June 2010 Reflection

On the notion of endings.

There are endings. Endings are not just new beginnings. People die. People leave town. Phone numbers are lost and not found again. And in this regard, my year as a Mitchell Scholar is at an end.

(It is a bit difficult to be asked to write a “final” reflection when I’ve still got another month in the country–a bit like being asked to review a film before you’ve watched the last ten minutes. But this is not a scripted film. There’s no guarantee of a climax or a poetic wrapping up. Really, how much more can happen?)

This is the question I’ve been sitting with recently–how much more can I experience in my time here? It’s too early to kick back and sort through old photos (listening to Sir John tell stories of children murdering old barons). It’s too late to start up a big project. The reality is that my list of plans is far longer than my time so I’ve started a process of letting go.

First, I need to let go of my list of projects.

I wanted to go to daily mass in every church in Dublin. I wanted to read an Irish play every day. I wanted to take up boxing. I wanted to make a documentary short about my friend and former-Mitchell Scholar Nick Johnson learning to recite Beckett’s The Unnameable while walking from Trinity to Stephens Green. (Nick’s a Beckett devotee and attempting a nearly impossible task would be a perfect window into his relationship with the very profound and very dead Samuel Beckett.)

There’s also the unexpected relationships that I need to let go.

Last week, I met a former IRA-combatant at a karaoke bar in Ballycastle. He thought I looked like a young Gerry Adams so he invited me to come see his childhood home in Belfast. He wanted to tell me stories and show me photos. This would be an amazing experience, but I don’t know if it will happen. Might never. Or it might. But, honestly, I’ve got such little time.

Then there’s the deeper relationships that will fade. Half the Mitchells are back in America. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve seen them, but already the distance is felt. Alec is busy in New York. Lauren and Jon are hopping all over the States right now. (Michael are you in India still? I don’t even know.) These eleven people have become dear to me. And the reality is that distance will take its toll. There will be reunions. But the year is over.

And this is where the reality of an ending rears its head. The projects come and go. But the joy that I found in my fellow Mitchells–that’s something that’s a bit harder to let go.

I’ve been looking through my hard drive. Over the past year, I’ve created a mess of brief documents–small notes, like digital post-its, nothing on the page but a few sentences. An example from this past November:

“We’ve got a wild suspicion that you, in this day, can make something happen for us. My brother misspeaks.”

I’ve returned to these fragments before and turned them into stories or scenes. But many of them, like the one above, are too vague for me to return to. Or sometimes they never get opened again.

This is how Ireland has been for me–I’m leaving with a mess of brief moments. Listening to Sir John Leslie talk about children cutting a Baron in half with a broad sword. Talking to a Trinity janitor about being unable to have children. Watching Irish men swear at televisions on a GAA game day.

I don’t know what fragments will turn into stories or scenes. Some stories retold for family and friends. Some will be forgotten.

I can choose to feel underwhelmed. Why didn’t I make that film with Nick? Why didn’t I spend more time in Galway with Lauren, Jon, and Michael? From here on, I won’t be in the same city as Nick. I won’t be in a country with the Galway Michells. These are lost opportunities.

I can also look back on the year, and–if I allow myself to feel pleased–I can feel pleased.

I wrote a full-length play that is unlike anything I’ve written before. And I earned this one–lots of late nights, lots of self doubt. The result was a script that Marina Carr said “reads like a male fantasy/nightmare/vaudeville/catastrophe/horror train crash.” This is possibly the greatest compliment I’ve received yet. And from here, I move into producing it in Seattle.

As for the other Mitchells, I suppose if they mean as much to me as I say they do, I have let them into me. I don’t think I “carry them with me” or that “they are a part of me now.” But they have marked me. I am not the same as I was before them. How? A few examples: It seems like Alec reads the entire New York Times every day. That man loves what he loves, and he works hard. I find this damn inspiring. I find myself being motivated to work harder because I’ve been around this man. Lauren Parnell-Marino. I’m not sure if I can pinpoint a single instance, but she makes me want to be a kinder person. This sounds so simple, but it’s not. When you’re exposed to a world of high-functioning people (or any people), you meet a lot of jerks. Being around Lauren is a reminder of how wonderful people can be, and I find myself wishing I were more like her.

Films end. Bus rides end. We end. To be honest with an experience, I think one must acknowledge that it’s come to an end. And so I’m left with that feeling I get when I’m nearing the end of a good book. I drag my feet–I get up to go to the bathroom, I read slowly. I try and stave off that last page. And here in Dublin, I’m dragging my feet. I’m excited for my life and my job back in Seattle, but I’m hesitant to talk about leaving. I don’t want to sell my stereo. But it’s happening soon enough. And when it’s over, I’m going to be filled with gratitude for a challenging year spent with inspiring people.

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