Certainty of Death, Small Chance of Success

This is going to be rather a long post, so brace yourself or just give this one a miss. Personally, I think it’s worth a read. But then again, I am a little biased.

Firstly, the Easter Rising. I don’t want to say too much in the way of background, or even commentary, because it’s a complicated thing and I’m not Irish. But I’ll give you some cursory details and a bit of my personal experience and understanding and leave it at that.

For those of you who didn’t look it up last week, the Easter Rising was a sort of armed rebellion in Ireland, mostly Dublin, pressing for Irish independence from the British Empire in 1916. Americans, myself included, don’t often think of Ireland as a colony, but it totally was. Anyway, the Rising began on Easter Monday with the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office. Essentially, there was a great deal of fighting all week with the rebels surrendering on Saturday. The GPO was almost totally destroyed, along with much of the surrounding neighborhood and central Dublin. Almost five hundred people died, over half of which were civilians, including forty children. All the planners of the Rising were executed. The Irish Free State was established in 1922 following three years of a war for independence as a British Dominion under home rule, followed by a further year of civil war. The Republic was declared in 1949 after the passage of a new constitution in 1937 and here we are, in the Republic of Ireland/Poblacht na hÉireann.

Anyway, the commemorations. They were omnipresent and comprehensive. Selected post boxes (normally green) were painted red, the color they were under British rule. Huge posters and sheets were up on buildings denoting specific events, picturing what the building looked like in 1916, with important figures from the history of the Irish independence movement, or simply with the 1916/2016 logo. On Sunday, there was a parade, as per usual, with an extensive military presence. An Uachtarán and Taoiseach (President and Prime Minister) were present, there was a wreath-laying at the GPO, and the Proclamation was read out. I watched this all from the comfort of the home of my pastor, where we had met for brunch and a ‘service’ because our normal church location was within the cordoned off zone of the city center. Afterwards, I went into town to see some of the aftermath and take some pictures.

On Easter Monday, also a state holiday, I went back into town for more 1916 (because I hadn’t gotten enough, apparently). I was lucky enough to be near (within earshot) of the Royal College of Surgeons when they laid the wreath (simultaneously to variety of other sites across the country) and played the national anthem on the bagpipes. If you’re unfamiliar with the Irish national anthem, familiarize yourself. It’s quite a song. Anyway, I wandered around St Stephen’s Green where they had set up a sort of period fair sort of thing. People had stilts and hula hoops, basically. One of my professors, the Wednesday before, referred to the “fetishization of 1916” and he was right on the mark. Ah, there’s so much to share but this post is already so long. If you have specific questions, I encourage you to ask (either me or Google, it’s all good). There was a lot going on, and things will continue for some time, I expect.

I saw a newspaper article on Easter Sunday about the Rising and commemorations and everything. I want to share the beginning of it with you, just to give you a small taste of being Irish in 2016 and how everything fits (or fails to fit) into the history and the present of this Irish Republic. The headline was Our Rebel Hearts.


“It is fitting, isn’t it, that we can’t agree what it was about, or what it achieved, or what its legacy is, or how best to commemorate it. We could barely agree when to commemorate it. Easter, a movable feast, a date that shifts. Nothing is immutable in Ireland. Everything is up for change.”

I don’t know, like I said, I’m not Irish. But there’s one Irishman’s thoughts. How much is truly up for change, who can say. But a century on from 1916 certainly offers an opportunity to visualize the next century for Ireland and all the promises and challenges therein. And with that, I turn to a discussion of a different set of rebel hearts–the ones for which a certain Jew died approximately 2,000 years ago–and the annual commemoration thereunto appertaining.

You may know that I often really agonize coming up with titles for these posts. I feel like they are such a focal point, and I typically muse them over at length. This week was especially difficult to decide. Candidates included Cuimhnigh, Déan Machnamh, Athshamhlaigh (that’d be Remember, Reflect, Reimagine as the slogan for commemoration events outlined above) and Shepherd! or There’s Another Country (for reasons outlined below). But I went with this memorable Gimli quote and I’ll tell you why.

