Allisse Rouleau – Creative Writing Assignments

Posted on January 30th, 2014 by

Personal Narrative

We are at Greene’s bar in the heart of Ballyvaughan, and our faces are glowing by the light of the coals in the fireplace we’re surrounding for warmth. I order a Jameson and ginger at the bar for six euros, and sit at a table with friends I know, and friends I haven’t met yet.

“I had a heart attack just a few days ago. They had to pick me up at my shop there, and I was dead,” he said.

I know he isn’t lying because the bracelet from the hospital is still on his wrist. His name is David, and he is a Shaman.

“Do you want to smoke a fag? Come on; let’s pound another nail in our coffin.”

He has plenty of cigarettes because since he survived his brush with death, people come to him bearing gifts of smokes, liquor, butter and fatty creams. I guess they figure if these luxuries haven’t killed him yet, they never will. He might as well enjoy them. I step outside and enjoy one with him. With a flick of his lighter I inhale, and David proceeds to tell me his story.

“I was born in Cork, but I grew up in England. I went to school there and eventually joined the police force for about ten years.”

At this point in the night, I feel like I know David’s whole life story. You see, earlier that day, I met David. Leah and I wanted to do some shopping in Ballyvaughan. There are two shops in town, Quinn’s Craft Store and Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. January is the off season for tourism in Ireland, and especially in Ballyvaughan. Many businesses in town close from January first until sometime in March when the tourists arrive again. We are quick to realize that Quinn’s is one of those businesses that are closed for the season, but, to our delight, there is a sign in the door of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire that says “open”. Strangely, there isn’t a light on in the whole place, but Leah is determined to do some shopping, so she gives a few raps on the knocker. When there is no answer, we start heading for Logue’s pub just down the street for a few beers and a bite to eat, but then a light appears inside. The store owner comes to the door. It’s David, and he lets us in. We introduce ourselves and apologize for disturbing him because it is obvious by the condition of his hair that he was sleeping.

“Really?! A cop? I can’t imagine you having that job!”

I almost wanted to laugh at the thought of this man, this drifter with no structure to his life, being a police officer. He lives in his van because owning a house is too much of a commitment for him. He doesn’t like to be tied down. I wonder if like would be easier that way. I prefer structure, but I try to understand his way of life. Is David doing it right?

“I absolutely hated it.”

That’s more like it. I thought for a minute that I had him pegged wrong, but nope, I was right on target. He told me earlier of his travels to Mexico. He stayed in the desert for a month with a tribe there who hosts a spiritual retreat. People from all corners of the world were there to experience spiritual enlightenment. He particularly remembers a woman who had a vision in her mind of this beautiful place, but she couldn’t figure out why she could see it because she had never been there. This location was so magnificent that it nearly brought her to tears.

“Have you ever heard of peyote?” he asks me, and I nod. “It’s a spiritual experience. All of us at the retreat were part of this ritual where we would just touch someone’s shoulder, and it was as if we experienced their whole life in that moment. We felt every emotion and lived every memory over again.”

“That sounds pretty rough. I don’t know if I could handle it.”

“Many people have an emotional experience on peyote. That woman I told you about who had a vision of this place she had never been to; well I asked her to describe this place to me, and that instant I knew exactly the place she was talking about, because I had been surfing there earlier that week. I let her look at the pictures on my camera, and she wept. I think it really freaked her out.”

To be honest, I am a little freaked out, too. I am in this strange voodoo-like store with all types of incense, books on witchcraft and statues of things I’ve never seen before, and this man is telling me about tripping on peyote. This isn’t the Ireland I’ve read about on the internet. So, I stop listening entirely and look around the store some more. I try completely close my mind, trying not to absorb any more of the information that David spews out, but I find myself with ears partially open; incase he says something interesting again. On the back wall I notice a canvas covered in gold with writing overlapping in silver that reads, “The kingdom of heaven lies within us.” It is so large that it almost covers the entire back wall. It shimmers in the light and catches my eye more than once. I notice its beauty, but I don’t know what it means. It is too late to ask David, because we are leaving the store now and neither of us buys anything, and I am left to ponder my question.MIt was that night at Greene’s that David tried explaining Shamanism to me, and he asked if I noticed the big gold canvas in the back of his shop. I nod.

“Do you know what that means?”

“Actually, I have been pondering that because it stuck out to me today. It is beautiful, but I am not sure what it means. Is it referring to God being within us?”

“No. Not quite. It means that we are like gods. Shamanistic beliefs explain that we should live life with open minds and open hearts, and that we shouldn’t let the feeling of guilt weigh us down.”

It’s almost as if David could feel me shutting him out. How did he know that this aspect of Shamanistic teachings would apply to me in this moment? I previously had a closed mind and closed heart because I didn’t have the same beliefs as this man, but as soon as I opened up to him, I could find the beauty in what he was saying. I don’t fully understand shamanism as a religion, but what I did hear through selective listening was really quite beautiful.  During that night, and especially while traveling around Ireland, I am keeping David’s words of Shamanistic wisdom in mind.

The Spirit of Ireland

Throughout history, people used music to connect and relate to one another. For example, during the civil rights movement in America, songs were written to be rehearsed by many to fight against oppression together. “We shall overcome,” rang out in the streets during marches and bus boycotts where African Americans gathered together as a force. Eventually, after a relentless fight, their struggles were over, and the music was a big part of the effort that got them through the rough times. As a people, the Irish have always struggled. The rocky terrain of the island they live on made it difficult to farm. They fought against the British monarchy, and through the potato famine, and even when they came to America, they were discriminated against and had to choose to fight against their oppressors. Today, there is a sense of the bitterness that lingers from the times that were so desperate, but one thing that gathers them in crowds is live music.

