Things to put in ink

story |noun| a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader

The finish line for the first module of Luís’ FIFA Master is in plain sight. And with this will come the end of Leicesterhood as I know it. Yay – obviously! But also, a more thoughtful “oh my.” That means the end of the first chunk of my literary project too and that gives me the jitters.

How has it gone? Am I any good yet? How many pieces have I produced? How many pages? How has my feedback been so far? Are people reading my blog (and by the way, yes they are!)? Have I been reading enough literature? Have I been reading enough about writing? Have I been working on my vocabulary? How many writing websites are on my MacBook’s bookmark list? Have I met any serious scribblers? Will I meet my literary goals this year? Wait – what were those again? Will I still be a writer when the FIFA Master is done? Will the law call me back? Do I miss the law and that life? … and the questions just keep spiraling and spiraling, like a baby’s mobile in a tornado – there goes the chicken and then the cow.

Some days begin with Zeit coaxing me out of bed with the smell of fresh coffee. It’s a trick of course. I should know better by now. As soon as I’m up, he begins smacking me over the head with a barrage of questions phrased much like those above. I try to crawl back into bed, but even Geist pushes me into the shower at that point. Other days, it’s Geist’s more gentle approach that invites me into the day. As he strokes my hair and slowly peels back the duvet, he reminds me how precious an opportunity it is to be able to write like this, how each short story I read teaches me something about character development, pace and structure, how each draft I slave over develops my literary voice, how each bit of feedback I get helps get rid of my writing canes, how each author interview teaches me something about method, overcoming challenges and the importance of friendship, how each book on writing gives me a few new authors or publication titles to look into, as I skim the chapters on alcoholism and depression. It sounds like I’ll need at least one of these to have a shot at getting published. Hmm…

But you know what? I’m ok with all these provocations. They keep me on my toes. I am excited. And, yes, every morning, scared shitless.

As Elizabeth Gilbert put it very eloquently in her Ted Talk, I just need to show up for work, flex my muscles, hone my skills and beg divine inspiration to throw me some crumbs. I actually think crumbs are about as much as I can chew just now. Hopefully, over time I’ll get better. And then I’ll get good. And maybe then great. But I agree with Raymond Carver – a recent love – when he said in his Paris Review interview that there is fierce pleasure in the process.

Of course there are many moments of brain fuzz. You know – those moments when your brain feels full of fuzz balls and you can’t get a clean thought out of it. Thankfully, I’ve managed to develop some very personal techniques to deal with these.

A recent technique is the tea test where tea is used as a measurement of time. A cup of tea takes time to drink. Have I let this mug go cold? Then I’m focused. Has it disappeared from the mug without my noticing? Focused again. Anything else, I’m misbehaving. I misbehave a lot. And I also drink a lot of tea.

And when it gets really bad, I walk into the Leicester cold with a nude… head. Well, as nude as it can be with the serious tresses I sport. The cold air does wonders to air out my thoughts and cool down the overheated cogs of my ever churning brain. I remember the first time I did this. I was in high school studying for exams and there had been a snowstorm. I’d been stuck in my bedroom studying for days and I couldn’t bare the stifled air any longer. The hot lamp, the hot pages, my hot hair. So I, inappropriately dressed for the weather, got up and took a walk around the block. And it was marvelous – as refreshing as ice cubes in a gin and tonic. (If you are truly desperate and can’t leave the house for whatever reason, washing your hair with cold water works too. Just did it. I have a towel atop my head turban style as we speak. Waiting for a package to be delivered.)

They say writing is a lonely business and it is. But I certainly feel the support from my silent army – the people who care enough to give me feedback on my work, the people who read my blog and send me little messages saying how much they liked this or that, asking me when my next post will go up, the people who randomly send me links to things they think might help – like my high school friend who lives in a whole other continent and practices an entirely different profession did this morning after seeing my post on Facebook.

