I was to spend my summer in Ireland. In fields of green (mud and rain) and surrounded by aspiring writers (or typical American drinking students) for a beautiful six weeks. Six weeks to learn, grow, and get better surrounded by people that were my equals–or better.
I could just be so bitter about it because my gym pass stopped working. Or perhaps nobody bothered to say hello because of my accent? I went to England once, and now I settle into it as soon as I go anywhere but America. (Thought Bubble: I bet I sounded like a prat really.) Regardless, I sat alone most nights watching the Irish sun set past 11 o’clock in an apartment full of alcoholics and smokers all because my last name started with the letter “A” and that’s how placement systems work. I’d toss and turn in the heat thanks to a lack of air conditioning and funds for a fan I couldn’t fit in a suitcase. I’d laz out of bed around 5am to a room filled with sunshine.
It taunted me.
Irish weather is dreary on all the wrong days. Class? Mild rain. Free day? Grey sunshine with a heavy chance of unexpected downpour. Five pages due? Glorious dry sun and a chance of mild white clouds. Yes. It happened. Blue skies when I’m stuck looking at blank white pixels. I would sit day and night and daybreak and through other roommates barely caring while I tried to be a writer. Only to realize, no one else was there to be one.
Ireland meant drinking. And lots of it. Dublin meant smoking. I don’t mind the smell of smoke, surprisingly. But a god-awful amount is still unwelcome. Aesthetic smoking, I understand. Addiction, it happens. Smoking to smoke because you’re in a place where people are smoking? Thanks. But no.
Class was useless. They didn’t care what I wrote, so long as I wrote the page number. So was I supposed to go off assignment? Or stay on course? No answer. If nothing was truly graded, was I liable for a bad grade? No answer. Yay! A study abroad course that forced me to be a writer without every truly caring if I would become one. Another no.
I barely coped. I barely slept. I barely kept my fingers on the keyboard. At this point, even I’d take a cigarette. My hands reached into my invisible girl pockets and came up empty. Why write hackneyed prose if nobody cared I got better? It was a social experiment. An experiment to see if Americans could handle the rigor of an experience without “familiarity” and tempted constantly by alcohol. I’m pretty sure it failed.
Being said, our main workshop professor liked our class the best. He was really impressed by the ones that could write with no fervor and by those that literally were incredible. (Those = Two.) Me on the other hand. I wrote maybe two good pieces. Two. For six weeks. I’m not proud to say that I learned more writing on my own than I did in a workshop setting. I was ashamed for a good while after the program too. My peer’s gave me feedback, but it didn’t really apply to what I do write. (Fiction writing with bursts of manga & screenplays, mainly. Mostly, uhm. This. Laughter.) But I wanted to connect. to be immersed. to feel the pressure of other’s enthusiasm match my own and then some.
I didn’t drink a drop.
So no one cared what I did.
At least, not until the end.
The end when I boldly stated that we should submit our last assignment anonymously. This paper was written from a collective subconscious we imagined during our trip. Though I slept at normal hours & wasn’t up to create this man named “Keith,” everyone was in on it. We all knew he wasn’t real. But he could be. And he could be the best (or the worst) thing of the trip. Our professor wanted to know which. Out he sent us the night before the program ended to write a paper describing Keith. From Keith’s perspective. Now anonymously, he would read the Keith’s out loud. We’d have to guess which Keith (of us) it was.
So I wrote them.
Everything I saw, I wrote. Keith was the vanity they wanted to hide. Keith was the alcoholic that could always drink more. Keith was the empty briefcase they carried around to look important. Keith was the kitchen full of empty gas station wine bottles and uncleaned kitchen counters. Keith was the one left because people skipped over his name. Keith could eat twice as much cake as you, so you better have another slice. Keith was the drunk, the sober, the crazy, the casual, the Irish, the American. Keith was the biblical. Keith was the anarchist. Keith was the in-between and the outsider. Keith was everything they were and everything they could never be.
Keith was them.
Now they knew it.
They couldn’t guess it was me. They couldn’t for the life of them think, “Hey. She wrote that.” Because that wasn’t who I was to them. I wasn’t that writer. I wasn’t that person. I was the sober prat who cared about grades and taking pictures of sheep. I was a quirky, somewhat boring individual. Compared to their wild night life clubbing and pubbing. My professor–he knew of course, we had to include our name for him–asked the author to raise their hand.
I have never seen so many faces light up at me.
I captured something for them. I showed them who they were, without having to give them who I was. What they thought they knew as me, I turned on them. They no longer knew me as what they saw, but as someone who they could actually get to know. Their faces changed. It was not an animosity or an apathy towards me. It was relief. I wasn’t an enemy to their vices. Those just weren’t my vices.
Reading writings. Guessing which Keith was whose Keith and why we thought it was. No one could guess me. I liked that. I could never write the truth when I wrote. But when it wasn’t me writing, the truth just happened. When it was just the word on the page that spoke for itself, I could finally find the right words to say.
We changed that day. We weren’t important as writers. We were important because we wrote. It didn’t matter whose name was on what paper. We wanted to read each one. Because writing–the act–and reading–that act– is what mattered. I may never write as the self I think I am, but I will write as the self I hope to become. Writing never changes who we are, only how we perceive ourselves. I was trying to be myself. I had to stop. I had to let myself be. Being is difficult enough.
Keith existed. And yet he never did. If he can be anything, why can’t we all?
Go on, go out; and go be Keith.