Friday, November 6, 2015

Feel it All

There is something that happens to me every time I see the Indigo Girls play. Right at that part in the middle of a song, right when Amy is getting so lost in her playing of the guitar, or the banjo or the ukulele, that she starts to bend forwards, towards the violinist whose hair will be hiding her face by then, right as her bow is moving so fast that parts of it are peeling off, flying wild in the air, right when Emily closes her eyes in that circle of light as she hits the highest note, it happens:

I am overcome with the urge to write.

As a writer you might imagine this happens to me a lot, and does happen sometimes, but if I’m honest, an urge like this doesn’t happen all that often. Certainly not as often as I’d like it to. Maybe it’s because I write to deadlines now, that I am working on one thing for longer periods of time with less freedom – even as I write this I am stealing time away from my novel. Maybe it’s because I write out of discipline, routine, sometimes out of fear, that I am less reliant on this urge to make me do it. Whatever the reason, I don’t get this feeling as much as I did last night, the feeling that unless I write right now I’ll lose something, some part of me, that something will be gone forever and I won’t be able to get it back.

There are things I know I will write about that have a different pull. Less of an urge but a slow percolation. A clearing. These are things I know I will not lose. Like how it felt on my wedding day as we heard the first notes of Seasons of Love play and began our journey up the aisle together. Or about my cousin who died suddenly on a Saturday morning last March. These are events that need time and space, things that I know will come to the surface to write about, just not today. But the urge from the concert last night is something different. Something immediate. Something raw.

Me being me, as the concert was happening I was trying to figure out why I felt that way. To think it out, rather than feel it. But the answer isn’t in the thinking. Watching them play, being part of it, is an experience. I am an audience member but I am something else too, I am part of this in some way I don’t understand or maybe I do. Maybe I always have. In the Beacon Theatre last night as in the tiny West Hampton theatre in July or under the open summer skies in Central Park, there is a feeling that builds, that winds its way around us, that before we know it, is holding us all.

I don’t know what the lyrics mean to some of the songs, I don’t know why last night, for the first time, the line you’ve got to find some goodness, some way, somehow brings me to sudden, sharp tears. But then again, maybe I do.

A wise woman I knew once told me that the longest journey you’ll ever take is from your head to your heart. It’s about 11 inches, she said, give or take. And she laughed. I laughed too, because it was funny and what she said sounded clever – the head and heart thing. And I kind of got it, I thought I did, but looking back, I don’t think I got it at all.

Now, I think I do. Now, I think it’s about not just knowing all the lyrics it’s about feeling them, feeling the music underneath – the shape of the music – even when I don’t understand what it all means. Especially then.

So, maybe my urge is inspired by seeing this passion on stage, this complete in-the-moment living of and being lived by music. Maybe witnessing creation makes me want to create. Maybe it’s because it’s women up there doing this, gay women who are so free to be themselves and share the darkest and shiniest and most hidden parts of those selves with us for an hour or two. Maybe it’s because this music, this band, these concerts are things that I have always shared with my wife, that they are, in so many ways a touchstone for us. Maybe it’s because they play the song we danced to at our wedding six weeks ago, and I can’t believe it is only six weeks ago, because since then we have been through so much, and sitting here next to her in her wheelchair, I am so proud of her and so full of love for her, and so conscious of my own humanness, my own limitations.

Maybe it is all of those things.

Maybe it is none of those things.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Maybe what matters is just to feel it.

To let myself feel it.

To feel it all. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

22nd May 2015

I am not in Ireland today. More than anything I want to be in Ireland and I want to list reasons (excuses?) as to why I am not, but it is enough to just say that I am not.

Instead, I am here, in New York City, in a Starbucks at the corner of 103rd and Broadway. I am tired from a big work event last night but I have been awake since early morning. I was greeted by a Facebook message from my uncle that he sent at 7:18am to let me know his "yes" vote had been cast. There was an earlier message from last night too, from an old neighbour, telling me of his intentions to do this same.

When I checked my Irish mobile I had a text from my father. "Queue outside polling booth in Dalkey at 7am this morning," it read. "We have voted. X. Dad."

