I’ve always wanted to be someone with whom people associated adjectives like “cultured” and “artsy.” “Eccentric” would be ideal. I’ve wanted to attend plays in the middle of the day, and lose myself in the obscurity of discussion over a pint at night. As luck would have it, I’m currently in Derry/Londonderry where I can achieve such goals while also doing something productive – earning my master’s degree in applied peace and conflict studies at the University of Ulster – Magee.
On Sunday while the town sleeps or goes to church, I spend time surfing the internet for whatever activities are on for the week. A play about the move from violence to nonviolence in the context of Israel and Palestine on Monday at 11? Yes, please and thank you. Surfing in Bundoran on a Saturday afternoon with another Mitchell or solo on a Tuesday? I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf. On Wednesdays I go with friends from my academic program, as one girl from Belfast puts it, to discuss things and be “all intellectual.” These Wednesday-night gatherings often result in stories of tradition, politics, and occasionally embarrassment, which carry us through the week to the next Wednesday outing. Irish humor is in full force on Wednesdays, and it’s keep up or stay home … and what would be the fun in that? Wednesdays are my weekly reminder of the art of storytelling because whoever can convey it best on Thursday morning usually wins the “what happened last night” debate.
Storytelling is an art. In Derry/Londonderry there is a movement of storytelling toward healing and understanding. I am currently enrolled in an eight-week course based on this idea. I have the opportunity to attend plays oriented toward telling stories as a way to break down barriers and to take measurable steps toward understanding, if not achieve it. A few nights ago we attended the Theatre of Witness, which brings audiences together to bear witness to the stories of those who haven’t had a voice in society. The performance I saw focused on the stories of six men – a soldier, a former RUC detective, a car-bombing survivor, former prisoners, and prison governor. I walked in, telling myself I was going in with an open mind. But I’m not sure if that can ever be true, since we carry our prejudices with us – if not on our sleeves, then buried somewhere in our minds. I walked away seeing some of my classmates in a new light – hearing them tell their stories, the one that gets to the core of who they are or watching them take in what was happening on stage.
Over the next several weeks, we’ll do more of that, and I think that the chance to listen is the best opportunity the Mitchell Scholarship will give me. Maybe I won’t manage to acquire enough oddities to be considered eccentric, but at least I’ll learn a bit along the way.