Friday, April 27, 2012

A letter home: 27 April 2012

My dearest Emma --

Greetings from the cluttered, cheap IKEA table that is my desk, in the drafty, windowless hallway that is my study. I have been uncontrollably homesick lately, Emma -- so much so that at times I melodramatically feel it could literally stop my heart -- and that is a condition that induces thought of all the things I am and am not. This desk is where I tell myself I am a writer; it is where I sit and feel frustrated that my claims to such a title have not been quite as profitable as I would have liked. It is where I feel overwhelmed by the exhaustion of chipping away at success.

I have to modify my lament about profit, of course, because some of my writing has actually paid off. Welsh-language magazine Barn pays me for the columns I write; with no real promotion whatsoever, at least one copy of The Way Forward is bought every month (who are these people, Emma? I love them); though no one is buying Cwrw Am Ddim anymore, I can't really complain about the rental car it paid for, a few years ago, when I went on a road trip in the United States; nor can I really complain, considering the overall lack of success in my previous efforts, about the generous bursary recently awarded to me by Literature Wales.

But you, Emma, being a figment of my imagination, know better than anyone that I can't help but complain, anyway. I may be a writer, but I am not a really successful one, which is something that bugs me to no end. Especially when I can't afford to buy Jenn dinner, let alone pay for tickets for us to fly to the States, so I can overcome some of this homesickness.

What I wish, Emma, is that I were successful enough to own a little cabin on some lake in Minnesota. Like the cabin on Nameless Lake in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, but without all the infidelity and tedious middle-aged unfounded personal misery. I would go to that cabin for weeks at a time and write novels that would sell more than one copy a month. Occasionally in the summers, I would travel down (or up -- I gots love for southern Minnesota, too, yo) to the Cities to sit in the back yards of friends' houses, drinking Miller High Life and saying snide things about the Twins bullpen. The rest of the time would be spent here in Her Majesty's Soggy United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, because they don't have Toby Keith here, and I wouldn't want the burden of homesickness to shift to Jenn's shoulders.

All this may be a tad unrealistic. Probably it is. I mean, this two-home-owning, straddling-the-Atlantic-Ocean fantasy seems to assume that I will develop an interest in the Twins' pitching staff. Presently, I cannot name a single player on the roster, save Joe Mauer. And right after typing the previous sentence I felt compelled to quickly check that Mauer is, indeed, still on the roster.

So, one of the questions I ask myself when I sit at my table/desk and pine for better days is: what is Good Enough? At what point can I feel not so unhappy with my career, not so false in claiming to be a writer? Is that point a monetary thing? Not really. Though, I do want to be focused primarily on writing and, by extension, I feel that means not being distracted by other income-aquisition methods.

Certainly, at the moment -- and especially on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays -- I feel I would be doing Good Enough if my writing could somehow get me out of teaching Welsh classes. The connections to that world (Welsh-language society) are very painful and I am frustrated that I am still not able to sever them.

Though, I'll admit that some part of me would miss Ebbw Vale. In a strange way.

You should have seen it recently, Emma, as the town did its best to get spruced up for a visit from the Queen. She and Prince Phillip are taking a road trip up and down and across the UK in celebration of her 60 years of rule. I'm not sure why Ebbw Vale was placed on the visit list. Perhaps, sensing that death is not so impossibly far away, she is keen to visit places that will help her feel better about a permanent departure from this sceptre'd isle.

Whatever the reason for the visit, the townsfolk were keen to give her a welcome. Stretching through the whole of town were brightly coloured bunting (pennant flags), swooping back and forth across the road, from building to building. Individually, the flags looked ragged, like discarded women's underwear, but the overall effect was festive. In each shop, cafe, hairstylist and even tattoo parlour were hung Union Flags and more bunting, featuring the Queen's face (I wonder what it must be like to always have people waving pictures of yourself at you everywhere you go). Flower beds were installed near the non-functioning built-too-look-hip-and-modern-but-now-looks-old-and-busted-in-its-painfully-obvious-and-failed-effort-to-look-hip-and-modern town clock. Enough barricades to hold back the population of the entire Ebbw River valley were set up. And the Scouts were sent out to sweep, or, at least, stand around with brooms and high-visibility jackets and occasionally shout at girls whilst God did the actual work of cleaning the town by simply making it rain nonstop.

On that particular day, I didn't mind so terribly that I had to be in Ebbw Vale. I felt kind of happy about it and thought about how much I like the Queen and how she and all the silliness inherent in the continued existence of her position is one of the things I love about living in Britain.

