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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Behind schedule

Hey, look: Cheryl Cole is single. And I'm single. This seems perfect: the two of us could get together and chat about how much it sucks to be newly divorced. And then we could have sex. It's a win-win.

Actually, we could just skip the whole heart-to-heart chat, because young Cheryl's accent grates on my nerves somewhat. Nothing against our friends in the north, but it's just not the sort of accent that I would describe as sensual. Still, I'm willing to give it a shot. I'll drop her an e-mail; I'm sure everything will be grand.

In the meantime, life carries on much as usual in ol' Caerdydd. It's cold and rains seemingly nonstop but for short spells of agreeable weather designed by God to lure you out of the house so you can get rained on. God wants me to be cold and miserable. It will ease the disappointment when I get to heaven.

ME: "Ah dude, you don't look or sound anything like Cary Grant."
HIM: "Yeah, sorry about that. But, hey, it's warm up here. That's alright, isn't it?"

It's a situation conducive for watching lots and lots of NCIS and CSI and myriad Olympic sports with worryingly NASCAR-like tendencies. But theoretically I am still doing a masters degree, and should be using my super-awesome thinky skills on something a little more challenging than de-constructing CSI Miami's seemingly infinite flaws.

Have you ever watched that show? What the fuck, yo? It's all shiny and the camera never stays still and it appears to have been written by a 13-year-old. And does David Caruso even give a damn? I imagine he shows up and just sort of says whatever comes to his head while he's picking up his check. Then, when the show's writer gets home from school, he works it into that week's episode.

Also, have you ever noticed how those CSI dudes have to relearn things for every single case? Recently I watched an episode in which a chap spent a fair amount of time cracking open a fake skull with various blunt objects in order to determine what weapon had been used in an attack, as based on the blood-spatter patterns at the scene. Surely that's the sort of thing that would have come up before. You'd think it would just be written down somewhere, having been figured out back in 1953 what happens when you hit someone with a tire iron (a), rather than his needing to spend valuable taxpayer dollars smashing mannequin heads.

But I digress. The point is, I should be doing more with my time. Although my masters' project deadline is a solid six months away, I can feel it slowly creeping up on me. At night I will wake suddenly, apoplectic with rage over all the things I didn't do that day.

So, in an effort to live a happier, more productive life I am abandoning one of the few good things about my personality -- spontaneity -- and scheduling every aspect of my life. It's right there on my Google calendar, with updates sent to my phone: Ding, it's time for breakfast. Ding, it's time to catch the train. Ding, it's time to read. Ding, it's time to write such and such. Every aspect of my life carved out and regulated in a desperate attempt to feel that I am making something of myself. That I am not a soon-to-be-34-year-old train wreck.

The scheduling helps, to some extent. To be honest, though, I hate it. I despise it. But I can't tell you why; I've used up all my allotted blogging time.
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(a) Tire irons are such popular weapons in crime stories but I cannot remember ever seeing an actual news story in which a tire iron was used. If TV is going to follow this route of using uncommon weapons, I want to see an episode of CSI in which a man is beaten with a truncheon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The one in which Chris says a whole lot of stupid things about race

I've often told the story of when my family first moved to Minnesota and my mother took me to register at Hubert Olson Middle School (a).

Taking in its cold, prison-like, and strangely indoor nature (my previous school, in Houston, had been mostly a collection of temporary buildings and I had assumed that to be normal), one thing in particular struck me about my new surroundings:

"Do the black kids register on a different day?" I asked the woman at the registration table.

For those of you not from the great country of Texas, this is the way Texas kids ask questions. We just say exactly what's going through our heads. I didn't learn tact until my late 20s, and would argue that it hasn't really done me any good.

Anyhoo, I was thinking about all this the other day as I sat in a café on campus, staring across the room at a shockingly attractive black woman sitting with a small group of friends. She was shockingly attractive in a "black" way, if that makes sense. That is, she wasn't attractive because she looked like an exotic version of a skinny white girl; she had dark ebony skin and those sort of features that my mind associates with being purely African. She was the sort of woman that Jill Scott would probably wax poetic about. In my head I told myself that she was Senegalese, coming to such a conclusion thanks to my idiot powers of induction and the fact that I once saw a super-hot Olympic athlete from Senegal with similar features.

