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Monday, October 30, 2006

Delayed gratification

  • If I don't blog, if I don't write, if I don't go out, if I don't watch TV, if I don't play on the Internet, if I don't listen to music, if I don't pleasure read, if I don't drink more than a pregnant woman's weekly allowance of booze, if I live in Wales but don't actually live in Wales I can just barely keep up.

  • I have been amusing myself lately by thinking of what it would sound like if Shakespeare were performed by a load of people with Larry the Cable Guy accents. Actual proper good-quality actors in a top-level production, but everyone sounding like a redneck.
  • Friday, October 27, 2006

    One of the best writers you'll never read

  • My writing is "eloquent, addictive and genuinely funny" and "wonderfully readable,"* but not good enough to print. The rejection letters for my novel continue. It's just piling on now. I won't say this is the most miserable I've ever been. It's not. But it's arguably the most miserable I've been in a situation that didn't involve some girl wanting to get away from me.

  • I should, though, say thank you to the people who send me encouraging e-mails. I really do appreciate it, even though I am crap at showing my appreciation. I am trying to develop a more positive attitude about things and not focus so much on previous failures. Hopefully I will sort myself out before I burn up everyone's goodwill.
    My favourite message of goodwill as of late came from my grandmother, who has a brilliant way of at once commiserating and telling me to shut my whining cake hole.
    "(Your experience brings) back memories of me registering for courses at University of Houston," she wrote, "when I finished my degree at age 33 with three children... I drove 50 miles to the campus three days a week, alone."
    She also provided me with a nifty turn of phrase that perhaps I will use when I want to sound wise: "You can't learn anything yesterday."
    Obviously that sage wisdom would sound much better if it had been worked into limerick read by Terry Wogan (how's that for esotericism, eh? For those of you playing along at home, Wogan is an iconic radio presenter in the UK and he often reads out touching or lightly amusing poems sent in by listeners).

  • Dude. He hates that monkey

  • Good name for a band: Monkey Hater

    *I run the risk of committing major faux pas by blogging direct quotes from rejection letters, so I should point out that I genuinely appreciate the comments and I don't hold it against these editors for deciding against taking up my book. It's perfectly logical to me that if they don't see themselves successfully publishing my book, they would not want to take on the project. It's a business decision for them.
  • Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    End of an era

    End of an eraThe people at Gillette call it a "shaving system;" I would call it a razor, but then would struggle to explain the difference between it and the actual bits of metal that cut away the little tiny hairs growing out my face* -- whatever it's called, mine broke Wednesday.

    I have had the same Gillette Sensor Razor since 1994, when the Gillette Co. sent one to me for free on my birthday. Does anyone know if companies still do this sort of thing? It was a brilliant investment on their part -- think of all the replacement razor blades I have bought over the years. But I get the sense that in the modern age, companies are far too greedy for that.

    The loss of the razor I've had for 12 years continues this Wales Breaking of Chris theme.

    You're probably aware that the philosophy behind constantly screaming at recruits in a boot camp (apart from the fact that it's just downright fun) is that it breaks their will. Once the individual will is eliminated or sufficiently oppressed, so the theory goes, instructors can then build the person from the ground up.

    A year ago, I started throwing away my personal possessions in preparation for moving here -- I planned to bring only a few of my things. Then the money burned more quickly than planned and I took almost none of it. A few weeks ago, I lost my wedding ring, and now I've lost my razor, so that the only thing in my house that dates from before I started learning Welsh is a Portsmouth FC jersey that I now refuse to wear because inevitably that will be the day someone chooses to attack me with indelible ink.

    Along with this, my courses have completely crushed my spirit. I don't feel like writing, I have no confidence in myself, and on and on -- I could keep going until you started to wonder whether this blog was, in fact, being written by a teenage girl.
    Wales is my strange, slow, subtle boot camp. A boot camp with mince pies.

    Actually, it's probably not. The only emotion I felt toward my razor breaking was a mild sense of amazement that it had taken this long to break.

    And it actually provided for the high point of my day, which was my going to Boots. I'm in a sad state that going to Boots is a high point, but there you go. I bought a Mach3 razor, which is a ridiculous name for a razor, but there was a cardboard cut-out of David Beckham there encouraging me to purchase it or other ridiculously named razors of the same brand, like "Gillette MetaFusionUltra5Xinator."

    Yes, my purchase was swayed by the appearance of a man who can't make it onto a team that got its ass kicked by Croatia. I can't help it, I think he's a likeable bloke. That, and Hackett didn't sell shaving kits.

