The Pursuit of History: Northern Ireland

I recently spent a weekend absorbed in Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.  I love a good nonfiction and when I saw this book advertised, I realized that even though I had heard U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, I had no real knowledge of the time in Ireland known as The Troubles.  I decided that needed to change.

I found the book fascinating and informative.  One complaint about it was that it doesn’t explain where the sectarian discrimination came from and I think at the is point no one really knows anymore.  It’s there and it’s crazy and lives have been lost and destroyed because of it.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  The 1970’s were particularly brutal and are described in detail.  The story details the activities of the IRA and one woman who was “disappeared” for being an informant.  It was a sad and effecting story.  I would recommend it for anyone who wants an overview of the Troubles especially with the controversy surrounding Brexit.  Many believe the UK’s exit from the EU will threaten the tenuous peace in Northern Ireland.

Happily, Derry Girls, the Netflix series from Ireland supplemented my study of the Troubles with wit and humor.  Say Nothing can be a bit of a downer but combining it with a comedy series helped to take the sting out.  Not that we should ever forget what those people went through and God forbid it should happen again.  But that show is hilarious, and I recommend it too.

Whether you claim Irish heritage or not, it’s history worth knowing.  So, if you have a weekend to kill, curl up with it.  But remember: whatever you say, say nothing.


Remembering Mrs. P-D

Back in December we lost one of my teachers. She was young, only in her fifties I would guess, though I don’t actually know. She was my eighth grade Algebra teacher and the mother of one of my classmates.

We really did call her Mrs. P-D because her hyphenated name was kinda long to say all the time. She was a good teacher but not my favorite. In fact, I thought sometimes she was unnecessarily harsh but I owe a lot to her. I’m an accountant and we don’t use Trig or Geometry or Calculus. We use Algebra. And that’s what I learned from Mrs. P-D. It was hard at first. I struggled for a while but Mrs. P-D was patient with all of us. She knew it was difficult for most of us to grasp the new concept of math we were learning. She used to say, “It’s not hard, it’s just different.” And she would go over a problem three times if somebody still needed clarification.

What I remember most about her class though, is it was the last period of the day and some days she would let us turn on music for the last few minutes while we packed up and waited for the bell to ring. Sometimes we’d turn on “My Girl” and dance the shag. Sometimes we’d turn on the live Barry Manilow album and laugh at the medley of advertising jingles. Like with Coach R’s classes (and all the best ones), it was the things that happened outside the curriculum that mattered most.

She leaves behind a husband and children and a lot of students whose lives she touched. She may not have been my favorite teacher, but she was a good teacher and I imagine a good administrator though that was after my time. There aren’t enough of those. Cherish the ones who made an impression on you. She wasn’t perfect but she cared for her students and worked very hard to make sure we all got a good foundation to carry us through high school, both in Algebra and in life. God bless you, Mrs. P-D. Rest in peace.

Ah, Dorm Life

It’s August, which means it’s the dreaded back-to-school time. I don’t have to go back (thank God) but it got me thinking about the dorm and the hilarious and frustrating things that happened there. I wasn’t too fond of my Junior year roommate and ended up hating her by the end of the year and Senior year I got along great with my roommate. We lived our separate lives and respected each other’s space. That’s how it should work. But it was Freshman and Sophomore years that were the most eventful in the dorm. That’s probably attributable to my roommates those two years, Kaylee and Rebecca.

The Man-eater
Kaylee was, quite simply, a man-eater. When she came to college she was going with a boyfriend from home, Bryan. He was going to a college not far away and would drop in from time to time. I didn’t mind. He was a nice guy. Except for that time I came back to the room planning on doing some homework and heard Kaylee talking in the shower. Then I heard Bryan. I left and came back later. Kaylee and Bryan eventually broke up and it wasn’t long before other guys were hanging around our room a lot. Actually, guys were hanging around before Bryan’s exit. These frat boys seemed to fall in love with her and she would just hang out and then move on. The next year there was a whole parade of guys. She was even still seeing a guy from back home. He was in the Navy and he and two friends came to the school to take, Kaylee, Rebecca, and me to the Homecoming Dance and then the game on Saturday. The dance was pretty fun actually. They were a bit immature though. They illegally slept in our room and I woke up on Saturday morning to find a bunch of condoms framing our TV screen. They were from the communal condom bucket in the hall kitchen. At least they were colorful.

The Cooler
Each spring, Kaylee got invited to a fraternity mountain weekend by one of the brothers. And she went whether she was with someone at that time or not. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with the mountain weekend. Each brother’s date has to decorate a cooler for him to take on the trip so they can store all their booze in it. So every March The Cooler took over our dorm room. It would sit in the middle of the floor in various stages of completion surrounded by paints and other art paraphernalia for at least a month. Then one day it would disappear and Kaylee would return without it and most of her memory from the weekend.

The Mess
It has taken me a long time to make peace with this part but I realized the other day that I can laugh about it now. It is because of this that I know college students come to school utterly incapable of taking care of themselves. I believe Rebecca was the main culprit. Kaylee and I were roommates Freshman year and Rebecca was our suitemate. We had separate rooms and shared a Jack and Jill bath. Rebecca’s roommate left around Christmas and she had the room to herself. It was always a disaster area but I didn’t mind because it was contained on her side. Kaylee left things lying around but it wasn’t excessive. It wasn’t until Sophomore year that the mess escalated. The three of us moved into a quad room with a girl named Lindsay. This room was set up the same way with two rooms and a bathroom in between but it had one door that opened into one room and then you went through the small hallway to the back room. We moved the two bunk beds into the back room and made the front room a common area. It worked out well. The problem was, now Rebecca’s disaster wasn’t in her area anymore. It was everywhere. And it turned out that Lindsay had the same tendencies. And it wasn’t just clutter. They never changed their sheets, they left dirty underwear all over the common room floor, they would leave a cup with just a little bit of whatever beverage left in the bottom on the bathroom sink and it would grow mold on the top. I was the only one who ever cleaned the bathroom or bought more toilet paper. We had maintenance out several times to unclog the sink because Lindsay kept washing oatmeal down the drain. I finally told them to knock it off and have a little respect for other people when I came in one day and there wasn’t a clear spot on any surface in the entire place including my bed and desk. There was a pile of clothes at least a foot and a half high in the middle of the common room floor with one of the desk chairs on top of it askew. How does that even happen? I was afraid to ask.