I am in tears writing this. I have been in tears off and on all morning - sitting in the sun eating my breakfast, tuning into the RTE News at One hearing about the high turnouts at the polling stations. Checking my Twitter feed and seeing the stories of so many home to vote. Here, on my laptop in Starbucks.

A friend I saw this morning has been following this in the New York Times, as many of my friends have. "When did Ireland turn from such a bastion of conservatism into a country on the brink of making history with gay marriage?" he asked. I told him I don't know. Because I don't know where this new Ireland came from, is coming from. I am only so very grateful that I am a part of it.

The tears this morning are for many things, I suspect years of things, decades of things. They are tears for the 17 year old me, in hiding, frightened, alone, unable to say the words out loud even to myself and for all the 17 year olds whose lives will be changed by the result of this vote today. They are tears of sadness because I am not in Ireland today, where more than anything I want to be, to use my own vote, my own voice. But mostly, they are for those other voices - the voice of my mother, my father, my uncle, aunts, cousins, friends, former colleagues, clients, classmates, teachers, strangers - voices that will be heard today, voices that are chiming in with mine.

More than anything I hope the outcome will be what I want, what those voices want, that tomorrow we have an Ireland we can all be proud of. But regardless of the result tomorrow, those voices matter.

Because every "yes" is not just saying yes to my right to marry in Ireland.

They are saying: "Yes, we see you."

"Yes, we accept you."

"Yes, you matter."

They are saying:

"Yes, you belong."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

What's in a word?

I am in the bank.

“Date of birth?” the cashier asks.

I tell her and she smiles - an action that transforms her from a bank teller into a real person.

“That’s in two days,” she says. “Happy Birthday. Do you have any plans?”

I have plans that involve the cinema, a hidden burger joint and ice cream sundaes. I am 41 going on five, but she doesn’t need to know this.

“Just a few things lined up,” I say. “I’m spending the day with my – wife.”

I don’t know if she hears it – the pause – but I do. Half way through the sentence I’d seen the word “wife” looming and that millisecond of a pause had been my taking the time to decide whether to say it, or not.

For the last fifteen months I have been making that decision, practising using the word “wife” in various settings. I have a strange relationship with the word. I put this down to the fact that for most of my life, a wife was something I was supposed to aspire to be, not something – or someone – I was supposed to want. And yet I did, and yet I do.

All this practice has made it easier, like building muscles. It’s less of a hurdle now, most of the time when I see it coming I jump, glide, soar right over it with hardly any effort. This is New York City, after all, and since 2009 wives have had wives and husbands have had husbands. Walking down the street, hand in hand with mine, it rarely now ever crosses my mind that someone might do a double take or have something to think about that, much less something to say.

But this is a bank. And old habits die hard. 

When I look at the cashier, she’s still smiling, possibly even wider than before.

“My birthday’s at the end of the month,” she says. “My fiancĂ©e is taking me to Florida, I’ve never been.”

“That’s nice. What part?”

“Daytona,” she says. “Her friends have a place there.  We’ll stay with them.”

It takes me a second to hear it “her friends” but when I do, I smile too. At the thought of her birthday plans and of mine. At how simple life can be if we let it.

Walking up Seventh Avenue in the sunshine, I am thinking of the interaction in the bank and of the referendum in Ireland, about the focus on the importance of words like “marriage” and “wife” and “husband.” I’ve heard questions posed again and again about why this needs to be called marriage anyway? Isn’t Civil Partnership almost the same thing? Wouldn’t it be simpler to leave the word marriage out of it entirely?

Until you’ve come out, I think it’s hard to understand how frightening this can be, how big it is, how deep it goes. That it’s not something you do once but instead something you have to do over and over and over again. I don’t wear a biker jacket or have a shaved head. I usually save my rainbow T-shirts for Gay Pride week. People assume I’m straight, until I tell them otherwise. When I say I am married, people assume I am married to a man. Every day – sometimes many times a day – I am faced with the choice while doing simple every day things, to come out of hiding or not: I’ll wait for my wife to come until I order. It might be listed under my wife’s name. Not my husband actually, my wife.

This is part of every LGBT experience, it is not unique to people who are married but marriage changes it, or at least it changed it for me. There can be some ambiguity in terms like “girlfriend” or “partner.” But there is no ambiguity when I say “my wife.” There is nowhere for me to hide.