I like the British monarchy, Emma. I will make no attempt to defend the idea of a monarchy, but its hollowed-out form here is quaint and totally harmless and loveable. It is like a grandparent one never has to worry about losing. One day, theoretically, there will be no more Queen Elizabeth II, and that will be sad, but her awkward son will be there to take her place, and then her awkward grandson and then his awkward son or daughter and so on. They will always be there to put on silly clothes and wave uncomfortably at whoever happens to wave at them. They will be there to offer a kind of consistency, a tiny feeling of comfort that some things will remain always the same. It is like the way my grandfather would always give me a pack of Big Red gum when I was a boy. The way my grandmother still always makes poundcake when I visit. Tiny, unchanging things. But with the added comfort of knowing they will always be there.

Imagine that, Emma: imagine if someone could say to you, "There will always be a place where poundcake will be waiting."

There will always be silly people in their silly clothes to wave at you and even, maybe, woodenly shake your hand if you've managed to do something special (like, perhaps, sell considerably more than one novel per month). That promise of an always is something you don't get too often in real life.

One of the greatest pains of homesickness is knowing there will be change; there is change, and it is happening without you. They will bitch about the haplessness of Carl Pavano (I looked him up) without me. Their kids will grow and all the huge, universe-shifting changes inherent in child-rearing will take place beyond my scope. Get-under-the-coffee-table summer storms, and thank-God-we-have-plenty-of-hot-chocolate winter blizzards, and I-cannot-believe-a-tree-can-make-me-cry-like-this autumn colours will come and go and come and go without my seeing them. And as they do, the things I know will shift. And perhaps, Emma, the home I am sick for will disappear. It will become something different, something I no longer know.

But then what about all the open-every-window-in-the-house soft breezes that blow in the British spring and summer? What about bottles of wine and big, eight-hour dinner parties? What about making snide comments about Strictly Come Dancing? What about watching the children of Jenn's friends grow up? What about getting to spell "colour" with a U, and dusty old churches, and comically tiny roads, and actually getting to be one of the people the Queen waves at ?

And that is the worst thing about this homesickness, Emma: I realise there is no escape.

At least, not until I sell a few more novels. So, I suppose I had better get back to work on the book I'm writing at the moment.

Elsewhere, things here are OK. I have been unsuccessful -- despite intense effort -- in finding full-time work, but I keep applying. Jenn is liking her new job and trying not to think of what will happen when her contract ends in August. The previous two facts don't bode well for my wish to buy a new TV in time for the Olympic Games, but I remain hopeful. The weather has done nothing but rain for the past week. I am trying to improve my health by going to the gym more often. I remain on a waiting list to see a doctor about my depression; they put me on the list in January.

I miss you, Emma. Usually you are where my heart wants to be, so I don't really know where you are these days. I hope you are, at least, well. Please send nude photos.

I remain your faithful friend,
~ Chris ~


Steve Cope said...

What a wonderfully warm and fuzzy encapsulation of the British monarchy. I have felt much the same, but wasn't sure why until you identified the "always there" factor. I've thought of the Queen as similar to a beloved fictional English character, like Winnie the Pooh or Miss Marple, but you have better identified why she is lovable. If only she and her family didn't cost so much.

Chris Cope said...

Dad - Actually, the Queen brings in far more tax revenue than that which is given her. And this is before you consider the less-measurable things like her impact on tourism and international prestige.

Jenny said...

Yeah, I'm sure I read (years ago, mind you), that she costs each taxpayer a penny a year or something.

I must gently object to royal clothes (and carriages and jewellery and stuff) being called silly though. They are original objects made by the most skilled artisans, stitchers, metalsmiths and craftswomen of their day. They look crazy now, only because they're so old! We're really lucky to have an amazing archive of this stuff kept alive and actually used, supported by places like the Royal School of Needlework.

Sorry, I went on a Saturday morning ramble there. To summarise; I like the Queen too! I saw her once, she was TINY.

Peggi Rodgers said...

I can fully empathise with what you're feeling Chris. Been there myself. Keep a strong heart, your head held high and do not let them beat you. Things really will work out. Remember they told Stephen King he'd never make a dime let alone be a success. You're every bit as good as he AND you've got Jen. So there we are. :O)

Cofion cynnes, Peggi

PS I refuse to stop spelling colour without the 'U'.