I was supposed to live in a city, that was my destiny

While working at ELLE in New York, I had to challenge quite a few of my colleagues’ misconceptions about Ireland. 

I was supposed to live in a city, that was my destiny

They would comment on my clothes and say I was ‘actually stylish’ as if they expected me to appear in the fashion closet brandishing a pipe and wishing them a hearty Top O’ The Morning.

“I hear the only thing you eat in Ireland is, like, bacon and cabbage?” one of them asked me and my friend Vicky. We hastily denied such accusations, waxing lyrically about the slow food movement and grass-fed cattle. (‘God, I would kill for really good bacon and cabbage right now’, Vicky and I confessed to each other that night.) I will admit that it didn’t help matters when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the computer the first day - they were Macs! I had only ever used a PC. CAN I LIVE? - and the constant hilarity that my accent caused.

Example 1: Everyone thinking I was asking for ‘washer’ when I wanted water. Damn you, soft Irish t’s. Example 2: Sending a new intern to deliver a sample to Joe Zee, the creative director, and for her to return mystified because she couldn’t find ‘Josie’ anywhere. The final straw was when they told me that a new Irish woman had started and asked “are you like, cousins?”

Me: Don’t be ridiculous, Ireland isn’t that small.

Me (10 minutes later): Oh hi, new Irish intern, you look familiar. Didn’t we both go to Trinity? I think you know my friend Aoife? It’s so good to see you again!

The Americans watched this with relish and then one turned to me and said - “She’s from the city, right? But you’re from the country?” And when I asked how on earth she knew that when I doubted she would be able to find Ireland on a map, she replied — “You just kind of have a Country Mouse vibe about you.”

I’m unsure if I can fully convey how deeply insulted I was by this remark. I had been desperate to shake off my small town identity ever since I was a child, wanting to become a bona fide City Girl. (I read my mother’s copy of Patricia Scanlon’s novel too many times, clearly.)

When it came to choosing a university, Dublin was my first choice. When my visa expired in New York, I planned to move to London. I was supposed to live in a city, that was my destiny. But then I arrived home and I felt tired. Tired of the noise, of the hassle, of constantly feeling like my nerves were being flayed whenever I left my apartment.

I went for a walk every morning through fields and collected wild flowers. (I still posted photos of said flowers on Instagram. I didn’t become a complete savage.) I went to Inchydoney and I sat and watched the tide come in. I waited until I could breathe again, allowing the salt clear my weary lungs. I stopped wearing makeup. I stopped caring about what I looked like or about how others perceived me. “I couldn’t live in a small town,” friends would say, “everyone knowing your business, the horror,” but when no one knows your business, no one cares about you either. And now, when I go to London or New York, I can enjoy it — I love the architecture and the theatre and the art museums and the diversity of races and body types and religions — but after a while, the yearning stretches out inside me, calling me home. That yearning needs open spaces and a bracing air to feel at rest. As the philosopher John Moriarty says “Unless there’s wildness around you, something terrible happens to the wildness inside of you.”

The wildness in me needs stillness to be satisfied, a quality of silence that can be difficult to find. I am aware now that nature helps.

We seem to spend our days frantically searching for something to make us feel safe. Often, we become addicted to external objects or situations that we believe will distract us from the gripping fear — the feat of our own mortality, the fear of the meaninglessness of life, the fear that none of this will matter in the end. So we turn to sex or food or drink or drugs or our phones because we think that will make us happy. I spent such a long time saying I would be happy when. I would be happy when I found the perfect boyfriend, I would be happy when I had my book published, I would be happy when I had money and success. I was never at ease because I was constantly looking for something that would make me feel better about myself. And while relationships and your job and money can, of course, bring varying degrees of joy, any time we are dependent on an outside source in order to feel good about ourselves, we are making ourselves incredibly vulnerable to the vagaries of existing in the world. True peace can only come from within.

So, go outside. Turn your phone off. Stand barefoot on the grass. Take a deep breath in — and what do you hear? Leave the breath out — and what do you feel? Who are you, really?

As Mary Oliver wrote in Morning Poem, “there is still, somewhere deep within you, a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted...”

You are here. This is your life. Be present for it.

I was supposed to live in a city, that was my destiny.But then I arrived home and I felt tired. Tired of the noise, of the hassle

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