Thursday, April 19, 2012

What A Pint of Guinness Taught Me

I have never been a particularly patient person. I like resolution and I like certainty. As a child I would get into epic, teary battles with my family members. There were slammed doors and silent treatments, but my stubborn passions would be quelled instantly at bedtime. I would never be able to sleep without profusely apologizing until there could be no shred of doubt in my mind that things were entirely patched up. Resolution always won.

I have too little patience with myself, especially. After so many months of travel, I think I secretly expect that I'll arrive somewhere and dive into deep conversations with strangers; that I'll be privy to family stories and naming secrets and become an integral part of these strangers' lives.


I'm finding the need to remind myself that though time is marching on, each place I visit is still brand new.

I had my first interview about Irish names at UCD (University College Dublin) this morning, but there is the diminishing but pervading sense of guilt that I should be doing more on my project. How can there not be, really, when someone gives you a gift as big as this opportunity?

I've been doing a lot of thinking, particularly as the big 3/4 mark looms near. A student reporter from one of Swarthmore's newspapers just e-mailed me wanting an update on how the year has been. It all feels just too big to say.

One thing she asked was what advice I'd give to future Watson fellows, and what I will say, although I can't seem to say it to myself all the time, is to have patience with yourself.

Last night I was feeling aimless. I had spent a day wandering around art galleries and exploring Dublin but couldn't justify how this related to my research or what I was doing in Ireland in the first place.

The woman who manages the apartments I'm staying at keeps talking about a pub with traditional Irish music on Wednesday nights. Finally, around 9:30pm, cabin fever and guilt became too stifling. I walked down the road for some music. I sat there and listened (instrumental Irish with some Cat Stevens thrown in), and I couldn't help but smile at the fact that sitting alone in a pub can feel scarier than finding my way around southern India.

I made a big cultural slip. I've made many this year, most of which I'm probably still not aware of. This time, I took my Guinness off the bar before I had let it settle. The barman informed me of this and told me I should put it back, let it settle, and then he'd "top it off." I blushed and put it back, feeling the judging stares of all these old Irish men in the pub watching the Barcelona soccer game; men who I imagined had learned to let their Guinness settle decades ago.

I thanked the bartender, picked up my glass, and found a table. I tapped my foot and people-watched and drank my beer. I settled. And then, when I was ready, I walked home in the dark and a light rain fell.

This year is about researching names, cross-cultural comparisons, and independent study, but it's also about learning to be alone in a pub at a table for one. It's about recovering from cultural slips, and knowing they'll be stories for later. It's about having patience with yourself, letting go of guilt, and about waiting for things to settle.

I just forget that sometimes.

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