    I had never before heard of Hackett of London until I saw their large display of men's heath and beauty products** today. I decided immediately that I want a load of their stuff, even though I have never managed to use a bottle of cologne before it went stale, because they have Jonny Wilkinson modelling their products.

    Jonny Wilkinson is the shit, yo. He is the John L. Sullivan. I realise that Welsh Experience will punish me for saying that (probably by having me run into Charlotte Church who will then tell me that she reads my blog and will punch me in the penis because I didn't say that her boyfriend was my favourite rugby player) and everyone will point out that he has basically been injured for four years, but I don't care. The dude's still cool. And if he wants to sell me girly aftershave, I'm buying.

    (I am particularly amused by this picture of Wilkinson, where he's been paired with some dainty model boy. Wilkinson is only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, not the biggest fella, but he looks like he could break the model boy in half. Also, I would like to believe that after this picture was taken, Wilkinson punched the person who thought it would be a good idea to take a picture of him walking that dog.

    Wait. How did I get onto the subject of rugby players? Wasn't I talking about razors?

    *Extra points for those of you who can tell me where "little tiny hairs growing out my face" comes from; no fair using Google search. I'm pretty certain that Eric, my dad, and Beth will know.

    **Side note: Since moving here, I have seen a number of newspaper and magazine articles asserting that British males spend ridiculous amounts of time pampering themselves with health and beauty products. If this is true, why does the men's health section in the Cardiff city centre Boots consist of only two shelves, and why are there only three brands of deodorant?

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Morbid Traitorous Bastards

  • Actual spam e-mail subject head: 'Spermamax improves your sperm integrity.'
    Is this an actual problem for people? Disreputable sperm? 'Damn, my sperm wouldn't be allowed in high society? If only there were something I could do... wait a minute, what's this e-mail?'

  • Tuesday was probably the most prolific blogging day I've had in a month. I think that means I don't have to write anything for a while.

  • I think it's funny how many people will tell me to be sure to see some of the rest of Wales. Every time I meet someone new and they cotton to my being Yanqui I get told "be sure to get out and see Wales."
    It's just an odd thing to say, when you think about it -- the idea that I've travelled 5,000 miles to study Welsh but need to be told to venture an extra 100 miles to go on holiday.

  • My dad on Thursday reminded me somewhat of what drove me to want to move here in the first place -- to get away from life in the U.S. media. He told me that someone strangely took issue with the headline of this story and then accused the website of being, "morbid traitorous bastards."
    Which is a really good name for a band, I think.
  • Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Remember memes?

    I lifted this off Heather's site because I am too busy to be arsed about posting properly.

    1. FIRST NAME?
    James

    2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
    The brother of some bloke named Jesus, a king who commissioned a book that talked about said bloke named Jesus, both my grandfathers and my dad.

    3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY?
    Despite having had some very rough times as of late, I can’t remember the last time I cried. Although I got a little teary-eyed at the end of Jane Eyre

    4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
    It's better than my footwriting.

    5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT?
    Corned beef, if it's proper corned beef. Do not give me anything that comes out of a can.

    6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?
    Perhaps, but I don't think I'd be a really close friend. I'm pretty sure that I would find me to be more than a little tedious.

    7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL?
    You mean, apart from three blogs? Yes, I do.

    8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS?
    Not that I know of.

    9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
    I would, but it's that bit about paying for it that will probably prevent me from ever doing it. While I can allow myself to chuck my only mortal vessel off a cliff, I can't allow myself to pay for it.

    10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL?
    Banana Milkshake Rice Krispies. They were test marketed in the UK 10 years ago and I was the only person buying them. As such, they no longer exist. In protest, I no longer eat cereal unless I am at my parents-in-law's house. There, I usually eat Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms.

    11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF?
    No. I untie them before I take them off.

    12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG?
    As compared to Madonna's African baby, yes. I could kick that baby's ass.

    13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
    Guinness. They sold it at Izzy's in St. Paul a few seasons ago.

    14. SHOE SIZE?
    46 European

    5. RED OR PINK?
    Red

    16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
    Instead of doing proper school work, I am inclined to fill out blog memes.

    17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
    Strangely, my brother. That's a whole blog post in itself, though.

    18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU?
    Yes. Every single person on the whole planet. Tomorrow. And if they could offer me the chance to download videos of pregnant women having sex with farm machinery, I would be all the more appreciative.

    19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING?
    That's the kind of question they would ask in my beginner's Spanish class: Mis pantalones es azul, mi camisa es azul y mis zapatos es marrón.
    In Welsh: Mae fy nhrowsus yn las, mae fy nghrys yn las a mae fy esgidiau'n frown.

