Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A letter home: 15 September 2010

My dearest Emma,

Greetings from across the Atlantic Ocean. Or, perhaps, from across the room. Since you are a figment of my imagination I don't suppose there are any geographical restrictions on where exactly you are not.

In light of the fact you don't exist, I don't suppose I can be too upset at you for not having written in some time. But, honestly, Emma, I'm not sure it's all that great an excuse. Nonetheless, I thought I'd get in touch and let you know what's been going on in my life over the past month or so.

I suppose the biggest news of late is that Lisa broke up with me. She couldn't handle the awesomeness. That's been the downfall of many a young lady: I am simply too awesome.

In truth, though, I think it was an issue of timing. Sometimes you meet a lovely person at the wrong time.

Either way, it is a big ball of suck. I am living the cliché life of the mid-30s man I never wanted to be. And in light of this, I find it suddenly so easy to identify negatives. It's as if the bleakness of my life is displayed via Cover Flow, the iTunes feature that organises music by placing it in a kind of picture wheel. All the bad things have been pushed forward, highlighted and enlarged.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Rachel's leaving. I can still remember very clearly standing on platform 1 of Cardiff Central station, watching her train pull away and thinking I should run after it or something -- run and jump on, or take the next train and catch up with her before she left for America. Instead, I went home and cried until exhaustion.

Being again single I can confess to you, Emma, that I do still miss her. When I was in Lake Jackson this past July I couldn't help but notice pictures of me and Rachel are still up throughout my grandparents' house. My grandmother loves Rachel -- thinks the world of her. Note use of the present tense. One day she caught my eye wandering over to one of the pictures and asked: "Chris, don't you miss her?"

"Oh, yeah," I said. "Every day."

I'm not sure what missing amounts to, though. And not sure it matters. One of the things that always tickled me about Rachel was her practicality. The first time I asked her out, she refused on grounds that she had no intention of marrying me and there is no point in going out with someone you don't intend to marry. She has moved on by now, and there is probably no point in her missing someone she doesn't want to be with.

Meanwhile, back in ol' Caerdydd, financial strain is turning to panic. If you remove the money I need in order to pay October's rent, I have £90 to my name. I start teaching in less than a fortnight but I am concerned about the interim between now and getting paid, and whether teaching will actually be enough.

It spurs thoughts of returning to the United States. Every town has its ups and downs, sang the rooster in the Disney version of Robin Hood. Sometimes the ups outnumber the downs. But not in Nottingham. Nor in Caerdydd, or so it sometimes feels. In measuring the past four years I have a fancy education, a book no one will read and a book no one can read -- those are the ups. I also have insurmountable debt, homesickness, loneliness and a broken heart.

But we both know, Emma, that it's easy for me to say I want to go back home and much harder for me to say how it would work. What exactly would I do with my bachelors and masters degrees in Welsh? How would I overcome all the things that made me so angry with the United States in the first place? Hell, I left before the Tea Party movement existed. Going home would be a bit like Stanislav returning to Russia at the end of William Owen Roberts' Petrograd.

There's a Welsh literature reference for you, Emma. I know how much you love those.

Thomas Aquinas said bad exists to help highlight the good. That's a pessimistic view, I think, but it stresses there are no situations that are entirely bad. For example, the lumbering great wheels of the "Strictly Come Dancing" circus wagon have begun to turn again. I love that show, Emma. Honestly, this morning as I was thinking about leaving Britain I thought: "Well, maybe I'll wait until after the 'Strictly' final."

My love for the programme is almost certainly indicative of mental disease. But artists are disturbed people, Emma. Many drink themselves to death or destroy their bodies and minds with drugs. I like to think of myself as an artist and if I can get by on being addicted to low-level celebrities doing the rhumba, it's probably best to just leave me chasing that dragon.

Publishing The Way Forward has been another positive. Welsh novelist Ifan Morgan Jones recently appeared to suggest that authors should be more forthcoming about the number of books they sell. The logic, I think, being that if you know how many books are sold you can make a determination on whether the author is any good. Because as we all learned from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?", the audience is always right. I'm inclined to believe Jones said this in part because he won the Daniel Owen prize, which resulted in his selling a lot of books. Though, it's worth noting he didn't give a specific number, simply stating he had sold in the "thousands."

I won't tell you how many copies of The Way Forward I've sold thus far, Emma. Part of the reason I published via Kindle was reaction against the "sales = good" equation. And by putting chapters on my blog I am hoping people will see the book is good regardless of who else is or isn't buying. I will say, though, that sales are meeting my expectations. I will also say that my expectations were low.

I think I have a strong enough portfolio to call myself a writer, Emma -- something I have strived toward since I was a little boy writing stories about kung-fu parrots and underground houses with roller-coasters. What I struggle with now is getting the word "professional" to stick before that title.

But it's what I want to be. It's what I need to be. As frustrating as that is to everyone involved.

You might remember my telling you last month I had deleted all of my masters work. I wasn't happy with it. I didn't feel it represented what I was capable of and didn't want to attach my name to it.

I think I also have a naturally self-destructive streak, Emma -- something a number of friends have identified over the years. One of the beauties of being a writer is that I can destroy imaginary worlds rather than my own. The delete key is my nuclear button and some evil part of my soul likes to keep a finger hovering above it. It is perhaps not wise to delete one's masters project just a few months before it is due, but it was my work, my little world, and my right to destroy it.

My dad didn't agree, though.

"Just because it's your tree, on your property, do you really have a moral right to cut it down?" he asked.

I'm not sure the analogy is sound, but I understood he was upset because I had seemingly abandoned the thing that he had emotionally and financially invested in helping me obtain. Perhaps you felt something similar, Emma.

You and he will be happy to know, then, that I have been given an extension on the project's due date. I've started over and am happier with the depth and voice I'm giving the novel. I wonder, however, whether it will be my last big-scale Welsh-language effort. I find writing in Welsh to be not all that satisfying or profitable. It's hard to be sure, though. Things said in bleakness's glow often prove later to be inaccurate.

Well, that's all the news from the Island of Rain. I hope you are well. Please send pictures of yourself naked.

I remain your humble servant,


Elimare said...

Donal suggested I read Orwells 'Down and Out in Paris and London' in preparation for my upcoming unemployment - if you haven't done so I suggest you give it a whirl - it's a short book.

Huw said...

I need to watch a Strictly episode in your presence. I need to witness the obsession.

Chris Cope said...

Huw - Do you really want to do that to yourself, though?

Nic said...

No, he doesn't. He knows not whereof he speaks.

Chris Cope said...

That's right. I watched Strictly at Nic's house once. He hasn't invited me back.