The coolest thing about Stonecoast is the Ireland residency. Instead of going to Maine for one semester, you can head on over to Dingle or Dublin to write with the amazing Ted and Annie Deppe, along with their great friends like Angela Patten and Kevin Barry. Kevin Barry.
I’d never been out of the US, and I’d spent the last five years sitting in a classroom, so the idea of getting on a red-eye to Shannon and disappearing into the European woodwork for a month was about the greatest thing that could happen to me. The following are journal excerpts from that adventure, taken from my blog where I am currently doing The Year of Writing Challenge.
PROLOGUE: JUNE 30th. OMAHA.
In the fall of 1978, two young twenty-year-olds each packed a backpack, got on a plane, and moved to London. They’d never been out of the country before. Honestly, they’d not been out of Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois before. She’d grown up on a farm forty minutes from the highway, waking up at six in the morning to pick weeds out of the soybeans, and He’d slept on a couch in his stepgrandpa’s trailer, before emancipating himself and moving to Her couch on the farm.
Now they were standing by the Thames, looking at Parliament and wondering what they got themselves into.
They moved into 7 Bedford Place, student housing. There’s a picture of Him and Her, standing outside the colored door, looking very unsure. He’s in a beige shirt, she’s in a blue coat that still withstands the measure of fashion as I look at the picture today. They’re not touching, but they are standing side by side, all the other has in this new world.
December comes. Train tickets get cheaper. They take their backpacks, cross the Channel, and disappear into Europe. They get pulled over for being Americans in Yugoslavia. He has to moo in France in order to get any milk, because he doesn’t know any languages and the French know it. She has to sleep under the heat of a hand-dryer somewhere in Czechoslovakia, because they couldn’t find a hotel for the night. And when they arrive in Austria, they climb a mountain because it doesn’t look as tall as it actually was.
But they watch fireworks from the inn, over the mountain range. They climb the Eiffel Tower. They see the golden palace of Versailles. They snap a picture at the top of the Tower of Pisa.
They come home and tell stories.
My parents made this trek when they were younger than me. I’m eight years older than they were, my husband is seven years older. It has always been this There and Back Again sort of legend in our family, their year of Bilbo-esque adventures all around the continent and isles.
So I have been hellbent on getting to Europe since I was old enough to understand that the whole of the world wasn’t America …
Last night, I dropped my parents off after getting dinner with them. Dad came out of the garage with a big green backpack.
“Here,” he said. “Still has my tag on it.”
There it was, “IF LOST, PLEASE RETURN TO 7 BEDFORD PLACE, LONDON, UK.”
Next Wednesday morning, I’ll land in Shannon, Ireland. Alone. Just me. That next Wednesday, Alex will land in Shannon, and I’ll accompany him to London. The Wednesday after that, we’re scheduled to climb the Eiffel Tower. The Wednesday after that, Alex will be gone. And I will go on … alone … to Scotland.
By the time we leave on July 30th, we will have stood in front of that colored door at 7 Bedford Place, my parents’ picture in my hand, and we’ll take our own picture. He will probably wear his black shirt, because he knows I love that shirt. I will probably not have a fashionable coat on, because it will be hot. But we will be smiling.
I will have made it.
CHAPTER 1: JULY 9. IRELAND.
Turns out I’m lucky to even be here, because United shut down right after I got in? Also, US Airways booted me off my flight with no explanation, handed me a receipt, and told me to go to United because I was their problem now.
I was then given a middle seat, which I obviously couldn’t take because of my messed up leg, Catholic-guilted a lady into switching with me (or at least that’s what she said I did), and then the lady asked me what I did for a living.
“I’m a student and a writer.”
She made a face that tells me she was not all that impressed with my occupation, nor my ability to take her seat.
I arrived in Shannon, where the amazing Annie Deppe rescued me and let me nap for a bit before taking us students through Southern Ireland and showing us the tops of the Dingle mountains. It was gorgeous.
We are currently in Dingle, we have started our residency, and I am just now getting over the jetlag.
As for writing, I’ve been pecking away at my book, as usual. It sounds like my workshop is positive about it, but we workshop tomorrow, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m nervous, of course. But at least it sounds like it’s running in the right direction now.
Oh, and. There is a dolphin. One lone dolphin in Dingle Bay. His name is Fungi. They really love Fungi here. There is a bronze statue to Fungi, and no less than three boats were stalking him last night in the water. I would know, I was on one of them.
CHAPTER 2. JULY 10. FIRST WORKSHOP.
