Tourism is a tease. Let’s talk dirt.

October 2018 – Tourism is frustrating because it’s inevitably superficial.  Clarification: I’m not here to bash tourists. I too am openly, obviously a tourist in Ireland. I’d like to be pure pilgrim, with all the significance that word carries, or a scholar, a writer, or some other more respectable voyager. Alas! The reality is undeniable. A shameless tourist I remain. You can tell by my boots, backpack, tattered maps, overly technical rain-gear, endless questions, and embarrassing selfie habit.

I dash from place to place, glimpse a famous site, catch a lively tune and perhaps taste a local brew. Then I scamper off when I’ve only the faintest idea what I’m leaving and barely any clue of what’s ahead.  Behind me there stretches a telltale trail of muddy little boot prints, drained pint glasses and tea cups, a confetti of scone crumbs and far too many empty sugar packets. Also, a series of fleeting, fluttering friendships abandoned to evaporate at sundry pubs, tea shops, bus stations, hostels and hearth sides.


Just passing through. Coming, going. Never staying. You might imagine that to an avid traveler, this would seem normal, even ideal. It’s not.   There’s always too much left undiscovered. Ruins with secrets beneath their stones. Paintings in museums that deserve at least another quarter hour of scrutiny. Stories to read, poems and songs worth committing to memory. So many people whom I’d like to know better.

It’s not enough to know how to travel well, or what to visit. I have reveled in Dingle on a Saturday night in fine weather, but I’m more curious to know what it’s like on a gray Monday morning when all the weekenders are gone back to Dublin. I want to know: Who lives here? What is life like here? How do they see the world? How do they remember the past? What do they want from the future? What has happened here? What has made this place the way it is, these people the way they are?

In Ireland for sure, the very soil holds a fathomless treasury. Fairy rings, prehistoric tombs and stone circles are just the beginning.  Druidic megaliths are engraved with Celtic crosses and ancient springs become holy wells, then their surrounding trees are draped, encrusted with ribbons, rosaries and rags to symbolize myriad prayers.


I’ve noticed that many living oak trees here are coated in a plush iridescent moss, from which little ferns sprout in profusion. Lives built upon lives built upon lives.

Old country lanes have been trod so long that they are sunken deep into the earth, bounded by steep mossy banks, in some places even hidden by thorny branches that intertwine overhead. These boreens may seem forgotten, but they are memory itself. Stories trickle and pool in the ruts, blood in the veins of this place that lives long, that pulses slowly on and on.

Early morning on Cosán Na Naomh, (Saints’ Path) Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
In the middle-distance, the first rays of sunlight have just reached the ancient traces of a circular pre-celtic dwelling, or “fairy ring” in a sheep pasture. Even today, most farmers will not set foot in a fairy ring on their land. 

Tourism barely scratches the surface of any destination, but it’s especially inadequate here, where every surface is so densely layered with history and meaning.

In case you haven’t noticed it yet, I have a peculiar affinity for good honest dirt. When I was very young, I experienced a major anti-shoe phase. In the warmer months, I often disobeyed my parents by trotting around barefoot. Summer rain storms pounded the dirt beneath my bedroom window into a warm silky mud, and I relished the sensation of it pressed between my toes. I liked to see how deep I could work my feet in. Still do, if truth be told. There’s no feeling quite like gardening barefoot in new-turned soil.

Weird? Absolutely.

Embarrassing? Slightly, but undeniable.

I was well into my twenties when I realized that most people wear shoes when tending their vegetable patches.

Now that I’m theoretically an adult rather than an errant child, let’s suppose this fascination is something beyond a merely tactile yearning. Maybe that barefoot, sole-to-soil feeling is my only satisfactory way to experience the world. Metaphorically, I mean. You know, like being down-to-earth, living close to the ground.  To truly understand something about a place, I must look down at the sod. Sink in. Stretch some roots.20181025_153538

Anyone so fond of either good honest dirt or Ireland positively must appreciate the late, great Seamus Heaney.  Because I am fumbling for words here, let’s lean on him, shall we? Ever since I read it as an adolescent, fragments of Heaney’s 1966 poem Digging, have been echoing around in my memory. The snippet below is merely a teaser. You must promise me you’ll click the link above and read the whole thing, okay?

In this poem, Seamus remembers with reverence his grandfather and his father cutting turf, turning soil, planting potatoes, digging. Turning to the here-and-now, he finds his own place in that earthy legacy.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

the squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

(Seamus Heaney, “Digging” from Death of a Naturalist. Copyright 1966 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.)

In my experience, writing is a lot like digging for mythical treasure; there might be real gold buried in here, but I’ll have to move many layers of dirt to find it.

Thank you, dear friends and readers, for graciously bearing with all the dirt my pen digs up. Stay tuned for the gold!

October cherry tree leaves at the Irish National Stud farm, Co. Kildare

Hand-sketched monochrome cabbage in a magenta hue- Cabbages and Kings

Edited by Gloria Shim.

What women have vs. what women are: the weird collusion of feminism and consumerism

Photo by Tomo Nogi on Unsplash.

On this International Women’s Day, I’ve been contemplating a quote from Edith Stein. It is a sentiment both prescient and enigmatic.

The world does not need what women have. It needs what women are.

