Monthly Archives: June 2012

Valdez, Alaska

This story doesn’t start last week. This story starts years and years ago with a book called, ‘Julie of the Wolves’, which was given to me as a 10 year old. In this book, Julie, a young girl with part-Yupik heritage, runs away from a terrible marriage and goes to live with the wolves in Alaska. It was a wonderful story and I read it over and over until the cover became soft and creased, the pages yellow and rounded. I was fascinated by this snowy place so far away, so different from my sunny, hot childhood in Australia. In my mind, a trip to Alaska (or any other snowy, dark, wintery places), was a shortcut to magic. I was obsessed with the place for a few months and became convinced that it was probably the most exciting and interesting place anybody could ever visit, EVER.
Turn the clock forward to 2009. I’m 25? Yes, that’s right. And attending a young playwright’s conference in Cairns, Australia. At that conference, I meet a young American playwright who tells me that he attended a theatre conference in Alaska called the Last Frontier Theater Conference. I immediately email the director of the conference to find out more information (seriously, it was IMMEDIATE – the guy telling me about the conference was sitting next to me talking, I was looking up things online). My initial intention was to submit a play at the end of 2009, but getting cast in Poetry in Action and then Bronte being accepted into the ATYP program in Australia made that idea kind of impossible. At the end of 2010 I submitted a draft of a play I really hated, simply because I desperately wanted to go to the conference and had nothing else to submit. My brother thought I was bonkers, reminding me that just because when I was living in Ireland I would be in the same hemisphere as the conference didn’t mean I was actually ‘close’ in the usual sense of the word to the conference. I was still going to be really, really far away. It was still going to take me hours to get there. I didn’t care. In the end, it didn’t really matter because I was, unsurprisingly, not accepted in on the basis of the script that I hated. In fact, its probably a good thing that I wasn’t accepted with a script I hated, because the idea is to get feedback which you can then use to re-write or re-draft the script. And if I hated the script and didn’t want to work on it, nor did I want to hear what people said about it, or, indeed, didn’t want anyone to actually sit down and listen to it, well, that was going to be problem.
Now we’re up to 2011. I’ve re-written an entirely different draft and story of ‘Fishtail’, using some of the same characters, themes and the same myth to anchor the plot. But, this time, I love the script. On a whim, not thinking much about it, I send it into the conference again. This time, I’m accepted. I can’t quite believe it. Interestingly, I had recently reconnected with the people who gave me ‘Julie of the Wolves’ in the first place and decide to visit them in Michigan on my way to Alaska. That didn’t seem so significant when I booked the flights, but thinking back on it now, that does seem an interesting coincidence or significant happenstance, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe that contributed to the huge outpouring of emotion when I left Michigan for Alaska last Saturday. Which is pretty much were I left the story in the last post, wasn’t it? 
I had been in contact with three other conference participants beforehand, a woman from New York and a couple from Vermont, and we were all planning to drive from Anchorage to Valdez (well, the couple was planning on driving. I was planning on sitting in the back of the car and admiring the scenery). The woman from New York was also on my plane from Chicago, but as I was in no fit state to be talking to anyone at that point (still mooning over pictures from my childhood), I didn’t make a concerted effort to find her until we got into Anchorage. Luckily, we did all manage to meet up and reasonably easily considering I had taken no precautions, like getting phone numbers or things like that. It was a six-hour drive to Valdez, but extremely beautiful, with views of a massive glacier, snow-covered mountains (even in June!), waterfalls and various other lovely things. This drive also introduced me to the strange Alaskan phenomenon of keeping old school buses in your backyard. Seriously, almost every house had their own old school bus. I’m not entirely sure why Alaska is so rich in school buses. Alaska may be as rich in school buses as it is in oil. Did there used to be loads more school children around? And now not so many? Or are they just really conscious of updating their school buses every year? Furthermore, why do people want the copious amounts of buses to be stored in their backyards? Is it a form of recycling or re-using (in which case, I applaud you, Alaska)? Perhaps it is because they have so much space, such big backyards, they feel they need to fill it up somehow, for example, with the cunning use of an old school bus?
Anyway, after a short dinner stop (in which I got ENDLESS fries for $3.50! ENDLESS. I’m still not over that. I could have eaten all the potatoes they had in the hotel and they would still have charged me just 3.50. I could have insisted they go out and buy more potatoes and cook me even more fries and they still could have only charged me 3.50! Of course, I didn’t, but I did try my best. It was too good an offer to refuse!) we headed into Valdez. Valdez is situated in the ridiculously beautiful Prince William Sound, which is the end of the Alaskan oil pipe line and the site of a particularly bad oil spill around 20 years ago (this was the only information the New York couple I met on the plane from Dublin could offer on the place). The town is nestled amongst bear-infested mountains that were still covered in snow. In fact, you didn’t even have to go up the mountains for snow, there were giant mounds of snow all over Valdez, just sitting there, in car parks and empty spaces, collecting dirt and slowly (very slowly) melting. The town had a record snow fall last winter and so we were able to see the remains of it. 
Of course, being so far North, Valdez doesn’t get very dark in the summertime. My first big problem on Saturday night was trying to get to sleep in an only semi-dark room. Though I was exceedingly tired, having gotten up at 5am Michigan time and been awake until 10pm Alaska time (which must have been later in Michigan time, but I can’t work it out now, too many time zones…), I was unable to fall asleep. I tried tying some stockings over my eyes as a makeshift eye-mask, but they didn’t block out enough light. And they were kind of irritating. In my jet-lagged state, I looked around the room and decided my only solution was to sleep in the wardrobe. It seemed dark in there. So, that’s what I did. I lay out a pile of clothes to try and make the ground a bit softer, closed the wardrobe doors and went to sleep; only mildly worried that if any of my room mates, who I hadn’t yet met, arrived during the night, they might open the wardrobe doors and freak out, thinking I had been tied up and/or murdered and then stuffed in the wardrobe. Either that, or they’d just think I was really weird because I was sleeping in the wardrobe. Luckily this didn’t happen and the next night I was sufficiently used to the lightness of the room to sleep on the sofa and spare my aching bones.
