MOAR Gàidhlig Agus Cèic: New Year in Auld Scotland

Source (and a very good article):

I’m trying to get better about updating here again. I spent so much of 2015 and 2016….and 2017 utterly burned out from blogging and totally overwhelmed that I feel like a wobbly wee fawn trying to walk for the first time into 2018. But! It’s a new year and there’s all sorts of stuff going on, so I thought I’d give a brief overview of what, however random (spoiler: probs very) it is.

1. Gaelic EVERYTHING. I started taking an Ùlpan Gaelic class in…October I think. I spent about fifteen years wishing really hard I would learn Gaelic by osmosis or something, along with some very ill-fated attempts to learn the language on my own from books, which did not work out. Two things dovetailed at the tail end of 2017, though (three, really). Moving to Glasgow and Partick in erm….Partickular….plunked me right in the heart of Glasgow’s Gaelic world. There are at least three Gaelic choirs in Glasgow, along with lots of classes, an entire centre/bookshop/Gaelic section of the library, and heaps of events. I started class and choir about the same time, and in two months I’m starting to understand things, can differentiate phonemes, and am recognising familiar words. Good place to be for an early learner!

2. MOAR GAELIC. Tha mi duilich–I’m sorry–did you think I was done? AHAHAHAHA. Me being me, I obsessively dig into my special interests, and in this case, I stumbled across a book called Fluent Forever that described a method of language acquisition that felt really natural to me. I’ve been applying it along with using the Mango language app (Gaelic is free on the app!) to supplement, and I am finding it’s clicking really well. I’ll try to periodically update my progress–the biggest thing I’m relieved about is having access to actual audio files and getting to interact with people who are native speakers, since that was something I flat didn’t have for ages. has 70,000 audio files if you are a struggling Gaelic learner–so glad I found it.

3. CHOIR. I sang in school choirs for years, and I really have missed making music. It’s been incredible to be part of this one, and we were even on the telly for Christmas Eve/Day on BBC Alba! V exciting. We’re performing with Mànran for the closing party of Celtic Connections a week from today, which will also be great, and in addition, the choir is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary in March, along with our director’s 50th year in the choir and 35th as the director, so there is going to be a fancy concert and fancy celebratory To Do.

4. Writing just like…everything in sight. I’m working on a sequel, a prequel, a YA contemp and a novelette. I wrote a picture book, a short story, and I’m about to start a screenplay. I’ve been actually writing again for the last two weeks, and I’m afraid I’m going to hex myself out of it, so I’m going to stop with that now. Suffice it to say that I’ve got a new book coming out in July (HEARTHFIRE) and miles to go before I sleep.

5. …Yoga? El oh el. You read that right. Me! Yoga! In the same sorta sentence! I’m doing Yoga With Adriene’s TRUE, a 30 day yoga challenge. I can sum it up thusly, in a real thing Kristin and I said to each other earlier today: “is she going easy on us or are we just getting stronger?” My wrists used to hate me and flinch every time she said to peel up into downward facing dog. Now I’m enjoying it! I used to hate forward folds, but now I can actually touch the floor, and having permission to modify by bending my knees a little is helping me get to a point where I don’t need to, which is great. I’m noticing some changes in my body with it, in my strength and endurance, which is reeeeally welcome. Enough so that I’m planning to keep it up and see what happens. I like that Adriene encourages you to explore rather than simply “do this.” It stripped away a lot of what I always felt made yoga really inaccessible to me, and she puts a heavy focus on self care. I like her lots.

6. Flossing. Y’all. Allow me to humble myself and say that at age 33 I have had an epiphany. I decided to floss every day for a week because I’ve never fucking flossed really in my life and my gums were swollen and I was getting aches and stuff in spite of never having had a cavity and erm. WELL. NO MORE. I’m now about a month into Actually Flossing Every Day and several things: my gingivitis is gone, my teeth don’t hurt, my gums don’t bleed anymore, some stubborn plaque is going away, and on top of all of that, fewer headaches. -_- This may be a no-brainer for most people, who knows. But maybe the dentists are right. *cough*

