This is going to look really long and scary, but-- Ok, never mind. It is long. And it might be scary. But I promised it, so here it is. Have fun...
11:47 We’re driving down Ballash road, on our way to the highway. We’re passing by a cornfield; tall, green, just breaking out in golden spray at the tops. The hills roll up and down with darling familiarity. Above it all, the sky is a beautiful, beautiful blue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dearer color. It’s taking my heart and wrapping it up and warming it through and giving it wings. And as if the blue isn’t awesome enough, its captivating face is dappled with the whitest, darlingest clouds. Elusive perfection in random order. Glory personified in pastel and pleasantness. And I sit here, helpless to make you see it as I do, to feel the awe—to feel yourself a tiny part, a tiny but blessed part in something wonderful.
I have to pause for a moment to get Brianna’s writing pad for her. It’s in the trunk and she can’t turn around again because she’s already sick enough to throw up, she says. Brianna, don’t you dare… I have to give her my pad and pen and pillow to hold. And don’t lose my pen. Gosh, packed cars are such a pain. I have to pull her whole bag—not her suitcase, her random-stuff-that-didn’t-fit-anywhere-else-bag—over onto the seat, and dig through till she finds the notebook. Finally. Good grief. I cram the bag back into its inch of space, and resituate myself in my two inches of back seat, between Brianna and Mamie. I always get stuck in the middle… Not really; they just have to be by the windows or they get sick. But they always seem to get sick anyway… Ah, well. I get the lap seat belt. That’s better on long trips. Hehe.
Anyway. Where was I? Must needs hurry up, ‘cause I’m getting sick. Ironic. Ok. So I buckle back up and pull my pillow and pad back from Brianna. Aaahhh!!! Where’s my pen?! And I told you to watch it….! Oh, dear. Not good. Not good. My precious pen! Yeah, I know all you people out there are rolling your eyes and writing me off. But look, you just don’t get it. I write. Like, all the time. And I get really attached to my pens. I bring one with me, and whatever pad I’m filling at the time, wherever I go. And I use it until it…dies. And then I cry and sigh and force myself to throw the poor thing away. *sob* *sigh* In light of that… I lost my pen. The world is momentarily frozen. We all search the back seat. Brianna, I’m sure you’re sitting on it. For probably the fifth time. Aisling, I’d know if I was sitting on it. …But it has to be SOMEWHERE! You just had it… We search in all possible (and impossible) places. And we get to the end and start over. Brianna’s still sick and getting sicker. And all of a sudden she starts cracking up. Lo and behold, there is my pen—stuck underneath the head rest on the back of the seat in front of us, sticking right out under our noses. Oh, yeah. I put it there so I wouldn’t lose it That worked splendidly… Brianna’s still laughing. I’m not. Well, at least we found it…and the world can go on again. I feel dumb, not to have seen it there a long time ago. I start writing again… Oh, great: Brianna says she lost her pen. Good grief here we go again… Yep, we did, too. We searched everywhere, all over again. And what do you know but we find it stuck in the cup holder…so she wouldn’t lose it, of course. Oh, us.
And Siobhan says it feels like her little toe is stuck out of her sandal, but she can’t see her feet because she has a paper bag of food on top of them. Ok. I better stop now. We’re all getting too weird. So long ‘till West Virginia.
2:34 We’re driving down State Route 50, through the hills of northern WV. Brianna just saw a dog on the other side of the highway, and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. He was a beautiful dog. There was just something so beautiful about him…noble, heroic… Dad, let’s turn around. Mamie says he can sleep on her… Oh, us. There’s beautiful wildflowers in the grass in the middle of the highway. Poppies, or something. Dark wine-colored, and a bright beautiful pink, and snow white. It’s gorgeous.
8:42 We’re in Elkins. We’ve had an hour of orientation. We didn’t learn much of anything, but it gave us time to relax. Funny that you get so tired after driving in a car. I mean, what do you do but sit? Must be all that mental energy to keep from going insane… Anyway, I’ve already had an immersion in West Virginian accents. As well as two capital Irish ones. Unbelievably different, but both great fun. (Both the Irish ones, I mean. I don't like West Virginian accents.) As for the college campus…it’s a peculiar, resounding clash of century-old glory and ‘70’s garishness. And here and there an impeccably modern revision. Strange. Exciting.
8:04 Good morning! The sun’s coming up over the mountains and making the mist a breathtaking raiment of glory.
Driving to Augusta. This small corner of West Virginia seems to be a random patchwork quilt of sprawling backwoods houses, old gas stations and shops, huge lumber yards, and random hay fields, with the bails rolled up and dappling the greenness of the grass with gold. And then always in the background the mountains, to knock you flat again if you’re ever in danger of getting back into the mundane. I’ll write again at lunch, when I’ve had my first class.
