Heavy Suit; Gentleman

Time for another update, I feel, and this one has a good bit of Japan about it.

First up is a poem I took to that creative writing group I mentioned last time. This was one of the things that the group as a whole liked, and I’ve made some adjustments, following their advice… and then a few more adjustments that might or might not work.
I wrote it in Japan, when I was first getting used to the concept of getting up at 7am and not getting home ’til 8pm and working the whole time between. I suppose being an English teacher is quite an easy-going career at times. I often get large stretches of a day with nothing to do, and I often get to pick my own timetable. In Japan, it was work work work, 5 days a week, and this poem was the result:

Heavy Suit

My suit is heavy today.

As I shrug it
on to my shoulders,
it pulls them
down into a hunch.

As I slide
my arms down the
cool black sleeves,
they grow tired…

My fresh shower legs
crawl into
stumbling trousers

I yank on socks
suffocating,
restricting,
and bolt my toes down
under leather and laces

In the end,
only my head remains
unclothed, shackled
to this endless suit.

Soon, at work, that
too will sink.

Today, my suit is heavy.

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On Sunday night, I was on stage performing something that I only had about 24 hours to prepare. This was OK, because I wasn’t performing stand up. I was telling a story – a true and personal experience from about this time last year in Japan, when I had a run-in with the fox spirit statues of Ikari Shrine. The event was called VENT! ,  which is all about telling stories from the heart, and I’ve attached a link to the Facebook page for those who are interested.

These are some of the malicious fox spirits

I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it turns out that even though the material (restricted by truth) wasn’t that shocking or gripping, I delivered it very well, and it was an enjoyable listen. At least, that’s what I was told afterwards.
I have a written version of this story that I’m working on now. The problem with that is that now that I don’t have to be entirely truthful, and I can be creative, I’m tempted to tinker with it a lot.
In the end, I’ll probably  publish here a refined version of the truth with a couple of flourishes but no drastic changes, and then use the scenario as a scene in a story I’ve been plotting on and off (mostly off) since November.

I’ll close with a silly haiku:

Gentleman

Remind me why I
live between Spain and Japan
when I prefer blondes?

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Trying to Multi-Task; My Bench

I have a friend who is writing a novel, and he told me the other day that the way I’m going about things is all wrong. He just writes his novel, and he gets about 4 hours done a day. I’m trying to write short stories, I tell people, and poetry, and maybe soon, a novel or two. But at the same time, I’m trying to write comedy, to write stand up.

Now that he points it out, I see what he means. They are all different arts from one another. I have always held that the best stories are so well written that they contain bits that feel like poetry. I’ve always thought that the best novels have scenes that could be taken out and left on their own, as complete short stories (especially as so many short stories these days seem to start in the middle and finish somewhere later in the middle of events). I’ve even taken a scene from a short story I wrote and posted it on here as flash fiction, and since that time I’ve never felt inclined to post the whole story on here (mostly because it needs attention I haven’t given it). In this way, I could be said to be following a progression – from poetry to flash fiction to short stories to novels.

The comedy doesn’t fit into this. Partly because I’ve never really written comedy. I’ve written some comic scripts, once upon a time, but not for a long while. Stand up is still a new art for me, something I’ve only tried a handful of times, something I struggle to even start to write.

But the main reason that they don’t work together is that I draw on a different part of my brain when I write comedy. Whereas my fiction is inviting a reader to enter a world I create, comedy is about stepping into someone else’s world and making them laugh at the absurdities in it. They have similarities, in perception, in surrealism, in painting a picture… but they have more differences than similarities.

Writers often say you have to be in the right mood to write. I say that part of the great skill in writing is in training yourself to get into that mood, and the other part is bloody-minded persistence. I’m trying to get into lots of moods at the same time, and I’m not winning at the persistence – yet.

Anyway, I have two stand up comedy performances at the end of the month, so I need to spend a good bit of my writing time preparing for them. And maybe, after I’ve performed those gigs, I’ll have some more comedy in me, some more material, and I’ll write more and perform more. Including my old jokes (if I can find them), I’m probably nearly at the point of having three sets, which is wonderful.

But I miss the fiction, so for the rest of this month, I will try my darnedest to do two things – poetry and comedy. They may be totally different, but at least they are both about editting and cutting down and getting to the point as quickly as possible. And progression, and building on what went before. And over the summer, I’ll sit down and get some flash fiction and some big old short stories out of my brain.

