an Irish university speak on James Joyce’s famous (or infamous, depending on how one feels about literature) novel Ulysses. After his lecture, two things stuck out to me. One was the absolute reverence that the Irish people have for literature and its authors; the lecturer was so passionate about Ulysses. His readings of and explanations of the novel made the literature come alive in a way I have never experienced before. The other thing that remained in my head was the deep sense of history that the Irish possess.

The lecturer told us a story about the first time he tried to purchase a copy of the novel Ulysses. Ulysses was banned upon its publication in several countries, including America, for being ‘indecent.’ It was never formally banned in Ireland, but was taboo to purchase. Our lecturer tried to purchase it one day as a college student in the early 1960’s. The bookstore he went to happened to be the only one in Ireland that carried the book, and their policy was to keep one copy on the shelf way in the back of the store. Very rarely was this book bought in Ireland. This bookstore kept their stock up from one box of copies of Ulysses for years. When he tried to purchase the book, our lecturer was 18. In Ireland at the time, that was still a minor. He was told that he would need a letter of permission from his parents, his parish priest, or both in order to purchase the book. He came up with an Irish solution to an Irish problem, as he put it: he went to one of his much older friends, gave him the money, and had his friend buy the book in his place. While it ended well for him and he got the book, his story made me realize just how longstanding some ideals are in this country.

Nowhere was the presence of longstanding ideals more evident than in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Some of the class took a trip there to get a handle on the history, and it was quite the experience. Conflict is still very much alive between the Catholics and the Protestants. While bombed out buildings have been largely repaired, one can feel the tension in the area. The Protestants have their streets, and the Catholics have theirs. They are still separated by a giant wall known as “The Peace Wall.” There are gates on this wall that are only open at certain times of day. The two sides absolutely do not mix with one another, and each holds on to and fights for their set of ideals. One of the most eerie things I witnessed to this effect was two children on the Protestant side (which supports Britain) standing in front of their house waving British flags and chanting “UDA! UDA!” In the Troubles and other Northern Irish conflicts, the UDA is the Protestant militant branch, equivalent to the IRA. Seeing these children, who could not have been more than six years old, chant in support of a militant group they surely did not understand really drove home how deep these beliefs are. What side one is on is something children learn from birth. Like the past belief that Ulysses was indecent, the ideals of the Protestants and Catholics endure through generations. Unfortunately, unlike the belief about Ulysses, these ideals remain and perpetuate a long conflict. Seeing the state of Belfast after so many years of conflict made me wonder where the ideals stopped and the humans began.