Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Actual letter sent to the debt collectors attempting to destroy my life

Sirs,

Congratulations on frightening my mother by sending a sheriff's deputy to harass her with papers intended for me. That was awesome. My brother and I used to love to get a rise out of Mom with stuff like that.

In terms of getting in touch with me, I suppose the aim was achieved; I personally would have thought it more efficient to contact me via the address Discover Card should have from a letter I sent them nigh a year ago. But you are the professional debt collectors, so who am I to argue?

In that letter to Discover Card I explained I am presently living in Britain and that my financial situation is dire. As I'm sure many of the other people you've sent sheriff's deputies after will have also told you, jobs are difficult to come across at the moment. That is true internationally. Despite possessing a masters degree in the burgeoning field of Welsh-language creative writing, I have been unemployed for roughly a year and a half. In a country with free health care I am just barely able to survive but have thus far been unsuccessful in attempts to secure a salary that would allow me the massive payment requested by Discover Card.

I had asked if there was any way to resolve the situation, if any agreement could be made; their response was to ignore me and put you to the task of using law enforcement officers as message boys. My intent now is to file for bankruptcy as soon as possible. I have contacted an attorney to begin the process.

I am quite happy to receive any correspondence you may wish to send, at my address here in Britain (you will see it above, in the right-hand corner). I have not provided a phone number because even receiving a phone call costs money in this country. Additionally, and honestly, I have no desire to listen to people speak rudely to me about things I cannot make happen. I cannot make it rain; I cannot fly; I cannot make money magically appear in my bank account.

Please keep in mind that because of the roughly 5,000 miles between you and me, items sent via post may take a bit longer than you would normally expect. I assure you, however, that all correspondence will be dealt with in the same courteous and respectful manner you have thus far shown to me.

I wish you the very best. Keep living the dream.

Yours most sincerely,
Chris Cope

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eight things I loved about May

(Sorry it's a bit late)

~ 8 ~ Moving in with Jenn: I can remember the evening when Jenn's flat very first started to feel like home -- a place where I felt comfortable, where I felt I could relax. It was at some point in the winter and still early enough in our relationship that we would stay up talking to the point of exhaustion. Conversations would drag on and on and on. Cups of tea were endless. We were in that stage of wanting to be around each other but not really knowing how to act on those feelings. Cuddles were still accidental: "Oops. Madam, you've somehow found yourself in my embrace. Quite serendipitously our fingers appear to have interwoven."
One late-night-turned-early morning, we were sitting on her couch with exhaustion drawing out the pauses in conversation. Jenn had turned to put her head on my chest. I allowed my head to slump forward and time began to skip as my grasp on consciousness loosened. Outside it was early-winter cold, inside we were wrapped in each other. The radiator clicked softly with warmth. And I felt more relaxed than I had been in months. In Britain I almost always feel some kind of anxiety; I didn't grow up here, so I can never fully trust in it, never truly feel safe. But in that moment, with Jenn in my arms, I was as content as I had ever been on this island of rain.
The months burned on and the awkwardness lent itself to closeness. We still keep each other up far too late, but cuddling requires no machination. And shortly after spending a week together whilst taking part in April's royal wedding celebrations, Jenn decided that having me live on the other side of town didn't make sense.
Numerous expeditions to IKEA were launched for the sake accumulating affordable and difficult-to-pronounce items in which to put all my things. More trips were made to drop off clothes and books at charity shops or unwanted things at the city dump. Then, on 21 May, we moved my bed into Jenn's flat. Our flat.

~ 8 ~ The awesomeness of Jenn: The decision to move in with Jenn was an easy one. As I've said before, expounding upon all the things I like about Jenn makes me uncomfortable and I can't imagine anyone else cares all that much. My eyes tend to glaze over when I encounter others' blog posts full of proclamations of affection. So, I doubt very much anyone particularly cares to read mine. Suffice to say, Jenn is awesome. She is pretty, she is joyful, she is full of life, she is a domestic goddess and she is mildly insane. What more could one ask for?

