Late one evening in the city

What makes a raindrop hold to a line?

I stood this evening in my back garden, feeling the mist come down all around me. A million drops slipped right by the wires of my clothes line, content to go down to the darkness below. A small few didn’t, hanging on to the grey wire like light bulbs, making it sag in the chill autumn air. Bathed in yellow porch-light, they were a thousand captured stars-a great testament to the sad beauty of holding on, of refusing to let go like the rest did.

In life, we all fall from the sky, drifting from the clouds in a haze. Our destiny-our doom-is that at some stage we’ll all hit the floor. We can’t decide what we’ll meet along the way, but we can choose what we hold onto. A chimney, a branch, the clean wires of an empty clothes line. No two things in this world reach out to us the same. Small wonder that when we fall, we scatter, grabbing hold of what a thousand others pass by, cherishing the everyday as though it were perfect. In truth, it’s hard to find anything more perfect than the thing so blatantly not so.

I often wonder about choice and the implications it has. I once wrote that the concept of finality is scary, and months later I still feel the same. After all, in life we’d all like to believe we can circle back, returning to moments where we made the wrong decision with the surety of hindsight. But we can’t; it’s simply not the nature of falling. For the most part, you have a half-second to grab onto something before it disappears into the night, fading away into the distance behind you to become a haunting memory. That is, if you let it.

Bad decisions are as much a part of life and learning as good ones are. In fact, I’d wager they are even bigger, considering no raindrop ever wet anything without first getting shaken itself.

And so, you really have to ask yourself whether holding on is brave or stupid or just another way to stop yourself falling. In some ways it’s all of them, and in many ways that’s okay, but you should ask yourself the question all the same. Because while there is a safety in holding on, there is a fault in not moving forward. There will come a time-a time five seconds before you hit the cold stone with a pat, and when all you can do is look back on the journey behind you, you’ll want to see that the things you held onto were worth it. You’ll want to know that you clung onto the clothes lines that mattered.

Perhaps the hardest part of letting go is wondering whether something ahead is going to catch you. It’s a sort of top-of-rollercoaster-moment, where edging over the crest you pray to see the tracks line up underneath. You look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never once considered them not being there. But they always have been, and so maybe it’s time you trust yourself to open your grip.

And though while reading this you may picture a particular line that you hang to, the truth is that you hang to a thousand wires a day. And each time you fall, letting go only gets easier, until all you know is the uncertainty of empty sky-the great unknown you were convinced to be scared of.

Tonight, you too hang on a clothes line in a quiet garden in suburbia, weighing up the risk of letting go, calculating it as though it’ll make sense.

But it won’t.

And like everything imperfect, that’s what makes it so beautiful.

Sometimes we hold on. Sometimes we let go, and if the latter, we may remind ourselves of the peculiar thrill of falling.

14470860_10210353156213377_1337489624_n

 

 

About a half-mile from where I left you

It’s been a busy month of writing.

You don’t always get to type that sentence. If you do, generally you breathe a sigh of relief, maybe mouth thank fuck or something like that, and hope that the next month is gonna be the same. It rarely is.

I’ve been doing a lot of these “think out loud” pieces lately (find them all here if you’re curious), mostly because they’re enjoyable to write. A part of me also likes the feedback I get, and if anything, most of that comes from within. Sometimes, when the compass doesn’t make sense anymore, you just have to stop, twirl about for a second, and realise exactly where you’re going. I guess you could say these posts provide something similar. After all, thoughts only survive as long as they’re in your head. They’re thoughts; you think them. But sometimes they need to be more than that. They need to be ideas. That means getting them outside, and for me nothing does that like an hour or so on in front of my blog.

As the title of this post hopefully implies, I’m writing this to give a sort of snapshot of where a month hard at it has brought me to.

The first thing I noticed going into June was that I didn’t really know whether the writing goal I was setting myself was realistic. Was it too little? Was it too much? I decided I wanted another 10,000 words by June 30th, along with at least some other work elsewhere. That could have been a blog, a short story, a poem-it didn’t matter. It just needed to be there. You have to understand, for me working on one project alone for any great length of time is terrifying. Without somewhere else to direct my attention, everything just becomes muddled, like TV static or the dwarves in the Hobbit movies. Worse again, the project begins to feel like a chore or a day-job. Even if it’s just one night off to write a blog, or a couple hours put into another story, it makes the whole project feel fresh when I re-visit it. It’s much like taking a shower after lying on the couch for a few hours. You step out your bathroom door and whooosh, when did the world get so fresh? When did it get so cold and energetic and alive and other words commonly used on men’s shower gels? Returning to a project like that is like going IV caffeine before the big race (well, that would see you disqualified so it’s actually a terrible example and a serious risk to your health, but you get my point). Devoting yourself to other work besides your main projects has a lot of other benefits too.

Perhaps the number one has been consistency. For years, I felt like my writing was Tottenham Hotspur. Bare with me. Much like Tottenham, I would have long periods of nothing, where my output on a word processor was about as good as their performances in the premier league. The odd day, without reasonable explanation, I would play a blinder. I’d smash 5,000 words out in a day, and make it look easy. In the background, Tottenham would rage to a 4-0 win over a top side, despite their record having more draws than a Mexican stand off. By and large though, for several years both myself and the London club would trundle to a respectable finish in the table, pat ourselves on the back, and then roll out the following year to do it all over again. What this month has given me, if anything, is an ability to say things when I didn’t feel there was anything left to say. Before, if the going got tough like that, I’d slam down the lid of my laptop, beg the Gods of Amateur Writing for inspiration, and hope that in maybe a week or two I’d do better. Hmm, I’m sure Tottenham used to do something similar. If you want to be a champion though, that just won’t cut it. If history has taught us anything, it’s that a champion’s worst day might actually be their best. When you’re lying on the canvas and cameras are flashing, those ten seconds might be the difference between who you want to be, and who you’re going to be. It may be a little hard to see, but writing is similar. If you can’t drag the words out of you when you’re at your worst, then do you even really deserve to have them flow out of you at your best? I’d wager that if you’re going to build characters, best start with your own.

This June has been exactly three years since I sat down, wrote one sentence on Microsoft Word, and quietly resolved to myself I was gonna write a novel. How hard can it be, I must have thought. The ideas are all there; I’ll just tip away on the weekends after college. Looking back now though, it’s embarrassingly obvious it was never going to get finished like that. I had a passion, but I didn’t have drive. I poured all my grit into college. By the time I got around to writing, I didn’t have a sharp tooth left to bite with. Now that there’s a bit of consistency to work with, the heart of this journey has suddenly quickened. The 10,000 word goal I had set (which works out to maybe 300 words a day after work) has been wiped away in favour of something much larger. It might just be a good month, as I alluded to earlier, but a part of me wants to believe it’s something more than that.

However, before you think I’m going to ride off into the sunset, you have to understand that June has been as full of setbacks as it has been surges forward. Perhaps the biggest of them was rejection. Rejection, or simply, No, is one of the hardest things a writer has to face, even if it’s one of the more common. Perhaps writer’s block outdoes it in terms of which shows up more often, but while you can dismiss that as a passing, silent frustration, rejection is the ghost that’s never banished. If anyone who submits their work anywhere was being honest, they’d say the sting hurts less every time, but it’s still called a sting for a reason. Rejection is like a ship sinking far from port without lifeboats. You just have to wait and go down with it, and hope that the next time you brave the waters you’ll get to the promised land. What makes rejection worse in a lot of cases is knowing it was completely valid. Again, I digress to Tottenham. I’m sure those players had many occasions where they could have said “Oi Ref, yous are bang out of order” or such, but by and large they probably had to hold their hands up, admit the other side was better and wonder how on earth they were ever going to compete.

I mentioned the idea of laying on the canvas, and if rejection is anything, it’s like being a boxer waiting for the count and watching your opponent already celebrating around you. Getting knocked down is bad; not being able to get back up is worse. And so, I suppose getting emails back saying that your piece won’t be considered is all part of those ten seconds. And with writing, it’s a very long twelve rounds, and chances are you’ll be knocked down a thousand times before you even land a punch on that fucker in front of you. That’s the nature of it though, and if you didn’t want it so bad, you wouldn’t be in the ring in the first place.

At the end of it all, June has been a 17K turn around on the project. That’s far better than I could have ever imagined. I doubt Tottenham could have foreseen actually playing well this year, but there they are battling it out with the best of them. And so I think I will continue being them, even if just because they’re no champions yet.

Even if just because they’re still dreaming.

 

The Forge

The last time I wrote here I talked about finishing college and going out into the real world. There was a gate on the edge of town, and passing through it I went out into the fields beyond. I haven’t a notion where the road goes, but it goes somewhere after all doesn’t it, and that’s all the comfort I need for now.

There’s something about a journey starting in the summer that gives you vigour. The evenings are long and lazy, and even the night that draws in has a sort of freshness about it. The days are all yellow and blue and the sunset is that soft orange glow that fades on the horizon. Insects are droning in the grasses, water is trickling over hot stones and I’m humming some idle tune. Yes, summer is a great time to get started.

Another day on the road passes, and weary from travel I stray from the path to find refuge. It’s twilight, when the sky is that sort of confused blue half way between the sun and starlight. Nothing is stirring really, but far off in the woods I hear a quiet ring trying to rise over the treetop. And then, peering deep into the black in front of me, I see the smallest flecks of red. I creep closer, and now the clash of sight and sound register with me. I’ve seen such a place before, and though I thought I’d set aside the life I’d had there, perhaps this is where the road was leading me. The last of the daylight falters, I shake off the dust from the trail and shielding my eyes I enter the forge.

I’ve been back writing about 3 years now. It all started in June of 2013, when an idea I’d abandoned when I was 17 started weighing on my mind again. You see, in the summer after fifth year I had decided to take up writing again. It was after all a huge part of my childhood, when I would sit for hours on my bedroom floor filling copybook after copybook with stories of heroes, wars and kingdoms. This was the net effect of the release of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and years spent in front of the TV soaking up documentaries about romans, greeks etc. That’s not to say I thought what I was writing was any good. Hardly. But an active imagination yearns to be channeled into something, and it doesn’t exactly demand that the result is anything other than my own personal satisfaction.

School was the great dampener on all of that. I had to weigh the joy I got out of my own stories against the grades they were likely to garner. I even started secondary school submitting essays like the tales you could have pulled out of those copybooks, but it was very quickly apparent they weren’t going to cut it at that level.

When I was 17, like I said, I tried to wire up my imagination to a defibrillator and jump-start the process again. But then, before I’d even got it stable, the leaving cert rolled around and knocked it right back into flat-line again.

And so when I picked up the proverbial paddles in the summer of 2013 one more time, I was resigned to the fact this next resuscitation might fail too. I started what has become a sprawling plan for what you might, in layman’s terms, call a book. The idea I had when I was 17 survived as a single file on an old laptop, which when I discovered at midnight on a quiet summer’s night I nearly fainted. It had survived, buried somewhere I never remembered dumping it in the first place. But it was there. It was old, it was rusted, but it was a start. And so then, I went to the forge.