Sunday was intimidating, I have to say. I had been accepted into the conference as a playwright, but I was also participating in a few acting workshops because I haven’t had the opportunity, really, to do much acting since I’ve been in Ireland. I started the day full of enthusiasm, but after one acting workshop, I was reminded what sort of level of preparation, openness and truthfulness you need to bring to the work to make it worthwhile. I suddenly felt entirely incapable of doing anything of the sort and wanted to go back to my room and hide away from everyone, particularly anyone to do with the theatre or the arts. Not a great start to a theatre conference. 
I did go back to my room, but luckily one of my roommates had arrived and I was forced to interact with her. She was a lovely girl from Fairbanks and she hadn’t been up to the conference hall yet, so that gave me a reason to go back and engage with other people.
I don’t want to go through a blow-by-blow account of every day as I suspect that would be boring for you all. However, I’m also not quite sure how to draw out the highlights and I don’t think that’s just because I’m jet-lagged, I think that’s because, as saccharine as it sounds, every day was a highlight! (Can you just imagine me chirping that at you with big, bright blue eyes and my previous long blonde hair in pigtails? But, despite sounding like an orphan from “Annie”, its true). The days started early – 8am with a writing warm-up exercise, if you wanted, then the PlayLab began at 9am. The PlayLab involved a reading of a selected play, which was then responded to by a panel of three featured artists and from the audience. PlayLab sessions went throughout the day, with plays of varying lengths. There were also acting workshops, writing workshops, ‘artist life’ workshops, rehearsal workshops, discussion panels and many other good things. 
In the evening, we got a very necessary theatre break from 5pm – 7:30pm for dinner, then there were full-length, finished productions from local companies or from featured artists and after that finished, we had the Festival Fringe in one of the local bars. So, if you add it all up and you didn’t take any breaks (which I mainly tried not to do), you could have a 12 hour day of theatre. Which is pretty amazing. People often went out after the fringe too, for karaoke and drinking, though I was very responsible and didn’t start the long nights until Thursday, but more on that later.
My PlayLab session for ‘Fishtail’ wasn’t until the very last session on Friday, which meant I had a lot of time to fill before then. What did I do? I sent a lot of stuff to the fringe. I’d already sent a piece before I got to the festival, which they were going to do on the Monday night. After watching one night of the fringe, however, I got utterly terrified because my piece was very serious, verging on the sentimental and everyone else seemed to have submitted hilarious pieces involving drinking and sex and good times and rock and roll. When they finally did perform my piece, I had to *watch* it with my head in my hands. It wasn’t anything to do with the acting, maybe not even to do with the writing (I honestly couldn’t tell you if the writing was any good at this point), in fact… I don’t even know why I had to do that in the end. I think, at the time, I felt like the piece was a little close to the bone for me, just a tad too personal, and so that if anyone happened to laugh at it or judge it, or even if I happened to see the flicker of judgement or scorn passing across any of the audiences’ faces, I would have just dissolved. I would have disappeared into the carpet in a pool of shame and remorse. I’m not sure if that was because of the subject material of that particular piece or if I feel like that about most new things I’ve written on their first outing. A little of column A, a little of column B, I suspect. At 6am one morning, unable to sleep, I wrote a one-page ‘play’ for the Fringe night of one-page plays (Wednesday?), which was really more of a sketch, but fun nonetheless. Then, on the Wednesday night, I stayed up until all hours to complete the Overnighter challenger (write a play in a night on a given topic, to be performed at the fringe the next evening). Our topic was ‘The Witching Hour of America’, which totally freaked me out, because I don’t do horror or scary things (in that, I don’t watch them, CAN’T watch them without getting horrible nightmares and not sleeping for many weeks on end) and so I really felt I had no reference points with which to begin. During the evening’s performance I started trying to think of anything that had used to scare/thrill me as a kid and I remembered all those sleep-overs where an ouija board had been pulled out to talk to the ‘ghosts’ around us. So, I started with that and ended up with a sleep-over that gets ruined by one of the girls’ parents coming home and admitting to sacrificing the other girls’ parents in aid of fixing all of America’s current problems, from the economy to climate change. I think it worked pretty well, despite some clunky, 4am lines added in at the last minute to shore up the plot. I had some fantastic actors in the piece, so that certainly helped.
Throughout the week, I did the monologue workshop with Laura Gardner and Frank Collison (they’re coming to Australia soon for workshops, Australian acting friends, so keep your eyes peeled), which was great fun and a good refresher of all the work you have to do to get something up to performance standard. I was working on a monologue from a show written by my friend from New York and by the time I performed it on Saturday, I got many lots of laughs from the audience, which was great. Its always nice to get a laugh. I remember some Australian comedic actress saying that whenever she couldn’t hear people in the audience laughing she’d think, ‘Well, if they’re not laughing, maybe they’re smiling and I can’t see that in the dark’, which is always my comfort, but its always nice to get a laugh too.
In the afternoons, I was going to the Acting for Singers workshop and working on an old favourite song of mine, ‘I Won’t Mind’. It’s a gorgeous piece by Jeff Blumenkrantz, from an unfinished musical called ‘The Other Franklin’. It was a great one to work on as it has such a strong story. Also, I’d always had a problem with it, in that I could really feel the story and the emotion whenever I practiced, at home, by myself, away from people, but as soon as I went to perform it, I clammed up. We started by doing our songs as monologues and imagining the circumstances around us, which must have made something finally click for me, because all of a sudden I couldn’t stop feeling all the emotion in the song, to the detriment of my singing (you really can’t sing if you’re choked up). With the guidance of tutors Kim Estes, Nancy Caudill and Juliana Osinchuck I managed to head towards a nice midway point with the song (emotion/singing) whilst also honouring the notes and rhythms written by the composer. I still think I sang it better at my final rehearsal than in the performance in front of everyone (my throat got majorly dry – panic), but, hey, I still think it went well. Apparently I made people cry. I made ’em laugh and then I made ’em cry. Not bad for a morning’s work.
But, of course, the main reason I was there was to hear my play, ‘Fishtail’ being read. That happened Friday. I had a rehearsal Thursday with the actors, which I was really happy with and they did excellently in the Friday reading too. I’m not going to go into great detail about what was said and not said in my feedback, but I will say that I was very pleased with the emotional reactions I got to the script. Even better, I was able to take on board the criticisms/feedback in a way that I have never been strong enough as a writer to do before. I was able to hold onto my idea of what the script was about and what I was trying to achieve. All of those things were exceeding good, especially considering my reaction to the piece I had read at the fringe earlier in the week.