Until then, some poetry!

My Bench

Come, sit. This is my bench.
I sit here, often,
staring out across the pond.
My stick rests just so.

Folks here know it’s mine.
I sat on it in the frozen cold
last year when my wife died,
stared out across the pond.

I sat here after I retired.
We moved here together,
all peaceful. She chose it.
I chose our bench.

I’ve had benches before, and others:
that ink-stained desk at school,
a bunk, a cabinet, a peg,
all mine once, all remembered,

all solid. Now they’ve all gone,
my memory stays… ’til my memory goes.
And this bench, too, you see?
But I’ve got a plan.

It’s not truly yours
’til it’s marked with your name.
So this bench is In My Memory.
Plaque’s made, missing a date.

Who knows where I’ll go next…
but I’ll be on this bench.

Throughout the month in 40 hours

Hellooooo!

It’s nearly exactly a yearsince I left Spain for Japan, so I suppose it’s only natural that at this time of year, while I’m living in Spain ago, I’m thinking of Japan.

Of course I’m loving Spain right now. And why shouldn’t I be? The improvised comedy AND stand up comedy groups are just taking off, the weather is amazing (it’s like a sunny English May right now), I’m working a full working week and only 3 hours of that week are really frustrating hard work. Well, it’ll become more briefly for the exam season, but I can hack it. I have a nice flat, I have an established network of crazy people I call friends… it’s all good.

But of course, Japan was a great time of my life too. I stayed quiet on the whole earthquake, tsunami and radiation crisis in Japan because it’s so close to the bone for me… I worked in Fukushima, 55km from the nuclear power plant, for 3 months last year, back when nobody had heard of it, even people living in Japan, and it took 2 minutes to describe where it was… now everyone knows. It was 5 days before I could hear from some friends to even find out that they were alive… others are close enough that they are worried about drinking the water. But despite all of the fears, all I felt was a desire to get out there again. The more I read of how the Japanese were dealing with the crisis, the more characteristics I recognised in people I know there. I miss them, and it. I want to move, to be there again.

My guess is that this feeling is coming as a result of feeling so settled down. The more I feel at home here, the more I feel an urge to travel. I see photos of friends in Japan, I itch to be there. I hear stories of fun times in Madrid, or Sevilla, or London, and I want to jump up and join in.

I often feel like what I really need is a teleporter. I know a lot of people can identify with this, so that they can have more time. But for me, I’d link it between my flat in Barcelona and my friend’s flat in Tokyo, so I could cut out all the stressful, exhausting, expensive flying and jetlag, and just be where I want to be, whenever I want to be there.

You’ll notice there’s no teleporter to England for me. Well, England is just a 3-hour flight away from Barcelona, and for me, that’s fine. I see more and more that, while England is beautiful in a way that really speaks to me… the 21 years I lived there are enough. I have great memories. I only need to visit it to see and spend time with all my friends and family.

SO clearly the only solution is to become a rich and famous writer who lives in both countries.

To that end, I’ve started my own personal writing challenge this month. Rather than the NaNoWriMo, which rewards a massive word output, I’m going for a “time spent” scheme. I have to write, in a non-work-related way, for 40 hours in 30 days. This started on the 24th. So that includes making a blog post. It’s obviously about poetry and short stories and flash fiction. But it also includes any writing I do in Spanish, and any Spanish homework I have. Because for a “permanent” Spanish resident, my Spanish has a LOT of holes, and a low level of grammar, and I need to push myself (and be pushed pretty hard by a private teacher) to get to a level where I can spend the whole evening in Spanish without feeling lost.

So far, so good, and I expect you’ll be seeing some of the (non-Spanish) results of this new project pretty soon.

Gràcia

Well hi there, Blog.

A lot of the graffitti here is thankfully more "art" than "marking your territory like a dog."

It’s been over a month, but you might be pleased to hear that good stuff is happening, and a lot of the stuff troubling me last month has disappeared, leaving much more minor problems to fix. First off, I found a flat. I signed a contract, I moved in, I bought a bed and some basic furniture, and I now live in Gràcia. For those of you who don’t know Barcelona, Gràcia is my favourite part – quiet in the day, fun at night, trees and narrow streets and sunlit plazas without the smells and petty theft of the old city centre. It’s also MUCH MUCH quicker to and from work, and I even sometimes have time to go home for lunch.

