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.
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.
Hopefully I’ll see you all in a week or two, rather than the month-long wait you’ve had since the last post.
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.
And with the new year, my new old life, as I’m calling it. New computer, old city, old friends (but not that old), and new home. New plans, old advice. I could, put probably shouldn’t, go on.
As I mentioned in my last post, this all centres on my return to Barcelona.I lived here from September 2007 to March 2010, and now I’m back. Just briefly, some weird things:
I keep saying (or starting to say) the Japanese expressions for “good morning”, “excuse me”, “just a second”, “thank you” “please” “and”, “but” and “ummm….” (the last one is “e-to”, and I even funnier looks for that one than the rest.)
I walk out of a metro exit and feel so confident in my knowledge of the streets and slopes of Barcelona that I walk the wrong way for a street or two.
I see beggars in the street. Not THAT weird, but then, I only saw two in 7 months in Japan. I give them money, and then remember that I don’t have a job or a permanent house and am living on the goodwill of friends… so I should probably save my cash!
Here’s a little haiku for you:
Slouching by a bin
I peer for pips by streetlight
and tear at orange flesh
I’ve got some short fiction brewing, but rather than rush it so I can post it, I thought instead I would post a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m living just outside the city right now, and catching the train in, so I have plenty of time for reading this book my friend Raoul lent me. I’ve yet to read a poem in his collection “A Coney Island of the Mind” that I haven’t gotten something out of. Some of his poetry is designed with jazz in mind, and all of it is cleverly formatted across the page. Usually he’s more light-hearted than this poem that I’m reprinting (without copyright permission – sorry! But it’s advertising, right?). And I apologise; usually a new year poem is more cheery than this.
In a surrealist year aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof sandwichmen and sunbathers aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadead sunflowers and live telephones aaaaahouse-broken politicos with party whips aaaaaperformed as usual aaaaain the rings of their sawdust circuses aaaaawhere tumblers and human cannonballs aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafilled the air like cries aaaaaaaaaaaawhen some cool clown aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapressed an inedible mushroom button aaand an inaudible Sunday bomb aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafell down
catching the president at his prayers aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaon the 19th green
aaaaaOh it was a spring aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof fur leaves and cobalt flowers aawhen cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain aaaaaaaaaaadowning the meadows with madness
while out of every imitation cloud aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadropped myriad wingless crowds aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaof nutless nagasaki survivors aaaaaAnd lost teacups aaaaafull of our ashes aaaaafloated by
I chose it because it reminded me of the museum I visited in Hiroshima. Which I suppose I can give a positive spin by saying that I’m moving forward with my new old life, learning from the lessons and experiences of the last year.
Wow, Blog, it’s been a month. But what a month. First Easter at home, then a Road Trip with my twin that went from Shropshire to London to Plymouth, then after a ferry from Santander to Barcelona. Then 4 nights in Barcelona, before a mad dash through France to catch the ferry home.
Somewhere in the middle of this internet-short, adventure-heavy excursion, a milestone passed. This blog has been around for a year, and it’s still going. Whether or not it’s going STRONG is open to debate, but overall, I’m quite pleased with it. You would think at the end of a year, it’s time to look at the package and review it. Fix it up, make it better. And you know, maybe I will, but not yet. One thing that may come about, though, is a great deal more of my personal information.
WHY? you ask (with dramatic flair). This is a blog about your writing! you might feasibly continue. Well, that’s true, and I have no intention of changing that. However, despite being about for a year, most of my readers are my friends, and since none of my current friends are going to Japan with me, they might want to know what’s going on in my life out there. So there’s going to be a new Category on the side. It’s going to be called “Japan”, and it’ll go with the “Background” stuff. If you’re interested in just the writing, then go to the “Poetry”, “Short Stories” or “Stage” sections.
Writing is still happening, but at a temporarily slow pace. Expect a comeback sometime soon. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who bother to follow this blog who aren’t my mother or twin (who have an obligation to keep up-to-date).
I fly to Japan on Wednesday morning. Between now and then I need to bring some semblance of order to my life so the only things I need to worry about in Japan are Japanese… urk!
I looked back over the past couple of weeks and thought – Oh, I’ve not been very productive. But that’s not entirely true.
First off, I’ve been writing reports. In Spanish. And some reports in English. It’s been moderately time consuming. I’ve also been creating (and marking) my own exam papers. This term, more than previous ones, I made an effort to create a fair few of the questions myself, rather than just cutting and pasting them from teacher book exam papers, and I’m quite happy with the results.