The thing about hiding is that it becomes a habit. And if you were ever in hiding chances are there’s a damn good reason you were there in the first place, that it was scary to be seen. I’ve written about my sexuality in national newspapers. I’ve read from my novels at LGBT events and answered questions from the audience. I’ve talked in radio interviews about coming out. And yet sometimes, like that day in the bank, it is still scary. But then I remember, that when I allow myself to be seen, that tiny action allows others to be seen too.

The “no” side in this referendum want you to be confused, to think that this referendum is about many things, but it is only about one thing: it is about love. By voting “yes” on May 22nd you are validating and affirming the right my wife and I have to love each other, to care for each other, to commit our lives to each other the way a man and woman can. You are saying that you see us and our relationship as it is. And that it is equal to everyone else’s.

Civil Partnership is not the same thing as marriage, in rights or in name. A woman having a child within a Civil Partnership will be registered in Irish maternity hospitals as a “single mother.” There will be one name on the baby’s birth certificate and should anything happen to her, her Civil Partner has no rights over that child at all. Whether we like it or not, words matter, these definitions matter. They define who we are, how others see us and, ultimately, the people we can become.

I am a wife and I have a wife and I want Irish women who want wives and Irish men who want husbands to have that too. I want little girls to grow up being able to imagine their beautiful bride walking alongside them up the aisle, I want boys to celebrate weddings where their uncle or their brother or their Dad is getting married to a man they love. I want to live in a world where the foundation of a family is love and security, not a penis and a vagina.

These might be big things to want, or maybe not. Actually, they feel like simple things. To stand in a bank on a Thursday afternoon – on Seventh Avenue in New York or Dalkey Main Street – and to be able to say “I’m spending the day with my wife.”

Without having to pause.

Friday, March 13, 2015

8 Week Writing Class at Irish Arts Center

OK, so we won't be writing on old fashioned typewriters like this and there are unlikely to be any martinis (unless of course you bring them yourself) but my writing class at the Irish Center starting in April is worth checking out all the same

I discovered a few years back that I love teaching creative writing. It makes sense, after all I love to write and I love to talk about writing.  I've been lucky enough to teach as part of the Irish Times Training Course in Dublin,  at the New York Public Library here in Manhattan and of course my students at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, many of whom are homeless.

These classes have had different students at different levels but what they all have in common is an interest and a desire to write, to learn about writing and often, to tell their own story. Writing can be an isolating business and having the opportunity to help people feel more connected with their work and to share what I have learned through writing my three novels is a really fulfilling way for me to spend a Wednesday evening. And a fun one too.

So what will the class be like? We'll cover the basic writer's toolbox - developing characters, writing effective dialogue, scene setting, beginnings, endings and just about everything in between. But I also hope to cover some of the less tangible aspects of writing and thrash around some key questions. Questions like: How do you find your own writing voice? Or how do you know if this is the right story for you? And a big important one - how do you know if you have finished, or if you have just run out of steam!

Classes start on April 15th and run every Wednesday evening from 7- 8:30pm until June 3rd. Rate is $170 for non Irish Arts Center members and of course there's a discount if you are a member of the IAC. Check out the link below and if you'd like more information before committing you can always drop me an email at

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

For Connecticut Muffin on Montague Street

  1. The WiFi didn’t always work.
  2. The vinyl seats – the big ones upstairs, the ones like couches – were pretty worn. Some people might call them shabby.
  3. Even though the table next to the bathroom was big, you were better off choosing one of the other ones near the front, because the smell wasn’t always the freshest.
  4. At lunchtime or late afternoon, kids came in and clustered six or eight around one table, and it was hard to get anything done, almost impossible, even with headphones.
 I am trying to count reasons why I shouldn’t be sad that Connecticut Muffin on Montague Street has closed down, reasons that should convince me that I will, in fact, be better off writing somewhere else. And that’s as many as I can muster – four.

If I am going to do this properly, be rigorous about it, I should make another list too – a list of reasons why I wish it wasn’t closing. But that list would be full of feelings, and feelings are much harder to describe. And they don’t fit on a list. And sometimes feelings aren’t even real, sometimes you only think they are.