Also, I have more teaching time than I did, and can afford the rent on my new place. Which, by the way, is only mine. Sharing a flat is so much a part of life in Barcelona that when I tell friends I have a new place, they say, “What are your new flatmates like?”, and I get a little thrill when I get to tell them that I have privacy, independence, my own space…

Also, despite all the busy-ness with this, my writing hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t flourished... but I suspect that now I have a chair and a table (and no internet connection at home yet), I’ll be writing a lot more. In fact, watch this space, because I might instigate a personal NaNoWriMo as I have in the past – by which I mean, I give myself a month to write 50,000 words. Of anything.

So now the only problems are things like getting an internet connection working at home, and buying furniture, and getting a couple more private classes. And you know what? These problems are fun! So, life is good.

Here’s a pair of haiku for you to kick us off:

“Prolong this winter – ”
knowing you will leave in spring,
I thank the frosts.

Though time will not slow,
you watch clouds form from my sighs,
and make memories.

And second up. I had a little go at writing a Ferlinghetti style poem like I mentioned back in January.

When I’m old
aaaaaaI will cross the road just before
aaaaaathe light starts flashing green, then red
aaaaaaaaaaaaso the busy busy cars
aaaaaastop impatiently
aaaaaaaaaaaacaught between their self-inflicted stress
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand real,
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame-inflicted respect
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa(‘coz I’m old and slow)
aaaaaamaybe I’ll stumble
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafor kicks.

But I won’t do it now
aaaaaaaaaaaaaas they won’t wait yet.

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Hopefully I’ll see you all in a week or two, rather than the month-long wait you’ve had since the last post.

Bad Fiction please

Ho hum, Blog.

When you last met your intrepid hero (i.e., me), I’d just moved back to Barcelona. I’ve now been back for a month. Things are progressing, gradually, but perhaps a little too gradually for my taste. I’ve building up work hours and now that I’ve got (nearly) enough hours as a solid base, I plan to fill the rest of my timetable with private classes.
As to finding a place to live, I’ve not gotten far. I’ve seen a few places, but none quite good enough or cheap enough… so I’ve gone back to finding more work so I know what I can afford…. well, I’ll get there slowly.

The one thing that’s gone appallingly slowly is my writing. Even though I’m getting hours of train-riding time (and consequently, a fair bit of reading done), my writing is progressing at a snail’s pace. When I have sat down to write, the products have been a bit depressingly bad.

I’m still getting accustomed to my new Mac, and that is definitely half of the excuse. The other half is that, even though I haven’t been teaching full weeks, I’ve been leaving the house at 9am and getting home at 10.30pm… so I’m not finding the energy to sit down and write.

My new plan to increase my writing output is to read some truly BADLY-WRITTEN fiction. At the moment, I’m reading some good books, and I’m enjoying them, but there’s nothing better than reading a good story badly written to bring out some indignant inspiration in me: “I could do better than this!” “And this author got PUBLISHED?? Then I can DEFINITELY get published!” That should work. With that in mind, please send me some recommendations.

More to follow on this post.

Breath


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Merry Christmas y’all!

As I predicted, I’ve been jolly busy doing busy things at home. When I’ve not been busy, I seem to have been ill, twice. Still, I promised a more substantial post in December, so here it is.

A New Year is about to hit us, and for me, it’s a strange mix of old and new. I’m going back to Barcelona, a step that has surprised a few friends and family. They’ve seen me as Matt; International Traveller (I especially like the semi-colon),

Japan

so they find it odd that I’m planning on spending a year or more somewhere I’ve already been. Well, when I was about to go to Japan, a friend asked me, “Where next after Japan?” and I came to the realisation that I only really wanted to visit Japan. I also only really wanted to learn Spanish and Japanese. “Well, there’s other Spanish speaking countries…” Yes, there are, and one day I’ll probably go, but for now, I want a life in Barcelona.

Continue reading “Breath”

Short Break

Hey Blog Fans!

Just to let you know that I’ve got a term to finish, packing up to do, cleaning, moving house (twice, or more), jetlag, my cousin’s wedding, my aunt’s 60th birthday, jobhunting, and of course Christmas and New Year, posts may be sporadic over the December period. I can guarantee you one more post this month…. but don’t hold your breath for more.

Be back soon, hopefully re-located!

Matt