A Memoir of Chaos and Grace

From the moment Laura Jane Williams mentioned her friend Meg Fee’s book on Instagram, I knew that this book would be a comfort to me. It just came along at the right time.

Places I Stopped on the Way Home: A Memoir of Chaos and Grace – Meg Fee

In Places I Stopped on the Way Home, Meg Fee plots her life in New York City- from falling in love at the Lincoln Centre to escaping the roommate (and bedbugs) from hell on Thompson Street, chasing false promises on 66th Street and the wrong men everywhere to finding true friendships over glasses of wine in Harlem and Greenwich Village.

Weaving together her joys and sorrows, expectations and uncertainties, aspirations and realities, the result is an exhilarating collection of essays about love and friendship, failure and suffering, and above all hope. Join Meg on her heart-wrenching journey, as she cuts the difficult path to finding herself and finding home.

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From megfee.com a watercolour by E. Rhondeau Morgan

Ok, this makes it sound really cheesy. But as I try to make my own way in the world, I am loving this wave of wise young women sharing the lessons they have learned. Made more exciting by the way we think we ‘know’ them from their social media and blogging presence. Also: I don’t know if it’s solely because of Royal Wedding fever but I think there is something of Meghan Markle about the beautiful Meg Fee? No?

Meg lived in New York for 13 years, since she was 18. She met a lot of ‘maybe’ men, she battled an eating disorder, she hated jobs, she lost a friend in that painful way we all seem to have suffered. But she makes every warm cupped latte and cold bitter wind sound beautiful.

Laura Jane Williams, a feminist whirlwind I love to follow on Instagram @superlativelylj was email friends with Meg Fee for several years before they finally met in Paris. They shared the most intimate things across the Atlantic Ocean. I love that. And it gives reminds me of Time to Talk Beauty and I! (Irish Sea… met in Belfast, still!)

“This is a missive to and from the muddled middle.”

Each chapter is a place in New York, the West Village, The A Train, West 10th Street. She plots disappointments and her own mistakes, she doesn’t dwell on work, because it’s not important. I love how she writes. There’s one chapter, ‘On Home’ and she writes ‘And when I call you in hysterics, when I collapse into you undone by something you think small and ridiculous, just the moment before your impulse to fix everything kicks in, give me three words: I hear you.’

Reading between the lines, I don’t think she’s met the man of her dreams just yet, but she’s ok with that. She’s often overwhelmed by how much there is to look forward to. Most of the women I have read, shared, sent the link around to friends recently, the ones writing most truthfully and relatably about love are alone.

Maybe the danger is Meg’s chaos and grace are not as chaotic and a lot more graceful than mine. Briefly I worry that my misadventures and wasted time and indecision are a lot more damaging than hers. But this is not the point.

It’s a book you want to underline and memorise passages from, and I just love that so many women are sharing their favourite lines online. I was crying by the end. There’s a lot of wisdom here. I was annoyed LJW picked out a line in the foreword, ‘I am every man who has hurt me, and the quiet hope that we’ve only got to get it right once.’ Because what a cracker of a line, and I was waiting for it throughout the whole book.

‘The year leading up to my 30th birthday was astonishing. Mostly in it’s ability to wound. It was a year of so many What Ifs and blind curves on unlit roads. A year in which, just as soon as I thought I knew where the story was going, the ground would shift beneath my feet.’

I think anyone who is struggling with their twenties will get something from this book. I have read it twice already. Hold fast to hope, as Meg would say.

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Back to Lyrics

I was walking home the other night, and it was later than I really should have been walking alone, and I didn’t have earphones, so I listened to some music out loud, relatively quietly on my phone. I felt like some of the songs really struck me, applied to my life and I was singing along quite passionately. And like I was in a music video. As one does.

My love for good lyrics featured strongly in my idea for this blog, and appeared a lot more in the beginning.

I have thought about giving up this blog recently, partly because ‘social’ media can be such a pain when you have other things pressing, and no one should feel like they have to explain hard, hard things to the internet. (When they’re still trying to figure it out themselves) I find this fascinating but also awful when it comes to the lives of youtube stars, and how they get hounded to share really personal stuff before they’re ready, because the subscribers have questions about what they have shared thus far. I think there’s a thesis to be written somewhere.

But I do love it, and I want to try harder as always! I have recently been thinking about how it’s ok to not have a ‘niche’ to blog in. And in fact the blogs I most love to read are snippets of someone interesting’s life, their views, their experiences.

Here are some lyrics that are comforting and encouraging me at the moment. Feel free to share any that you’re loving too.

