Author Archives: Maura Conlon-McIvor

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County: Part 3

Such search for identity–identity being code for how we belong to the world–contravenes the logical matriculations of our conscious days. Virginia Woolf writes of time’s superficial “orderly and military progress” and how deep below resonates “a rushing stream of broken dreams, nursery rhymes, street cries, half-finished sentences and sights.” My leprechaun tree in the backyard, my “half-finished sight,” kept me running between garden and house to announce new life–to proclaim that I was part of something larger than myself, something mysterious and beautiful.

These first images of childhood reveal themselves as soulful harbingers within thin spaces. These thin spaces–a Celtic notion that denotes the place of connection between the local material world and the liminal, eternal one–represent a pivot in how we belong to the world, in how the ground of the world opens to us, starting in childhood. The philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, calls psyche’s early landscape the first time wherein the revelation of images hold for us–in eternal fashion–intense, psychological values. Such images return us to a “cosmic memory” which is our earliest memory of belonging to the world. We don’t outgrow the connection to this fecund place that seems outside of time. It weaves the fabric of our being.

As I came of age, I sensed at a deeper level that my Irish inheritance had everything to do with that leprechaun tree, and of how I belonged to the world.  (More on the audio.)


My Irish-Born Grandmother, Molly, with my father, Joe (seated), my Uncle Jack and Aunt Irene. My father would never speak of his childhood. And the same goes with my grandmother. 

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County: Part 2

That faraway and even dreamier place called Ireland was iconified within the lush surroundings of our local church, St. Hedwigs, in Los Alamitos. The parish lawns were textured like moist linen and lined by endless rows of roses…Sister Mary Ita, my fourth grade teacher, told me about her niece named Mary O’Connor, who lived in County Limavady in Northern Ireland. She arranged for Mary and me to become pen pals. I prized Mary’s letters filled with lovely Irish penmanship that arrived in the blue, tissue-thin envelopes marked aero mail. We were Irish girls living on opposite sides of the world! Such are the early images of an Irish-American childhood–and the rumblings of a quest for identity–as launched in suburban Southern California…I pictured Mary in a wet country perhaps not far from all the bombs in Belfast. (This was the late 1960s.) How do I tell her about our trips to Disneyland or our backyard pool parties complete with piñata…Prosperous California tipped to the future. We could settle upon nothing for nothing could settle for long. (More by listening in!)

Ireland, 2014

Under the Shade of the “Leprechaun” Tree


A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County

I grew up on the border of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, not far from those celebrated spindles of the collective imagination: Hollywood and Disneyland.  But by the age of six, the center of my imaginal world revolved around another dazzling spectacle–the apricot tree in my backyard and its spring blooms. In April, I’d gaze up to the branches of this beloved tree, waiting for the arrival of the minuscule green buds. Once spotting them, I’d run into our house and yelp: “The leprechauns are coming!” For me, something magical was simmering, a mystical transubstantiation. The budding “leprechauns” were tricksters, evoking my deep connection to the place I knew my ancestors came from, that fabled island called Ireland…..

Dog and God and Dog Gone

I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal perhaps since my teenage years, but only lately do I call it as such. There is such power in honoring moments with loved ones, watching the morning birds at their feeders, smelling the wild air of the ocean and rubbing the belly of a puppy dog. Regardless of their advancing age, my dogs have always been puppies.

Puppy boys, to be specific.

Ten years ago, when realizing my husband and I were not going to be parents to humans, we decided the best way to deepen the love in our house was to invite in puppy dogs. How quickly Roscoe and Yamhill, brother springer-labs from the town of Yamhill, Oregon, became inseparable from each other and us! One was white with black spots; the other black with white spots. One was goofy and sang while the other more serious and strong-willed.

Aside from enjoying acres and miles from all our outings, I have been struck with the spirit of soul so alive in their eyes. The nudge of a paw saying it is time to get off the computer. The kiss on the leg to say it is time for a cuddle. Dogs circling the front door even before we insert the key. How the roar of their love spoke as they traveled with us loving each molecule of being.