    20. LAST THING YOU ATE?
    Toast and tea; the breakfast of champions

    21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW?
    The hum of computers, the occasional passing train, clicking of keys on a keyboard.

    22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
    That is such an ass question that I refuse to answer.

    23. FAVORITE SMELL?
    Perfume on naked breasts.

    24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
    Someone from my wife's chapel who was asking to speak to her.

    25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO?
    Face

    26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON YOU STOLE THIS FROM?
    If by 'like' you mean 'picture naked and standing on my chest holding a whip,' then, yes.

    27. FAVORITE DRINK?
    Ale

    28. FAVORITE SPORT?
    Rugby

    29. EYE COLOR?
    Blue

    30. HAT SIZE?
    I have absolutely no idea.

    31. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS?
    Yes, I exhaust them -- always pestering for information. But if you're asking about my eyes, my vision is fine.

    32. FAVORITE FOOD?
    Phở

    33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
    Happy endings

    35. SUMMER OR WINTER?
    Winter. As a skinny person, I like being able to look larger thanks to multiple layers of clothing.

    36. HUGS OR KISSES?
    Context, yo.

    37. FAVORITE DESSERT?
    I could really go for one of those Molten Cakes from Chili's. How low-brow is that?

    38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    Someone I'm poking with a fork.

    39. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND?
    Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo in Disney's 'The Jungle Book' -- he won't respond if not simply because he's dead.

    40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING?
    'Dan Gadarn Goncrit' by Mihangel Morgan; 'Y Ddraig Goch' by Emlyn Roberts; 'Thank You, Jeeves,' by PG Wodehouse

    41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    The mouse

    42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV?
    I didn't watch TV

    43. FAVORITE SOUNDS?
    Total and complete silence (this is a hell of a lot harder to find than you might think) or the sound of someone laughing at my jokes.

    44. ROLLING STONE OR BEATLES?
    The hell? In which century was this meme written? Rolling Stones if forced to choose.

    45. THE FURTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME?
    This calls into question the definition of 'home.' As someone who was raised in four (arguably five) different cities, and who has not lived in the same place for more than 2 years since I was 18, what is my home?

    46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT?
    Providing unnecessary criticism

    47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
    Austin, Texas, USA

    48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU?
    The Lord Our God.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2006

    Wedding Ring Jingles Away

    That's right, bitches, my latest column is out.

    As an added bonus to this week's column, here's a section that I removed because it digressed too much and made the column too long:

    "I used to take evil glee in retelling the story to anyone who hadn't heard it: Paul had been languishing in the Pacific Ocean when he allowed the expensive ring that his dear sweet wife had meticulously chosen to represent their undying love to slip off his finger and into the shallows, where it was no doubt later found by a retiree with a metal detector who hocked it for enough boxed wine to build a small fort.

    Of course, when I say "allowed," I might as well say "willed." Why, in his negligence toward the object that signified a sacred unification before the eyes of God, he could just as easily have ripped the ring from his finger, spat on it, and heaved it into the sea while screaming obscenities directed toward his wife, family and country.
    "

    It's only Tuesday

  • Tuesday was some sort of national blogging day, apparently. 'National' in this case refers to Britain and blogging was being encouraged by the National Trust. I'm not really sure why; I had no idea that it was National Blogging Day Thingy until Welsh-language news programme 'Post Cyntaf' contacted me and asked me to comment on it.
    I wrote a post, but then discovered that the National Trust blog thingy has a 625-word limit; I had written 1,800 words. So, I posted it on my blog. I was trying to create a sort of snapshot of my life for someone who doesn't know me, so it has a slightly different feel to it.

  • Among the seemingly countless actually-insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme-and sort-of-not-really-worth-mentioning-but-for-the-fact-that-I-have-a-blog-and-it-gives-me-something-to-write-about complaints I have these days is the fact that my class schedule burns me out by Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes before.
    On Monday night I was so worn out that I kept waking up in a panic, not able to determine what day it was. At one point, I jumped out of bed, thinking that I had forgotten -- again -- to take out the garbage for Wednesday collection. It's a clear sign that the child bride has suffered me for quite a while that she knew without asking why I had jumped out of bed.
    "It's Tuesday, Chris," she said. "Wednesday is trash day. Come back to bed."