  1. Open Arms – Elbow

The first line of this is the tag line of my blog, at the moment. I think the lyrics that most make sense to me at the moment is the chorus, “We got open arms for broken hearts, like yours my boy, come home again.” It’s like a celebration for someone’s return, and the comfort and backwardness of coming home. You’re always you when you’re home, and people know you. “The table’s are for pounding here, and when we’ve got you surrounded, the man you are will know the boy you were.” Ha, I’m crying thinking about it. It’s a whole community coming together to cheer someone up. It’s funny and comforting and deep. I said it before, Guy Garvey is a genius. “And you’re not the man who fell to earth, you’re the man of La Mansha, and we’ve love enough to light the street, cause everybody’s here…”

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Lisa in the Knots video

2. Knots – Lisa Hannigan

A great beat, a good shouty chorus. “In my high heels, and my old dress, with my new keys in the wrong city.” This could apply to so many situations. And she ties knots to remember in her heart. Knots are usually not a good thing either, if your stomach is in knots or even if your heart is tied up in knots. It’s stifling. It’s such a good image. Lisa has a real way with words and it has been myself and Caoimhe’s pleasure to see her live a handful of times.

3. Slow Show -The National

This is my very good friend Lynn’s wedding dance first song. I have recently downloaded it because I kept singing it to myself and thinking about it. It definitely makes me cry sometimes. I can’t admit to understanding the whole of this song. But I think the singer is uncomfortable in the social situation, and he sings, “I want to hurry home to you, put on a slow dumb show for you, and crack you up.” But the most special part of this song comes right at the end, and is the reason my good friend chose it. “You know I dreamed about you, for 29 years before I saw you. You know I dreamed about you, I missed you for 29 years.” My Mum always tells me how she prays for my future husband everyday, and this just make me think of that. And how it is so beautiful!

4. Remember Me (lullaby) – Coco Soundtrack

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Miguel and his beloved great-grandmother Coco, who doesn’t really speak or understand anymore but whom they all treat with such respect and love.

I took my two youngest sibling to see this new Disney Pixar film a few months ago, and we were all in tears! I think everyone could relate to it. It’s basically about death, but portrayed in such a gentle way. The protagonist Miguel somehow gets stuck in the land of the dead during Dia de Muertos. This is a song Coco, Miguel’s great grandmother’s Papa sang to her when she was a tiny girl and he was going touring with his music, “Remember me though I have to travel far, remember me each time you hear a sad guitar, know that I am with you the only way that I can be, until you’re in my arms again, remember me…”

5. Wedding Song – Anais Mitchell

I saw Anais support Josh Ritter in Belfast in December. I thought she was wonderful and talented. This is a song from her musical Hadestown, which I would love to see! It is the courtship of Eurydice by Orpheus. She is coyly asking him, a poor musician living in a deep economic depression, how he will afford to marry her, “times being what they are?”

“Lover when I sing my song, all the rivers sing along, they’re going to break their banks for me and lay their gold around my feet, all a-flashing in the pan, all to fashion for your hand, the river’s going to give us the wedding band.” I think it’s really about faith and trust that things work out, and everything is provided in good time.

 

Show me the way to go Home…

“I just feel so proud of her.” My strong mother said through her tears as we followed the lone bag-piper as he led my Granny Breslin to her final resting place. The song was called Going Home.

90 years on this earth. 1 month and one Mother’s Day she’s been gone.

Barely 2 days she shared with her own mother, who died through complications with birth. In the last maybe 15 years she kept her close to her heart on a photo pendant my dear uncle John bought for her. My Granny didn’t really talk about her mother much until she developed dementia. But it was the biggest pain and loss in her life, and she really could not wait to be reunited with her.

“She’ll be soon after her” they said when little Margaret Burns’ mother died. But 90 years, 14 children and 101 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren later… and what a legacy, what a life.

In one of our kitchen table mammoth tea and talking sessions my sister said “Think how terrified she must have been every time she was pregnant.” And it’s true…Yet she went through it 14 times, with only two of the younger ones born in hospital, the rest at home. Such a brave and selfless woman who just used her life to raise her children with her simple faith, strong morals and a lot of laughter.

My friends, and others who had never met Granny were reduced to tears at the funeral listening to all she had overcome between Derry and Scotland. Her father, a good man, died when she was 12 and herself and her sister found him when they returned from the cinema.

She was then raised by her beloved Aunt Annie in Derry, where both parents were from. “If he’s meant for you, he’ll come into the fireside.” Annie always said. And my Granda did just that, coming into the house to wait for Annie’s son Paddy every Friday night before they went to the pub. One day he asked Annie could he take Margaret to the ‘pictures.’ “You’ll have to ask her yourself.” Annie replied. My Granny was listening on the stairs, delighted.