We’re on a boat!

Outside of the actual ‘events’ of the conference, I met some incredibly wonderful people and had some amazing nights. Thursday was bonfire night and despite having only gotten 4 hours sleep the night before (Fringe Overnighter challenge), I went out and ended up staying out the entire night. Its kind of easy to stay up all night in summer in Alaska, because the light convinces you that even if you’re feeling tired, you’re meant to be awake now. The bonfire was lovely and warm, set up next to a fast-flowing creek, cold from the melting snow. This was followed by a ‘Warrior Breakfast’ at one of the local hotels (you’re a warrior because you’ve stayed up all night). I had French Toast with maple syrup – so American! There were many other ‘American’ things on offer, like ‘biscuits and gravy’, which kind of looked like scones and some sort of cream, but I wasn’t willing to brave it. I think it also had meat in it, which weird-ed me out, considering it looked like devonshire tea. This made my all-important Friday a little surreal from lack of sleep, but I managed to get through it. Friday night we went out on a glacier cruise at about 9:30pm, which involved a great deal of excited squealing and running around the boat on my behalf (which subsequently led to an extended slapstick routine involving alleged sea otters on one side of the boat and me an another playwright friend getting confused as to which side of the boat and crashing into each other) as well as bad Kate Winslett/Leonardo DiCaprio impressions and endlessly repeated refrains of Lonely Island’s ‘I’m on a boat!’ Of course, the light completely confused me and even though we got off the boat after midnight, I felt like I could go out for a drink or two and some karaoke, despite having to be up for tech rehearsals for monologues and songs at 8:30am the next day. I was very responsible, sang one song, drank water and was in bed by 1am. Saturday was the gala dinner and we all got dressed up, looked swanky and had a lovely time congratulating ourselves on a great week, thanking our sponsors, featured artists and the local community. I also got to hear the local glee club perform, which was majorly exciting and hugely entertaining – much better than that famous show with the irritating characters.
Sunday morning, after only a few hours sleep, I started the long trek home to Ireland. It involved a 6 hour drive to Anchorage, evening flight to New York (with a stop-over in Seattle), three train rides across New York to get from Newark Airport to JFK, 5 hours or so of sitting around in JFK airport, an evening flight to Dublin and then a 4 hour bus ride to Cork. I stumbled into Cork yesterday morning with my huge bag, having slept an indeterminate amount of hours in a sitting position, wearing smelly clothes and looking slightly worse for wear. I managed to stay up until 10pm with the help of Facebook and specifically in the form of photos from Alaska and new American friends. I’m now in my little apartment for the Midsummer Festival, counting down my last 10 days in Ireland (of course I’ll be coming back to visit, but, still… this is the last few days before I move all my stuff over to London).
As I look out on the familiar slate-grey Irish sky, Alaska is beginning to feel like some sort of magical, surreal dream. I fell into some crazy deep sleep and made it all up. I left on a major high, feeling like an all-powerful artist, full of optimism. I’m still trying to process everything that happened and so I’m afraid this blog post might sound little more than a grocery list of the week, rather than a true explanation of how I felt and any amazing insights I may have had. Most of all, right now, I’m just trying to keep at bay a real feeling of sadness and loss. I’m missing all my new friends, the constant diet of theatre (reading it, writing it, performing it, watching it, thinking about it, talking about it, critiquing it), the gorgeous scenery. I’m even missing those damn school buses.

Happy playwrights at the Gala dinner
Gussied up at the gala dinner
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Trip Down Memory Lane

I am currently sitting in Valdez, Alaska, attempting not to faint from jet lag and an over-consumption of french fries. This isn’t actually the promised ‘trip down memory lane’ of the blog post title, but I thought I’d give you some context. Tomorrow the Last Frontier Theatre Conference starts in this far-flung post of the USA empire, at which my play, ‘Fishtail’ will be presented. I’m pretty excited. Not least because the last time I went to a theatre conference it turned out to be the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life where I met some of the best and brightest people I know. I’m looking forward to a theatre binge, not much sleep and various declarations of the adult equivalent of BFF’s (whatever that might be). By next Sunday I intend to be intellectually, emotionally, creatively and lets face it, probably financially sucked dry.
