About the Birds and the Beeves

Of all the creatures in Ireland, great and small, bright and beautiful, wise and wonderful, or otherwise, the first being with whom I bonded were a group of cows on the edge of Maynooth University’s campus. I’ve written about the cows in earlier blogs, and to some extent they’ve taken on a memetic quality among people I’ve mentioned to them. My affinity for them has become an easy short hand reference for everything from the imagined rurality of a place on Dublin’s periphery to my own oafishly bovine nature. In the process I think it might seem like my investment in the cows is simply an extended bit, committed to for comedic effect. To the extent that any emotional attachment is an extended bit with slightly comedic undertones this is somewhat true, but in truth from my very first day I really did find peace and enjoyment from spending time with my mob of Maynooth mooers.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier updates, that first crowd of cows is gone, and I’ve long assumed a morbid end met my meadow-fed meaty friends. Since then a new group of bovines have arrived to graze in the dormant glades left behind, and I’ve begun to establish a connection with them, by which I largely mean feed carrots and apples to them. In the process of rebuilding my fractured farm life friendships, I’ve certainly enjoyed cataloging new cattle companions but I have lot completely escaped the melancholy regarding the departure of my earliest buds. This is in part due to the generally grim nature of their likely fate, but it also probably is partially derived from the way in which I have come to understand myself as somehow tied to that initial cohort of cows. Their brief stay on the Maynooth grounds was not all that much shorter then mine will have been by the end of this year. With only a few months remaining, I have little more time to try to match the impact they made, and I can’t even match the fertilizing factor that their feces provide.

Admittedly, preparing to leave Ireland is a long process, and I’ve only barely started it. However, it will reach completion sooner than later, and while I won’t be turned into ground beef, I will be sent back to Alabama which is not all that different really. I will be replaced by a different but recognizable group of Mitchell scholars and all that will be left is the ground I’ve trampled. At the beginning of the year I thought something similar, but I think the lesson I’ve taken from that insight is a little different now. Back then I interpreted the brevity, and replicability, of my time here as a dual challenge to both be all I could beeve and to take a little time to chew the cud. On final reflection that interpretation seems remarkably self-centered. I think the better lesson was that with so little time, few actions have as much potential for impact as just bringing a few apples.

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Being On Time

At 9:17pm, watching the latest in a series of sunsets that stretch surprisingly deep into the night, I established some common ground with the sun: these days, we are both drawing out saying a difficult goodbye to Dublin.

At 53.3448° N, 6.2568° W, the coordinates of my dorm room, the sunset is more than a metaphor for the draining twilight of my Mitchell year. It makes me realize that time, which has felt particularly scarce and precious here, touches Dublin differently than I am used to.

The longitude situates me in Greenwich Mean Time, 5 to 8 hours ahead of the friends and family I have at times struggled to keep in contact with. Fittingly, the people who are my home are always in my past and present at the same time—my tomorrows come a little earlier than theirs, and their todays leave a little later than mine.

And at this latitude, where the summer sun stays out past its bedtime, I have become embarrassingly preoccupied with the relative speeds of rotation. Here, the circumference of the earth is smaller than at points further south, which means that in the 24 hours it takes for the earth to rotate daily, we Dubliners travel a shorter distance than anywhere in the continental United States. Life literally moves more slowly here.

This reality manifests itself everywhere in Ireland: in half hearted attempts to leave friends at a pub while a wristwatch reveals that “just one more pint” expresses itself as an hour or two; in serendipitous Front Square encounters that stretch into full blown conversations; in meetings and buses and lectures that, obeying Oscar Wilde a little too closely, are “always late on principle, that principle being that punctuality was the thief of time.”

While life moves more slowly here, time, sadly, does not. And leaning out of my window at 53.3448° N, 6.2568° W, looking on a stone campus bathed in the even glow of vanishing light, I felt a crepuscular nostalgia. I am homesick for a place I have not yet left.

