“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” – Annie Hall
I’ve just collected my shoes from the cobbler beneath Pearse Station. Wondering how he remembered which pair was mine without any identification, I check the receipt. On the back, there’s a scrawl which reads “the pretty girl”. I smile as anyone would when paid a compliment as such, but mostly I smile because it is so Dublin.
“I think we need to talk”
Ah Dublin. I love my city and maybe, in part, that’s because I know it loves me back. It’s a place where you’re never far from a green space and only ever a stone’s throw away from friends, especially if that stone happens to land in the Castle Market vicinity. A centre brimming with creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit disproportionate to its size, Dublin has an unwitting ability to bounce back against all odds.
There is, like with any city, a distinct rhythm to life in Dublin, to which its inhabitants collectively dance. Like a ceilí, the dancing seldom stops. When a tune ends we simply move along the line to the next set of partners. There’s a joy in the familiarity that comes with knowing that next step, and that if you keep lusca-ing long enough you’re bound to end up right where you began, beside a friendly face. At the heart of my ceili tangent is this: I suspect the predictability of life in Dublin might just be the problem. As is the risk with anything too safe and stable, my relationship with the town I call home has grown stale.
Dublin, we need to talk. I think it’s time we took a break.
“We’ve lost the spark”
Like Zadie Smith’s Manhattan, the greatest thing about Dublin is also the worst thing about Dublin: it is small. I hate that I can’t get on a train without running into someone I used to sort of know in secondary school or go to a gig and avoid an awkward encounter with an ex. Existing as a series of interlinking gangs, our city is essentially a village – every micro group somehow connecting to a larger macro-group. A friend and I once joked about how easily one could map out Dublin’s social scene. Would you group people by their main Whatsapp group, by the industry they work in or the places they frequent? 3D and colour coding would divide the PR huns from the Dublin Huns, the Camden Street-ers from the Harcourt Street-ers. Venn diagrams would be required in order to distill the Fleetwood Mac levels of intermingling.
“It’s not you, it’s me”
This is not to say that Dublin is small-minded. Despite the modest population, we live in a town full of big ideas and big hearts, to boot. The last decade has been a formative time in Ireland. I won’t go into our torrid past because we all know how that story goes, but here on the flipside of it all, with our heads finally above water, it feels as if the times are a’changing. Dublin has been expanding its mindset en masse with the rapidity of a sheltered teen who has just discovered Buckfast and Patti Smith. We saw it last year when the town was painted in technicolour, becoming the first country EVER to pass same-sex marriage by public vote, and now in 2016 when the feminists who have long been sleeping with one watchful eye open, are finally waking up.
“Why leave now?” people have asked. Dublin has hit it’s stride. “Wouldja look, the boom is BACK!” I’ve heard many a punter jeer in line at an overcrowded bar. We’re the new Berlin! We can marry whoever we want! Why bother with Brooklyn when you can have Stoneybatter? “Lads, apparently there’s a heatwave on the way!” There are literally 200 reasons not to leave Dublin. I’ve taken all of the above into account. It doesn’t add up. Dublin is a great place to be right now. Also, I have to factor in that everyone I love and hold dear is here. Still, I can’t shirk this niggling feeling that, to paraphrase Joyce’s Dubliners, real adventures don’t happen to people who stay at home: they have to be sought abroad.
“There’s somebody else….”
Start spreadin’ the news, like many wistful twenty something year olds before me, I’m headed to to the city that never sleeps – New York, New York. And so, as I’m wheeled along the customary emigrant conveyor belt and stamped ‘EXPAT’, I will go from “a girl who stayed” to one of “the ones that left”.
The first time I saw the Manhattan skyline two years ago, jetlagged and wide eyed in the back of a cab, it’s jagged, sun-soaked silhouette came creeping up over the horizon as we emerged from the highway. My elation at this moment could be traced down to the pit of my stomach, where I was sure a miniature man was doing a little dance. As a non-believer in the old love at first sight fable, I imagine that if such a thing did exist, it’d feel a little something like that.
The little man in my belly may very well have been dancing to some sonic vibrations undetectable to the human ear, for New York too has it’s own rhythm. If Dublin is a ceili, New York is a silent disco. In the former, everyone’s knows one another’s business, life story and otherwise. The latter is an accumulation of people dancing around one another, tuned into various wave-lengths and signals, sharing moments, knowing nods and worlds as they weave in and out of one another’s lives.