But I’ve actually already had an emotional rollercoaster of two and a half days. On my great traverse across the wide American continent to Alaska, I thought I would take a break in Michigan. Not just for any old reason, but because we have family friends who live there, who I haven’t seen in about 15 years. My Dad and Mum met this couple when we lived in Rochester, Minnesota, back when I was a tiny munchkin of not much more than 5 years old. I always remembered them as some of the kindest, funnest, smartest, best people I knew. Mum and Dad went and visited them in Michigan in 1992, then they visited us in Australia in 1994, Dad and us kids went over again in 1996, they came back in 1998 and then we lost touch for 15 years for a variety of unknown and inexplicable reasons. A few years ago, I looked them up using this miraculous invention of the internet but uncertain where to start after such a long amount of time, I didn’t do anything about it. It was left to my brother Chris to send them a letter last year and re-spark the connection. I sent some emails afterwards, they sent me a Peter Brook book and we discussed vague plans about them coming to Europe with their young daughters (who I had never met) or us going to the USA.
Then, my brother got accepted into a composer’s program in NY and headed out to see them last March. In the meantime, I got accepted into the Last Frontier conference and asked if I might be able to pop along for a short visit on the way there.
Last Wednesday, after an early start in Dublin and a long wait in NY, I was on a tiny plane (not much more than a tuna can with wings, really) bound for Detroit. I suddenly felt very anxious about the whole thing and wished that I could skip Detroit entirely and head straight for Alaska. It all seemed too scary and unknown. What if they didn’t like the person I had become? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if… I don’t know, I set the house on fire? What if I just couldn’t find them at the airport (my new casual attitude towards most things meant I had left Dublin without an address or phone number in case anything went wrong. Of course it all worked out in the end, but still…)?
I don’t know that I really want to go into details about the whole two and a half days. I still feel like I’m processing everything that happened and that I felt. Of course, it was absolutely wonderful, beyond wonderful to see them both again. It felt like opening up a link to another lifetime, back to when I was a child, living in Minnesota happily oblivious to how lucky I was to have my mummy who loved me with me every single day. A link back to a time I could barely remember and a woman I hardly knew.
Less emotionally, it was a link back to the wonderful 5 weeks me, my Dad and my brother spent in Michigan when I was 12 years old; a 5 week period that had made me so happy I constantly brought to mind and perfected every little detail over the years, afraid they might be lost, etching everything so forcibly into my mind that, walking through the city again, I managed to recognise open fields that had been covered in snow last time but were now swishing with high green grasses.
They took me out to yummy vegetarian restaurants and fed me delicious local cheeses. We went cycling and visited local delis and gorgeous artisan shops. We tried to get sangria, but I got ID’ed (seriously!) and when I realised I didn’t have my passport with me, I was forbidden alcohol by the bartender. I saw the university’s art gallery, filled with gorgeous colourful furnishings created by Tiffany (of Tiffany & Co.), the grad library with its airy roof and the law library that was built underground, but so light-filled and bright you’d never realise.
I was ‘all grow-ed up’ (as they kept saying), but there was something about being there, with them, that made the past feel all so brand-new and raw and only just out of reach. On one level, everything about Ann Arbor, its big, gorgeous wooden houses, the leafy suburbs and the green university campus, the buzzing downtown and not to mention our friends’ house (which still had a hint of the same unique woody smell it had back in 1996) and our family friends, seemed so comforting, so peaceful, so exactly right. On some level, I felt so completely at home and safe and calm that I couldn’t ever imagine leaving.
Of course, I did have to leave and far too soon. Worried about my internship and the performance for the Cork Midsummer Festival, I had left only the bare minimum of time in Detroit and just as I had begun to get to know our friends’ two little girls, just as I was getting used to having the sun again, just as I was getting used to being around our friends again, I had to leave. They dropped me off at the airport at 6:30am for a 7:30am flight and as the car drove off, I could feel myself reeling. I cried getting my tickets. I cried at security. I cried waiting to board the plane. I cried as the plane took off. I cried at Chicago airport as I waited for my connecting flight for Alaska. I cried and I cried and I cried.