The art of the blacksmith is a tricky one. They know after all, what they consider good steel. But at the end of the it all, when the furnaces stop roaring, somebody has to find that steel worthwhile. So worthy they’d pay good money for it. Writing fiction feels kind of the same. Here on my blog I write for me, and if the content doesn’t measure up then the work of this smithy keeps going. When you are hoping to one day submit fiction to an agent or a publisher, it’s a different crafting process.

The steel I’m making now has to be good enough. If it isn’t, then one day the lights in the furnace go out, and never come on again. And so every belt of the hammer has to find the mark. The anvil has to hold firm, and the fires have to burn like their lives depended on it, because they do depend on it. That’s a scary way to write really.

But that is the way of it now. Tonight, like I said, I stepped from the road and found myself back in the heat of the forge. It may have been months since I last gripped steel, but when the bellows start blowing and the steam comes rising from that fiery kiss I have to pray there’ll be something inside me to control it.

If there’s steel to be made, I want it to be hard and unrelenting. And so I must be too.

 

 

The gate on the edge of town

“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying”- Tyrion Lannister

In life, we are all members of the great audience. Every single person reading this has at one time or another acted as a witness. We don’t acknowledge it of course, not really, but it’s still happening every second of the day.

A first kiss, a failed exam, an accident on the road: all are part of the ongoing show. And of course, it’s actually quite easy to imagine your role in the audience. What is perhaps slightly less clear is where you fit in the overall spectacle. Who has seen you at your worst? Who has watched you at your best? More importantly, could they tell the difference?

Memories are a funny thing, constantly changing depending on how we feel, and never sitting still for long enough to be truly appreciated. We all remember, let’s say, opening our Leaving Cert results. But do we really? To me, everything that was ever anything is in many ways a serving of blur with a little dash of clarity.

Both of these concepts, witnesses and memories, have been whirling around in my head since I finished college. There was after all a moment where suddenly it all ended, and overwhelmed by emotion I doubt I was thinking “take a breath and appreciate this little snapshot; it’s a picture you’ll only take once.” But that is the truth of it nonetheless. This was the end, and I can’t just go back and ask for a little more time there now.

Putting my pen down, closing the exam booklet and walking out of that last exam are all part of my story, but who knows who was secretly watching? Those who care, those who don’t, or those indifferent. My story, but their spectacle.

Trapped in the little bubble of college, not sharp to the world moving around me, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought much about being in the spectacle. In a crowded library you can be lost in your own notes, but looking up now and again you realise everything is getting on without you. Now, there are no more notes, and it’s time to join the ranks of those making the world go round.

In that respect college is a bit like your bedroom. There are an infinite number of things you can accomplish there, but outside those walls other things are in motion the scale of which you can’t start to imagine cooked up in there. It’s not that you’re out of touch, more so you’re kept within the confines of something measurable. It’s all happening in a lecture theatre, in a library, on campus etc.

And so now that I’m leaving, the outside world feels a little alien again. It’s very much in the title of this blog. There’s a gate at the edge of town, and inside it you know everything and everyone. You’ve been to the gate of course. I mean, you can even tell me what it’s made of and what it feels like to run your hand over. But you’ve never been outside it. Sometimes at dusk, you’ve sat on it for hours and thought about the fields beyond or the next town over. And never once did you really believe that the day was coming when you’d finally pass through it. That was a dream-a notion. Notions weren’t tolerated in this town.

And yet, that day does come. You feel about a stone lighter, and rather than skip up to the gate like you usually do you sort of wander there half in a haze of your own thoughts and emotions. The sun is going down in the west but there’s enough light to see the first few steps on the road. And then quite suddenly there is the moment, and before you’ve even thought to mark it you’re on the other side. And then there’s a panic and the sudden want to turn round. It isn’t a desire to go back, and even if it is you’ve long resigned yourself to the fact that that isn’t happening. You just realise you wanted it to be memorable though, and a part of you isn’t sure that it was.

Should’t there have been someone there to say goodbye, or give a little cheer as you passed over the threshold?

And yet maybe there was, and not turning to see their face you press on with your journey.

After all, they are the witness, and right there and then you were at either your best or worst. Perhaps they know the difference.

 

Here now, at the fork in the road

Robert Frost, the great American poet, lived through an interesting time. He was witness to the turn of the century, two world wars, the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, the flight of the first airplane and just before he went out, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Somewhere in there, he must have sat down, turned a phrase over in his mind and wrote

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

It’s a pretty simple phrase, but effective nonetheless, as the “fork in the road” exists for just about everyone. After all, life is a journey, and the damn road is littered with choices. Some of these “forks” are easy. Going right is much the same as going left, in terms of destination at least. Yes, what happens along the way might be different, but at some point the woods thin out and you find the paths join up again. And a part of you will think back to that choice in the road and surmise it never really mattered, while another part will look back along “the road not taken” and wonder what might have been, for better or for worse. Yet still, these are the routine decisions, and finding yourself exactly where you thought you’d be, your journey goes on.

The more difficult “forks” are the ones for which we cannot see beyond the first few steps on either road. Out there in the mist, only one thing is certain; these paths will never cross again.

No matter how confident you are in a choice, that fact can still haunt you. The concept of finality is daunting, but for most people it only becomes an issue when we feel it’s going to throw us off track. We all have a journey’s end in mind, a kind of hidden cottage, and though we’re happy to enjoy whatever the road has to offer us along the way, at some point we all want to turn a corner, see little puffs of smoke rising over the treetop and realize “I made it”.

Luckily for us, we have a rough map to guide us. Tracing our fingers over it, we can see a fork at age five, a fork at age twelve, a big fork at age eighteen and somewhere further along, a fork at twenty-two.

That last fork, the end of my college years, is where I find myself now. I think back to some smug lecturer saying “these years will fly”and now I, only one week away from finishing lectures, sigh and admit they were right. It’s like coming upon a crossroads long before the map says it was due. Now it’s there, and regardless of what that piece of paper says, you’re going to have to pick a lot sooner than you’d imagined.

In these situations us travellers often find comfort in “making camp for the night”, which is to say, sitting down with a decision and thinking about it. It’s a fairly good call. Taking the wrong road is bad; taking it in the dark is another matter entirely.

Unfortunately, the dawn waits for nobody, and soon we have to get up, put out our fires, throw on our packs and take that first wobbly step in what we hope is the right direction.

This particular fork, which I long thought of as nothing more than “that bit before my pre-reg year” is shaping up to be more climactic than I’d given it credit for. After all, it’s not often you move job, finish education, sit exams, say somewhat of a goodbye to friends and try figure out where you’re going all in one month. Taken one by one, these are all fairly benign. It’s together that they start to weigh more, and feel like one of those transition periods where you kind of watch yourself from the outside hoping you don’t fuck up.

And quite likely I, or you a person reading this in a similar situation, will fuck up. That’s not the end of the world, and it definitely isn’t the end to the journey.

What is perhaps more disturbing for me than the notion of failure is, as I’ve alluded to, the concept of finality. I’d like to think if I had a few shots at the start of what is basically my adult life that at least one time things would turn out like I want them to. But I definitely don’t have a “few shots”. This isn’t a Thursday for God’s sake.

And so the time I spend “making camp” over these next few months is likely going to be very important. The next year of my life is there for the taking, in so much as its routine contents are fairly set in stone and all I have to do is turn up and keep breathing. After that, the tent is going to have to come down, and I’m going to have to step out onto the road. A part of me sees myself back in UCC, edging forward into the vast forest of a PhD and taking comfort in the fact that though the road is long and arduous, it is still on the map. Depending on what day you ask me I might also muse that UCC isn’t the only college known to man, and though I’m a Cork City boy at heart, there’s a wide world about us. That would certainly be uncharted territory, where many a brave or foolhardy traveller has been lured by the promise of treasure.

Quite plainly, this next year might also stray me from the path, into a part of the profession I’ve always admired but never imagined myself at home. Community pharmacy isn’t where I see myself, but Christ knows I never saw myself learning about drugs when I was fifteen either.

Lastly, arguably least importantly, but most selfishly, I wonder about where this journey takes my writing. It will be a long night staring into the dying embers of the fire, and before the sun comes up this may be the only question I answer, or the only one that I don’t. However, if four years of college have thought me anything, it’s that at some point, I’ll have to answer it.

You can set up camp, but the dark is only fleeting.

You can stop to rest, but you are young, and you have no need of it.

You can dither, dawdle, pause and even doubt, but you cannot turn back.

The Journey’s End is far away yet, and there are many things on the road you have to see if you’re to reach it.

Many people, myself included, know that in many ways the journey is what matters, but though I can afford to get lost in it, I can’t forget that out there little puffs of smoke rise over the treetop.

And that in itself is why the journey matters.

As Robert Frost once quoted

I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year in Writing

It’s the last day of 2015, and once again I am reflecting back on the year that has been. A week or so ago I did a feature on all the books I’ve read this year, but that is of course only half the story. In 2015 I probably spent more of my time staring at the ever-blinking cursor, or the empty pages of a notebook. I’m not sure if I can say this year was my best for writing, but it’s easily been the most “successful” (if we’re talking about readership anyway) and offered the highest quality yet.

I know it seems a little cocky to say my work this year has been my highest quality, but of course it’s all relative. It’s funny looking back on blog posts I have from 2013, where half the time I can hardly discern what I was trying to say. And obviously, I’m sure next year I’ll think the very same thing about the posts of 2015 (this one included), but such is the nature of life. I guess that means I may be improving, which is pretty much all a writer can ask of himself at a basic level.

I started off the year with a very thoughtful piece called “User is currently unavailable-how we all grew up in the detached generation”. I can’t remember what my motivation was for writing it, but looking back I’m fairly happy with how it turned out. As I mentioned within that blog itself, I knew it was a little cynical etc, but it wasn’t far wrong either. I might not have known at the time, but that post paved the way for a lot of other, more serious articles later. Writing it was a lot of fun, as I got to play about with past and present and see what had changed as far as our generation was concerned.

My second post a month later was a piece on Worldbuilding. It was a while since I had written a post aimed as a sort of “how to” for writers, so it was nice that my return to it was on a topic on which I was familiar. Reading it now there’s a lot of metaphor in there and a fair deal of humour, which I suppose helped to explain what can be a very dicey topic at the best of times. It took a good deal of time to write, which was a feature of all of 2015 blogs. Sometimes I’d spend 3 hours working on something, but when it was done I was happy. In 2014, I was more likely to speed through blogs and be reasonably satisfied on the other side.

May was a good month for my blog. Out of no where, my views started skyrocketing, which prompted me to investigate. It turns out I owed a fair share of these views to Reddit and an “unsolved mystery” website, where people were reblogging my “Phantom Whistler of Louisiana” post from over a year previously. This was actually my first ever “Monday Mystery”, and definitely not one of my better ones, so it was odd to have hundreds of views pouring in because of it. It was the start of a great change in my blog, where my views moved away from Facebook friends towards those thousands of miles away. In 2015, over twice as many people viewed my blog in America as they did back home. Nearly all of the American views were for my Monday Mystery series, making me consider reviving it in 2016. The views carried on for the remaining 6 months of the year, so that at year’s end I’m happily sitting on three times as many views as 2013, and over twice as many as 2014.

May was also responsible for what may have been my two favourite blogs this year. The first, entitled “Let’s re-define marriage, not education” was an angry response to Leaving Cert changes announced at the time.

