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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Days 36-45

I feel so upset with myself because the stuff I want to be doing is not getting done. I am not reading; I am not sending submissions to agents. But if the goal is to be a professional writer that earns money and things from words, well, I guess I'm doing that.

First there was an article for Visit Wales. That was a tremendous bit of luck that came out of nowhere and earned me a little bit of money that immediately disappeared because Jenn had forgotten we had to pay council tax this month.

Far more exciting, and also last week, was a huge adventure to the Midlands to ride motorcycles, drink free beer and score a free set of motorcycle tires. I wrote about the whole thing on my motorcycle blog, which I think was very much one of the reasons I won the competition.

And certainly I'm happy about all this. I mean, I'm pretty sure the value of that Michelin launch (free tires, a day on a top-level motorcycle, an evening in a shockingly expensive themed hotel along with food, booze, and tickets to Alton Towers) pushes me safely past my goal for this year of earning 10 percent of my income from writing. But, you know, you're not going to end up in Paris Review writing about motorbikes.

I don't know. Maybe I'm incapable of actually being happy. The correct way to look at things is to say: "Chris, you're solidly working toward your goal and it is resulting in your getting money and super awesome stuff. Stop lamenting that it won't earn you a Pulitzer and just keep moving forward." But emotionally that's hard to do. I' not being the awesome person I want so much to be.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Days 23-35

Nothing. I read a tiny bit of Jeeves and Wooster, I wrote a few posts for my motorcycle blog. But by and large I have done nothing toward my goal of being a professional author. Until today. I'll get to today in a moment.

I hit a long slump after the night I went to the storytelling circle in Bath. Riding home that night was exhausting and I felt like hell the next day. After that, I never really recovered my energy. I have been mentally sluggish, uncreative and an all-round dullard. This is a symptom of depression, I think. I slip into these phases when I just become so woefully boring and listless. 

There has been at least one instance in the past two weeks or so when I've been talking to Jenn and suddenly become aware of how terribly boring is the thing I'm saying. I'm talking about engine displacement and torque in motorcycles, or some such thing. So I've just stopped mid-sentence, said "uhm, uh, ah" a few times and claimed to have forgotten what I was saying.

More classic signs of depression are the fact I've been really tired and inclined to speak (about motorcycles, probably) in an unintelligible mumble.

I don't really know what set me off. The weather, the fact that we are struggling so much financially, homesickness, or the self-perpetuating cycle of not working out as much as I'd like. I don't know. I think another part of it is not hearing from the agents to which I've submitted. It's bad getting a rejection, but it's somehow worse not hearing from them at all. You think: "Did they get my submission? Should I send it again? But if I send it again, and they have already received it, that will make me look pushy and they won't want to work with me. What should I do?"

Anyway, I've been hovering just above miserable for the past little while and feeling that I am doomed to be the literary equivalent of Chris Kanyon.

I don't know if I'm out of my funk, but today I got a chance to write a piece for which I will get paid. And that makes me happy. Chalk up another victory to the motorcycle blog for that one.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Days 21 - 22

We'll call it a weekend, methinks. Jenn and I were out of town Saturday and Sunday, so it was difficult to do anything toward my goal beyond the always vague "gaining life experience."

We went to Devon for the weekend firstly to celebrate the birthday of Jenn's uncle and secondly to celebrate my birthday. For my uncle-in-law's birthday celebrations were held in a not-that-fancy pub in Exeter. I spent most of my time talking to an extended family member who likes motorcycles. Through that conversation I've found myself even more convinced that I want a Harley-Davidson Low Rider, but that's discussion best saved for my motorcycle blog.

That evening, Jenn and I drove north to Exmoor National Park and the tiny hillside village of Lynton. For dinner, we walked down the hill to the village of Lynmouth and ate at a pub on the water's edge. The village is nestled in a small cut of a valley that empties into the Bristol Channel. Walking back up the hill we were able to see across to Cardiff.

On Sunday morning, after a big breakfast at our B&B, we went for a short walk to a rather blustery Dunkery Beacon. On a good day a person can see four national parks from that point: Exmoor (of course), Dartmoor, Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast. This is assuming you have binoculars. 

In the afternoon, we went to Dunster, which is an awesome little village on the edge of Exmoor. I was delighted by it if not simply because it is an ideal place to take my parents next time they come to visit.

