with Is it ok to fall in love with yourself?
Is that the ego calling? Checking, checking… yes, no, I don’t know.
But what I do know is that these past two weeks since Duc and Sorcha left Vietnam I have been alone here mostly. I’ve met up with a few friends for lunch or a beer. But overall, I’ve been pretty much alone. Last night I realised I’m getting a bit funny in myself. But in a good way. I could be hanging out with way worse. I’ve been, probably, a little more attached to my phone at times, chatting to home mainly and sharing stories on insta. Looking up what’s happening in Palestine and trying at the same time to share and to stay protected. I’m alone here. I wake alone and I go to bed alone. I think about Palestine all the time, we all do and we hope and we hope.
I must protect my mind. I must protect my heart. I must protect my soul. So I can keep fighting the good fight.
Yesterday I spoke to my family online at different stages but besides that I had minimal interaction with people in real life: The lady at the café in the morning, the couple I adore who sell Orange Juice and the girl in the restaurant. No one I know really, and the conversations were minimal. But my Vietnamese is improving everyday and the project I’m working on is going great. So, I’m feeling good. I miss Duc terribly, but we are navigating the waters of long distance for now, and we both know the merits. Plus, it’s only for a few months. The challenge is what makes the story. And our love is more solid than ever.
So, the falling in love with oneself. Where’s that coming from?
It’s a deep and emotional one, that’s hard to put to words. It’s a feeling inside, a slight excitement and awe at the things I’m doing and learning and reliving. I’m tapping into my past a lot with my writing. I’m looking back over me as a 25-year-old who first came to Vietnam. I had only turned 25. I am exploring the memories of that time and reacquainting myself with the younger Ciarna. The idea of who I think the younger me was and then the reality. Something which will never be straightened out; for the past itself is also a mystery and the brain is a funny one. Still, I drive my bike along and I laugh. I remember the young, free me, the me before life and grief. The me before we knew the real damage we are doing as humans. Albeit I was always an activist and always aware of global issues, I feel now the issues are tied to a capitalist system that is falling and failing us. But that’s all for another day.
I am aware how narcissistic this piece of writing is. I spoke to my sister-in-law the other day about narcissus and how we are all now caught in the age of narcissus as we preen and prime ourselves into a form of beauty that is often far from nature. We talked about Botox and fixing one’s bodies. I’m not going to lie. I too have struggled with my image, but I find the greater struggle now is trying to show others their own beauty and power when so many are lost. So, I embrace my beauty as much as I can and part of that is embracing getting older.
I remember when I was younger feeling like I would never ever have a problem with aging. That all the women I adored and idolised were in their 50s. I had older friends and iconised Joan Baez and Janis Ian, both of whom I’d met and loved even more. So, the idea of getting older only excited me. But then when I suddenly hit 40, I really was in a state of shock. More so in how younger people interacted with me and how suddenly, I was one of the only older people out in town. Granted this was just after lockdown and people were staying home. But it was a shock. So, I looked at it, addressed it in whatever way I could and tried to move on.
Little things like never wearing my Kiki earrings because they made me look like a bigger older woman seeped in. Still, I kept on because fuck that shit! Pushing past these niggling ideas about getting older. Noticing that my face was drier, and I would finally have to give in and buy those damned moisturisers etc. Sorry I’ve never moisturised in my life, and I don’t shave my legs. I only shave my arm pits once or twice a year for maintenance. And I’ve done this since before Julia Roberts done it and certainly before all the young twenty-year-olds started… here how many times have I said young? Ah well, it’s all part of what I’m saying. So, by faith of having a feminist mother and my personality type I never really fell for much of the brainwashing in the 90s. I think my eyes were permanently rolled to the top of my head with lad culture and pop culture. Don’t get me wrong, I bought the magazines and watched the TV shows. I listened to the music and went along with diet culture from time to time, but I wasn’t a victim of it, nor a survivor. Just a mere witness who, yes suffered somewhat under it as a bigger woman. But again, fuck that shit was my motto. Sometimes I’d fight harder, and not just for me, for other bigger girls and women who couldn’t speak up for themselves.
But I digress… falling in love with myself.
Honestly, I think its just allowing yourself to be attracted to you and what you do and who you are. Standing naked in the mirror, lifting your belly and saying ‘here bud, you could be a little less jiggly for health’s sake, but oh how I love to watch u jiggle’ or using that darned moisturiser and seeing the benefits.
It’s not all visual though, in fact I think that’s the easy bit to put to words. It’s emotional, its about reconnecting with myself. Being lucky enough to come back to a place that helped form who I am today and quietly observe where I am and how I got here. I wrote 12,000 words. I decided to treat myself to a glass of whiskey and a doob (I’ve not been smoking alone at home) and I sat on the balcony to congratulate me on getting past 10,000 words day by day. It’s been flowing out of me. So, I sat on my balcony and listened to Jazz (music I’ve always disliked) but its good for working. And I’m actually starting to enjoy it, much to Duc’s delight! I listened to it tinkle in the background very low due to neighbours and smoked, looked up at the sky and the giant palm tree.
And then I floated up and moved out and away over the balcony and onto the street. and I looked back. There sitting alone on a balcony under the sky and the tall palm tree sat a woman alone. The dim lights and the twinkling jazz music only enhanced the view, she sat in contemplation as the smoke danced around her and she sipped on her whisky. She was a happy woman, someone content in who she is. The auntie who writes and travels and is married to a wonderful man and painter. A sister and a daughter, a good friend. A good woman who does things her own way. Someone who is friendly and respectful and someone who encompasses the beautiful spirit of two homes. I liked her.
I grew up in Vietnam in some ways, a Vietnam that was healing and a beautiful and with gentle people overall. Friendly and curious. Much like Irish people. I grew up in two cultures that are healing from Famine and War, colonization, and internal conflict. But both are strong, resilient, and most forgiving and friendly. People just want peace and to move on. So, these two cultures live in me. I celebrate both and do my best.
When I’m with younger Vietnamese people and they ask my story – often they will calculate how old they were when I came here. I’ve met a few 25-year-olds and told them I was their age when I came here alone. They all balk at the idea and then when we calculate how old there were when I came – 6 years old – we laugh. It’s been nineteen years this year!! In fact, when I think of it now I came to Vietnam at the end of January 2005!
A friend of mine from the Anti Racism Network in Ireland said to me many years ago ‘who lives here, belongs here’ for me it’s also ‘who loves here, belongs here’
So, I love, and I belong, in myself wherever this vessel takes me. I hope I continue to fall in love with myself at different times in my life. It’s been a decade of hurt and pain in my life since my dad first fell ill but a decade of learning and growing, so looking back at that young woman and seeing where I am now and what she’d think of me, I feel for the first time in a while, she’d be dead proud of me as I am of her… let’s see where this brings us. Forward with love.
Honestly, I wish everyone could do this at some stage in their lives. Step out, look back and love what got you here, the mind, the vessel, the people, and the places. If we all loved a bit better, I think we’d have a better world. It starts at home with yourself and travels out.