I’ll admit, the only reason I ever started my blog was for a place to rant that was a little more nuanced than facebook and a little more spacious than twitter. However, with rants, all semblance of good writing tends to fall apart. In this post though, I think I found myself a happy medium. Sure, I was giving an opinion on the matter, but I was also aiming it right at the Minister for Education. It was accurate sniping rather than a spray of rapid fire, and it got a good response from a lot of people who wouldn’t often take my side in things as well as those who would usually agree.

Following on from this was “For Freedom’s empty name to die…”, a post about the marriage referendum. For weeks I had debated whether to write this, but having been snowed under by unoriginal, frankly repetitive articles on facebook, I felt I had to weigh in with something even a smidgen different. Of course I was supporting a YES vote, but focused on where me, the average voter should be drawing their motives from. That’s not to say the articles mentioned above weren’t good. A lot of them were actually brilliant. But lost in a sea of their replicates, they weren’t adding anything to the conversation unfortunately.

On my J1 I didn’t have access to my laptop, which meant an end to things as far as my blog was concerned. Fortunately man can always put his trust in pen and paper, which quickly became my alternative. It’s very different writing it out “the old fashioned way” once you are used to smashing keys on a keyboard, but it was also refreshing. I can’t write nearly as fast as I can type, which meant every word got a second more to roll around in my head. It made me consider things more, even if that was at the expense of pace. A lot of my writing then was practicing description while I sat in Old Town or lay out at Pacific Beach. I wrote a short story too, which was spawned out of a morning at the San Diego Ice Arena.

Once back home I decided I’d update my blog with a separate short story. This wasn’t general fiction like my entry from the Ice Arena, but was instead my more trusted hand of fantasy. It didn’t garner a lot of views, but was more a “I need to share my work post” more than anything. It felt good to not be inhibited by “what will X think?”, as I probably was for much of 2014. In 2015, I got over that. Nobody has to read my blog, and if they do, I’d be hopeful (and a small bit quietly confident) that I can win them over in the end.

My next post was another of my favourites. “A voice I have written”, which was I suppose a mirror of this post, detailed how I’d got back into writing, divulging everything from why I think I write to what was a turning point for me after my Leaving Cert results. It got a lot of good feedback I wasn’t expecting, which was in a way part of the reason I thought this post might be worth doing.

After that I faced into what was my biggest project on this blog yet. My J1 summer was a perfect thing to write about, but not easy by a long-shot. I knew it would take at least three posts, and of course it ended up being five. On top of this I wanted to write the sister-post to this in terms of my year in reading.

I started the J1 blogs back in October and only managed to finish them two days ago. In total, it was about 20,000 words and hours of sifting through photos, writing introductions and trying to pick which memories made the cut. I’m happy with how it turned out to be honest. It got a consistent viewing as we went along and was a great way to re-visit what were the best moments of 2015. I also got to play around with a lot things since I had so much room, whether that was trying out new styles for my introduction or painting a picture of places I saw on my travels.

All this being said, my blog wasn’t the only place I was writing in 2015. I was very happy to get a column with UCC’s monthly magazine Motley, writing in the humour section. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the first type of thing I imagined I’d write in a university publication, but since it started I haven’t looked back. In total there’s about four or five of my humour pieces floating about. Having a piece in Motley reaches a far bigger audience than my blog is ever likely to, while also providing that all-elusive satisfaction that comes with seeing your words printed in front of you. It’s been a worthwhile venture, one I’m grateful for and one I know will help my writing in the long term.

Outside of Motley I’ve also fallen back into poetry. Poetry was something I was quite fascinated by in my teenage years, but since the age of about seventeen I’ve scarcely re-visited. This year, I decided it would be good to get back into, and so far have churned out about seven or eight poems. Unlike my blogs, I haven’t reached the level of comfort necessary to share them yet, but that doesn’t mean that one day I won’t. They’re a therapeutic form of writing, and take far less out of my day than a blog post would.

The only other thing hot off my fingers at the moment is my own fiction writing. I’ll admit, I’ve put fiction writing off far too long. Back in June 2013, the cursor was racing across the screen. Now, it’s at an uneasy crawl. Christmas has helped, with a couple hundred words here or there, but I’m still roughly where I was last January, which is to say, about 20,000 words in to what I feel is a 100,000 word climb. Still, even a hundred words can brighten my day. It is, of everything, my favourite thing to work on, but also demands the most skill, creativity and time. I’m hoping Summer 2016 will be where my real breakthrough comes, as I can step back from coursework and other forms of writing.

And that’s really it for 2015. It’s been a year where I’ve considered the “post regularly” attitude of most blogs, and found it wanting. This year I wanted to focus on quality, and think as far as my current ability stretches, have reached that goal. It might have meant only a post every month or so, but if the 3 hours put into writing them show anything, it’s that you will be far happier with a hard day’s work than taking a shortcut towards publishing.

2016 might be a landmark year. It might be a regression. It’s hard to say yet. There’s a lot of ideas I have rolling around in this head of mine, and at some point one of them might just be ready to run with. I can’t tell where my words will fall this year, but when they do, I hope they fall hard. I hope they have weight to them.

There may be a future Kyle out there, writing about his year in 2016. Perhaps he is thrilled, or even just satisfied. Or, maybe he is upset, angry, frustrated and confused.

Either way, he’s most definitely out there, and he’s most certainly writing.

 

 

My J1 2015: The Many Goodbyes,the Fond Farewells and the Journey Home

“When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don’t know why”- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

It’s been over four months since I arrived back to Ireland after a summer in America, but now at long last I find myself ready to say goodbye. This is my fifth blog about the J1, but is probably the only one that ever really needed to be written. The rest were a story, a highlight reel and a very brief summary at best. They weren’t my summer, or at least not how I remember it. But perhaps they were necessary. It’s like finishing a really great book. Sometimes, you want the story to go on, even if there is nothing more to say. You don’t want to say goodbye, and so sadly you find yourself reading the last page a couple times, hoping in vain you’ll find something you’d missed. But you haven’t missed anything. Your problem is what isn’t there, or what could have been there, if only the pages kept turning.

It’s why saying goodbye to this summer has been so hard. I don’t want the J1 to be just another memory, locked away in the imaginary filing cabinet alongside birthdays and Christmas. But if four months back home have taught me anything, it’s that the summer isn’t in the past. It’s not in the 23 kilos of belongings that came home on that plane, or in photos that were taken. I’d like to think it’s something I’ve held onto. Yes it is finished, but I’m not, and so even if the pages of this book have come to and end, we know the story doesn’t really end here for those involved.

I suppose this entry in my blog is like all cups of coffee. You might wonder where I’m going with this, but stick with me. Those last four blog posts have been the cup, the coffee and the all important hot water. They were substance. Without them, we wouldn’t really have anything. But anybody can make coffee. What sets this summer apart for me is all the extra things thrown in. The little things, like the private jokes, the lazy days or the forgotten stories are what made this story worth telling. They were the cream, the flavouring etc. Sure, they might not be necessary, but looking back God I wouldn’t trade them for all the world. That’s why this last post, where I finally say goodbye to it all, is reserved exclusively for them.

Saying goodbye to Toby Wells YMCA

It might have only been two months that I worked at the Toby Wells YMCA, but in that time I guess it mattered enough to me to make it hard saying goodbye. For myself and Adam, it was our lives five days a week. It was of course tough to say farewell to Dylan, Ronan, Conor, Sarah, Roisín and Ciara, who for weeks had been the Irish cohort we’d shared the dreaded morning shifts with. I guess there was a camaraderie in catching a tram at 5.30 am together, heading up to Overland Avenue on the 40 minute commute to be ready to go at half 6. Every morning, without fail, Adam would borrow my phone so he could clock in, while I dodged into 7/11 for breakfast after promising myself for the 40th time I’d just get up earlier and have it. By the end, a French Vanilla coffee was a staple of my morning shift, when the fatigue of early morning starts really hit home. In the evening, the Irish gang would head off into the sunset with a Big Gulp in hand and another day’s work behind us. But saying goodbye to Summer Camp was more than just losing the Irish friends I’d made. I must have met fifty different staff members working there, as well as hundreds of kids aged 5 and up. Some will be more memorable than others of course, but on my last day I made a note of saying goodbye to the Senior Fun kids. For weeks we’d endured each others company, and to their credit they’d made it easy for me, and by the end I guess I’d warmed to them. It can be tough working in a Summer Camp where you’re expected to be bright, fresh and rearing to go everyday, and so having a group of kids who were active, funny and up for a little adventure made the job a whole lot easier. Every morning before morning circle they’d gather around to tell me a million stories, or try beat me at Pokemon, or just listen to what was to them a funny accent. We had a sort of mutual respect for each other, a kind of unspoken agreement that if they lined up when I told them to I’d overlook the occasional misdemeanor and allow them practice their gymnastics in the grass when they asked me. We were nearly a generation apart, me and those kids, but we were fast friends. I had to say goodbye too to my colleagues, like Kristen, Nick and Amanda, who were also placed in Senior Fun. We’d seen everything from Belmont Park to a Britney Spears Lip Sync battle performance, the latter clearly captured on video but not surfaced as yet.

Even outside of Senior Fun, I was on first name basis with so many others that the last day was a bit of a panic not to miss anybody. There were so many memories of the place, of trying to sneak a few extra Sun Chips, of inventing rules to make Capture the Flag more interesting, of wall monsters in the gaga pit, water fights on the soccer field, dance parties during Spirit Circle, making hotdogs for the barbecue, trying to stay upright at the San Diego Ice Arena, baking from the heat on rotation in the playground, playing 20 vs 20 soccer matches, holding onto the Spirit Stick like your life depended on it, designing boats covered head to toe in glitter, learning magic and building functioning rockets. It’s so easy to picture it, with Mr.Tim co-coordinating Golden Pineapple on a Friday, or DJ playing keep-away with a basketball, or Jerrod saying “later dudes” as we rush to make the bus home. I’m happy to be back in Pharmacy, where I suppose I feel I “belong” but sometimes I’d give anything to be hanging out at the AM/PM desk back in Toby Wells YMCA, looking at the clock saying “6.25 am” wondering how I’m going to go face a hundred kids screaming on a soccer field. I guess if the YMCA taught me anything, it’s that nothing is really that embarrassing, or cringey or stupid. Everything can be a little fun if you throw yourself into it (especially the foam pit in the gym, now those were the days). Working with kids all day made me inventive, resourceful and maybe just a little more optimistic about the world. That summer camp, along with those camp songs gave me, Adam, Katie and Aine something to talk about back at 2130. One day it might be me regaling the famous tale of the Pokemon Thief, while the next was might be me explaining how I’d controlled 30 kids by telling them the story of King Arthur and his knights.

As I walked out of there on my last day, I turned and took one last look back from the car park, so I could see the soccer field, the tents, the playground, the water fountain-all of it. It was just gone half 5, and the sun was dreaming of sleep in San Diego and I walked out of maybe the best job I’ll ever have. Farewell Toby Wells.