Glorious Minnesota Childhood

Because the fact of the matter was, that no matter how close all those years ago seemed whilst I stayed in Ann Arbor, they were still far too far away to go back to.

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Transient Nights

A good friend once told me that the trick to living happily in a place is to always look at it through a haze of nostalgia, pretending that you’re always on the brink of leaving. Its a neat trick and it certainly makes you aware of what parts of your life you are grateful for. The benefit of it is that you can have the all the good, grateful, happy feelings without the sadness that would be associated with the nostalgia if you were actually leaving.
However, over the last week I’ve been getting the full nostalgic experience because, of course, I don’t have to pretend anymore. I am actually leaving Dublin tomorrow morning for Alaska. After two weeks in the USA, I’ll be back in Cork for two weeks and then its on to London. I know a week or two ago I was saying I was disappointed to be back in Dublin, but, well, I’m just that ridiculously fickle and irrational. So, now, I’m on a totally different emotional roller-coaster and whilst I am excited about moving to London (wheee!) I have been feeling the impending loss of Ireland. Of course, when you get into that sort of headspace, you inevitably find yourself gravitating towards rainy windows so you can stare out of them significantly, making daft comments about flowers being so much more beautiful because they don’t last and stroking your chin and murmuring wanky words like ‘transient’.
So, at the risk of sounding like a wanker, I had a beautiful transient evening last Friday night in Dublin, which seemed like a remarkably wonderful way to send off Dublin.
A little bit of background. I’ve been signed up to a group called Sofar Sounds since sometime last year. I’m not even sure how I got into it in the end, but in it I am. Sofar Sounds was set up by music lovers who were sick of going to concerts and finding that many audiences at many concerts were highly disrespectful of the bands, particularly of support acts, who mainly happened to be emerging artists. So, they decided to create pop-up events in people’s living rooms. They would be limited capacity, so only the people who really cared would be attending and the organisers would impose several rules in order to give the artists the best possible chance of performing. The rules are thus: 1) No talking or mobiles 2) If you come to the event, you stay for the whole thing, no ducking out if you decide you don’t like one artist. The people from Sofar then set about finding the best and most interesting artists they could and putting on a hugely decent (free) gig for those dedicated music lovers. Its happening all over the world, New York, London, Paris, Australia and its great music. You can find out more about the group as well as sign up for the mailing list (which is the only way to get to the gigs) here: http://www.sofarsounds.com/
I’ve been trying to go to some of the gigs in London, but either the dates didn’t work out, or I wasn’t able to get to the gig because so many people wanted to go. But, last Thursday, I was given an invitation to the first Dublin gig. They emailed an address and off I trotted to Merrion Square on Friday evening searching for a yellow door. It was a beautiful evening, balmy, not too overcast and with a soft pastel sunset growing over the horizon. I found the address fairly easily, I just followed the very attractive, impossibly trendy people who were spilling out of the living room onto the street, drinking and getting to know each other before the music started. I chatted briefly to the woman whose apartment it was and then got myself a sofa seat and waited for the music. It was slightly awkward as I didn’t know anyone and some people seemed to know each other at least a little bit. So, I nursed my cider and pretended to text, the last resort of the single, awkward person at an even where they know no-one. I’m certain everyone knew I wasn’t actually texting, but it at least meant they didn’t have me looking at them, smiling awkwardly and attempting to strike up conversation. And I got to pretend that I wasn’t in anyway awkward or lonely. Win-win, really. Status-quo maintained.
Once the music got started, I relaxed completely and felt totally blessed that I had been given the opportunity to hear all these bands. We started with the folkie, accoustic sounds of Dublin band Slow Skies. The lead singer had a gorgeous, whimsical voice that reminded me of a mix of Lisa Mitchell and the Cranberries. The music, itself, however was more ethereal than the both of them. It was absolutely beautiful and from the first notes there was a magic feeling in the air. Everyone listened so attentively and the focus on the musicians only added to the magic that was being created by the musicians themselves.