10:54 Break. I’m in my first class now. It’s going wonderfully. We learned a darling jig called An Tseaduine, or The Old Man. Hey, I’ll have to play at least one of these songs I’m learning for you, and put it up on Nostos… Yippee. That’ll be fun. It was funny, we all took out our recorders to record the song, and here they all have these fancy, tiny, new digital recording devices—or at least the small, smart, little tape recorders—and I have the huge, humming, old-fashioned kind with the obnoxious clicking buttons and all. Boy did I feel queer. But, you know, I think I was more stubbornly proud than embarrassed, in the end. I felt like that farmer on the corner, who still raises his cattle and his crops in between the development and the convenient store… It can be a grand feeling.
5:35 We’re on our way back to our inn for dinner. We’re stopped on the road waiting for the flagger to give us the "slow" sign, so we can follow the pilot car for two miles, doing 10 mph, all to bypass about 500 feet of construction work. Aarrgg. We’re eating salted shelled pistachios by the handfuls to hold us over. I’m done with my first day of classes. I have a headache. I don’t think I’ve ever played this much tinwhistle in succession. I learned a second song. All that information at such a rapid rate in so little time is slightly overwhelming to my note-happy mind. I’m not naturally a by-ear learner. I hope these last months of training will hold up. Hehe. I’ll be glad of this breather, anyway. But, really, it’s fantastic so far. My teacher is Louise Mulcahy. She’s an absolutely phenomenal whistle player. And she plays the flute and the uilleann pipes, too. And she has the greatest accent… (I love being Irish!) She’s a great teacher, too—which is most important of all, I guess. (smile) My class is great; so many different people, and all of them unique and wonderful. I'm blessed to be a part of this week in so many different lives...
On the campus, there's always random people, either alone or in groups, playing music. It's hard to find a spot where nobody is, and where you're not too near a class, for practicing. It's fun.
8:50 Brushing my teeth. With my other hand. While I write. Tricky… We’re getting ready to leave for the campus. It’s another beautiful, cool, West Virginia mountain morning. Complete with birds that are unmistakably glad to be alive. Day two, here we come!
6:22 I’m sitting on the back porch of Halliehurst House, at Davis and Elkins college. It’s a huge wooden porch with stone pillars and light slate blue paint on the floor. It’s a queer, darling color. Like Maine. It makes me think of Maine (even though I’ve never been there); of wide open skies above wide open seas; of seals, and salt spray, and seagulls flying; of rocks standing tall and solid against the whiteness of waves breaking; of sand that is myriads of stones grown smaller and smaller with time, until they’re all one wide-reaching blanket of wet, warm brilliance; of a wind that sweeps in off the water and snatches the breath from your lungs and the beat from your heart, and blows your hair out behind you like a pennon in the sunshine… It’s lovely.
It’s a mild, sticky day. There’s a remarkable cricket bug chirping somewhere nearby. The trees are languidly still. And there’s little angel bugs floating around—they look pure-white, with almost blue heads, but if you see one up close they’re really just tiny fruit-fly-like things with white fluff on them. Odd. I have to go practice today’s song, now. I have to get it down well so I can try and master the ornamentations.
Random: I like the word evoking… No, I’m not going to try and tie that in with my passage.
7:54 (I love having Dad’s digital watch. I can always know exactly what time it is in a second. I think I’m obsessed with checking it. Hehe.) I’m sitting in the auditorium on a movie theater chair, waiting for the concert to begin. There’s probably at least two hundred people talking in here. It’s a crazy sound. Nice somehow, though. I like it. I can sit here, in my own little corner in my own little chair (ugh, I hate that song), in comfortable solitude, and soak in the society around me—with all its drama, its quirks, its hilarity, its complexity, its randomness, its familiarity, its always-something-new-ness. Ooh, the lights are going out...
3:00 I’m sitting at my old place on the back porch, at the top of the wide stone steps. They’re a soft red-brown-grey color. Almost mauve. Only earthier. And there’s sandy white mortar in the cracks. And little spots of green lichen, here and there, on the stones. It’s a warm day. But still not over hot. The porch is nice and warm to sit on. I have ten minutes—well, nine now—before my afternoon class. There’s not much of anyone else around. They all started up again at 2:30. Our tinwhistle class has split the afternoon part into three forty minutes classes, for the different levels. I think it was a good idea. It’s tough having so many different people altogether. I think there’s fifteen of us… I’m in 40 minutes number two. So I’ll go now.
