|Ordinary Angels (M.A. Reilly, Dún Laoghaire, 2008)|
Roughly 4 ½ years before great uncle Paddy, then a 16 year old boy, quit Ireland and shipped off to Manhattan, 16,000 British troops landed at the ports of Dún Laoghaire and Dublin--brought there to suppress the 1916 Easter Rising--an Irish attempt at independence. From 1821 to 1920, Dún Laoghaire port was named Kingstown port. The original name, Dunleary named after the 5th century king, Lóegaire mac Néill, was dropped in the1820s when King George IV paid a visit.
Counting is what colonizers do best.
Nearly 40 years after Paddy left Ireland, I came to the States to live. I was born 50 kilometers north of Dún Laoghaire. Then I was called, Olivia Muldoon. A few decades later I'd visit Dún Laoghaire in late September with Rob and Devon. It was there I would make the image that tops this post.
Dev spent that day playing at the promontory splashing in the water and looking for treasure among the rocks when the tide was mostly out. Rob wrote notes in the small notebook he carried--always pen to paper, recorded sounds, and chatted people up. I watched and made images. We all visited the Martello Tower--the very place where Ulysses opens and later we found a small restaurant off of Harbour Road and talked long into the night and ate well.
I understand Ireland largely as a place of narrative. Story leads to story. Ambiguity is embraced. This was how I was raised. And so on another holiday we criss-crossed the island without much of an agenda and when we needed to be at a particular place, we most often found ourselves lost. More times than not regardless of who we asked, we were told, You're on good road. Just up beyont. And oddly, all were correct, for eventually we found where we wanted to go and in truth the roads were all good.
Unlike the Irish whose stories and language wind like their roads depositing the subject often at the end of the sentence, we here in the States favour counting and the most direct route. We teach this to our young with increasing precision. With nearly 30 years of high stakes testing and now the Common Core giving shape to schooling, we have lessened the space for stories at school and now require our children to fit their narrative selves into dull, five-paragraph frames. We then call these changes, rigor.
Don't dawdle, we tell them.
Don't waste time, we chide.
Be precise, we warn.
These admonitions give us purpose. Set us right. But mostly, they work to conceal ambiguity by replacing it with an imposed value. Numbers mark us. When you count, you count.
Douglas Goetsch in his poem, Counting, helped us to see the irony of the act. He wrote:
...That’s all any child wants: to count.
That’s all I wanted to be, the millionth
customer, the billionth burger sold, the one
with the foul ball, waving for TV.