To Dublin, with love…

I was supposed to be living in Paris by now. My boss is based in Paris and, though I can work remotely from anywhere, all signs pointed to this being the time for me to make the move. It was nearly done and dusted – just needed to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. But for reasons I both understand and don’t understand, that final i couldn’t get dotted and my move to Paris evaporated.

I’m not going to lie. It hurt. I was nearly there, and then I wasn’t. And in between all that there was six months of emotional ups and downs as my boss and several others did their damnedest to make it happen for me. By the time I got the final FINAL word (and that word was “no”), I was utterly exhausted.

So, it looks like I’m staying in Dublin. And that isn’t a bad thing. But, in my mind, I had already relocated to Paris so when that notion went bye-bye, Operation Re-embrace Dublin commenced.

Working alone, on my living room sofa, has left me quite isolated over the past year. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Paris was because I would be able to divide my work time between home and the Paris studio.  But now that I am staying in Dublin, I have made a very conscious decision to really “be” in this city, to get out and spend time doing the plethora of things Dublin has to offer, to do things I had put off because I wasn’t sure if I’d be staying and also to go out and spend time with my people – the friends that I’ve been lucky enough to make while living here, but that I’d gotten into the habit of seeing very rarely. (I’m a hermit by nature, don’t judge.)

The day after I found out Paris had fallen through I went out and bought three things: a new living room rug, a new vacuum cleaner, and… a fiddle. The first two I really needed but it didn’t make sense to buy if I would be moving. But the fiddle? Well, that’s something I’ve wanted to learn to play since I moved to Ireland, yet something always stopped me. But now, fuck it. I’m going to learn to play the fiddle. I’m three lessons in and I’ve mastered “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and have moved on to the “Newmarket Polka”. When I play, it sounds like I am killing cats and my poor neighbors probably want to turn my fiddle into kindling. But I love it. I suck, but I love it.

My hermit-y nature means that I’m usually fine with not venturing out much but I’m actively putting a stop to that as well. Sitting on my sofa, I could just as easily be living back in Buffalo. But I’m not in Buffalo, I’m in Dublin. And I’m going to start making more of that, and really seeing and exploring the things this city has to offer. A couple weekends ago I took myself to the Little Museum of Dublin, a quirky place in a Georgian mansion right across from St. Stephen’s Green. I’ve been meaning to visit it for about four years now. I loved it. And last weekend a friend and I went to the breathtaking Caravaggio exhibit at the National Gallery of Ireland. It was utterly not quirky, but sometimes one really just has to get their art on, and this exhibit did it for me. It was amazing. So, look at that – two distinctly Dublin museums in as many weekends. And so many more to go.

And then there are my friends, my people. When I moved here more than four years ago, I knew no one. Now, I have a lovely circle of friends but, as I said, I’d gotten in the habit of staying home rather than going out to spend time with said circle. Last Thursday evening, I had to go out. There was a Women in Animation Ireland event and I’m a committee member – I had to be there. I planned on going, having a much-needed glass of wine and leaving after an hour, maybe two. But then something happened – friends that I had not seen in a really long time showed up. And you know how it goes – everyone takes turns buying the next round of drinks and before you know it, you’re stumbling home at 2:30am.

At one point during that evening, I realized, rather immodestly, that of the five people sitting with me, I was directly responsible for all but one of them being a part of this group. Two I had hired back when I was in my first job as a Producer, convincing one to relocate from Scotland and the other from London. Two others I’d met at previous Women In Animation events – both were just getting started in their careers in Dublin and I actively endeavored to help them get work. They are now both working with the studio where I had that first Producer job. Spending this unexpected time with these five people just drinking and talking about stupid stuff was, in a word, fun. And in another word, needed.

And then a couple days later, I had a Girls’ Day Out with two of my very best friends, not only here in Dublin, but in my life. We started at a pub at 1pm with cocktails and prosecco and didn’t finish until nearly midnight at my house with doritos, beer and warm white wine. Amazing on so many levels. And again, fun and needed.

Both of these events were something I really needed in the wake of my Paris debacle. I needed to be reminded that I have people here. Amazing, funny, supportive, fun people. And I love my people.