The following weeks after my arrival were a succession of me getting lost on subways, asking strangers for help, traipsing around bars begging someone to hire me and crouching down outside of Starbucks trying to scab wifi. I was all over the shop, but I didn’t care. I was in New York. Despite a perennial state of confusion, the adrenalin of not knowing the who, what, where or when of anything was oddly sustaining. A city so big, with no safety net, you’d expect one to be less likely to put themselves on a situational tightrope, but it has the opposite effect. This is, after all, where Philippe Petit walked the high wire from the one Twin Tower to another. With no one, place or thing to fall back on, you are forced to step outside of your comfort zone in order to propel yourself forward.
“In a New York minute, everything can change.”
It’s not just internally that this takes place, human relationships too are accelerated. Friends become family, and neighbours become friends. Drifting vagabonds and buskers in the subway are human, and not just a part of the scenery. Often they will move you and on a darker day it will feel like they are singing just for you.
During three months in New York, I spoke to more strangers than I have in my whole life in Dublin, as well as many a Gealt. Once on the subway, a man asked me what I was reading. When he discovered it was an old copy of The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, a crusties’ creed (don’t judge me, I was finding myself in New York after all), a ten minute conversation about shamanic temples ensued. Then his stop came and as oft-happens with New York encounters, I never saw him again.
In other instances you do. Mr. Purple – another subway citizen – and I crossed paths a number of times. Our first meeting, he caught me eyeing up his borderline, novelty-sized afro comb and sparked up a conversation. When asked why his name was Mr. Purple he simply replied “Because I always wear purple”. I can now confirm, after several subsequent sightings, that he does indeed only wear purple.
A Night out in Dublin can be easily foretold, but in New York you never know quite who you’ll meet or where you’ll end up. Following an evening spent in a dingey piano bar, we found ourselves in a Brooklyn recording studio with a mysterious boy-come-man named Boots who, immediately upon shaking hands, introduced himself as the producer of Beyoncé’s eponymous album. Our eyes rolled so far back into our heads that we thought we might be blind for a minute, but some Googling and a Buzzfeed article later, it turns out that not all New Yorkers are shameless self-aggrandizers and liars, in this case he was solely the former.
On slow days at the East Village bar where I worked, cigarette breaks were a welcome excuse to people-watch. Beautiful women would flock to the boutique across the street where the owner, a handsome dark skinned man with a bald head and a divilish gap-tooth smile, would entertain them. I never thought much of the clothes hanging on the rail outside, but he fascinated me. Despite his profession as a dressmaker, his attitude to dressing was rather blasé, preferring only to accessorize with an outlandish hat of some sort and a suspicious rollie dangling from his mouth. Cornelius (his actual name, or so he claimed) eventually noticed I was stalking him and we soon became friends. The friendship was ultimately fleeting, as was my time in New York.
That was the Summer of 2014, and like an ex with whom there’s unfinished business, Cornelius and all the other New York minutes have been playing on my mind ever since I left.
“It’s just a break”
With only a few short months left in Dublin before I depart to New York for a year, my longest stint living abroad yet, I am trying to pack in every bit of Dublin I can. Like a guilty philanderer lavishing gifts on their unsuspecting partner, I feel a duty to soak up all the city has to offer before I am gone. All the while, I’m saying over and over that I’ll be back in a year. Of course I’ll always come home. “It’s just a break” I say, sounding like an absolute Ross Geller.
The thing is, just like Ross, I don’t know this for certain. Joan Didion wrote in her essay Goodbye to All That, that in New York “six months can become eight years with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve”. I find that utterly terrifying. Realising that despite my reiterations that I will definitely come home, who knows when that will actually be? A year, two years, eight years?
“If you love something let it go, if it returns it was meant to be.”
Joni Mitchell once sent a telegram to an overbearing lover with the words “if you hold sand too tightly in your hand it will run through your fingers.” This sentiment can be applied to friends, partners and places too. One’s hometown can grip you in such a way that is stifling, in such a way that one might feel as though you need to escape or get away, but that doesn’t mean you’re over it. Sometimes you just need some time to miss the things that are omnipresent in your life.
Any which way it goes, I do know that I’ll always have home, and when the joy of a New York minute turns into a pining for a “so Dublin” moment, I will know it’s time. To rinse Mitchell for all she’s worth, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Dublin, I’ll be seeing ya.
Illustration: Sarah Moloney