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Beth 'pidge' Flanagan's blog. Open source queer.
I know I should start this post with a big backstory on why I’m working remotely in Europe for the next few months, but a few of the reasons behind it are still a bit painful. Long, complex story that I’ll tell one day in full, is that one of my chosen family, someone I loved very deeply, died, very unexpectedly at 43. At 42, that kind of thing gives you a kick in the rear. It just brings up that whole line from Shawshank Redemption “Get busy living or get busy dying.” So… I’m living out of a suitcase for the next few months.
The one bit of backstory that I guess is relevant is that I’m thinking very hard about moving here. As I’m a dual citizen (UK/US), this is less of a problem than it would normally be. So, I’m off trekking about, airbnbing it, looking for places that I could reasonably live without going nuts. I know a lot of people find this awesome, and I do as well, but it’s absolutely terrifying to me. Nerd+introvert+transwoman (remember. extreme social anxiety.)+being outside of my comfort zone == I’m being a bit of a nervous wreck right now.
So, I’m in Dublin on a bit of holiday right now (look at me, dropping articles like I’m in Europe!) after having a week of tech conference in Edinburgh and a glorious but oh so short tour of Cumbria.
Being in Dublin is kind of a brainfuck as an Irish/British/American. For example. I hate hate hate St. Patrick’s Day in the US. It is foreign to me. In my family I always got the impression that it was a celebration of depression with a heavy undercurrent of PTSD and a feeling of being somewhat lost and away from home. The orgy of green beer swilling Americans who lack the cultural context to really grok why it became an important holiday for the Diaspora annoys me so I don’t take part in it. I hide in my house, drink by myself and more times than not, try to write code I’ve been wanting to catch up on.
The most common conversation I have during the weeks prior to the holiday, often occur at a market, when I show my credit card to pay for stuff.
Counterperson: (fake brogue) “Ahh, Flaaaanagan, is it now? A good Eorish name.”
Me: “Um, actually, it’s the Polish variant. They changed it.”
At that, the shopkeeper normally blinks, says “Oh, wow. I didn’t realize there was a Polish version.” and continues the transaction. I roll my eyes and continue on my day, reminded that I’ll be hiding in my house from stupid drunks fairly soon and then have a whole 11 months before I have to deal with this shit again. My ethnicity being reduced to a drunken, Lucky Charms box cover aggravates me to no end.
Here, in Dublin though, the implication of “Ah, Flanagan, is it now?” feels different. It feels like this weird “Ah, an American coming back to look for their roots.” tone. A kind of sideways insult, that feels like it means, “Well, you have the last name, but you’re not REALLY Irish.”
Part of me wonders if I’m internalizing that Irish American sense of “not being good enough”. It’s endemic in my family and in others I know. It’s my mother’s disease, the thing that drove her to ride my back when it came to schooling like I had a set of handlebars installed on my shoulders. There is this nagging in the back of my head when people hear my thick New Jersey accent here. “Ah, Flanagan, is it now?” feels like it really means “pft, plastic paddy who probably can’t even name the Taoiseach.” (I can, Enda Kenny, Fine Gael, and a right tit, who has helped drive the ROI economy into the shitter. Also, his support for the removal of Irish language competency in leaving certificates really boiled me. Yes, I follow Irish politics. I’m a dork.).
My family is screwed up and broken, a brokenness with very real life results that I can count back for at least 4 generations. A VERY large part of that brokenness is due to a kind of cultural PTSD from my family having little choice but to leave this island. This brokenness has real consequences in my life. My biological family is a mess of feuds. This person doesn’t talk to this person. This one doesn’t talk to this person. Don’t mention X subject to this person as it’s painful. Don’t do this or you’re dead to me. It’s little wonder I’ve tossed them all out of my life. That’s part of my brokenness, an inability to form tight familial bonds with people I don’t necessarily like.
But the biggest way this damage has effected my life is that I don’t feel at home anywhere. My sense of home has always felt forced. I’ve moved over 4000 miles in my life, looking for “home”. New York/New Jersey felt in some ways like that, despite it being a few million people living on a toxic waste dump. My last name wasn’t an oddity. There was a steady influx of Irish to make you feel a part of your community. But I hated it none the less and have spent the last 20 years of my life wandering.
Delaware. Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Montana, Washington, Oregon…. none of them quite felt like home
The other day I hung out with a co-worker who lives in the UK and we took a tour of the backroads of Cumbria. Way up in the hills. He asked me “So, is this what you expected?” I couldn’t really give him an answer, so I gave him kind of a bullshit one, that I’m going to now revise a bit. Standing in the mooshy hillside, looking over sheep, 1000 year old walls, ruins of Roman forts, for the first time in my life, allowed me to feel *almost* a sense of home, a feeling I had long given up on having. So, the answer is “No. I had never expected to feel the kind of deep connection to a place that I felt that day.” So, maybe my brokenness in that regard at least can be repaired. One can hope.