Friday, January 20, 2012

Eight things I loved about December

I can't remember whether I did an eight things post for November. Let me check... Nope. No, I did not. That's a shame because November had some good bits in it. Thanksgiving, for example; Jenn and I travelled out to London to see my old friends Jen and Dave, and we had a great time.

But I suppose it's not surprising that I didn't manage an eight things post for that month because at roughly the same time my writer's block was reaching its peak and a depression that would hold me until Christmas was starting to settle in.

I have been struggling with words a lot lately. Sometimes I think the vlog is to blame, allowing me an opportunity to more immediately express my thoughts rather than leaving me to ruminate on things. Stories and the desire to tell them are built of sitting and thinking and thinking; it's possible the vlog steps on that somewhat. That said, I like doing the vlog -- for the most part -- so, I'm unwilling to stop. I would rather train myself to do both things.

Each new year I, like almost everyone else, start out with a head full of steam as to what I hope to accomplish in the coming months. And as with years previous, one of my goals is to push myself to write more. I can't help but approach this goal with a certain amount of cynicism because I have lost count of the number of "I'm back"-type posts I've written.

But carrying around cynicism toward my own ideas hasn't gotten me very far; it has produced no books. So, I will take whatever optimism this new year gives me and see what I can make of it. Optimism is the point of an eight things post, to identify at least eight good things that happened to me during the past month. December, admittedly, was an easy one:

~ 8 ~ Getting engaged: As mentioned before, Jenn and I got engaged over the Christmas break. If I were to tell you that I don't now feel just a twinge of nervousness, I would be lying. What if I mess things up? But as Shawn Michaels once advised Chris Jericho about doing a backflip off the top rope: "You just have to go up there and do it, brother."
OK, perhaps it's best not to ween marital advice from professional wrestlers. And perhaps it's additionally unproductive to worry too much about what might happen well beyond my current scope. Right now I know that I love Jenn and am excited about the idea of being able to call myself her husband, and there's no reason to sit and try to force myself to second-guess that.
At the moment, we are thinking the wedding will take place in spring 2013. We've not gotten so far as to nail down any real timeframe other than the fact it would be less of a hassle if the wedding occurs sometime before May 2013, when my visa expires. Ah, such fun. Other couples lament over how many guests to invite and what colour the napkins should be, we have the additional worry of not having one of the wedding participants be tossed from the country.

~ 8 ~ Christmas with my family: I proposed to Jenn in Minnesota. It was her first time to visit my adopted home state and my first time home at Christmas since 2005. I had spent five Christmases away from family, yo. No wonder I was beginning to dislike the Yuletide.
In my absence, my family had forgotten all the traditions that it had always been my responsibility to uphold: "No, we do things such and such way, remember?"
They don't remember because in addition to being the one to keep holiday traditions I am generally the one to have created them. I have always been thankful for the fact I come from a family that doesn't stick to traditions. And having lived in Wales has taught me that traditions are a load of nonsense that can restrict you intellectually and creatively. But all this time living away from family has shown me their value, as well. They are reliable ways to connect.
But, of course, the best moments are those that simply can't be set up. I ensured that we delivered presents in a certain order, and had our big breakfast and so on, but the very best moments came at the end of our trip when my family went to dinner and afterward found ourselves just sitting around talking and telling stories. I think my father and I are the most prolific storytellers, but my brother, Jon, the best.

~ 8 ~ Visiting Minnesota: I can't adequately express how terribly I miss Minnesota at times; I will feel physically sick. Recently I wrote an article for Barn that simply referenced visiting Eric and Kristin's cabin and found myself weeping as I wrote. I miss the extreme seasons most: summer and winter. There are no such things here on the Island of Rain. It gets cold enough to make you miserable in this country but never enough to make you happy. There is no skiing (cross-country or downhill) or skating on frozen lakes. And only rarely does it get warm enough to wear a short-sleeve shirt in the evening; the last time it was hot enough for me to actually want to go swimming was 2006.
Britain is the climate version of being on medication for depression: no extreme lows and no extreme highs. And perhaps that's OK for some but it leaves me feeling that I am missing out. The climate is too mild for autumn to force an explosion of colour, for winter to bury you in snow, for summer to push you into rivers or the sea.
Frustratingly, all that said, Minnesota was not nearly as cold as I had expected/hoped. There was no snow on the ground but for our last few days and at one point it was too warm for us to skating at Centennial Lakes.
Still, I was happy to see it -- happy to be able to wander down into forest, happy to squint my eyes against blinding winter sunshine, to see eagles nesting in the trees and hear coyotes yipping in the night.

