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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ramblin' Man



I realise I sound awful in this video. I am relatively new to playing the guitar and I am especially lazy about learning. Once I manage a simple song in which I can sound mournful, I seem happy to just do that over and over rather than try anything new. I first wanted to learn the guitar because I thought it would make people think I'm cool, now I don't really care.

The guitar in this video was purchased in Reno, NV, a little more than a decade ago. I bought it for my newlywed wife, who was lonely and homesick. She had thought that her learning guitar might be a good way to overcome the sadness of being far away from her family. I borrowed money to pay for it. She never played a note.

After several years with me, she went home to her family and never came back. So, I decided to learn how to play the guitar, because I was lonely and homesick, and it seemed a good way to overcome the sadness.

That's the version of the story that I'll record in my memory, at least. In truth, I brought the guitar to Cardiff a few months before my wife left. It had been sitting in my parents' living room collecting dust. Either way, from the moment I picked it up, there was one person whose songs I knew I had to learn: Hank Williams. I know I sound awful, but I like this video all the same.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Depends on your perspective

I love British dentists. Because they always tell me my teeth are fine. Crooked, but fine.

It makes me wonder about the thousands of dollars spent on dentistry when I lived in the United States. Perhaps all that work is the reason my teeth are fine. Perhaps the U.S. dentists were lying to me for the sake of profit. Perhaps British dentists are lazy.

I don't know. I don't care. Today I was told I've no problems with my teeth; that's all that matters to me.



Monday, June 14, 2010

Quite possibly the most patriotic thing I've ever done

At some point in this last horrible winter I decided to come to terms with certain truths about myself, one of them being that I don't like soccer. I have tried, because that is the British thing to do -- the European thing to do -- but after four years of living abroad I decided it was time to stop lying to myself. On the whole, soccer bores the great holy fuck out of me.

I have played soccer and enjoyed it quite a bit. I also enjoy running long distances, and swimming, and eating chocolate cake, and watching NCIS; there are myriad things I enjoy but which I have no interest in watching other people do. Watching professional soccer in Europe is just 90 minutes of guys struggling to compensate for their male insecurities by chasing a ball, getting angry at nothing and faking injury.

I'll make exceptions from time to time, to watch particularly significant matches. But I think perhaps more so for the sake of being able to say I watched the match than out of any actual interest. Either way, I found myself at the Gwdihŵ Saturday sitting down to watch the USA take on England as part of the World Cup.

Surprisingly, considering the fact that Gwdihŵ is in the centre of Cardiff, Wales, the bar filled up with England fans. I'll admit to feeling disappointed. In the weeks running up to this match people were suggesting I would find nothing but love and support in pubs up and down the country. Which would have been nice. One of the simple facts of life to being an American in Britain is that every new conversation starts with a criticism of where I'm from. I was looking forward to having people cheer with me, being on my side.

But the Welsh say more than they do. There were plenty in Gwdihŵ, but they chose to remain silent. So when the national anthems were sung at the start of the match, "God Save the Queen" rang out strong and true, without opposition. And when "The Star-Spangled Banner" started up, I was the only one singing.

The only one.

With dozens of guys wearing England flags turning to stare at me.

"Well, shit," I thought, squeaking out the first words of an anthem that has never really meant all that much to me. "I might as well go for it."

And in the space of those first five words -- "Oh, say can you see..." -- I snapped. Something welled up inside of me and shook. I don't know if it was pride in where I'm from, anger at this island of rain, or a mixture of both. But suddenly I was singing from the full of me. More than that, actually. I was singing with more than my lungs, my heart and my soul. It was as if something outside of me was pushing through, as well.

"Wow," I thought. "I'm surprisingly loud. I didn't know I could produce this much noise. I wonder if I could push it more."

I could. I did. The volume cranked up but I was still holding all the notes. My body was giving everything to this song. I am certain I looked insane. I am sure I was wild-eyed, face red, the veins popping from my face. The whole place went quiet. I could hear my voice echoing off the walls. Everyone had turned to stare.

In my heart all the irony died. I wasn't jokingly singing in a pub. I was singing as an act of self-declaration, an act of defiance. The final words -- "Land of the free and the home of the brave" -- were belted out with both middle fingers raised in the air.

The England fans looked away. People clapped. The match started.

"I think you scared them," Bridget said. "They probably think you're some crazy guy who knows kung-fu."

Two days later, my throat still hurts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Perhaps I'm overthinking it

One of the slight drawbacks of going to the gym regularly is that pop music gets drilled into my head while I'm there. All throughout the gym there are TV monitors tuned to a music video station, with the music infiltrating even into the shower area. This results in all kinds of bad things, not least of which being the fact that Miley Cyrus is growing slightly less annoying. Also, there's nothing pleasant about a naked man whistling along to Taylor Swift's "Love Story."