I didn't think to take my camera this weekend, but here are a few pictures I took with my phone:

View from Dunster Castle.

View from Dunster Castle.

Jenn crossing a bridge on the grounds of Dunster Castle.

Wandering the grounds of Dunster Castle.

Atop Dunkery Beacon.

Jenn, wrapped up warm atop Dunkery Beacon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 20

I got another rejection today. That is comforting in the sense that it means people are at least receiving my emails. I had started to wonder if perhaps my submissions were going straight to people's spam folders.

As a response to the rejection, I sent submissions to two more agents. I have a deep feeling that I am going about all this the wrong way, but I genuinely don't know how to gain traction, how to go about getting this book published.

I started thinking about this recently when I was mentioning my 183-day initiative to a friend of Jenn's who is a professional painter. Painter of portraits and the like, not houses. When I mentioned sending submissions to literary agents he seemed surprised, as if he thought it might not be the best way to go about things. Since he is someone who can actually pay his bills with his art, I feel this desire to defer to his wisdom, to assume that he knows more than me despite operating in an entirely different medium. So, I have been endlessly second-guessing myself but always arriving at the same question: "Well, what else would I do?" I don't know.

I have also had the thought that perhaps he just thinks I'm an idiot and not at all very good. I frequently lament internally that I don't really come off as an author or the sort of person who would write anything worth reading, because in dinner parties I so often talk about motorcycles and professional wrestling and other things that no one I seem to know cares anything about. So, perhaps he didn't think it was a bad idea to submit to agents but imagined my writing (which he's never read) wouldn't be good enough to be represented by anyone. Or perhaps he was just surprised that someone so dumb as me should manage to think of an intelligent way of pursuing a goal of becoming a professional author.

I don't know. I have low self-esteem. I tend to feel that everyone thinks I'm an idiot. So maybe (probably) he wasn't thinking any of the above and I'm just a bit crap at reading people.

Days 18-19: Gorillas in the Brist(ol)

I did a fair bit of reading on Day 18. It turns out the punctured tire I had a week ago was an actual punctured tire. I've not had the time to go get a new inner tube, so I took the train to work, thereby allowing plenty of time to read. This is how things used to go with me: I got most of my reading done on the train.

Woe to me that it is cheaper, easier, healthier and less frustrating to cycle to work. I miss having all that time to read. But at least I got a little done on Day 18. And that was the only thing I got done. A particularly mental-energy-draining day at work made me unwilling to do anything else. 

Day 19

I turned 38 years old on 20 March. And one generally doesn't work on one's birthday. Jenn and I went to Bristol for the day because in my view there are no six words more depressing than: "I spent my birthday in Cardiff."

We went to lunch at Grillstock, a barbecue stall in St. Nicholas Market. Barbecue is suddenly the "in" thing these days in Britain. Bristol has a few good spots and even Cardiff has Hang Fire, which is a strange sort of pop-up BBQ experience that takes place at the Landsdowne in Canton. Bristol's St. Nicholas Market is really cool. There is a section of it that consists of two long rows of stalls selling really good food: pies, Middle-Eastern food, Indian, Caribbean, pasta, sausages, Portuguese, pita wraps, and Grillstock. On a weekday at lunchtime the place is packed with people, the smell of delicious foods almost overwhelming.

Jenn and I both had pulled pork sandwiches covered in barbecue sauce. The Texan in me is keen to point out that it lacked a certain authenticity but I think you just have to accept these sort of things when you are 5,000 miles away from a cuisine's regional origin. Barbecue in Britain by nature is going to suit British tastes. And for me, any barbecue is better than none. Besides, this was really good. I mean, really, really good. So good that it again stirred up my desire to move to Bristol.

That became the running theme for the day. Jenn and I started this year talking about moving to the city but soon agreed we should park the idea until summer, after we have returned from visiting the United States. My grandfather's 90th birthday will be in June and we are focusing all resources into being able to pay for the trip (if anyone has £400 they want to give me, t'would be much appreciated). So, we can't even really think about the cost of moving until after that.

But wandering around Bristol, and having its superiority over Cardiff effectively waved in our faces (Unique shops and restaurants! Unique pubs! A really beautiful, posh part of town! Zoo! Clever street art! Fewer chavs! Thoughtful accommodation of bicycles and motorbikes! It's not Wales! It's closer to Jenn's family! It's closer to the few friends I have in this country!) reminded us of why we had decided to move there.

