The Journey

A few months back, I was up to my eyeballs in the stress of a Huge Opportunity*.

It was the kind of thing one alternately hopes for and yet fears, one of those “that would never happen to me, but what if it did?” things. This Huge Opportunity took over my life for the better part of two months and brought out some of the best and certainly some of the worst of me.

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Bathroom Selfie before the Huge Opportunity

In the end, I didn’t get there. I made it part way, but I couldn’t quite grasp the brass ring. As crushed as I was amidst the lingering self-pity and embarrassment of defeat, I was actually relieved.  I knew that I’d done all I could do, that I’d worked very, very hard, and, in the end, that maybe I did not really want the Huge Opportunity after all. Maybe, as cringingly cliche as it sounds, it was the taking part, the experience, the journey that mattered.

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St. Peter’s in Drogheda – Where I often went to ask questions and regroup when the world was getting on top of me.    (photo copyright Frank Kelly)

It’s funny, for a long time, I looked at my experience in Ireland as the ultimate failure. I moved there with such a hugely naive and starry-eyed outlook – so common to young Americans moving overseas. I thought I would be moving up in my career the moment my feet hit the ground, for who, in all of Ireland, wouldn’t want a vivacious girl with film festival and journalism experience? That bubble popped quicker than the housing market as weeks and months went by without being able to do any kind of professional work at all. I became depressed and anxious and very snarky with Frank, who had dragged me over to that rainy godforsaken island in the first place.

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When I worked in the Wine Buff (where it was always freezing)

As you probably know, I did find employment, and made friends and built my own kind of precarious life in Drogheda. But even as we left Ireland in 2013, I think my inner voice still said it was my fault we had to go. It was my fault our babies had to be wrenched from their grandparents and my husband forcibly detached from him home. I was the one who hadn’t been good enough, smart enough, resourceful enough, “Irish” enough to be successful. Sometimes I wondered if I had ever been good at my previous American life at all, or if it had merely been luck (sadly, this feeling did not improve too much our first year back in the States, either).

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That time I worked in Trader’s Coffee House   (photo copyright Frank Kelly)

But now, I’m on the other side. I’m back working in a professional career and am enjoying the new challenges, feeling a little more confident each day that I do have something to offer, it was there all along, and Ireland was not actually a failure in time. True, we never had money or success in the traditional sense, but we had little triumphs, and they were many.

If I hadn’t “failed” at a career in Ireland, I may never have…
Worked in the medical field.
Worked in the law field.
Learned how to discern good wines, good cheeses, good fish.
Learned about crime, poverty, racism, sexism, violence and hate in Irish communities.
Learned about love, acceptance, humor and enormous generosity in Irish communities.
Experienced the welfare system.
Walked nearly everywhere for over 5 years of my life.
Been told off, to my face, and stood my ground.
Understood how important good journalism and ethical practices are to me.
Realized the value of extended family around every corner.
Appreciated Catholic tradition.
Become a mother.
Learned empathy.
Learned how to cook well.
Learned how to relax.

I don’t really look back on Ireland as a waste anymore – not at all, actually. And I’m so happy to say we’re getting to go back for Christmas this year!

I think more than anything my time in Ireland, and our first year back in the US, taught me that failure should not equal shame. At times I still live in fear of screwing up at work, tense and ready to be drawn and quartered for making mistakes – but why? I have already learned that my self worth is more than where I work, no matter how great that job is. And even if the very worst happens – the bottom falls out, I get fired or get sick or get knocked down – I’ve already survived. Thanks to my husband, friends and these varied life experiences, I’ve learned how strong love can be. God did not create the human spirit to be a wisp of candy floss.

As for that Huge Missed Opportunity? Well, maybe some dreams aren’t meant to be. Maybe better ones are just around the bend. Maybe it requires more work than luck! At the end of the day, I’m thankful for the journey and the risks.

(And speaking of risks, here we go again!)