Today I found myself listening to Keri Hilson's song "Knock You Down," featuring the ridiculously named Ne-Yo, who sings these lyrics: "I used to be commander in chief of my pimp ship flying high."

Admittedly I'm not familiar with pimp military protocol, but generally "commander in chief" is a term applied to an executive who oversees the whole of a military force. If you were in charge of just one pimp ship, that would make you captain. Yeesh, Ne-Yo, do your homework.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Collection notice

Their e-mail: "This letter is to inform you that your account status is 'broken promise' in regards to your FLEX PERKS VISA CARD US BANK account that you asked to pay on the 1/1/1753 in the amount of $0.00 . Our records indicate that the promise that was made was not followed through."

My reply: "I didn't ask to pay anything. Nor did I promise to ask to pay. However, imagining I did indeed agree 257 years ago -- several years before the existence of the U.S. dollar -- to pay $0.00, can we not say that I have already done so?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Eight things I'm loving in June

/8/ Things I can't blog. ~ In various forms and with various levels of enthusiasm, this blog has been around for six years now. So, in some way, it is a part of me. It is often how people know me -- not just how people get to know me, or come to be aware of my existence, but also how they form their vision of who I am and what I'm about.
I often describe it as a Google-searchable version of my memory. But, of course, what a person writes -- especially what a person writes about himself -- is not all he is. Additionally, the things I write about do not reflect all the things that happen in my life. Sometimes there is censoring, by myself or others. I will occasionally find myself in a conversation when suddenly the other person does his or her best serious face, loses all life in their voice and commands sternly: "Don't put this on your blog, Chris."
More often than not this command is given about something I have no interest in blogging anyway. Like the elicit affair of some guy who works in the same office as someone I know, or something equally not really at all that interesting to me due to its total lack of "me" element. When a story doesn't involve me, I am highly unlikely to tell it. If not simply because I don't feel I comprehend it well enough to do so.
But from time to time, there are these beautiful moments -- delightful, wonderful, and perhaps scandalous moments -- of which I am very much a part, moments in which I play a key role. And when a person looks me in the eye and says, "Don't blog me," I delight in it. I love those moments.
By definition, though, I can tell you nothing about them.
Creeks may or may not be involved.

/8/ Rubber tubing (a) ~ See above.

/8/ Not blogging ~ You'll notice things have been rather quiet on this site for a while. This post is more than a week late. Sometimes related to not being allowed to blog is the fact that life has become busy and interesting and enjoyable enough that I don't really have the time to write about it. As Annie once said: "Happiness writes in white."

/8/ Breakfast ~ It is, of course, the most important meal of the day. It is also a word that Dani doesn't like. She's not against the concept, just the word. I'm not sure why. But whatever the name, I have been taking joy in it. The pride of Hirwaun and I have taken to meeting regularly to share in that all-important first meal and I find it has the delightful effect of making life generally better. Often it's just toast and tea, but served with the full pomp of placemats, cloth napkins, real butter, jars of honey and lemon curd and chocolate spread, oranges, raisins, cream and tea in a tea pot kept warm with a Nepalese hat-turned tea cosy. I enjoy the ceremony, the ritual, and the conversation. It stays with me the rest of the day -- a soft hum of content providing a soundtrack to everything else.

/8/ The pride of Hirwaun's sneaky ways ~ Lisa has a habit of leaving little cheerful things in my house for me to find. Once, I was making breakfast and she went into my room to arrange all the coins on my dresser into a smiley face. The other day, I noticed a tiny heart made of beads tucked just next to the wine rack. She does these things without my noticing and says nothing about them; they are just there. Perhaps there is some other delightful thing hiding somewhere in my house right now. And needless to say, that's pretty wonderful: the thought that there is something lovely very nearby. It inspires a kind of optimism I would like to carry into other parts of my life.

/8/ Planning my trip to the United States ~ I suspect there are stages to being an American living in another country. When I first arrived in Britain I wanted to throw away my passport. I remember looking at a bin in Gatwick Airport and seriously considering it.
"Hmm, I won't ever be needing this again," I thought.
That mentality persisted for a while. I can remember thinking there was something wholly wrong with Jen when she told me a few years ago she was proud to be American. But she had been living abroad longer than me; she had moved on to another stage. It was a stage I started to move into last summer, amid my two-month road trip across the United States. By strategically avoiding 24-hour news networks and AM radio talk shows, I was able to see aspects of American life that I loved. A pride in my nation started to develop.
I haven't yet broken my habit of spelling certain words, like "favourite," with a "u," but since that trip I have found myself more willing to be identified as American. I don't try to hide my accent as much and I am no longer willing to throw away my U.S. passport. Stupid, arrogant, cruel, thuggish and overly conservative my people may be, but a part of me loves them. In a few weeks I will be visiting some of those Americans I love the most -- friends and family in Minnesota and Texas -- and I find myself almost teary-eyed in anticipation.