It is a blessing to have made friendships as meaningful and enduring as the ones I’ve built here, to have etched memories into the corners of a city and the terrain of a country that anchor me to a space and time I can uniquely and happily claim as my own. But it makes leaving hard. And as excited as I am to unpack a life closer to the one I’ve known, I’m sad—simply and bluntly sad—to leave this place and all it has come to mean to me.

Tennessee Williams once wrote a line that imprinted itself on my brain: “Time is the longest distance between two places.” It is unlikely that my life will ever sustain this pace again. As its velocity increases, I will move further and further away from this reality. For now, though, I want to memorize how it feels to spin slowly and bring it with me wherever the future is.

The view of Trinity College at twilight from my window, featuring the backside of an installation of Samuel Beckett to the right of the Campanile.
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Every Person is Connected

Mitchell 2018-2019 Year in Review Video

            Over the course of my Mitchell year, I read two books that encapsulate some key wisdom I gained from my time in Ireland. In the Knowledge Illusion, the researchers remind readers of a lesson we too often forget; humans know less than we think and we need a community of knowledge, skills, and experiences to function well and do good. In Essentialism, the author urges individuals to pursue less and focus on our specific passions and expertise.

            This year, I have done a number of things at Trinity College Dublin that will shape my life. But most importantly, my fellow Mitchell Scholars have brought these books to life. Each of the Mitchells excels in different areas – music, philosophy, policy, service, and more. We are privileged. As we have lived in and traveled around Ireland exchanging stories and opinions, they have confirmed the worthwhile challenge of collective learning, productive friction, interdependence, and focus.

From day one, Fatou, Cameron and I – the Trinity Trio – have made new friends, lent a helping hand, and discussed pressing issues. I have learned so much from them about how to think about social norms, to care about justice deeply, and to stand up to power. Fatou shines at being unabashedly bold and constructively critical. Cam shines at thinking deeply about the systems we inhabit and embracing hard discussions.

Jackson, Shauna, and Celia – the UCD contingent – have helped me understand the power of planning, ambition, and steadfast commitment. Jackson shines at using his skills to help others and reach his goals, all while having fun watching Duke basketball (Wahoowa). Shauna shines at organizing schedules and people, and at putting her passions into action. Celia shines at committing to perfect her craft humbly, and at being an unfailing friend.

Chris and Ted – the DCU duo – and Alexander – the Maynooth scholar – showed me the consequence of persistent engagement with scientific inquiry, social justice, and podcasts. Chris shines at distilling complex information into a digestible message and translating knowledge into change. Ted shines at knowing the happenings de jour and contributing through an intentional routine. Alexander shines at challenging harmful status quos and reminding us to act.

Anji, James, and Hadley – the UCC crew – taught me the value of following our passions to serve others while taking time to soak up the life around us. Anji shines at prioritizing others and making sure she is present wherever she is. James shines at sharing his joy for music and bringing a creative perspective. Hadley shines at using her research to help her community and bringing a spirit of laughter and fun competition.   

While I could say much more, my point is that we have each brought different perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses to this year: intellect, effort, compassion, organization, reflection, spontaneity, and so on. As I have walked alongside my friends, I honed my own focus while also learning from and relying on others. I have taken Oscar Wilde’s words to heart: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” But I am challenged in that self – and strive to help others do the same.

Going forward, whether I am working on U.S.-Ireland relations, promoting global anti-corruption reform, or solving challenges facing American communities, I will remember my Mitchell friends. They make me and this world better. The Irish Emigration museum, dedicated to the history of Irish people around the globe, leaves its visitors with a simple message: Every Person is Connected. Indeed, we cannot forget where we come from or to whom we are connected. It is those connections – especially the ones that make us uncomfortable – that have given my year in Ireland its meaning and potential. And they shine.

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Pedals & Petals

Forty-something degrees with 20mph winds…a perfect day to be outside? Yet we decided to go biking anyways, because what could be more Irish than that? If you wait for perfect weather, you could find yourself waiting a while. On this particular Sunday in April, a group of us Dubliners decided to brave the winds for some cycling in Phoenix Park, the sprawling park just west of city center. And it wasn’t raining, so we couldn’t complain. Being such a small island, the weather here is often mysterious and I find myself just looking out the window rather than checking the weather app as I usually did back home.