  • Someone asked me today if things have improved at all in terms of my confidence in being able to deal with the class load and my expectations for myself, etcetera. I don't think they have. But I've mellowed a bit, nonetheless.
    It's like those blokes in World War I foxholes -- the shelling doesn't actually stop, but after a while they just get a little more used to it*. OK, it is, in fact, nothing akin to the WWI experience. The risk of my getting blown into countless indistinguishable bits as a result of my learning Welsh is thankfully very low.

  • One thing I can say is that academia is bad for my posture. All the chairs and tables and desk thingies at Cardiff University (ranked No. 144 in the list of the world's top 200 universities, according to our flashy but poorly written student newspaper) appear to have been designed for petite women and lemurs. Being a normal-sized fellow means having to stoop over a lot. This, of course, means that my back always hurts, which makes me feel even older.
    "Oof. Doin' all this sittin' for fancy learnin' makes my back hurt. I guess it's not a problem for you young whippersnappers, with your boom-boom-boom music and partying till all hours of the mornin'."

  • In one of those cruel twists of fate that sometimes affects perfectly good people, there are three girls in my Welsh Literature course who are stuck working in a group with me. I feel really bad for them that they have to put up with such dead weight, but I try to make up for it by being pleasant and offering to buy them tea.
    Every time I see one of them, I think it would be really funny to say something like, "How's my lady?" with my head cocked to the side and me sounding creepy-pimpy. I have a feeling, though, that if I were to try to do that it would fall horribly flat and I would then have to try to explain myself amid a flurry of punches.

    *Dear self, why did you write this sentence in the present tense?
  • 17 October 2006

    I'm from the United States. Depending on my mood when you ask me, I am from Texas or I am from Minnesota. Right now, though, I am living in Cardiff, Wales, and studying the 2,600-year-old language that is Welsh.

    I don't really know why I am here doing this -- I don't have any family or personal connection to Wales. A few years ago, I was bored and I found a website that taught Welsh. Now I'm here; 30 years old and struggling to see and understand a culture that is at once familiar and utterly confusing.

    The trains here in Cardiff are laughable by even U.S. standards. I like to imagine the entire company is run by one of those friends everyone has who is a likeable alcoholic -- he tries to do a good job, enough that it pains you to really complain, but everything he does is substandard.

    My train to Cathays, where the university is located, was delayed by about 10 minutes and then so fully packed that it was like a city centre pub on Saturday night. The large breasted woman pressed against me on the short journey from Radyr to Cathays smelled lovely.

    Welsh women tend to have larger breasts than the women I knew back in Minnesota. They should put that fact in the tourist literature: "Wonderful Wales! More castles than any sane person could ever want to visit and lovely large-breasted women!"

    The train cuts through generally unexciting territory. From cow fields along the lazy River Taff down through middle-class homes, past one of Cardiff's numerous chav hotspots, over the A48, past student housing and into the heart of campus.

    The nature of my arriving in this country to do what I'm doing has resulted in my becoming something of a darling in the Welsh-language media. So, while I was almost late to my 9 a.m. class, the camera crew was not. I am the focus of a documentary that will come out in the spring, and they were there for the obligatory "here's Chris trying to pretend he understands what the hell is going on in his lectures" shot. I felt bad for the cute girl with a bad cough who was sitting next to me. She smelled of the previous night's booze, so I was pretty sure she didn't want to be on camera.

    I probably understood about 60 to 70 percent of the lecture (all of my lectures are conducted entirely in Welsh -- cell phones and flatulence are more readily tolerated than English), which was focused on the history of the Eisteddfod. A word that's impossible for my father to pronounce, Eisteddfod is at the heart of Welsh culture. It is basically a competition of singing, dancing, art, and literature. Other cultures have similar events, but here IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER. I went to the National Eisteddfod this year, in August, and I didn't get it. I generally try to keep this fact to myself. As a Welsh learner, my lack of interest in Eisteddfod is equivalent to training to be a priest but thinking that John the Baptist wasn't all that important.

    Afterward, sans camera crew, I tried to keep my head from exploding in my Welsh grammar course. I feel so stupid in my courses. They are like The Machine in "Princess Bride," but instead of sucking away years of my life, they rob me of all self-confidence.

    As if my brain weren't scrambled enough, the class that comes straight after for me is Spanish grammar. But Spanish has become a respite in my world of Welsh sub-understanding. It is the academic form of candy for me right now.

    Buoyed by the confidence that I am better at beginner Spanish than the 18-year-old from Somerset who sat next to me, I then returned to the Welsh-language department to do a "Chris talks about how he feels about his lectures" interview with the camera crew. They've been following me around on and off since May, and I've been generally unhappy with my past few interviews. I know the fact that I am heartbroken and homesick comes through. That might make for a good story, but I am media savvy enough to know that it will feel very embarrassing when I see it in several months time.

