Writing Workshop

Last week I went to an awesome writer’s workshop for… writers-block-2!!!

[Full disclosure, though, I haven’t been having writer’s block.  Creative writing lately has felt like the easiest outlet for stress or frustration I have.]

Nonetheless, it sounded really fun, and I had been to a few events hosted by the UCC English Society, and they’d all been fun… oh no, need to find synonyms for ‘fun’…. will bring that up next time, hope it will be… fun?

Anyway, here’s the flier:writing-workshop

I hadn’t heard of Kathy D’Arcy before, having done my undergrad in the states, but it was really fun… eh, nice, meeting her at the event.  We started off with a meditation, then some simple writing exercises, describing a person we knew by just writing non stop for 5 minutes.  Eventually, we got prompts, such as, write a metaphor about this person using ‘fire’ or ‘earth’ or ‘water’.  I used the person I always seem to… Brendan Castle, a buddy of mine I met when we were 17 at Scout Camp over the Summer.  We hated each other.  Like, I mean, big time.  His purple hair and anarchy logos were the antithesis to my Catholic iconography stenciled over punk rock lyrics on my jumper.  I didn’t see him again until we were 19, when we discovered we were very much involved in the same music scene when I drove a friend of mine, who was the lead singer for the band Brendan was playing drums for, to the dilapidated recording studio behind the Halal butcher and in front of the Trailer Park off Route 28 in my hometown.  Becoming friends through shared musical tastes, and an affinity for the social circle of others on the fringe of society led him to call me one afternoon in 2008, after I had completed Basic Training and Infantry School, and had been drilling part time as a National Guardsman, preparing to go to Iraq for a year.  Ultimately, we ended up as roommates in Richmond for a while, working civilian jobs and going to college, and drilling on weekends at the same National Guard unit, before going to Afghanistan together, my second deployment, his first.  We stopped being Brendan and Phil, and instead became Castle and Nannery.

Above: A couple of BFFs.

Kathy asked me if I’d heard of Kevin Powers before.  It was strange.  I met him last year, after getting rear ended borrowing my sister’s car by some neck-tattooed hick on the Midlo Turnpike.  Kevin Powers went to the same University as me, and I was there giving a talk to English undergrads about how to teach English abroad, having promptly grown a beard and moved to Japan after ETSing from the Guard and graduating in ’13.  I walked up to him after his reading in the English building on Grace Street, the same Grace Street that had been called Hell Block when me and Castle moved to Richmond, before it became gentrified and safe.  I asked Kevin ironically, if he could ‘spare a cigarette for a combat vet down on his luck’.  He laughed, and we had a smoke together, and chatted.  I told him that I hadn’t read his book, The Yellow Birds, afraid that it would influence me too much as I tried to find my own voice and style.  He understood, totally

Kathy told me that there is a huge demand for ‘war fiction’ now, because it’s happening so recently, and still happening, and there is not much material being written about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I thought of how it seemed to me that all the memoirs and non fiction books and fiction written about Iraq and Afghanistan seem to come from journalists, or worse… officers.  Not enlisted, not grunts, like me and Castle.  People love the stories of Special Forces, and Special Operations, though they don’t know the difference between the two, and the big shot generals who make the big decisions.  “Gods and Generals”, I believe that Civil War film was called…. I used to joke around with my buddies in Afghanistan, that I would write a memoir one day, about the disconnect between the top brass and the media, and America’s perception from the reality of us ‘boots on the ground’.  Never mind trying to explain the flood of emotions I experience when I read some reporter or politician debating the deployment or definition of ‘boots on the ground’.  That would be impossible to communicate, and I won’t even try.  I would call the memoir ‘Peons and Privates’, I would always say.  While that still remains an inside joke with buddies, I have written a novel since, and am currently sending query letters to literary agents who mostly don’t write back.  Don’t believe me…?  Observe, exhibit A:dwelling-cover