After barbecue we walked up the hill to Bristol Zoo, home to the seagull-throwing gibbon. Any gibbon that throws seagulls is alright by me.

Bristol Zoo is a clever little place because they tend to feed animals when people are actually there. Which means the animals are often moving around a bit, which is what you want to see. No one wants to see a gecko just sunning itself, you want to see a gecko slowly, meticulously tracking a bug with its weird eyes and catching the bug with its tongue.

Jock, the gorilla.
The zoo has a new gorilla space called Gorilla Island, which is the bee's knees because it sort of places you in a large plastic box amongst the gorillas. So, you're there face to face with them and you find that they stare at you as much as you stare at them.

Gorillas are interesting things because they are obviously more cognizant than any other animal you'll see in a zoo. They are clever enough that a zookeeper can verbally ask them to move into one part of the enclosure so she can close off the other part and tidy it up a bit. Just that bit was blowing my mind.

The enclosure has a load of different little sections that can be closed off with big metal gates. No doubt to keep the gorillas from fighting over food, each of them is fed in their own private section of the enclosure. The gigantic male of the group, it seems, prefers to eat in a main part of the enclosure, where the whole family likes to hang out. So, in order to place food out for him the keepers first had to ask all the gorillas to leave that room. Which they did.

Once they were all out of the room, its doors were automatically shut and a keeper was able to walk in and tidy up some of the wood shavings and such before setting out an enormous tray of fruits and vegetables. Then she left the room and the door was opened to allow the male, Jock, to saunter in. The door was closed behind him to allow him to eat in peace.

He went up to the pile of fruits and vegetables and peered at it the way you might when shopping. I'm pretty sure he didn't actually put his finger to his chin in a "Hmm, let's see now, what shall I have?" pose, but that was very much the nature of his body language. Eventually, he tossed two apples, a banana and a pot of yogurt into his massive left hand before shuffling to spot that was right next to the glass.

Yeah, a plastic pot of yogurt with a peel-back lid. This item was blowing the minds of those of us watching. Is that a mistake? Surely you don't give an animal a plastic container –– they'll eat it. Is that what he's going to do? Just eat the pot? Or will he squish the yogurt out like Popeye eating a can of spinach? And the banana. How is he going to eat that banana? He has enormous gorilla hands, how could he possibly have the dexterity to peel a banana? Or even the mental wherewithal to know to peel a banana?

He ate the apples in two bites: one bite perfectly splitting the fruit in half. And yet there was delicacy in his eating, measure and appreciation of the food. He wasn't just shovelling crap in. He had chosen specific items and was enjoying them. With the banana, he peeled it with an almost grace. He ate the banana then ate the peel, holding it up for us to see –– as if to say: "I could have eaten the thing whole but I peeled it to amuse you."

You wonder if zoo gorillas have a sense of performance. Obviously they understand that they are being watched. They get their situation on some level. Freedom is a subjective and high-level concept that the vast majority of humans even struggle to understand, so I don't think the gorillas of Bristol Zoo have any complaints about their situation or are wholly cognisant of it. But you wonder: how relevant to them are the hairless underfed apes that squeal with delight when they peel bananas? And do they make that connection? And do they have any appreciation for that? Does Jock know that peeling the banana rather than just chomping through the thing will make all the sickly apes go nuts?

Maybe he has an element of showmanship, because he saved his best trick for last. He produced the yogurt that had been nestled in his massive palm and... I don't know, did he look at us? Did he offer a sly glance? Maybe. Either way, he deftly peeled back the lid –– knowing to hold the cup upright. We went nuts. He licked the lid. We went nuts again. Then he used his enormous forefinger as a spoon. He ate the cup of yogurt in two or three fingerfuls, then held the cup up and licked the inside. Then he set the cup and lid aside, knowing those things are not food. Compare this to the meerkat I watched later who kept trying to figure out how to eat a rock.

After the yogurt, Jock returned to the food pile and selected three heads of lettuce, a broccoli stalk and two red peppers –– all of which fit into his right hand –– and picked another vantage point from which to eat. And on and on through his whole meal. Jenn and I were transfixed. It is amazing to think of an animal as making choices, as deciding: "I'll have this, then I'll have those..." And you wonder what those choices are based on. Did he go with the stuff he liked most first? Or is lettuce actually his favourite?

