Friday, August 11, 2006

The happiest Buddha

  • One of my favourite things right now is my 1.5-inch-tall statue of Buddha. He is the happiest representation of Buddha that I have ever seen. He is a fat little bloke with a pot of tea in his right hand and an apple or some other round thing in his left hand. The expression on his face tells you that the round thing in his hand is truly one of the greatest things this piddly little world has to offer, so it may be that the round thing is, in fact, an enormous chocolate truffle filled with Bailey's.
    I bought this statue at a flea market in San Diego. I think he cost $2 (£1). Ever since then, he has spent his days getting dusty on various bookshelves as Rachel and I bounced from home to home. And for some reason, as we were packing up to move to Cardiff, I decided to put him in my book bag -- so he has been with me from the start.
    He now holds a coveted spot on my windowsill. When I look up from my laptop to stare out at the Welsh sky (and the aerial on the house behind ours), he's right there as well -- gleefully eyeing his chocolate filled with sweet Irish booze.
    He has got to be the happiest Buddha ever. And, in turn, he makes me happy. I don't have anything beyond that; I just thought I'd tell you about my happy Buddha statue. I find myself grasping for pieces of solace these days, so perhaps he means a little more to me than he should.

  • Helo, Chris Cope ydw i. Thursday kicked my ass. I was at Eisteddfod from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and my only real moment of quiet came in a space of 15 minutes while I was waiting to do a live interview with Wales Today. The short version of everything goes like this: I was filmed by three separate TV crews, I gave my first ever talk in Welsh, I was kissed by a Welsh celebrity, and I possibly put my life at risk -- all while suffering a cold that continues to drill holes in my skull.
    As the child bride and I were scurrying about the house Thursday morning, getting ready for the two-hour trip to Eisteddfod (train from Danescourt to Cardiff Central; train from Cardiff Central to Swansea; bus from Swansea to Eisteddfod), I got a call from ITV Wales, with whom I was scheduled to interview at 12:30:
    REPORTER: "Yes, I was wondering if you could be at the Maes (main Eisteddfod site) any earlier?"
    ME: "Not when Arriva Trains are involved, no. Hell, I more than likely won't even get there on time."
    REPORTER: "Right, I'd like you to be there earlier. Would you mind if I picked you up and drove you there?"
    ME: "Gee, I was really looking forward to all that public transportation. When Rachel and I went to Eisteddfod on Saturday, we got to sit near a hen party ("bachelorette party" for those of you playing along at home) that brought a stereo, on which they were blaring 70s disco hits. But, I guess you can come pick us up..."
    The reporter and cameraman showed up a few minutes later, and 40 minutes after that we were walking toward the rocky Eisteddfod field. Not only did Rachel and I drop 1 hour 20 minutes of travel time, I found in the cameraman an appreciative audience for my impression of someone with a Welsh valleys accent rapping House of Pain's "Jump Around." And the reporter paid our admission.
    The only drawback to all this was that I was in "show" mode from 9:30 a.m. on.
    Despite suffering a dearth of actual talent, I have the mindset of a performer. If one or more people start laughing at my jokes or showing the slightest bit of interest in what I'm saying, my brain goes nuts and dumps as much adrenaline and endorphins into the mix as it can. I get all excited and want to talk and feel sort of drunk and lose touch with myself.
    I once saw an interview with Garth Brooks and he was talking about this mindset that washes over him when he performs. He told a story about his doing a show at some massive arena; during a song he spotted that the wee rope ladder that went up to the catwalk had been left hanging down. So, he charges off and starts climbing it, this 230-pound-man wearing cowboy boots tearing up a dodgy rope ladder without any safety harness. He got about 40 feet up and started swinging on it -- holding on with just one hand -- to swing out over the crowd.
    After the show, everyone from his band mates to the stage crew to his (ex-)wife were screaming at him for being such a damned fool. He had put his life and career and their careers all very much and totally unnecessarily in the balance.
    He explained in this interview that he hadn't been drunk or on drugs, he was just in the moment of the performance. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I remember thinking to myself: "That is exactly the sort of stupid shit I would do if I had that level of talent (or, if you refuse to believe that Garth Brooks has talent, that massive a fan base)."
    As things are, it's just little old me, and I rarely command the attention of more than five people at any given time. But I still got all hyper and stupid. And I just talk and talk and talk and talk. And when I finally wear them out and they go home, I usually crash physically and emotionally. The child bride constantly suffers my instant mood swings that seem to come once we get home from the bar.
    ME: "I feel like shit. God, I'm such a fucking idiot -- did you hear me talking? I say the stupidest things. I've got to be the biggest ass on the planet."
    HER: "Shut up."
    (Side note: I even get this way when I write)
    So, this whole process was starting as soon as I got in the car with the blokes from ITV. Meanwhile, I have had a cold since Saturday, and my voice is one of the many bits of me that's suffering.
    On top of this is the fact that I was speaking Welsh. Cymraeg kills my brain. With the quality of my Welsh still relatively low, it takes all of my limited mental capacity just to have a conversation about the weather ("Ydy, mae yn oer heddiw"). So, my brain -- desperately try to stay afloat linguistically -- was using up all the adrenalin and endorphins as fast as they could be produced.
    The ITV piece either aired today or will air this weekend. Since I don't have a TV, it wouldn't matter if I knew, anyway. It mostly centred on the fact that I used Ye Olde Internette to teach myself Welsh, and the growing number of Welsh-language resources online. In all likelihood, the finished piece will run around two minutes, but it involved about two hours of filming.
    When we were done, I had just enough time to down a pint of Guinness (what the fuck is this "Extra Cold" bullshit? We don't even have that in the U.S.) and say hi to a friend before I had to meet another TV crew.
    This time it was the crew of BBC 1's "Wales Today" programme.
    Let me back up really quickly. If you were one of the smarter kids at school, you might have gleaned over the years that I taught myself Welsh using the BBC's Learn Welsh website. I am a big fan of the site, and since learning about me, the people running the site are big fans of me. I am the star pupil and they are very eager -- very eager -- to get me out in front of anyone and everyone to help promote the site.
    I am happy to do this. I spent five years using BBC tools but, as a U.S. resident, not paying a license fee, so I feel I owe it to them. And, in some cases, I even get cash money for plugging the site. On Saturday, I am being paid to take part in the Eisteddfod's Welsh Learner's Day, which is being put on by the BBC. I even have a contract -- my favourite element is: "(By accepting this payment) you agree that your contribution will not bring the BBC into disrepute or be defamatory."
    But, it can all get a bit weird at times.
    And that's how I found myself having a conversation about footwear with one-time "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" contestant Siân Lloyd. She kissed me on both cheeks and told me I'm sexy.
    I was introduced to her by her Big Welsh Challenge protégé, Derek Brockway. Both seemed like perfectly lovely people, although I had no idea who the hell they were. I picked up that Derek was famous when a little girl ran up and asked for his autograph, but had to be told by a friend who they were exactly.
    Derek was teaching "Wales Today" reporter Claire I Forget Her Last Name But She Was Really Nice how to speak a bit of Welsh. I figured into all of this when they filmed a bit in which they ran up and talked to me about the Learn Welsh website. It all had a sort of "Reading Rainbow" feel to it: "Hi, Levar! Let me show you around the taffy factory..."
    Despite our filming for quite some time, the end product was scrapped for whatever reason and I was scheduled to show up and do the interview live on air.
    Before that, I had to give a speech. You might remember back in May when I unsuccessfully interviewed to be chosen Welsh Learner of the Year. Out of that came a request to speak about my learning experiences at the Welsh learners' tent at Eisteddfod, now inexplicably known as "Maes D."
    I had spent a great deal of time putting together my speech, but managed to spook myself just before giving it, so it was ass. I spoke clearly and all that, but I had to read my whole speech because I was so nervous. It came off looking like the sort of thing I would have done when I was 12. And apparently, my sense of humour doesn't translate into Welsh; every time I would pause where I had put a joke I would hear silence. As I was standing up there, I suddenly had a flashback to the one time I tried stand-up comedy. I've never told you about that, have I? It was that shameful of an experience that I will tell you no more.
    I spoke for 20 minutes on my experiences in Welsh, bombed miserably, and then discovered that two of the professors from the School of Welsh -- Dr. Wyn James and Dr. Siwan Rosser -- were in the audience.
    Fuck. Great way to make a first impression.
    There wasn't much time to reflect on that, because I had to run around and do some more filming for another thing and then did the live interview on "Wales Today."
    It was in the 15 minutes where I was sitting quietly waiting to be interviewed that I realised how exhausted I was. My brain and voice were both shot; my brain more so.
    Now that I am here in Wales, I find myself in a lot of ways more frustrated by the language than ever before. My Welsh isn't nearly as strong as I would like and I feel confined by it. It's like being retarded and knowing you're retarded. I know that what I'm saying isn't dynamic enough -- it's not properly expressing what I want to say -- but I can't get the words to fall together right. I can't come up with the words. And my brain is screaming to get it all to work; every part of me goes into it. So, stupidly, I'll get emotional about things. At the end of a really long period of speaking Welsh I will feel exhausted and defeated. And all of this attention feels more like I am all some kind of big joke -- the William Hung of the Welsh language.
    Whatever I am, I was able to pull it together for the live interview and it actually turned out OK. I found out later that, according to one of the producers, "Wales Today" is the second most popular programme in Wales, behind EastEnders. So, I'm not sure how wise it was of me to claim live on air that Duncan Jones is a Hobbit. Making fun of 17.4-stone international rugby players on live television is probably not the best way for me to stay healthy.
    And it doesn't stop. I'll tell you more when I get a chance...