Much love to you all. xxx

*Sorry I have to be so cryptic here. I signed about 100 pages of confidentiality documentation so I can’t divulge the details. I know! Don’t hate me. #sorrynotsorry

Another Perspective

It’s that time of year again – I am officially an “Apple Widow,” as Frank works late most nights and into the weekend, trying to get ready for Apple’s biggest launch and keynote of the year. His job there has a lot of great perks – plenty of vacation and sick time, free outdoor concerts and summer beer bashes, fun “toys” to use on the job, etc.  – but they definitely get their money’s worth out of him in August!

So I’m feeling a bit lonely, like a single mom at times, as I work full time at Stanford and still have to do all the pick-ups, cooking, shopping and chores during the evenings. I love my kids, and they’ve actually been pretty good this week, but it makes me lonely for my husband and brings to mind another time when I was separated from my love and in the company of small children.

You may remember that once, over eight years ago, I was a nanny in Dublin for three children, ages 6, 3 and 1. I committed to staying six months, but only lasted six weeks, and my time spent in their home still comes to mind more often than I’d like to admit.

When I left, I was angry, hurt and utterly humiliated.

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Be who you are, be the change

I remember Election Night 1992 very well. My sisters and I stayed up late to watch Rocky IV (as you do) while my parents were out at a party, and we switched it off to hear the final results.  We heard the newscaster read the percentages and say that Beverly Barnhart had won our precinct, and that my father had lost.

As a kid, the word “lost” only seems to matter incidentally when you’re playing Clue or watching baseball or running a race. But when you’ve just spent the last several months, including an entire childhood summer, helping run an underdog’s campaign – stuffing thousands of envelopes with literature, walking hundreds of miles canvassing, squirming through painful debates, posing for family photos, and being told in no uncertain terms by neighbors just how much your father was hated – hearing the word “lost” tends to feel a lot more dramatic.

President George Bush also lost that year, to Clinton, and I remember feeling a sense that nothing was right in the world anymore.

Still, my family was not beaten. My parents continued to campaign for others they believed in, mostly Republican, sometimes Libertarian, or Constitutional parties. We walked in parades.  We put leaflets in people’s doors. We listened to Rush Limbaugh in the morning and watched Crossfire at night. We listened to patriotic music in the car on our way to Homeschool Legislative Day in Helena. From a very young age I got used to marching with a giant sign every year for Right to Life, and volunteered hours at their Winter Fair booth, handing out pins and plastic fetuses and balloons, even though I didn’t really understand it.  As a tween, I manned Republican Headquarters when it was housed in an empty shop on Main Street, though I seem to recall I spent more time pushing the wheeled office chair across the hardwood floors than answering calls or handing out bumper stickers. And when I was 11, I sent Ron Paul $50 of my own paper route money to help with his senatorial campaign in a state in which I did not live, just because I knew how much my parents believed in him.

As a teenager, I worked as page in the Montana State Senate. I studied the founding fathers and Adam Smith. In the summer of 1998, I went to Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, CO, to further my political education.  Even though I really just went to meet boys, I came away with the knowledge that the three worst things a person could be in life were – Democrat, Gay or Atheist. I proudly spent my entire flight home trying to convert a poor British man (who was well up for the challenge).

(I hope I haven’t lost you yet.)

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Welcome Spring

My thoughts are a jumble these days, thus why I have not done much writing.  If you could open my brain, it would look like that corner drawer in your kitchen, overflowing with nails and screws, dried up glue and birthday candles, tangled string and electrical cords that belong to something, pens that don’t work and single doll shoes, tweezers, guitar picks and countless green grimy pennies.

That’s exactly what my mind is like right now.

I think about writing when I’m in the car or putting on my make up in the morning or walking to my office building – “I should write that down,” I say.  And then I forget. Little snippets of somethings that aren’t really a story or a proper blog post, but too important to throw away completely.