I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but Dublin feels more and more likely to be part of it in the long-term. I qualify for Irish Citizenship in November, and I am absolutely going for that. Some people collect magnets, I collect passports (and magnets, actually). I’m even kind of, sort of thinking about buying an apartment or a cottage or something here. That would require adulting on a level I’ve yet to do in my life, but there’s something about the idea that keeps calling to me.

So far, Operation Re-embrace Dublin is proving rather promising. Right now, I am where I am, and more than happy to be here.

 

 

 

 

Deadly…

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Back in 2013, when I was still very much a newbie to all things Irish, Aidan McAteer, the director of the series I was producing, casually asked me if he could take me to lunch as he had a project to discuss with me.

That project was DEADLY, an animated short that got released online yesterday – just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. You can watch it here.

As the writer and director, this project was Aidan’s baby but he brought me on board as producer because he wanted to submit it to the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks scheme and he needed an experienced producer in order for the project to be considered.  Me, being American, had no idea what a “Frameworks” was and when it was explained to me I was a bit dumbfounded. In a nutshell, the Frameworks program awards selected Director/Producer/Studio teams a not insignificant amount of money with which to make an animated short film.

That’s the Irish Government.

Giving us money.

To make a film.

This was my first glimpse into a country and a government that actually respects the arts and understands how the arts and artists are an essential part of any functioning society. Ireland is, rightfully, tremendously proud of its literary and artistic heritage. Any country that spawned the likes of Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce (to name but a very, very few) has every right to be.

There is even a tax break here known as the Artists Exemption, which yours truly is able to partake of. There is an application process and you have to prove that you do indeed earn your living as an artist (in my case, as a writer). If accepted you get a (not so) fancy certificate that proclaims your work to be “generally recognized as having cultural or artistic merit”. Nice bit a validation there, right? But more importantly, having this exemption means that the first €50,000 I make per year from writing is EXEMPT FROM INCOME TAX! A tax break like this means that more artists can actually afford to be artists.

Back in my native country of America, in this age of the orange He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, the very existence of government entities like The National Endowment for the Arts are in jeopardy. And so I, more than ever, realize how very lucky I am to live in a country that wants me to be an artist, that encourages me to be an artist, and that has made it possible for me to make a living as an artist.

Now back to DEADLY.  Aidan, myself and a tireless bunch of fellow artists worked their tails off to get it done on time and on budget. Aidan even managed to convince Academy Award winner Brenda Fricker to be Bridie’s voice. DEADLY premiered at the 2014 Galway Film Fleadh (festival) where we won the Don Quijote Award for Animation in a Short Film. And we went on to gather a rather impressive amount of other awards including Best Short at the inaugural 2015 Irish Animation Awards.

It was a labour of love for Aidan and myself. It’s a beautiful little film of which I am immensely proud. Go on, give it a watch. Hopefully you’ll find it deadly.

Angels in Disguise…

Be not inhospitable to strangers, less they be angels in disguise.

                                                                  – W.B. Yeats

This quote from an Irish poet is painted above a doorway in the legendary Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. It’s also on the canvas bag I bought from said bookstore and took with me just now to the grocery store, which is how I found myself randomly thinking about it today.

I’ve always loved that quote but it’s taken on new meaning for me since becoming an expat, especially an expat who has to do pretty much everything on her own. When you are by yourself in a new country, it’s amazing how uplifting random acts of kindness are and how demoralizing random acts of asshole-ishness can be. But I’m not dwelling on the assholes today.

Today I’ve found myself reflecting on complete strangers who were indeed hospitable to me. There have been so many both before and during my expat life. But these are the moments that crept into my mind on the walk to the grocery store today:

  • At a Starbuck’s in Manhattan Beach a couple teenagers asked my friend and me if they could pay for our drinks as part of their “random acts of kindness project” for their church.
  • On a cold November morning at the University of Michigan I was heading home for Thanksgiving and doing the twenty minute trek with loads of luggage from my dorm to where I parked my car. I had one of those ancient wheelie suitcases that you dragged behind you with a loose strap like an unwilling dog on a leash. The stupid thing kept tipping every five steps until a woman saw me struggling, picked the suitcase up and walked it all the way to my car.
  • On my second day ever in Dublin, I was on the main road in Ranelagh, completely, utterly lost looking for the apartment I was supposed to be viewing. Two different people actually pulled their cars over to the side of the road and helped me find my way.
  • On a bus in Reims, France I had no idea where my stop was. The bus map was completely in French and my bus phobia didn’t help matters anyway. An extremely stylish French woman told me how many stops I had to go and when the stop was coming up she signaled the driver and asked him to wait her. She then got off the bus with me and made sure I knew how to walk to my destination from the stop.
  • When at a dingy bar in Santa Monica to see a band, a lovely Aussie girl gave me and my friend her extra passes so that we could be in the front row. That girl, Brooke, became a dear friend and after that night in Santa Monica adventures in London, New  York and Hawaii followed, as well as a friendship that has lasted nearly fifteen years.
  • When at an American Expat Meetup in Paris, the people were far from welcoming. Except for one person – Caren. As I was about to leave, Caren introduced herself and started a conversation with me. A friendship was started that night and, through Caren, I’ve been introduced to many other lovely people in Paris that I am now lucky enough to call friends.

In all of these instances, I was the stranger and these people were most certainly not inhospitable to me. Most were just quick moments that, despite their transience, have remained with me even years later. And some even developed into friendships that I treasure.

Expat or not, the way a stranger treats you really can make a difference in your life. I hope that at some point, I’ve managed to treat a stranger with a kindness that stays with them in much the same way these have stayed with me.

 

Goodbye to the Hill…

The other night I met my friend for a drink at The Hill pub in Ranelagh. The Hill is famous. It has been a part of Ranelagh since 1845. It even appeared in a book by Irish author Lee Dunne, called, Goodbye to the Hill. Every Dubliner, not just those living in Ranelagh, know it. Which makes it very convenient when I am telling taxi drivers or delivery people how to find my house – I literally live right around the corner from it.

The Hill has always personified the traditional old Irish Pub to me. While they only served little airplane bottles of wine, they poured one helluva pint of Guinness. The only food they served were tiny bags of peanuts or crisps. The bar was usually lined with regulars – male and well past seventy years old.

Since moving into this house, I’ve always brought my out-of-town guests to The Hill for a proper pint – and they’ve always loved it. I’ve developed a fondness for The Hill during my time in Ranelagh. It’s always been scrappy and unprententious – and rather empty. Part of its charm was knowing that I could walk in, even on a Saturday night, and there’d be a table (okay, several) available. Not being one for crowds, or even people, I loved this. But it’s hard to imagine how the owners made any money.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when I was there earlier this week I learned that The Hill is under new ownership and is now going to be a gastropub specializing in craft beers. I am not sure how I feel about this. I like that I can now order an actual glass of wine. I like a nice craft beer as much as the next person. And it’s still The Hill, so I think it’s safe to assume that their Guinness pour will remain unchanged. The kitchen isn’t operational yet but within a few weeks, they will serve what I’m sure will be lovely gastropub food, that I’ll probably enjoy more than the tiny packs of peanuts that made up the old Hill’s menu.

But as my friend and I were chatting, I noticed first one, then another, then a few more bearded, hair-gelled, skinny-jeaned hipsters walk in and make themselves at home – something I doubt they would have done during the previous Hill’s incarnation. It was all I could do to resist the urge to tackle them and take a razor to their stupid, pretentious faces.

I’m sure that I will drink and eat at this new Hill. I imagine I’ll still bring my out-of-town guests there. But I can’t help feeling that this change may not be for the better. Ranelagh has, I think, suffered quite a loss.

 

 

 

 

Return to La La Land…

April has been a whirlwind of a month so far. I got an unexpected but very welcome new job that required me to spend the last two weeks in Toronto and Los Angeles and now I am back in Dublin for just one week before I head to Paris for six weeks – it’s all very jet-setty and very exciting, but also very exhausting.

The travel to Toronto was a huge positive for me. Going to Toronto basically means going home, and I was lucky enough to get three days in Buffalo between time in Canada and that place with the earthquakes and sunshine where I used to live.

Los Angeles.

Los Angeles and I have always had a troubled relationship. I’ve lived there twice. The first time, I fled after less than a year vowing never to return. But then I did. And that second breakup took eight years. My first exit from Los Angeles was, quite literally, spurred by violence. A huge earthquake shattered not only the city in which I was living, but my also dreams.

My second stint in LA was a more codependent relationship. Despite carpe-ing my diems and leaping without regard for a net, my time in LA was filled with anxiety, disappointment and more shattered dreams – though, thankfully, no earthquakes worth mentioning.  But when I left LA that time, I was moving toward something rather than running away. I had my sights set on Europe, on Dublin.