To get myself to the park, I’d have to face my fears and navigate my way through the winding, often congested streets of downtown Dublin (just known as “town” if you’re Irish). Since it was a Sunday, it was strange biking up the somewhat empty streets of Dublin, effortlessly steering my bike through the same spot where the bus I normally take into town can only make its turn by slowly inching its way into traffic, a double-decker reaching the point of no return and others obliging to finally let it through. There was one gust of wind that almost knocked me off my bike, but I steadied myself and continued, even removing my gloves as I warmed up throughout my ride. 

Once safely in the park, I met the others and we biked through the 1,750 acres worth of green space. We saw the famous Phoenix Park deer, which are huge, numerous, and apparently quite docile. We continued our tour to the home of Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, a man with a small stature but a huge presence in Ireland, much beloved by any Irish person I’ve met. We also stopped for a photo with the American ambassador’s residence, which looked like an Irish version of the White House, massive and with huge windows to let every possible ounce of sunlight in. The home’s grandeur and prime location in Phoenix Park was a striking visual of US-Ireland relations and our nation’s looming influence in Ireland. 

Back at UCD, I was locking up my bike when I noticed the most beautiful tree with pink flowers in bloom, petals protruding from every branch and blanketing the ground. I had been feeling sad to miss peak cherry blossom bloom back in DC, but standing under this tree, I didn’t feel so far away. I was exhausted, my legs heavy, but feeling grateful for this display of spring and reminder of home on an otherwise gray day. 

I guess it feels fitting for my first and last blog posts to be about biking, bringing it full circle. While this is likely giving a false impression that I biked way more than I did here, I had to provide some proof that I biked to more places than just the UCD gym! 

EU, Irish, and American flags fly in County Kerry in the west of Ireland, a surprisingly normal sight across Ireland.
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What Time Is It?

Yesterday, I stepped into the Dublin Airport, confused and exhausted after travelling from Hanoi, Vietnam. The clock on the wall said 11am, my phone said 1pm, and my mind and rumbling stomach said 6pm, almost dinner time. And I had roughly four hours to spend in the airport before boarding a plane again, this time to Cambridge for our final retreat as the 2019 Class of Mitchell Scholars.

Beautiful Ha Long Bay – we went for a day after completing our research partnerships

Much like the trip to Cambridge will be the capstone on our Mitchell year, the trip to Hanoi was the capstone of the coursework for my M.A. Geography from UCD. And much like being a Mitchell means acting as a representative of the U.S. in Ireland, the trip to Hanoi meant acting as a representative of Ireland in Vietnam. Irish Aid had provided funding for ten of us – nine students and our professor – to undertake a two week research partnership with Hanoi University (HANU). Each us of joined with either a Hanoi-based NGO or an undergraduate student from HANU for a self-directed, fieldwork-based project. Our topics ranged from informal housing to social enterprise to deforestation, but worked to build the relationships, friendships, and trust necessary for long-term partnership between our universities.

Having returned from Hanoi, and currently in Cambridge, I feel that both trips symbolize our current transition time. It doesn’t feel long ago that I arrived at UCD, excited and nervous for the year ahead. Now, it is time for us to head off one by one to the next thing – jobs, PhDs, family, more travel. The thought makes me excited and nervous all over again as I consider what it means to be a Mitchell alum.

Placing that question in the context of my recent and current trip, I think that the real question to be taken from the year here is – how do I act as a representative of my place, values, and passions no matter where I go? And as I think about the lessons that help answer that question, I go back to one brief but strong memory from my time in Hanoi.

On our third night, we had kicked the jetlag and set out for a bar recommended by one of our student partners. The only problem – it lay across eight lanes of raging, chaotic traffic. We stood on the curb, frightened and uncertain, until a young Vietnamese man approached and asked if we needed help. He organized us into a mass and helped us simply step into the street, walking steadily with one hand extended towards the oncoming cars and motorbikes. They split around us with surreal smoothness. Once we reached the other side, our guide shook all of our grateful hands and headed back across the street alone.