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It’s my first Spring working at Stanford, and it is beautiful.  Where once the space was inhabited by endless parched, brown grasses and the hum of bees and birds squawking in the trees, it is now cool and lyrical and very, very green.  If only my body could drink from this rainy fountain of youth every February and March, coming back fresh and soft and curvy, glowing with life the way the hills are right now. It always smells good on campus, usually of eucalyptus and evergreens, but right now the aroma of Spring is so strong it nearly makes your nose hurt.  There must be a thousand blooms around every corner, and sometimes the tiniest, most inconsequential looking flowers are the most powerful. So while the Birds of Paradise pose in the background of every tourist’s selfie, it is the nearly nonexistent and nameless species crowded in bushes around bike racks and doorways that you’re really smelling.  Continue reading

‘One Day in December’ – a Kickstarter film campaign

I met an Irishman today. He was an environmental health and safety worker, giving out to someone in the room next door, and my ears perked up to his Dublin accent right away. I couldn’t help but interrupt their conversation, watching as his gruff demeanor melted away when he started telling stories about “the old days” back in Eire. 

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Ever since meeting Frank, I find myself responding warmly every time I hear the lyrical (usually!) tones of a Paddy.  Around here, it might be a coworker, or student, a restaurant server or a tourist.  And even though we’ve moved back to the USA for now, whenever I meet an Irishman (or cailin), it feels a little bit like home.

Isn’t that funny? I’m American, through and through, have lived in three very different parts of the country over the last 30+ years, I’m loyal to baseball, bluegrass, peanut butter and I Love Lucy, yet… Ireland’s got me, too.  It’s sort of like being accepted into a family – standing on the sidelines, shyly observing, and then a gregarious auntie or uncle comes along, throws their arms around you and drags you into the room, and before you know it, you’re singing tipsy karaoke and offering to wash the dishes. That’s Ireland to me.  My adopted family, the lot of them. My heart bleeds green, white and orange every bit as much as red, white and blue. 

This is why the short, One Day in December, and the eventual feature, Ten Days in December, are so so dear to me.  These films are going to tell my story, our story, of our Ireland. A modern Ireland. A lovely Ireland. A hard Ireland. I want to open up the photo book of my heart and let this beautiful, romantic true tale unfold before you. 

I think Frank said it before – if we do not raise the funds for “One Day…” we are not giving up.  This is the story of our lives, quite literally, and we have every intention of seeing it through.  But if we can make it this January, with the help of our friends and “fans,” that would be brilliant. If not, we’ll work to develop the feature script and no one will be out a penny (until the next campaign!). 

Thanks, everybody, for supporting us thus far – 61 backers and $4,679!  We’ve got one more week to go! Keep your eyes on the Kickstarter, and on our lovely, talented, amazing actors (who we are kind of falling for ourselves!), and we’ll get there! 

Go raibh míle maith agat! (Thank you very much!)

I Am Ireland

“Sons and daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the motherland, greetings. Whatever flag be the flag you guard and cherish, it is consistent with your highest duty to link yourselves together to use your united strength to break the chains that bind our sweet sad mother — and never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland but the world.”

Éamon de Valera, early St. Patrick’s Day message

My husband, Frank, has been working on a film project of late, another documentary in the same vein as the “140” project he did in 2010.  It’s called “I Am Ireland,” and it is a project that hopes to give a voice to the thousands of Irish folks who have left their homeland in search of a better future. It is, of course, a story that is near and dear to us, because we have lived it.  Even I, an American, feel its importance very deeply, not just because I married an Irish immigrant, and had two Irish babies immigrate as well, but also because I spent all those years on Irish soil, trying, struggling, to make a whole new life for myself in a new world.  I can relate to the loneliness, the frustration, the excitement, the promise, the disillusionment and the feelings of prolonged unrest one feels in making such a huge leap of faith.