Basically, life is a terminal condition. And I don’t mean this in a depressing way (for once), but just as an observation of the inevitability of mortality. And, in the end, most of us will have little impact on the greater course of history. It just sort of is what it is. But life is life, too. And, as Gimli reminds us, what are we waiting for?

There’s a grand struggle about living in the world on a variety of levels. On the one hand, you have, like, spiritual warfare. On the other, you have, like, summoning the will to leave the house this week. Somewhere in between, you have the sorts of things that I often talk about in this blog: structural inequality, violence, systemic racism ect, ect, ect. Sometimes I feel like a part of that small group of soldiers standing outside the Black Gate. Quaking in tremendous fear. We, like they, cannot achieve victory through strength of arms. But by participating in the fight, we can participate in the victory. There’s something powerful about yelling and running into the fray. For Frodo. For a cause infinitely greater than ourselves. It’s not a perfect metaphor (no metaphor is–that’s why it’s a metaphor), but I think there’s something to it. For those of you less metaphorically inclined, I’m talking about Easter.

Anyway, just a few final thoughts for this week. I know I said that April was going to be a poetry month. And it will be. But I never said that March wasn’t going to be. So here, on this final day of the month, I have a couple things for you. The first is just a single stanza from a larger work by Cecil Spring Rice, some of you may be familiar with it–the third stanza of The Two Fatherlands well known through the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country. The first two stanzas talk of patriotism and the sacrifices that the speaker is willing to make for love of country. It’s very nationalistic, but also influenced by the devastation of the Great War. The third stanza, though, takes a different tone altogether, it it’s what I think is relevant this week. So here it is.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a full poem. This is a translation from the Spanish by Longfellow of a poem by Lope de Vega called El Buen Pastor or The Good Shepherd. It’s a lovely and delicate sonnet. I find it moving any time, but particularly poignant in these days surrounding Easter. I’ll let it speak for itself and you may think of it as you wish.

Shepherd! who with thine amorous, sylvan song

Hast broken the slumber that encompassed me,

Who mad’st thy crook from the accursed tree,

On which thy powerful arms were stretched so long!

Lead me to mercy’s ever-flowing fountains;

For thou my shepherd, guard, and guide shalt be;

I will obey thy voice, and wait to see

Thy feet all beautiful upon the mountains.

Hear, Shepherd! thou who for thy flock art dying,

Oh, wash away these scarlet sins, for thou

Rejoicest at the contrite sinner’s vow.

Oh, wait! to thee my weary soul is crying,

Wait for me! Yet why ask it, when I see,

With feet nailed to the cross, thou’rt waiting still for me!

Whence Cometh Help

In some ways, I feel like this week has been the deep breath before the plunge. The calm before the storm. The split second before you realize you’ve run over a chipmunk. In other ways, this week has been a plunge, storm, and dead chipmunk. Allow me to elaborate.

This week has marked the beginning of assignment-turning-in season for us REC folks. Of course, it really was last week with the research proposal, but I’m choosing not to think about that because reasons. Anyway, this week’s assignment, completed and submitted this morning, was the first of many for actual classes. And I’m glad this was the first one because it sort of eased me into it–I wrote it like a blog post.

Also, last night was the first performance of Elijah and I think it went really well. It really is just such a fun piece to sing–it runs the whole spectrum of violent-triumphant-sorrowful-comforting. I don’t know about you, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you’re able to find a good recording somewhere. I think my favorite movements are It Is Enough, a bass solo sung by Elijah. Tremendously touching and sad. In terms of choral movements, it’s tough to say, I might go for Behold! God the Lord Passed By or Then Did Elijah. It’s just really a remarkable work, I love it (if you hadn’t gotten that yet). Anyway, tonight’s the second and final performance, should be lovely.

