Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eight things I loved about April

~ 8 ~ Writing: Why, yes, I have added this to every eight things list this year. So? I still love writing. Though, sometimes I'm not sure "love" is the best word. I feel compelled from deep within to string letters into words and words into sentences and on and on. I feel incomplete if I go long stretches of time without doing so. I love telling stories, I love yammering on, and I love the feeling of my mind spinning. The way in which all of that most obviously manifests is in the experience of writing.
The actual act of writing is, in fact, quite wearisome and nowhere near what films always lead you to believe. I frequently lament this -- that I have no great oak desk, for example, buried beneath wobbling towers of paper, and sat in a sun-bleached room of a cabin or beach hut or whatever. I have, instead, a hallway and a cheap pine table from IKEA. I hardly move when writing, so my body grows cold. My eyes start to ache and blur slightly from staring at the screen of my laptop. I do not write things by hand -- that is stupidly inefficient and whole strings of thought are too easily lost in the time it takes to scrawl out a phrase rather than type it on a keyboard. Nor do I use a typewriter. I prefer a laptop and have grown quite fond of my Macbook, specifically. I bought a typewriter once in high school and enjoyed using it only slightly more than walking around with a fish in my pants.
Actually, I have never tried walking around with a fish in my pants; I might enjoy it.
Once I have finished writing a passage I am left to go back over it, think about it, think about it, think about it, and usually hate it. Jenn comes home and I am either still lost in my head and un-talkative, or inclined to moan about how whatever it is that I'm writing isn't good enough and what if no one will print my book and what if I never amount to anything and woe is me.
But it's what I want to do. Being a writer isn't a great deal of fun. Neither is cleaning a toilet, however. The former activity gives me far more a sense of purpose and worth than the latter. So, I love doing it. I would rather not do anything else.
Thanks to the Easter holiday, April provided me with a fortnight of time to work solely on my book. I am never happy with what I manage to accomplish in any given space of time but I did get a lot done. At the moment, I am a little over the 50,000-word mark, with about 30,000-40,000 more words to go before I have a complete first draft.

~ 8 ~ Various day adventures: Money is tight these days. It's rarely otherwise where Jenn and I are concerned, but we make do as best we can. Fortunately, her majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland affords a fair number of opportunities to do things for little or no cost. Such is the beauty of things like the National Trust and the National Parks system. The UK is not unique in these things, admittedly -- indeed, such areas are far larger and more wild in my home country -- but the benefit here is that it is better integrated; these places are usually closer to where all the people are.
In both cases, of course, enjoying things that are free or low-cost usually hinges upon agreeable weather. It rained through most of April, but Jenn and I seized whatever opportunities we could. Early in the month, we cycled from our flat in Penarth out to Dyffryn Gardens, which is one of our favourite spots. Originally the estate of some extraordinarily wealthy person it has been in the care of the Vale of Glamorgan (the county in which we live) for a few decades and will soon be taken over by the National Trust, which will likely bring a boost in funding and help to ensure that it remains a very pretty place to spend an afternoon.
On the other end of April we got it into out heads to walk along the River Usk, from the village of Usk to Abergavenny -- an overall trek of roughly 16 miles. The trip was mostly along scenic river valley and only once did we have to run across railroad tracks, followed by a four-lane highway followed by an airstrip. No, really, the path actually led us on such a comically dangerous course.

~ 8 ~ Getting to see Jenn do something she cares about: Jenn started work in April for an organisation that helps to promote sustainable transportation in Britain. She is part of a project aiming to inform people in Penarth and the immediate area about the sustainable transportation options available. I knew already, of course, that the aims of the project were important to her, but had I needed any additional proof it came on her first day of work when the number of flirting texts I received through the day dropped considerably. She is focused and keen to work hard. She comes home at the end of the day completely exhausted but does not complain and would not have it any other way. I am happy for her and just a little bit jealous; I think we all wish for that job where we feel like we are affecting positive change.