Closing the door on 2130

If saying goodbye to Toby Wells was tough, then finally leaving our apartment 2130 was crushing. Before we knew it, our time in the apartment (which was over two months) came to a swift end. On one of our last nights, we caught the tram to Gaslamp Quarter and made the journey up to 8th Avenue, where months before a gang of clean, respectable young pharmacy students dragged their suitcases up the stairs of the Lucky D’s hostel. This time, we were a tad less clean and the only thing we were lugging was ourselves. Fiona Dillon had a swipecard still and so we all bustled inside (as a note, that swipecard had bought us more than its fair share of free wristbands to McFaddens). Once inside, we went to the main lounge, where for a week we’d gathered night after night for beer pong, a host of nationalities and four loco like it was going out of fashion. It was strange to be back, where only two months prior I remember showing a German man the wonders of hurling on Youtube. From there we went up to our rooms on the third floor. I’d almost forgotten how weird Lucky Ds was, with all its mismatched colours and knick-knacks on the walls. We posed outside 314, where myself, Katie, Eimear and Fiona had spent our first week in San Diego. There we had started our summer-long tradition of our secret knock. “Issues” by The Saturdays is not a song of note in any context for me, but for all of time it will now always be the secret knock of the J1. In time you really perfected it, though I do wonder what the neighbours thought. We stopped by the kitchen on the way out, where we’d gathered for pancakes, cookie crisp and what I never considered good tasting milk. The gang of us sat at the table where we had first met Adam, even remembering the seats we were in when a rather hungover lad from Celbridge struck up conversation with Aine and Fiona all the way back in May.

To be fair, we tried hard to make the apartment clean when we left. I still have memories of dragging that half-working hoover across the carpet sucking up God knows what on the morning we were leaving. We had to do a massive job on the kitchen, which though we operated on a “Clean as you go basis” usually became a dump in the post-night out hours of 4am or so when clothes, food, drink etc would be heaped up onto the counter. On top of that we had to make the bathroom mirror reflective again, a task that took about four or five of us while the others drowned the floor in Walmart all purpose cleaner. The day we moved out was a hangover day, but was also the day we had to collect our cars and the day most of the cleaning had to be done, so it’s fair to say it was an ordeal. With all of it going on, we probably failed to appreciate our final, precious few moments in the apartment. I guess maybe the writer in me makes me look back on it now and try to describe it, even though back then I knew it was special.

A lot of people think of a home as something that is lived in. A house can be grand and beautiful, but it seems a little hollow on the inside when there’s no memories sleeping there. If somebody walked into 2130, they would know it was lived in. OK, it was a little messy by the end. If someone had showed me that on June 1st I would have said no thank you let’s look elsewhere. But that mess was our home. Every stain probably had a story, like on the first night when I’d spilled Fiona Meade’s drink and she’d got the blame, only for her to spill another minutes later and frantically try to cover it up. If I described a place full of dirty clothes, eleven suitcases, ants, rubbish, empty beer bottles, cans of four loco, mould, gun range posters on the wall and an American flag flying from a fan on the ceiling, you’d probably call it unbearable. But that’s not what I’d describe. I’d talk about a place with ten great friends, music, conversation, laughter, beer in the fridge and food to be shared. 2130 was a happy place, even if it looked a little under the weather.

That’s why it is the hardest thing to let go of. I loved Yosemite. I thought New York was great. Vegas was amazing. But those were fleeting glimpses at best. They were minute thrills, once in a lifetime sort of surreal experiences that I’ll always remember. But they weren’t 2130 Promenade at Rio Vista. That was home, where no matter where our journeys in San Diego took us, whether it was Coronado, Pacific Beach, Old Town, Morena Linda Vista, Sea World, Downtown, Seaport Village, Mission Valley, Clairemont Mesa or beyond, we always had a familiar door to come home to, where if you stopped just on the threshold you’d hear laughter inside. The stories and lives of that apartment are too numerous to count and tell, but here I will do my best, especially for those for who it was real.

I think a lot of us probably forget what 2130 even looked like. I’m sure we could see the outline, or the main features, but all of the little details are a blur. I can still remember the tall black door, with its God awful lock. Just inside on the left was our notice board, where after every night about six different uber receipts would get tacked detailing amounts to be owed. On the right was our bathroom, where inside we had a very large mirror (surprisingly not the biggest in the apartment). We had a clothes heap on the left (as standard) and then a shower we only managed to break on two occasions (one I was able to fix, the other required maintenance who showed up unexpectedly and had us all running to the bedroom to hide amid army-style hand signalling). For a while there the toilet had a page taped onto it, where I outlined in length my tale of how I vanquished the mould king and if I remember correctly “all his minions”. Everyone had their own space for toiletries, though in general the sink was covered in toothbrushes and our communal shaving foam. Myself, Fiachra, Adam, Paul and Mark had communal shaving foam, shampoo and conditioner in what was a suprisingly efficient setup. Out in the kitchen the only clean area of the worktop was an odd square outline of duct tape (of the Star Wars variety to be precise), where every morning instead of finding three FOBs and three keys we’d find one Fob, no keys and two hair clips. Ideal. The sink was equipped with a draining board (i.e. a towel we used for pretty much everything) and was at the best of times filled with only half of the plastic plates, cups, bowls and cutlery we owned. We also had a garbage disposal, which none of us really knew much about, but the argument stood “we’re not supposed to put water down it”, but then again it alone must have swallowed roughly 20-30 knives and forks during our two month stay. The counter was generally a place for important items, such as Sea World hats, hair clips, plastic sunglasses, coins, Four Loco cans, 7/11 pizza boxes etc. On the ground between it and the bathroom was where we kept our mop and washing powder (again communal but lasted about a fraction of the time the shaving foam did). Then of course we had our wonderful appliances, such as a Microwave and toast master (trash room finest). The Microwave was a great place, where I would basically make microwave popcorn and if in a rush Taquitos. They never tasted great, unlike my popcorn chicken which was a great staple. We all had cupboard space, where basically every shelf was pasta, noodles, rice, bread and other carbohydrates. We had tea bags (rationed), Dairy Milk (extra rationed) and Ants. The ants didn’t start in the cupboard more so next to the washer and dryer which was a space we had for our rubbish. Next to it was the fridge freezer, which was by far the most complex storage space. We had to label everything, because of course nearly everybody had meat and frozen food. Cheese was also popular for some reason with up to 10 bags just lying about in there sometimes. We also of course had to fit in our drink (which should not go in the freezer which we found out to our dismay in the infamous Bud Light Lime disaster).

Out in the main room were two blow up mattresses (which pretty much deflated after week one and were useless after), a pile of clothes, a lot of suitcases and the ever organised area of Mr. Paul Green. I took up home on the far left of the apartment, right next to Katie’s mattress. There I had my Ramen Bookshelf my friends had made for me, my Padres towel, my sunglasses, my pillow, my duvet and my work bag. In my work bag I had pretty much every important item, such as my Passport, my DS2019, my insurance etc. Nothing ever happened to that bag fortunately. Of course protecting the DS2019 was tough, as Katie found out at the first Pool Party where hers became basically liquid. Off the main room we had the bedroom, which shifted between being the room for people getting up early, to the room for people not going out, to at some stages, the room for those home early from the nightclub. In there was the largest mirror known to 2130, which was where every night the girls all lined up to do their make-up while outside in the main room me and the lads drank to Justin Timberlake on repeat, Chris Brown’s “Loyal” or Post to be. OK, our playlist was a little unusual but by August we’d listened to it so many times we had it all off.

We had a patio too, which at first seemed like a great place to eat or drink but quite quickly became a giant area of drying clothes and phone calls (within the apartment, which sported thick concrete, we had no phone reception or Wifi). Next to it was a small sort of outdoor cupboard, which was deemed “The Love Shack”. It was a joke mostly, but by the end of the summer The Love Shack had earned its title well.

And that was just 2130. We also of course had the whole complex in Promenade, which had a gym (we went there for like two days for real then used it as a backup shower in shame), a computer room (the hottest place that isn’t the Nevada desert with the world’s slowest computers), the space on the ground near the computer centre used for Wifi, the Clubhouse (where we went to get free coffee, watch the NBA finals once and play rounds of pool), the shop (used for food/drink emergencies or when I just wanted M & Ms and a Vanilla Coke) and the pool. Considering we were a dot in the ocean of Irish people at Rio Vista the pool was flooded most days but was still one of the places I did most of my reading.

Even with all this, most of our time was spent above in the apartment when we weren’t at work. Somehow the cooking of 11 dinners (and the taking of 11 showers) did not cause a lot of conflict, though I will admit I did enjoy the luxury of the Wendy’s, In N’Out Burger and Sombreros close by on many an occasion. In the apartment, with no Wifi, reception or basically any technology, our forms of entertainment were far more basic, old-fashioned and enjoyable. Night time was always a good group conversation or a round of spooky stories. I can’t picture “individual conversations” as such in 2130. It always seemed like a real-life group chat of 11 people, all vying to be heard above one another drawing knocks on the walls from the neighbours and a round of “shhhhh”. It also drew noise complaints and visits from the wardens, who were posted outside apartment blocks like federal security. That meant we had to get inventive with access (insert relevant private joke hand gesture here) going in through the car park, other residents etc. One of my favourite nights of entertainment was Hide and Seek in the dark. That night, for whatever reason, only myself, Adam, Katie and Mark were at home (may have been Paul, there was more than one game of this). For whatever reason, given how clustered the apartment was, we considered it would be good fun. Whoever was on had headphones in, and by God was it terrifying having someone jump out of the dark at you to the tune of Michael Buble.

As a group amalgamated we quickly gelled in 2130. Soon, we had family roles assigned. I was Dad, for whatever reason. Michaela was my wife, though I believe the story paints us an unhappy couple in a tumultuous time. Aine was my sister and aunt to the kids (and rather “loose” in the head it seemed) while Paul was my brother (also a bad influence on the kids and on my wife). I had a lot of children, including my eldest son Mark (a role model son it seemed), two sets of twins (one was Adam and Katie, a pair constantly at each others throats, while the others was Fiona and Niofa (it seems arriving at the hospital drunk I accidentally named both my daughters Fiona and then spelled one wrong on the birth cert)) and then the youngest Fiachra. We had that kind of craic a lot in 2130. I bought a phone a week in from a dodgy shop in Downtown, and turning it on realised it must have came from across the border as it was all in Spanish. I decided to keep the names of everybody in Spanish predictive text, so instead of Adam, Paul, Mark, Michaela, Eimear, Katie, Fiona, Aine, Fiona and Fiachra we had Afanado, Greco, Mejico, Miami, Dinero, Latido, Finos, Cinetico, Diego and Diablo. It was quite usual for me to ring up outside to get let in and open the phone call with “Ola Diego!”

And of course not only did we have our own aliases but also a host of background characters. People such as “Trash Room boy”, “Manta Jack”, “Quiet Hours”, “Ms Tiff”, “Mare” and “my friend Kim” were regular features in many stories. Perhaps everybody’s favourite was a man who came to be known as Dave Craigid. Across the way from us lived another group of quite friendly Irish people. One night, we invited them over for pre-drinks, so all in all a total of 5 or so landed on at our door. We let them in, greeting the two girls we knew by name. At the back, a tanned lad who we’d never met came in, sizing up our apartment immediately. He burst into the conversation with something like “Our kitchen is way nicer than this. So we’re going to Sinbads tonight ya?”. Sinbads was a notoriously poor establishment on Pacific Beach with a reputation for letting in those under 21. We were all a bit taken aback, and the next day I commented “who the hell was that guy last night. The fella who looked like Craig David”. Now, let’s be clear, this guy actually didn’t really look like Craig David at all, nor did I believe he did, but everybody clicked with it, and it was born. Over the coming months we came to loathe Craig David (which became the more outrageous Dave Craiiigid) for no reason whatsoever telling funny stories of our encounters and never finding out his true name.