But that’s not done overnight.  It’s not.  And sitting down, and having a fit of eloquent verbal diarrhea won’t magically manage to create an outlet for all of the thoughts, and memories, the sounds, and sights, and smells that I took in and soaked into my mind, my body, my soul, everything for 2 years in my early 20s.  It’s a process.  It’s a fun process.  And Kathy’s input was awesome, and encouraging, and fun, to hear.  She asked me if I was familiar with the Beats, and I grew mollified, and said ‘of course’ and mentioned how I was planning on doing a thesis on the cultural influence of the Irish diaspora on Jack Kerouac.  She told me that she asked because I had these long, flowing sentences, which I recently found a word for (parataxis).  I thought back to my senior year of high school, in the states, after meeting Castle at Summer camp the same week I found out my parents were getting divorced, and shortly before finding out the Marine Corps recruiter wouldn’t take me because of my medical history and getting expelled from school when I was younger, a few years before I joined the Army instead, I would sit in the back of Mr. Miller’s English class in front of a big poster with a picture of Jack Kerouac and a quote of his.kerouac 2.pngI’ve thought about this for years.  It was one of those things that began my interest in writing, in living, in being a beatnik, in going to Ireland to see where my family came from during the Celtic Tiger in 2006, in joining the Army in 2007, in travelling.  And most of all, it is what I have always thought of, since being in Iraq, and always wanting to capture just one image that I remember.  I once saw a line of red tracer rounds shooting across the night Baghdad sky, to shoot down incoming mortar rounds.  I was safe, of course, as it was several kilometers away.  But the image of something so violent, exploding against the night sky, with the Iraqi heat pressing up against my chafed and reddened young skin, has always felt like the most impossibly illusive experience to attempt to communicate to others.  But then, I guess that’s what makes me mad, and that’s what makes me desirous.

I hope to use some of the insights and feedback from the session, and look forward to more English Society events, and a big shout out to the UCC English Society and Dr. Kathy D’Arcy of UCC as well.



Works Cited:

Ott, Christopher.  “Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved”.  Serviette Scribbles, 11 June, 2013, http://www.serviettescribbles.com/2013/06/mad-to-live-mad-to-talk-mad-to-be-saved.html.  Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.

Wikpedia editathon!!!

I was so happy to recently take part in a wikpedia ediathon for my Contemporary Research class with Donna Marie.  First off, I love wikipedia.  I mean, as in, I am in love with it.  Ever since I discovered it about 10 years ago, I’ve been known to spend hours reading pages, delving deeper and deeper in to obscure and esoteric information.  Second off, I’ve just learned how to insert hypertext, so please feel free to click on the blue underlined stuff, leading to the pages I’ve worked on or used as sources.  A few years back, I had actually created an account to edit a page about The Battle of Doan, which I played an extremely small supporting ronle in while serving in Afghanistan.

Above: Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott agreeing with me concerning Wikipedia.

One of the challenges to this was that I was not very familiar with the complexities of formatting on Wikipedia.  Additionally, I included the role American forces of  the 29th Infantry Division, serving at the time as part of a PRT, played in the engagement.  At the time, a team of journalists embedded with Australian troops made an incredible piece on their deployment to the area, but my additions to the page were entirely based on my own personal experiences and recollection, bolstered by a few sworn statements for awards I’d had from my chain of command.

After this, I had also actually made a few minor edits to the page for the Congregation of Christian Brothers.  Before, there had been a section about the Christian Brothers in “The British Isles”.  I changed it because of the the archaic sound of “British Isles” which has always ruffled my feathers.  I remember being teased as a kid in middle school, about The British Isles needing to be more British when I would get angry debating and arguing with classmates over Irish nationalism, and being likened to terrorists for it.  But, luckily, there are credible debates about the language of these islands, is a legitimate thing, and not just a reflection of my own idiosyncratic  hyper-nationalist Irish-American upbringing… Exhibit A: British Isles naming dispute.

Thanks, Wikipedia!!!!