(Random something I wrote in between that and the next one: In the end, trying to be who you’re not never pays, because the people that really matter will love you anyway, will love the you you are, and the people that won’t aren’t worth losing yourself over. It’s a comforting thought…)
4:15 They’re singing I’ll Fly Away on the front porch. I think I’ll move in closer, and sit on the porch wall… Ok. It’s an awesome seat here, against the pillar. I love this porch! Class is done. I have some more practice time before most everybody else gets out. But, honestly, I can’t blow another note to save my life. (grin) It’s this humidity that does it. On top of just being tired, it’s an unbelievable chore to play tinwhistle in heavy humidity. Ooh. I just leant my head back and boy! do I have an ache in my neck… Yikes. At least my jaw is ok, though. It was awful yesterday. (For all you who don’t know, I have a crooked jaw. The right side doesn’t connect properly ever since it got somehow kicked out of socket about six years ago. Personally, I think it’s a real problem… I mean, it doesn’t fit right! And I swear it’s made my right ear hole (or whatever you call it) smaller. It’s stuck out, so it’s pushing on my ear. Anyway, whatever’s wrong with it gave me a headache yesterday, and an ear ache, and of course a jaw ache too. Dad thinks it was playing the tinwhistle so much that did it. Agitated it, that is. That’s the only thing I can figure. And the humidity, maybe. Anyway, it ached bad. And it was a nerve sort of ache; nasty pains pulsing in and out and all over. But ah, well. Enough of that. I’m blessed to be feeling fine today. It’s been a lovely day. Weather, classes, everything. Only I think I’m going to talk to my teacher tomorrow morning about ornamentation… I’m thinking I might need to be in a different section in the afternoon. Just because I have absolutely no experience in rolls or cuts or crans, and I feel like that’s what I need to work on—learning them. And I don’t want to hold the other advanced players up by making Louise go slower and explain it all and what not. So, we’ll say. I mean, see. (laugh) I wrote say. Ha... Ahem. It depends on what she’s doing with the others. Really, though, I’d rather be in too easy a section. Oh, me. So helplessly human. I think it’s an issue of pride. Halfway at least. Saying it crudely: I’d rather be the best on in my group than struggling to keep up. Saying it elegantly: I know I’m here to learn, and I think I’ll benefit most from a different group. The honest truth is somewhere in the middle there. (smile) Yikes. I’m still in parenthesis.) Ok, then… *sigh* I’m having a hello-bedford-falls moment (i.e., I’m wonderfully happy just to be alive).
12:23 I’m going to bed. It’s been a crazy non-stop day since almost seven this morning. And then there was an awesome concert again tonight—with almost all the instructors performing. It was spectacular. Ugh. Ugly word. It was better than that… Anyway. Tomorrow’s our last day. We have class in the morning again, but the afternoon is the student showcase, when each class individually performs for a few minutes. That’ll be fun. More tomorrow, then. Have to sleep now. Sleep seems like a rare and precious commodity.
4:00 We’re driving back to the hotel after the showcase. We have some down time before the ceili tonight at 8:00. We’re driving through a little town called Historic Beverly. I guess Andrew Jackson’s sister lived here, or something… It’s a cute little place, though. I’m feeling drained. Void. Utterly inspirationless. Sad… I can’t believe the week’s ending already. It went fast, thinking on it now. I’m going to be random, now, and write whatever comes, and see if that helps. It usually does…
Creative writing is a great thing. But it has to come to you. You don’t get anywhere going to it. It’s hard to imagine somebody who doesn’t have it come to them. But, in essence, we all have a language our heart speaks, a dialect, a mode of expression. Music, painting, composition. Something that gives our heart wings.
(That took me a while. I’m moving slow. We’re back at our rooms, now.) Mom got an 80 fl. oz. (2 qt. 1 pt.) jar of Vlasic kosher dill spears. Yeah. That’s big.
I have about fifty tunes spinning in my head all at once. That’s one thing I’ve learned here—they’re tunes. Not songs. It’s only a song if there’s words to it. And it’s an air if it’s not a jig, reel, hornpipe, or slip jig—or a variation thereof. Which is just to say, if it’s not a tune. And then there’s airs and slow airs. But I think slow airs are just airs slower.