Today is my day to workshop. It went well. We all meet in the front room, looking out to the bay that ebbs and flows with the tide coming in and out. It’s very relaxing. That is, until it started raining again.
So far, I’ve written some exercises that worked out well. I wrote a poem for Alex, entitled “Thoughts on my New Husband While Studying in Dingle.” It was a horrible poem, since I’m not a poet, but Alex liked it, so I guess that’s what matters.
Also, I did not pack enough laundry.
CHAPTER 3. JULY 11. I MAKE A FOOL OF MYSELF IN FRONT OF KEVIN BARRY.
I took my afternoon nap today, and I woke up because a gaggle of people had come into the hall outside my room at the BnB and started talking loudly. I was then reminded that no, it wasn’t four in the morning and I couldn’t sleep anymore, because there was a lecture from a famous Irish author, Kevin Barry, that was about to take place in the parlor room across the hall.
I jumped up, my hair in my face and my jeans sagging, and I grabbed my bag and my keys and my phone, and I ran out of the door … right into a red-headed dude in a striped shirt who was very obviously Kevin Goddamned Barry.
“Hello,” he said, and me, still half-asleep, muttered a “hello,” trying to get around him and the landlord’s daughter who was fan-girling him. But then he put out his hand. “I’m Kevin.”
Well, of course you’re Kevin.
“I’m Jane,” I muttered. And he said, “Good to meet you,” or something, or maybe he didn’t, but I definitely did scuttle, and I used that word earlier, but it was indeed a scuttle, I scuttled away from him and into the parlor room.
“Cheers?” he said after me.
And I wanted to die.
CHAPTER 4. JULY 12. I WROTE MY LAST CHAPTER AT THE BLASKET ISLANDS.
I was unable to go to the Islands themselves, because I’m in PT for my eejit leg. But I did spend the day at the visitor’s center, settled outside in the green grass. I wrote my last chapter. It won’t come into play for many years, and three books of publication, but it’s written. It was a quiet afternoon, and every single place you looked was goddamn magical. I haven’t had this peace for a long time, especially when it comes to writing. Here I am, on the other side of the world, writing the last chapter to the last book.
CHAPTER 5. JULY 13-15. FIRST INTERNATIONAL READING. SECOND WORKSHOP.
Today is a reading and a workshop. Just had a workshop of AAE and that was so funky, because I’ve let it sit for so long. So it’s cool to go back and see that it holds up, but still needs work in ways I wouldn’t have been ready to do when I was working on it before.
Tonight is the reading. I’ll be reading from Captain and the Clockmaker, so please come listen! It’s at the Dingle Bookshop at 7:30. So if you happen to be in Ireland …
I’ve learned so much at this residency. Ted and Annie are brilliant, and I feel like this is a real moment in my life. I’ve learned so much from them, from traveling to living abroad to focusing on the quiet, beautiful moments in sentences. This residency is exactly what I needed.
Tomorrow the residency ends, and I’ll be going back up to Shannon. Then Alex is in on Thursday, and we head to London.
The next great adventure begins.
Last night was an amazing experience. We all went out to dinner together, and then we went to the Dingle Bookshop, where I had my first international reading. I met some new lovely and kind people, and I read poetry for the first time in public. Spent the rest of the evening eating ice cream and hanging out with a new friend made in Dingle. Hopefully she gets into the program and we hang out even more!
Our last workshop was outside at the tables, overlooking the bay and feeling the sunlight and seeing the green. Seriously, it the greenest green you can imagine. No filter.
It was sad to leave this morning. Annie and Ted drove us the three and a half hours to Shannon, where a couple of us girls rode along with Nancy in her amazing rental car to Bunratty.
We then spent a half an hour trying to figure out how to lock the door, and I nearly broke the door, and it’s a good thing I didn’t break the door, because I’m pretty sure that Nancy could take me if she had enough motivation. But the answer to “how many MFA students does it take to ock an Irish car?” Three.
I then got dropped off at my hotel, where I hang out waiting for Alex. Went to a McDonald’s. There were automatic doors, and the waitress … yes, waitress … was confused why I collected my tray at the counter instead of allowing her to serve me.
CHAPTER 6. JULY 16. LONDON.
Fifty days ago, I quit my job and started this endeavor of writing full-time.
Today, I landed in London.
“I never thought I’d make it here,” Alex said as we walked through the park across from our hotel.
Tomorrow is our tour out to see where my book takes place. How crazy is that. I’ve been working on it for years, and this is my first time actually stepping into the country.
CHAPTER 7. JULY 22. PARIS.
This is my window this morning, and I feel like I should write something for the sake of writing something with this as my view.