And even outside of these we had our own cast in the apartment. In total we had four fish, the most notable being Senior Tippy, who lived only four or five hours (we may have put him in the wrong water). However, in that time he had an effect on us all as we held a funeral for him, where the lads dressed up in shirts, some of the girls sang hymns, we had candles an each of us said our goodbyes in turn aloud. This literally took like half an hour of our time. Our other three fish were less notable even if more long lived such as the aptly named My Fish Kim.

I guess a lot of our fun in that apartment was private jokes. Even in our final picture, we were all allowed hold up one “piece” of the apartment, such as the American flag, the beach ball, the shower curtain etc. Our wall was covered in random artifacts like some of the gang’s posters from the shooting range (where notably Fiona Dillon had the best shot). I feel I had the best shot in what was one of our stranger forms of entertainment. It involved a set of jenga blocks, a jar and an exercise bench. I came upon this scene after a hard day at work so as can be imagined was a little bewildered.

Even the ordinary acts in San Diego were luxuries. On two occasions I went to the cinema, which felt brand new after months without TV.

But, all in all, it was the people that made the J1. Through flooding bathrooms, ants, eviction notices, trash room furniture and no beds we braved it all. Better yet, we enjoyed it. I think removed from everything material, relying on a questionably safe iron to get my night out clothes ready, I found on my first time living away from home the type of room mates I’d have dreamed of. Yes, there were fights, and smelly pot bandits and milk thieves and people who would get you Peach when you asked for Strawberry Lemonade, but there was far more random acts of kindness, like someone taking out the rubbish just as you’re about to get up or finding your work uniform neatly placed out to dry after a wash.

So here’s to the 10 of them, who taught me there’s far more to a J1 than what’s peddled to you, that getting in 3 hours before you start work is “good timing”, that IKEA do a solid breakfast, things will always turn up at some point and that doubling down and then going bust is one very unlucky player.

And so we came to it. As the cars waited outside, it was time for us all to leave 2130. One by one, we took a look around. With the suitcases gone, and a good cleaning done, the place was unrecognizable. But there we had spent two whole months together, often with five or six more people to boot. It was a goodbye to green apple floor lights and Fiona Meade’s muffins. It was farewell to Californian burritos as we chilled out on the floor and to having a bag of rent money taped to our wall. The fish tank was gone, along with the office chair and everything else we’d salvaged at some point.

We closed out the door, and for one last time Mark, in what was a very “Friends” moment, asked “So, anyone have a FOB?”

We went to the fountain in the middle of Promenade to take pictures together, after which we had to say goodbye to our Celbridge friends. It was odd, knowing the next day was the first we’d wake up in over two months and not have them around. I suppose a bit of me thought anybody we lived with on the J1 would always be “the other crowd”, but for Adam, Greeney and Mark, that was never the case. And I’m sure a change of flight here or a hostel cancellation there might have changed all that, and I might be writing a very different blog now or worse, none at all. It was a sad farewell, but also a very fond one. The eleven of us had come along way from home, and still found the very best of friends we made were those of our own. Perhaps one day all our paths will cross again, some time far off, or in a distant place we haven’t come to know yet. Until then, I’ll live on the promise that though this was a goodbye to San Diego, it doesn’t have to be forever. It may be, but perhaps I’ll find my way back there again. I would board a tram, see the doors close like it was yesterday and hear the very familiar words.

“Next stop: Rio Vista. Rio Vista is next”.

EpilogueHome

I arrived home from my J1 on a Friday, and was immediately (though happily) whisked away from Cork to Ballyheigue in Kerry, where I have spent most of my summers. Only two days before, I was sitting in a hotel room in the biggest city in the United States. Overnight the population of my world dropped from millions to roughly a thousand, and instead of a sprawling urban jungle I was on the wild coast of Southwest Ireland. When we arrived it was dark, and as was much of the summer, cold. I had been used to 30 degree heat as standard, so the harsh winds of the Atlantic coast came as a sort of shock to me. After a car journey I enjoy a good walk, so at around half ten I headed down towards the beach. It was late august, and the place was practically deserted. I must have seen at most five people on my walk. Down at the beach, only half the streetlights were on, and the wind was stronger than ever. I felt real “cold”, not the sort in a Californian forest at night, but the kind that rushes at you and pulls the air out of your chest. I stood there a long while, looking out onto the black water which kept Ireland’s coast from America half a world away. A week earlier, I was sitting on a porch in San Francisco, sipping a beer and listening to the crickets out in the grasses as I looked up at the moon. Now I was back, still looking up at the same moon even if the scenery was a little different. For all the adventure of the three months, I had come full circle at last. I was home.

Nine Companions, Two Cars and the Open Road

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” – Jack Kerouac

In this world, every time we leave we risk saying our last goodbye. Such is the nature of finite things like holidays, or trips, or life. You can’t always know whether you’ll be back, and in ways I guess that’s the beauty of travelling. But this is not a story of leaving, or of goodbyes. Those stories are best told last, when everything else worth saying is done. This story is about discovery and adventure and a fair deal of endurance. It may have been the end of one chapter, but turning the page we found ourselves on a new one. Simply titled: The Open Road.

Towards the end of July we realised our time for travelling was quickly approaching. Having spent over two months in San Diego, the original eight all sprawled out on the carpet in our apartment to look at a map of California. We had roughly two weeks to work with and by no means a large deal of money. Our first decision was to rent cars. While the public transport in America isn’t bad, it wasn’t going to get us There and Back again just the way we wanted. If we wanted to take in as much of America as possible, we needed to do it on our terms (with the problem of nine suitcases also an issue). You may wonder who this mystery 9th person is, but at the start of August we were joined by Rachel, who was Fiona’s friend from back home. Similar to Adam, Mark and Paul, we all quickly warmed to our new companion. In what was one of our last games of Kings in the apartment, Adam decided to add the rule of “Everybody has to compliment Kyle”. It was a lot of fun to see what people would come up with, but I was perhaps most happy with Rachel’s compliment, which was simply “Orange suits you”. For those who are not aware, I am of course obsessed with the colour orange, so that was friendship made.

trave

We left Rio Vista on another sunny morning in San Diego. We had two SUVs to fill up, and considering how much we chipped in to rent them, we were shocked with the cars we were driving. Sun roofs, leather seats, enough space in the back for all of our bags. It was a good start. Myself, Katie, Eimear and Michaela jumped into what would be dubbed “Ms. Tiff”, or “The Ms. Tiff-mobile” or by the end, just “Tiff”. Me and Michaela took the back seats, surrounded by books, litres of water and enough cereal bars to feed a small army on march. Eimear was shotgun as the navigator, which on day one seemed temporary but became a staple for our car. Katie was our driver, and though we were lucky to have Rachel to add to our driver ranks with Fiachra, we rarely ended up switching the passengers. It just made more sense to keep everybody’s stuff in the cars they were in. In the back, it was down to me and Michaela to host entertainment, whether that was “Would you rather”, music or a whole host of games we invented on the road. We pulled out of Rio Vista and almost immediately took a wrong turn on Friars Road. It’s funny, I was thousands of miles from home, but I was still on Friars Road. We got back on track, and then it was off north to Huntington Beach. The journey, which was about two or three hours, took us all along the South California coast. Those post card pictures come from somewhere, and that day we saw them all. We got out on the beach and walked out onto the boardwalk, where below huge waves crashed up against its pillars and surfers from all over the state came to ply their trade. Huntington beach has a nice network of shops and restaurants, but wanting to keep our costs down we opted to eat in “Bomb Burger”. I was at the top of the line, where I saw an a sign saying “add nuclear sauce”. I’m not a fan of spicy food, but I was curious. I asked at the till and I was handed a sheet of paper, which if I wanted nuclear sauce I had to sign and return. I was confused, until I saw two fully grown men behind me crying and gulping down their drinks.

Just the burger is fine please

After Huntington beach, it was onto L.A. While driving down the road that day, we were officially on the “101”, which of course called for us to play the theme song of the O.C. We had a lot of road songs like that, which as four reasonably good singers we joined in with for hours on end. In L.A., we were a little more careful. Being honest, I don’t know how Katie managed it. Five lanes of traffic, at night, all trying to go somewhere fast in a city home to Hollywood. Driving on the opposite side of the road is tough. Driving with a bunch of maniacs is somewhat tougher. By the end of it, our car opted for Sunset Blvd over Compton, which still surprisingly brought its own problems. You see, obviously we were masters of overcrowding, but that night called for a particularly good scheme. Katie drove us into the tiny entry to the Sunset Motel, then quickly hopped from the driver’s seat into the back and hid under some clothes. The motel owner came out, and I met her on the asphalt. She asked how many we had, to which I replied and pointed out three. I knew the room was for two, but with a bit of Irish charm I managed to convince her to take the extra “one” person. It seemed we had got away with it. Before she left, she pointed to the SUV in front of us and asked if I could pull it up a little closer. I remind you that Katie, the driver, was hiding in the back. I, a man whose choice of vehicle is his feet, stared at the massive SUV. I motioned to Eimear, but the woman was insistent. My saving grace was a Wells Fargo bank card, which I used to motion her to her office. After that, the real fun began when we emptied the car and tried to sneak our extra person in. Luckily, in the dark, Michaela and Eimear are passable for one another, especially if we put Eimear’s U.S.S. Midway jumper on Michaela and send her up the backstairs just in case.

And at the end of it all, I got a terrible nights sleep under a San Diego Padres towel and a whirring air conditioning unit. I didn’t know it then, but that was far from the worst night’s sleep I’d get on the road.

trave 3

The next day, after breakfast in Jack in the Box, it was off to Hollywood. We’d briefly seen it the night before all lit up, but during the day it seemed like just any other street. We walked all along and got pictures with our favourite stars on the pavement, and then decided in unison we wanted to sign up for a cringe-fueled tour of celebrity houses. We met Glen, who sold such tours, outside a Trader Joe’s. He was…..different, but quickly quoted us a price. Once the deal seemed settled, he simply said “I’ll be right back, I’m gonna get a plum”. To his credit, he returned two minutes later from Trader’s Joes with his plum, which he dug into as he brought us to get our tickets. Hollywood really is as weird as they paint it. But if we found Glen odd, our tour guide made him look altogether boring. We drove around for about 3 hours listening to him, seeing houses like Katy Perry’s, Michael Jackson’s old house and Tom Cruise and getting the obligatory picture in front of the Hollywood sign. Below, the entirety of Los Angeles could be seen, and nothing else. A whole horizon taken up by a city. Glen also insisted we saw the relatively unfamous Nia Long (“star” of Are we there yet etc). I’m not sure we did, considering further on he shouted to a random Asian woman “Heeyyy Lucy Liu”. I think all nine of us will never forget things like

Kat Von D’s house you guys. The L.A. Ink star you guys….Kat…Von….D.