Secondly, I’ve made the discovery that writing poetry on a whiteboard is actually a really good place to do it. I spend so much of my working day using the medium of whiteboards to express meaning, and shuffling things around and making it look understandable that when I taught haikus to my Advanced Class yesterday, I actually found it quite easy to cut and move words around and get what I wanted to say. I think I need to buy a little one for myself.
Getting off to a good start this fine February. And it is a fine February – bless Barcelona’s weather. This time last year, we had 5 weeks of rain… but were coming out of a drought, so we grudgingly accepted it. This year, it’s mostly luvverly.
Personal news – booking my return flight to Japan – I plan to stay there for an extra two and a half weeks after this contract finishes. Something along the lines of:
Arrive – 29th April.
Finish work – 18th July.
Fly back – 4th August?
Anyway, here’s today’s poem. I’m quite satisfied with this one, having jotted the initial notes, turned into a loose poem, left to stew, massively rewritten, sought advice, made a few revisions…. final product. I was talking to my flatmate about it, and I think I’m finally starting to appreciate myself as a poet. I know some of you guys have been my fans for a while, but I’ve never really thought myself good enough to submit them to magazines or anything like that. I’m starting to get how my brain works and writes, now, so it’s getting easier to write… and maybe it’s time I started getting myself out there.
Bought for your lonely hours,
it seems instead to be Our Project
Together. Piece by fractured piece,
we build my painting of your stroke,
a shattering of disparate particles,
rooting for edges in the box,
drawing you closer to the centre,
a slow rebuild to match the old lid.
Luckily for us, it’s true of your mind,
though your hand wilts in your lap
and your eye can’t match the shapes,
nor your former independence –
helped limping to the loo,
you hold court on “when I’m home,”
and “when I cook” and “in my car”
– “these old people here don’t talk”.
Though you don’t hear it,
it cuts us all to know;
some pieces lost
when this worn box was shaken.
I can’t believe I’ve only been back in Barcelona for a week. I’ve already done so much! I think the milder weather has got me energized; in no particular order, I’ve celebrated Old New Year (it’s a Macedonian Orthodox thing), I’ve been to see my gorgeous godson Eloy (now 1 month 20 days old – my new camera has a Baby Mode), I’ve taught my classes really well, I’ve GOT A JOB IN JAPAN, I’ve been out drinking at a Stammtisch, I’ve played cards with my flatmates, caught up with Lily, and had meetings and a Spanish class.
You may have noticed one stands out on that list. Finally, the company I want to work for has contacted me and I’m going to Japan at the end of April. Expect this blog to change with it. I am SOOO excited. Japan is an adventure to me, and one that I’ve considered going on for years – if I’d taken a Gap Year, I would’ve gone there. And now I’ll be living there! Albeit for only three months, but maybe I’ll get the bug and stay.
It’s a huge relief, too, because it’s the first time since… last April… that I’ve known what I’ll be doing in 3 months time. Going from impulse to impulse is fun, but it’s nice to have some kind of forward planning for a change. It’s almost like my life has direction or something mad like that.
Despite all this craziness, you’ll be pleased to hear that my creative brain has finally kicked back in – just after New Year, too, and without any resolutions in that direction. My little notebook is starting to gather nuggets of ideas and poems that’ll hopefully be up on here in no time.
Today’s offering, though, is taken from 100 Love Sonnets, by Pablo Neruda, and translated from the Spanish by Stephen Tapscott…. my Spanish wouldn’t do half as good a job. It’s unnamed, but numbered LXXXIX:
When I die, I want your hands on my eyes:
I want the light and wheat of your beloved hands
to pass their freshness over me once more:
I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny.
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep.
I want your ears still to hear the wind, I want you
to sniff the sea’s aroma that we loved together,
to continue to walk on the sand we walk on.
I want what I love to continue to live,
and you whom I love and sang above everything else
to continue to nourish, full-flowered:
so that you can reach everything my love directs you to.
so that my shadow can travel along in your hair,
so that everything can learn the reason for my song.
My NaNoWriMo is progressing slowly. These next 4 days are much less busy than the previous week, so there’s a reasonable chance I’ll get a good bit down. But I’m massively behind my target.
I figured I could post extracts here to spur myself on, not just to up my word count, but also to make something of some quality. Unfortunately, quickly scanning what I’ve got doesn’t seem to reveal a great deal of merit.
