I met Áine during the planning of an I Am More event and display last year. She expertly guided me through the planning, and was there to answer every question and concern. After the event was over I discovered from her offhand comment, “I do a bit of writing,” that she was an author of BOOKS, and published essays, and I took a deep dive into her writing on WBUR’s Cognoscenti which detailed her perspective as an immigrant in America, and her memories of Ireland. When I asked her to be a part of I Am More: Massachusetts she invited me to her writing cottage, the focal point of which is an Irish wool blanket–a gift from home:
Being a new immigrant in America came with a pre-written script, a set of unspoken and spoken rules.
Be grateful. Be hardworking. Honor our fabled meritocracy. Be Irish. Be American. Be both.
In the early years, I worked the usual hodgepodge of low-wage jobs. As I settled into my new life and country, it never occurred to me that I needed to add my own item to that list.
For a long time, I kind of missed that one.
This omission had its price, including those episodes of what I like to call melancholia. Actually, I don’t know which was worse—the bouts of sadness or my own self-punishment for daring to be sad in a country where the pursuit of happiness is written right into the constitution.
When people asked if I was lonely for hearth and home, I either diverted them from the question or let them think that I did miss my native Ireland. For a 20-something immigrant, homesickness is the expected and more acceptable answer.
Now, looking back, I think a lot of my angst and loneliness came from trying to live out a presumed or inherited narrative about “doing well” in America. Yes, there were times when I was really lonely, but the person I missed most was myself.
Funnily enough, I emigrated because I had flubbed Ireland’s pre-written script for who I should be and what I should become.
Study hard. Be clever. Don’t be so clever to appear unfeminine or truculent. Get into college. Get a pensionable job. Get a respectable husband.
Around 1976, during a particularly long winter of teenage melancholy, I bought myself a small notebook. Many evenings, when I was supposed to be upstairs studying for my school examinations, I opened up that notebook and began to write. It was mostly your classic teenage poetry. But here, finally, was the real and better me.
Later, on a summer morning in America, I was on my way to my restaurant job when I stopped by a downtown Woolworth’s department store. This time, I bought a new and bigger notebook.
Late at night, still stinking of the beer and fries and spaghetti that I had served up to my restaurant customers, I wrote in my American notebook. In those pages, there was no script to follow. There was no anthem to sing except my own.
Now I’ve spent over three decades in the United States. Three years ago, I became a U.S. citizen. As exciting as my naturalization ceremony was, none of it seemed real until I went home and wrote about it.
In 30-plus years, the dissonance between my public and private selves has eased and decreased. In fact, there are days now when the writer on the page and the woman on the street are almost the same person.
America is where I got to publish five books and where I’ve stuffed my basement shelves with boxes of completed writing journals.
So writing has been a rescue mission to find and save myself.
You can learn more about Áine’s writing and workshops and find links to her essays and books at her website.
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