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green beer or coffee?Ever have your life blown open by a few words on NPR? It happened yesterday, on St. Paddy’s Day, as my some-would-say negligible 1/16th Irish reared up on a 500-mile drive home to Iowa – a land where the Irish are few and far between. I was leaving Michigan, where I had spent the weekend with lots of Irish kin and kind.

“One thing that maybe is not as common of a stereotype about the Irish but is certainly, in my experience, a defining characteristic, and that is:

We don’t put up with inauthenticity much.

Be real is a refrain,

I think, of the Irish American community. So, perhaps we have a tendency to both admit our sins, and be offended by the stereotypes based on our sins.”

-Alice McDermott, winner of the 1998 National Book Award for Fiction for the novel Charming Billy, on NPR’s On Point

Do you know how long authenticity has been screaming at me, screaming in me? Ever since I couldn’t find it in puberty. When I lost it to the crazy brain-remodeling period (yeah) of adolescence, and tried to remodel myself into all kinds of things I wasn’t.

I had tried on Nice Mary, like that popular girl Krista who wasn’t a bodacious fox like the other popular girls, but was always smiling and never swore. Shit, that was boring. And Brainy Mary, where my friends were either meek, or domineering the meek. And then there was Alternative Mary, like the people I met that I thought were the most authentic so far – the drama crowd. In that crowd, I talked a lot about Scritti Politti. It was the only semi-non-main-stream band I knew of at the time. And I authentically liked them! Scritti Politti oh Politti oh Politti oh Politti oh.

Then, in college, I was Bitch Mary. That worked pretty well, actually.

So here I am, like, 100 years later, and I am still caught off guard when I find affirmation that I can be Authentic Mary. That being weird is fine, it’s who I am. That when I let myself comment on your facebook post without thinking, you love it. And I love it, too. I hit “enter” with a kind of risky glee.

And when my ginger Irish lawyer sister kin in Michigan – getting by day-to-day with the demands of a ginger 2-year-old and twin ginger 2-month-olds – says it wouldn’t be worth it to put her personal time into the bankruptcy proceedings of a furniture company who stiffed her and many others, I can authentically say,

“Have some fun! Who cares about the shitty odds of getting your money back, contact the case attorney and join in somehow! Have fun!” And the girl lights up. That’s authenticity. Having fun with what you have. (The girl – er, woman – has a lot – a brilliant former trial attorney for the City of Chicago, Irish Division. Oh, wait, that’s all divisions.)

The thing that really hit me with that NPR zang was – this authenticity bent is in my blood, man! But what hit me next was, shut up, it’s in all our blood. That affirmation I got – I don’t need it. And you don’t, either. I sure as shamrock won’t put up with your inauthenticity.

Have fun with what you have. Remember what you have! And don’t try to make other things into your things just because other people want you to, or because you think others want you to, or even because you forgot what you really got – and wanted all along. What is yours? What lights you up? Express it how you want to. And never stop.

And what about that part that Alice says about stereotypes of our sins? My sister was always pegged as argumentative, confrontational. Fiery. It is these very things that make her burn so fucking bright.

I’ve got a perfect way. Scritti Politti said that. (They were talking about making the girls go crazy, but, whatevs.) So, let’s pretend for a moment that this is some smackdown philosophy. I’ve got a perfect way. (Disclaimer #11: This is decidedly not “I’ve got the only way.”) And when people suggest to me to just take some of the f-words out, get more scritti polittically correct, or tone it down a bit, I can know. Just know. This is how it has to be, because I’ve got a perfect way, bitches.

 

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