Diaries

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County, Part 7

I recall a conversation with Irish-born journalist and author, Claire Dunne, who tells me how in 17th-century Ireland, when the old Gaelic order began to crumble, that “war on harpists and their instruments peaked when Queen Elizabeth I edicted death on them.” She notes how Cromwell from England destroyed their harps, and how people were forced to hide their musical instruments in the bogs…I realized how hiding one’s harp is synonymous with hiding one’s soul. The great waiting ends when one doesn’t have to hide anymore. In years to come, I would tell my own story, write my memoir (published as “FBI Girl”), where I expose the journey of learning to belong to the world amid all the silence.

I dream that from the ancient Irish bogs emerged an apricot tree on the other side of the world– in Los Alamitos, California, to be specific–beckoning a young girl with an Irish name to prance around its trunk and proclaim the “leprechauns” are coming! The philosopher Bachelard writes of loving things “intimately, for themselves, with the slowness of the feminine, that is what leads us to the labyrinth of the intimate nature of things.” With the slowness of the feminine…that is how I discovered an intimacy with cosmos which is my Irishness. I notice the sky and her belongings, the water and her reflections. I see into a self who dances and have found the mirror of my people.

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County, Part 6

 

Ireland, 1987

Taunted by the secrecy and silence within the trauma, I returned to Ireland after I graduated from college and visited my Great Aunt Johanna on the ancestral farm. I decided to surprise her with no advance warning of my arrival. When she answered the door, her shock collapsed into flitting anger: “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were coming, I would have killed a goose?!” We settled in for tea and sandwiches. My great aunt examined the photographs I’d brought from California, inquiring how close our family lived to Hollywood. Then, before I could pull out my notebook with the carefully crafted questions I’d hoped to ask, questions about our ancestors, the farm, and their traditions, Aunt Johanna blurted with visceral concern: “And who do you think it was that killed J.R.?”  Dallas, the wildly popular, 1980s American television show had come to Mullagh, Ireland. And she wanted to know everything. I realized then I’d have to find the buried stories elsewhere. I started reading the Irish authors, James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde…looking for clues into that forlorn condition of “waiting.” Or as Seamus Deane writes, that “specifically Irish form of nostalgia…This nostalgia was consistently directed toward a past that was so deeply buried that it was not recoverable except for sentiment.” Yes, that sentiment. The faraway look in my grandmother’s eyes and in my father’s eyes, that sentiment courting me in the quest for my own identity. (more on the Audio Diary.)

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County, Part 5

Back in the United States, the old conversation remained: “Don’t you dare ask me about that damned country, do you hear?” My Irish grandmother, who’d worked in New York as a seamstress, said this holding a needle, but it may as well have been a knife. I tried to understand the source of her pathos–that she had to leave Ireland or that she had no desire to ever return. Perhaps it was the Irish koan, the double bind–damned if you stay and damned if you go–that led to this waiting station disconnected from story or place. In alchemical terms, the base metals underlying this waiting station remain untouched, the soul’s prima materia not worked, the pain not metabolized. The resulting trauma of exile, of not knowing how one belonged to the world, manifested in the great waiting–but waiting for what? If place has vanished and with it story, what happen’s to one’s narrative? It waits underground, in darkness, praying for re-emergence, for a spot of soil to nudge so life can begin anew…Rebecca Solnit writes, “Trauma is inherited as silence, a silence it may take generations to hear.” It would be the next generation, my generation, who would say enough to the secrecy…enough to the wait. We would dig past the genealogical charts and venture down into psyche’s bogs. We would sniff for the stories long buried, the poems etched on skeletons. We would re-claim the thin spaces. Life would begin anew.

The Burren

 

A Leprechaun Tree Grows in Orange County: Part 4

My mother’s brother, Fr. Ed Hogan, a Catholic priest, invited me to travel with him to Ireland in the winter of my eighteenth year. He would lead a retreat near Nenagh, County Tipperary, where some of our relations lived, and research further our Hogan family genealogy. On the chilly night when we boarded the plane at JFK, I thought of my father and mother who’d never been before to our ancestral homeland. I thought of our old pastor, Father Quinn and his roses and the Irish nuns and their long-gone wimples. I thought of my thick-brogued grandmother who refused to speak about her native country. I thought of my long-lost pen pal Mary O’Connor from Northern Ireland. All of them I’d packed into my Samsonite suitcase as if we were sailing to the moon. When I landed in Ireland, my relations in firm embrace looked at me and said, “Welcome Home.” I understood “welcome”– but “home?!” Home was 6000 miles away –30 miles from Hollywood, 10 miles from Disneyland, five yards from the old leprechaun tree in my backyard…or was it? (More on the audio diary.)

Reflections and Momentos from My 1970s Ireland Journal 

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.

Figure Skating

“When I Skate It Just Feels Free”

Peggy Fleming Figure Skating

Peggy Fleming

I was spellbound watching the grace of skater Peggy Fleming in the 1968 Olympics. I was eight years old. It was the first time I saw a woman float, dance, leap, twirl, turn, dance, spin on actual ice. Our family grew up in Southern California playing baseball and basketball but ice-skating (watching it!) opened me up to a whole new world of what the human body in lyrical, technical self-expression could experience. This New York Times article jumped out…check out the photos. It’s like watching the ’68 Olympics, all over again. xoxo

From The New York Times:
‘When I Skate It Just Feels Free’