Should I have a third pickle? I don’t want a stomach ache—I’ll have to dance tonight. I had a salad with ranch dressing. And cucumbers, and chopped carrots, and cubed cheese. Because we don’t have a cheese shredder or anything. And chips with cheese. Cubed cheese. But it still melted nicely. I love chips and cheese. It’s great that we have this little suite room here. Very convenient. It’s an interesting room. There’s three tables, with tops fashioned like great gilded books, and with wrought iron legs. And a rush-colored arm chair with red velvet pillows with interesting crinkle designs. And a couch with elephants and palm trees on it—all in that same palish green—and more velvet pillows, ochre and olive. And gold lamps with feather-like…feathers… bending gracefully out in a circle before the lamp part. (Ugh. I described that very ill.) And three chairs with cushioned seats, and the rest of them a conglomeration of wood kane, twisted and spiraled and resulting in a unique piece of art. Let’s see what else… (I’m getting ridiculous fun out of describing things.) Ooh, there’s a very queer lamp on the book table beside me (I’m in the arm chair), with a twisted spiral neck (or whatever you call those sticks on lamps…) a dirtyish beige color with cracks and lines in it, almost like the ground in a desert. And on the table, too, there’s a queer little ornament…three black elephants all connected in a circle, with their trunks upraised, and supporting a (very heavy) marble ball.
Anyway. Back to somewhat…pointfull…writing. (What in the world is the opposite of “pointless”?) What I got out of my week here… Inspiration, I’d say. And a foundation. I’d probably never have gone on anywhere with the tinwhistle if I hadn’t come. But now I’ve been challenged to play well, not just to play. And I think I’ll really have fun with the instrument now. I mean, I’m not going to go to college for music and become a famous whistle player, or anything, but if you’re going to do a thing…why not do it well? So…
Oh, and I have to tell you, Brianna has this young kid in her class—well, I’ll start from the beginning. I knew he was nice from the start, because he held the door when she was coming out. And later, the next day I think, we were talking to him a little about the class and all. But just today Brianna heard him say something about homeschooling, so she asked him, “Are you homeschooled?” And he said, “yes” of course. Ha. I knew he was nice. So she says she is too. (Homeschooled. Not nice. She is nice, of course; far beyond it. But nice people don’t go around telling other people that they’re nice.) And, wait, this is the best part—he says, “I wouldn’t go to public school for anything!” Three cheers! Hip, hip, hoorah! Hip, hip, hoorah!! Hip, hip, hoorah!!! (Ok. That’s weird. Where did it come from? And do we just not realize that it’s nine cheers? Or do the "hips" not count? Ah, well.)
I’m listening to the tape I’ve recorded over the week, from classes. She taught us some great polkas. I love polkas…and polkaing. Ha. What a word. Maybe we’ll get to polka tonight. Or waltz. Oh, those old time waltz tunes! Heavenly. One of my absolute favorite kinds of music. Doesn’t it just make your heart dance? Must needs get a CD of waltzes… Oh, it’s a slow air, now—on the tape. My other favorite. Some airs are just out-of-this-world beautiful.
Here, I’m going to tell you all the instructors of the week (I think I’ve got them all): There’s Mick, Louise (my teacher!), and Michelle Mulcahy—father and daughters. Eamon O’Leary. Matt Shortridge. Mark Stone. Zan MacLoed. Patrick Ourceau—awesome fiddle player. John Walsh. Athena O’Lochlainn—another fiddler, Brianna’s teacher. Mike Rafferty. Dana Lyn—fiddler number three. Brendan Dolan—awesome pianist. Niall O’Leary—an amazing Irish dancer. Kaia Duggan—another great dancer. Muireann Nic Amlaobh—a beautiful singer, Mamie’s teacher. Bridget Fitzgerald—singer too. Mairi Rankin—a phenomenal Cape Breton fiddler. Malke Rosenfeld—Cape Breton dance. Jim Flanagan. Mick Mulkerrin. Mairead Casey. Ivan Goff. Karen Ashbrook. Billy and Sean McComisky—father and son; they taught accordion...I am forever in awe of anybody who can music out of that box of complication. Albert Alfonso. Marilyn Moore. Declan Forde—incredibly talented writer and reciter. Carol Thompson. Robbie O’Connell. John Doyle—absolutely incredible guitarist. Deborah Thompson.
They were all great. I only commented and the few I saw the most, or was most impressed by.
6:42 We just crossed the river. We’re in Ohio again! Good old darling place. We’ll be home soon. Oh, I want to gather all this dear state up in a hug—her hills and fields and lakes and skies and all.
It was suddenly sad, leaving Davis and Elkins college last night. We were driving out…after the concert…in the rain…and it hit us all that we were leaving. We wouldn’t be coming back again in the morning. I’d miss that porch… But bed sounded good. (grin)
Anyway. We’re driving, now. And we’re all jonesin’ really bad for some ice cream. Dad used that expression the other day, and we all flipped. And we’ve been using it ever since. Oh, dear.