So, what is the project, exactly? Well, you can refer to Frank’s blog for plenty of details, but the gist of it is this – we want Irish ex-pats to send us their stories, via smartphone video clips, to be edited into a feature-length picture of what it means to be Irish in a different country. You can talk as long or as little as you want. If all you want to do is say, “I left Ireland in 1999 and I never looked back,” that is fine. Or if you want to say, “I left Ireland six months ago and boy what a journey, c’mere ’til I tell ya… <insert 15 minutes of riveting Irish storytelling>” that is great, too.  We want to see your faces. We want to know who you are, why you left, what it’s been like, what people don’t understand. There have been countless documentaries, TV shows, movies, articles, books and recordings of Irish immigration in the 19th and 20th century, stories of teary goodbyes in Belfast and Cork and Dublin, “wakes” held by family and friends who never thought they’d see their loved ones again after they emigrated. But what is it like now? Perhaps it will even answer some bigger questions, such as why are people still leaving? What can and should Ireland be doing to hold on to her young people?

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It can be about Irish men, women and children wherever they’ve moved – Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Poland, the USA… it can be happy or sad. We want to see your faces. It sort of reminds me of a children’s book we love in our house – “The Lonely Beast,” by Irish author/illustrator, Chris Judge. In the darkness of anger and despair and “I just want to go home!” that Frank was feeling last year, this seed of an idea sprung.  He was lonely. He wanted to find out what other Irish “beasts” were out there, and what they thought of this whole upheaval of their souls in pursuit of a more secure income.

It is also absolutely worth mentioning that next year is 2016 – exactly one century will  have gone by since the Easter Rising of 1916, which was one of the most pivotal events in the entire history of Ireland. It was a rebellion I did not understand myself until I had lived in Ireland for some time, and sought out the answers to my somewhat spotty and ambiguous Irish history recollections. The Easter Rising is a moment – six violent days, actually – of a battle for freedom that brings most Irish a great deal of pride, and continues to drive them forward in their personal and political battles at home and abroad. Next year will be full of 1916 commemorations, and the hope is that “I Am Ireland” will find its place among them.

The remains of the Dublin Bread Company at 6-7 Lower Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street) after the Easter Rising in 1916. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland on the Commons (Flickr)

The remains of the Dublin Bread Company at 6-7 Lower Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) after the Easter Rising in 1916. Photo courtesy of the National Library of Ireland on the Commons (Flickr)

Here’s the thing – Frank has gotten a great response, in terms of interest.  He’s even been interviewed twice on Irish radio (always a bit tricky with an 8 hour time difference!). Everyone seems to think this is a great idea! But we’re still lacking in actual submissions.  He’s set a deadline for the end of this month, and would like to have at least 20 – 40 “testimonials” as it were. We’re not asking for money, or anything weird like that – just a few honest minutes of your time. If you’re an Irish ex-pat reading this – please! Send him your stuff. Break the ice. We’d be so so delighted. And if you have friends or family who are Irish and living abroad, pass the word along! Invite them to be part of a really special, historic piece of work.  And I promise, it’s bound to be good craic, too.🙂

Here are some quick instructions/tips, and of course, feel free to contact me or Frank about “I Am Ireland” at any time!

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End of an era.

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Paddling at Santa Cruz on Memorial Day.

It’s the final week of May here in beautiful California, mild and sunny and relaxed. We had a nice Memorial day weekend of visiting with family, working on things around the house, and exploring the seaside boardwalk of Santa Cruz. I repainted my childhood rocking chair for the kids, from a tired brown varnish to a lovely blue-green.  The weather has been so good, I was able to do it entirely outside, leaving it to dry at night and putting on additional coats and touch-ups as time allowed. I’ve also been working on my patio garden a lot lately, which is now complete with an array of “old lady” flowers like petunias, pansies, lavender, sweet peas and geraniums, plus a few herbs and tomatoes.  Next step is getting a table and chairs so we can go out and enjoy our morning coffee or evening glass of wine.

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Old becomes new.

I’ve tried to take some extra time these last few days, to stop and play with my kids, snuggle on the couch, go to the park, give them extra kisses, bake cookies, and enjoy doing some of the things that take a bit more time and attention than a normal day typically allows. As of Monday morning, I will be starting a new, full-time, awesome job. I’m both reflective and anxious, and ever so aware of what a huge change this will be for me, and us, as a family.

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