I got about two paragraphs written during my time here in Paris. We were running around all over the damn place, but seeing Hugo’s Notre Dame and James Joyce’s Shakespeare and Company, I feel as if my writing education continued nonetheless. Walking around the streets where F. Scott and Zelda strolled, seeing how much there was for Hugo to save in an old condemned church … it makes things mean a little more, make a little more sense.
I think this is where Paris’s heart really lies. I don’t think it’s in the Eiffel Tower. I don’t think it’s in Versailles queues or weird river boat cruises. I think it’s in the quiet spots on a sidewalk after the sun goes down. It’s in the way two young idiots have to clasp each other’s hands and say to the other, “We’re in this together.” That’s what Paris will be for me.
Now back to London.
CHAPTER 8. JULY 25. CIRCUSES AND SECRET GARDENS.
Sometimes things just work out.
This is a part of what I wrote today, for AAE:
“Although I won’t be here forever, I am here now. This is my one inch of the world, even if it’s only mine long enough to write this page. You have given this to me, and it’s enough.”
Last night was Alex’s last night before going back to the states. Instead of hanging out in our airport hotel, we took the expensive and long trek into London and saw Everyman at the National. It was worth it.
Afterwards, we stumbled out onto the balcony, then down to the riverfront, where we saw plastic rainbow walkways, double decker busses full of ice cream, and one alleyway with a long line leading into a warped circus behind a brick wall.
“You have to ride the Rowling train,” he said before he left this morning, “have some of her dust rub off on you. Make sure you write on the way to Scotland!”
And I realized just how special he is.
For those of you who don’t know, part of the reason why the year of writing challenge is a thing, is because for the last five years, I’ve gone through rough waters. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get any more days like this.
So today was a good day. I wrote a lot of ideas down, a stupid little poem, and I’m sure today will come out in writing at some point in the future.
There still are secret gardens behind buildings, circuses in alleyways, true love and kindness in men. There still is magic.
I board the Hogwarts Express in two days and take the same trek Rowling did when she came up with the idea for her books.
CHAPTER 9. JULY 27. A ROWLING PILGRIMAGE IN SCOTLAND.
So I have been completely surrounded by the greats since landing in Ireland and being picked up from the airport by Annie Freaking Deppe. I saw Charles Dickens’ resting place, J.M. Barrie’s neighborhood, Alfred Hitchcock’s home, King’s Cross, the Blasket Islands, etc. etc. etc. … and now in the last few hours I’ve run into Wind in the Willows, the real life Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Harry Potter.
Now that I’m in Scotland, I decided to walk to the coffee shop where Rowling wrote her book.
Rowling is my idol. If I ever meet her, I will probably just go into cardiac arrest and die right in front of her, and it will be really awkward. She influenced my life, and her books are my Bible in writing.
So you can imagine how goddamned elated I was to snag her old table and write there for two hours. I had a pop and a pizza. I wrote furiously in my notebook.
It was marvelous.
I am so honored to have been able to go to Edinburgh and sit in her seat. I am so honored to be able to learn from her, to be able to be my own self here, to walk around the streets and take it all in. I didn’t know a city could be so beautiful.
On the way home, I stopped for the Ferris wheel. I had six pounds left over, and that’s how much it was for a student to ride. The Ferris wheel pivots like a tea cup ride, so I was able to steer my view. I saw the ocean. I saw the Mound. I saw the castle. I saw the cliffs.
So now the next step is taking this excitement and imagination with me as I return home in a few days. Sitting in the coffee shop reminded me that once Rowling was my age. She was penniless, she was alone in this city, and she wrote every single day, looking out to that castle, and she changed the world.
I am serious about fighting for my life. It has not been mine for so long. But no more. This world has opened up to me, and the door is never shutting again.
CHAPTER 10. JULY 30. THE RETURN HOME.
I love that train. It goes 100 miles an hour past the Scottish coast. It literally feels like you’re flying.
The four-hour ride was spent writing the turning point of my novel. It was a good session. I got off at King’s Cross and touched the wall that Rowling was envisioning when she wrote Platform 9 3/4ths, and I had 18 solid pages of writing done from the last four hours.
One of the lines I wrote keeps playing in my head as I board my plane:“You can’t change the world and expect it to remain the same.”
I don’t have coherent words for the trip yet, but I do know that I’m a stronger writer because of it. It allowed me to gain confidence, meet amazing people, and understand the scope of the universe (although it is so much bigger than what I saw). It’s been humbling, gratifying, imaginative, and amazing.
Now onto the writing session for today.