~ 8 ~ Exploring Penarth: The other day I happened to be looking back through my journal and saw that Penarth was the first place I visited after moving to Cardiff. Just a day or so after bundling across the ocean, I was wandering the village that, unbeknownst to me, would become my home just a little less than five years later. I can't now remember what drew me to Penarth and my journal makes no mention of a reason why. In my entry mentioning Penarth I am apparently assuming the reason to be obvious. I do this a lot in journaling: I leave out details that my older self really would appreciate. For example, in my senior year of high school I made several references to a girl named "Ginger," offering no surname or explanation of how or why I know her. I have asked friends and they don't remember her, either.
Perhaps five years ago I had heard that Ginger lived in Penarth. We'll never know. But for some reason I decided the place was worth visiting. The person with whom I visited hated Penarth and I didn't visit again until 2010. A while after that I met Jenn and started spending a great deal more time in this village to the immediate south of Wales' capital city. Built up in and around the Victorian era, Penarth looks like the Britain I wanted to move to so many years ago. Too much of Wales is a collection of uninspiring brick homes, most with not even enough history to remember Harold Wilson's premiership. Places like Swansea and Rhoose and Carmarthen and the Danescourt and St. Mellon's neighbourhoods of Cardiff feel like unexciting versions of Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- places in dire need of an Applebee's.
Penarth has its fair share of woefully uninteresting architecture, but there are still plenty of buildings that somehow managed to survive the Second World War and the many decades of design sloth that followed. In Penarth one can see in the buildings some of that arrogant ambition that was a hallmark of the British Empire.
There was a time when Britain knew itself to be awesome. Some of Penarth's buildings can remember that time. Certainly a lot can go wrong when a nation believes itself infallible, so I don't pine so much for the ideology in which these buildings were constructed, but one does wish for its spirit -- the sense of creating things that will inspire long after the creators' gravestones have been worn smooth by the seasons.
Penarth fills me with a strange mix of melancholy and inspiration. I am reminded of when I used to live in St. Paul, Minnesota. I loved it so much, I wanted to do whatever I could to keep it alive. I have lived now less than a month in Penarth and already I am composing letters to county and town councillors, like some batty old man. I have started reading the local paper. I am excited for the summer festival. Perhaps in the autumn I'll turn up to watch Penarth RFC lose. I find this town to be one in which I actually want to live.

~ 8 ~ The Gower: The surrounding area adds to Penarth's appeal, of course. If anyone in Wales possessed the capacity to effectively promote their nation, this strip of land on Britain's western side would be one of the most desired places to live on the planet. Every 20 or 30 miles the landscape changes slightly and you feel far away from the other parts. So, a few weeks ago Jenn and I woke up in our Victorian seaside village, had a big breakfast and drove an hour to a part of Wales that felt very much not like the part of Wales in which we had awoken.
The Gower Peninsula is well-travelled territory but that makes it no less beautiful. Sandy beach or rocky seaside are all within easy reach. When Jenn was a little girl her family would go camping on the Gower so I got to hear a few childhood memories as we walked along. Camping in Britain is an experience I find difficult to reconcile with my American understanding of what it means to camp. When I was a boy, camping meant charging out into the woods to collect firewood, occasionally being attacked by hornets and eating dinner in the pitch dark because Dad had started the fire too late. Jenn's version of camping meant setting up a tent within feet of others and playing cricket with all the other kids in the evenings.
On our walk we had brought along a book on foraging that Jenn had given me for Christmas. We made it our mission to find something we could consume, eventually managing to come across two pea-sized wild strawberries and feeling we had become true survivalists because of it.
If you're keen, here's the vlog from that day. In it you can see Jenn and I singing Elvis songs and acting like children.

~ 8 ~ Completing my tutor certification course: Roughly a year ago I was delighted to have learned that I'd been accepted onto a course training me to become a certified Welsh-language tutor. I had no interest in becoming a Welsh-language tutor but I figured it wouldn't hurt to have an additional bit of qualification to throw on a CV and it seemed a good way to pick up a bit of extra money in addition to the job I was certain was around the corner.
A year on, no other job has surfaced. I still don't want to be a tutor, but I am happy to at least have some way of paying for groceries. In May my course officially ended, and with that I now have Level 5 National Certification. I have no idea what that actually means, but it sounds nice. And I can teach Welsh wherever I damn please. Or, rather, wherever I can find work. Which, for the time being is Ebbw Vale.

~ 8 ~ Getting a bit of work: Actually, the previous sentence is a bit misleading. Presently, the only work I have lined up for September is in Ebbw Vale. But right now I am teaching in Ebbw Vale and two places in Cardiff. In May I was offered a class that is taught in the Welsh Assembly Government offices, helping to get the receptionists up to speed on the language of their nation.
I like the job. Thrice weekly I take the train into Cardiff and get to walk amongst the ornate city and government buildings of Wales' capital city. Much like my life in Penarth, this is the European lifestyle I had daydreamed of when I lived in the United States: taking the train into work, occasionally taking lunch at a cafe. The assignment only lasts to the end of July, so I won't get to live this life for long. In the autumn my life will become one of long drives into the South Wales Valleys. But the company that gave me this assignment does a fair amount of work within Wales' corridors of power, so perhaps there will be more opportunities ahead. Or perhaps the company's hiring me will result in their losing their government contract.