Anyway, gorillas. Them things is awesome. As were the meerkats and red pandas and gibbons and other monkeys and penguins and seals and lions and lemurs and so on. The typical thinking is to see zoos as a place for kids but I find them to be far more enjoyable as an adult, now that I am capable of watching and pondering all the little things an animal does.

Oh, another thought on the gorillas: are they English? Jock was born in London Zoo; all but one of the other gorillas were also born in English zoos, most in Bristol (one female was born in France). So does that make them English? Compared to many football fans, they're certainly better representatives for the country...

After the zoo Jenn and I walked to a pub for a few pints before heading to the Relaxation Centre, which is a wee spa tucked into the Clifton neighbourhood. Cue more pining to move to Bristol for stuff like this. For me, the highlight was a sauna right next to an outdoor plunge pool. So you could get intolerably hot then fling yourself into icy cold water. On paper that probably sounds like no fun, but I assure you: it's amazing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 17

The storytelling circle I went to last night turned out to be a disappointment. That's me being diplomatic. I don't want to do a little poop on anyone's special thing, but I ended up glad I turned up late, and felt no guilt about leaving at the halfway point of the evening.

Roundtrip, I rode 120 miles for the sake of the event. Which included navigating the A46 at night –– a curvy road with no street lights. So, you'll be hopping along at 60 mph when all of a sudden: CURVE IN THE ROAD WITH NO IDEA OF HOW SHARP IT IS OR WHERE IT ENDS. 

That sort of thing is hell on a motorcycle because if you hit your brakes in a curve you put yourself at extremely high risk of going flying. On a motorcycle, handling curves involves physical interaction –– placement of weight and lean and throttle and a bunch of other tedious things that are hard to just sort of pull out of your ass. Or, at least, they're hard for me to pull out of my ass. So, when I hit one particular corner too fast my brain froze as I drifted out too much toward the oncoming lane. Those Isle of Man TT dudes probably could probably have hit the same corner at 100 mph, but I'm not them. I just got scared and didn't make adjustments as I should have. Things turned out OK –– I didn't even cross over the line –– but it's annoying to come out of a situation knowing that you handled it very poorly.

Anyhoo, that was on the way to the evening, and perhaps that put too much a weight on things. A sort of: this had better be worth risking my life for. It wasn't. 

It was an event that... Well, first of all, it was an event that resulted in my not getting to bed until 1 a.m. I had to get up for work five hours later and I have passed the age when such things are easily done. As I write this, I am looking at the clock and wanting desperately to go to bed, so I'm not sure how much I want to go into what I didn't like. 

But in short, I have a bachelors and masters degree in Welsh. The masters degree has an emphasis on creative writing. And the very keystone of Welsh literature is the Mabinogion, which is a collection centuries-old tales handed down from the oral storytelling tradition.

So, my point is: I've have read and written about and studied and listened to and even taken part in a great whopping lot of oral storytelling tradition. And last night just wasn't up to par. Not close. Because the goal is not just to recite a list of nonsensical occurrences in a falsely important and breathy voice ("And then the giant turned himself into a fork. So, the knight ate a bowl of porridge and asked the golden harp to come with him to find a pool in which dwelt many spirits"). It is to tell a story. The clue is in the name: storytelling. 

All these folk tales were at one point relevant to people. They made sense to the audience and were of interest to them. The craft of the storyteller, who was after all doing this in exchange for food and lodging, was engaging the audience. This would have meant changing and adapting the tale as needs must, to suit the mood and the atmosphere.

So, with something like Mabinogion, I am certain the stuff that is written is effectively bullet points. It is not the story. The story would have been told in the moment and may have contained all or only some of the story we see written.

Fans of the oral storytelling tradition, though, too often treat it almost as scripture: unchangeable, unadaptable. Last night was an example of that, worsened by a collection of particularly weak storytellers. It was the sort of thing that made you understand why oral storytelling died out.

Although, it didn't really. Not at all. If it had died out, it wouldn't cost so much to go see Henry Rollins. Or Jello Biafra. Or Scott Ian. Or Chris Jericho. Or anyone else who does spoken word tours. Oral storytelling has just changed, that's all.

And what I'm saying about it is rushed because I so desperately want to go to bed.