Second up was a girl who happened to be from Adelaide but who had been living in Dublin for the past 4 years. She used a loop-machine to build and create songs all on her own. She played the violin, sang and used a variety of other instruments I don’t know the name of to create really unique sounding music. Its not normally my style and I don’t have the requisite language or labels to describe it, but her performance totally blew my mind. Unfortunately she doesn’t really have anything online that you can check out, but her name is Margey Lewis and you should keep your eyes/ears peeled for her because I think she’ll be going places. In a good, musical way.
We had a late addition to the line-up with a girl who played one song. It was a very sweet song about youth and summer and nostalgia so suited my mood.
The gig finished up with The Raglans, another Dublin band who were kind of a rockier Irish Mumford and Sons (I am wary of making comparisons between new favourite bands and old favourite bands after my comment to one singer that she sounded like Joan Baez and they didn’t look too pleased. I had meant it as a compliment and I mean this comparison as a compliment as well, so I hope it would be taken as such). The energy and charisma these guys had was amazing and by the end of their fourth song, no-one was ready to go. They played us an encore, but I would have happily stayed and listened all evening. Of course, that wasn’t an opportunity, so I satisfied myself with by going up to them and gushing along with one of the other audience members. Luckily, the Raglans were very appreciative of my gushing and didn’t find it in anyway embarrassing. They even tweeted back at me when I gushed more over twitter late that evening. It was probably my most successful and satisfying musician/gushing fan interaction apart from say the weekend with the Unthanks back in January. Anyway, they are on iTunes and I, for one, will be investing in their EP, once I have gotten over the little heart attack I had over last month’s credit card bill. I suggest you do the same:

The transience of the evening came from the pop-up nature of the venue, of course, but even more so from the people I met. Now, of course, when you’re traveling, you meet people all the time who you are never going to see again. One need only look over my last two blog posts and we meet three unnamed men who I very much enjoyed talking to – the Georgian, the American kayaker and the singing Irish cab driver. But, I suppose you expect this when you are traveling. My obsession has always been living in a country and I collect ‘countries-I’ve-lived-in’ the same way other people collect stamps, or coins or, I don’t know, antique sewing machines. Living in a country for a short period gives you a false feeling of permanence and you forget that you are still ‘traveling’ and that the existence you’re creating in this new country is far more transient than one you may have lived previously (is it possible to be ‘more transient’? ‘I think you can in Europe?’)
ANYWAY, the point I’m making, or heading towards making or trying to make is that the evening turned into this beautifully strange, bizarrely intimate and yet completely momentary occurrence. Because of the slightly odd and thrilling nature of the pop-up gig, because it was held in someone’s house (that before that evening you had never met) and because there were only 20 – 25 people there, I ended up having very interesting and lovely conversations with everyone I chatted with. Of course, they were all very enthusiastic about music but they also all had very interesting lives that had led them to being in that room on that particular night at that particular time. One girl in particular happened to be gushing to the musicians around the same time as I was gushing to the musicians and we decided to form a gushing strike force, going up to everyone and telling them how wonderful they were. It then turned out that we were both walking in the same direction, so we walked together and talked together on that beautiful, balmy night. She told me about her Wwoofing experience in the French Pyrenees and I told her about my plans for London and then we bought gelato and tried out the different flavours that each of us had gotten and then after about 15 minutes of sharing stories, suddenly I was turning left and she was turning right and that was the end of the conversation and our fleeting relationship. I don’t even remember her name.
There was something about that 15 minute walk and talk through the centre of early evening Dublin, the light from the sun still hanging around the horizon and all the party people falling about themselves as they went from pub to pub that so perfectly suited my nostalgic mood, my feeling of merely floating through a fleeting world that…. made me want to write bad poetry. No! Sorry, sometimes I find it hard to be serious in these philosophical or significant posts. My style always leans towards the self-deprecating. But, the point is, there was something about my whole experience in Ireland that seemed to be summed up in that 15 minute stroll. The loveliness of it, the randomness of it, the strange, sudden intimacy, the freedom and glory of it as well as the final interrupted and unfinished nature. Perhaps that’s the best way for it to be in the end, instead of dragging on and on like a once-successful comedy sitcom, ending on a high note when all you can remember is the good times.