As I explained to a friend this week, I’m a writer because I write. Because I get nervous when I am away from it for too long. Because writing has become how I see the world. To write, for me, is life affirming and a little all consuming. I once read an article by the son of Sophia Mello Breyner Andersen, a Portuguese poet who writes beautifully about the sea. He said his mother would constantly lose them on the street when they were small. She was just so lost in her head. They ended up getting used to being the ones to keep an eye on her when they went out. I have to admit I can kind of relate. I guess that’s why I don’t cycle. Leave that to those that don’t get caught up in conversations with imaginary characters.


The stuff of celebrations

Caught after a storm yesterday, on an outing to photograph abandoned buildings.

celebration |noun| the action of marking one’s pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social activity

For 24 hours now, I’ve been in denial that I’m a writer. It’s not going so well. I keep dragging my fingers across my notebook’s empty lined pages. I keep flicking open my laptop, re-applying my lipstick and alphabetizing the spice rack. Truth is, I keep getting discouraged by the mental amplification of the negative feedback I was ambushed by yesterday, as if some evil voice had screamed into my cave. But you know what, evil voice, I’m going to write you into a corner. And do you know why? Because my writing voice may be flawed, but – unlike yours – it lives with me and, just like a dog needing to pee, can get pretty damn annoying when ignored for too long. So, I’m taking it for a walk!

And today the theme grabbing my fancy is celebrations – birthdays, sextivities and missed parties.

As far as birthdays go, today is mine. It’s actually been a day similar to many others. I guess that’s because the special thing I wanted to do today is what I’ve been doing everyday for the last 2 months. (God, isn’t that an annoying thing to say?! And yes I AM saying that with a delicious malicious tinge in my voice!) Jokes aside, to be able to do this is a gift: I am given the circumstance in which I CAN write (objective availability), regardless of whether I can write (subjective talent). I’m thankful to be free from the chains of a sometimes soul-crushing job, I’m thankful my husband and friends are so supportive, I’m even thankful to be in a place sufficiently uninteresting to give me the discipline to begin (coochy coo to Leicester-poo.) And so today, I write.

Our overpriced, crap, terribly managed flat in Leicester (coochy coo to the landlord too!) is located in front of a club with an unrestricted license – something that, as so many things, I hadn’t even realized was possible until I moved to Leicester. These festivities – or sextivities, as I call them – offer us two unique moments of entertainment. The first takes place at the beginning of the evening with a little game I like to call “Pimp Star”. This involves peeping out of our bedroom window and making fun of the shivering girls as they queue to get into the club. (I was recently told that, much like foot binding traditions of yore, these ladies are trained from a tender age to withstand the cold temperatures through a technique involving uncovered prams in freezing temperatures. This causes them to accumulate an insulation layer of “brown fat”, which allows them to perform these mating rituals later in life. An interesting theory I have yet to Google, but that seems scientifically plausible.) The platform shoes, the low-cut tops, the shiny elastic trousers – my, my they all look like decorations on a pimp’s Christmas tree. So, you see, the winner of “Pimp Star” picks out the outfit that deserves the star spot on the Christmas tree. The second moment of eloquent entertainment usually comes as early as 4 am or as late as 7. It’s called “Serenade Me a Confession”. This is where the drunkards loudly serenade us from below our first floor window with their deepest darkest secrets. My favorite numbers so far are “Nana doesn’t know I’m gay”, “I’m from the Caribbean, man” and “Steven, you peed in my beer.” Don’t worry, guys – we’re recording. The Best of album is soon to come out. That’s actually the only reason I still haven’t applied the little old lady treatment people get for pulling this crap in my neck of the woods – oh, yes! I’m talking about the ever-feared bucket of cold water out the window people get in Lisbon-shire. And if you’re thinking I don’t qualify as a little old lady yet… true… but let me remind you that I’m 33 today. I can at least do a teacup.

For all these wonderful, colorful anecdotes, Leicester does sometimes leave me with the feeling that I am stepping into a party that has just danced its last “Opa’Gangham Style”. Wherever you look, you see a skyline dominated by the odd church spire and these decrepit empty heartless concrete buildings. They dishearteningly stand there as a testament to an economic boom that has long left for some better destination. Oppressive to the city’s psyche, these behemoths are nonetheless a privileged perch from which to gaze down on the city. They have been abandoned and yet they themselves cannot leave. Instead, they remain faithfully grounded, offering the spectacle of their fleshy decay to anyone that may show interest. They remind me of old tattered prostitutes. I find them poetic and contradictory and have taken to obsessively snapping their portraits.