Hanoi traffic was slightly easier to brave by bike than by foot

That man showed us that representing your place, values, and passions means more than being brave, flexible, and accepting in the face of the unknown. It means recognizing that what is familiar to you may be intimidating to others and offering help accordingly. It means both offering and accepting help with genuine gratitude. It means understanding that in every place we are both a representative of somewhere and a visitor to somewhere. I will hold onto these lessons for my last two months in Dublin and beyond. I will hold onto them with the understanding that although it is time for us to leave Ireland, the 2019 Mitchell alumni are ready to spread out to new places.

Just because I like this photo – one windy weekend exploring Donegal
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Listening

Echoing reverberations from the choir bounced around St. Finbarre’s Cathedral, around me standing in the center aisle listening for problems. After a few seconds the director turned, smiled, and asked, “was that okay?”

“Are you kidding?” was my unspoken response. It was an absurd question. Chamber Choir Ireland had sung my piece nearly perfectly, in an amazing venue. Of course it was okay—it was about as good a rehearsal as I could have imagined, and the evening’s concert was even better.

Having a piece performed is odd, though. Despite the assurance of a rehearsal, as my piece comes closer in the program the months of anticipation turn into heart–pounding anxiety. When the performance actually happens, I barely realize it’s occurring, jolting out of a strange semi–aware state when it finishes. It’s not until much later that I appreciate the moment.

“Were you happy with how they did?” from friends and festival attendees. Another absurd question. But “yes” is just a feeling, and I’ll understand why later.

Taking a bow at the Cork Choral Festival

The spring semester and my final weeks in Ireland are a flurry of events and deadlines: sound design for a theatre piece from February through March, right into performance and paper deadlines for final assessments; constantly preparing for gigs; my piece featured in the Cork Choral Festival, and singing in it besides; joining a Dublin choir to compete in Germany, joining my classmates to perform at a computer music conference in Spain, joining my Mitchell family on our final retreat to the UK. When one ends, the next had actually begun days before, and I’m already in the thick of the next step.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these steps. From responsibility to responsibility, from piece to piece, from year to year. “Take things in stride” is an okay way to justify the busyness, but I can’t help but feel that my stride is a bit short. How do you take the next step when you feel like you haven’t landed the current one?

I don’t know if I’m ready to step out of Cork. I love that I see familiar faces in every coffee shop, that with just a month left I still befriend people who invite me into their artistic and personal lives. I’d rather not leave behind the guidance of my professors, the omnipresent River Lee branches, the spirit of my choir, the Cork accent.

Some of the Mitchells at Glenstal Abbey

And I’m not ready to step away from the Mitchells. My sense of imposter syndrome within the group has never gone away; when I spend time with them I learn more about how much I don’t know, I laugh constantly at their incisive, deadpan humor, and I’m bowled over by their capacity for kindness towards and investment in the 11 others they each met only a year prior. So much of my growth this year has come from their vibrant example of living and learning.

But, I have to step anyway. What feels like cutting my stride short is actually coming to rest. To stand still and listen to my memories of the past nine months, snap out of the relentless experience of a year that seems like it’s barely started and appreciate all that happened in it.

“Were you happy with how you did?” Yes. For now, it’s just a feeling—I’ll understand why later.

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Connecting and Redefining Relations

Whenever I introduce myself in these past months and say where I am from, people always get excited…No NOT about Guinee of course, because most people do not even know which continent my birthplace is, especially when I don’t lead with “Guinee, in West Africa.” But most people always get excited about New York City (even though I know they are only thinking Manhattan, maybe Brooklyn or Queens)—a fascination I never understood until now because I now know what it feels to identify oneself with a city.

Growing up in a restrictive immigrant home, my New York City days were spent between home, school, internships, and home again. There are not many things I can point to about the City and say, “remember this at this place” “oh I miss this”—No reminiscing over my favorite walk paths, restaurants, museums, concert halls. But I can now say these things about Dublin and can almost say “Yes, I am a Dubliner”. Of course, it will be foolish of me to NOT recognize the privilege in such statement because I have had a sheltered experience of living in an extremely expensive City, which many native Dubliners are not able to afford.