So, with that limited background of Wikipedia, I dove in to the edit-athon recently and realized…. Yeah, this is still really difficult.  I was writing about Tom MacIntyre, because recently having read his play The Great Hunger for another class, I found that there was remarkably little about him on Wikipedia.  Another monkey wrench in the spokes of my plan occurred when two days prior to the edit-athon, my laptop appeared to have been damaged!!! (Turns out, it wasn’t.  I’d only engaged the button that converted it to a tablet, and couldn’t figure out why leaning back the screen was making it throw a conniption each time).  So, after the awkward start of borrowing Donna’s laptop, I dove in, realizing that it would take longer to correctly cite the plays of Tom MacIntyre from Irish Playography.  It seemed legit… I mean, if it wasn’t, then I would at the very least cite it correctly, as they included on the page their own citation, of the original play programs.  Yeah, I felt confident.  In the end, though, I had to go back after the class concluded, and finished adding information about the plays.  I still haven’t finished all that I would like to, and do plan on returning to the page eventually to add a bit more biographical information.  But I look forward to any thoughts you have on what I’ve done so far:

After updating the info on Tom MacIntyre, I did also add a line to the Wikipedia page for Jack Kerouac.  I made a mention of Joycean influences on his writing style, and cited a great essay by Michael Begnal.


I hope anyone reading this enjoys, and look forward to any thoughts, feedback, or comments.  I also hope that this was only the first of many, many more Wikipedia edits.

Works Cited:

Begnal, Michael S. “‘To Be an Irishman Too’: Jack Kerouac’s Irish Connection.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 92, no. 368, 2003, pp. 371–377., http://www.jstor.org/stable/30095661.

Quigley, Kaitlin.  When your professor says Wikipedia is not a credible source.  13 December 2016.  Her Campus at Loyola University Marymount Campus, http://www.hercampus.com/school/lmu/finals-week-told-michael-scott.  Accessed 20 February, 2017.

Doers and sayers

Over the last few months, it has felt surreal at times to work on this program.  I sometimes vacillate between feelings of triumph and defeat, as if going back to school after a few years working was either the best or worst decision I could’ve made.  I recently had one of those moments though that reminded me of why I love what I’m doing, and why I’m happy I decided to go back to school after teaching for some time, that I’ll share here.  So I was in Spain last Summer.  I’d gone for the Running of the Bulls with my brother Aidan who is ten years my junior and my buddy Rob from Limerick whom I used to teach English with in Japan.  We’d talked about it in Japan, and said that if I had moved to Ireland as planned, we’d do it.  My brother Aidan being there was an added bonus, as I’d used that Summer as a way to connect with him and catch up, realizing that we really had had separate childhoods since our parents split when he was 7 and I was 17.  Rob often tells me that I waffle on and on with hubris when I tell stories, so I was a bit nervous that my little brother would witness some scrutiny which took me down a peg in his eyes.  It took me back to being a kid, when everyone would be fighting and I’d feel like being the oldest I’d have to be the one to keep everyone calm as the wheels flew off the bus hurtling down the proverbial mountainside road, as I always do when congregating with people I care about whom I know from separate circles.

Above: Me embarrassing my little brother Aidan in public, after a morning of running from bulls.

It was last July, and the bus carrying us over hills an valleys from Pamplona to San Sebastian which was the nearest place we could find accommodation was hot, sticky, and cramped, reminiscent of the back of a Bradley* as I impressed all present with my precise skills of discreetly urinating into empty bottles as the bus bumped and jostled along, without spilling a drop in the furthest back seats.  We were passing around plastic bottles of sangria, which sounded exotic but was really just the same kind of fortified wine drunk by tramps and 19 year olds back in America, just marketed to tourists like us.  The adrenaline and endorphins were still being dumped into our blood vessels from our brains as we recounted the morning’s adventure, and planning how we would return the following day to make it in to the plaza following the run through the narrow cobbled streets.  Ahead of us, a large group of Americans without discernible accents were talking about how they’d gotten on for the morning.  They all looked about 20 or so.