/8/ My neighbours ~ I renewed my lease this month, committing myself to at least six more months in the relative quiet of the CF5 post code. It's likely that in six months I will do the same again.
Every time I renew some part of me thinks perhaps I should be searching out a more interesting locale. Especially considering my having recently come to terms with the fact that, despite years and years and years of pining to live in the countryside, I, in fact, don't like the countryside. There's nothing to do there. I like the idea of the countryside -- I believe it should be preserved and not befouled with caravan parks and all the other shit that Wales seems too willing to permit -- and I quite like to visit from time to time, but I've realised I don't want to live there. After a few weeks I would just get angry.
So, having come to this revelation, doesn't it make sense that I should focus on living a more urban lifestyle? Arguably, Cardiff, regardless of neighbourhood, is too small for me; I should be living in Dublin or London or Boston or [name of large city with lots of things happening goes here]. But there aren't any bigger cities where Welsh speakers are to be found in such numbers, so here is where I'll remain. For a while; until I can find a way to compensate for my horrible life decision of becoming a Welsh-language writer. But accepting the fact I am becoming Cardiffian, it occurs to me I might enjoy the place more if I lived even closer to its centre, closer to more shops and cafes and pubs and so on.
But, see, that's not where my neighbours live.
If you live in a city, you live very close to other people. And in this city world renown for its drunkards, the issue of who I'd live next to weighs on my mind when considering a move. I find it difficult to believe I would luck out as much as I have with this house. How likely is it that other neighbours would have me as a guest for their Christmas dinner? Bring me lemon cupcakes when I'm blue? And dozens of other little things. Unless the Baldwins move, it seems pretty likely I'll keep renewing my lease.

/8/ My new MacBook ~ Yes, I know: I'm a tool. With my iPod and my iPhone and now my MacBook I am an undeniable member of the MacCult. Some part of me is angry at myself. I feel I have bought into the rhetoric; I worry I'm trying to adhere to a certain vision in my head of the person I want to be. Donal once joked he was incapable of being a good writer because he didn't have a jacket with elbow patches. In other words, we all have a tendency to create a character of the person we want to be and then foolishly buy into the need for the material items used by that character. It's especially bad for artistic types. That's why so many self-proclaimed writers have Moleskine notebooks. If Siân is feeling honest, she'll admit it's one of the reasons she doesn't want to leave Paris. Writers create characters. Even for themselves.
The vision of the writer I'd like to be is one who is highly mobile. I dream of being able to exist in any space, of being able to have a conversation in which a friend phones to ask if I'd like to come for dinner and I explain that I'd love to but I'm in Prague at the moment. It is my romanticised dream. Would it make my writing any better? Almost certainly not. Experience tells me I write best when locked into a spartan room with minimal sensory input. But still the romanticised vision of me persists. And, of course, that hip vagabond writer would need to possess the coolest tools. I want Mac products and leather satchels and a Volkswagen. So, I worry that I have let the idea of a MacBook charm me into purchasing a product that cost considerably more than another laptop of comparable memory/processing not because it is actually better but because it fits better with the image I want for myself.
But, oh, this little white electronic tidbit works so, so, so much better than the laptop it replaced. And I feel cool sitting here tapping away on its keys. I'm a tool, but a happy tool.

/8/ Sarah Peters' Twitter updates ~ Sarah, of Little Fluffy Cloud has a wickedly enjoyable sense of humour that often centres on grain-of-truth superficiality. I'm doing nothing other than stating the obvious when I say she is way-out-of-your-and-my-league attractive -- a fact that she herself would readily admit. The girl is hot and she knows it. But she often makes fun of herself, of the sort of stereotypical woman you might expect her to be. And she does so in an unapologetic way. One of my favourite examples comes from roughly two years ago when she found herself flying somewhere via Southwest Airlines, rather than her usual provider, Continental, of which she was an Elite Status frequent flier member. After explaining that her flight on Southwest had, in fact, been enjoyable she concluded: "So would I be an idiot to go back to Continental and my Blue Carpet status? Sure I would. But that won't stop me. At least I'll be an idiot with big tits."
Like most personal bloggers, Sarah has more or less given up blogging for the shorter, more user-friendly medium of Twitter. And she is brilliant at it. Here are some recent examples:
- "10 days 'till Memorial Day weekend on Lake Travis... guess I'd better start working out. And by working out I mean take laxatives."
- "Peters [her husband] just made me a fresh-squeezed OJ mimosa, and is now washing my car. Morning BJs really do work."
- "I love the smell of an Abercrombie store. It brings out the cougar in me."
It should probably be noted that Sarah is one of those bat-shit crazy Tea Party types. But if you can suffer that quirk occasionally rearing its ugly head in her updates, I encourage you to follow her.
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a No, not really. This one is false.