I am defining my experiences here, as I have throughout this year, based on my OWN definition of the “Irish-American” relations. As a Guinean-American, the below are just a few of the many things that define my relationship with Dublin:
• It means sitting at my study desk in GMB and facing the old a giant tree between me and the Old Library. Watching the tree go through various transformations as I have over the last several months. 

• It means coming back to Trinity after midnight, knocking on the heavy wooden door via College Green entrance–stepping into the quietness of the campus, with no tourists and smiling upon the famous Campanile and thinking “wow, I live here.”

• It means thrifting from Oxfam to Enable-Ireland to Vincent– filling my tiny closet and adding to my anxiety of “how will I fit all these in two suitcases.”

• It means rushing to my favorite ice cream place with a great company to enjoy Murphy’s Ice Cream finest Dingle sea salt.

• It means finding a happy place at Nando’s—A space I can always expect deliciously seasoned chicken with music that will always take me back Home.

• It means a 30-minute walk every Thursday from campus, crossing the Liffey to the north side of the city, witnessing the huge economic inequality between the North and South, to reach my internship.

• It means catching a ride every week with Mick and Patricia (two consultants) to travel to County Meath in the past several months to connect with five incredibly determined women who are looking at life beyond the walls of the restrictive accommodation centers of the asylum process.

• It means taking every person who visits me in Dublin to Howth Cliff walk. Just a 40 mins journey on the dart train North-East of Dublin, and Kilmainham Goal because they are musts!

• It means, over the past few weeks, breaking Iftar with Cameron and Alexander–filling up the empty space that would have been occupied by family or friends observing Ramadan.

• Most importantly, it means defining my relationship with the city and country for myself and not based on anyone’s agenda.

It means…I will come back. 

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26.2

I love a good metaphor. My love is so strong, in fact, that I’ve been icing my shins with bags of frozen fruit in the name of metaphor these past few weeks.

I’m a reluctant runner, so nobody is more surprised than I am that I have somehow made it to the spring of my Mitchell year with plans fully in place to run the Cork City Marathon on June 2nd. I’ve considered terminating this mission more times than I’m proud to admit, most often around mile 7 or 8 of a long run, when back-to-back podcasts start to sound stale and I suddenly become aware of every single tendon in my legs threatening to give out as my feet repeatedly strike the ground. Wasn’t running supposed to be a little bit more glamorous?  

Rather than just serve as a log of injury, writing my final blog is actually more a timely reminder of how much has changed since last August, when I decided I wanted to run this race—my first marathon—here in Cork. Call it overthinking, but I was motivated by my premature search for closure on this experience before it had even truly begun. This, rather than any real aptitude for running, which is perhaps a more sensible reason to run 26.2 miles. So much happens in a year, especially one abroad, and crossing a physical finish line mirrors my search for a bookmark to place in my life where this year leaves off.

My legs feel the impact of four months of wear and tear, but I’m standing by my metaphor (with Biofreeze for my shins at arm’s length). Locations, experiences, and people that seemed unfamiliar all those months ago now hold their place in my life alongside interests and memories I’ve known for much longer. I suppose the same could be said for running, which I came to as an amateur in the truest sense of the word.

As my pre-race nerves continue to escalate, I’ve begun to study the 26.2 mile map like I’ll be tested on it. Mile 1 will take me through St. Patrick’s Quay, site of the trusty riverside bus stop where I caught my first view of Cork last year. Fittingly, both journeys start in the same place. My port of entry and departure from this city frame my marathon too, and in realizing this, I’m reminded that there is no way to visualize entirely how an experience will unfold just from the starting line.

If I make it to mile 24, I’ll get to hobble past Uni Hall, where Hadley, James, and I made a tradition out of communal dinner and ceremoniously recounted the highs and lows of our days throughout the year.

Approaching mile 25, I’ll pass the Mardyke Arena, home of my athletic pursuits preceding distance running: kickboxing and Irish dance. My path has been nothing if not circuitous.

