Thursday, January 18, 2007

A lesson now learned:Part I

I'm Irish and am burdened with what I suspect to be an Irish Catholic complex that I can't quite throw off, but am making strides to do so. This complex relates to a reticence about telling another Irish person--even an Irish American--about one's achievements, which in my case is the publication of my novel, A Son Called Gabriel. As I said, this complex is solely limited to Irish people and thus indefensibly bizarre. I imagine it comes from growing up in a conservative tradition that, while wholesome and caring in general, has a tendency to regard any form of talking about one's abilities and successes as boastful and arrogant.

In my day--though I do not believe it to be the case now, at least with regards to children--a person was given short-shrift by a quick-tongued family member or jealous, tongue-wagging neighbor if they did not qualify their success in academia, business or sports with a sally to the effect 'I was lucky, that's all' or 'it was all to do with prayer' or 'I went to Lough Derg...or Knock...or Lourdes, etc.' In other words, for the recipient of the success, it was just not done to say 'No, I wasn't lucky. I really worked bloody hard!' or 'yes, I do deserve it' or 'I did make a lot of money in the business because I knew what I was doing, etc.'

Americans, by contrast, are so confident and refreshing in this regard. They simply announce they did something great and it it is not mean to be boastful (okay, with some people it is, but we all know that type of arrogant jerk and they're found in every culture.) In other words, the success is feted by friends and family alike and no-one talks behind the successful person's back about how 'full of shit they are' or 'where did he or she get the brains to make money, because it sure didn't come from the father or mother's side of the family?' or 'Pure luck is how he got it.'

In my case, this complex manifests in another insidious way, which is the true subject of this post. I have a reluctance (even, perhaps, a shyness) to tell Irish people who inquire about the nature of the novel about what the plot is about because,, it deals with sex including homosexuality, the former being a difficult and the latter taboo topics in the Irish milieu. Often I resort to banality or avoidance as a means to stop having to talk at length about the work and my writing of it (i.e.) I tell them in a roundabout manner about the plot, trumping up the Irish political and heterosexual issues and rarely mentioning the fact that the boy is struggling with his sexuality and this afraid and confused.

Why do I do this with my fellow countrymen and women? Is it because I'm afraid? Is it because I, too, am burdened with an inability to talk maturely about sexual matters and divergence? Is it because I wish to protect those whom I know are likely to be conservative and narrow-minded?

The answer, am now convinced, is a bit of all of this.

At a Barnes and Noble signing during the book's softcover campaign, a man with a weather-beaten face entered the store. He greeted me (the table was near the door) and began to chat. I learned he was a brickie and from Northern Ireland. He picked up a copy of the novel and saw it's subject-matter was Irish. He appeared delighted. As we conversed further, I concluded he was from nearby where I grew up--even mentioned a name I knew but pretended I didn't--and began to sweat.

"So what's your book about?"
"It's a young boy's coming of age...and there's a dark secret in the family," I said.
"Would I like it?"
"I...I'm not sure. There's some complicated issues in it."
He laughed, then scoured the blurbs and flap copy. "Any sex?"
A surge of warmth occurred under my armpits. "Nothing graphic."
Well, I'll tell you what. I'm looking for a book for my girlfriend but I'm going to come back for one. You'll sign it for me?"
I willed the remaining hour to fly so I could pack up and leave. He didn't appear and I began to relax. Twenty minutes later, he returned, picked up a copy, and asked me to sign it."
My mind must have been working overtime in his absence and out came, "I don't think it'll be your sort of book."
"What do you mean?"
"It deals with a sexually confused boy in part?"
"What...he's growing up gay or something?"
A silence occurred. I watched the people milling by the "Summer reads" table while he examined inside the book, flicking through and stopping to read passages here and there."
"Okay, do you sign it for me now or do I have to pay for it first?"
I was shocked. "Oh, I'll sign it now."
"Thanks...and we're not all backward, you know?" He grinned.
"What do you mean?"
"My accent might be broad and all, but I've been around quite a bit and I know a thing or two about life. I know about gays."
I was stunned. I'd concluded he was a brickie, Catholic and conservative, was probably a guy who'd tortured the lives of kids at his school who he thought might be gay.
"And my girlfriend will like it, too. Can you put her name in the inscription too?"

As I watched him walk toward the cashier, my mind tried to process what had occurred and how it was me who's made the assumptions. A lesson had been taught. But had it been absorbed. Had I overcome a scourge of my upbringing? No. That became apparently when a senior Irish American man befriended me at the 'Y' and recently found out from someone I was a writer who's published an Irish novel.

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1 comment:

BJ said...

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The Pope's car is being auctioned off to raise money for Habitat for Humanity:
The bidding is already more than $200,000! Personally, I think this is a really fun and creative way to raise
money. The auction goes until April 14th if you and your readers want to check it out.