And, sorry, but the incredibly depressing is sort of unavoidable in my course of study. Today, we had a wonderful guest speaker talking about inequality and the wealth management profession. Basically, wealth managers are the people who work for the unbelievably rich to protect their wealth and anonymity. Part of that includes things like tax havens, which are often talked about, but a variety of other things. It’s no surprise that massive wealth enables people to do basically whatever they want. But this talk just fleshed out some things that I frankly can’t fully comprehend because I’m not fabulously wealthy and probably never will be. I know it’s a thing to talk about money influencing government and things like that, but in some places wealth managers have been contacted directly by governments or tax representatives in order to negotiate laws and policies that work best for their wealthy clients. What.

And, interestingly, we hear a lot about the Cayman Islands and Switzerland but a lot of this sort of thing is being done in the US and UK. Also, just a note, wealth and income are not the same. So we talk about income inequality often, but what about wealth which isn’t income and can be passed between generations? The speaker actually used the term feudalism to describe some parts of what is going on. How did we get here? Anyway, I can’t give a rundown of the entire talk, but suffice to say it was sobering, angering, and sort of baffling. The world, guys. The world.

I don’t even think I can write any more about it right now. It’s just such a thing. I can’t handle it. I sort of get that capitalism and things. Inequality is and will be with us. BUT INEQUALITY IS BAD. Even if we’re going to live with some, these levels are unconscionable. Horrific. And indisputably getting worse. Guys. Ugh.

I’m going to take a second to transition to the next paragraph. Deep breath.


So back to dead chipmunks. Things have sort of been crazy. Lots of assignment-doing (and even more procrastination). Things are getting done but it’s been sort of torturous. Loads more assignments on the way. Also, last week was St Patrick’s Day, this week is concert week, this weekend is Easter… lots of things. The first week of April is the last week of classes but the month will be full of essay writing. Very full. Then full-time dissertationing.

On the note of this weekend, though, I will write a brief note and you can expect a thorough description in next week’s post. Not only is this Sunday Easter, but it is also the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. If you’re not familiar with the Rising, look it up. I will also probs give some background next week. But basically the country has been going insane in the run-up for it and there’s going to be plenty to say, I expect. Also, I’ve decided that April’s going to be another poetry month here. So if you’re into that sort of thing, get pumped. And if you’re not, I don’t really care. I have some pretty great selections in mind. Not necessarily spring-themed, just poetry.

Anyway, I’ve got to get changed for the concert. Until next week, then.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Firstly, in a really contrary spirit to today’s festivities, I want to get you a bit up to speed on Nightmares in Dissertation Writing. Today featured Episode II: The Research Proposal which is due tomorrow. The actual process of writing the proposal hasn’t been horrible (though I’m a touch scared that I’ve messed up the formatting, can’t imagine it being a huge issue at this stage). The main problem is that I’m a disaster.

Soy un desastre.

I don’t know what it is. Well, I kind of do. But. Throughout my academic career, I’ve been a pretty good student. I’ve been mostly committed to school, enjoyed learning, and done all my work. In college, my method for dealing with procrastination (to which I often fall victim) was to simply assign myself earlier deadlines. I could procrastinate all I wanted, but to an earlier date so that, if things got really bad, I would still have an extra week or so to finish. In grad school, that hasn’t worked for me. I’ve driven myself insane looking at a blank Word document (actually, I usually at least head it) and trying to will myself to write and watching Netflix instead. Or whatever the distraction of the moment is. It’s been kind of the worst. I won’t deny that I’m currently working on this post as a means of procrastinating. Ugh. I will finish in time and it will be fine. But it will be fine once I’ve finished, until then, it’s fear and self-loathing in Stoneybatter.

I don’t want to talk loads about my topic because a) you guys probs won’t actually care that much b) it’s sort of complicated and c) I’m better at explaining it in person (hopefully that will change by the time I hand in my dissertation). But for now, at least, I’ll give you a preliminary title.

Portrayals of Autochthonous Language Minorities in Norway: Sami and Nynorsk.

And if that doesn’t turn you onto sociology, nothing will. Isn’t autochthonous an awesome word? So glad I found it. It makes me feel like I’m actually earning a Master of Philosophy degree. Only Masters of Philosophy would use such a word as autochthonous.