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Donegal

To catch you up on the rest of my adventure from this week (that’s right, in between looking at fascinating online dating profiles and picking them to pieces, I have actually been doing real things in the real world), I was in Co. Donegal at the beginning of last week. From where I was in Co. Mayo, it took me seven hours (SEVEN), plus six bus and car changes (SIX) to get to where I was going, which was the very tip of the South-West corner of County Donegal, a place called Glencolmcille (well, actually, it was a place called Malinmore, but Malinmore wasn’t so much a ‘place’ as a collection of houses with a post box. Glencolmcille at least had three pubs, a school and a folk museum, so you could legitimately call that a ‘place’). Here is an idea of where I was:

I was aiming for the ‘A’. From google maps.

Whilst waiting for the first of my six buses/taxis, I hung out in the deliciously blazing sun of Westport and attempted to even out my sunburn. I know, I know, its absolutely appalling and considering my father has had all sorts of scares with skin cancer, you’d think of all people, I would know not to be putting my skin in trauma, but I couldn’t help it. It’d been so long since I’d seen the sun and my skin was so white and the sun felt so good, that I just wanted to lie out in it an burn myself to a crisp. I covered up my burnt skin in sunscreen and tried to brown my shoulders, but of course went a little too overboard with the sunscreen, meaning that I ended up with red arms, a little stripe of white skin and then red shoulders. Highly attractive. It must have done something for someone, however, because an elderly gentleman stopped in the street to declare me ‘a handsome woman’ and to tell me how lucky was the man ‘who gets to put his arms around you.’ Sweet.
Anyway, I eventually ended up in Glencolmcille, despite a bit of a disaster when I got to Donegal and the mini-bus driver told me that he’d only be able to get me to Killybegs (about half an hour away from where I needed to get). As it was already 9:30pm, I’d been traveling for hours, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. However, I held myself together admirably well. Compared to some previous travel disasters I’ve had, I simply asked the bus driver to check with the company to see if there actually was a service from Killybegs, as I had checked it several times online. Of course, there wasn’t, but they agreed to organise me a taxi from Killybegs to Glencolmcille as part of my ticket. I was very pleased that everything had worked out and I also hadn’t panicked and made a fool of myself. The taxi driver was very nice, though he seemed a little grumpy at first about having been dragged away from his IRA movie to drive a silly tourist to Glencolmcille. But he became much more friendly and even sang me ‘The Boys of Killybegs’ when I asked ‘wasn’t there a song about Killybegs that I would know?’ He also refused to leave me on my own in Glencolmcille and stood in the car park for a good half hour waiting for the people from my hostel to pick me up. He was very amused to find out that I was writing all about the trip and hoped I would write a new chapter (it was easier to say it was a book) with himself in it. I should really have gotten his name, but if he ever reads this I hope he will know who he is.
The next day, I was hoping to climb Slieve Leage, which are some amazing sea cliffs, about three times higher than the hugely famous and popular Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare. Here is a picture:

I climbed to that pointy bit in the middle of the picture. Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slieve_League