Last July, we said goodbye to Sir Roscoe after his adventurous life of ten years. This week we said goodbye to Sweet Yamhill. The brothers are now home with each other. But oh how our home feels empty and silent as if a grand chorus has exited forever stage right.

These dogs made a mother out of me. I organized much of my work, home, and travel life around them, writing at my desk, the dogs nestled by my feet and if I/we were away, me checking social media to watch their wilderness romps at day camp. (Thank you, Erica!)

The author and Franciscan Richard Rohr dedicates his book “The Universal Christ” to his dog, Venus, who he “had to release to God” as he began this latest work (which has received blurbs from Bono, Melinda Gates, et al). How can a noted theologian and priest dedicate his great work about divine consciousness… to a dog?

From every star-lit pore in my body, I completely understand.

Sending gratitude to the dog-gone, godly dog paw prints alight in the heavens. Perhaps Roscoe and Yamhill are not so far from Venus?

Love to you forever, my puppy boys.

Dresses from the Motherlines

Growing up in sunny Southern California, we learned to look to the future, to the next wave. But as a kid I ached for stories from my past.

I spent afternoons paging through the Conlon Family Album, studying old photographs. My mother’s handwriting upon black pages.

My favorite photos were—the dresses. Dresses that belonged to my Nana, Ana Julia—Dresses adorning my mother, Mary, a bathing beauty, before she married and had children.

I loved the craft of those dresses, how they draped upon those womanly bodies, the dancing threads beholding bonds connecting mother and daughter.

Few actual stories got handed down from my Motherlines. Although my mother did tell me that Nana once sewed for her a gorgeous suit that fit like none other.

Our sewing machine sat in our family room forever.

It had been a gift from Nana to my mother upon her wedding engagement in 1949.  Then Nana’s sewing machine came west when my parents moved from New York to Los Angeles.

Nana’s sewing machine got passed down me to after my mother died in the year 2000.

I had grown up watching it—that machine looked like a metal battleship waiting for action.

Then I started making my own dresses starting age 12. Working with fabric, my body came alive in unique fashions. Each dress yelped with the possibility about living the life of a creative woman.

Reminding me of the dresses that came before, the secret bonds, the quiet remainders of the Motherlines.

Sending Cello Love

My Cello with Cozy Dog

I’ve been taking cello lessons off and on for about nine years. I consider myself a ripe beginner. Growing up, I played the piano. That was my go-to instrument. Sitting in our corner living room, the light streaming in, I played lots of Neil Young, CSNY, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Stevie Wonder, a few classical pieces, and lots of free-floating improv. In my 40s, though, I was ready to embark upon a new musical adventure. I’d seen a band play in Ireland a decade earlier, struck by the woman on stage and the bold sound she produced with her cello. I told myself someday I’d learn that instrument.

During my cello lesson today, my teacher asked in what direction do I send my music when I play. In what corner of the room do the waves emanating from my C, G, D and A strings land? I sat baffled. When I play, I told him, it’s just me and my cello. I think not about context!  I’m just trying to get things right, the fingering position, the bow hold, the bow stroke, playing the correct notes. I never thought about sending out waves of music.  That sounds so “out there” and when I play, I am so “in here” trying to master the damn thing. In fact, I could draw a metaphorical box around myself as I practice this beguiling instrument. Cozy, but confining?

I’ll never touch the stratosphere of Yo-Yo Ma; my natural ability and confidence level remain multiple light years away. Still I appreciate the wisdom in the words of my teacher. Rather than focus on my lack of proficiency and my goal “to arrive” musically, I  ponder the possibility of sending music out into surrounding space as an offering of my passion and grace, as an invitation to the dance, inimical to the Bach minuet I’m learning. Imagine circles, not sharp angles. Imagine ripple effects. Imagine emotion.

Learning the cello is a metaphor for my heartstrings, too. To what corner of the room, or world, can I send bold waves of love? Far from heavenly skies of stellar perfection, what bold sound can I produce that resonates with another aspiring creative soul out there? Music is the yearning to connect with the intimacy and mystery that resides within us all.

