Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eight things I loved about September

~ 8 ~ Coming home: As much I loved being back in Minnesota at the end of August, I wasn't able to fully enjoy myself during that trip because the whole experience was absent one very important thing. Well, not thing, but person: Jenn. This is the downside to falling in love with someone, of course: being 5,000 miles away from them induces melancholy.
Since moving to Britain, visits home have consumed me with a kind of madness, a desperation to return to the United States and live a somewhat caricatured American life of pick-up trucks and country music and ice cream and baseball. And in past years, it has taken several months for said madness to wear off. This time 'round, however, it was starting to ebb even before I got on the plane back to her majesty's United Kingdom. Undoubtedly, a part of me wanted to stay, to be able to head over to friends' houses for barbecues and football games and beers and wandering conversations and to watch their kids grow up, to smell the Minnesota autumn, to eat big breakfasts, to drive endless roads. But even as I pined for all these things I knew I wouldn't be happy with them. Not without Jenn. I wanted to get back to her, back to waking up to her each morning, back to always kissing her goodnight and back to all our silly things.
At 8:30 a.m. on 1 September, after roughly 12 hours of flying from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Cardiff, I again set foot on Welsh soil -- exhausted and happy. And Jenn was there at the airport waiting. Home, according to cliché, is where the heart is. My heart is stretched all over the place. Increasingly I think home is where people wait for you to return.
After being randomly stopped by a customs official and then making him regret it by insisting upon speaking Welsh to him, I stepped out into the arrivals area. Jenn jumped from her chair and skipped toward me, then wrapped her arms around me.
"You're home," she said, her eyes welling up. And she didn't let go of me the rest of the day. Not that I would have let her.

~ 8 ~ The return of 'Strictly Come Dancing': One of the silly things Jenn and I enjoy, and one I have enjoyed since before even meeting Jenn is, of course, the BBC programme "Strictly Come Dancing." If you have ever before read this blog, or watched the vlog, or spoken to me in person for more than three minutes you'll know I have a weird and possibly disturbing addiction to this light-entertainment festival of glitter, C-list celebrity and nonsense. I can't help myself. And I'm afraid it's not going to ebb away anytime soon. In Jenn I have found someone who will giggle and yell and laugh along with me. We sit with our bowl of popcorn and overfilled glasses of port, commenting away as if we understand anything of ballroom dance and as if we somehow know the celebrities. That is, after all, one of the best parts of Strictly: that strange feeling you could somehow invite all the people on the show over for dinner.
What the ancient Celtic peoples used to refer to as The Long Dark -- i.e., the short-dayed space of time stretching from roughly October to April -- is fast wrapping its miserable grip on the Soggy Nations, but I find the fun of Strictly is a way of staving the woe. Whilst the world outside is cold and blustery and wet, I can wrap myself in a duvet, fortify myself with wine and cheer at the sight of ridiculous people being ridiculous.

~ 8 ~ Back to the Ebbw: I wouldn't say I necessarily love the fact I am back teaching Welsh in the south Wales valleys; I wouldn't necessarily say I am even happy about it. What I feel is a strange melancholy pleasure -- that kind of sadness some weird part of you enjoys. I am not unhappy to be earning money, at least, and that comes with the three classes a week I teach up there. Additionally, I teach one class a week in Caerleon. If you are from anywhere outside of south Wales, these town names will likely be unfamiliar to you. In all honesty, I would suggest they stay that way; south Wales is a bit like the day after an automobile accident: there is nothing to see here. But, having said that, there is a certain beauty in the valleys. I can't decide whether the beauty is in potential or history -- what it was or what it could be. The people of the valleys, the ones who are not drunk, at least, are kind and extend of themselves in a way I sometimes find difficult to fathom. People in the valleys take the time to learn your name. When they ask a question they actually wait for you to give an answer:
"How are you today, Chris?"
"Oh, I'm fine."
"Yeah? How so?"
Some part of my emotional memory often connects Ebbw Vale with Moorhead, Minnesota, where I went to college for a handful of years. My emotions about that place were and still are rather mixed. It simultaneously represented for me opportunity and misused chances. I think if I were to find myself five years on, still trekking up the A470 several times a week to teach Welsh I might see it as a failure. For now, though, I am content. I feel welcome up there; I feel a sense of emotional safety. That feeling of: "I've got this. And from this I can build."