Because they are not so popular as the Cliffs of Moher, there is no barrier along the walk to the summit. And, though you can’t really see it in this picture, the walk to the summit involves rather sheer, crumbly, dizzingly high and terrifying drops into the ocean on one side and not quite o high, but just as sheer and perhaps more rocky drops into a valley on the other. The way to the summit is along the aptly named ‘One Man’s Path’. My housemate had told me to ‘go with someone’ along the path, but as I was traveling by myself, I figured I would just have to attempt to do it on my own. The day was perfectly clear and sunny, no wind, so it seemed like the perfect conditions to attempt the scary climb on my own. However, an American man from my hostel also happened to be attempting Slieve League that day and as I needed a lift to the cliffs anyway and he had a car, we ended up doing the walk together by default. He ended up being a very interesting gentleman, lots of great stories about science and kayaking trips and places I should visit in the USA and after a slightly awkward start, we got along very well and had a lovely day. It was kind of lucky he was there in the end, because the One Man’s Path wasn’t nearly as obvious as the name would imply and there were a few times we found ourselves in rather awkward scrambling situations (at one point, we had some very amusing Germans above us. I called out, ‘Did we go the wrong way?’ They replied, ‘No, no, this is the One Man’s Path. It is called this because only one person in every two can survive it.’ Ha ha ha). Not that having someone else there would have helped my climbing abilities, but it was a good incentive for me not to completely freak out and have a hysterical break down on the mountain, because I didn’t want to look like a girl in front of the hardcore American kayak man. Also, I forgot my sunscreen and I really thought that my skin had probably gone through enough trauma for one week and the American had spray-on sunscreen. I still think spray-on sunscreen must be a bit dodgy, but it seemed to do the trick.
We parted ways at the summit, the American went back the same way to get his car, I decided to go down the Pilgrim’s Path down the back of the mountain for a bit of a change. I stumbled into Carrick at 4:30pm, overheated, dehydrated, hot, sweaty and absolutely delighted with myself. About twenty minutes later, the American went past me. I totally beat him down the mountain and he was in a car. I don’t want to crow, but I feel that was pretty awesome. And, in the true sense of the word, not in the American hotdog sense of the word.
So, after a lovely shower, I sat down, outside, in the long evening sun and attempted to write job applications whilst getting very distracted by the google mail chat thing that I have only just worked out how to use again.

Me being summer-y and confused by Gmail chat.

 The next day, I decided to walk over the mountain on the other side of Glencolmcille, which my hostel owner had said was quite lovely. I learnt from one of the other guests (who happened to be an artist) that there were the remains of a cottage Dylan Thomas had once spent 6 months in over the mountain as well and I figured I might go sit in it for a bit and hopefully get some Thomas-like writerly skill or inspiration and churn out my equivalent of ‘Under Milk Wood’ in a day. Or something. I didn’t find the ruins though (they were a bit further away than expected), so I guess I’ll have to do it on my own steam. Apparently the reason Thomas was in this neck of the woods was because it the cottage was the further away from a pub that Thomas’ agent could find near the UK and was hoping to dry Thomas out for a few months. Instead, Thomas decided that a 10 mile walk over the mountains was a perfectly reasonable way of getting to alcohol and did it regularly. Well, I guess if he wasn’t entirely sober, at least he was getting some exercise and that’s… not nothing.
There was absolutely no one up on the mountain except myself and a lot of sheep (and lambies!) The mountain cliffs dropped straight into the sea, and I found myself clutching on to the edge of the flimsy wooden fence and staring down a sheer drop into the water however many hundreds of metres below. It made me ever so slightly giddy, light-headed and giggly.
When I came down the mountain, I popped into the local Folk Museum, which was quite sweet. It had a variety of cottages done up as they would have been in the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. I couldn’t help thinking of my eldest charge from last year and how much she would have enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed myself, but thinking of her enthusiasm for knit curtains and old-fashioned things made the experience that little bit more fun.
I was lucky enough to get a lift back from the hostel owners as I was completely wrecked after my 5 day adventure holiday. The weather was incredibly perfect for the entire time I was away and I was little sorry to have to be going back to Dublin the next day, but I was also kind of wrecked and, of course, there was plenty to be done back at home. I’m packing everything up at the moment, as I leave my house in Dublin tomorrow. I’m off to Alaska on Wednesday and then back in Cork for two weeks and then its on to London…
I can’t quite believe it’s all ending. I’m getting more than a little sad and nostalgic and have been listening nonstop to a beautiful Unthanks song called ‘Fareweel Regality’, which is all about farewells.
But, more on that next time.

And now it’s time to say fareweel
And though I hope that we may meet again
And all things may be reet again
We’ve lived and spent the day

And so we’ll cry fareweel regality
And cry fareweel to liberty
To honest friends’ civility
To winter’s frost and fire
And there’s naught that I can bid you
But that peace and love gan with you
Never mind wherever call the fates
Away from Hexhamshire

And what is time that flies so fleet
But just a bird that flies on merry wings
And lights us down in happy springs
When winter’s need is past

And so we’ll cry fareweel…

Aye but the curlew sings her sang
And winds her sorrows down the Rowley Burn
And drear as winds the hunter’s horn
The call is all fareweel

And so we’ll cry fareweel…

And as I set the mossy stones
And do me bits of jobs and gap the dykes
I hear the whispers down the sykes
Fareweel they sigh, fareweel

And so we’ll cry fareweel…

Do I remember? Do I dream?
And did we rightly meet by Viewly Side?
For all this and much more beside
Has got me sore beguiled

And so we’ll cry fareweel…

And on some golden autumn morn
Or when July is hazing Dipton Slopes
By Whitley Mill or Westburnhope
We’ll live and spend the day

And so we’ll cry fareweel…
And so we’ll cry fareweel…

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