    I ate lunch in a building on campus that only international students seem to know about. It's always me and a load of Asians eating in the building's cafe, which serves a sufferable curry, naan and bottle of Coke for £2.90. Then I went to the library to try to make sense of a Welsh poem.

    Poetry has never made sense to me, but when you add the fact that it is in Welsh, esoteric, and focused on a culture that I still don't understand at all, it becomes the intellectual equivalent of a spinal tap. I spent two hours trying to draw something from it before getting together with a group of girls from my literature class to write up an assessment.

    Poets are revered here, whereas in the U.S., even well-read people would be hard-pressed to name a single living poet. So, people who were born and raised in Welsh culture are better suited to poetry.

    I feel bad for the three young pretty girls who are stuck in a group with me. They are all native Welsh speakers and they probably understand this as well as I understand professional wrestling and rodeo (I would prefer to discuss Triple H over Twm Morys any day). But they are all very nice, and were quick to point out to one another the contribution I had made -- figuring out that the not-in-the-dictionary word "amenio" means "to say amen" -- and we managed to put something together.

    I took the 18:43 train from Cathays to Radyr, then the 19:04 from Radyr to Danescourt. The train heading south was packed with people heading to the Cardiff vs. Southampton match that Cardiff City would eventually win 1-0. I was home in time to watch "EastEnders."

    I am allegedly a mature and intelligent adult of proper breeding, but I find myself obsessed with keeping track of what's happening in the long-running soap "EastEnders." If I could have one wish granted, it would be this: I would show up at the Queen Vic and say hello to Peggy in Welsh, then she would throw me out, using the phrase "sling yer 'ook!"

    For dinner, I ate lamb stew that my wife had left cooking in a crock pot. She has a master's degree but the only work she can find here is at the Starbucks. It is demeaning and tedious and they have her working stupid hours, but she is beautiful and wonderful and keeps at it. She is always tired when I see her, and I feel a terrible guilt that she is serving coffee to self-absorbed city workers while I spend my day reading poetry and looking at pretty girls.

    This is our life. Tomorrow will be somewhat similar.

    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    16th Rocktober

  • I think we're set for the musical calendar*. Be sure to use these when setting appointments. The next step is to name off days off the week. Or not. That sounds like work.
    - Jazzuary
    - Funkuary
    - Sousa March
    - Gospril
    - Heavy Maytal
    - Cajune
    - Julypso
    - Skaugust
    - Swingtember
    - Rocktober
    - Bossa November
    - AC/December
    I did like the idea of Zeptember, though, which made me also think of Maytallica.

  • It really felt like autumn Sunday in Crazy Ol' Caerdydd. That's not really saying much, I suppose, because it's felt like autumn pretty much every day since mid-August. But something about today made me feel semi-content. Then I remembered that I have several things that need to be done by Monday and went back to nonstop panic and profanity.

  • Am I the only one who thinks Pink is the new Alanis Morisette?

    *And kudos to me for dragging this out for three days.
  • Friday, October 13, 2006

    AC/December

  • So, we've got:
    - Jazzuary
    - February
    - Sousa March
    - April
    - May
    - June
    - July
    - August
    - Swingtember*
    - Rocktober
    - Bossa November
    - AC/December
    That's half the year covered. Mark your calendars. Can anyone think of something to fit those spring and summer months (and February, which I think rhymes with nothing)?

  • This is impossible to explain, but it makes me laugh: Nümberwang.

  • One of the myriad frustrating elements about the Welsh language is the way they count. There are two ways, actually. The more recent system is a bit like the way we count in English.
    But there is also an older system, which is still very much in use, that involves counting by increments of twenty and doing math. Roughly translating to English, to say the number 79 you would say "four plus fifteen plus three twenties."
    It gets even worse when you want to count objects. To say "79 ships" you would say "four plus fifteen ships plus three twenties."
    You see why this course is killing me?

  • Wales takes a certain amount of pride in the fact that it is an ancient country. There were people here tossing eggs at innocent bystanders hundreds of years before Christ showed up to tell them it's wrong.
    To underline Cymru's ancient feel, it has a train service that only an ancient Celt wouldn't have problems with: "Look, Rhiannon, how fast this great box allows us to flee from the Vikings! And the chimney is on the outside!"

    *Although, I also really like "Two-Steptember."
  • Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Rocktober

    This month is, of course, Rocktober. I am trying to think of what musical styles can be allocated to other months. At the moment, all I've come up with is Bossa November. Anyone?

