Friday, May 1, 2015

"The One With the Foul Ball, Waving for TV"

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

It was late day at the Forty-Foot promontory where the locals swim. We'd been told it had been an unusual September--warm and sunny, unlike the cool and wet summer that preceded it. As such, many were swimming that early fall day and the temperature rose to nearly 21 degrees Celsius. Warm by Irish standards, indeed. I was fascinated by the trio and how the shadows behind them looked almost like wings.  The image would later be published in B & W magazine.

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.

The spaces between what we name by numbers are most often temporary placeholders we use to mark and unmark our possible selves.


  1. Wow, counting and counting! The addiction of counting and fear of not counting.

    "Counting is what colonizers do best." My mind immediately went to William the Conqueror, my ancestor, and his Domesday Book. To my father, William Tracy, spending his life as an accountant, always counting and accounting. He kept a little book of accounts for his children -- what they owed him. To myself, always counting -- and hating it. I can't go up a flight of stairs without counting each step in my mind, one, two, three, four, Oh, STOP it!

    Then it related to current events, the curtains being pulled so slightly back on the deep and hateful racism of this country. "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." The culture of Black folk in these States is akin to the Irish. Counting is not what counts for Black culture. What counts is spiritual connection, what was so deeply amputated through slavery. It's in the smiles and the dance and the singing -- not so very different from the Irish. Black culture is precisely about not being precise, about precious dawdling and wasting a little time just being with one another. And that's precisely why the White Anglo-Saxon dominant culture views it as inferior, and therefore something to hate. Perhaps they hate it because they fear its genuine power and beauty. It does not take refuge in counting. It simply accepts that we all matter, we all count for our basic humanity.

    The Black folk among us are a gift, a gift we don't want to recognize. Black culture is the path to recovery to our addiction of counting. Our Black brothers and sisters and beautiful children daily present us with a culture that is the antidote to our damn relentless counting. If we would embrace that culture -- and one another, we would all count for a lot more as human beings!

    Oh, and I love the picture too! Thank you.

    -Bill Tracy

    1. Some years ago I was with an historian from Newark, NJ who recommended a book, How the Irish Became White. A tough read and one that speaks to how colonized people when freed seek to harm others. Knowing violence leads to doing violence.

      Given the relentless anger towards President Obama and what has happened repeatedly to African Americans in this country, and the new Jim Crow (prison), I'm not sure embracing blackness is a national possibility. We seem so far from that. But yes, it is something to engender.

      Thank you Bill for your very thoughtful words. I'll return to them again.


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