Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Ireland Diaries, Part Three: Emotional Grab Bag

There are a lot of things I wanted to talk about my trip to Ireland but the memories and thoughts are not coming to me in any cogent, linear way, but rather in dreamlike shreds and little bits and bites of emotion that bubble up at unexpected times and in unexpected places. So this post will be a grab-bag of feelings and thoughts, in no particular order:

Expectations, Sheckpectations

Because it took me so long in my life to actually make this journey, I created a great deal of mythology around it: That this trip would change me in some fundamental way, that I would return wiser, inspired to write again, spiritually renewed, and somehow magically divested of all the problems that I had before I left. I fully understand on an intellectual level how completely delusional this is, but nonetheless, I had somehow mentally categorized my life into Before Ireland and After Ireland: After Ireland, I would know what to do about publishing my novel, and I would be filled with wild inspiration to write again. After Ireland, I would be a better, more forgiving person and would have Perspective on this terrible situation with my family member. After Ireland, I would be a totally improved person in many ways—how could I not be? Yes, I know this is an absurdly unrealistic expectation to apply to what is an ordinary and routine excursion for many people, but I have been so thoroughly ravaged by the past few years, that these delusions were the only thing I had to hold on to.

As it turns out, they weren’t all delusions. I do feel stronger and more confident in myself. I realized that I’m good at travel. I managed chaos well, I got lost and found my way back, I ventured off most beaten paths and came out okay, and I do feel that in some fundamental ways, I have returned to myself. I have a renewed faith in other people, and a renewed sense of my own strength. But I am not a better person. I’m just the same person I’ve always been, with all of my disappointing flaws and foibles, still confused and fearful, still uninspired to write great poetry, and unduly annoyed by petty, day-to-day grievances. Going elsewhere didn’t change me at all.

I realized that fundamentally, I am an idealist, and this causes me great pain and feelings of let-down when my ideals do not match up with reality. But I have come to accept that this is a part of who I am, and to just laugh at my own silliness when I come face-to-face with expectation vs. reality.

Snake Dreams

A few days after I got back, I had a disturbing dream about a Druidic snake cult in Ireland. I woke up in the wee hours, very confused, with racing thoughts about how this made no sense because I was pretty sure there are no indigenous snakes in Ireland. After a coffee-fueled internet search, I found a number of links relating to snake myths in Ireland, aside from the old tales of St. Patrick driving snakes from the land. Despite there being no actual snakes in Ireland, serpent imagery is all over the place in Irish art, including the Book of Kells and on a vase I am unduly proud to have found for four Euro in the window of a charity shop in Limerick. According to internet wisdom, there was, against all logic, some sort of snake-worshipping Druidic cult in Ireland at some point, but it’s unclear what happened to them and where they ended up after Catholicism took over. All of the snake imagery must have gotten to me, along with the Viking invasion stuff—I’ve also had a lot dreams about Viking invasions. Oddly, my subconscious seems to be fairly indifferent to the English. The evils they enacted upon the Irish went more or less ignored by my fever dreams.

A Mystical Encounter?

I met a drunk American anesthesiologist in a pub in Killarney, accompanied by his very sweet wife, a former critical care nurse. The anesthesiologist had a lot of opinions about my life, the future of health care, Reno, Nevada, and driving in Ireland. I talked to him for a long time, and while I didn’t agree with him on everything, I left feeling a smidge more forgiving about the doctors who told us to give up on my family member. I understood more where they may have been coming from, given their training, their experiences, and what they see on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been struggling to put together my own Advanced Directive since All of This Happened, and when I flat-out asked this gentlemen what he wanted for his own end-of-life plan, he said, “I don’t know.” This was not comforting, considering that he had been a doctor for 35 years.

When I told my very pragmatic, not-at-all-prone-to-the-mystic sister about this encounter, she posited that it was not an accident.

Jewelry! Jewelry! Jewelry!

Speaking of my sister, it turns out she is a genius at jewelry. She knows all about rose gold and sterling and chains and design and stuff like that. She put the jewelry sales people through the ringer, helped random customers, and saved me from an unadvisable amber pendant purchase at an open market. I didn’t really understand her fixation on jewelry until I walked into a shop and saw...The Necklace. I wasn’t there to buy anything; I was just along for the ride. But lo and behold, when I saw this necklace, the heavens opened, angels sang, and I was smacked in the head with a raw, helpless sense of overwhelming desire. It was a mother-of-pearl pendant with a rose gold Tree of Life design, and it was completely perfect in every way. I could see myself wearing it every day: It could be my Signature Piece, and it would define me as a person and as a woman. It was stunning, and I wanted it with an irrational urgency. But alas, it was 600 hundred euro, which was just a bridge too far for me. I don’t think I’ve spent more than thirty bucks on a piece of jewelry in my life, as I am a cheapo and I have self-esteem issues.

So, the gorgeous mother-of-pearl necklace is still hanging there in that shop in Killarney, and in the shadowy fringes of my dreams. But all was not lost—my sis found me a very lovely rose gold and sterling silver Tree of Life pendant in the duty-free shop in Shannon, which was “only” around 200 Euro, and the lady gave me a killer deal on it. So now I have a very nice “piece”, and I’m inspired to weed out all my crap jewelry and keep only the few, quality pieces I do have, all of which have been gifts. I’m damn near half a century old as of this weekend, and it’s time to rid myself of the junk and set some standards, gosh darn it.

--Kristen McHenry

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