Just a quick post to say I have a story on it’s way – one I promised way back here – the tale of my encounter with the fox spirit statues at the Inari shrine.
This story was originally a tale in the original sense – told only orally, and never written down. I performed it last year at Vent!, a life-storytelling event here in Barcelona. I recorded that version, which I’m going to listen to again for refinements, but I’ve just written up the tale as I remember it. It is true… but it still sends shivers down my spine. Hope it will for you too!
And, it’s not my greatest work, but I feel I shouldn’t be posting only news, so here’s a little haiku for you to tide you over:
my tired eyes squint –
the screen’s glow the only light
left from this long day.
(yes, I know, I shouldn’t write in the dark. But sometimes inspiration takes me after I’ve gone to bed, and typing it is the quickest way to get it down.)
Bubbling kettle, watch –
your clean steam stirs no colour
into flat milk skies.
My parents have a very large house, but when you’re only home for 3 and a half days, there’s always something to distract you. Having lived in cities for 4 and a half years, I’d forgotten how hard it is to find peace and quiet in this house. There’s always something to do, or something I’m supposed to have done. Writing this, for example, is a nice way to put off going through my room and sorting out all the bags and boxes and drawers of things I hoarded over the years.
I know haikus are supposed to carry some hint of a season, but the weather today is so seasonless, I instead chose to write a haiku that seemed to have a lack of season. I’ve read a few haikus that gave personalities to inanimate objects (which I guess is the animism part of Shinto that I’ve always liked), so I thought I’d risk talking to a kettle. And finally, I decided that I would avoid the word “tea”.
Way back here, I argued that the haiku is an unnecessarily complex form to write in, in English… which I decided after I realised how easy they are to write in Japanese. I still haven’t decided on whether an English haiku should be 4,6,4, or 6,8,6… probably the former for mine, as I have a tendency to lay the adjectives on a bit thick anyway. I still respect the Japanese haiku as a work of creative ingenuity, and it gets my mind working, but I find it frustrating when I’m trying to ADD words to make the poem work. Poetry should be about conciseness, surely? About finding the one right word to make it work. In this case, this could be a two word poem, and I’d still be happy:
Remind me one day to tell you my new theory about the pleasures of poetry taken from a neurolinguistic perspective. I can’t tell you now, I’ve left my notes in Barcelona. This Masters malarkey has just been endlessly busy for the last 3 months. I deliberately chose to do this Masters in a year and a half, to give myself more time and less stress. The
reality, however, has been that up until about the first week of March, I’ve had just as much work to do as everyone doing the Masters in a year… except those people are JUST doing the Masters, and I’m teaching 14 hours a week (not including planning / travelling time), and performing stand up comedy, and running Improvised Comedy workshops, and performing improvised comedy once a month…
… but you’ll be pleased to know that from now on, I will only have about two lectures a week to attend. And I only have about 3 projects left to hand in. We’ve finally reached the time of year when all the 1-year Masters students are working on their theses, and I’m sitting back and trying to decide what to write mine about. As a result, I will finally have more time to read books for fun! And write…. as long as there aren’t more distractions!
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:
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
I yank on socks
and bolt my toes down
under leather and laces
In the end,
only my head remains
to this endless suit.
Soon, at work, that
too will sink.
Today, my suit is heavy.
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.
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:
Remind me why I
live between Spain and Japan
when I prefer blondes?
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.
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.
This is my last blog post for November. For this one, I have chosen an easy poem to understand – this is because I think some of our students here in Japan are also interested in reading some of my writing.
This poem is inspired by my friend Lily, the last time I saw her this summer. She’s four (nearly five now), and when I came to Japan, I didn’t see her for four or five months. When I came back, she didn’t hug me, or kiss me, or even say anything special. She just wanted me to play a game with her. For her, it was easier to imagine I’d never left. But then, after 3 days, I left again:
Children Never Say Goodbye
Children hate to say goodbye,
They think that if they don’t,
the leaving friend will have to stay,
but (by and large) they won’t.
Perhaps their attitude is right
for other reasons though,
for if you never say “Goodbye”,
or “Sad to see you go”;
don’t mark the change from here to there
from near to far to gone,
just “see ya” is enough for me,
“I’ll see you later on,”
this may sometimes feel like a lie,
but then, you wait and see,
sometimes the days and months just fly
before more you and me.
It’s not my best poem, but it is simple, and it rhymes, and I like it.
Also, here’s my last haiku for the month. It’s getting cold here (though of course not as cold as England), and sometimes I see the big plastic ice cream cones outside shops:
Funny now to think
of those hot summer days when
I lived for ice cream.
Every break from class
I rush to the computer
and pray for wickets.
Hey all. It’s getting towards the end of the month and there’s only two posts up. Why? Well, excuses are lovely things, but the only one worth spouting is it’s the dreaded time of year where I have to write reports, and while they’re not too onerous a task, they’re mind-sapping.
The above haiku was a silly one I threw together about today. For the first time, well, ever, I’m making the effort and paying attention to the Ashes (giant up-to-25-day cricket competition between the best two teams, England and Australia). This was written during a day of Australia batting, of course.
Before we get to the story, I’m making a new Category in the side called “Haiku”. I know Haiku are poems too, but I’m going to class them differently so it’s easier to find the haiku if you’re looking for them.
So, I’ve got some Flash Fiction for you today. It is, strangely, a sequel to Tomatoes, although that’s not apparent by any character names, or by the narrative voice, or location…. or anything. It has the same source material; my grandmother, telling me stories from when her grandchildren were just little. She has a natural gift for storytelling, and perhaps this has something to do with her being born a Ridgwell (there, the “original” spelling of my pen name). It’s called:
Aunt Wendy’s New Home
You don’t remember? Well, this story is the type you always liked the best – it’s one about you.
You’ve finished your book;
that alone is proof to me
that time is passing.
The above haiku is one I wrote a month or so ago, and I was quite fond of it. I still am, but now I find it strange that, when re-reading it, it seems to have a different emotion to the one I had when I wrote it. I suppose the difference is it at what moment time stops – either it’s an endless bore or an endless pleasure. So perhaps that’s the reason I’m so fond of it, because one of the ways I identify a good poem is that it says different things to different people – well, this one says two different things to one person, so that’s got to be a good start.
Through bright maple cliffs
we hear the white water rush;
Mist hides those dark falls.
I decided this month that attempting the NaNoWriMo while working a full day and a full week would be a little bit too hard for me, not to mention cutting into valuable recuperation / exploration time. Instead, I’ve set a more reasonable goal – 4 posts minimum in this fine month of November. And each post must have at least one haiku as well as its other content. Hence the above haiku, constructed (I believe that’s the correct verb) while visiting Nikko last weekend. I did eventually see the waterfalls (one of Japan’s Top Three, like almost everything in Japan) when the clouds parted, but while that’s poetic, it wouldn’t fit into 3 lines.
In sweat-summer heat
first the thunder, then lightning
this backward storm strike –
Sharp the rise and fall
this faceless pain inflicted
leaves an evening burn.
It’s some haikus, my old friends. I went to my first and certainly not my last evening of Kendo Club today. Had I known such a thing existed on my campus, I would have gone sooner. I even quizzed half my students about it, but I was clearly asking the wrong questions, the wrong students, or questions too difficult for their level. Two thirds didn’t know – one third said they did kendo at high school, but now don’t. Kendo is Japanese fencing, to sum it up briefly, and I was unprepared for the unrestrained aggression and violence, the pounding of the floor, the echoing bone-like thwack of the sticks – respectively the “thunder” and the “lightning” in the first verse. And it is definitely thunderstorm season here – there’s one every third day, pretty much.