    Sarah Stevenson said...

    Dude, that is one intense story. And don't worry, I have plenty of friends who feel the need to spaz in public without the help of intoxicants. (In fact, I seem to know a lot of them...I'm not sure why that is...)

    Anonymous said...

    Living in a country where few people speak English and I have the vocabulary and grammar of a 4 year old prompts me and my husband to refer to each another as William Hung. We exist solely for the entertainment of our new friends.

    One evening I spent a half hour telling my best friend about the causes of the American Civil War. In the end, she asked me: "Whose necklace started all of that?" For 30 minutes I had passionately extolled the tragedies of kolye (necklaces) instead of kole (slavery).

    I am grateful that up to this point I have escaped the media and any form of national fame. My sympathies to you!

    Chris Cope said...

    Wait. The Civil War wasn't started by a necklace?

    Damn, I wish I had paid attention in school.

    Anonymous said...

    ah reading this post really brought back the days of keeping your company. i used to refer to that as your entertaining mode. it did tend to make public group outings a bit of an ordeal. but it's just part of who you are, apparently, not something you're gonna grow out of, although maybe you've pruned it back to more truly performance worthy occasions and not every single social gathering.

    hey from baltimore. i'm here watching the roast of william shatner on comedy central. and plundering time on the interweb. good luck in wales. you're finally getting a taste of the exhaustion i felt in france - except only a taste - because i had to communicate in william hung mode nearly ALL the time as very few nantais actually spoke much english at all. the good news is: you get better. just keep talking to people and it will get easier.

    unless you're farah fawcett - she can't even make it through one joke in english, man, wow, i hope she's trashed on something.