An Irish Christmas Selection Box

It’s Christmas week, and we’ve already ended up with more chocolate selection boxes than is good for us, which is traditional. I can’t share those with you, but I would like to share a selection box of some of the things I’ve enjoyed online from Ireland this Christmas season…

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Snapchats, Stories, Fleets, and Glories

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Snapchat is drowning in it. Twitter’s recent addition of “Fleets” to the top of their feed looks like what Instagram, Facebook, and Linkedin call “Stories,” and all of them work off the same principle that launched Snapchat to prominence: impermanence. It can be daunting to think that what goes up online never comes down, and the solution from every social app is now to offer a way to post temporarily. Now you can say what you like and dance how you please, knowing that after 24 hours the evidence will be gone and no one will be able to cancel you for it in twenty years. Usually the strings of temporary stories at the top of my news feeds are filled with simple pictures or short videos of everyday moments like stencilled coffees, beautiful sunsets, and random complaints. Sometimes they are encouraging thoughts or recommendations. Whatever they are, if you don’t look at them in their allotted time, you’ll miss them. 

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The night before Christmas 2020 (a spoken word poem)

This year is different. We all feel the tension between it and our holiday celebrations. That’s what this spoken word poem is about:

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If You’re Easy To Please, You’ll Be Pleased More Often

“You’re easy to please” should be a compliment. That’s what I think, even though I know it isn’t used that way. I know the people saying it usually mean that you’re undiscerning, childish, and too quick to give approval where it isn’t warranted. What I want to know is: What are you supposed to be waiting for, before you let yourself be pleased?

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Five Kernels Of Corn

Growing up in America, Thanksgiving Day was one of the highlights of the whole year. Some years my family travelled to feast with others, other years guests came to feast with us. I remember the leaf piles, laughter, and Atari games with my cousins, and when we were home, I remember the five kernels of corn. 

We would sit at tables that had been fully extended, knowing that the biggest feast of the year was waiting in the kitchen. We could smell it. We could nearly taste it. The tables were dressed up with the best tablecloths and plates, and on each one of those plates were five carefully counted kernels of corn. Before we ate them, my mom reminded us why they were there: she told us about the Pilgrims who landed in the new world seeking religious freedom, and how they struggled to survive those early winters in the wilderness. She told us how local Native American tribes helped the struggling Pilgrims, teaching them the right times and ways to fish and grow crops in a new environment. But then, just when they started to get ahead, a ship full of new settlers arrived without food supplies. To keep themselves alive, the entire settlement was reduced to a ration of just five kernels of corn a day. Could you imagine? Somehow, they made it through that winter and lived to bring in a good harvest the next year. As they celebrated that harvest with the local tribes who had helped them, they began their feast together with a reminder: five kernels of corn were placed on each plate, “lest anyone forget”.

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The Plot Twists In My Own Story

I recently finished my first Agatha Christie novel, after hearing my whole life about how good her mysteries are. Yes, it was good. At one point or another I thought almost every character was the murderer. The plot kept twisting through the pages in such unexpected ways that I had no choice but to check out of reality for the rest of the day in order to find out what happened. Good thing it was my day off.

One of the wonderfully frustrating things that I love and hate about books is that they take a long time to get through. A movie is fast—the action carries me along to a conclusion in a matter of hours. A book is slow (compounded for me by my slow reading pace), leaving me in suspense for ages while I wade through details and conversations and descriptions to find the next big revelation. In that sense, a book is a little more like real life, where the action doesn’t happen in a quick succession that always ties up neatly just before the credits. Real life is full of pauses—evenings and mornings and dirty dishes. A book that takes multiple days to read allows me to live inside the story longer, to enter further into the feelings of the characters who are living through the unknown. For a few days, I’m living there with them. And while a movie is always viewed from a third-person perspective, in a book I can think the characters’ thoughts with them. I can see the plot twists unfold through their eyes. Which feels familiar, because it’s how I see the plot twists unfold in my own life.

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We Get Used To Things

When we moved to Ireland, we were cold all the time. Our bodies were used to heat, and for all the truly wonderful things Ireland has to offer, it simply doesn’t come with that feature. There’s a reason the Romans called this island “Hibernia”, the “land of winter”. But unlike the Romans, we stuck around. At first, we got funny looks from our neighbours because we wore coats even when they were breaking out their shorts. Over time, though, we acclimatised. Now we say “It’s roasting”, and mean it, on days we used to describe as chilly. Our temperature scale really is different. Once, when we visited America, one of our young children asked me, greatly concerned: “Dad—I’m getting wet? On my forehead..?” He didn’t know about sweat yet. He didn’t know that I grew up in sweat. When he walks out the door into an Irish summer, he doesn’t hit a wall of heat and humidity, and neither do I anymore. We’re Hibernians now.

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Do Not Put Your Trust In Princes (A Poem)

This poem is inspired by Psalm 146 and by the year 2020:

Do not put your trust in princes
Do not hang your hopes on them
Their power and their prominence
Will soon come to an end

They will promise you security
(They always have a plan)
But if they save the future
It will soon need it again Continue reading Do Not Put Your Trust In Princes (A Poem)

The Church Is Not A TV Show

Ireland is in the midst of her second Coronavirus lockdown, where the restrictions include an order that “church services move online”. The government’s goal is to limit physical interaction wherever possible, while still keeping prioritised institutions open—primarily schools and crèches, and also certain elite sports and greyhound racing (?). Church gatherings are considered to be an unnecessary risk, and have been banned not only in the current Level 5 restrictions, but also in the lower Levels 3-4 as well. While churches do (mostly) have the ability to broadcast aspects of their services, the blunt requirement to “move online” displays a misunderstanding of what the church is, how it works, and the role it plays in society.

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Strong Trees Don’t Grow Overnight

A few weeks ago, I posted a poem about an oak tree. In the poem, and in my mind, oak trees are big, spreading trees with thick trunks and impressive reach. They are a picture of solid stability, untouched by passing storms. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? With Ireland now entering another full lockdown for at least the next six weeks, the ability of oak trees to stand unshaken in a turbulent world is enviable. Right now things look awfully unsteady, from where I’m sitting. 

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