I don’t dance, but I remember dancing. The last time I danced – and I mean really danced with full on arms flailing wild abandon – was in 1996 at a wedding reception in Dundalk, Ireland. I had been in Ireland for two years. The tuxedoed disc jockey, per my request and to the annoyance of everyone else, was playing Kula Shaker. I weighed a good one hundred ninety pounds at the time. And while I whirled my fat half-drunk dervish on the empty dance floor the rest of the wedding party laughed and chugged pints by the sidelines or slipped outside for a smoke until the Macarena was cued up for the fifteenth time. Oh sure, there have been a few half-hearted attempts since then: my awkward shuffle at Derek’s Halloween birthday party three years ago or that time the August before at the bar up in the City with Una and Forrest.
But reckless abandon? Not even close.
When did I start taking myself so seriously? When did I forget how to dance?
When fear snuck up on me and began to run my life.
I have friends who like to tell me I was brave when I sold everything, packed up and moved to Ireland. There was nothing brave about it. I was running away. I had some half-cocked plan about being an artist, about reinventing myself, but the truth was that I was full of despair for the lack of direction in my life. And that despair went back fifteen years to college, when I chose art over academia. I loved art, but I loved books more. I wanted to be a history major. I was too afraid.
But doing something daring, like moving to a different country in my mid-thirties, would somehow make up for my fear of failure at eighteen.
I knew one person in Dublin, a scummy chef who chain-smoked Rothmans. I arrived in Dublin on December 7th. It only took two weeks before I never wanted to see him again. I was truly alone. Free to become whomever I wanted.
I lived in a cheap hotel for a month and then found a ten by six-foot bedsit above a chippy on Parnell Street. I began making crafts to sell at Mother Redcap’s Market. That’s the market near Christ Church, just up the hill from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Did you know Handel himself used the choir from St. Patrick’s for his début of the Messiah in 1742?
At the same time I found work as a coat check girl at Rumour’s Nightclub next to the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. I did not last. But not long after I was hired by the National School of Art and Design as an artist’s model. I had plenty of experience in California and it wasn’t long before my skills as a model were in demand. But, after two years, I was done with Dublin.
I found my way from Dublin to Donegal. For a time I made furniture with a boyfriend. When that ended I took work at the local health food store. I studied nutritional counseling, massage therapy and reflexology. I taught yoga and I opened a clinic in the spare bedroom of my rented house. That’s how all this began. By my learning how to survive.
I also have friends who tell me that I was brave when, eleven years later, I packed everything up for a second time and moved back to California. Again, I wasn’t being brave. I was admitting defeat. Moving to Ireland had been an experiment. As much as I love the friends I know there, Ireland was a mistake. It was time to come back to the closest thing I had to a home.
I returned to California in late spring 2005 with some books, the clothes on my back, a few thousand dollars and a few new skills. I was a different woman. The difficulties I had in Ireland somehow purged me of envy. I knew how far I could fall and I was grateful to be alive. Rather than being burned by envy all I wanted now was to feel the heat of California sun on my bones. I was happy to be a witness to the success of friends I had not seen for more than a decade. And I had faith that after everything I had seen and done, fear would no longer rule my life.
It didn’t quite work out that way…