We’re all cracking up over nothing, now. Driving does things to you. Dad’s listening to a CD we picked up at the Augusta book store, while he drives. He’s going cooky on us, too, doing strange finger exercises to the music… Mom and Siobhan are carrying on a conversation about something. Brianna's apparently composing a song. Whoa. Joseph's saying: Mom, I ate a bug. Mom, I ate a BUG... MOTHER, (with his imitation of a pompous English accent) I ate a bug!! Mom: Hunny, it was a pistachio. (I still don't know whether he knew it was, and was just teasing, or whether he really wasn't sure it had been a pistachio because it tasted so nasty. You know how you get one of those really ugly rotten ones every once in a while? Ick.) Oh, I love long car trips. (grin)
Oh man, I am just so darn tired of sitting! Good grief. Mamie is too. She’s rotating her suspicions—I mean, positions. (laugh) She’s got herself almost lying down, now, with her legs up and over the seat in front of us. She can’t stay still for a second, though. After about one breath she says, “I’m sick,” and gets up again. And now she’s laughing way too hard, because her apple sticker is stuck to my back. Ha. And I probably went into Taco Bell that way… Oh, life. I’ve had so much of it in a week. Don’t you just love it, though, when you’re so recklessly glad-heartedly alive?
I’ve been reading Charles Brady’s This Land Fulfilled literally non-stop since we started out this morning. I was about halfway through it before we came down, and I resolved to finish it over the trip. But I was naughty on the way down and didn’t pick it up once. So I’ve been making up for it. Only I had to take a break just now and just be for a bit. And write. I get like that when I’ve been reading for too many hours together. Especially in the car. I have to stop and write, to let something out of me that’s pressing hard up against all the new-found wildness and wonder that’s been steadily pouring in. (I’ve finished the book, by now. Wow. It was a good book. Masterfully written. No book I’ve read, save The Lord of the Rings, so well fits that phrase. It was engaging, heart-warming, real, beautiful. Charles Brady is one of the best authors I’ve ever encountered. A new favorite. I have to read more of him… I highly recommend This Land Fulfilled.)
Joseph has the CD player now, and he’s listening to it. But he can never do just one thing at once. Five year olds… He says, “Mommy, I can’t understand it.” Must be the Gaelic song. Now he’s asking for a book to look at while he listens to the music. A black bug bit a big black bear. A big black blug bit a big black bear… A big black bear bit a blig black bug. A big black lug bit a big back blear... A big black bug bit a big black bear. Wow. Finally. (grin)
Brianna’s playing the tinwhistle on one side of me. Mamie’s listening to the CD now, on the other side. Mom and Dad are listening to Siobhan read Modern Times in the front seat. Christopher Dawson. Good for incredibly stimulating car discussions.
Yay! Dairy Queen. Buster bars… Or not. She says they don’t have any. I’ll get a heath blizzard… Ooh, it’s good. Must needs go enjoy it…
Our corn bloomed all the way while we were gone! It’s a gorgeous harvest gold color. I love it. (Only it makes me think of Oklahoma! What was with those old movies and immorality? Ha. Listen to me! As if we’ve gotten better or something… That’s a joke.) Those West Virginia mountains were absolutely, unbelievably, knock-you-flat beautiful. But, you know, no matter where you go—the seaside, the mountains, the redwood forests—and no matter how beautiful it is, because there’s some places that’ll just take your breath away...it’s always the same, coming home. There’s something about Ohio, something about our little back roads, something about Chippewa Lake, something about the fields of corn stretching out beneath the sun, gold under gold, as far as the eye can see...something that’s dearer, darlinger, more heart-warming than anything else. Because it’s home. And I’m always glad to come home again, to Ohio.
Over the course of the week I heard so many names of so many world-renowned musicians, that I’ve never heard of… Yeah. Makes me feel rather dumb, like I never leave my house. But then I clap myself on the back and say, “good for me” and laugh. There’s no place like home. (smile) Especially these days.
The sky in the west is blushing deep in darling shapes of pink and choral. The sky in the east is something softer, subtler, more silent. Some disinterested eye, glancing up at it, might name it grey, or darkling white. But, oh no. It is so much deeper a color than that. It is that sweet, sweet shade that belongs to evening and evening only. Gentle, lavender-tinted, like a wide wonderful whisper of a world we do not know. A world we were made for.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have half as much fun reading it as I did writing, I’ll be more than satisfied. (I feel, now, like I didn't say much about classes and stuff, and most of my journaling was absurdly random. But oh well.) I’ll miss writing to you…but I’m sure my absurd, complicated, merciless creativity won’t let me go for long without some philosophical thought or other that must be let out. Come to think of it, I had a profound idea only last night, that needs typed up. Until then… Aisling