Here guys the original Dracula house. Dracula Bela Lugosi you guys…Bella…Luuuugosi

By the time we were finished with our tour, we had only time left to see a few more things, so we quickly took in the Chinese Theatre (my hand size is the same as Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro). After, we found ourselves in a Scientology museum (Aine asked could we, it seemed cool) and were asked did we want to do a free personality test. I’ll admit, months of taking things at face value in America really blurred our radar, as we happily signed up to what seemed like a cult entrance exam. Instead of a personality test, we were subjected to 200 statements and a timed IQ test. Questions included “If you invaded a country, would you feel bad for the citizens there”. Keep an eye on Scientology, United Nations.

From L.A. it was onto Pasadena, where again we managed to get everybody into the motel room. It was funny, as a man watched this unfold from across the street. To all appearances, myself and Fiachra were ushering seven girls into a motel room in the backstreets of Pasadena. Nothing to see here.The next morning, we re-fueled and got back to the road. We took a lot of water with us. Next stop: Las Vegas, Nevada.

As we got further and further outside L.A., the sun seemed to swell, and the dots of green along the roadside seemed to vanish. Soon, we were in the Nevada desert, where we had to turn off our air conditioning and keep our windows shut. We knew it was the desert, because “when I opened the window it didn’t make that fwwwwp sound from the wind”. OK, that’s not how we knew, but we managed to convince Michaela of it for a while. But still, our spirits kept up. We had exhausted “Would you rather”, and were now permanently onto singing. That afternoon, as we drove into the nothingness that was the Nevada desert, the song “Shut up and dance with me” came on. It was one of our favourites, but that time we all joined in from start to finish. Here we were, four Irish students in an SUV tearing from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. I might have said 4th of July was the most freedom I’d ever felt on American soil, but perhaps that four minutes in that SUV on the road to Vegas eclipses it.

The road went on, and on, and on, so much so that it seemed the desert had swallowed us and we’d never reach Vegas. We kept in contact with the other car as best we could, though eventually the signal wavered and we were in radio silence. We had a false alarm on the road, when we saw roller coasters rising up from the sand only to find out it was in fact not Vegas. We rolled on by. And then, as if from nowhere, the entire city sprang into view as the GPS counted down the miles. We pulled into the MGM hotel with Uptown Funk blaring, and assembled above in the car park. Now, I’ve seen the Cliffs of Moher, or the Eifel Tower etc, but walking through the MGM had me stunned. It was like a city in one building. The corridors seemed to stretch for miles. Once inside, we quickly got dressed up and headed out for the night. Even at night, Las Vegas was sweltering. I could feel the moisture melt off my eyes at 4am, and so generally tried to stick inside. We played the slots, roulette etc at the MGM and New York, New York. Fiachra and Michaela were the big winners, with some of Mark’s blackjack skills seemingly on show. Unlucky player!

The next day, we got up as early as Four Loco allowed us, and headed off to the Grand Canyon. We could not have underestimated more how long it took. We crossed from Nevada into Arizona (stopping quickly at the state line on the Hoover Dam), passing by a place called “The Last Stop”, which offered you a final chance to shoot automatic weapons. Priorities. Soon, the dusty, rocky earth turned to shrub-filled fields and eventually dense forests. By evening, we had made it, and hurried to the Photo points as the sun began sinking into the east. Again, I’ve seen a fair share of landmarks, but the Grand Canyon simply blew me away. It was….everywhere. It was so vast, so empty, so incredible. We all posed for photos while judging hard the man standing a bit too far out on the edge for our liking. You have to understand, the floor just falls a mile from where you are standing. It’s a bit surreal to imagine how it formed, and just how far it stretches. We made our way home in the dark towards Vegas, only reaching our hotel room by 3am. Okay, we may have hesitated and watched an ad for The 21 day Fix for a while, all a bit spaced, but realising Vegas never sleeps, we headed out again. It was nice to see Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio and buy some Gatorade at 4am because God it’s still hot (like 40 degree hot).

The morning after, it was time to say goodbye to Vegas and head back to California. Our road back was taking us further north, nearer to Death Valley, and so the heat by no means let up. At this stage we were eating a fairly staple diet of McDonalds 24/7. My job became to design nicely priced menus for breakfast, poking gaps in the pricing McDonalds had on offer. Our radio contact came back, which was important because it was my main job in the car to contact Fiona in the other car and ask were we going to stop for food. The day wore on and it seemed like California was getting no closer. Soon, our GPS led us into the mountains, and sunlight faltered. In the dark, we crawled along a narrow road with a sheer drop on one side, afraid at any moment we’d tip over. The radio was off, and our petrol slowly ebbed away. We were fairly scared, considering none of us wanted to get stuck out in the dark with mountain lions and God knows what else. When we reached the mountain floor on the other side, we went to the nearest shop and collapsed in relief. Luckily the other car got through OK too, and for the night we booked into what I could only describe as the best accommodation we’d had to that point (it was like a ski lodge with no snow). That night, I got to sleep in a bed for the first time since Lucky D’s hostel nearly 3 months previous.

Early the next morning we took off again, with Yosemite only two hours away. Now we were back in California, deep in the woods where everything seemed alive. We arrived just too late for a camp space, and so decided we’d sleep outside the tent space, in a parking lot a couple told us about in the queue. For the day, we headed on a hike up to Yosemite falls, where water cascades over half a mile to the base below. It’s one of the highest waterfalls in the world, and maybe even thwarted the Grand Canyon in terms of wowing me. We climbed up to the lake at the falls’ bottom and relaxed for the afternoon, only coming down again so we could get dinner and head for our camp site. That night, we set off from the restaurant in Ms. Tiff. We found the car park, where a separate car was parked. They gave us odd looks as we unpacked, then told us they wouldn’t be staying there. They left, and we were alone in the dark. The trees seemed to close in. We decided it wouldn’t do, and left just as a park warden came to lock the gates in. Waiting outside for the other car, the black deepened. I remind you, we had no phone coverage-this was complete wilderness. Half an hour passed with no sign of them, and I rolled up the windows after hearing one too many sounds that seemed like a bear. Eventually we headed back to the restaurant, and from there to the car park. A full hour had passed, we were lost with what to do. Just then, an SUV pulled into the car park and headed towards the back. I didn’t know it was them, but it was all we had. I jumped out of our car and sprinted across the car park. I ran right out in front of the SUV and waved them to stop. We had found them, and by God was that some of the biggest luck we had on U.S. soil.

We drove on from the car park to Groveland, where we booked two tents (well we wanted to camp didn’t we) and all squashed into one. A good thing we did, considering the temperature plummeted over night. Even wrapped up we were frozen. We broke out the drink to pass the time until the early hours when sleep took us.

The next day it was off to Lake Tahoe. It was another session of “Shut up and dance with me” winding down the mountain roads towards the lake. Again, we ate whatever we could, whether it was fast food or 7/11. Big gulp cups were everywhere, rivaling Katie’s cereal bar collection. The lake luckily wasn’t too far, and by afternoon we were at our campsite. This time we had booked ahead, and had great fun setting up our tents in the woods. We had a bear box, which was a metal box fixed to concrete. All food went in there, unless we wanted a bear on us in the middle of the night. Once settled, we headed down to the lake for a swim. The water was still, a band was playing and the California sun was out. Tranquility doesn’t say it. I learned that day I have the most pale feet in the world, made all the more ghostly underwater. Thanks gang.

That night we got our fire going, broke out the marshmallows (I can fit 7 in my mouth, as a note) and relaxed with some drink under the starlight. I know in the country you can see stars like you never can in the city, but this was of a different scale. That night, we must have seen millions, spread out on the floor listening to One Direction’s Once in a Lifetime on repeat. I know I talked about freedom on the J1, but that was the time I was probably most at peace. This was the wild after all. I mean, Fiona Meade even got last trying to find our campsite at one stage.

From there we headed to San Francisco, the last leg before we headed to the East Coast. We reached the airport, and sadly had to say goodbye to our cars. All in all, we had clocked up 2,000 miles on each car. Two thousand miles (roughly the distance from L.A. to Chicago) of takeaways, singing, drinking water, ringing friends back home, ringing the lads in San Diego, taking photos, taking detours, GPS recalculating, ringing motels, collecting money for petrol and knowing that the next McDonalds is just four miles away. Perhaps one of the best memories is our song game, where we had to take up a song off one another and see how long we could go i.e. Eimear’s example of “Mary had a little lamb/lamb of God you take away the sins of the world”. We once kept this game going for two hours, until Michaela, singing “Sexy back” screamed “TAKE ‘EM TO THE BRIDGE”.

We stayed with Aine’s relatives in Fremont that night. The next morning, once inside San Fran, we immediately went to the Golden Gate bridge. A word of advice, it actually takes a long time to walk across that bridge. From there we could see the infamous Alcatraz. That night, we again stayed with Aine’s relatives outside the city. We were treated to a home-cooked meal, which meant that basically all salad items were gone in two minutes, and allowed to go swimming in the pool or just relax in front of the TV. We hadn’t had comfort like this in months. On my last night in California, I sat out on the deck and drank a cold bud light as the crickets made noise out in the gardens beyond. The sun went down and I went off to bed, content.

For our last day before jetting off to New York, we took in Santa Cruz theme park on the beachfront. That night our flights brought us to Detroit, where we arrived just ten minutes before our flight to New York, and had to leg it to our gate.

Suddenly, we were in New York. After months of California coast we now were now in the biggest city in America. Our accommodation was the huge Hotel Pennsylvania, which stood just across from Madison Square Gardens. Our first day in the Big Apple we took in Times Square, Little Italy, Chinatown and went down to see from a distance the Statue of Liberty. On the way back, we stopped at Ground Zero and the new World Trade Centre.

Our next day was devoted mostly to Central Park. Renting bikes, we did a lap of the enormous park pausing for photos every so often (such as at the MET on route). For dinner, we found ourselves in Ellens Stardust Diner, where the waiting staff climb up on the furniture to belt out musical numbers. It was a good prelude, as the next day we finished off our NYC adventure by seeing Les Miserables on broadway (considering this is my favourite musical I was quietly content).

And that was that. Travelling. Two hectic weeks with my bed either a motel floor or a corner of a tent. But it was worth it. Endurance sapped, we headed to JFK airport for the journey home. I won’t say goodbye here, because that deserves a post of itself. So I will leave as I came instead.

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life

17 in a 1 bed -The days of apartment 2130

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles”

As usual, it has been a while since I’ve come back to tell you the story of my summer. This time I return for what is perhaps the hardest entry, with well over a month of adventure to condense down into something palatable. Even so, it will be the most rewarding part of this tale. It has the most ups, and perhaps the most downs, and if ever I think back on those brief three months I spent half a world away, it will be of the following days.

The above quote made sense for this entry, but still has its problems. This journey was measured in friends after all, but it is those friendships that have both defined the journey and also been defined by it. Confusing, I know.

It’s funny though. At the end of November, I found myself at MedBall (Medicine Society’s ball, for those not affiliated). It was a good night, and exactly what I needed before the long three weeks that were college exams. I wasn’t the only pharmacy student there, and if anything we made up a fairly respectable amount of the guests. At one point in the night, as we all milled about on the dance floor, for the briefest of moments there was a coming together. It only lasted a second, and if you blinked you might have missed it. In fact, if you were there reader, I’m sure you would have hardly batted an eyelid. But there in front of me were seven of my friends. Seven friends, all swept up in a moment of enjoyment at a college ball, who probably didn’t notice exactly what I did. But there were the eight who left Cork at the end of May, and came back again three months later. We will not always be half a world away, but to paraphrase Casablanca, “We’ll always have San Diego”.

