Before coming to Galway, Seena Perumal, a former Mitchell Scholar, informed me to be wary of the city and its curious nickname: the graveyard of ambition.
The graveyard of ambition? I asked myself with a laugh. Is she telling me that my aspirations are going to wither away and die in Ireland? That they will decompose and crumble until there’s nothing left but the dusty, skeletal remains of prior passion buried six feet below a patch of soppy grass and mud?
With no intention of seeing my ambition perish, I planned to hit the ground running upon arrival. In the literal sense, I trampled all over the town as I prepared for November’s marathon in Athens. In the non-literal sense, I did everything possible to keep busy and channel my inner muse. I wrote non-stop – short stories, articles, chapters of books. I started drawing again, taught myself how to play Poker Face on my tin whistle, and even created a Medusa head out of paper mache.
I kept myself occupied in Galway but was careful about staying in the city for too long a period of time. I took trips to Belfast, Derry, Dublin, and Kerry. I also travelled abroad to listen to the glockenspiels in Bremen, bask in the glory of Athena at the Parthenon, and purchase a pair of shiny silver dance pants in Paris.
But with all that one-on-one time, I began to wonder if I was losing something in the process of protecting myself from Galway’s supposedly insatiable thirst for dreams.
No, I decided. I couldn’t run away anymore. It was time to face the town I had chosen to live in – time to embrace my so-called life in graveyard land…
Stephen’s Day. I went out with Lauren and Shane, two Mitchell scholars, and Jon, Lauren’s husband, to the local gay bar, the Stage Door. The middle-aged DJ Pat blasted muffled pop music from a half-broken speaker as Irish men and women drank, shouted, and fought. A random girl slapped Shane across the face for no apparent reason. We stared at her inquiringly until she stumbled drunkenly away to dance with her friends.
Oil painting class on Tuesday. I listened as my teacher Aideen instructed me on how to prepare canvases, mix colors, and paint from dark to light. I nodded enthusiastically, pretending like the information was new to me since it was worth 185 Euros. By the time I finally sat down to begin painting, Aideen informed us that it was time to break for tea. As we sipped from steaming cups and munched on crumpets, the other students, most in their fifties or sixties, asked me questions about life in Galway and my classes at NUIG.
My apartment at 7:30am on exam week. I woke up early to write a term paper on gender crimes. My Irish roommate Johnny, who had recently gone nocturnal, was up after an unproductive night of studying. As I typed away at my essay, he wanted to chat about Barack Obama, Gentlemen’s C’s, and how Ireland didn’t qualify for the World Cup.
“Ireland went and did the most embarrassing thing: they asked for us to be the 33rd team. We’re the laughing stock of the world now…fookin’ Ron Delany with his big fookin’ head. What was he thinking? It’s supposed to be 32 teams for a reason. You know, it’s supposed to be 16, 8, 4, 2!”
I stared at Johnny blankly. He then proceeded to gab about global warming, Israel, and gangsters in Kilrush.
The fast food chain Supermacs in the dead of the “Big Freeze” at 2am. All Irish men and women in town were plastered. Young female students walked barelegged in short skirts, and I wondered how that was possible when outside I could see my breath. Students talked gibberish and stared at each other with hazy, half-closed eyes as they inhaled mayonnaise-lathered fries and burgers.
Taffes Pub with Lauren and Jon. A young Irishman man rubbed his fingers through my hair and muttered something about how I resembled a sheep. The words that followed were unintelligible and coated with the sour stench of beer. He proceeded to mash my face into his cushiony stomach. Lauren and Jon stared, aghast.
Coyote’s club at 1am on New Year’s Eve. A drunken girl in a blue dress mounted the mechanical bull in the back of the Coyote Ugly-themed club. The bull rotated for one second before the girl slid clumsily off the side, accidentally flashing a crowd of drunken onlookers. The operator of the bull sighed and muttered, “Next.”
So…after several attempts to integrate myself into wild and crazy world that was Galway, I found myself wondering what I had accomplished in the process. Where was the magic that had inspired Yeats to write about the Galway races? Where were the people who lived for things beyond beer and chatter? What did a person do when he or she just wanted to do something?
Monroes Tavern at 10:30pm on Tuesday, Irish dancing night. I watched older men and women gear up in their clunky dancing shoes and then stomp on the floor and spin each other in circles a la Leo and Kate Winslett from the dancing scene in Titanic style. Before long a drunken man pulled a friend and me into a circle of dancers. We tried shuffling our legs to the sounds of fiddles and flutes but ended up bouncing off one another like pinballs while untroubled dancers shouted out instructions. Eventually we caught on and were stomping, spinning, and laughing just as hard as the doomed ship’s star-crossed, albeit fictional, lovers.
It was then that I realized there was a rift in how I had been living life in Galway and the way it was meant to be lived. I hadn’t come to a city that people try to race through. Its inhabitants, for the most part, are in no rush to get from point A to point B, and many stop to take pleasure in simple things like conversation, food, teatime, and drink.
I don’t see or hear much in terms of grandiose plans or what people want to do with their lives. But that’s not to say the place is one devoid of dreams. Hope for the unrealized exists, I think, but in the meantime people find comfort in laughter, dialogue, and the occasional pint or six.
Graveyard or not, it still strikes me as a strange way to live, but it is also one that has me wondering what the big rush is when there is but one life to live and so many chances to stop, talk, and dance.