So, I sat there for a while, just being transfixed by this girl -- her accent, her smile, her laugh, the flawlessness of her skin, her hair in long braids, the way she moved her hands when she spoke, and on and on.

"Obviously, I would -- in the words of Vincent Kennedy McMahon -- have no chance in hell with this girl," I thought. "The ink on my divorce papers is barely dry and although I am no good at guessing age, it's a good bet, this being a university campus, that I am roughly 10 years older than her. Unless she's really, really desperate for a U.S. visa, it's pretty safe to assume she'll have no interest in the skinny white old dude with a track record for failure. But, for the sake of argument, how would I even go about it? What would would I even say to someone like her?"

And then I caught myself. "Someone like her" -- what did I mean by that? Well, in part I mean a super-hot girl that I don't know. I just don't have that confidence to walk up and talk to people whom I've never met. And I'm not particularly good at talking to super-hot girls who I do know.

But also, in some part, I meant black. And instantly it occurred to me that already I was going about it the wrong way. Surely I shouldn't be trying to think of how best to talk to a girl according to her race. I've dated (b) girls who were Native American, Korean, Turkish, Japanese and South Asian (and white, of course), and I don't remember race ever being a part of my thought process in wanting to get to know them. I just wanted to put my hand up their shirts -- I didn't really care what colour the boobies were.

But for some reason I have a strange anxiety about black people. My anxiety is that they won't like me, that they will find me annoying and repulsive, that all the things that a black person may dislike about a white person they will see in me. And I count among the great failures of my life the fact that I have never had a black friend. Even when I was living in Texas.

This bothers me so much. I worry that it means that I am somehow racist. But if I have had and have friends who are of different races, and actively wish that I had friends who were black, and hold no negative stereotypes of black people, surely I am not racist. Am I?

Why, then, have I never had a black friend? It could just be the way of my life. I don't tend to keep a huge circle of friends, anyway. And there are plenty of other types of people I'm not friends with. French people, for instance. But the absence of black friends upsets me more than life without a pal from France.

And in being upset about it I am almost certainly making things worse. I am over-thinking it, putting too much importance on something that is wholly unimportant to me in all other cases. You don't choose your friends because of what they are, but who. The heart and mind and soul is what is important.

But still, if there are any black people reading this who would be willing to be my token black friend for the sake of my being able to get over all this anxiety, please let me know. We can go out and I'll buy you a beer -- or whatever it is that black people drink.

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(a) I'd like to point out that it was not Home of the "Cougars" when I went there. Our school mascot was Loki, the Norse god of mischief. But in the late 1990s batshit crazy evangelical Christians suddenly took offence at the idea of a "pagan" mascot and the name was changed to something far less original to better reflect the creatively stifling nature of a Midwestern suburb.

(b) Use of the word "date" here is a bit of a stretch. The Japanese girl and I made out and then I got sick in her bed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait

The Winter Olympic Games are under way. The blokes on the Economist's podcast suggest that the winter games are "just niche sport." But they say that because they are bitches. And in that classic trick of assuming that the English world view is both correct and held by everyone else on the planet, the Economist's editor looped cricket in with soccer as being among those sports that "people actually care about."

I've lived on this island of rain for nigh four years and I know one person -- one -- who actually pays attention to cricket. And I find that the majority of people I've asked cannot even explain how cricket is played. Whereas I'm willing to bet just about everyone understands figure skating. ITV doesn't gather up low-level celebrities and teach them how to play cricket, does it? Guess what Economist punks, just because your country's no good at something doesn't make it niche.

I'll admit, though, I am an Olympics mark (a). I have been for years. The Olympic Games are solid points in my history -- I remember where I was, what I was doing, what was happening in my life, etc. Which is unique clarity in my otherwise jumbled mind.