~ 8 ~ My new car: A key facet of my working in places dozens of miles from Penarth is my getting there, of course. I don't make a list of things I hate about each month but were I to do so, the day I got into a car wreck would be at the top of September's list. In an instant, I felt the bottom drop out. That thing I have to build on from Ebbw Vale is tiny and not really even large enough for me to properly support myself, let alone go around purchasing new automobiles. Sitting on a guardrail of the westbound M4 on 13 September, I felt that tiny thing had been lost.
A day or so later, however, I heard from someone who watches my vlog, who was selling two cars, both for around £500, which was all the money I had in my savings account. Cue a flurry of emails and texts leading to Jenn and I travelling to Monmouth and coming away from the experience as the proud new owners of a 1998 Honda Accord.

~ 8 ~ Dyffryn Gardens: Jenn was so taken with Dyffryn Gardens in the summer, when she, my parents and I went for a visit we found ourselves back in September and signing up for a season pass. Combined with my purchase of a Honda, this meant that September was a month in which I was made to feel like a responsible middle-class adult. This is the sort of things adults do, isn't it? Purchasing economical cars and visiting gardens. That we do not have a National Trust Membership is, I feel, perhaps a failing. But the thing is: I don't really mind being such an adult. The gardens are vast and beautiful and relatively quiet. There are a hell of a lot of people packed onto the Island of Rain and I find often that aspect of life here can affect me quite negatively. I feel a desperate need to escape. To actually do so is impossible, but I can, at least, find little moments of quiet in places like Dyffryn. Author J. Frank Dobie once wrote he felt as much a sense of freedom in a manicured British garden as he did on the open Texas plain. I can't say I agree with him, but the latter can, at least, help keep the mental monsters at bay.

~ 8 ~ The Wye Valley: Additionally helpful at keeping those terrible things of my mind from attacking is getting out into the British countryside. I don't know why it has taken me so long to develop an interest in the Offa's Dyke Path, the trail stretching Wales' length along its current and one-time borders with England. Originally built to keep those blasted Welsh where they belong it is now just a lovely place to go for a walk. I have visions of hiking the whole of the trail at some point -- possibly next summer, if I can organise myself properly -- but for the time being, I am enjoying various stretches running along the River Wye, between Chepstow and Monmouth. This is the British countryside they write books about. This is the sort of scenery that makes your heart skip. The fact so few Welsh are willing to "own" this part of their country depresses me, and may explain why it has taken me so long to properly explore the area. I am only beginning. My greatest complaint these days is that I am not often enough out enjoying the Wye Valley. I am especially looking forward to seeing it change as autumn takes its proper grip.

~ 8 ~ Doctor Who: Ah, he was a robot the whole time. In terms of conclusions for a story arc, the way this last series was about as weak as the classic, "Oh, it was all just a dream," ending. Which, of course, they have also done. But who cares? Watching Doctor Who for sci-fi accuracy is only the road to frustration. The reason we watch is for the quick, banter-style writing -- of which there was a fair amount in the second half of the series. I was happy to see it come back and slightly sad to see it go so quickly.

~ 8 ~ Danielle Ate The Sandwich: This isn't really a new thing. Sometimes the things you have loved for a long time spring back up and remind you why you are such a big fan. As is the case with Colorado-based singer-songwriter Danielle Ate The Sandwich. I've been a fan of hers for several years now; in 2009 I drove the width of the United States, from Boston, MA, to Tacoma, WA, just to be able to see her perform in a coffee shop.
In September I was reminded again of how much I like her voice and humour and style. Danielle Ate The Sandwich has built a career for herself using simply the tools available to anyone with access to a Macbook and the internet. She used to record herself for YouTube in her bedroom, now she's travelling the country. I admire the way she has built her own success, without a label, and remained so talented and likeable.


Brian said...

That walk in the Wye Valley is pretty incredible. I did a day of it shortly after having food poisoning on the flight over from Chicago. I was a wreck afterwards, but well worth it. Just gorgeous.

Lucky said...

I agree that the Dr. Who ending was kind of weak. I would say I felt 50% ripped off, and 50% relieved.