~ 8 ~ Reaching 50 days of vloggery: It's a silly thing, is my daily vlog, but I find I enjoy it. It is a way of noting each day in a way different than to writing it down. Admittedly, my blog and actual writing ability have suffered as a result. But, as the Welsh say, there you are.
Back in December I started vlogging on a daily basis through the medium of Welsh. I think I hoped to connect with the similar-minded Welsh-speaking people I had failed to find in Cardiff. What I found instead is that such people do not really exist. There are Welsh speakers, but they are condescending or struggle to get my humour/mindset. The ways in which that makes me sad are seemingly infinite. After a few months I felt an even greater sense of disconnection than before and decided to abandon the thing.
But I realised that I had been enjoying doing the vlogs. There's something I like about the challenge of trying to document something from each and every day -- the philosophy that each day is worth making note of. So, I fell into the habit of doing them in English. Now, at least, my friends and family could understand.
In early May I passed the tiny milestone of having vlogged for 50 days (through the medium of English). Late this month I will reach 100 days. Each milestone grows less significant, I suppose. I mean, am I actually achieving anything? It's a bit like when teachers would give you gold stars for attendance.
No, it's not even that cool. In junior high school they would give prizes at the end of the year to kids who had perfect attendance. If I vlog for a full year, it will most likely not result in a free sweatshirt. More's the pity.

~ 8 ~ Doctor Who: Britain doesn't really have seasons. We have cold and rainy, less cold and rainy, and a snow day. I think some part of my internal clock therefore struggles to grasp the passage of time. Environmentally, very little changes; how can I know that this day is, in fact, not still the one previous? Thankfully, television comes to the rescue. My years are marked by Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Menu, international rugby matches and Doctor Who. Ironically, I note the passage of time by watching watch the adventures of a bloke who not only travels in that dimension but increasingly seems to enjoy messing with it. This past series of the Doctor's travels seems to have been particularly mind-boggling. But also particularly enjoyable.
On a side note, I think that the person who kills the Doctor is either: the Doctor himself or Amy Pond.

Which more or less explains Gavin Henson

ME: There's no "i" in "team."

JENN: Unless you spell it the Welsh way.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A letter home: 12 June 2011

My dearest Emma,

It's been a while. Last time I wrote, I did so from the corporate safety of a Starbucks, having spent the day at the glorious synagogue of savings that is IKEA. A visit to IKEA, of course, is part of the rites of passage in modern life -- birth, puberty, moving house and marriage are all marked with visits to IKEA. That cheap, self-assemble coffins are not available for purchase is clearly a sign of laziness in IKEA's research and development department. They are resting on their laurels, Emma. There should be a DÖD coffin, available in white, beech effect or silver.

Back in January, that IKEA visit was to commemorate a move to the village of Radyr, just within the northern border of Cardiff city limits. I think I told you, Emma, that at night I could hear the Taff River running some 100 yards to the south of the house on its journey toward the sea.

Just south of Radyr's unvaried collection of new-build homes, the Taff slows enough for rowing clubs to practice, then runs shallow past Llandaff Cathedral -- where I would often roam in those days when my heart ached so miserably and my house was so cold. Onward, the river slips past a university, beneath a roaring thoroughfare and then beyond another university into the solace of city park. On weekdays, men stand waist deep in the river and lure trout from their rocky hiding places. In summer, lovers wade in and kiss; children scream and jump from footbridges. The river curves and then widens as it reaches the city centre, carrying rugby fans' discarded plastic pint glasses to Cardiff Central Station and past the perpetually "up and coming" neighbourhoods of Riverside and Grangetown. Eventually its mouth grows wide and it spills out into Cardiff Bay.

A Victorian village sits atop the cliffs of a promontory at the bay's southwestern edge; you can see the tower of a church peeking out above trees. That church is St. Augustine's, the village is Penarth. And Penarth -- located just outside the southern border of Cardiff city limits -- is the reason I have again been spending quite a lot of time in IKEA.

Well, actually, Jenn is the reason. Jenn lives in Penarth. And now, so do I.

This is the part, Emma, where you stop reading for a second and think: "Wait. Who's Jenn?"

It has, indeed, been a long time since I last wrote. I've mentioned Jenn in previous letters, but not by name. For a long while I think some part of me feared that if I wrote her name some magic spell would be broken, that all the fun and happiness would crumble under the weight of reality. I suppose some part of me still fears that. Some part of me fears that Me and Jenn is like that moment in a dream when you realise you are in a dream, and for a tiny fragment of a second you manage to stay in that fantastic place before your eyes flutter open. I don't want to open my eyes yet, Emma.

