A Rough Week

The last week has been my first real struggle with the Watson.

The timing makes sense. It’s about two months in, and I’m noticing the weight of the solo journey. It’s my last couple weeks in Ireland, and I feel the stress of leaving a place I have learned to navigate for unfamiliar territory. My alma matter is back in session, and while I’m thrilled to be somewhere other than college, it raises my awareness of the dense network I’ve lost and the inherent isolation of the Watson.

My time in Belfast didn’t help. My camera was stolen, so don’t expect any pictures from the North. I got sick for the second time this trip. For reasons unclear to me, I found it impossible to write. I spent some time living in a house that was isolated from the core of the city, and with a host who, while helpful, had a view of the world that is the flip side of mine that he readily shared. While he helped with my project, in ways I’ll talk more about in another post, those interviews pushed me out of my comfort zone in ways I’m still processing. And while a private room from AirBNB feels more like “my” space than a bed in a hostel, I was always aware that I was not in a home of my own.

Giant’s Causeway. One of the few pictures I have of the North

This deserves a longer post once I’m further into this adventure, but I’ve been thinking about what it means to be alone. It’s powerful. I wake up every day and decide what I want to do. I notice things about myself. I can try and fail and try and succeed by my own measure. But it’s also overwhelming. My time is spent in either isolated silence or a stream of chatter, whether the rapid fire conversation that comes from meeting new people or the attentive absorption of an interview. Especially with my subject, folks have a lot of thoughts, many that they are unable to share in other forums. I don’t experience comfortable communal silences. With time, moving between these extremes becomes exhausting.

On my last night in Belfast, the day I discovered my camera had disappeared, I sat on the floor of my room, tired and wired and wanting to be anywhere else. I realized I had to call my mom. That helped.

Without her support, I’m not sure how I would have made it to Cork the next day. It started with a morning hunt for my missing camera, retracing my steps lugging my massive pack on the off-chance I left it somewhere. No such luck. I was told to wait to board the bus to Dublin, the first leg of my journey. It left while I looked on. The bus I got was late, causing me to miss my connection. I rushed across the city to an alternative, hoping to get to Cork before midnight. I finally arrived to an anonymous city in the dark, clearly shut down for the night. I collapsed in my hostel bed, only to wake up a little later to the sounds of a suffocating pig that pierced my earplugs and vibrated the bed. My dormmate’s snoring made sleep impossible. The hostel didn’t have a lounge, so I ended up sitting on the stairs, staring at my laptop at 4AM in an unknown town. An inebriated German girl, unable to return to her room due to her amorous travel mate, sat down next to me at my worst and listened to a rant about how much I hated Cork and how I was leaving first thing in the morning, even though I had nowhere to go. She listened, acting more interested in my troubles than they deserved. Then, probably realizing an awkward interaction with her travel mate would be preferable to my whining, she went to bed. Sick and exhausted and lonely, I was desperate for a home.

A street in Cork

I finally returned to my room at 6 AM to a hack saw rather than a power drill. I got a few hours of sleep. When I woke up, a friend I made in Dublin told me his parents were offering me a home for a night. I had breakfast with some friendly fellow travelers, and went outside to a wonderful sunny day, in a city with friendly people, an incredible art gallery, and a lovely park. My sore throat was improving. I wrote more in a day than I had in a week. I had a good chat with some folks back home, and then traveled to a home cooked dinner, a warm shower, and a private room. I slept nine hours, and woke up to a breakfast where I learned about all the geographic politics of Irish hurling and GAA football.

At the start of this trip, one of my best friends offered the sort of insight that only she can. To paraphrase from memory, she said the experience of the Watson probably leads to emotional extremes, an oscillation between excitement and sadness, but that you (meaning me) don’t tend to go to extremes, so you’ll probably feel a mix of emotions most of the time. It’s not the exhilaration of adventure or the exhaustion from the journey, it’s both. It’s not sadness from loneliness or the thrill of freedom, it’s both. My joy from today is a function of the challenge of yesterday. How’s that for holistic?


3 thoughts on “A Rough Week

  1. Hello Jesse,

    You are a long way from home and learning more about your chosen subject than you would in ten years of academics. Don’t be hard on yourself for not writing reams of paper (no actual paper, is there? ) each day. Experiences always take a few GOOD night’s sleep to integrate, as you know. Be kind to yourself and you will look back on this as the most amazing time.


  2. Jesse,
    This post touched me deeply and my heart goes out to you. It reminded me so much of a travel experience that I had in Europe – different details, similar experience and feelings. It all came rushing back to me in vivid detail. The thing is: you are discovering your ‘self’ down to the core and it is hard emotional work. But then it is also so freeing. You write so beautifully about it, I am glad that you found your voice again.

    Keep on!

    And aren’t mothers wonderful? Always there for you in just the way you needed.


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