The Disappearing Roommate
We saw less and less of Lindsay as the first semester went on and by December Kaylee, Rebecca and I actually asked “Has anyone seen Lindsay?” It had been at least two weeks since any of us had seen her in the room or on campus for that matter. Her things were mysteriously leaving the room and then one day she stopped by to get something and we asked her where she was staying. Apparently, she was crashing on the futon in a room down the hall. She crashed on that futon the rest of the year. I didn’t miss her. The mess got better once she left. And I didn’t find her flat iron on inside the bathroom drawer anymore or her vomit in the trash can on a Saturday morning.

The TV
Most of Lindsay’s possessions eventually disappeared but she left the TV. It had a DVD player built in, which was a nice feature. But she had lost the remote at some point before it got to the dorm, making it impossible to navigate the DVD menu. I’m not that big on Friends but I guess everyone else in my generation is. Someone had a set of the DVDs and they would put a disc in the DVD player. It would start automatically and play all the episodes on the disc. You might think that’s a good thing because we could still use the DVD player without the remote. It wasn’t. Because they would leave the same disc in there for weeks and when they got bored, they’d just “turn on Friends” and the same episodes would play over and over. I eventually got fed up and brought a cheap DVD player and told them, “Please, for the love of my sanity, don’t lose this remote.”

Blogging is Totally Like Psychology Class

I just made a mind-blowing connection. Writing blog posts is so much like writing reflections in my high school psychology class. Okay, it’s not that mind-blowing but I did just realize it. I’m pretty sure Coach R wasn’t trying to teach us about blogging because, let’s face it, Coach was already in his sixties and this was 2005. I was hardly even aware of blogging myself at the time. We wrote these “reflections” to share with the class. It was supposed to just be your observations or things you’re thinking about, which is what most blogging is when you get down to it. At least that’s what my blog is.

Coach R is one of my all-time favorite teachers. I took AP American History, AP European History, and Psychology with him. He was a round, not-too-tall guy with silver hair and a matching mustache. I usually despise the “lone stache,” but Coach pulled it off. He loved teaching so much he came out of retirement to take a position at my high school. He wasn’t your normal history teacher. He did the lectures and the tests and tried to prepare us for the AP exams, but he did a lot more than that. I learned more about history listening to Coach’s stories about growing up on a Southern mill hill in the 50’s and 60’s than a lecture about the Roman Empire. He told us about being a kid and getting electricity for the first time in his grandmother’s mill house. He talked about the bawdy women who did snuff and spit it all over the floor of the mill. He reminisced about hanging soda cans in a mesh bag out the window of his dorm room in the winter because they didn’t have mini-fridges. He told us where he was when he heard the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Coach was a banjo player in a local bluegrass band and the last full class before exams in December and May, he would bring his instruments and spend the time playing us songs and teaching us about the instruments. How many kids learn about the cultural history of the dulcimer in their AP History classes?

I had many great teachers and learned some awesome life lessons from them. I learned that the real lessons are the ones you find outside the curriculum. I learned not to take myself too seriously from Mr. C, my drama teacher. I learned to share my creativity from Mr. H, my Computer Tech teacher. I learned how to manage stress from Ms. K, my AP English teacher. I learned there are compassionate people in the world from the other Coach R, my Physics teacher.

And, even though he could only type with his index fingers, I learned blogging from Coach R. That man who loved teaching but loved learning, observing, and reflecting even more. And taught some of us to love it too.

Back to School is Getting to Me (And I Don’t Even Go to School)

It happens every year.  After July 4th here I am thinking about fall and school.  I’ve been out of college for four years and still when I see those “Back to School” commercials and posters it makes me cringe.  Why?  I do not know.  I don’t have kids, I have no plans to go back to school, and I’m fine with my field so it seems odd that it would bother me.  Maybe because we all spend so much time in school in our early lives that it just embeds itself so deep in our subconscious that even as adults we can’t shake those anticipated first-day-back jitters.  Or maybe it’s because I was so burned out on school when I graduated that even thinking about taking another test made me sick to my stomach.

When I was in school I would have stress dreams about being late for class or failing a test or getting in trouble for something.  It made sense at the time.  Those were things I was dealing with on a daily basis.  And now, four years into my working life, I still have those dreams.  My stress is now coming from deadlines and deadbeat clients but it still manifests in a dream about not being able to find the right classroom.  Even weirder, I recently had recurring dreams about being contacted by my high school and told that I shouldn’t have graduated because I needed one more class they forgot about.  The only way to fix the mix up is for me to come to the school in the middle of the day and take that class with the current students.  I then stress out about trying to get my boss to let me take the time off for it.  I always awake from these dreams extremely relieved that’s all they were. 

What it comes down to is how your memories affect you.  I always remember hating the “Back to School” stuff because it meant my wonderful solitude was over and I had go back and see all those people I disliked.  Don’t get me wrong, my school experience wasn’t all bad.  There were some good times but I have no desire to relive any of them.  I’m just glad that now when those commercials come on and my heart rate goes up, I can just take a deep breath and ignore it.  I’m much happier dealing with the dreams than the real thing.