The habit of using the Olympics as a marker stretches all the way back to the 1996 Summer Olympics when Sara came with my family on a trip to Colorado. I can still remember Sara's delight in seeing marmots for the first time. Two years later the winter games were in Nagano, Japan, and I was working for an NBC affiliate in Fargo, North Dakota. In 2000, Rachel and I watched the summer games in Sydney from our woefully shitty flat in San Diego. In 2002 we were still in San Diego but living in a better place, and we began our tradition of having location-appropriate meals for the opening ceremonies. With the winter games held that year in Salt Lake City, Rachel made Navajo flatbread (the Navajo areas traditionally stretched into Utah). For the 2004 summer games in Athens we had Greek food. For the 2006 winter games held in Turin it was Italian food. And for Beijing it was Chinese.

I let the tradition fade this time around. In part because I'm on my own and in part because I couldn't think of a quintessentially Canadian meal. I suppose I could have gone with pancakes and maple syrup, especially considering that I ended up watching the opening ceremonies in the morning. But instead it was just a few cups of tea and an orange.

In Turin 2006, one of the highlights of the opening ceremonies was having a screaming Fiat F1 car enter the stadium and spin donuts, spitting out caustic tire smoke and splitting the eardrums of every poor soul there. By that standard, the Canadians didn't really have to do much to produce a better opening ceremony. Having a tattooed tap-dancing Sheamus was showy enough. Actually, I quite liked that part, as well as the whole bit with the members of the first nations.

The part that would have had me heading to the toilets had I been there in person was the seemingly six-day-long caterwauling by Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams. Actually, it was the presence of Bryan "Apparently I Didn't Show Up For Rehearsal And Don't Know When To Hold The Microphone To My Face, Thus Making My Lip-Syncing Insufferably Obvious" Adams that annoyed the hell out of me. I would have preferred to just see Nelly writhing about in her prom dress all by herself.

The highlight of the whole thing for me, though, was poet Shane Koyczan and his poem "We Are More" (b). Poetry is ballsy for an Olympic opening ceremony, especially poetry that isn't shit; poetry that isn't overly dreamy and read out in some sort of awed whisper.

I'd be interested to hear what Llŷr thought of the piece. He, strangely, is the one bloke I know who follows cricket. But he is also an accomplished poet in this nation of Wales that places so much importance on poets. Llŷr, however, is accomplished at a particularly technical style of poetry known as cynghanedd, and it is that style which seems to draw the majority of praise in Welsh poetic circles. So perhaps it's a comparison of apples and oranges; perhaps it is unfair for me to point to the relevant, flowing, built-to-be-heard style of Koyczan and say I don't know of a Welsh poet who can do something half as good.

I really liked that piece. It made me want to be Canadian, just so it would be a poem about me. I loved the crowd's reaction to it, as well. For example, when they cheered the line: "And some say what defines us is something as simple as please and thank you."

Canada, the nation that cheers pleasantry and still hasn't forgiven Earl Hebner.

And you have to also admire the politely Canadian way of taking a swipe at the United States when Koyczan refers to Canada as "an experiment going right for a change." Although, I suppose some might argue the poem wasn't all that innovative. Something similar has been done before.

Niche sport or no, I will be watching. I love the Olympics. I love the philosophy behind them: peace through competition. And I love also that idea of pursuing hope. A phrase I use often is, "I live in outrageous hope," and that's the underlying spirit of the Olympics. Athletes push and push and push and sometimes even die on the hope of proving to themselves that they really are capable of giving everything they have.

It's not about a stupid piece of metal or being better than some other bloke who talks funny, I don't think. It's about being as good as you possibly can be, about putting every part of yourself into something and succeeding. Sometimes -- often -- success has nothing to do with whether you go home with one of those pieces of metal.

Think about it in your own life. How many times have you done something and thought somewhere in the back of your head: I could have done more. That's almost always the case in everyday life. We always could have done more, could have done something just a little bit better, but we didn't. There are myriad reasons, I suppose, but the end fact is the same. And I find I always carry a guilt and feeling that I am lazy, or not passionate enough. I get angry at myself that I don't push harder.

I admire those Olympic athletes who do. There will be athletes in these games who will be able to walk away knowing that they pushed as physically and mentally hard as is possible. And there's something so beautiful in that.
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(a) In professional wrestling, a "mark" is the dedicated fan who loves all the story lines and cheers and boos along, genuinely enjoying the entertainment on a surface level.

