Music has played an enormous role in my not going totally bonkers this past year. I present: The Depressive (Mostly) Irish Playlist.
Music has played an enormous role in my not going totally bonkers this past year. I present: The Depressive (Mostly) Irish Playlist.
My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.
Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”
Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.
What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.
My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.
And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.
Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.
And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.
There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”
However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.
I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.
In a few days, I’m heading to Spike Island, County Cork, Ireland, to spend five weeks living in an abandoned (and reportedly haunted!) island prison complex with a few dozen total strangers. It’s a bioarchaeology field school, meaning we’ll be excavating the prison cemetery in use during the 1840s and 1850s, when the Potato Famine (or Great Hunger) in Ireland caused such massive increases in criminality (with people sentenced to seven to fourteen years hard labor for stealing food to feed their starving families) that Spike Island, a former naval base, was converted into a prison in order to house the huge new waves of “criminals.”
Spike Island sits in center of Cork Harbour, which is now used by the Irish Navy, various cruise ships and lots of industry. In the mid-1800s, all those who emigrated out of Ireland during the Famine, including my Irish ancestors, left the country through Cork Harbour, making it a sort of reverse Ellis Island. Incidentally, this harbor was also the last port of call for the Titanic. (Twelve-year-old me is going to love the large Titanic museum in Cobh.)
I’ve spent the last few weeks reading books about the Famine and the prison and have watched a bunch of videos about the supposed ghosts. Ghost Hunters International did a spot on Spike Island, and as usual, found absolutely nothing. (I’m not hating on the paranormal – I did my fair share of Ouija boarding with my aunt while I was growing up. However, it pleases me that nothing horrifying has been found on the burnt-out, cemeteries-old prison I’m about to live in for the entire month of July.) My favorite of all my prep, however, is this terrifying video I found on YouTube, which proves that a haunting soundtrack really is all you need:
I’m planning on blogging the entire experience, with the help of a pay-as-I-go mobile wireless router. However, I’m assuming my technological prowess, compounded by my being in a foreign country, may result in less-than-daily posts. I’ll probably be better at posting on my Facebook page and/or Twitter feed, so if you’re at all interested, follow me there!
This will probably be my last post for a while, because tonight is my last night in Dublin and from here on out, my ability to access the internet is questionable. I hope you can all survive my absence from your Readers (and/or emails). Is there a way to schedule reposts of old stuff I’ve published? Because that might be a fun way of ensuring that no one abandons me in my hour of need.
Anyway, I’ve had a whirlwind two days in Dublin.
I’ve been scoffed at and called a “TOURIST!” by a fat man with an American accent, which means that even Americans find Americans obnoxious in other countries. (I wrote that sentence to mean that I found him to be intolerable, and just realized that it works the opposite way as well. For what it’s worth, I was taking a picture of a church I had paid to tour, which is something I’m aware only a tourist does – however, I wasn’t doing anything overtly annoying or off-putting. That Pierce was a b.)
I’ve walked on or about five gajillion miles, around and around the City Centre. This walking was obviously entirely because I love to walk and not because I’m totally useless without Google Maps on my phone, okay?
I’ve seen taken a ton of terrible-quality photos with a seven-year-old digital camera I packed on a whim, back when I still thought I’d have my iPhone with me for photographs. I know. Right now you’re thinking I’m an idiot for using my iPhone as my primary camera. Ahaha, friends. You haven’t yet seen the pictures this shitty point-and-shoot takes. Are you ready for this?
The Long Room, adjacent to the Book of Kells:
Dublinia, Viking and Medieval Ireland museum:
I saw Bog People at the National Museum of Ireland, Archaeology Museum and walked through St. Stephen’s Green, and peered through locked gates at Dublin Castle, which is closed through July for government meetings:
I found Viking ruins near Christchurch (and by that, I mean I followed some directions to see them, not that I discovered them. That distinction totally had to be made):
And I toured the National Wax Museum,
where I took the highest quality photo of the trip thus far:
I discovered that today was Pride in Dublin:
Most importantly, I got a wink and a smile and a “Pardon me, love” from a gorgeous Irish man who bumped into me on the street, which means I can pretty much just go home now, because my life is complete.
In all seriousness, I’ve had a great time and have seen a lot, but I’m finding I’m not a huge fan of traveling solo. Trust me, I am a person who loves being by myself, so it’s not that I can’t handle alone time. It’s just that in a city bustling with people doing things together, it’s odd and a little sad to not have at least one other person to share these experiences with. Luckily, tomorrow I’ll meet up with about twenty field-schoolers and be plenty busy with company for the next five weeks. And then my family comes to meet me! So I’ll be fine.
I just miss my people.
