Coming Back to Real Life

It occurs to me that coming back from another country feels a little like closing your computer at the end of day when you’re writing a novel. It’s not that easy to turn off the other world—it’s still there, lurking, pressing in around the edges.

It’s been nearly three weeks since we got back from Ireland, where I lived for a year after college. We’re still clinging to it. (That’s like a novel, too—that you don’t want to let it go. That even as you’re happy in the present—in the real—playing superhero with your toddler or cooking dinner or snuggling on the sofa or any of the other small, happy moments that make up a day—you are also pulled back into the other world, wondering what’s happening there, wanting to stick your head in and take a peek.)

When you get back from another country, that other country stays so concrete for a while. I can still feel the wind on our balcony in our place in Kinsale and see exactly the route we’d walk to the playground at St. Patrick’s Park in Dublin and taste the Bannoffee pie we ate on a frigidly cold beach. And there’s such pleasure in feeling that world—in feeling this other me walking along the grassy trails of a ruined fort or ordering a small-batch whiskey in a warm pub or ignoring the ache in my calves as we hiked a beautifully, horribly steep path through the trees called Breakheart Hill. (Going up it breaks your heart.)

And so, as I was saying, we hold on to it. The places. Our other selves. My husband and I have bought an electric kettle and sip Barry’s tea every day. He’s reading James Joyce religiously. I’ve made two Bannoffee pies (which, by the way, are a delicious combination of caramel, bananas, and cream.) We call our son a whinge-bag when he whines.

When I’m in the middle of writing a book, it’s that exact same thing, only the other self that I’m holding on to is not really me. And the other place is not exactly a real place. But I’ll find that as I sit on my back porch and look at the tops of the hackberry trees, I’ll step for a second into the body of a girl in 1916, looking out at pine trees along the Mobile Bay. Or I’ll rub a blister on my foot and imagine it’s a woman hiking along the cliffs of Bar Harbor who’s worn the wrong shoes for her climb. Or I’ll see a man walking down the street with a hole in his pants, and instead it’s all of a sudden a teenager lost, wandering the streets of Cincinnati, who sees that same man.

It’s not a bad feeling, one foot in both worlds. It’s not great in terms of, well, concentration. Or getting a to-do list done. But it’s intriguing. And now I’m going to go make myself a tea.

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