Standing on the street, looking at the newspaper plastering the inside of the windows, my feelings are real. Shock, that comes first - I was only here on Friday.  And it turns out that what they say in books about people’s feet being rooted to the spot when they’re in shock is true, because I can’t seem to turn around and walk away, just like I can’t seem to read beyond the first line of the little white sign that says they’re closed, but I can’t seem to look at anything else either. And even though shock isn’t finished yet – it’s only settling in – another feeling elbows it out of the way. Sadness. And in this city of a thousand coffee shops I am crying. I am crying because this coffee shop has closed.

I shouldn’t be crying. It’s a coffee shop. No-one is dead, no-one is dying. It is ridiculous to cry.

And yet, I am.

If I was to write a list of the reasons why I am crying, a list that would make you understand, I would tell you that a lot of my last novel was written here, and that since I started my new one, this coffee shop has become (had become) the only place where it seems I can write it.  Tuesdays and Fridays are my writing days, and you’ll find me on the 2 train, heading downtown and into Brooklyn, getting out at Clark Street with an excitement even the slowest lifts in the world can’t dampen. Down Henry Street, past my favourite church, onto Montague, and I’m at my “desk” – the big table upstairs in the front– by 9:45am, writing by 10. I have 20,000 words or so now that I’m almost happy with and they’ve all been written here, nowhere else, and standing looking at the newspaper covered windows I can’t help but feel as though my characters are trapped inside.

So maybe after reading that, you might understand a little more. You might cut me a break. And when I told you how I love their Vanilla Chai Tea Latte made with almond milk and that finding one of those –especially a good one - is hard, you might nod. And when I described how Madeline would have this made for me every morning before I even ordered it, how she would start to steam the almond milk while I claimed my table upstairs and have it ready by the time I was at the counter, you would probably see that this place was no Starbucks. You might even begin to see that this coffee shop, a little shabby as it was, was more than just a coffee shop. At least to me.

I like Starbucks, by the way. I write there too. In fact I am writing in Starbucks now, a block away from my old coffee shop. I am drinking a chai tea latte (soy milk, not almond) and their WiFi is working, as it always is. The vinyl in this Starbucks is less than two years old, it’s not worn yet. So relocating here, bringing my characters with me here, shouldn’t be a problem, right? It certainly shouldn’t be cause for tears.

And yet, it is.

Because it’s not just about my book being born in that other coffee shop, or the big table like a desk overlooking Montague Street, or even Madeline and the almond milk chai. It’s all of that and more than that – something else, another feeling, something that doesn’t fit on a list at all.

I’m not from New York. I’m from a place that’s much smaller, a place where it’s not unusual to know the name of the person behind the counter in the newsagents or the butcher’s or the coffee shop. Last month, when I was home, I was in the local Starbucks (we have those too) and the woman working there remembered my drink order and apologised for not instantly getting my name right. I didn’t take it personally – after all it has been three years since I moved away.

And this knowing everyone and everyone knowing you can be suffocating – I found suffocating – and anonymity was just one of the hundreds of things about New York I fell in love with, right from the start. And I still love this. I love how I can get on a subway and not worry about getting stuck making small talk to an old work colleague or someone from school. I love how my business stays my business unless I choose to make it yours too. I love how, running in Riverside Park, listening to Macklemore on my iPhone I can throw my hands in the air at the part of “Victory Lap” where he throws his hands in the air. Because no-one knows me. And no-one will talk about me. And no-one will care.

And yet...

Writing this, as often happens me when I’m writing, I am explaining something to you and something to me at the very same time. And I can see how, after three years of living here, that I have carved out spaces, pockets of the city that have become mine. And how even though I love New York’s density, its energy and its anonymity, its swirl of lives and voices and footsteps, that without having these spaces just for me, I might somehow get lost. That whether life is up or life is down or life is flat-lining, I need these spaces to stay the same, to be there for me. I need people to know my name.

And this little coffee shop that was a little shabby inside, might not have looked like much to you, but it was one of my spaces.

And that, to me, makes it worthy of a few tears. 

Maybe even more than just a few.