The other day, my mother-in-law suggested that my husband and I (and all the people I know) download an app called Viber, which is essentially a Skype/AIM/text messaging hybrid that allows people to call/text between computers or smartphones for free all over the place. She thought it would solve the communication problem I was facing: how does someone who is always connected (i.e. me) not make occasional instant contact with all the people she knows and loves? My cell phone doesn’t have international capabilities and therefore I won’t be able to call anyone while I’m gone. Viber allows people to send instant notifications or to make calls (with or without video) from phone to phone or from computer to phone (which is what I’ll be doing).
Late last night, when I should have been asleep, preparing for my early morning flight, the husband and I tested it out, while sitting in different rooms at home:
At this point, I feel like I should be a Viber spokeswoman, because I love it so much and have convinced so many people to download it so that I can harass them with messages even from thousands of miles away. And it’s a good thing too – because right after I discovered, with total glee, that my giant suitcase weighed 49.5 pounds (one whole half pound less than the 50 pound weight limit) and was therefore acceptable, I reached to text my husband to tell him the good news and realized I’d left my phone plugged into the charger in the car. Excellent. Just before jumping out onto the curb, I’d gone through a mental checklist of all the things I needed and I was so proud of myself for remembering everything.
Uh huh. That was too good to be true.
As it is, though, I’m already at the gate, safely through security, with plenty of time to spare, and I didn’t have to totally unpack and rearrange my suitcase in order to get it checked. So, I guess it’s worked out.
Luckily, I decided at the last minute to pack an actual camera, so I’ve covered the only thing my phone could have done that my computer can’t. Also, one of the women working here at the gate looks exactly like this
so that’s a good sign.
Okay – time to board, and spend the next six hours jammed up next to a stranger, trying to sleep! Air travel is so luxurious.
By the end of this week, I’ll be in Ireland. I have just (finally) finished buying all the things I need for the trip and I am planning on organizing, washing, and packing all my new Indiana Jones clothes tomorrow (because I just spent ten hours on travel-related errands and loose-end-tying, and I am spent). In the spirit of preparation, earlier this morning, I almost published a post about exactly where I’m going and why I’m so excited to go. However, then my overwhelming paranoia took over and I decided not to give so many details. I’ve gone back and forth over whether or not to reveal where I’ll be for six weeks and I think I’ve settled on not publicizing the precise location until I get back. If I was going deep into a remote jungle somewhere, it might be different. As it stands, though, I’ll be staying in a pretty public place, and I want to stay off the grid.
I feel bad about it, because not discussing the details here implies that at worst, I think you’re all murderers, and at best, I think you care enough about me to randomly show up somewhere you think I’ll be. And, I don’t think you’re all murderers or fiendish stalkers (for the most part, that is). I guess I just don’t want to be so accessible.
Therefore, I’m going to start a new, currently private blog on which to record all the minutia of my trip, and here I’ll post close-ups of what’s happening and wide-angle photos of Ireland itself, and just leave out the middle ground (i.e. where I am and what I’m doing) until I get back, when I’ll link to the trip blog and you can get the real deal.
I feel like this entire post reeks of delusions of grandeur. I’m assuming anyone gives a shit where I’ll be. I’m also assuming that you’ll be devastated that I’m not live-blogging my entire experience this summer. However, I felt the need to explain why I’m being such a cryptic ahole, especially to those of you who have been reading since the very beginning, when all I did was grossly overshare.
A silver lining? Travel is always rife with annoyance, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to discuss, even if when I’m staying is cloaked in mystery.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to my parents’ house for dinner, so that I could see my parents and my brother The Baby and my grandparents before I leave for Ireland, and so that I could bogart a giant suitcase from my grandfather, in lieu of having to buy one.
Baby Bird was a popular topic of discussion. My dad, who has been prosecutor for his entire career and who has worked in environmental law forever, taking down animal smugglers and oil spillers, had this to say about our nursing Jack Sparrow out of infancy:
“You know, guys, that’s really nice. Did I ever tell you about the baby seal someone shot with a crossbow? They shot it right through the neck with an arrow. It took hours for the rescuers to catch it and take it to a rehab center. The rehab spent six months getting the seal, named Arrow, healthy again. We launched a huge campaign, with a reward, to catch the fisherman who’d shot it. We put out flyers and misinformation and eventually someone gave us what we needed to find the guy. When it was finally time to release Arrow back into the ocean, we loaded up a boat with the rescuers and a newspaper reporter and the guy who’d shot Arrow in the first place. And you know what happened the instant Arrow was released?
“Eaten by a shark. Immediately. A huge Mako shark jumped right out of the water and ate him. God, it was terrible. The newspaper was there.”
That’s such a quaint, uplifting story, isn’t it? Thanks, Dad, for the vote of confidence.
In less than one week, I leave for Ireland. I’ll be gone for six weeks. SIX WEEKS. I’ll be alone in Dublin for the first two days, then living with about thirty other people at an archaeological site for the entire month of July. (I will eventually write about where I’m going. I think I may schedule a post to publish when I’m on the plane. I just like the suspense.)