I’ve neglected to mention miles 2 through 23, but those may well matter the most. Looking back on my Mitchell year, as much was certainly true for their calendar analogues. The middle months of my time in Ireland have shaped me even more than those that bookend them, because as seasons shifted from fall to winter to spring, the big things happened: I failed or succeeded at self-prescribed ventures, set and reevaluated goals, and solidified my perceptions of myself and of Ireland.

Some days, I wake up in Cork and think that it always seems to be morning here. My days seem to start over more often than I see the sun set. Somehow, in this way, nearly a whole year has passed by.

The first time I ran a more-than-half-marathon, I walked home with a foolishly large smile on my face. All of a sudden, big numbers had started to feel small. Or smaller, at least.

Now, a few more laps.

Taking my inspiration where I can find it! (Photo by my dear sister Kiran, who liked Cobh almost as much as I do.)
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With an Irish Accent

To my family and friends who keep asking:

         No. When I return to the U.S. in August, I can promise that I will not have an accent. My apologies in advance. What I cannot promise, however, is that you won’t notice a few… changes.

Ted’s running joke this year has been that I couldn’t go more than a day without wearing a piece of Mizzou-branded clothing. Guilty as charged. As a proud alum and life-long Missourian, you know I approach everything I do with a bit (o.k. a lot) of Missouri pride. There are few things I love more than talking about the Show-Me state, and living in Ireland, I’ve gotten to do that quite a bit because no one has ever heard of it. When I return, though, you may notice I am equally keen to talk about Ireland and Dublin.

It’s not just Mizzou gear you’ll see me wearing anymore

Oh ya, I guess I say keen now. And grand instead of great, although sometimes it might be class instead.  You might hear me describe “your man” as “sound.” I just mean someone ye know is a good person. Fair play to you if you have to ask, “what?” sometimes, but I promise most changes are really quite small.

I’m sure you’ll ask if I’m glad to be back. Of course. I cannot wait to get back to good peanut butter; Kansas City BBQ; the wide-open spaces of the Midwest; a car I can drive; and my family and friends I have missed seeing and sharing life with this past year. But there are many things I’ll long to return to in Ireland. The fizz of a Lucozade zero, especially when paired with a chicken and stuffing sandwich in a Tesco Meal Deal; decent public transit; the community of a vibrant, international capital; the laid-back pace of life.

I’ll especially miss living in a country that isn’t all-consumed by divisive partisan politics. Sure, there are issues with politics in Ireland, find me a democracy where there isn’t, but Ireland has found ways to create cross-party cooperation on several major policy issues—notably climate change. I will give you fair warning, living in Ireland as Britain has attempted to negotiate Brexit has made the politics and history of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Troubles my new obsession. I will talk to you about it. There is no maybe. These seemingly regional issues on an island a continent away hold important lessons for us in the US and hold potential implications for the entire world.

You’ve probably seen some headlines about Northern Ireland recently–let’s talk about the complexities underpinning the news

I promise a year abroad has not dampened my love for Mizzou sports, even if the Tigers normally played hours after I had gone to bed. You may, however, catch me occasionally talking about how the Dubs are looking in hurling and football. Yes, the first is a real sport (one I might actually take up when I move to Madison), and the second is not the football you’re thinking of… or even “European” football. I might make you watch some matches; I promise you’ll love them too. I also play Gaelic handball now. I’m not great, but if you ask, I’d love to teach you.

Up the Dubs!

Some of this may fade, in time.  But I think some changes are permanent. All this is to say, Dublin, and Ireland, has become a second home for me.

To borrow from a slightly misquoted yet appropriately sentimental James Joyce:

When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart.

You won’t hear me talk with an Irish accent when I get back, but you may notice I now live my life with one.  

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Thank you to bridge clubs

My number one fear about doing a memory research project in Ireland was not being able to find enough participants (difficult accents came in a close second). In the US, we benefit from undergraduate students who are required to participate in experiments for class credit, or we pay members of the community to participate. In Ireland, however, the rules of compensating participants are a lot stricter and normally only involve travel vouchers. Since I limited the participant pool to individuals over 50 years old for my study, I was even more worried about recruitment. I didn’t have very many friends aged over 50 in Ireland, and I wasn’t sure where these individuals spent their time, let alone if they’d be willing to donate their time for science.