They lived in a little house in Creggan, paying up for groceries, battling through the riots of the Troubles, and doing a miraculous job of raising 6 girls and 8 boys without murdering any of them!

I have to say, I’m biased, they’re my aunties and uncles, but the Breslins are an absolute credit to my Granny. I’m just so proud to be part of this family, and watching as they handled themselves, their grown up children, all the visitors with such grace and dignity at the wake and funeral. They are a big loving family of absolute characters, and although it was the saddest of circumstances we were delighted to see each other. The wake at times was an almost joyful occasion, which I thought maybe would have upset my mammy but she said it’s exactly what Granny would have wanted. Some of us (mostly cousins) had a drink after the soup and sandwiches of the funeral (I was the only one to volunteer to show my family up) and now we are hoping to organise a big cousins meet-up at least once a year.

Mother’s Day was yesterday, and the first one my own mother has spent without hers. I knew it would be difficult, so I had the idea of a version of my granny’s beloved photo pendant featuring a wee song my granny in her dementia especially liked to sing.

From here.

One of my favourite stories about my Granny, and it was told at the funeral, highlights her very healthy relationship with God. My auntie Eileen once found a piece of scone far from my Granny’s chair and jam dripping from the Sacred Heart picture. “You fairly knew your own mother!” she accused Jesus. Kind of regularly, actually!

She died on 14 February, Valentine’s Day. “She’s a wee lover” my Mammy said as she left to say her final goodbyes.

It comforts us all to think of the first Mother’s Day for two amazing long-suffering women. After 90 years. That’s love.

 

Margaret Breslin

7th October 1926 – 14th February 2017

Book Review: The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan

‘Would you hold on tighter if you knew you were saying goodbye forever?

In 1959 Factory Girl Stella Hegarty finds herself falling unexpectedly for the charms of a handsome US Marine based in Derry. Caught up in a whirlwind of romance, Stella finds herself planning a new life in America with her beloved Ray. But when tragedy steps in, both their lives are thrown into turmoil and they come to realise that they may have said their first and last goodbyes.

In 2010, Stella’s daughter Annabel, reeling from the loss of her father, agrees to accompany her mother back to Ireland to meet her family for the first time. In Derry they both start to realise that sometimes you have to say goodbye to what you thought you always wanted, in order to find out what you have needed all along.’

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Hearing Claire Allan talk about her book at the wonderful launch, it’s clear that it’s a book that it very special for her. It will be for you, too. It’s a many-faceted love story that spans two very different generations. Usually I’m not sure a story incorporating 1950s Ireland would draw me, but it’s so personal a story. The 1950s-60s creep in in the desires, wishes, clothing, and responsibilities that surround young Stella, making the story all the richer.

I could relate to Annabel in many ways, she’s lost and hurt, doing her best. She never has the right thing to wear! She was always a Daddy’s girl, and facing what feels like a betrayal from her mother after his death, she struggles to understand. The rebuilding of the relationship between mother Stella and daughter Annabel is fascinating and delicately depicted.

Young Stella and Ray’s story is just breathtaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever read about such a sincere and true love. It isn’t soppy or far fetched. Really gives you something to hope for and aspire to. Prepare for your heart to be broken. Claire had the idea for this book after conducting an interview with an unlikely couple. Avril and Bob were actually at her wonderful vintage book launch and Claire’s speech was so eloquent, and her presentation to Avril had everyone sniffing and staring at the ceiling. True love is out there, everyone! Myself and my friend Caoimhe saw Avril and Bob leave, walk around the corner and put their arms around each other, and keep walking.

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Vintage cupcakes and teeny chocolate books!  Chocolate Manor is amazing chocolatemanor.co.uk

I really loved the descriptions of family life, coming from a big family myself. Even across the 60 or so years I recognised traditions and sayings. I especially enjoyed the Christmas scenes. They were so magical and comforting.

I shed a few tears, mostly for love and the selflessness of Stella.

There’s some great laughs too. Annabel and her newly found cheeky Irish cousin Sam create a wonderful duo who bounce off each other.

Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.
Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.

My own city of Derry gets shown off, I always get a thrill from recognising and spotting places in Claire’s books. You may find yourself wanting to visit. So apt in the City of Culture year. The city is looking brilliant, and with the new open spaces around the Quay you can imagine it buzzing with handsome Marines and gorgeous girls.

This is a gem of a book, and so easy to get lost in. It will break your heart, and yet fill it with hope. Claire’s seventh book is her strongest yet – and really worth snuggling up with. Let me know what you think!

Check out Claire’s website and her previous books.

Me getting all Vintage at the launch.
Me getting all Vintage at the launch.