Meanwhile, today, I did some actual work toward writing a short story. As a matter of fact, I wrote it. The whole thing had come to me as I was cycling from work. I have a complete story now but it is very rough; I'll come back to it on Friday.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Days 14-16

See, this is what happens to me. I'll have an idea, a plan to do this or that thing, and get all wrapped up with it in my head, then I'll have a load of bumbling false starts and eventually fizzle out. So, over the past 16 days what have I really done other than come up with a vague idea of how to act upon my too-vague ambitions?

Anyhoo, I'm frustrated. On Saturday (Day 14), Jenn tried to give me a chance to make up for Friday by going to her friend's house for the afternoon, leaving me free to write. But I didn't. Not really. Not productively. I goofed around, staring at the wall, and thereafter really only focused on writing stuff for my motorcycle blog. And, honestly, that's not the point of this whole thing. Yes, you can say, "Well, at least you're writing," but it's writing of the wrong kind. I don't know. I'm not happy with it.

Beyond that, the only thing close to a literary endeavour was watching The Rum Diary, the film of the book by Hunter S. Thompson about a young hack journalist who dreams of being a novelist. It was a film I had really wanted to see when it first came out a few years ago, but now I'm kind of glad I didn't go pay money for it. Hunter S. Thompson was something of a one-trick pony, and once you've read anything by him you've effectively read everything by him.

Thompson was an interesting man in terms of his literary ambitions, because he was surprisingly well-read. Or at least, had been as a young man and carried much of that into later life. For instance, I remember reading something in which he just waxes lyrical about Faulkner. I sense that Thompson always dreamed of producing great things like that and felt frustrated and trapped by his success as a dude who effectively addles himself for the sake of being able to write about it.

Maybe that's why he killed himself: he felt that the greatness within him that might have produced a timeless novel or two was too far lost to the legacy of this wild, psychotic character that had taken over his life. Professional wrestler syndrome: you forget that your name isn't really Hulk Hogan, it's Terry Bollea.

But back to the fact that Thompson had, at one time, been well-read. It occurred to me this morning that this is another area where I'm going wrong: I'm not reading nearly enough. Barbara Kingsolver says on the FAQ page of her website: "I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I'd written. I still do. I limit my exposure to the type of stuff I don't want to write... I'm enough of a biologist to know that whatever comes in will, in some form, come back out."

At present, very little is going in beyond articles about motorcycles or professional wrestling. So, perhaps it's no real surprise that the short story I've been trying to write is really not very good at all. I need to read more. I need to make that a key part of the process.

Sunday (Day 15), meanwhile, was a non day. Jenn and I went for a short ride around on my motorcycle then returned home to focus on a wealth of chores around the house. I washed both our bicycles and changed the oil in my motorbike.

I always love the sense of accomplishment one gets from doing car/motorcycle maintenance. It gives a you a great sense of usefulness. I suppose because the quality (that term used in the Robert Pirsig sense) of the work is less subjective.

I mean, I've written a 90,000-page book that I'm trying to get published. Is it any good? That's up to the opinion of the person reading it. And to that end, maybe all the effort I put into the book was for nought. If you change the oil of a motorcycle, though, the "quality" is less arguable. There are 3.6 litres of fresh oil in a machine and because of that, the machine will run properly and under less threat of internal breakdown. I did that. I made that happen. And the value of my effort is easier to measure.

That said, I could have done better. I purchased a too-small funnel to catch the old oil, and that resulted in my spilling a good 400 ml or so of oil onto the ground.

If you've never changed the oil of a car or motorbike before, the process is pretty simple. At the bottom of the oil pan (known as a "sump" in British lingo) there is a little bolt. You unscrew that, and all the old oil comes pouring out. Generally, you catch it with a special rectangular bottle, and you are then able to dispose of the oil safely, rather than just emptying it into the sewer as most shadetree mechanics used to do. So, I set the bottle underneath the bike, with a funnel to help guide the oil in without spill. But, as I say, the spout of the funnel was too narrow. So when the oil came gushing out it quickly filled up the funnel and spilled out over the sides and onto the ground. So, I ended up throwing water on the pavement and flushing the oil into the sewer. I'm sorry, Mother Earth.

Today, Day 16, the plan is to take my planet-killing dandy horse to the historic city of Bath, to attend the monthly Bath Storytelling Circle. I'm not really sure what to expect, but it's held in my favourite pub so I can at least arrive there safe in the knowledge that I will have a steak pie for dinner.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 13

Day 13 was a fail, dude. It was poor not just in literary terms but was an all-rounder bad day. Not awful, just really not good.