    God is trying to tell me something about buses

    On Tuesday night, someone in a passing car hit me with an egg while I was standing at a bus stop.

    Things are like that at the moment. I've had two people in two days e-mail me directly and try to spur me back to writing. I want to, but I'm still drowning.

    And Blogger sucks.

    Sunday, October 8, 2006

    Eric dresses his dog

    Eric dresses his dogThis is my friend Eric's dog, Bear.

    I have known Eric for nigh 20 years, and in that time he has gone from being a really loud kid who consistently failed to get a haircut to being a really loud adult who dresses his dog in camouflage wetsuits and then takes pictures of it to send to friends.

    In fairness, the taxonomically confused dog named Bear was dressed in a wetsuit because it is her job to jump into cold water and fetch ducks that Eric has shot. On this particular day, Eric was feeling a tremendous sense of pride because Bear had actually done what she was supposed to do.

    From the few conversations about hunting dogs in which I have managed to stay awake, I have learned that getting a dog to go into the water and fetch the bird you have just shot is no end of trouble. And sometimes, no matter what you do, to literalize a Clinton metaphor, that dog won't hunt.

    Nevertheless, that does not change the fact that he took a picture of his dog and sent it to me.

    "It's not like it's a Christmas sweater," Eric protested.

    Yeah, whatever. He took two pictures, actually -- the one you see here, and this one, which is the sort of ideal scene you would expect to see portrayed on a wall mural in a Northern Minnesota bar.

    I also love that the wetsuit is camouflage. As if that is going to fool the ducks:

    "Hey guys -- is that a dog swimming over here?"
    "Nah, it's just heavy panting foliage with teeth."

    Grumpy hiraeth

  • I wholeheartedly apologise for the lack of blogging this week. It can be directly attributed to the strain of the past several days. I've written a tedious and whiny post about it in Welsh and don't feel like repeating myself, but suffice to say this week has really sucked.
    One of the many endearing things about the Welsh is the fact that they take a sort personal responsibility for everything that happens in Wales. They are an "If-I-knew-you-were-coming-I'd-have-baked-a-cake" sort of people, and if they didn't know you were coming, they usually feel a sense of guilt about it: "I had no idea this American would be at the pub, but I really should have baked a cake anyway. Oh, I'm such an awful person."
    Similarly, I have found myself feeling the need to reassure friends that it is not their fault that I hated my first week of classes.
    Repeat: No one in Wales is to blame. The English, maybe, but for the most part, this week was shit because I am a dummy. I am in over my head in my classes and I am unsure as to whether I will improve fast enough.

  • All of this has caused a weird sort of homesickness; weird in the sense that I have no desire to go back to the United States, but there are a load of things that I miss:
    - Driving or biking across the Mendota Bridge and seeing the Minnesota River Valley stretch out into the horizon; especially at this time of the year, when it is lit up in the vibrant colour of autumn.
    - Oktoberfest at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit.
    - Running along the Mississippi River.
    - Walking up and down Grand and Summit avenues.
    - Conversations that don't centre on my being an American.
    - Conversations in which I understand more than 70 percent of what is said.
    - People who don't have ridiculous hypersensitivity about identity, which is all just made up, anyway (the whole of fucking Europe has got their head up their ass about the fact that they're from blank-blank place and therefore it is impossible for them to have a meaningful conversation with people from blank-blank place).
    - Barbecue.
    - Mexican food.
    - Vietnamese food.
    - Cheeseburgers that aren't overcooked.
    - Proper American-style pizza (Pizza Hut and Domino's do not count).
    - Being able to drive and, by extension, being able to go to a place when I want to go to that place.
    - Being able to isolate myself from depressingly stupid people (the stupid and the brilliant are more integrated here; one minute you'll be talking to a bloke who knows 15 languages, and the next minute you're talking to a woman who can't see what's wrong about putting Coca-Cola in her baby's bottle).
    - Not constantly worrying about money.
    - Going to friends' houses to watch the Vikings.
    - Children who are not allowed to swear at their parents.
    - The smell of fireplaces at night.
    - Laughing really hard.

  • On the bus Saturday I sat next to a kid who plays a character on the Welsh-language soap opera "Pobl y Cwm." He was with a woman I presumed to be his mom and a group of people I presumed to be his mom's friends. It wasn't exactly the biggest celebrity spotting in the world, but there you go.

  • Wales completely lost the plot Saturday against Slovakia, making me happy that I made no effort to see the match in person.

