Saturday, August 21, 2010

A letter home: 21 August 2010

My dearest Emma,

I suppose I should begin with an apology for not having written sooner. Actually, this is the first time I have ever written to you. I'm sorry.

I justify my lack of correspondence with the fact you don't actually exist. You are a figment of my imagination, created simply as a way of writing a letter to my friends and family without having to go to the trouble of writing them individually. I'm sorry to break it to you this way; I'm using you.

Many moons ago, Emma -- when bison still roamed the plain and White Man had not yet stolen our land -- I would sit in my miserably cold room in Ballard Hall, on the campus of what was then known as Moorhead State University, churning out handwritten letters to friends and family members. The university is now known as Minnesota State University Moorhead (nothing says "quality learning institution" like the need for rebranding) and I haven't handwritten a letter in such a long time I can't even guess at the timeframe.

When I write to people now it is always by e-mail. Well, if I write to them. Back in those Arcadian days at Moorhead, I would write two or three letters a day. Now, I have unanswered e-mails in my inbox dating back to more than a year ago, when Jessica Town was telling me she wished she could live in San Antonio. I don't think she was referring to the Chilean port city, but instead the Texan metropolis that's an hour or so down the road from Austin. I don't know, though, Emma, because I never wrote her back. I am a shit friend.

So, my darling fictitious inamorata, I am writing to you and posting this letter to my blog. I'm hoping my friends and family in the United States will see it, and it will be good enough correspondence that they will continue to put beer in my hand and food in my belly on the rare occasions I get to see them face to face.

The weather here on this island of rain has been good as of late. August is not so bad in Britain. It is almost never hot but very rarely cold. The trees are still lush and green. In those afternoons when the sun can be seen, it shines golden and turns beautiful a place that in just a few months will become the embodiment of misery. I try not to think of the winter.

That is especially true this year, because almost certainly winter will be the time when I have run completely out of money and am living solely on the leftover food storage items collected by my ex-wife. Her religion tells her the end is nigh, so she used to prepare by putting bags and bags of rice in the attic. She's been gone a year now, Emma, but the food has not yet run out.

I am thankful. This past week was filled with warnings that food prices are set to rise roughly 3 percent overall by Christmas. According to Big Issue, the cost of wheat could go up as much as 15 percent. We're doomed, Emma. This is the Europe we were warned about as kids, remember? Concrete rainy inflation-strangled misery. Soon I will be standing in queue for bread and selling my used American bluejeans on the black market. Please send Pepsi.

My method of suffering the impending economic misery is piecemeal. In a few weeks I start work teaching Welsh to adults. At the same time I will be taking a course to earn full accreditation as a Welsh tutor. By this time next year I will have a bachelors degree in Welsh, a masters degree in Welsh and a Level 5 certification for teaching Welsh. I will be insanely well-qualified to do fuck all in the United States. But hopefully here it will earn me enough to pay rent.

I feel an obligation to be cheeky and self-effacing about the whole thing, but in honesty, Emma, I am looking forward to it. By teaching Welsh I'll be helping to bring new speakers into the Welsh-language world and that is something it desperately needs. Sometimes the Welsh-language world feels like a late-night bus out of city centre: the assholes are all too easy to find.

All languages and cultures need people to survive. What is a language without people to read or speak it? It is simply a pattern of squiggles, most likely incomprehensible to other species. To a dog, how are the patterns of words in The Sun Also Rises all that different to the patterns of tree bark? Most likely they are not; they are both just things to chew up or piss on.

Cultures are extensions of language. Strong languages and cultures are marked by size and diversity. In those things, Welsh language and its culture are lacking; it is the same small group of people doing the same things. The culture is so limited it alienates.

In teaching Welsh I'll be helping to add voices to the mix. It's true the majority of people I'll teach won't carry on to fluency and even fewer still will use their Welsh for anything more than conversations about their grandchildren. But it's still more voices, Emma. Only a few, but more. That can only be good.

With the rest of my time, I am writing. I have two books under way: one in Welsh and one in English. I am hoping to have both completed by the end of January. That may be a bit ambitious. I find that any time I write a book I must first spend several months saying I'm going to write a book.

More immediately, within the next fortnight, I intend to publish my first novel, The Way Forward.

You may remember it by its previous title, Drinking Stories. I've decided -- thanks to encouragement from the pride of Hirwaun -- to publish it electronically, for Kindle and the like.

Yes, I know what you're thinking, Emma. Stop rolling your eyes.

I have no doubt convincing people to buy it will be an uphill battle, especially in electronic form. But at the same time, I find the prospect exciting. And with the cost of Kindle having dropped recently, I think the medium is increasingly less prohibitive. I read recently Kindle books outsell physical books two to one on's U.S. site. Meanwhile, its UK site has temporarily sold out of the devices. It is not the fringe technology I'm sure a person on "Taro'r Post" would insist it is ("Taro'r Post" is a radio call-in programme on Radio Cymru, in which people seem to piss and moan about all kinds of new-fangled things, like light bulbs and voting rights for women).

The challenge will be the one I faced when I released a physical book last year: getting it noticed. I'll admit I'm not sure how to do that, Emma.

But, as I say, it's still a week or so away. I'll fill you in on details once I'm ready to publish.

And that's about all the news from this end of the pond. Please give my best to your mother.

I remain your humble servant,

PS - Have you ever heard of Timber Timbre, Emma? I think you would like them. Or him. I'm not sure I understand the trend of individual artists giving themselves band names. I suppose it's what Prince was trying to achieve with his squiggly design -- a separation between the person and the art. We are not what we create.


Bethgun said...

Almost as nice as a letter on graph paper written in all caps. [Sigh.] You were the best letter-writer I knew in college, by far.

Chris Cope said...

I'm sorry, Beth. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the letters while they lasted, though.