Thursday, August 4, 2011

A letter home: 4 August 2011

My dearest Emma,

I didn't get much sleep last night. At some point I found myself staring at the ceiling unable to move from the terrible weight of realisation I have no connection to Cardiff but Jenn. I suppose it wasn't so much realisation I was experiencing, but the sudden ache of feeling what I already knew. I have no friends in Cardiff; that's been a lament for quite a while now. On my phone there are no numbers of people I could phone up if I wanted to go out for a pint, no people I could text to come to a barbecue. Last night that loneliness managed to reach up from the floor and jab me in the ribs. I don't belong here, Emma.

Not yet, at least. Jenn's friends have been good at welcoming me, and friendships -- especially those formed beyond the age of 21 -- simply seem to take a long time to develop where I'm concerned. I suppose you know that better than most, Emma; I struggle so much to find confidantes I have to create them. It is possible that with time I will be welcomed into Jenn's group of friends to the extent I no longer identify them as "Jenn's group of friends." It is possible that with time, as I extend myself beyond the Welsh-language world that rejected me, I will develop contacts that will become acquaintances that will become friends. But last night some vaporous agent whispered into my ear: "What if that doesn't happen?"

It's likely, Emma, this was brought on by thoughts of an impending visit to Minnesota. The distance between myself and my old friends seems to have increased over the past half decade. I feel further away. I feel forgettable. All my friends are parents now; that's the sort of thing that turns a person's focus hyper-local. They have to concentrate on the immediate and unending task of nurturing a tiny living thing. Most energies must be spent on worrying about things within arm's reach: food, shelter, etc. Then those friends get to go to work for a bajillion hours a day (does anyone in America still work a 40-hour week?). In the tiny moments they can relax, my old friends do so in the company of people who are actually there, and, more often than not, people who are living the same kinds of lives.

The times when I cross those friends' minds must be minimal, Emma. Once a month, maybe? Perhaps I'm being optimistic in that. What is there to make someone think of me? I am far away, to be seen once a year, at best. I am far less exciting or rewarding than Thanksgiving, Emma, and how many times have you thought of that holiday in the last month? If turkey and parades and football have no place in your thoughts, what chance have I? I don't think the old powerful bonds will ever be broken, but I do feel them loosening. How could they not?

Meanwhile, I find myself thinking of old friends constantly. Here in this place where I have no friends, the old ones mean more to me than I can stand. At times I am overwhelmed, Emma. And last night that thing jabbing me in the ribs kept asking: "What if it is always like this? You are sure to stay in Cardiff a while; what if the welcome you hope for never comes? And what if the welcome back 'home' slow, slow, slow wears away?"

All these are incongruous thoughts, perhaps. Things have been going pretty well in the month since I last wrote you, Emma. My parents came out to visit, I took part in my masters graduation ceremony, the weather hasn't been 100-percent summery but I am, at least, able to walk about the flat without socks. In a fortnight I will be on a plane to see my old Minnesota friends. I'll wade in Nine Mile Creek and drink cheap beer and laugh in my high-pitch manic yelp. I'll drive slow along Summit Avenue with the windows down and eat barbecue and listen to country music on the radio.

I suppose, Emma, the thing that makes me sad is knowing how temporary all these things will be. They will be an exception to my day-to-day life, rather than a simple continuation. I'm going to get to see my friends and after that first 30-45 minutes of stutter-start conversation we will get lost in the anything and the everything of life and we'll come up with in-jokes for the evening and have running gags and talk and talk and talk.

But then I'll give them a hug and say goodbye, with no idea of when I'll see them again.

"OK, well, I'll see you at Christmas. I hope. Though, last time I said I would visit during Christmas it turned out to be a lie, as was the same promise a year before."

And I think, Emma, I am also sad because I can't even entertain the fantasy of moving back. As much as I miss that old life I would miss the one I have now even more. My saying I have no connection to Cardiff but Jenn is misleading. It glances over the importance of Jenn. It's like saying I have no money but for a 20-storey golden castle full of diamond furniture and dollar-stuffed pillows. Jenn is awesome.

Unfortunately, Jenn won't be on this trip. Finances prohibit. A flight from Cardiff to Minneapolis costs roughly 34¢ per mile, which maybe sounds reasonable until you consider the need to travel 3,897 miles. So, some of the melancholy swimming in my brain today comes from knowing she won't be there with me. As we grow closer and closer, I am eager for her to see the places and meet the people who define me.

But maybe Jenn has had enough of that sort of thing for the time being. Just Sunday my parents left after a two-week visit. Two weeks, Emma. A fortnight. Fourteen days. That is a long time to have one's parents about -- especially when they are staying in one's single-bedroom flat. Four of us in a one-bedroom flat for two weeks. I am surprised Jenn has not broken up with me as a result.

In other news, Emma, I am doing a whole lot of nothing at the moment. The course I was teaching in July finished up about a week ago, leaving me with roughly a month of nothing time until I start teaching again in September. Hence the trip to Minnesota. I am telling myself I will also use this time to refocus on writing. Four days into my summer holiday, and telling myself things has yet to lead to my actually doing them. I don't know what's wrong with me, Emma. I don't understand why I stopped writing. I also don't understand why I'm not more upset about it. I fear some part of me has given up.

Once I get back from Minnesota I'll have a mountain of paperwork to climb and then be teaching four or possibly five Welsh courses throughout the South Wales area, depending on whether I was too late in staking claim to a course in Caldicot. In addition to that far-flung potential location I'll be teaching in Ebbw Vale and Caerleon. Have Welsh will travel. I am looking forward to it in a strange way. I am looking forward to routines and steady income. Some part of me enjoys the drives. Which is good because no site is less than 22 miles away. If you know of any good podcasts that teach Spanish, let me know; I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the car.

I am also looking forward to the autumn, Emma. I always do. It is my favourite time of year. I think all my years in education have imbued autumn with a feeling of expectation, a sense of hope. Each academic year would start with dreams of getting things right, big plans and thoughts of friends to be made and things to be done. Autumn is a time of the new. I am looking forward to walks through technicolor forest with Jenn, fresh challenges, writing inspiration and, of course, "Strictly Come Dancing."

Which reminds me, I need to go to the BBC website and apply for tickets to see the programme live. Tickets are free but issued via a raffle. I applied for the same raffle last year and the year before without luck, but, hey, perhaps third time lucky, Emma.

I hope you are well. Please send nude photos.

I remain your faithful friend,


Anonymous said...

BBC tickets would be awesome. Don't worry so much. Enjoy the friendships you make; you are a very good friend to those lucky enough to know you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
Just got back gyda teulu from Venice on holiday (absolutely astonishing place by the way). Picked up your reference to Martyn Joseph somewhere on your vloggie thingie. We were in school together and actually he is really good (but I would say that, wouldn't I).
Youtube him and Cardiff Bay.

Huw (Dinas Powys)

Maxy Max said...

Hi Chris,

I just recently picked up you blog again (it's fucking stop,start,stop, start with me these days). I'm leaving Ireland soon (132 days and counting) and I always wanted to meet you for a pint or 12 before I did get out of here (Now that I have written that line I am realizing that I never had any intention of staying here and never really made any roots beyond one friend for whom I would give up life for). Anyway, my goal is to try to find the time to do this during my trip to Wales in the fall. I feel I was/am in a similair situation to your current dilema. If you are up for it drop me a line on how you can be contacted in the real world.