Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why Do We Emigrate?

For some strange reason, I've been thinking about the title of this entry. "Why did I emigrate?" I ask myself over and over again. The practical reasons are simple to understand: I met an Irish girl. I brought her home to the States. There, I lost my job. We had a daughter. I was living in the San Francisco Bay area, and the 82 Recession was horrible. So I had to move somewhere. And why not Ireland after all?

But the practical doesn't always explain the impractical, or the sub-conscious hand that pushes us ever onward. Hence that question: "Why did I emigrate?" I'm curious. And I started to draw some conclusions on the childhood up-bringing that made this tumbleweed blow so far East.

My father was an airline pilot. The photograph above is a United Air Lines DC-6, one of the many types of aircraft that he was rated for. His love of flying took us all over the United States. Over a ten year period Mom, Dad, my sister Cindy, and I lived in Chicago, Seattle, New York, Florida, back to Chicago again, then onto California - and meanwhile, I went to college and lived in Bloomington Illinois, Michigan, and Los Angeles. To my reckoning, and from 1964 to 1974 (and excluding my college years) I lived in four different states and in 8 homes, while attending 8 different schools.

That's a lot of travel. And I found it affected me in many ways.

I felt rootless. Since those days, I constantly ask myself, "Where is home?" Home, as they say, is where you hang your hat, or where your heart and family are. But for me, that's never been quite the case. Home to me is the smell of Mom's cherry pie wafting through our Seattle home way back in 1960. That's a long time ago. Mom isn't with us anymore, and the house - while still there - contains other people and other types of cooking smells. So finding my version of 'home' is impossible.

Moving and Moving and Moving
Moving so many times had other effects on me: while I made friends quickly, I knew that I was going to lose them. Unlike many transplants like me, my commitment and loyalty to those friends was more than 100 percent. I wanted and needed their friendship. Because I was a stranger, I wanted to be liked instantly. I did everything that I could to fit in and to deserve friendship. And when I left, I was always devastated. Even more so when my letters back to them went un-answered.

I grew up to be a cameleon: a fellow who could change his spots almost instantly. A guy who always fit in - but not quite. It is a discomfiting, uncertain feeling. A scary feeling. A feeling of never belonging to anything.

But what is most interesting is this: this sort of background also makes you want to move again and again and again. You're never quite ready to settle down. You want to experience other things on an almost constant basis: "What's around the next horizon? Will it be as beautiful as what I've already seen? Will the people be as intersting? Will they accept me and befriend me?"

For a long, long time I thought I was one of the only people in the world to feel this way. And then a friend of mine suggested that I was much like a child brought up in the military: a Military Brat. That clicked with me. In the airlines, the children of airline pilots are called Airline Brats, and for the same reason: we are powerless to control our destinies. Instead, we are the subject to the whims of airline seniority, or a new city with a chance of a promotion to Captain or a different airplane type.

I finally found a blog devoted to these types of rootless, tumbling people: Written by a woman who was the daughter of a career Army officer, it explains a lot to me about my own penchant for risking everything on a whim. It also explains to me why I never thought twice about moving to Ireland and becoming a lifetime immigrant. It also tells me that while I've settled here and am happy here, Ireland has never quite been my home.

It tells me why I've been able to make a go of it here, yet also why I continue to miss a home that probably doesn't exist anymore.

So tell me. If you're considering a move to Ireland - or anywhere outside of the United States - do you have a similar background? Are you a tumbleweed who revels in your own rootlessness? Who enjoys the challenge of trying new places and people, and that desires to push the envelope by now trying a completely different culture?

I'd appreciate your posts. I'm really interested if there are other people out there who are as puzzled as I am when I ask myself the question: "Why did I move to Ireland?"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Staying Put in Ireland

First, my apologies for being Absent Without Leave. Things have been a bit crazy for the past 6 weeks or so, and are going to get even crazier over the next 2 months. I fly to Boston on business on the 3rd August; my day job provides no let up (thank God - it helps to make a bit of money just now); I have a screenplay due in 2 months (and haven't started it); and I'm messing with a new novel. The fact that I've relocated to Trim in County Meath has only compounded things a bit.

But Trim is lovely! A walking town, and with Trim Castle at its heart (the same castle that was used in the film Braveheart), it's a magical place which fills my soul with goodness.

How-and-ever. That's me. So what about you?

Today, I received a post on this Blog from a woman who has just returned to Ireland from what I can only assume was an extended period abroad. She states 'Now all I have to do is stay put!'

It's difficult, that. And she's not the only one. I have a close friend - an Irish fella - who has lived in the States for 10 years. He's moving back to Ireland this coming November. And he's worried about it. "What happens if I don't fit in?" he asks. "What happens if I can't stand the place anymore? I feel like a man without a country. I belong in Ireland, but I also belong in the States, my new home."

Oh, how well I understand that feeling! - of belonging, but not quite so. So what do you do to 'stay put', as my post-lady asks? What do you do to feel a part of the place again.

I'm not exactly sure. But I have one idea: simply breathe.

The Wonder of Irish Solitude
Last week I had a business trip to County Mayo. I visited Westport, and for 2 days I stood on an open field in the rain, watching as a crew of refurbishers put up a series of electric poles. I've been contracted to help a company with a website, and the owner - a big Mayo fella who used to be a lighthouse keeper but now owns the company - stood beside me as it began to softly rain. "Ah," he says to me. "Isn't it a wonder. Breathe that air. You can believe in angels in this weather."

Angels? From a guy as big and as tough as the solid wooden poles he was erecting? And yet, that was the case. He believes in angels and so, I suspect, does the entire population of Westport because of their soft and open nature, and the goodness that I met so many times while I was there.

The next morning, I woke up early. I wandered down toward the old Harbour, and there I beheld the sunrise. Croagh Patrick, the legendary pilgrimage site, rose hundreds of feet through a horizon of cloud scud, and for a long while I stood at the sea and beheld its glory as the sun finally painted it in the warmth of the rising sun. For a long time, I just stood there: hearing the whispers of the far-off cormorants hunting for breakfast; the gentle breath of a breeze on my balding pate. And in that instance, I felt part of the place. As if the angels of the Mountain were welcoming me home after a long journey.

How do you Stay Put in Ireland? Perhaps one of the answers is this: listen to the angels. They sing to us with a song of welcome.