I was particularly sluggish in the morning because I had not gotten back from Bristol the night before until midnight, and I had arrived home chilled to the core. The cold mist had worked its way into my soul. The first things to go in the cold when on a motorbike are your hands and your brain –– both go numb. So, before I could even think to go to bed I had to warm them with a cup of peppermint tea. And that ended up putting me to bed closer to 1 a.m.

Once under the covers I could not get warm. Fortunately, Jenn and I have a heated mattress pad with dual settings, so I was able to warm up my side of the bed. I slept fitfully, though, because the heated pad shuts itself off after an hour and I kept waking up and needing to turn it back on.

So, I didn't really get moving until about 9:30 (whereas normally I would be up at 6). After (groggily) eating breakfast, I put on my gear and packed up my bag to cycle over to the pool for a swim. As soon as I got my bike onto the road, though, I discovered the rear tire was flat.

I find that as I get older, I get worse and worse about thinking on my feet; I get dumber and dumber. And generally I am only able to respond to situations effectively if I have responded to them before. I didn't have an exact "Chris has had a late start and is feeling a bit frustrated as a result bust still wants to get in a swim before he starts writing but now has been waylaid by a flat tire" contingency plan. So, I just grabbed Jenn's bicycle.

But Jenn's bike is smaller than mine and not regularly ridden by a person who is anal about things like oiling chains and gears. It also has bad brakes, the levers for which are in British order rather than American. For some reason, British people have the front brake at their right hand and the rear on their left –– the opposite of the American way.

This should not really confuse me because the front brake is also at the right hand when riding a motorcycle (rear brake is at your right foot). But it did confuse me. And when I'm riding a bicycle I generally like to drag the rear brake when approaching a stop. I found myself instead deploying the front brake and that was causing me to lurch a bit over the handlebars. This was happening naturally from being crouched on the bike, anyway, so often I would arrive at a road junction by sort of throwing myself off the pedals. Then I'd try to get going again and the gears would grind and skip.

All this resulted in my growing ever frustrated and almost cycling into a Land Rover.

Eventually I got to the pool (1.7 miles, according to Google) and realised I had left my wallet at home. I couldn't pay admission. So, I had to get back on the tiny, rickety bicycle of death and trudge up the hill back home, slowly becoming enveloped in rage. 

When I got home, I decided that I would just break down and do the thing I should have done: repair the puncture on my rear tire. So, I took off the wheel, took the tire off the wheel, pulled the tube out of the tire, and... couldn't find the puncture. I filled the tub with water and pressed the tire in to help me find the leak. Nothing. There was no puncture. It turns out that I had simply forgotten to tighten a little bolt that prevents the tire from deflating.

So, I put the tube back in the tire, put the tire back onto the rim, put the whole thing back on the bike, pumped up the tire, made sure I fastened the bolt properly, made sure I had my wallet, and cycled back to the pool. I swam a mile in roughly 40 minutes, which is only 28 minutes longer than Michael Phelps would have done it (based on his 400m times). I swam until I got a ridiculous cramp in my left foot, then swam a bit more.

When I got home, of course, I was starving, so I had to eat lunch. Then I had a shower, then I ran some errands, then I did some laundry, then, finally, I was able to sit down and start writing. By which time it was 6 p.m. I managed to write my Day 12 blog post, then Jenn came home and we had dinner.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Day 12

Straight after work I rode my motorcycle to Bristol to be able to attend Kill Your Darlings, an event put on by Cube. It was a pretty good event, and somewhat different than what I had expected. It was a sit-down-and-watch-people-perform-on-a-stage thing, rather than, well, I don't know. I don't know what I was expecting.

A few years ago –– the night after I met Jenn, as a matter of fact –– I was part of a Welsh-language literary event in which some people read poems, some read short stories, and I did a sort of one-man, one-act play that involved throwing myself to the floor several times. All of this was done more within a crowd, rather than on a stage, and we were all sort of mingling and interacting. At Cube it was a stage and theatre-style seats.

That's not to say it wasn't good –– it was worth the £6 admission (I was taken off guard by that one; I had somehow missed the fact that it cost money) just for the bloke who did a full sequel rap to Will Smith's "Boom! Shake the Room!" My favourite part was when it suddenly went into a kind of drum and bass thing and the bloke (Tom Clutterbuck) started shouting: "We've wandered too far from the source material!"