That was nearly four years ago. I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to the City of Angels for which my feelings are decidedly un-angelic. And it was weird. From the moment I stepped outside LAX and breathed in what I can only assume was smog and sunshine, it was weird. For the entire first day, I felt like an outsider looking in. And then in the subsequent days, things began to feel familiar again. My hotel was not far from my old neighborhood. Streets and restaurants and even billboards were the same. And the weather was typical. But that familiar feeling of not belonging returned as well.

It was interesting, and even nice, to return to Los Angeles for a few days. I enjoyed the work that I did while I was there and was very happy to hang with some very dear friends. And I forgot how much I like iced tea and tacos. But if I ever had any fleeting moments of doubt as to whether I made the right decision in leaving LA and moving to Europe, then these few days solidified things for me forever. I know that I belong in Europe. I can feel it.

Though seriously, iced tea is awesome.

 

Making my world work…

Earlier this month Facebook declared February 4th Friends’ Day. And even though it was a fairly obvious publicity stunt, I liked the idea of it. After all, friendship is something that should be celebrated. As Mr. Zuckerberg wrote in his post announcing Friends’ Day: “Friendships make the world work.”

I’ve never been one who made friends easily and this was a real worry of mine as I started my expat journey. When I moved to Dublin nearly three and a half years ago, I knew that I was going to have to put myself out there and make some friends and that made me very nervous. (I wrote about it here.) But I knew that making friends was going to be the defining factor in whether I would have success as an expat. One can get along just fine without a significant other (lord knows, I’m a prime example of that) but can you imagine living a life without friends?

Last weekend, a friend that I made during my month in Paris came for a visit – and she brought a friend that I instantly hit it off with. So, two new friends! Making these friends was a nice surprise for me. When I went to Paris, I didn’t make a concerted effort to  meet people or make new friends – that wasn’t the purpose of my time there, and my stay there was temporary. So making these friends was an unexpected bonus but one for which I am very grateful.

And this weekend, I was out with a bunch of the first friends that I made in Dublin. They are people that I met through my first job here. I’m no longer at that job, so I don’t see them every day anymore but we all manage to get together every so often and have a nice time. And I really look forward to those nights. Not only because  I know it will always be a good time but because those people, those first friends I made, are very special to me.

Though they probably don’t realize it, they are the people who made me feel that I hadn’t made the worst decision of my life in leaving everything and everyone I knew and moving to a city I’d never even been to before. They are the people who made me feel like I belonged even though I was an outsider. They are the people who formed the foundation of the life I was starting to build in my new city. I don’t think they have any idea how important they were to me in those early days but I am forever grateful that they became and still are a part of my life.

After more than three years as an expat, the friends that I have made, in Dublin and beyond, are quite simply, awesome. They are people I share interests with. People who make me laugh. People who help and support me. People I like being around.

And they certainly play a huge part in making my world work.

Bonne Année…

New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday to say the least, and I am definitely not a fan of resolutions.

Last year, I came upon an alternative to resolutions and their inherent failure. Instead of making (and breaking) them, this past year every time I accomplished a goal, or did something I was proud of, or even did something that was just a lot of fun, I wrote it on a slip of paper and put it in a jar. I just finished reading what I wrote on those scraps of paper. And you know what? It was a good year. A fairly awesome one, actually. It wasn’t perfect, of course. But in my third year as an expat, I did my best to embrace the uncertainty that is ever-present in my life and take advantage of the freedom that uncertainty gives me.

The biggest way I took advantage of that freedom was in moving to Paris for five weeks to see what it would be like to live and work there. I knew it would be incredible. Of course, what I didn’t know was that my beloved Paris would come under attack by terrorists, with 130 lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye. I’ve written about how the terrorists attacks made me angry but not afraid. And being in Paris during that time has made me more determined than ever to (forgive the cliché) carpe diem.

I am lucky enough to be ringing in 2016 tonight, something that those 130 souls who went out in Paris on a Friday night probably thought they would be doing as well. It really is just luck – nothing more than that.

So, for those of us lucky enough to be celebrating a New Year tonight – I wish you happiness, health and as an old Irish saying goes:

“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light.
May good luck pursue you each morning and night.”