The scene for my story is Barcelona, which is actually a pretty smart move for me. I seem to be quite bad about writing about the place where I am – it’s places where I’m not that draw my creative eye. So this is a good experience, in that it gets me to observe my surroundings and try to describe them. Also, if I ever get stuck as to where to take the story next, I can pick a scene, somewhere in Barcelona, and hopefully while I’m lavishly detailing that scene, some ideas will come to me.
Here’s a description of an apartment in the story, hopefully the scene of many interesting events to come…
It was one of those big-rooved, small-corridored, dingy little places you see, with two shuttered windows out onto the thin grey street, and two or three more that opened out on to a dark, close, inside balcony.
For those of you who don’t know Barcelona, they’ve got these inside balconies all over the place, and sure, they let in a bit more air and don’t take up to much space, but they’re depressing. In the centre of a whole block of house, there’ll be this big open column that’s like a hole in a donut. People hang their washing out in here so it dries, so there’s often a smell of warm soap, especially in the summer. Then they open their kitchen windows, so it smells of garlic and salted cheese and whatever else they’re eating that’s got a strong enough smell. Then their windows and blinds are open and up, and the lights are on, so you can see across and see what they’re doing, with their equally poky grimy kitchen and their balding heads and hairy arms. And of course, you can hear them all. The couple upstairs who aren’t speaking Spanish or English, but something more foreign, and their screaming kids. The dour wife of the working man, who frowns at her washing and her cooking. The unemployed guy. Those Swedish music-lovers across the way. A couple of quiet ones, I suppose, but mostly, it’s this claustrophobic tunnel of darkness and light, noise and smells, and most of all, no privacy. I suppose the feeling of never being totally alone is a comfort to some – in fact, some of my friends love it, and it seems to be pretty Spanish to me. But me, I can’t stand the lack of silence, the peace, the time to be yourself with no one judging.
So, this house. It was the middle of autumn, so it was often dark outside anyway, but inside, what with the shutters and the indoor balcony, it had a dark corners even when they had the lights on. The furniture was probably brought in from the street – more wood with a cloth cover on it than anything comfortable to sit on. A few plants. A rug on the wall, and darkly painted rooms to absorb what little light was left when you turned on the floor lamps. Perfect for when you’re hung over, don’t get me wrong. And a little white neon-lit kitchen. Of course, Tom wasn’t much of a chef at the time – now, at least he’s passable – and I imagine the kitchen was a bit of a mess of dirty dishes and bowls.
Right. Back to work. See you on the upside of 15,000, I suppose.
Well, it’s been a busy two weeks, but it looks like my life is set to take on a semblance of order once again. I’m back in Barcelona, I’m back to teaching, and I’m reminded that I love it.
Still, I won’t waffle on about the events of the past two weeks, except to say that if you’re a teacher in Barcelona and your company needs an excellent, enthusiastic teacher for morning or afternoon classes, then I’m your man.
I was routing around through my old things, and I found “Toast”. Once upon a time, I used to be a bit of an amateur actor… with the emphasis on Hamateur. I also used to try and write plays. SO I’ve made a new category for my posts. I’ve called it “Stage“. Here, I’ll post anything theatrical I come up with, which will include any comedy I work on for my stand-up comedy routine.
I thought, to buy myself some more writing time, I’d post this little skit in pieces, one after the other. So, the tantalisingly short (and probably least funny) first part of Toast.
A kitchen with doors upstairs (Stage Left) and outside (Stage Right). There is a square table centre stage with 2 or 3 chairs around it, and a rectangular block/set of drawers front stage, slightly stage right, facing away from the audience, with a toaster and coffee machine, and 2 mugs on it There is another mug in the drawers below.. The block comes up to about chest height. Stage right, there is a set of high cupboards, containing cereals, bread, bowls, spoons, etc. breakfast things. A man staggers in, groaning, suffering from a headache. He walks slowly to the kettle, and starts to boil himself some water for a cup of coffee. Another man pokes his head round the side of the door slowly. Both men have messy hair and clothes, and sunken eyes, and at first, talking takes great concentration.
TOM: Make it two.
TOM: Two mugs.
MIKE: Oh. He starts pouring.
TOM: No. Two mugs.
MIKE: I’ve got two mugs out.
TOM: Yeah, but I want two mugs, and you want one. He staggers in.