7. No poo. Yet another thing out of left field and already I feel like I am crunchier than I ever meant to be just using those two words together, buuuuuut as this is very much just a Me Experiment, ymmv etc etc etc. I have curly hair but didn’t uh…know it for a long time? I used so much heat on it and it kept getting supremely fucked up. I thought it was scalp psoriasis for a while. I thought it was build up for a while. I tried clarifying shampoos and medicated ones and noooothing helped. Finally a hairdresser a few years ago was like “This is caused by EXTREME dryness.” I’ve coloured my hair for ages, and tl;dr, my head was manufacturing way more sebum (y is this word so gross) than it needed. I got it under control by spacing out washes and only using things I knew worked for me, but it wasn’t enough.

I started noticing that my hair was getting ringlets under my ears and was like, “Huh.” My hair had been wavy since I was a kid, but I always just sort of assumed it wasn’t really? I dunno. I have no explanation. Anyway, my friend Elizah suggested I only shampoo the scalp and only condition the ends, which helped, and my hair started looking even CURLIER. But it was still really dry. I finally went into this huge rabbit hole trying to figure out what my curl pattern was and learning how to actually care for my hair (I’m between a 2C and a 3A–spirals when wet, etc.) I’d tried plopping before (Google it), but it wasn’t till I tried twisting it that I realised how much it wanted to spiral. If you look at certain pictures of me from the past few months where I’ve got hair in springy ringlets? Yeah, that’s literally just me twisting big chunks of it when it’s damp and then leaving it alone. O_O

Exhibit A:

So finally, after getting horribly frustrated for years with how my hair kept getting brittle and dry and so sticky/tangled I couldn’t get a brush through it, I thought what the hell. I’d try the no poo thing and try water only washes and see what happens. I started doing the following:

a. Brush it before showering.

b. Massage whole scalp under hot water like I would with shampoo, pulling my whole hands down the sides to the ends.

c. Condition the ends and comb through.

d. Twist or plop it after shower.

That’s it. I shampooed it a teensy bit last Sunday after a week of only water to see what would happen and sort of…control for the times I didn’t. In two weeks, my hair is springier, softer, and curlier and like…I do not know, my friends. My head doesn’t stink (and see above, re: yoga, because I have gotten sweaty), my scalp doesn’t itch as much, and I can always comb through it. I’m going to keep on for a while at least to see how it goes but holy crap, if this keeps working I will never buy shampoo again. shrug.gif

8. Celtic Connections, holy shit. So this festival is truly special. I ended up serendipitously (I keep using that word because stuff like this JUST KEEPS HAPPENING) being given a ticket to see Julie Fowlis after my daft arse bought the wrong one, and I got to spend the evening with a lovely sister and brother from Barra and their entire extended family, because why not? What a magical night it was. Remember that! A couple days ago, we went to Binneas nam Ban, a production celebrating the women bards of Scotland. My choir was out in force to support one of our members in the house band, and not only was it a spectacular evening of Gaelic song and story, but community and connection (dare I say….Celtic….Connection? Oh I dare.) with folks from the choir and then I ran into the Barra folks again, which was delightful. What an excellent…everything.

9. Random familial stuff? For all the (valuable and nuanced and necessary) conversation around DNA testing, I did the thing a few years ago and had a few surprises, but now with evolving tech and databases, the place I did it is showing some interesting additional information–like tracing specific places in regions where it’s probable your ancestors came from. Which really is fascinating. I’m taking it with a few grains of salt, but what they showed matched up with a lot of family oral history, my own previous research, and the research done by my aunties, so basically: kinda cool.