*Above: a Bradley

They went to Notre Dame, and were mostly from the West Coast.  We made small talk a bit, knowing that the bus ride was over an hour, and feeling friendly on such an occasion.  Aidan made one of them angry when he made a joke about San Francisco (something implying that it was full of Yuppies  who’d never done manual labor before).  Her boyfriend became angry as well, and I could sense the tension on the back of the bus, and tried to change the subject, even though I laughed at the exchange, because the irony seemed lost on them that they all sort of seemed like the daughters and sons of start up Yuppies who’d never done manual labor before.  But I didn’t want the day ruined, so we talked about books, because I’d told them about how I was getting ready to start an MA in English for Irish writing and film.  I remember being surprised that they said they were Catholic, and I remember being surprised that they went to Notre Dame.  I have to remind myself still that the world is not the same as our father’s generation, a memory of a time before mine and even my time is passing rapidly.  I’ll turn 30 this weekend.  Jesuits aren’t an automatic indicator of someone belonging to ‘our thing’ as the Italians used to call it, because there isn’t even an ‘our’ or ‘us’ anymore, though their institutions remain.

So six months back, on the bus, in the backseat, in Spain, I argued that Jack Kerouac was the greatest American writer definitely of the 20th Century, and possibly of all time, which shocked the young man I was talking to.  I made arguments based on his life, and times, what he did, what he believed, how his philosophy and beliefs had evolved with time, and I grew louder and more bellicose, my olive branch turning to an arrow as I grew angry at their perfect pearly white smiles, and carefree young attitudes, and Rob and Aidan were getting a kick out of how worked up I was getting about everything once the sangria had run out in the back of the bus.

Just the other day, I came across this great biography of Jack Kerouac at the Boole Library, searching for Catholic and Irish influences on his life and writing (spoiler alert, there were plenty).  In the forward of the book, there was a perfect quote by William Burroughs that I wish I’d had 7 months ago, riding in the back of a hot, humid bus after having run from bulls in the streets, connecting with my younger brother who grew up separate from me but still remembered there being “lots of Irish people around” and feeling Irish like me in America as a kid.  It’s so perfect, and succinct, and because I don’t believe in coincidences, I thought I’d share the quote, and put it in my back pocket to save for a rainy day, and by that I mean the next time I have to have a heated debate over why I think Kerouac was the greatest American author of the 20th century certainly, and of all time, possibly.  Because I have to learn to articulate myself, and my frustrations: otherwise, all the pearly-white-smiled children of startup yuppies the world-over will always win, and the people like me and Aidan won’t have to tap the Rob’s of the world’s shoulders and ask coyly and ironically if they can tell the difference between us, because our angst and frustration will make it all too obvious.  I’ll just be an arrogant fool who waffles on, without being able to convince anyone that I have a good reason to do so.


“Kerouac was a writer.  That is, he wrote.

Many people who call themselves writers and

have their names on books are not writes

and they can’t write-the difference being,

a bullfighter who fights a bull is different

from a bullshitter who makes passes with no

bull there.  The writer has been there or he

can’t write about it.  And going there he

risks being gored.  By that I mean what the

Germans aptly call the Time Ghost-for example,

such a fragile ghost world as Fitzgerald’s

Jazz age…What are writers, and I will

confine the use of this term to writers of

novels, trying to do?  They are trying to

create a universe in which they have lived

or would like to live.  To write they must

go there and submit to conditions which they

may not have bargained for.  Sometimes, as in

the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect

produced by a writer is immediate, as if a

generation were waiting to be written.

William Burroughs


Works Cited:

Clark, Tom.  Jack Kerouac: A Biography.  Plexus, 1984.

 JohnyCarcinogen.  “PSA: If you ain’t cav, you ain’t…”.  http://www.AR15.com, 13 January, 2015, http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_1_5/1706895__ARCHIVED_THREAD____PSA__If_you_ain_t_Cav___.html&page=3.  Accessed 06, February, 2017.