Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m posting something that’s a bit of an anomaly today; It’s something I wrote about a year ago, but haven’t been quite sure what to do with. I use this blog as a way to explore life – beautiful and messy – using literature as a foil. I also often read things with themes of “home” or “identity” as a lens, or at least a starting point. So here’s a short tidbit from my life – with scenes in Ireland and the US – that embraces those themes…with a movie (instead of a book) as the starring role:
On a rainy day in April 2016 in the Chatham Orpheum Theater, it hit me that a connection we feel to a place may be almost as impactful as a connection to a person. I’ve moved a lot, so I already knew that a relationship with a place can be tenuous and one-sided. But to see it play out on the silver screen was illuminating.
Nearly five years prior, my husband and I had packed up our two children and set upon a new adventure in Ireland: new job (for him), no job (for me; work permits were restrictive), left-side driving (and a return to manual transmission), and for our children, five hours per week of Irish language instruction, a compulsory component of the school day. We worked hard to embrace a new country; we socialized with non-Americans more often than our fellow countrymen, looked at the upside of our kids studying a “useless” language, and had no interest in imploring family members to send us important American items like Kraft Mac and Cheese. I’ll admit to a tiny thrill when a local approached me and was taken aback to hear my American accent, thinking, “I guess I look like I fit in!”
We weren’t fools: We knew that subtle and not-so-subtle clues (see: accent) would immediately place us in the “not from here” category, but we were eager to see how a new home would shape us.
Three years into our Irish residency, I chanced upon a film set on Dun Laoghaire Pier, south of Dublin city center. I walked the pier often; it was almost always bustling with a diverse group of people – runners and power walkers, loud teens, map-wielding tourists, harried mums with their energetic offspring, elderly couples out for a constitutional. My category? I guess “someone not from here but who lives here.”
A production assistant halted my walk so that a scene could be completed. Here’s what I saw on the set: 20-somethings cleverly disguised as “old people,” a group of young men dressed in trench coats and adorned with dramatic eye makeup, and couples wearing clothes that looked vaguely 1980s-ish. I had zero context for what was being produced, and for whatever reason, didn’t ask.
But now, sitting in this Cape Cod movie theater, I knew: I had encountered a set for the charming coming-of-age film Sing Street. And wouldn’t you know it, I – clad in 21st century athletic gear and plugged in via ubiquitous white ear buds – was nowhere in sight. Even if I had begged to be an extra I wouldn’t have blended in. But, but, but – I had been a witness to this scene, which I now understood was a music video for a 1980s teen band. I felt like yelling to my fellow movie-goers: “I was part of this! I mean, kind of! Just off to the side!”
About a year after that walk, we felt the pull of “home” – meaning, in general terms, the US – and landed in Boston. We knew deep down that Ireland wasn’t “home,” and we realized that we wanted our children to be able to see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins without flying across an ocean. It wasn’t lost on us that we had the luxury of being able to move back to a country where in the most basic sense we “fit in.”
Overall, Ireland lives up to his moniker as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes – céad míle fáilte. But watching Sing Street in that small theater taught me something: When you try hard – and want – to be in a place outside your home, it’s still possible to not truly “be” there. As desperate you may be to leave an impression someplace – just a small “I was here!” – a location is more apt to leave its mark on you than you it. It also begged the question: Who’s outside the frame in my own life’s movie?