TOM: After a night like that, I badly need some.
They stand in silence, one measuring out a large amount of coffee, the other staring at the kettle.
MIKE: What… what happened?
TOM: I can’t remember… there was a white toilet I seem to remember being sick in… or around…
MIKE: No, I mean, why were we drinking?
TOM (smiling): Wait, I’ve got a good line for this.
TOM: You know, you say that, and then I say something really witty back. Short pause.
MIKE: Why were we drinking?
TOM: Because – No, I’ve forgotten it.
MIKE: Oh, what an anticlimax.
TOM: I thought you were in the shower, anyway.
MIKE: I thought you were.
TOM: I heard the water running.
MIKE: Oh, did we leave it running last night.
TOM: I… don’t think I had a shower.
MIKE: Me neither.
TOM (slowly, making sure he gets it right): To forget that we’ve got a drinking problem!
TOM: That’s the witty line! Pause.
MIKE: But I don’t have a drinking problem.
TOM: No, neither do I. Drinkings not the problem. It’s when to stop that I fall down. Or I fall down when I stop. One or the other.
MIKE: Tom! You’re jokes are bad enough when you’re sober! Don’t try my patience.
MIKE: So, who’s in the shower? They listen. Silence.
TOM: No one.
MIKE: Good. That’s settled then.
TOM: But I heard it running a minute ago.
MIKE: I think I did too.
TOM: Maybe it was something else.
MIKE: Is it raining.
MIKE: Not that then.
TOM: No. A beautiful girl, wrapped revealingly in a tight dressing gown, walks in. Her hair is wet.
GIRL: I feel much better now. Nothing like a shower to clear your head in the morning. Tom and Mike stand in silence looking at her.
GIRL: What’s wrong with you two? Oh. I see you’re making me a cup of coffee (seeing the three cups), but no thanks, I’ll be fine. I’ll be back in a minute, I’m just going to dry my hair.
MIKE (recovering): Err… don’t worry, I’ll drink it. She has left. They have both woken up now, and start to get breakfast things out of various cupboards.
TOM: Drink what?
MIKE: The coffee.
TOM: But you were going to anyway.
MIKE: Yes but – who is she? Where did you find her, and why didn’t you tell me?
TOM: I was about to ask you that too.
MIKE: You mean you didn’t bring her back?
TOM: Then you must have. She can’t have just broken in.
MIKE: A night of pleasure, and I’ve completely forgotten it! I don’t think so.
TOM: You probably fell asleep!
MIKE: YOU did! I’ve never seen her before!
GIRL (re-entering): Seen who before?
MIKE: Erm, that old lady outside.
TOM: Mike’s a bit paranoid about, er, people breaking in, and things.
GIRL: Oh. For a minute I’d thought you’d forgotten who I am. (jokily) You were very drunk at the time.
TOGETHER (insistent): No! I , er we, er I haven’t forgotten! No!
GIRL: Good. You’re obviously better at holding your drink than I thought. Silence, as she combs back her hair, and gets some cereal.
MIKE: Er… yeah… I’ve just got to go and get dressed.
TOM: Me too.
GIRL: But you haven’t finished your coffee!
TOM: It can wait.
MIKE: I prefer it cold. They walk offstage hurriedly together.
Heat is hot. Did you know this? And not in the sexy way. I’ve heard the expression “it sucks me dry”, and maybe it does some places, but Barcelona has a humid heat, much worse this year than last. I think here, I sweat all my energy out.
And then, this evening, I went to a comedy meeting, and tried to be funny for 3 and a half hours, which robbed me of what little energy I retained.
I had the grand old scheme of writing a short story in serial. In fact, I have 2 stories that could be candidates for this. Two stories that I’ve plotted out, and know what’s going to happen, so I’m just missing words on a page. And, now that I think about it, a third that sitting there, in need of a dustin’ and a postin’.
However, since none of these has more than 2 coherent consecutive paragraphs, that will have to wait, and today, I’ll dredge the old cupboards for something else. Pictures to follow when I’m more awake or not busy (i.e. not tonight or tomorrow)
I’ve dredged, and I’ve got two shorties for you.
How Fire Licks
The salamander’s tongue is
dry as it licks
at the blackened edges
that shrivel, shrinking
from its burning touch
like your thin tongue
licks your soft lips
– but can’t reach your
And secondly, a little silly:
A poem about
writing a poem?
It’s been done.
How about a
a poem about
writing a poem?