Some part of me is not yet comfortable expressing to others my feelings for Jenn. But I will tell you she is a beautiful, joyful, brown-eyed girl from Devon. I delight in waking up to her each morning. I am mad for her. We've known each other for nigh eight months; somewhere along the way we found ourselves waking up to each other far more often than not, and Jenn decided it was time for me to move in.

I struggle to think of how to phrase this in a way that isn't maladroit, Emma, but I think of my short time in Radyr as rehab for the soul. The name Radyr derives from an old Welsh phrase meaning "the chantry," where souls were prayed for. You might remember my telling you that many hundred years ago Radyr was nothing more than a plot of land reserved for a cave-dwelling hermit whose days were spent praying for salvation of wealthy peoples now long-forgotten. At night, I would lie in bed listening to an owl call and imagine the spirit of that hermit was still out there, praying for recovery from the long dark bitterness that gripped me.

I don't know I can really say everything is better now, Emma, but I know rehab is temporary. I was never supposed to stay in Radyr; I am ready to move on. I am ready to try to write again, to read again, to be more the person I want to be rather than the bundle of cliché I had become.

So, now I am a resident of Penarth. Even before I officially moved in, Jenn had bought a desk so I would have a place to write. This is a place for me to live, to feel at home. And already I do, Emma. Already I feel more connected to this village than any other part of Wales. Much of that is due to the presence of Jenn, obviously, but Penarth is lovely in its own right.

Literally translated, Penarth means "bear's head" in Welsh, but there's some suspicion (due to the fact that no part of Penarth necessarily resembles an ursine skull) that the name has been misheard over the years and it was originally called "Pen y Garth," which means "top of the promontory." Most people, though, prefer the bear-related translation. Who wouldn't? As your grandfather used to say, Emma: "One should incorporate bears when- and wherever possible."

Penarth often reminds me of why I wanted to move to Britain. Much of the village was built toward the end of Queen Victoria's reign and the architecture possesses that sense of promise and God-willed purpose -- arrogant ambition -- that seems to have been lost in both Britain and America by now. Any attempt at ornate stonework in the modern age would be met with cries of government waste. Intellectuals no longer wave flags. Narrower still and narrower shall thy bounds be set.

But the old architecture remains, lending grandeur to pasty shops, pubs, restaurants, coffee houses and scaled-down versions of major supermarket chains. In content, Penarth is hardly distinguishable from dozens upon dozens of other British towns, but it is far prettier in its sameness.

And its sameness is within easy walk of our flat. This is British/European experience that many Americans romanticise: able to do the day-to-day things sans automobile. The life of my old Peugeot is being extended thanks to lack of use. And within the sameness there are unique things to love: Jaflon is my new favourite restaurant; on Saturday Jenn and I found a cafe that serves amazing waffles.

I am happy here. I worry at times I am too much so. It has been such a long time since I've written anything of worth. I seem to have lost grip of whatever it is that has always pushed me to write. I worry I have fallen into the trap of telling my own story rather than living it; claiming to be a writer rather than actually writing.

Too often I am happy to simply wander my new village rather than isolate myself at a desk. I am happier to explore my little world than create new ones in my head. That is OK. For now. But inside me, churning in my soul, I can feel a building panic and anger at myself for not working.

If I am not working I am, at least, earning a bit of money. I teach a number of Welsh classes through the week. This bores me so much, Emma, that I will tell you no more of it. James Joyce was not an English teacher, Ernest Hemingway was not a staff writer, and I am not a Welsh teacher.

But refusing to tell you about teaching Welsh leaves me with little upon which to expound. I go to work; I wander Penarth; occasionally Jenn and I do silly things. I am usually happy, sometimes dizzy with worry and sometimes overwhelmed with homesickness.

Six months after sending my visa application I am still trapped in a kind of bureaucratic vortex, Emma, so still not able to leave this island of rain. With summer here I find myself aching to see my friends, to sit up with them in the warm Minnesota summer night drinking beer and hearing their stories. I feel I am being made hollow by the homesickness, like when bread is let to sit too long before baking. The excess of time causes gaps to form and when one cuts into the baked bread one finds emptiness. Each day those feelings are exacerbated by the absence of a visa; it is another day when I cannot plan to go home, another day when I cannot build a concrete picture of when I'll next get to hug old friends.

So life, Emma, is what life always is and what it always will be: a state of flux. As I settle into a new place my heart aches not to lose connection to the old places. I am, for the most part, happy with my life, though unhappy I have lost the knack to capture it in words. Each moment is new, though, Emma.

I miss you.

I remain your faithful friend,
Chris