Anyway, in the realm of things that you actually care about: St Patrick’s Day! Sorry to disappoint (slash not really disappointing if no one was expecting anything else from me) but I’m super lame and will not be participating in any shenanigans in honor of the religious holiday during Lent. Which, when I realized that St Patrick’s Day was during Lent, I giggled. Apparently it’s a day off, because that’s a thing, yeah? If it makes you feel better, I am wearing green.

Also, a bit of history for you, celebrating today like we think of celebrating it (at least, we Americans) is actually an American thing. No one here eats corned beef and cabbage–like, ever, not just today–and the whole crazy parades and everything is largely a product of the Irish diaspora in the US which was then exported back to Ireland a few decades ago. Previously in Ireland, it was mainly commemorated by a grim (I imagine) military parade because religion=politics because Ireland. Though in all fairness, religion is pretty political everywhere, whether you like it or not.

And I cannot give you a phonetic pronunciation of this week’s title because I don’t know how it’s pronounced. I do know Patrick, which is Paw-drig, but your guess is as good as mine for fhéile. I think la is pretty straightforward. I’d probably go for Fey-luh. If you know, please comment and enlighten us all.

So, sorry about my super boring life. But, um, lame and proud? Anyway, great things in the coming week or so. Next Wednesday and Thursday are the Choral Society concerts, Elijah if you recall. Super pumped, it’s just such a great piece. Then, it’s Good Friday and Easter and a whole thing about this particular Easter in this particular place…. but that last is a subject for another post. Suffice to say, things are happening. I have loads of work. The term is almost over. How did we get here. It’s almost April which is almost summer which is almost the rest of my life. What.

I think that about covers it for this week. Work, I’m lame, more work, holidays, Ireland things. Until next week, I guess.



A Calm Almond in My Palm

It has recently come to my attention that certain sectors of the English-speaking world pronounce a selection of words–namely, calm, almond, and palm–in n extraordinarily strange way. This mispronunciation is not due strictly to accent, but to an actual differing interpretation of the meaning of letters in the English alphabet. Upon further investigation into both the Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, this strange pronunciation is actually preferred: presented as only possible in Oxford and two of four (first and third options) in Merriam-Webster. So it appears that I may actually be in the minority on this. But I refuse to relinquish my pronunciation–being the minority doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong.

Here is what happened. A friend and I were making fun of another friend for how he pronounced almond (as one does). He said (I’ll do my best at a phonetic spelling) something like Al-mond, like Albert. He is from Northern Ireland and so we went looking for support for our own position from other British folk. First up, we encountered a Scottish classmate. When asked, she said “ammond” where am rhymes with ham. We were confused and asked her why she didn’t pronounce the ‘l’. She responded, “No you don’t pronounce it, it’s silent like in ‘palm’.”


Utter devastation. When further prodded, she confessed that the ‘l’ in calm is also silent. What. How could this happen? How had I been so totally unaware of this? We asked the others in our class–many of them support the silent ‘l’ pronunciation. I’m sort of in shock, I don’t know what to think anymore. What is English? What is language? What is the world?

May it never be said that I can’t be overdramatic.

Anyway, this week. I returned from my absolutely terrific time in Amsterdam on Saturday. I proceeded to do virtually no work. My hand was forced, to some degree, by a group presentation that I had today. It was in my Education class, comparing education policy toward migrants in Greece and Poland (moral of the story, don’t migrate to Greece or Poland). Also today was the final presentations in Research Methods. What a diverse and incredible group of ideas. I’m actually excited to read what my coursemates produce. Those people are so creative, intelligent, passionate, and just generally critically interested in the world. So fantastic.

Also, here’s a cat picture because cats cats cats cats cats.


Prince and the Pea?

I really don’t have a whole lot else to report. I’ve got loads of work ahead of me, first up is the research proposal. Also, there’s St. Patrick’s Day next week.

