Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Arriving in Northern Ireland

For weeks leading up to arriving in Ireland, anxiety crippled me in I way I have not experienced in years. I was awake late and up early with stomach pains, feeling distracted and simply off for the first time in months. I had the vague sense that it was because I was on my way to Northern Ireland without much of a plan besides, you know, achieving a lifelong goal. I was heading into something completely unknown and about to change the pace of the trip entirely.

From my comfy couch in California, 3 months in Northern Ireland researching, writing and living somewhere did not feel like a lot of time at all. It felt half-assed, honestly. I kept wondering if it would be better if I made that more like 4, maybe even 5 months. Now that I stand at the exact middle point of the trip – 13 weeks on the road, 13 more to go – I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I’ve been living out of a suitcase, wearing the same clothes and away from home forever. Three months feels like a very long time from this vantage point.

Traveling through England, I was lonely and exhausted and kind of wanted to back out of all the plans I had made. I was nervous about finding lodging, about people's reaction to my work, about actually doing the work. Which also told me I was onto something: call me a motivational poster board, but I’m pretty sure I subscribe to the idea that if you are not terrified of your goal in some way, you are not dreaming big enough.

But all my terror slipped away as the ferry from Liverpool pulled into the port of Belfast. There was something very romantic about the trip across the English Channel by ferry, watching Ireland rise out of the Atlantic to the west and pulling into that historic harbor of Belfast. I was overwhelmed in a way I had not anticipated: I expected more fear, instead I felt a huge sense of joy and achievement. As the taxi from the port pulled up to the Europa Bus Station I stepped out and sighed with delight: I returned. 

I bought myself a bottle of wine and privately toasted myself and all who have supported me in my hostel room.

When I came to Derry a week later, I walked around the city in glee, relieved that I had correctly remembered so many details, soaking it all in again with delight. It was like eating a fantastic meal, that first day in the city: when you have to keep yourself from rushing because it tastes so good and you know you should savor it, but with each bite you crave the next so strongly. I saved walking into the Bogside for last, my desert, my gift to myself after so many day dreams and plans gone right. As I stood atop the Butcher’s Gate, a place where an important scene in the novel takes place, looking down over the Bogside neighborhood, I gasped, tears welling in my eyes.

I did it. I came back. I allowed myself to stand there a moment and cry a bit. It is important to celebrate ourselves when we come to crossroads like this, I think. This is a big moment for me, as an artist and as a person. 

But arriving truly only signifies the beginning of a lot of work. There is much to get done.

This week I've spent lots of hours in museums and the library, reading and soaking in lots of information and history. It's like taking a refresher course on something you spent your entire college career studying but you haven't really thought about critically for a decade or so: I kept smacking my head and going "Of course! Yes! I remember!" and filling my notebook with dates and notes. The really incredible thing about this region is that no one feels like their story was heard throughout the entire Troubles, so everyone wants to tell whoever will listen, and it's ripe with energy to soak in if you open yourself up a bit.

Each morning I go for a walk through the Bogside, look at the murals, walk up the hill to the city walls, run my hands across them. Maybe I go to the library and read. Maybe I go to a coffee shop and write. I'm trying to reestablish a routine: the most important thing to my prolonged artistic flow. Writing at the same time every day, at least 4 hours. Its slow starting, honestly. But I know where I'm going more clearly than I ever have before, and I'm surrounded with so much new information each day. I just need to keep showing up, I tell myself. 

I have unfortunately realized by picking through what remains of all my past work that I need to start over entirely with a fresh Draft 2. Maybe only a few pages can really be salvaged from the tens of thousands of words already written. With hundreds of pages written over the last 7 years, its a hard truth to face, but it also makes sense - what I have now is jumbled, the style changes often and it's a mess, frankly. Some major ideas need to be cut entirely, continuity needs to be added and in general, I just need to give the whole thing new life. Which is both annoying and a huge relief.

At any rate, one week in the city and I'm giddy and delighted to call this place home. I am still terrified of all the work I have to do, I still struggle with explaining to people my real reason for coming to Derry, afraid to admit the magnitude of the project I'm undertaking, but I'm here, I'm opening my computer each day, and I'm writing, damn it!

The Bogside area of Derry, where my book takes place.

1 comment:

  1. Katy,

    I've been to Derry/London Derry before (with a good friend who is North Irish) and you're right, it's quite an experience to be there.

    I am loving reading about your experiences and your project. It's very life-affirming, and I like the honesty with which you name your emotions.

    Just keep going.

    See you in Minneapolis.

    Tina Harrison