My husband, my parents, and my brother The Middle Child are flying over when my field school ends and we’re spending the sixth week all together, traveling around the perimeter of the country. I can’t wait. My husband and I have gone on exactly one other major vacation together – our honeymoon to Scotland to meet all his family – and it was, for all intents and purposes, a bit of a total disaster. So, I’m hoping this trip goes well and inspires my husband to love traveling (at least enough that he’ll come with me to Pompeii – in about ten years, when we’ve saved up enough money to go on another European vacation.)
Before I leave, I have to go buy everything I’ll need to wear to excavate/live out of the country for a month, finish my thesis research (Monday’s the last day!) and take care of a seemingly endless list of small things one has to handle before jetting off to a foreign land (alerting my banks, buying train tickets in advance, getting new contacts [for my eyes], figuring out if taking my phone is worth it, studying maps, etc). I’ve been crazy with the end of school/graduations and also a little bit in denial that this trip is actually happening, so this weekend is going to be whirlwind of prep.
Here’s what I’ve been up to while refusing to believe I’m leaving in just a few days…
Taking a child to the La Brea Tar Pits:
Finding out, on social media of course, that The Middle Child got hit by a car while riding his bike:
Reading a bunch of weird crazy-person books stress-purchased from Amazon:
And, of course, taking care of Baby Bird, who we’re now calling Jack – as in Jack Sparrow. I voted for Tweets, but my husband isn’t cool enough to appreciate the social commentary:
Over the summer, this blog, that was conceived (pun intended!) as a way to track our progress toward procreation and which has in recent months morphed into a daily idiocy parade, will change yet again – this time into a travelogue/field school journal, because in about one month, I’m going to be flying to Ireland by myself to spend five weeks digging up a cemetery.
For years, I have been desperate to go and do. There is so much in the world that I am fascinated by and interested in and passionate about, and I want to see and experience all of it. I’ve got a friend, who I am trying to strong-arm into guest posting here, who has, in the nine years since high school, lived in several different countries by herself. I am in awe of her. When I discovered that participation in a field school was a requirement for graduation from my Masters program, I started saving up money to escape having to take the campus-run 10-weekend program based in the California desert. I wanted to go somewhere far away and have an experience, because I like to think I’m open-minded and adventurous and totally game.
However, I am also the kind of person who read Cheryl Strayed’s incredible memoir Wild, in which she gets her ass kicked by the Pacific Crest Trail (and her own perceived failings) for months, and was most upset by the scene in which she takes a shower in a camp bathroom and uses a bar of communal soap she finds sitting leftover in the stall. My hypochondria runs pretty deep.
I am clearly not that adventurous.
Which brings us to:
When I booked my flight recently, I scheduled my arrival early intentionally, so that I’ll land in Ireland two days ahead of the first meeting of the field school participants. I did this because I didn’t want to worry about missing the boat (literally) over to the site, and because I thought it might be cool to have some travel time alone before launching into an entire month of archaeological work. Now, as I’m watching the days between now and then fly off the calendar, I can’t believe I thought that flying in early would be fun. I am in full panic mode about being in a foreign country by myself. For two whole days and two whole nights. I can barely sleep at home in my own bed when my husband is away. I don’t like walking down my own street at dusk because my father, the prosecutor, has instilled in me a pretty intense distrust of everyone. (Actually. His most repeated advice to me: “Trust no one.”)
It doesn’t help that I’m a woman. Feminism be damned, we are just, very simply (and statistically), easier targets. (Please don’t crucify me over that. Maybe you are a female martial arts master who fears no one. However, I believe that even though I am as capable intellectually and professionally as any man, when it comes to sheer violence and malice, I am no match for a male lunatic. And I am 100% convinced that my lifelong awareness of that has kept me out of a lot of really terrible situations.)
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ALONE IN IRELAND FOR TWO DAYS? (Cue world’s smallest violin. Perhaps being played by a leprechaun?)
Tickets are confirmed, hotel reservations have been made, The Husband has been convinced to come visit me at the end of July. I will get my adventure – and I will be scared shitless the entire time.
In related news, in order to function like a member of this century at field school and at work and while writing my thesis, I need a new laptop. My ancient, seven-year-old MacBook exploded into small pieces of silicone dust and I need to replace it before I leave to have anxiety attacks in another country. Does anyone know anything about the MacBook Air? (Lest this inspire a turf war over Macs versus PCs, let me state for the record that I cannot be swayed. I am a hopeless Apple-loving hipster. I blame it on the fact that my earliest computer memories involve playing “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” on my grandfather’s gigantic Mac desktop in the early 90s. Never underestimate the power of early branding.) I am a fan of the Air almost entirely because it is the cheaper option. I am scared of the Air because it has the density of two sheets of printer paper and doesn’t have a CD port. (Is that shit even called a CD port? Answer: definitely not.)