-Edith Stein

There is so much to unpack in those thirteen words. Every day I discover a new situation in need of this enlightenment. Perhaps today more than ever, what women have is exploited and appropriated on a massive scale, in blatant disregard for what women are. The painful irony of these offenses is that they are often perpetrated by those who presume (or merely pretend) to serve, liberate, empower, respect, and even love women.

I remember when Maybelline wanted to sell us make-up under the guise of self-worth and Pantene inexplicably tried to purvey shampoo as some essential component of professional respect and workplace gender-parity. I was righteously indignant then. (Full disclosure: That was also in my pixie-haircut phase. A few professionally fulfilling, cosmetically carefree years during which I did not own a hairbrush or use conditioner.) How naive I was! Little did I know then that I would soon yearn for such good old days, days of comparative innocence.

Women in the United States make the majority of consumer decisions. As far as the markets are concerned, we are a goldmine, and greed is having its way with us. We are routinely essentialized and manipulated. By now it is common knowledge that internet advertising is targeted, and social media have effortlessly induced us to give marketeers more detailed personal information on their target audiences than ever before. The scale of these data and the power they impart are breathtaking.

I boast very few victories of note, but here’s a modest one: my private life seems to have totally baffled facebook’s ad-targeting genius. I’ve been without a relationship status long enough that the ads for engagement rings and wedding gowns petered out years ago. Then, for a long stretch, online dating services were ubiquitous in my news feed, but I didn’t take the bait. Now only google still holds out hope that I’ll find my match, with the help of apps they advertise, of course. But if any of you thought such misguided attempts to get money from a single woman were tone-deaf or offensive, then hold on to your bonnets, clutch your pearls, and cross your legs, because things are about to get truly weird.

Here are the kinds of targeted ads I get now:

These aren’t the most invasive examples, though appeals by Planned Parenthood to me are probably the most off-target. Many ads are even more insulting. As you can see, one company is offering a pill to boost my sex drive. (Who said it was lagging?) Fertility care centers throughout the mid-atlantic region suspect my ovaries are on the struggle bus, and want to sell me the promise of my very own baby. On the other hand, devout Jewish couples have more faith in my fecundity; an agency representing them offered to purchase my eggs for top dollar. I was deeply confused by that one. Not sure whether they think these eggs are kosher, or that I would just favor a particular religious community with my genes. Another business asked to rent my womb. A sperm bank has reached out to offer me my pick of DNA from genetically superior males.

Planned Parenthood, in an almost universally-overlooked irony, has never offered me either planning or parenthood assistance. They actually just offer to continuously sell me infertility on demand, with a steaming hot side-dish of smug white-femme-savior-complex, because supposedly needy women everywhere must be rescued from their own hazardous bodies by synthetic hormones, suppressive devices, and far more abominable measures.

Purveyors of vagina-shaped hats had a go at my pursestrings back when a bunch of women thought that dressing up as genitalia was a good way to show a predatory president that we…um…aren’t mere genitalia? (Clarification: I do not reason, vote or march by use of my privates. In fact, I have other parts to perform all those functions.) “Save the Tatas” lures us to donate money towards breast preservation, because apparently saving lives isn’t quite as persuasive or lucrative. I will leave to your imagination the other unseemly items, services and causes which industries and certain feminists insist unattached women “need.” Throw in there a handful of mistaken though benign ads for menstrual cramp remedies and endometriosis clinical trials, and I think you get the picture. (On that note, I do not take my good health for granted. I fervently wish godspeed to any woman in need of a decent, ethical healthcare. Beware the vultures.)

For now at least, even the all-seeing internet doesn’t know what I want from my body. Still, these advertisers have something in common. They are all quite convinced that my lady parts and female insecurity are big business.

They are wrong. Ladies, sisters one and all, please, I entreat you earnestly: DO NOT PROVE THEM RIGHT.

Only the devil can sell you what is yours. My mother told me that when I was an adolescent. No doubt she learned it from her mother. I remembered it all these years because it puzzled me so much. I didn’t understand then just how profound and salient it was. Another untarnished gem of sagacity, its sources shrouded in the mists of time. Forget the fountain of eternal youth. I want in on this font of ageless wisdom.

So, I’ll say it again for those in the back.


All marketing is profit-driven. Much of it is only one shade of gray lighter than exploitation, but marketing which monetizes the needless manipulation of a healthy, autonomous female body, marketing which pretends to offer a woman such as myself reproductive fulfillment, social equality or sexual so-called-liberation, strikes me as downright evil. It makes my flesh crawl. We do not need any of these products or services in order to be women–beautifully, powerfully, naturally, wholly, freely women. In fact, most of these marketing and advocacy campaigns are not just unnecessary; they are dehumanizing. By exploiting what women have (i.e. our body parts) they erode at our collective understanding of what women are.

We are more than the sum of our parts. We are women. We are whole. We are enough. We are human beings. Get your ROI’s off our ovaries, your bottom lines off our bottoms.

We are more than the sum of our parts. We are women. We are whole. We are enough. We are human beings.

To everyone offering to fix my female body for a fee, this is your official notice that my body is not broken. To everyone asking to buy my body’s natural gifts, let it be known that they are beyond price.

I cannot buy my freedom, my femininity, or my completion because they are already mine. I will not part with them for all the gold in the world.

On the other hand, if you want to sell me high-quality, custom-tailored clothes with capacious pockets, then take all my money. Just so you know, there isn’t very much of it.

Hand-sketched monochrome cabbage in a magenta hue- Cabbages and Kings