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.

Jigsaw

Hey guys.

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.

Jigsaw

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.

Tomatoes

Arghblarg.

Blog. I owe you more things. It’s not that I’ve not been writing…. it’s more that I’ve not been posting. More things will appear. Presumably this weekend, we’ll have 3 (that’s right 3) little bits.

This is a flash fiction. A friend of mine wrote a flash fiction the other day about a woman making a cup of tea, and if he posts it to his blog, then I shall post a link to it and stuff. In the mean time, here’s a flash fiction I wrote the other day about a woman making a cup of tea. To clarify, this is a different story, not his story stolen and plagarised.

Tomatoes

mrs duckIt was a grey day out, and windy, but her daughter was insisting. Allison had always been demanding as a little girl, and though she was now a mother of two, she still had a way of carrying herself that made Margaret give up and go along with it. They would go down to the duck pond with the little ones and feed the ducks. Margaret was making tea, taking out three mugs, putting the kettle on the Aga, then turning back and putting one of the mugs back in the cupboard.

Allison was off somewhere with the baby, who was crying about something. Margaret supposed that meant she was in charge of little Steve, but then Steve seemed to consider himself quite capable these days.

He had, after all, spent half of his childhood running about the old farmhouse. He knew all the little corners, knew what he could touch and what he shouldn’t. Margaret found herself comparing his eager survey to hers on that day, when she’d first moved in. Back then, her father-in-law had put in that creaking black stove, especially for her. Coal burning, it had been, and a darn sight better than whatever had come before it. An accomplished cook, she had upgraded to the Aga when they could afford it, which now stood dusty. But both, she reflected, had kept them warm through the winters.

A young bride, she’d walked round the house with a mix of excited pride and despair at how much work there was to be done. She’d had to convert an upstairs room for the summer help, and she’d kept his bed and board. It was a big place, and it took a good long time to clean, especially without washing machines or dryers or dish washers. Lunch for her husband and all the workers at midday, when this kitchen, now so quiet, had buzzed with talk and heat. And Allison and her older brother and sister, eventually.

All of the things little Steve couldn’t touch were things that she’d bought, or at the very least approved, over the years. All of his hiding places, his mother had found in her turn. In that strange way that children and grandchildren mimic one another, both Allison then and Steve now held a certain reverenced awe for Margaret’s bedroom, with its neatly tucked sheet corners, not to be disturbed. She’d not told Allison, but for the last two days Margaret had taken to sleeping in the guest room. It was the other side of the house, and the air felt different in there.

Of course, there were things that needed talking about. Allison’s brother would be coming home from agricultural college, and so Margaret needed to spruce up the old bedrooms for him and his family. But mercifully, today was not that day.green toms

Today was a day with little wellingtons and anoraks by the door, and egg and cress sandwiches, and the leftover loaf for the ducks. She poured the now boiling water in the teapot, and turned to the window again, wondering if it would rain, like she felt. Sometimes a miserable day was just what you needed.

She realised she’d forgotten to put the tea bags in the pot, so put them in and stirred them with a spoon. The bang of a door told her that Steve had been in the little white conservatory by what was officially the front door, although of course everyone used the back door these days, which led out onto the farm.

The baby upstairs had stopped crying. That was one of the joys of being a grandmother, she reflected. You had the kids when they were good, and the parents dealt with them in their moods. The positives without the negatives. Whenever her grandchildren visited, Margaret was filled with a kind of warm glow, and although today was no exception, it somehow felt simultaneously weaker and stronger, as though the fire had grown stronger, but she was colder, distanced from it.

“Granny,” Steve had trotted solemnly into the room.

“Yes, dear?”

“I’ve watered Poppa’s tomato plants.”

“Thank you.”

“The tomatoes are still green, but he said they’d turn red soon.” This wasn’t a question; he was informing her. She nodded.There was a pause, and she turned back to the tea, but she knew by the way he was standing, he wasn’t done.

“Granny?” he said, fidgeting. “Is there a greenhouse in heaven?”

She looked down at him, and her eyes welled up again, only this time, she was smiling brightly, as brightly as she could muster.

“Yes, Steve. Yes, there is.”

“Oh, good,” he said, and she could hear the relief in his voice. Satisfied, he ran off, and Margaret looked out the window again, crying quietly and thinking of tomatoes.