(b) The version of the poem I linked to is the one he gave at the opening ceremonies (although, I can't find video of the actual opening ceremonies). But here is the full version of his poem. My favourite section is:
We can stand here today with all the hope people have
When they say things like: "Some day..."
Some day we'll be great.
Some day we'll be this or that.
Some day we'll be at a point when "some day" was yesterday
And all of our aspirations will pave the way
For those who on that day
Look towards tomorrow and still they say:
"Some day."

Monday, February 8, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year, bitches

UPDATE: Y'all were speedy! I'm afraid all the cards are now spoken for.

"These are two for three," the cashier said, waving one of the boxes in the air. "Go get another one."

"Yeah, I know, but I don't actually have that many friends," I said. "I don't know what I'd do with the extras."

"Oh, no, love. They're two for three," she said. "Go on, get another pack. You don't want them goin' to waste."

"They're not fruit. They'll not go bad on the shelf. I'll just leave it."

"No, love," she said, sterner this time. "Stop arguin' and go get another pack of Christmas cards."

Roughly two months later, eight small shiny cards remain on my desk, unsent. Then, today I remembered a similar situation a few years ago in which I managed to simultaneously rid myself of spare Christmas cards and better establish international friendships.

So, if you'd like to receive an out-of-season Christmas card from Wales, today is your lucky day! All you need do is drop me an e-mail with your snail mail address and soon (when I can be arsed) a genuine Cardiff-bought Christmas card will be wandering its way to you across whatever distance exists between you and me.

But wait, there's more! Inside the Christmas card I will place a genuine expired rail ticket! That's right, an actual ticket as used by me to get from point A to point B via Wales' charming hasn't-been-updated-since-the-1960s rail network. It doesn't matter that points A and B are unexciting places, if you don't live in Britain no one will know. You can display the ticket on your wall and tell friends that it was you who travelled to such exotic locations as Cathays, Danescourt, Radyr and Cardiff Central. Make up your own stories about how amazing these places are, and no one will be the wiser (save those with internet access).

But wait! There's more! One lucky Christmas card recipient will receive something even more spectacular: A reward card from Burgers International & Pizzaria, located in beautiful Bonney Lake, Washington, USA! Use the reward card to collect 12 stamps and earn your way to a free burger (up to $12 value). Already the card has one stamp from when I stopped there on my way back from hiking Mount Rainier last summer. With card in hand, you'll be just 11 burgers away from the sweet taste of freedom (from having to pay for a burger).

Christmas card supplies are limited! Hurry! Don't miss this golden opportunity to have stuff show up in your mailbox! Ooooh!

UPDATE: There are no cards left. Congratulations Astrid, Heather, Huw, Kelly, Maria, Rose, Tiffany, and Zita. Enjoy your out-of-date Christmas cards and expired train tickets.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Farewell the child bride

Rachel filed for divorce Tuesday. The great state of Utah (where she lives now) is allowing us to waive a 90-day waiting period, which means all that is required is my signature. I'm not sure why we get to waive the waiting period; I would have thought that the traditionally conservative Beehive State would be keen on imposing that sort of thing. Perhaps Rachel told them I have socialist sympathies, so they've decided to rush it through. Tomorrow Gov. Gary Richard Herbert will himself show up at the front door: "Hey, remember that scene in Bourne Supremacy when homey uses a magazine to kick a dude's ass? I got a copy of the Ensign right here, yo, and I'm 'bout to fuck your shit up if you don't put your name on the dotted line."

Actually, I'm quietly hoping that the divorce papers will be served as in films and television: some creepy bloke in a cheap suit will more or less ambush me and shove the papers in my face.

"Mr. Cope?"
"Yes?"
"Consider yourself served," he'll say, pressing the papers to my chest and then clicking shut his briefcase with snooty aplomb.

I am going to keep my video camera by the door in hopes of filming the moment. I may first make the solicitor chase me down the street a bit, me running in comedy Big Ten style, holding my hands to my ears and shouting: "La, la, la! I'm not listening! La, la, la!"