In other news of saddening and outrageous cultural discoveries, I mentioned Dr. Seuss this morning to another international student (non-native English speaker) and they didn’t know who he was. I mean, children’s literature I feel is particularly sensitive to cultural and linguistic barriers. But still. I love him so much. Basically everything he writes has a message that adults can and should appreciate. From the Lorax to sneetches, he told stories about all of us and I’m grateful for having grown up with him. Not to dis other cultures’ children’s authors at all. But who else gives life advice by telling you how brainy and footsy you are?

Hurray, I made it through this post without bringing up disastrously sad topics. Except I am genuinely upset about ‘ammond.’ But sometimes you just gotta live with what you got. See you next week.

L’Art pour l’Art

I have seen a great deal of art this week, and it has been wonderful. Not all of it has been quite my style, but I’ve enjoyed it nonetheless–particularly relishing the fact that I’ve simply had the opportunity to see it. Certainly my ‘bourgeois’ upbringing taught me to value art and celebrate the creative impulse. While I can manage as a performing artist, my visual arts skills are practically nil. So I’ve very much enjoyed this trip even just for the paintings. Of course, there’s been much more beauty than just the paintings.

To back up a second, I’ve been in Amsterdam since Monday, leaving on Saturday, with a day trip to Antwerp on Tuesday. It’s reading week at Trinity and I didn’t do anything last term so I’m making up for it. This time, though, I’ll more than pay for it with all the work I’m not doing (cough research proposal cough). Anyway, I’ve had a really stellar time and I’ll try to convey at least some small measure of my time for your reading pleasure.

First, after I arrived Monday morning, I just explored the city. It was a gorgeous day–if cold–and I wanted to see the outside things while I could since the forecast called for lots of rain. Basically, I chased spires all day and it was lovely. I would see a spire poking over the rooftops and try and find it. Inevitably, I’d see another and search after than one next. And so on. That afternoon, I sat on a bench overlooking a canal, basked in the delicate wintry sunlight, and read my book. It was an incredible day.

Tuesday I was up early to get a bus to Antwerp. For those unfamiliar with that city, it is sort of a regional capital for the Flemish part of Belgium. At any rate, it’s a cool city and, fun fact, the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam. I had a lovely time just wandering around. Another fun fact, more than seventy percent of the world’s diamonds pass through Antwerp at some point. Lots of diamonds. But also chocolate and waffles. I had, in fact, a waffle drizzled in dark Belgian chocolate and it was–even chocolate notwithstanding–the best waffle I’ve ever had. And I’m normally a pancake man, but I’d give them up in a moment if waffles always tasted like that.

Yesterday was the first installment of museuming in the city. Starting with the Rijksmuseum which I had wanted to see for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. An incredible building housing an incredible collection. I can’t even really say any more than that. Then the van Gogh Museum. Also great art, but particularly interesting because it included a lot of biographical information and his letters and drawings. He was certainly a very particular person.

Today began at the Anne Frank House. Again, it’s difficult for me to say anything about it other than that it was quite a thing. I confess, I’ve never read her diary but now more than ever I feel the need to. Important things. Important things. Next, I visited the Amsterdam branch of the amazing Russian Hermitage Museum. Here, they have two collections: Spanish Masters and Dutch Masters. Also exquisite.

Art, man. Some of you may know this post’s title, perhaps more by its common English translation “art for art’s sake.” I don’t mean to make any sort of grand philosophical assertion, but I do think in a general sense the phrase captures many of my experiences this week. I’ve seen so much beauty– within museums and without– and it’s been truly a blessing. The architecture, the scenery, the food… Golly. And I love that art can have any purpose it wants. It can be practical, like architecture, or purely decorative. It can provoke, soothe, explain, or illuminate. Art, in all its forms, is powerful. It does so much for us as human beings.

This is by no means a treatise on beauty, so I’ll desist from continued discussions about it. But. Try this week to look with new eyes. Not to “see the beauty in everything” as I’m sure many of us have been told. But literally new eyes, as if every time is the first time you’ve seen everything. If you were just a consciousness floating in the blackness of space and suddenly were thrust into the constant happening of the world, what would you think of what you see? We’ve got loads of problems, to be sure, but isn’t this world full of beauty?