~ 8 ~ Seeing my friends: I will admit there may be places more naturally beautiful than Minnesota. The reason I love it so dearly, of course, is the people there. I have no close friends within a 50-mile radius and the majority live even further away, most in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. As I get older and realise more the importance of good friendships I find it ever harder to be so far away from them. Getting back to Minnesota is like finally reaching the water's surface and being able to breathe again after diving too deep. I wonder if my friends realise how much it means to me to just be able to sit around at their houses, drinking beer and talking about nothing. At Eric and Kristin's we ordered Mexican food and sat on the sofa; at Dan and Johanna's we ate Sloppy Joes and sat around outside. Who the hell travels 5,000 miles just for that?
I do.

~ 8 ~ Hearing from my agent: Did you get a Kindle for Christmas? If you did, remember that you can get my novel, The Way Forward. You might already know that before being effectively self-published that book was shopped around to a few big editors in New York. The person doing that groundwork was a super-nice lady named Rebecca. Not too long ago she contacted me and asked if I was up to anything. To be honest, I was spinning my wheels at that point because I had lost a lot of faith in myself as a writer. I still haven't really recovered from that but the fact that she saw enough potential in me to ask what I was up to despite a previous lack of success has lit a fire under me recently.
Unless she suggests altering my course, I have begun working on a book tentatively called: Tales of a Toffee-Covered Llama: How the Tiny Nation of Wales Crushed My Dreams and Robbed Me of My Will to Live. It is effectively an updated English-language version of Cwrw am Ddim, with the focus switched so that it (hopefully) appeals to a wider audience than just those who are Welsh-speaking or particularly keen on Wales. I'll keep you posted on its progress.

~ 8 ~ The final Mince Pie Monday: One of the highlights of autumn was Jenn and I coming up with the whole Mince Pie Monday nonsense for the sake of our daily vlog. It was an amusing (to us, at least) little feature that involved us forcing ourselves to eat mince pies late at night. I had a lot of fun doing it and am now just a bit sad that we've not thought of anything to replace it. For the last Mince Pie Monday (in which we taste-tested Duchy Originals mince pies) we even got dressed up. This sort of thing is at the heart of why I love Jenn: she is ridiculous. Just like me.

~ 8 ~ Visiting Devon: In addition to visiting my (adopted) home territory in December we visited Jenn's homeland as well. Ostensibly the purpose of the visit was to celebrate Jenn's grandparents' 60th anniversary (they received a card from the Queen!) but it was also a chance to deliver Christmas gifts and visit with the family that Jenn sees about as often as she sees mine. Time and travel challenges make a visit across the Bristol Channel almost as tricky as a visit across the Atlantic Ocean.
I was insufferably grumpy on my first day there because my moneytrap of a car developed a new issue: the electric window would not roll back up, thus allowing in the rain and misery for which this island is famed. But the problem created a kind of opportunity for me to bond with my future father-in-law as the two of us hovered over the door, mumbling and pointing for several hours. Eventually we disconnected the window from its lifting apparatus and wired it shut.
I knew already at that time that I was going to propose to Jenn, so throughout the visit I found myself thinking: "These people are going to be my family." And I am quite happy with that.

~ 8 ~ Waterfalls: The aforementioned moneytrap car has since been sold for scrap. But one of our last adventures in the Honda was a day trip to the Neath valley, where there are a number of waterfalls. You will no doubt pick up in the tone of this blog post a certain greyness-induced cynicism toward Wales -- it is something I have been struggling with a lot -- but getting a chance to see its natural beauty helps to alleviate that condition. It was dark and rainy the day we went out but I had a good time; I am happiest when my feet are moving, there is a pretty girl beside me and there is no concrete to be seen.

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