Yesterday we had a party for my mother-in-law's 70th birthday. I picked up the cake A had ordered, an enormous ugly fortress of yellow-iced sponge, walking with it in the rain under a precariously clutched umbrella. We had a long sprawling dinner in a restaurant named after the famous local poet: feasting on oysters, la! and bread and butter pudding while children crawled under chairs and switched off lamps. Súin glowered at me as she ate buttered soda bread; she's suffering from middle child syndrome, still a baby when mild Rian was born. Afterwards we assembled in the pub with cousins and their spouses, bringing out the cake when the mother-in-law noticed the huge white box on the kitchen table. The mother-in-law couldn't sit still, even at her birthday party. After her sister, brother-in-law and their children left, she walked behind the bar and began serving customers.
My in-laws are solid people: teachers, solicitors, farmers, nurses, construction workers, etc. All happily married, with children and houses they own. I am an anomaly, an Asian American woman with no children, a student for too many years. The Asian or American part doesn't bother them. One auntie married a Chinese man from Trinidad and their children spent summers here. America is much-loved as well, an exciting destination for people accustomed to migration. But it's the other, more ephemeral stuff that bothers them. The idealism, the socialism, the unabashed and passionate love of the arts. I try not to mention the writing, because I know what they think - Oh, you're one of them. A waster, I suppose. At such times, I long for Galway. For my friends who are interested in art and books and politics and climate change. Not just kids and houses.
But it's not hopeless for me in small-town Ireland. I chatted with T, back from Italy, with a slim silver blue-glass beaded bracelet from Venice for me. Have you been writing? Good, good! Always hang out with the people who keep you aligned with what you suspect is your deepest purpose.
By the end of the night, the pub is nearly empty. I'm on Black Bush with ice. Everyone's smoking inside. J joins us. She has started a local branch of the socialist-except-in-name political party. She is wicked and good fun. Her fashion is always sharp. That night she wore red lipstick under a blond pompadour and a white shirt embroidered with swans tucked into black jeans with red razor heels. She has the prodigious energy to match her genius husband's. Her statements are usually exclamatory: People tell me I should run for councillor! I would love to do it! But I don't think I could do the boring legwork! She's eternally restless, with a scintillating presence, and I think it disturbs my husband and his solid people.
From Edmund White's A Boy's Own Story, his semi-autobiographical novel:
"I thought that to write of my own experiences would require a translation out of the crude patois of actual slow suffering--mean, scattered thoughts and transfusion-slow suffering boredom--into the tidy couplets of brisk, beautiful sentiment, a way of at once elevating and lending momentum to what I felt. At the same time I was drawn to... What if I could write about my life exactly as it was? What if I could show it in all its density and tedium and its concealed passion, never divined or expressed, the dull brown geode that eats at itself with quartz teeth?"