I guess life’s celebrations are a moment to pause and be thankful and joyous about our beginnings, our endings and all the wonderful stuff in between. I love it. I’ll take it all.



The deflated tribute

tribute |noun| an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration

Somewhere stored in the curves and bends of my mind is an image of a woman sitting on a sanded rowboat on the shore of a lake. She is in the second half of her life and has occupied the space allotted to her on this planet quite generously. I see her sitting on a wooden plank in her black Lycra bathing suit that shows off her vast confident rotundness. She is magnificent in all her fleshy Freudian – Lucian, not Sigmund – expansiveness. The female body is truly a thing of beauty.

I wanted to celebrate this sentiment. Pay tribute to it. To explore the space my own body occupies. But as so many things I put my mind to, this wasn’t going to be easy! For those of you that don’t know me, I’m teeny-tiny. Some days, I’m so small I’m barely there.

So after doing my research into what Leicester had to offer, I decided to give belly-dancing a shimmy. Belly-belly, hear I come!

Leicester is a place with a rather unique sense of logic. An example of this is the very curious local habit of putting approximate addresses on advertisements, but with the certainty of a door number, street name and postcode. Often times, you’ll arrive at the given address and find yourself staring at an abandoned office building with bricked-up windows and some form or other of gang art, until a passerby tells you that the place you are looking for is really one street over, on a building with no number, on the second floor above the kebab shop. Of course, because that makes total sense! Oh, Leicester… je t’aime! This was going to take some serious resourcefulness and perhaps even some James Bond gadgets. Basically, I cross-referenced info from the dance studio’s website, Google maps, my TomTom GPS and topped it off by tapping into local knowledge. Thank God I left the house two hours earlier, huh?! Anyway after several attempts, I was able to ascertain that the dance studio was loosely located somewhere in the Bermuda triangle. So on Day 1, there I was in my leggings and coin belt ready to get down and jingle-jangle.

I’ve been doing this for a month now and, much to Luís’ disappointment, I am no closer to being the next Shakira. Let me demystify this right now – belly-dancing is hard work (and I’m utterly convinced that you can’t do it unless you have an extra layer of belly fat, which I’ve been working on). It’s not a coincidence all those belly-belly moves sound like a mixture of medieval torture techniques and something Hulk Hogan might do in the ring. “Mister, I’m going to hip drop, belly roll, snake arm and hip twist your ass out of here!” It’s really serious business.

If it weren’t for my wonderful teacher Karen, I would have turned in my coins long ago (aka, 3 weeks ago). The belly-belly Bermuda triangle is way out of my comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable and discomforting. As the roof menaces to cave in over our heads from the Bollywood dance class going on upstairs, Karen smiles, encourages and shimmies away, as the rest of us – those that are too thin, those that are too uncoordinated, those that have welded joints – try to keep up as the gripping music of the darbuka drum gallops on. “Shoulders back, belly button in, knees soft, back straight, chest up, bum in… and don’t forget to smile while you do your vertical figure of eight!” Uh-huh. Surely, there’s a secret camera here somewhere filming this for some Youtube joke. A smile breaks open across my face as I begin imagining possible titles for such a delectable snippet. I at least got that part of Karen’s instructions right!

“Pelvis in, ladies – this isn’t pole-dancing!” Besides being a wonderful dancer, Karen speaks beautifully of the art of belly-dancing. It’s all about controlled movements, the magic of the music, the art of subtle suggestion. It’s all very convincing. And yet, I’m afraid that my tribute to the female form is doomed to fail utterly. Sorry, all ye bountiful women! I’m giving it my best. At least I can console myself with the fact that this new task is helping me develop new neurological pathways. They say that this is good for warding off dementia later in life. So maybe I am a sad excuse for a tribute to the rotundness of the female form, but at least I have my entire lucid life to think about it!

Enjoy this while you’re at it: 

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