One of the advertisement posters I made happened to be placed at a community center where a large number of people aged over 50 go to play bridge every week. I’d like to personally thank this Bridge Club for single-handedly making up about half of my participant pool. Not to mention, these are competitive individuals that view the memory task as a challenge and provide really great data. In the US, if you pay participants, sometimes they don’t care and don’t even try as long as they get their money. I’ve been truly humbled by the number of individuals that take 3 hours out of their day, come to the UCC Psychology Building, let me put electrodes all over their scalps, and complete an annoying memory task all for free.

It makes me that much more determined to make sure that something comes of the data they have selflessly provided. It’s also heartening to realize the reasons many of these individuals became interested in the project in the first place. Most people fit into three groups: 1) someone they are close to has suffered from dementia; 2) they want to contribute to research in the hope that they will be able to retain their memories; 3) they are genuinely curious about their memory. Some people fit into all three categories, but no matter what category they fit in, we get to have some real, passionate conversations over the course of the study.  It takes about 40 minutes to prepare someone for EEG recordings, so there’s plenty of time to have uncomfortable small talk or a genuine conversation. Many of my most cherished memories of Ireland come from interacting with participants, and their kind words constantly remind me how important dementia research is. I heartily agree with a quote by Tia Walker: “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors”.

So, this is really a thank you to all of the participants this year that, not only participated in my study, but made sure I also took care of myself. I’ve never had so many people trying to make sure I ate, drank, slept, and went for an appropriate number of pints per week. Also, thank you to the cohort of participants who have been praying for me to find an Irish husband. No takers yet, but I’m extremely grateful for all of the well-wishes and tremendous kindness I’ve experienced in this country.

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Eleven Reasons to Visit Ireland

Yes, this is a listicle. (You’re welcome, Ted! Consider this the start of my contemplation of the fuller picture). In keeping with data scientist Gilad Lotan’s research on engagement with Buzzfeed listicles, I opted for a double-digit, odd-number listicle.

What are the eleven reasons to come to Ireland, you ask? I’m breaking with the traditional listicle model here by placing them in alphabetical order, but the eleven most compelling reasons to visit Ireland have been Alexander, Anji, Cam, Celia, Chris, Fatou, Hadley, James, Shauna, Sky, and Theodore.

Classic last-Mitchell-blog-post content? Yes. Clichéd? Probably. Derivative? … Ouch. I knew that by making my friends the focal point of my last blog post it would be vulnerable to these critiques, but I couldn’t help it. That’s what you call “brutiful.”

This year, I’ve seen hundreds of pulchritudinous churches (Latin isn’t dead), tasted bubble tea all over Europe, cheered on competitors at a national dog show, trodden the edges of dozens of cliffs, played pick-up basketball in seemingly every basketball gym Dublin has to offer, read copious amounts of criminological theory… and yet, all of that marrow-sucking pales in comparison to the countless hours of sleep I’ve sacrificed to spend time talking, laughing, and dancing with this incredible group of eleven friends who have forced me to grow in the best ways possible this year (Hadley, I’ve appreciated your concern and research-informed advice on reducing sleep deprivation risk factors and I’m working on it…).

Sure, Shauna and I missed the sun occasionally, but who needs it when you’ve got a sunny friend like Alexander to organize a compulsory screening of Bee Movie, and friends like Cam, Fatou, and James who will attend and problematize the film with you? (To clarify, Alexander immediately proclaimed that the film was “canceled”). I’m never going to forget Celia shouting “SWOONEY” and our inevitable peals of laughter that would follow; my long talks with Sky about life and love (and ending them fortified by, and not inured to, the unanswerable); and the many moments in which I happily sat back and let Chris communicate science to me, which never failed to remind me why I’m excited to see him return to the Midwest and make chemistry great again (in the public sphere). We have too many memories; they’d flood this post and drown its word-count restriction.

