January, the first month of the New Year, is a time of reflection for many people. My birthday also falls this month so, for me, it’s doubly so. In January I have the milestone of another year added to my age – and the beginning of the last year of my fourth decade – as well as the beginning of a new calendar year. So I reflect on my life – where I’ve been and where I’d like to go. And, since Ireland is my adopted country, as I have many times before, I consider whether I made the right decision. Is this where I want to be? People often ask me why I came here and why do I want to stay. Both questions are hard to answer but the latter is the most relevant now …
How do I explain my attachment to Ireland to people who don’t know it? I think many people see Ireland as a mystical place. The landscape in many parts is beautiful yet desolate. Misty hills and fields inspire us to dream. Maybe that aspect suits my creative nature.
In my novel, Hitler and Mars Bars, I write about day to day life and people struggling to make a living in rural Ireland after the Second World War. But even describing these rather mundane aspects of life, it can be hard to capture places and people accurately – especially the Ireland of sixty years ago – for people who aren’t familiar with it.
Worldwide mass communication didn’t encroach on people’s lives in that generation. They were more interested in stopping for a chat with their neighbours on the way to the creamery than rushing to catch a subway so as not to be late for work. They knew all their neighbours and expected to see friendly faces wherever they went whereas I never expect to meet anyone I know when I walk down the street and I am initially distrustful when I meet a stranger.
Even though that Ireland is largely gone now, I re-create it when I write about it and I love to step back into that world. Although I could re-create it sitting at a computer anywhere, it helps to be in the places I write about – even if they have changed.
But, why do I stay in modern Ireland, besides to help me write about the country as it was sixty years ago? I’ve lived in Ireland for nearly two decades. I speak the same language as everyone else here and I’m married to an Irish man but my cultural background differs from those around me. It’s not just my Canadian expressions when I speak – I still think like an urban Canadian. With my fast paced, impatient city background, I find many of the country people around me, especially the older ones, see the world differently than I do. So, even though I live here, in some ways I am an outsider and I have to get into a different mindset to write about it and create believable characters and places – and to understand and live with my friends and neighbours.
So, why do I stay? I stay because I like the people and the place. And the slower pace of life has a positive effect on me. It helps me to take time for the things that are important – friends, family, life. As 2009 begins I’ve decided I made the right choice for the coming year.
Happy New Year 2009 from Ireland!