where did i get the fear of acting socially respectable. from looking toward the British as a child in Ireland? As an Irish child in Milton Keynes?
When I emigrated to America we landed in Vegas. July. When we stepped off the plane it was like stepping into a warm engine. We couldn’t find any grass but we found Carl’s Junior quite quickly. My mum became addicted to the fried zucini and buttermilk dip. I was the eldest of three when we landed. Rocky was my hero. So I lifted rocks in the desert. I stole a pair of boxing gloves from K-Mart. Or my friend did. I can’t remember. I spiked my hair like the Russian Ivan Drago cause I felt Russian. More Russian than Irish in America. Even though I had never been to Russia. When I became Mormon I thought the Mormon prophet might send me to Russia on a mission. But that’s another story.
The next eldest was my brother Aaron. He would run up and dow the hallway for hours. He had some kind of mad energy inside him. And then Shantell. Shantell popped out with a personality all ready to go. She was not afraid to speak out and say exactly what she wanted. I kept quiet. Did what I was told. Tried to be perfect. Thought I might be Jesus. Literally. Re-incarnated. I don’t think this anymore.
Why am I writing in memoir mode? I have no idea. In this age of “creative non-fiction” and me me me me. Hm . . what could I do any differently than all those identity driven novels and youtube videos spread out all over the world like a sickness.
Is all writing personal?
Does it matter?
I remember during my MA studying all that rhetorical analysis stuff so i could grow up and teach college composition and thinking maybe I have made it. The only kid out of an eventual 7 to go to university. Where did it come from? I wanted to do something more manly. I worked construction as a teenager. I worked many many jobs. Some of them were:
1) Burger King hamburger cook
2) Sizler disher washer upper
3) concrete mixer and framer
4) cleaner (hospitals and factories)
5) factory shrink wrap worker
6) telemarketer (3 years) (Burpie Seeds, All-State Life Insurance, Direct TV)
7) cleaner, movie introducer at visitor centre of Zion National Park (one of the more interesting jobs. Made friends with Gerald. A Navajo. Went to a sweat lodge etc.)
8) chevron gas attendent (graveyard shift sometimes. listened to alien abduction stories on the radio)
9) J.C. Penny Shoes salesman
(many many many more . . .)
I think the idea of the American dream fueled my desire for university. The idea as the eldest to succeed.
Would I have went to university if we would have stayed in Northern Ireland? Or Milton Keynes? No way of knowing of course.
In some ways I think it is less likely. But in other ways I think I had a “natural” desire to work with the mind more than the body. It wasn’t really in my environment. I mean the desire to be “intellectual” or read a lot. But somehow I think I felt an inclination towards it. I wasn’t discouraged from reading at home of course. But I think I found I got praised for it a little in school. I was good at English. That was my subject. And later anything in the humanities came naturally. Maybe that encouraged me. Also the escape into the imagination. Like most kids I wanted to be someone else. I think it became an obsession. I had natural inclinations towards obsessions. Collecting things. Writing goals all over my walls. I convinced all the people in my middle school when I came to America that I was a real ninja and if the Irish ninjas came looking for me to keep quiet. I was exotic with my Northern Irish accent in Las Vegas so I think the kids believed me. My parents were called in because the teacher thought it might lead to trouble. We were in a somewhat rough immigrant neighborhood in Las Vegas. Someone might call me on it.
But I remember believing this. Really believing I was ninja. Or earlier in Milton Keynes a jedi.
I believed I had some special powers until maybe age 20. Those powers shifted. Once I became a teenager is was more special spiritual powers. Like maybe immortality. Or the ability to heal people with my energies/priesthood.
My identity shifted a lot from Northern Ireland to England to America. From Protestant to Mormon.
Shifts in accents and cultures and so on.
I needed a hero narrative to keep me going.
And I think that is partly the wall I run up against now. What to project onto the future. I have a hard time believing in life after death. Or the personality of “me” continuing outside my body. Never mind from year to year. So there is the now. In the face of complete annihilation even the now seems absurd.
Life at all seems absurd.
I was obsessed with the future until the future caught up with me. I wanted to achieve achieve. I wanted to get a running scholarship to college. So in high school I ran 5-8 miles a day, swam a couple of miles a week etc. The track team also had many kids who wanted to make it by getting a track scholarship to college. We were all in the same boat. Except as the only white kid on the team I had a distinct advantage. Sure my background was working class and I didn’t have examples of family going to college. But being white did make it easier in America of course.
What does it mean to write a life? What is a writing life? I am not writing a life. I am writing on a blog. Blogs are personal. Well not all of course. And there are millions of blogs out there writing the personal. But maybe it is not personal versus “non-personal.” Maybe more about interesting or not interesting? What is interesting? Well depends of course on your audience. And maybe your goal. What is the goal of this? To make sense of time. To make sense of personal narratives? To make sense of memory?
My goal in America was to succeed. Not by making lots of money. Although I had fantasies of making some money and sending it to my family so they could get out of America debt and have less stress in their life. It was more about making it in terms of cultural capital. Maybe becoming a professor. Or an artist. Or a psychologist. Doing something interesting. But that changed. I wanted to write. And I wrote starting early. Like most of those boring interviews with writers where the writer says oh I have been a writer since the age of 3 blah blah blah. But whatever. I wrote and I wanted to remake the world through writing. Like the books that shaped and re-made my world. I wanted to participate in reading through writing.
And now many years and countries and a divorce later what is the goal? How is success measured? Or happiness?
I am adjunct intructor in academic writing at a small private college in London. I make enough to live in a somewhat rough area of London in a one bedroom flat. It is giving me enough money (at the moment) to buy some poetry books. Something I haven’t done in almost six years. I am also in a good relationship. All of that is very important for my happiness. The job is rewarding in that I sometimes get to do something interesting. And it gives me more time than I have had in the last six years of teaching ESL in various countries.
But making it? Or becoming sucessful? That has completely changed since I left America and its dream behind me.
My students are doing their in-class essay as I write this. I don’t know where this came from. Maybe it will lead to a larger project. Maybe it is only an emptying out.
But I do think “creative non-fiction” is boring to me mainly because of the form. The craft aspect. And also the idea of specialness. There are millions of immigrant stories in America. There are millions of me. I am not special. But how the story is told and why. That might be something different.