At the end of June, perhaps one of the most memorable nights was our night at the ball park. The San Diego Padres probably don’t get the award for the most well known baseball team, but that night we made it all the way to ESPN. Baseball is a funny sport, taking at least 3 hours, full of crowd participation (though I have a feeling this is all American sports) and hard to follow if you show up on a whim. Still, I enjoyed it for what is was. It was nice to see a fabled home run, or try catch a baseball fired into the crowd by a man dressed like a 12th century monk. P.S. we were of course all drunk. It seemed like a thousand Irish J1ers had descended on Petco Park that night, and for those Americans unused to the Irish, it was a night to remember no doubt. Long after the players had walked from their bases and called it a night, Irish twenty-somethings chanted and rocked the stadium like it was our own. The fans went home that night to Fields of Athenry ringing in their ears. For our antics, we showed up on highlight reels the following day. Olé, Olé, Olé, I believe they say.

july

As a group, we had a sort of thing going that we were “good at the J1”. We got an apartment within a week, and within two weeks we were all employed. Social security numbers and bank accounts came easy to us. We were efficient and organised. It was kinda funny. And of course the J1, if it turns out like that, can feel kinda like a dream. There aren’t any real “responsibilities” and your main concerns are enjoyment and food. But the J1 isn’t a dream. It’s real life, and on the 16th of June we were reminded of that. I still remember the sinking feeling in my gut when I left work at 9am (was working split shifts at this point, one of which was 6.30-9) and saw I had 9 missed calls from my Dad and a host of messages. I had only one thought: something has happened at home. As I looked into the texts, most of which simply read “Ring me” or “Ring home”, a friend of mine and Adam’s struck up conversation:

“Have ye heard what happened up in Berkeley last night?”

We had not, and as she told us all of it, I realised those calls and texts weren’t about something back home, they were about me. I quickly rang my Dad and told him I was OK, while still very unsure of what had occurred. When Adam and I got back to the apartment, everybody was frozen. I couldn’t accurately describe to you what the day after the Berkeley tragedy felt like, only to say it was one of the most vulnerable of my life. The entire apartment complex, with well over 500 Irish students, was in mourning. We all joked about how the Americans thought we all knew each other, but that morning it became apparent they weren’t very far wrong. People crowded the computer room eager to hear were their friends OK, or just to answer home that they weren’t involved. Reported as a balcony collapse in “California”, Irish parents were rightly terrified. And as the hours wore on, the numbers who had passed away rose. To know that six people lost their lives on the J1 is heartbreaking. To know it happened just up the coast from us, in what felt like could have been anybody’s apartment, was frightening beyond measure. Of course, to Americans this barely made the news, unlike at home where it was a national tragedy. And so, we Irish felt like we were in a bubble for the next few days, overtaken by grief in a world that continued to turn. Eventually, for us, it had to keep turning too. As the students were all from Dublin, I didn’t expect to know any of them. A few days later, I re-googled the story, and scrolled down through the names. One of them was familiar, even if faintly. I found a picture, and realised it was somebody I’d met at Irish college almost eight years before. I’m not sure he would have remembered me, save as the person who always went on goal in soccer. A Pacific Beach church held a vigil for the six students, which was crowded with Irish in San Diego. In times like that, all we had was each other to band together with. Of course we weren’t involved, but the nearness of the tragedy to our hearts was very real. They were just like us. For them, the J1 was also a dream.

july 3

July rolled around on the J1, and everything kicked into gear. At work, we went from the shy Irish J1 students to a real part of the setup. Now we were working normal hours (whether it was morning or evening), we actually got to be part of the individual camps. For me, that started with camps like Challengers and Soccer Camp, where I got to help win the Spirit Stick two days in a row. The Spirit Stick was as American as it got, decorated by the winning camps and liable to be stolen if let out of a camp counselor’s hands. Spirit Circle was 3pm every day, and there every camp came to perform, compete, and say goodbye for another day. The next day, you might be in Gym 7-12, or High-5 camp for swimming. It was very changeable at first. Of course, within each camp we were kept busy, whether that was organising Arts & Crafts, kicking around on the soccer field or going on field trips to places like the San Diego Ice Arena or the Natural History Museum. Perhaps the best field trip thrown my way to Belmont Park, where rollercoasters overlooked the beach and camp counselors could queue for the rides if they liked. That day unfortunately, I was hungover, and so spent my time with the campers who opted for the arcade. We Irish are tough, but not invincible. As part of camp we were expected to know about a million songs, as any moment might become an impromptu “Bulldog” or a recital of the YMCA song. At first, we Irish shirked the responsibility of joining in if we could, but by the end, we were as loud as everybody else even if half in amusement at ourselves. Those songs came back to the apartment with us, with the Sea World crew liable to groan if myself, Katie, Adam or Aine broke into a “G-double O-D-J-O-B, Good job, good job!”. Even if in individual camps at work, we were still rotated about a lot to cover breaks for regular staff. This was tough. Kids respect authority of those they are used to. As stand-in staff, they ran riot whenever they saw us. Eventually, by mid July we were being placed permanently in camps each week. I had interesting ones like NASA camp, but my favourite will always be “Senior Fun”. Senior Fun(tastic) was the oldest camp in Toby Wells, with kids aged 10 and up. I thought this would be difficult, as I know at aged 10 I was anything but Funtastic. But as I predicted, once the children got used to me, it became remarkable fun. Starting at 6.30am, I used to relish work everyday. Each of them would ask a million questions about Ireland to “Mr.Kyle”, wanting to hear about fairies and the countryside. There were a lot of games of Capture the Flag, Sharks & Minnows and Gaga (which is Israeli dodgeball-very fast, very dangerous). And at the end of it all, I’d sign out and walk out to 7/11 with Adam and Dylan, or maybe Ronan, Conor, Sarah, Roisín or Ciara on occasion. A big gulp was like a tradition for us by the end. It started one morning when I bought a hot dog, and the owner looked at me puzzled and added “You know you can get a big gulp for a penny?” What I’d do to be waiting for the 17:51 bus right now with one of those in my hand. The Senior Fun kids might change every week, but as a rule it was myself, Kristen and Nick as staff and a lot of familiar faces with the kids. There were some so regular they would ask about my weekends, and oh, were the weekends of July good.

july 11

The first was of course, the 4th of July. Myself, Adam, Aine and Katie were all off with no camp at the weekends, and so decided to buy a lot of beer in Food 4 Less and head down to the beach. Clearly, we weren’t affiliated with the holiday, as immediately American’s told us to hide our drink. Luckily we had bought a cooler, and so Aine and I went in search of ice. I’ll admit, I didn’t picture myself lugging a 20 pound bag of ice around when I woke up that morning, least of all down the beach promenade, but the cold beer under the San Diego sun was sheer bliss. The four of us sat there for hours, talking about God knows what as we knocked back our purchases. I hate to be over-dramatic, but that has to rank as the most freedom I’ve ever felt on American soil. And considering they love their freedom, I’ll count it among my better memories.

july 9

July weekends got better and better. Next we were off to the Del Mar fair, where hundreds of stalls of all descriptions packed into a fairground. Everything was deep-fried, or covered in chocolate, or both. San Diego was also of course host to Comic Con, which as a fan of shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, was a pretty big deal. The streets were lined with Chewbaccas, R2 units, Gandalfs, Spidermans etc. It was a Halloween at 90 degree Fahrenheit all brimming around the San Diego Convention Centre. On the Thursday, when the convention opened, a few of us ventured down for a look. Inadvertently, and a few still deny it, we ended up IN Comic Con. We just walked right in. This wasn’t Irish charm (like that time I got into a high school basketball tournament at SDSU-Go Aztecs!), this was just blind luck. And yet still, I accidentally achieved a sort of dream of mine, and for that I was delighted.

july 2july 4

SeaWorld comes under a lot of flak, but they do treat their employees well. Free San Diego Zoo tickets was just one of the perks, and for anybody who isn’t a zoo expert, it of course ranks as one of if not the world’s best. The day at the zoo was amazing, with animals I’d never even heard of becoming some of my favourite within hours. It wasn’t Fota-half under construction and a bit lifeless. This felt like a jungle you stepped into. It was perhaps only bettered by my visit to SeaWorld itself. Again, say what you want of the park, but it offers a spectacle to its visitors. I was happily splashed by water from the tail of a Killer Whale, which was only the finale of a day that included seeing the seals, staring at the odd Baluga Whales, riding the Manta, getting drenched on Journey to Atlantis or the rapids and hearing Blue Horizon about a hundred times. Myself, Katie, Eimear and Adam had a mega day out.

The great weekends didn’t stop there, with days out at the batting cages, or trips on the Orange Line (what even is the Orange Line in fainess) or visiting University San Diego standing majestically over Morena Linda Vista. And nestled in between all this yours truly changed his age. Well, I didn’t change it, I turned 22. The day of my birthday I went to La Jolla, where the white foam of the Pacific splashed up against golden cliffs and even the ordinary houses were like mansions to us. We went to In Cahoots the night before to celebrate, where the name of the game was line dancing. We were of course useless, but the prospect of it and a 3 dollar beer was enough to make it a regular haunt for us. I remember Adam switching on Taylor Swift’s “feeling 22” and the whole gang gathering around me. It was kind of funny, being presented with a coveted Dairy Milk bar, which to all of us was like a cake from the Gods. By Mid July our staple number of people had jumped to 14, when we were joined by Mark’s girlfriend Kate and their friend Aidan as well as James from our own class. On top of this, one night we found ourselves hosting a massive 17 people in one apartment. That was as high as it ever got, and I’m sure even if I tried to reassure you this was still reasonably comfortable you’d never believe me.

2130 was a hub for us, with all of us spread over San Diego some days. In the apartment, rather than become a hot bed of anger and frustration like you might imagine, it instead became a sanctuary, where we went to escape the day-to-day and just be 11 Irish people all tossed in together. The regularity of it grew one me. I might take a nap in the afternoon after work, then wake up to Aine and the two Fionas coming back from the pool, Michaela just arriving in after work, Eimear and Katie busy making dinner, Fiachra and Mark in conversation on the floor, Adam sorting music on his laptop and Greeny heading out to get Sombreros, and offering us to join him. Of course, any of the roles above might be changed for one another, which was in effect the beauty of it. We were for want of a better word living, and everyday was a new story, a new adventure or a new private joke for 2130. I might wake up to the bathroom flooding some days, but that was few and far between. For the most part, 2130 was a happy place, where every night its inhabitants sat around saying “Fuck you X” with cans of Four Loco in their hands, listening to spooky stories or all huddling up together to watch a movie (Top Gun, The Lion King spring to mind. If we wanted a movie we had to go load it outside the computer room, so it was a big deal for us). The nights out were too numerous to count, with every Thursday having us racing from a tram to get to McFaddens in time, and every other Tuesday getting a tram and a bus so we could go out in Pacific Beach.