Hmm, written out, it's not that funny. I assure you it was.

I think I'd go to another KYD event (next one is 8 April) but, as I say, what it was wasn't what I thought it would be. Plus there's the adventure of getting there.

Approaching the M32, which leads into Bristol city centre, I was suddenly enveloped in a thick, Victorian-style fog, which is easily the most annoying weather condition for a motorcyclist. Because if you ride in fog it takes exactly .05 seconds for your helmet visor to be covered in mist. And then you are completely blind. You can wipe away the mist with your glove, but by the time you return your hand to the handlebars you are blind again.

Riding in the rain is no problem, even heavy rain, because the wind will simply push water away from your view along the curve of the visor. But in the fog you might as well be closing your eyes, and the only thing to do is flip the visor up and see the road unfiltered. This actually works pretty well. Except for the fact that it results in your face getting wet, and above 40 mph you become ridiculously teary-eyed. And if the fog is cold it is a special kind of hell.

On the M32 all the traffic had come to an almost stand-still, so I started filtering (riding between the cars) and it was a strange, dream-like experience, slipping through this black corridor of hazy red and white light. 

I got to the Cabot Circus car park without any problems and discovered that not only did they have motorcycle-exclusive parking but also lockers where you can leave your helmet and gloves. From there it was a half-mile walk to Cube, which included crossing the ominously named Bearpit. I obviously could have parked closer to Cube but had chosen to park at Cabot Circus because it is big and safe and getting there didn't involve having to "think on my feet" whilst riding a motorbike at night through an unfamiliar city.

But doing this created an extra adventure at the end of the evening. When I came out of Cube the fog had thickened so much that one could not see across the road. I mean that literally. And that meant that in walking back to the car park I got utterly lost because I couldn't see any landmarks. I couldn't see from one end of the Bearpit to the other. I ended up having to navigate solely by Google Maps on my phone.

So imagine how happy I was to get on a motorbike in this stuff. Thankfully, I had thought to bring my SatNav, so I clicked it on and set out, visor up and freezing mist ice-stinging my face. It was good to have the SatNav because I couldn't see any of the road signs. I clicked on my hazard lights and kept below 40 mph, trundling into nothingness. I was riding a motorbike to Annwfn, expecting at any moment to encounter Gwyn ap Nudd and his soul-hunting hounds.

Instead, I encountered the Severn Bridge. The weather had cleared by the time I got to the Wales crossing and I was back up to a normal speed but freezing. 

My father bought me some heated grips for Christmas, but I tried to save money and had them installed by an idiot. As such, they only worked for a month. I am back to suffering cold hands any time the temperature drops below 5ยบ C. By the time I got home I couldn't feel my pinky or ring finger in my right hand.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Days 10-11

It's mostly been more motorcycle blogging these past two days. As I say, I can't really decide whether I can claim it as a legitimate path toward being a professional. Sorta. 

It would carry more weight, I feel, if I were actually being paid to write about motorcycle stuff, rather than simply being sent goods like jackets and bags. Is that snobbish? Am I part of the capitalist problem? Shouldn't I be content to cut out the middle man and simply receive the goods that I would buy had I been given money? I feel that I should be, and that my discomfort is borne of a status thing.

Anyhoo, my point is that I almost certainly could be doing better. But it is hard to find the energy after being at work for 10 hours. I make it home just after 7 pm and need to be in bed just three hours later because Jenn and I get up each morning at 5:30. But even as I say that I feel I am making excuses –– I am trying to distract from the fact that I am lazy.

I have been thinking a lot about what I was talking about on Day 9, about being in the right place, and the idea of drawing inspiration from a community of writers. I found a literary event called Kill Your Darlings taking place in Bristol tomorrow night. If I can coordinate myself properly and not chicken out at the last minute I may ride out there and see what it's about.

Though, one of the challenges of riding a motorcycle is that it increases the frustration of being lost tenfold. Because in order to stop and look at a map or instructions you have to pull over, shut off the engine, take off your gloves, dig the map/instructions from your tank bag or jacket, desperately try to memorise everything, start to put the map/instructions away, realise you have instantly forgotten everything, and so on. I've ridden through Bristol a whopping one time before, so I'm not sure about attempting to navigate at night.

We'll see.