If my life were a Coen Brothers film, we would encounter crazy sword lady mid-chase and the whole episode would then lead to my getting entangled with a small-time criminal gang from Splott, who would bury the solicitor's body at Millennium Stadium. There, it would be dug up amid a critical scrum in next week's Wales vs. Scotland rugby match and Lee Byrne would again face a ban because there would be too many men on the field.

But in real life, I'll just sign the papers, put them in the post, and gone will be the dreams of that young man who stood more than a decade ago amid the painted rocks of Southern Utah and held the hand of his fiancée, bringing it to his lips, kissing the fingers, and said: "Isn't it amazing? There'll be a wedding ring on this finger soon. You're going be my wife; I'm going be your husband. I'm so happy."

Change is the only constant.

I am heartbroken over it. My brain doesn't work. I just sit and stare. If you want to see me cry, all you need do is give me the hug I so desperately need and I will fall apart.

It's not that this was unexpected; it's just that it's happening. It's kind of like crying at a funeral. If you show up at a funeral, there's no surprise. You know someone's dead -- that's why you're at a funeral. But the formality of it seems to intensify the grief.

Rachel left in September, and when she did I cried so hard I felt my lungs would burst. But over time I developed the brilliant technique of just sort of shrugging my shoulders and making that teenager "I dunno" sound when people would ask me what was going on. Rachel did not make that sound, and when I would hear from her I could tell that this was coming. Becoming a statistic, as J. Scott Wilson once phrased it, became inevitable. So, when Rachel told me Sunday that she would be filing, I wasn't surprised.

"Yeah, I know," I thought in my head, and quickly attempted to change the subject by telling her about rugby.

She steered things back to reality. There were long pauses. And I felt as if I were in a space capsule where the airlock had been opened and the ambitions of ten years were escaping, dissipating, into the great emptiness. Those dreams we dreamed, those plans we made, those things we said -- gone. And the loneliness of this house wrapped around me and squeezed. There are some kind souls in Cardiff, but in a practical sense there is no one here for me to lean on. My very best friends, my pillars, are thousands of miles away.

And I'm here. The fridge whines, the silence sings.

Rachel sent an e-mail Wednesday to let me know about certain details of the divorce -- what I need to do, by when, etc. But she also said this, which she agreed to let me post on my site:

"I don't regret the past 10 years. It seems like it would be easy to do... But I am the person I am today because of the past 10 years. And I like who I am. And I would not have become this person without you. Thank you for all you have given me. You have made me stronger and more tolerant and more well-rounded and well-travelled and more knowledgeable about many things. I'm thankful for the good times and for all the things you have given me and for the love we shared."

And I'd like to return that sentiment. I don't plan to write anything more about the divorce or Rachel because they are not things of entertainment. When I write about people they become sort of characters in the narrative of my world and I fear that Rachel's having left would somehow make her seem like the bad guy. She's not. So, that part of my life will go back to being hidden. But I would like to say this:

I have never met a person who is so completely wonderful as Rachel. If she has a fault it is only that she will give the whole of herself. She is beautiful, brilliant, caring, patient, funny, industrious, a hell of a cook and one of the most genuine souls I've ever known. And I can say honestly that I quite possibly would not even be alive if it weren't for her. I don't regret the past 10 years -- they were some of the best of my life.

Farewell, the child bride. I love you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A brilliant plan

You know that philosophy promulgated by lottery types that you must be "in it to win it?" In other words, even though the chances of your winning are astronomically ungood you should buy a ticket anyway, because not doing so is more likely to result in your not winning (a).

I'm thinking I should apply this line of thinking to other aspects of my life. So, I've decided to write to Reese Witherspoon, asking her out on a date.

Am I just some random nutjob in a grimey corner of Western Europe whose letter will go unanswered? Almost certainly. But I won't know if I don't try, right? Perhaps all that lies between me and an evening of making out on Reese's couch is a simple postage stamp.
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(a) One wonders what the odds of winning are for a person who does not purchase a ticket. I am confident it is not simply that a person has no chance whatsover. One of the great beauties of this life is that there is always hope, albeit at times ridiculously unlikely.