There’s the Polish Jewish woman from the Polish/German borders in the 19th century when my family butted up against the border–she shows up on the map (!) and in family oral traditions/handwritten family tree (thanks, Aunt Doti!), since certain Yiddish words trickled through the generations, which I find really amazing considering she was vastly outnumbered by German Protestants. My Scots Irish chunk from Donegal in Northern Ireland–they’re there. And all over Scotland, including my beloved Inverness and Glasgow. Inverness is where I hypothesised that an ancestor called Ann Lachlan came from in the late 18th century, and it could or could not be her, but either way: kind of rad to see some of the places I’ve felt drawn to over time actually on that map? *makes spoopy noises*

There’s a big blotch over Rannoch Moor where the it’s likely the Mearses hailed from, and a surprising patch out on the Isle of Jura, which was a wee serendipitous coincidence considering we’re singing a Jura song in choir (An t-Iarla Diurach, if anybody’s curious). There are dots around the Black Forest in Germany where some folk came from as well, and just generally kind of a cool thing to see unfold. Blood is what it is–it gets no special powers to decide who gets to be where (or shouldn’t, anyway) but it can provide us interesting looks back. Another sort of tangential point this all brings up is this: these things have passed overwhelmingly matrilineally. It has been, without exception, female family members doing this, and from female family member mouths I’ve heard these stories and gotten information.

I am interested in the curiosity and stories that looking backward this way lends itself to. I’m interested in exploring with an open heart and enjoying the incredible diversity and intrepid spirit of human migration wherever it leads or began. Having had people who came before me doesn’t make me who I am, but it can help me understand them, perhaps. What made them go or stay–and as an immigrant myself returning to one of those places, what made me do it too. It certainly wasn’t those blots on a map or leaves on my family tree that brought me here wholly, but the spirit of a place where, like so many did for so long going to America, I felt I would be welcome and encouraged to build a better life. Initially I came here because I wanted to see where they’d come from, but I decided I needed to move back because it felt like home due to the people who are here now–what matters to them and how they treat each other. The kind of home they want to build is a kind of home I want to be part of building too.

Some of my family in ages past left their homes under similar conditions and political upheaval as I just did. That is a somewhat sobering thing, but it is also an encouraging one. Things must have seemed pretty hopeless in the 18th century Scottish highlands and islands. Things are a little dodgy here now with Brexit, but they are hopeful, too. And certainly Gaelic is thriving here, almost three hundred years later, when perhaps my ancestors thought it would be wiped off the earth. Their oral traditions and storytelling made their way through centuries, and that is far more powerful than blood alone.

I’ll end this with a song by Libby Roderick, who is one of my all time heroes of song and a true Alaskan bard. It’s called Bones.


Words and music by Libby Roderick
c Libby Roderick Music 1997
BMI. All rights reserved.
From Lay it All Down

I come from a long line of dead people
I come from a tall pile of bones
My people lie sleeping all under the world
Their souls turn to roots, leaves and stones.
My grandpa went by whiskey in an L.A. hotel
His dad died of Ohio coal
And before him, and before that, they slipped under the ground
Fewer bones walk above than below.
My great grandmother’s eyes stare out from my face
Her skinny bones dance around in my clothes
You can almost hear the whisper of her sweet southern song
In this voice I’ve been calling my own.
A toast to the living, walk us walk down the aisle
So these bones can be married to the flesh for awhile.
A song, a song for the living, though the flesh worries when
These bones will be leaving to join family again.
I come from a long line of dead people….

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5 thoughts on “MOAR Gàidhlig Agus Cèic: New Year in Auld Scotland”

  1. I love that you are getting to dive in and really immerse yourself in learning Gaelic! I’m sure there is some part of you that IS learning it by osmosis, now that you are also learning it by, er, what was the other not-osmosis process? DIffusion? That doesn’t sound right. BY DOING WHAT YOU ARE NOW DOING, I mean. And, I’m curious, do you get to sing in Gaelic in you choir? I always found that learning songs in Icelandic really, really helped me with the language, even though I never thought of myself as a singer. Using a different part of your brain and all that. Anyway, I also join you in the phenomenon of “not having blogged in quite a long time but whoa Nelly, getting back into it.” Great to hear about what’s new with you.

    1. <3 Yes, the choir is a Gaelic choir so we pretty much only sing in Gaelic and it is definitely helping!

      1. What I love about learning lyrics in another language is that when the tune gets stuck in your head, it helps you keep thinking of the words! (Or, sometimes, make up new ones. There’s an Icelandic song “Ó borg mín borg” which is about Reykjavík, but after learning the lyrics, I also saw Star Trek: First Contact, and ended up making up a version, in Icelandic, that was about The Borg. This is the first time I have ever admitted that.)

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