  • I don't know why, but nonsense phrases are inherently funny in Spanish. Example this good name for a band: "Los Gatos Cumpleaños" (The Birthday Cats)
  • Tuesday, October 3, 2006

    The day I lost my wedding band

    I think I've mentioned that this country is loaded with spiders. They are everywhere. Including bus stops.

    I don't think I've mentioned, though, that I seem to have lost weight recently. It's probably a result of the nonstop stress and the fact that I don't have a car. This weight loss has been most evident in that none of my clothes fit properly, but also that my wedding band and Claddagh ring have been slipping off my fingers from time to time.

    So, when I took a swing at the large spider that was making its way toward my head as I waited for the 60 bus, my wedding band went sailing. It slammed against one of the walls of the bus shelter and clinked around for a good 10 seconds as I wildly danced around trying to figure out where it had gone. I could hear the sound but I couldn't see the ring. The noise of it bounced against the shelter walls and mixed with the sound of cars on the street. And then I heard the sound fading, as if the ring were rolling away, and then it was gone.

    I knew immediately that I wouldn't find it. I could just feel in my gut that it was gone and I felt totally defeated.

    A few years ago, when I thought I had lost my ring, I was in full-on ridiculous panic. On Monday night I was just exhausted.

    Although, that doesn't mean I didn't try. I determined 20-foot perimeter that I walked up and down several times on both sides of the street. Then I tried to recreate the event by throwing coins around in the bus shelter; in addition to my ring, I also lost 78 pence.

    I searched for about 15 minutes until the bus showed up. Realising that the ring was lost, I got on the bus and went to the pub. In the years to come, I will probably emphasise this element.

    "Yes, I had lost the very symbol of my marriage. And, yes, marrying Rachel is without question the best thing to ever happen in my life. But a man has to have priorities, so, I didn't let it stop me from going to the pub."

    In future telling, I will conveniently delete the 45 minutes I spent staring at the floor when I got there. I had gone to the pub really only because my mind couldn't think of what else to do.

    I had worn that ring every single day, no matter what I was doing, for more than seven years. It was simple and scratched up and I planned on wearing it until I died so that all the worms would know that I was a lucky motherfucker. And now it's gone.

    Rachel, displaying why the ring was so important to me in the first place, wasn't bothered at all. I told her about it, and she said it was only a piece of metal and we'll get a new one.

    We will, but it won't be for a while because we don't have any money. And it won't be the ring she put on my finger when we stood in the heat of early summer and were so nervous that we couldn't even look at each other -- when her parents didn't like me and we had no money and no idea where we were going, and all we did have were two cheap little rings and each other and that was enough.

    I still get the girl. I just feel like shit for losing the thing that said without speaking that I'm hers.

    Also, I'm pissed that I can no longer make fun of Paul for losing his ring.

    Gotta Make It Work

    The positive spin on my latest column obviously indicates that it was written before I lost my wedding band.

    Also, originally I was going to write a bit in which I pointed out that women rank pretty much near top on what's important in the universe according to me. Not the top, of course. God locks the top slot -- on a technicality. He created females.

    But I left that out because people take religion too seriously.

    Why I spent the night dreaming about throwing myself in front of trains

    I hate my classes. I am in over my head.

    And last night I lost my wedding ring in the process of swatting at a spider.

    I fucking hate spiders.