As I roam the streets in Galway, there are signs pointing to pubs, and beckoning me in their brightly colored store fronts. “Live music – tonight.” We stay two nights and three days during the middle of the week, and luckily I am able to enjoy live music the entire time despite it not being the weekend. As I wander down Shop Street with my camera in hand, I try to sneakily capture candid shots of the performers in the streets. They always come out at a certain time of day around dusk, and they serenade street walkers all night. They make beautiful music by strumming their guitars and banjos or beat boxing into their didgeridoos. A man with salt and pepper hair sings about the troubles in America while sitting amongst colorful blankets on the cobblestone. His quiet tenor voice is projected by the aid of his amp no larger than a shoe box. A saxophone player throws up the peace sign when he sees me staring, I capture the moment, and he continues to play. The musicians stand alone and vulnerable under the glow of the city lights scattered in alleys and doorways. Like crickets out on a starry night, they sing and strum and sweep me away to a magical place. I throw down a few euros here and there; a small gesture for the gift they have given me. I walk by and thank them for letting me stand there and be delighted by their creation for a while. I don’t want to leave, but as I do, I notice a whole crowd of people enjoying the music, just the same as me, and some just bustling past the familiar noise.

At a certain point in the night, the streets are scarce of people because we all flock to the pubs and grab a seat and a drink to relax and enjoy the music. The King’s Head is the place to be, and you can hear the music as an outsider looking in from the street. On this, the first night in Galway, I was whisked away to my home and my family by familiar songs I was pleasantly surprised to hear. “Oh, how I wish you were here, now;” the well-known lyrics to a Pink Floyd song have never been more true as I was imagining my brothers sitting next to me singing along with a pale ale in hand. You can’t help the desire to be inside enjoying what all these people came for; it’s the music, and its night two in Galway. We are in The Quays pub, and for a while we will be enchanted by traditional Irish music, flute and all. Then we sing along to familiar tunes with an Irish twang. We hear the intro to “Wagon Wheel” and Sarah screams, “This just made my night!!” She screams all the lyrics she can remember all while her grin is stretched ear to ear. As the moon rises, the music changes from folk to rock and roll. The stage is quickly switched by band members scurrying excitedly like mice eager to start the next set. With the different genres covered by the changing of bands, the music played this night has pleased every individual. We loud Americans applaud the musicians at the conclusion of each song. We hoot, holler, and then head back to our hostel for the night.

On the walk back to my home for the few short days we stayed in Galway, I am saddened thinking about how much I am going to miss the music. It is late when I return, but I am still wide awake from all the excitement, so I grab my computer and head down to the community lounge in the hostel. I hear faint strums on a guitar and I am happy again because I know the music isn’t quite over yet. I step into the lounge next to mine, and there is a Korean boy about my age serenading a girl who looks to be my age as well. I notice her thick German accent when she asks me if I can sing any songs. “I know  “Better Man,” by Pearl Jam. Do you know it?” “Sorry, I don’t know them in Germany.” I sit quietly and try to think of some song all three of us will know, and meanwhile the guitar sings alone. This boy is extremely talented at playing guitar, and his fingers grope the guitar incessantly all night. He is very familiar with the way he should strum and pluck the strings. I am soon serenaded as well. The girl from Germany suggests a different song, “Wonderwall” by Oasis, and the title has a familiar ring. The boy plucks away, and the girl starts to sing. I realize that I know this song, too, so I start to sing. The lyrics pour out, and the other girl harmonizes.  So here I am, late at night, in a hostel in Ireland with a boy from Korea and a girl from Germany. We are all from different corners of the world, singing the same song together. We have made a connection through the music.  The boy tells me that he actually came to Galway for the music. He is inspired by U2 and Damien Rice, both which he has seen perform live in the city. I told them that I was here to study photography and creative writing. They laugh because I had been taking their photos all night.

I flash back to my years in high school when music was my passion. I had made it into the elite choir under a wonderful, inspirational director who had made the music department well known in our area for its amazing performances. In the summers, I would join the community choir that he collaborated because I knew that three months was too long to not be singing in his choir. After that night in the hostel, I recalled a lesson that he tried to instill in all that were lucky enough to be a part of his passion. “To experience the music is a beautiful blessing,” Mr. Haase would say. He never defined it, but I know what the music is in my heart because I had many experiences in his choir, and I experienced it that night, too. Unfortunately, when I got to college and signed up for choir, the passion in the department was nothing like I had experienced  before, so I quit after only a semester.

It is very late now, and we are all very tired. We bid each other goodnight, and I thank them both for sharing the music with me. “Never stop the music,” she says to us. Then she looks at me and says, “And never stop singing. You have a lovely voice.” I bid her the same, and thank her for reminding me how much I love to sing. I miss it, and this night was a beautiful reminder of that. I tell the Korean boy how glad I am that he let me listen to him play the guitar for hours. I thank him, and remind over and over of how talented he is. I also encourage him, and plead with him to never give up playing that guitar. I realize that some people come to this city for the music, like the boy with the guitar from Korea, but whether or not you are one of those people, you can’t help but to be drawn to the music and the crowds that gather for it. The experience that music brings is a beautiful thing, and what it stands for can be very powerful. The Irish may have struggled, but they never gave up the music. Without the music, their spirits would have been broken; for the spirit of Ireland is portrayed every day in the streets, pubs or hostels. Wherever the music is playing, the spirit of Ireland can be found.


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