Bitching Brew

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A response.

I've had several e-mails in response to my last post; it attracted more comment than anything I've ever posted, from friends and strangers alike. It's always good to provoke, stimulate and get feedback. Especially heartening were the three e-mails empathising with my current feelings - from fellow travellers, nonetheless. I'm still working on replies to everyone who wrote; fear not, I'll get around to each of you!

Until then, I've decided to post to my blog one of the responses I composed today. I've edited it slightly, of course, but I think it sheds some light and expands upon the more impressionist piece I wrote last week. I stand by my earlier post; it reads exactly as I intended.

I'm delighted you cast a critical eye! I've had more e-mails regarding that post than anything I've written in a long time; I'm quite heartened by it. Remember that my blog is a snapshot of my mood; it's meant to be impressionist. There are many places, things and atmospheres I miss about Dublin. For instance, nothing here can match Howth Head, or the coast between Sandymount and Killiney. Yet while I'm aware of those charms, they resonate so very weakly this June.

The emigrant's, exile's, or ex-pat's relationship with his hometown will always be ambivalent. The relationship ends (or pauses) not with great enthusiasm, but with mixed feelings. Certainly, a new home can be embraced with gusto, but one's decision to leave is never whole-hearted.

"When I die, Dublin will be written in my heart." - James Joyce

I hear Joyce's words, and indeed understand them, but he took years - decades even - to reach that point. The disdain and condescension are unwelcome, but I think it proper to record them. Are they consequences of a new attachment? Perhaps. (No wonder English still grants gender to cities and countries.) What happens when the foreign grass is greener? I've felt comfortable here for many months, but I never expected to call it 'home' so soon. I shall soon test how ephemeral that word is. I want to document this emotional journey. I'm trying to tease out how this happened - how these bonds form and affect older ones. In early spring, I would have been content, though not joyful, to return for a year. Now the prospect appals me.

My emotions are going to swing back and forth over this one. Yet I refuse to be the prodigal son who, on his return, sours every relationship with constant moaning and bleating. I'd rather get a lot of this out of my system now. Dublin's faults are clearer than ever, and all the better. If I did return with rosy glasses, they'd smog up fairly fast; I'd endure a very bleak winter. Some of those faults, I fear, are incorrigible, but others are not. Like any critical eye looking back, I have solutions. And why can't I apply one? I need a dose of entrepreneurial spirit, some venture capital, the right contacts, and faith in De Peepel. Ho hum.

Like New York, Dublin's rudeness is coupled to a gruff friendliness. The sketches in Different Class are a fine portrait of teenage life on the Northside, and indeed, many a young adult's life as well. Again, it's a personal impression: I see by my mirror, not through a camera. Sure, the same experience could be had in many cities, but I had it in Dublin. And the northern English industrial city? I speak not of the architecture, but of the people. We all know Dublin largely skipped the age of heavy industry. But it is, in many ways, an English city, and a very English culture. The links are not with London and the Home Counties, but with the working-class culture of northern England, oft treated as provincial and backward by their southern elite. Certainly, the old Irish middle-class aspires to the southern English example. (O, D4 - and the university town.) Yet our modern middle-class are upwardly mobile - they share the same roots we do. We're the last of the old culture, my friend. The Lock-Out shaped it more than the Rising ever could have. The kids flowing into our colleges know only the Celtic Tiger; those excluded are more adrift and disaffected than ever. In the decades ahead, those bonds with northern England may sunder. But not yet.

I've had three replies from fellow travellers; two are back in Ireland, while one is still on the road. All three have passed through the same stages of contempt for our home country. One is uneasily reconciled, the second fermenting, and the third black with bile. My emotions aren't unique, and that warms me. Dublin is not and will not be London or New York, a hub of anglophone culture. That's not an indictment: none of Manchester, Melbourne, Toronto or Cleveland stack up to those two - but they each contribute richly. What infuriates me - and fuels the irrational loathing - is the pissed-away potential. Dublin could be so much more, and I speak as much of the people as the structures; they hold one another down. I won't stay contemptuous, but I'll always be ambivalent. That is my lot - our lot - in the diaspora. I think it's a feeling worth telling.

More thoughts, anyone?

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