    Sunday, October 1, 2006

    A less-than-stellar beginning

  • Well, I've managed through my first week of university. I'm not sure that's saying a whole hell of a lot, since I didn't have any lectures. All I did was sign up for lectures, which felt like enough. By Friday night I had only the mental energy to sit on the couch, drink beer and watch rugby.
    I think people here would suggest it's more accurate to say that I watched the rugby.
    Before I explain how my week went, I need to explain the terms I'll be using. The word "class" seems to have a different definition here than in the United States, but in typical British English fashion, I can't really cotton what the other definition is. When I use the word "class" in academic terms, I am referring either to the exact period of time that I am in an academic building and not, say, at the pub. For example, from 11:00 to 12:00 Monday, I am expected to be in an academic building focusing on Spanish conversation. I would refer to this as "being in class." I would also refer to all the collective Mondays when I am expected to be focusing on Spanish conversation from 11:00 to 12:00 as "a class." It is my Spanish Conversation class.
    Whatever the fuck words the British use for this, I do not know. After a week of trying to communicate and understand these intangible concepts, I am inclined to just give up.*
    Anyway, in Yanqui terms, I have eight classes a week, which split into 13 hours of class time, since some of the classes are held more than once a week. It's been so long since I've taken a full course load at a U.S. university that I can't really remember if eight classes is a lot, but it sure as hell feels like it.
    For my Welsh classes, scheduling was relatively simple. There was a timetable posted on the wall that, when deciphered, told me when and where the classes would be held. I had no choice of times and did not have to build my schedule, as is the case in U.S. universities.
    The Spanish classes offered a little more fun, reminding me a bit of my first year in Moorhead, before anyone had thought to use computers, so registering for a class involved a lot of calculating of schedules in my head, standing around for an hour in order to be the first to put my name on a piece of paper, and arm twisting of administrative types to get them to let me do what I wanted to do. But there was the added fun of having it all take place immediately before the classes actually start. In a U.S. university, I would have done all that fretting several months before things got under way. Here, I didn't know until 4:30 p.m. Friday what I would be doing at 11 a.m. Monday.
    I hated this week.
    When I was younger, my parents wasted a lot of perfectly good money trying to figure out why I was so shit at school and they sent me to one of those learning centre places where I had to perform myriad IQ, psychological and aptitude tests. Generally, the tests concluded that I was a pretty smart little fella, except when it came to organisational skills. I believe I was officially classified as "fucking idiot" when it came to being able to create and understand patterns. I'm a little better now, but not by much.
    So, if you were to, say, hand me my Welsh class schedule and then tell me to squeeze in four more classes, ensuring that they do not conflict, I would wish death upon your whole family.
    Being made to do things I don't like to do, especially things that I feel make me look stupid, causes a sort of processing error in my brain. Eager to find something that I can do well, my head will fill up with profanity. I struggle to read a train schedule, but, oodalalee, I can unleash a torrent of naughty words. And it's in moods like these that the tiniest little challenges can become the most traumatic events in a person's life.
    On Friday afternoon, I had one of those goofy introduction-to-the-library things, which I normally would have skipped had it not been for the fact that the last time I properly used a library, I was still learning the ropes of the Dewey Decimal System (P.S., librarians who read this blog, do they still use the Dewey Decimal System?).
    Perhaps in an effort to ensure that the library won't be picketed by language activists, us Welshy kids were given the introduction in yr Iaith o Nefoedd. Realising that introductions to libraries are inherently dull, the bloke manning the PowerPoint tried to force us to interact by giving us little cards with questions for us to ask. For example, the card might say (in Welsh), "Where can I photocopy stuff from journals?" and then PowerPoint bloke would spend far too long giving the location of every photocopier in South Glamorgan.
    With my head all full of profanities, I had no desire to sit there and expose my lack of formal Welsh education in front of my fellow classmates by having to read something aloud. It was just reading a sentence, but I was spinning myself in fear of screwing it up -- so much that I did screw it up. I mumbled through it and the bloke -- who presumably had written the questions but at the very least was prepared to hear the question -- had to have me repeat it.
    So, of course, I don't remember the rest of the thing. All I could think about was how much I wanted to get out of there and how I was old and busted and making a fool of myself and I probably smelled and all my clothes were out of date and my hair was stupid and and and and... When it finally did end, I shot out of the room. I found a corner of the library and sat there for 15 minutes, thinking: "...and classes haven't even started yet. I am fucked."

  • I got to watch a fair amount of rugby this weekend and it was good to see three of the four Welsh teams winning their matches. Perhaps I am a bit biased because I live in Cardiff, but I think the Blues-Wasps match was the best.
    One thing that really amuses me about rugby is the way commentators respond to fighting. In the U.S., television networks make every effort to avoid showing fights, and if one is accidentally aired it seems obligatory for the commentators to denounce it: "Oh, that's just totally uncalled for... absolutely unnecessary... and insult to the game... Fighting makes the baby Jesus cry."
    Here, you will see two massive blokes throw full punches at one another and it is described as "spirited," or the commentators will criticise the fighting style: "Not much of a punch there from Huge Angry Prop. Hopefully he can run the ball better than he fights."

  • At the bank the other day, there was a woman who I'm pretty sure has been around since the Vikings used Cardiff as a trading post and she let out one of the longest sustained moments of flatulence I have ever witnessed. It went on for at least 45 seconds. Fair enough that she was 8 million years old and has therefore earned a certain right to go around letting loose anywhere she damn pleases; I was more amazed that that much gas had been allowed to build up.

    *This speaks to a common experience here in that people's vocabularies vary much more broadly than in the United States. I will find that I will use a word some places -- e.g. "check," as in, "May I have the check, please?" -- and it will be perfectly understood. But other times it will completely derail the person; no less than if I had thrown a jar of urine on them.
  •