Honestly, when people ask me about my J1, they want to hear about my trip to New York, or gambling in Vegas or camping in Yosemite. Those were all amazing, and will be in another entry. That was really travelling, if we’re going to use the strict sense of the word. But it wasn’t the journey. As I’ll remind you, for the journey, we measure in friends-not miles.

Four Weeks, Three FOBs, Two Jobs and One Dollar Beers

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher

It’s been a month since I last wrote here. Time has slipped by again, and with it things have changed. Gone are the slow burning evenings and the last leaves of Autumn. If I stand at my front door, I won’t hear the distant sound of children playing or feel the fresh October breeze against my skin. I won’t see the the rooftops glow that red-gold that they do when the lazy sun sinks down behind them.

Because now it is Winter.

Now the night winds are hunting, and everyday at 5 O’Clock the sky turns murky blue like someone has bruised it. Lately, I can sense the quiet air; the kind of frozen spell that greets you leaving a pub on a hushed Christmas Eve.

Why does any of this matter? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because this is home, and it is regular. It’s always been this way here.

But, perhaps this time it’s different. Perhaps this time, I’m different. Possible?

Tonight I’m standing at my window. High above me, I can’t see the moon behind the clouds. But I have seen it. I’ve seen it shine on the other side of the world.

I can still see myself sitting in Irish Outreach in June, tentatively opening an email from the YMCA. It’s short and to the point. It simply reads “Can you make an interview here at 14:30?” I look at the time on the corner of the screen. It reads just over a quarter past One. I have no idea where “Overland Avenue” is, but every bit of me knows if I’m going to make it there I should have been gone ten minutes ago. Rather than sink into my chair in defeat, I bring up Google Maps and get the directions. Less than a minute later, I have the blind luck of catching a tram, and suddenly this operation begins to come together. An hour later, I run staggering into Toby Wells YMCA, with just over five minutes to spare. I have absolutely no idea what part of San Diego I’m in; in fact, I’m only half certain this still is San Diego. But I’m here, and though utterly unprepared for this group interview, I am confident I can see it through.

Interviewing in front of seven people (with two others who wanted the job as well included) should have been the first sign that this wasn’t going to be easy. I stayed oblivious, for a while at least. It didn’t help that my two competitors just so happened to be the most qualified camp leaders I’d ever met. As they confidently listed out lifeguard qualifications and past experience, I began to feel I should have just stayed in my chair in Irish Outreach. But, life has a funny way of looking out for the underdogs. As it turned out, we all got the job, and though it was far from my new accommodation, I had two weeks to figure it out before camp started on June 16th.

But what about Macy’s, you ask?

Well, I still had that on the go. I know, it sounds hectic to me too. Looking back on it, Macy’s were only offering me a twelve hour contract to start, and realistically I could not have predicted how many hours this summer camp was going to offer a week. All I knew was my friends Katie and Aine had just landed a job with the YMCA (though at the far closer Mission Valley Centre), and as I microwaved my Taquitos (see picture below..) or flicked through the pages of a book, I couldn’t help but wonder how much fun a job like that might be. I had never worked in a Summer Camp before, but even I could see “Laser Tag” and “Soccer Tournament” sounded more enjoyable and a lot let stressful than “How to deal with an Active Shooter situation”, which was literally part of my training for Macy’s. I won’t lie, I’d say my 10 hours of training with Macy’s was the only time my heart was really in it as far as they were concerned. For the first two weeks of June, I worked a solid twenty hours there while I waited for camp to start. With two months rent due UP FRONT, money wasn’t exactly flowing for anybody and so those two weeks folding shirts, greeting customers and asking did people want to sign up for a Macy’s card were worth every minute.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one in Macy’s. Fiona (and later Katie) had both managed to get as far as I got. Fiona would ultimately go on to become part of the Sea World crew, but those first few weeks in our homely apartment 2130 belonged to phrases such as “That’s the magic of Macy’s”. We didn’t have to exaggerate it either. Work with Macy’s really was Gossip Girl meets Suits, with my entire working day focused around promoting that product to the wealthy customer. I had people buy a new pair of jeans, two shirts and a tie and drop 400 dollars easily.

I’ll never forget my first night on the job, where I was left alone to close up no less than three registers. I could barely remove a security tag at this stage, but here I was counting out thousands of dollars in the dark of “Men’s Furnishings”. I just about managed to do a passable job, but by the time I got out of there I was going to have to get the 23:00 tram back from Fashion Valley to Rio Vista. I was hungry, covered in sweat from running up and down stairs and fit to lose it with whichever room mate pushed first. But that was the thing about my first ever room mates-they were golden. I came home that night, took a bottle of Bud Light Platinum out of the fridge and sat around with these ten other young people. I can’t remember if that was the night the infamous 2130 spooky stories started, or the time we watched Top Gun, or the night all 11 of us slept in the one room despite there being room to fit five in the bedroom next door. But that was our living. You’d have a shitty day at work and you’d come home to Adam singing Chris Brown, Greeney firing a beach ball off Mark’s head and all the girls camped in front of the one mirror/wardrobe chatting, drinking and getting themselves dolled up. And we needed that.

june 2

Our nights out were too numerous to count, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t savour every one. Somehow eleven people showered, dressed, ate dinner and got the drink out in less than an hour. Cans of Four Loco and a bit of Justin Timberlake on the laptop. Every night was a new drinking game dispersed with whatever crazy story somebody had at work that day. I can honestly say I vented a lot about Macy’s to the tune of Rock Your Body. Some random trio always had to take our FOB cards for the security door ( though one night Fiachra did somehow manage to procure all three), and you damn well had to make sure you came home with one of them if you wanted to get back in that night. Keys for our door were a priority at first, but I can honestly assure you in the end leaving the door unlocked was the best option. Two months with no break-ins if you discount the few times I had to climb through our back patio to unlock the door from the inside.

june 3

I wouldn’t say I was taken by the night life in America, but when you have no parents, no college and no work in the morning a night out in Pacific’s Beach Typhoon can feel like a concert. And of course, this was San Diego after all, so there was no shortage of big name acts either. Our gang swapped nights at Jason DeRulo or Snoop Dogg, and if there was nothing else on we had utter faith in McFaddens.

McFaddens was a token Irish bar in Gaslamp quarter, and while I’ve never danced in any other “Irish bar” to Usher’s Yeah!, nowhere else in San Diego served one dollar beer on a Thursday. So naturally every J1 student and a share of confused Americans were there every week. Gaslamp Quarter was like a throwback to a Wild West Town, except here you were as likely to find a high-end store as you were a rough and tumble saloon. It had an art to it, that street. It wasn’t tacky or forced. It was a little gem we wouldn’t see in LA or New York. Maybe one day I’ll see it again.

And of course we were out in force now. During our second week in Promenade Fiachra finally reached 21. We celebrated it true American style with a BBQ poolside and drinks all round. The BBQ didn’t get going like we hoped, but we still had our drink. I suppose it was Irish by all respects….

june

Of course, some parts of the “American Dream” did not disappoint. Every weekend in June we’d rally ourselves out of our sleeping positions on the floor to catch a bus to the beach. Pacific Beach, which had that long Californian Boardwalk and a Pier stretching out into the sea, was our first port of call, but soon we’d spent plenty of time at Mission Beach too (note, half of all San Diegan locations have the word “Mission” in their name). Coronado was a little bit tougher to get to, and I still can’t place it on the map, but the white sands there were the cleanest you could find. It was like a drop of the Mediterranean mixed into the palette of California.

june 6

The one I’ll always remember is Ocean Beach. I wouldn’t say it was the busiest, or had the most to offer, but something about the vista there captured you. Sunset Cliffs was only a small walk away, and I guess you’d have to be a fool not to go see what the fuss was about. Five or six of us sat there as the sun dipped into the Pacific, when suddenly a burst of orange and vivid red became a temperate blue. I know we sat there for a while after. In fact, by the time we left I’m sure it was nightfall. But personally, I don’t think the sun ever really sets on Ocean Beach.

june 4

While people might think California is the beach end of, we learned a lot about America in those first few weeks. Firstly, the trams are full of crazy people. I wouldn’t say these people were sick, or in need of help. I would just say they had a unusual outlook on life. Everyday somebody had a new story about a “crazy” they had met that day, whether they were trying to chance one of the girls or were shadow boxing for 20 minutes, there was always something.

Of course, settling into Promenade brought its own list of experiences. Firstly, if you are going to shop in America, shop in Food 4 Less. We might have spent a while splashing the cash in Target, but by mid June we were getting that tram to Hazard Centre to purchase what became a very staple packet of salami (started by yours truly), box of rice, box of pasta, tray of noodles. Yes, I said tray.

When brown rice on a disposable plate just wasn’t gourmet enough for us, we happily spent half our wages on America’s greatest fast food. I still don’t think I’ve gotten over the Wendy’s, the Taco Bell, the In N Out Burger, the Sombreros, the Panda Express, the Fro-yo, the Chipotle or the Subway. I can picture us all sitting on the floor of 2130 eyeing each others food in admiration. We may have ate poorly but when we did we ate well.

At this point I was fairly settled in Macy’s. I now knew how to close up registers, and I was regularly smashing my sales figures (it was that bad), but when camp started on the 16th I knew I wasn’t going to last. Now don’t get me wrong, Camp wasn’t easy. Every morning, I woke up at 5am along with Adam and went and made myself a bowl of Rice Crispies. By 5.20 we were waiting for our tram to take us to Fashion Valley. From there we got a bus that took twenty five minutes on a good day to Clairemont Mesa. By 6.30 we were signed in and on the clock. The work day began.

At the beginning, our job at camp was to be there when the kids got signed in. Some would be there at 6.30, and they would expect to be entertained. Have you ever tried to run around with a hyperactive 10 year old at seven in the morning? Have you ever done it with a hangover after getting in at 3am the night before? I’ve never been so disciplined with a job. I might be in agony from the night out, but come 5am I’d be up and on that tram. At the start, the Irish contingent of the Toby Wells staff (all eight of us) weren’t very taken by the camp songs or the spirit stick or the dress-up Wednesdays. For America, we knew this was standard but here at home we’re just not like that. We just got on with our job and slowly made friends with the others working there. As a staff, we were easily 40-50 strong to cover Camp 6.30 am – 6pm Mon-Fri. That being said, myself and Adam had five day weeks, and easily 35 hours once we settled. The last two weeks of June, I worked both camp and Macy’s, which eventually was tending toward a 50 hour work week. At that stage, I knew, things had to change.

june 5

Of course me and Adam weren’t the only martyrs. Eimear was working at 5am when she started Sea World, which was as bad as anyone ever got it. Greeney, Mark, Fiachra and the two Fionas regularly got caught for the early mornings, and with Fiona Meade working in Target as well she even made my schedule look empty. Aine and Katie had camp like us and Michaela probably had the longest commute to her work, so over all none of had it easy by any stretch. But, at the end of the day, you’d come home and everyone would be rearing to go. I might have collapsed a few times in those weeks, but despite the fatigue, I kept going. Truth be told, I was kept going by those other ten. At that stage, we had assigned family roles. They ranged from a set of identical twins called Fiona and Niofa, to a crazy aunt and a misfit mother. I was happy to be chosen as Dad. Looking back, I think our group all looked out for each other.

They were good kids.