~ 8 ~ Eating candy with Sarra Elgan: Oh, the places you'll go. The Welsh language, for all the unpleasant experiences it has delivered me has also, I have to admit, quite often added colour to the great pinging hullabaloo that is life's path. In April, for the purpose of marking no particular occasion, I was invited to the studios of BBC's Radio Cymru to be a guest on the "Dafydd a Caryl" programme. It is your basic mid-morning chatter of the sort that is so popular in the UK and so uncommon in the United States. Americans seem to prefer to listen to screaming people (be it about politics, religion or sports) at that time of day. In the Soggy Nations, it seems, we prefer to listen to people talking about affordable fashions or how to make good Welsh cakes or the mundane affairs of mundane celebrities or just about anything else unlikely to induce a screaming test of Godwin's Law. In the case of my visit, the conversation topic was candy: which side of the Atlantic Ocean has the best.
When I got into the studio, the show's producer eagerly showed me an entire tray of British and American sweets. She explained that Goobers would be pit against Maltesers and these against those and that against this -- about 30 different kinds of sweet in total.
Regular host Caryl wasn't in on that day and was being replaced by guest host Sarra Elgan, of whom I have spent many years saying perverted things in Welsh. In my book, Cwrw Am Ddim, there are a number of paragraphs dedicated to the idea of knocking boots with Sarra Elgan. I had never met her before, but now here she was, sitting right next to me and I spent the whole time feeling like a pre-teen boy who is meeting a WWE Diva and trying very hard to: A) be cool; B) not stare. She was friendly and charming, which is one of those talents that attractive people seem to pick up, and laughed in that sort of way that gets you all excited when you are a bit starstruck ("Hey! I said something to make her laugh! I am the most awesome person ever!"), and the half hour or so of radio slipped by. In the end -- to my surprise, because I was intentionally trying to favour the home team -- American candy was deemed the best. I walked out of the studios feeling happy and energetic, and as I stood on the Danescourt platform, waiting for my train back to Penarth, I suddenly realised that it had been my most fun, most enjoyable experience in the Welsh language since going to visit Llŷr at Oxford in November 2009 (a).
And I have to admit that made me a little sad. Almost three years had passed since I had felt really, really happy in a Welsh-language situation. Too often my Welsh is only used to talk ad nauseum about my Welsh. I talk about the language and learning the language and being an American. Though, should any BBC types be reading, I should probably point out that I do not mind so much talking about American things, such as elections or candy or traditions. I just tire of talking about me as an American and how Americans are different and, oh, isn't it fascinating, in a flea-circus sort of way, that an American would teach himself Welsh. And I find myself indebted to Lowri Cooke, who, it seems is behind almost all of my opportunities to speak Welsh outside of the American Welsh Learner context. She was responsible for my being on a programme many moons ago about Cardiff, and again for my spending a surprisingly long time talking about mince pies on live radio in December, and again for my getting the chance to swoon next to Sarra Elgan as I ate Hot Tamales.

~ 8 ~ The return of Great British Menu: Unintentionally, I seem to have a rule about British television, which is this: if it's not on the BBC I won't watch it, and if it is on the BBC I will watch it, no matter what it is. This can be the only explanation for my tuning in to Great British Menu, the programme that pits top-level chefs from various British regions against each other, whittling them down to a super catering team for a banquet of 100 really special people. In America, this programme would somehow involve things catching on fire and, perhaps, a fair bit of shouting. In Britain, this programme is just three blokes in a kitchen, each staring intently at potatoes and lettuce -- sweating profusely as they attempt to balance said items on a bit of carrot.
Still, Jenn and I are faithful to this silliness, regularly cuddling up on the couch to find out what will happen next in the great saga of uptight white men who all effectively make the same thing but in different ways (ever notice that desserts are about as inventive as an episode of Davey and Goliath?). At the end of it, they get to cook for olympic athletes, which, I would think, should not be all that difficult. Give them something other than a protein shake and they'll be happy.

~ 8 ~ Signing up to get a weekly Riverford box: Jenn and I have a National Trust membership, she works for a sustainable transportation organisation, and now we are having organic vegetables delivered to our door each week. Middle class, we are you.

~ 8 ~ The Artist: About a month or two after everyone else, Jenn and I finally went out to see The Artist in April, which was, surprisingly, just as good as everyone says it is. You get the sense that such a thing is really a one-off concept, though I am certain it will be copied several times before people accept that to be true. Nonetheless, it is well done. It's no Silent Movie, mind (I mean how can you best anything featuring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise?), but still pretty good.
It reminded me of my college days in Moorhead, when the head of the film department would organise evenings at the Fargo Theater in which they would bring in a Wurlitzer organ and have someone play a silent film's soundtrack, as would have been done in the silent film era. In doing a quick internet check, I see that the Fargo Theater is still there, which makes me feel a little better about the world.

~ 8 ~ Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen: I really liked the strength of writing in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Interestingly, though, the more distance I have from it, the less I like it. It was a novel about New York depressives being depressed and doing the New York depressive thing of having a kind of scab-picking addiction to bad life decisions. Thinking about it now, I feel exhausted and frustrated. At the time, though, I enjoyed the book well enough that I really was not able to put it down. Perhaps my memory is being unfair, because immediately after reading Freedom I read Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, which is, essentially, another novel about New York depressives being depressed and doing the New York depressive thing of having a kind of scab-picking addiction to bad life decisions. So, maybe my mind has looped them together into one enormously long and tedious experience. Maybe not. Freedom is plenty long and tedious on its own. But still strangely good. I find a lot of the themes to be annoying, but I would recommend it.
Primarily, however, the reason I list it amongst my eight things for April has more to do with the fact I am loving reading so much more in 2012 than I did in the year previous. At the moment, I am reading my twelfth book of the year, which means I am soon to have accomplished one of my New Year's resolutions. Reading the book also got me thinking about the modern American literary voice: what is it? And I would like to find some good modern (i.e., published within this century) American authors who are not writing from an East Coast perspective. I'd like to avoid the California voice, as well, I think, because it, too, is so prevalent. One thing I'd really be interested to read is quality work from a Southern or Latino author (or a Texas or Minnesota author, because of the personal connection). Anyone want to make a suggestion?

(a) I feel I should also mention the fun of being a goof with Anni and Gwilym during our graduation ceremony last summer.


Anonymous said...

Leif Enger, Minnesotan

Diane said...

Try some of the novels here, esp. say the Alyson Hagy novel, Boleto, described at the end...?