Whenever I need insight (of any kind, really), I know I can turn to Anji. En route to our final retreat, Anji and I were discussing what elements of this experience we would take home with us. Which changes had only been extended to us temporarily? Which would endure? I returned to my first blog post. I haven’t fully adopted the Irish relativity of time, but I did slow down some. At heart, I’m still that same person who rushes — but will I rush a little less when I start law school in August?

I looked back on how I look back. My mindset for much of my life has been to reflect on semesters, or years, through a hypercritical lens: what did I fail to do? (I never made it to ____, I never published that paper, I never…, etc.) What do I regret doing? What should I have spent more time doing? Why did I set an arbitrary bubble tea-consumption goal in the first place? (No regrets).

Starting with this Mitchell year, though, I want to adopt an approach that sees the value in my past as I construct my future. Not “what did I fail to do,” but how did I spend my time? What am I glad that I did? With whom did I spend my time? What conversations and experiences will I remember for the rest of my life? Knowing what I know now, how might I approach my day differently in the present moment? These questions alone don’t comprise the examined life, but they begin to strike a course for a more meaningful, meditative one. They draw me away from a formerly destructive, self-sabotaging approach toward a more ahimsaic, compassionate one. They seek the good in the world around me.

Among the many qualities we will take back with us to the U.S., I hope our collective dissatisfaction with the status quo endures. We’ve all been gifted an unforgettable year, but we will have boundless opportunities to slip back into complacency when we return to “reality.” I’m grateful that Cam shared the work of Saul Williams with me this year, and I’m going to hold onto his words:

“We do hereby declare reality unkempt by the changing standards of dialogue.”

It’s time to take advantage of the “lessened distance between thought patterns and their secular manifestations” to listen up.

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Stroll on

Our foyer at DCU faces out toward two buildings that have enough breathing room between their parallel structures to create a diagonal sliver. Through that sliver, I normally just see the street—compromised by cars lurching over pesky speed bumps—and the sidewalk—a steady stream of students, almost all with headphones, lost in separate worlds and in this one. Perpendicular to the road and sidewalk stands a row of flowers—mostly golden with speckled brown at their center as if they gained their gold by way of the sun but the centers got too drunk on its rays and burnt themselves. 

It was through this diagonal sliver, occupied with an inconsequential essay on cyber terrorism, that the backdrop of annoyed drivers faded, I lost sight of the lost teens, and in their place I found a mother wheeling her child.

Her son, body contorted in a fossilized way, not by preference, but as an arbitrary physical byproduct of the genealogical lottery, sat in his chariot. His mom slowed the stroll to a stop and gazed upon the hedges: An upward stretch at the curves of her mouth, a forward lean, a gentle caress, and a compassionate pluck that said, “from one mother to another, I hope you’ll understand if I take this.” She then sank down three elevator floors and placed nature’s child under her own’s nose. By my superficial estimate, his gaze remained unflinchingly forward, his demeanor unchanged, but the atmosphere, my world, buckled. Knees weren’t weak; they were non-existent. Without will, a tear, then two, then three—not from her or him but from me. 

I shared this snapshot with another Mitchell, a friend, who replied: 

“I think the most powerful parts are where you describe how you are understanding your developing emotionality in the moment—the parts you’ve written about the observed scene are beautifully rendered, but I worry that they risk flattening the complex, whole person you saw to their disability, which is a common problem faced by people with disabilities. It may be worthwhile to explore phrasings that (a) acknowledge the limits of your understanding of their experience, and (b) builds upon/taps into the emotional vulnerability that makes this piece strong.” 

“(F)lattening the complex” stuck with me. I acknowledge my ironing of the situation. All communication requires some extent of ironing, right? Our attempts to communicate resembles taking a piece of our continuous stream of gift-wrap sentiment and folding it in such a way as to convey the contours of our understanding. Side note: I still have trouble with tidy tucks at the corners. Knowing this, I forfeit any attempt to communicate my Mitchell experience. I am deciding not to flatten the wonderfully complex year that was. 

After she held the flower under his nose, she leaned forward, caressed his head, placed a cherry of a kiss atop her sundae and strolled on.

As do I, as do the other Mitchells, and as do we all. 

Here’s to our replacements,

TD

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