And so it is: another day of practice. May it be so, boldly.





Gunshots, Grief, Grace: Write the Beginning Poem


Write a beginning poem.

That is the only way to start what might become an advanced poem—not that advanced poems even exist at all!

Poems are beginning.

Poems are swimmers in the sea, angling one direction, subject to big swells, the pull of the current—and there you are feeling coldness of the salt water coating you, the pink horizon nudging you closer, making you feel hungry for lunch. Perhaps a tuna fish sandwich?

I have one poem called “The Corner Fiddler.” I’ve been working on it for ages, since I first traveled to Ireland—where my people come from. Sometimes I take my beginning poem out of the drawer, wondering which way it will go next. I try to be patient. Poems operate on their own time frames.

I get quiet, listen to sounds of the letters, how vowels and consonants sway together like wind rustling through trees.

“The Corner Fiddler” goes like this:

A gray ocean wave, a blue chord crash off

Ancient cliffs in County Clare. How go their

Songs as you wander down a small

Road at night, listening to the fiddler and

Firefly lanterns flickering, thinking you might

Like to hum a tune to yourself: a melody that rises and falls

Like the paper-white gulls circling above.

Poems have been my refuge long before I knew what the word therapy meant. As a young person, I’d walk the streets of my Southern California neighborhood and observe the scene —inspect the world around me, noticing how words, like fairies, would land upon my tongue, feeling as if they had wings, asking to fly, sounds hoping to be uttered by me. Honestly!

Then I’d bicycle over to my friend Joanne’s, who’d just moved to California from New York. We’d sit together on the cool, cement, front stoop chatting about what teens chat about. When day became night, I’d look up to darkness, and wham—it was as if I had fallen into a trance—as I’d begin reciting poetry to the moon, riffing, wild poetry off the cuff. I felt a little crazy, but it calmed my heart.

When I reflect upon that time now, I realize the poems started showing up soon after the murder that shook my family.

Spoiler Alert Warning: If you haven’t yet read my memoir, FBI Girl, you may want to come back to this diary entry later after you’ve read this coming-of-age story. Otherwise, here it goes:

My dearest uncle, a Catholic priest who served the disenfranchised in a rough part of Queens, New York, was shot in the heart and murdered in his rectory on Mother’s Day. I was 13-years-old. My father, a special agent for the FBI, took a midnight flight to New York. When eventually he arrived back home, my father never uttered a word about the murder, the loss of his brother, the trauma to the soul. He stuffed it inside. I have no doubt that the repressed grief eventually killed my father way before his time.

Fathers and daughters have special relationships, and I could not ignore my father’s stony silence. So I decided to put onto the page the emotion he could not express—life’s amazing beauty always in struggle with life’s inexplicable agony. At a young age, I learned all about paradox. Perhaps you did too—you know—some event in your life that marks the before period and the after period.

A few weeks ago, in my hometown in Oregon, I joined the March for Our Lives demonstration in unity with the Stoneman Douglas High School students of Parkland, Florida, and with each step thought of all the young people whose lives have been shattered by gunshots.

There are two things I can attest to: your life is never the same once you’ve witnessed the effects of murder. You don’t outgrow the grief. Grief fertilizes your heart so that you may grow a force field of compassion; a connection to your real self; and a determination to better this world in your own unique way.

But how to get there when your heart still hurts?

Consider writing your own beginning poem.

Find a blank page or a blank screen to hold your words that are wilder than the wild swells around you.

Let the words rise and fall. Let them roll off our tongue.

Read your poem out loud. Read it to a friend. Feel how you feel.

Put the poem down and imagine setting it free.

Close your eyes and listen, as the words come back singing to you:

A gray ocean wave, a blue chord crash off

Ancient cliffs in County Clare. How go their

Songs as you wander down a small

Road at night, listening to the fiddler and

Firefly lanterns flickering, thinking you might

Like to hum a tune to yourself: a melody that rises and falls

Like the paper-white gulls circling above.

Start your beginning poem now—it may help grief transform into grace.

The beginning poem never ends.

It is always life giving back to you.