Lanky Girl with Guitars

15 May

It’s been a week since I sent in grades.

A week of summer break, and already my place of summer employment has me on the schedule for some 9-5 shifts Thursday and Friday.

“It was nice while it lasted,” I think. My better self reminds me that I still have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to enjoy my break. Well, I had Monday. It’s about half seven now, and I’ve spent most of the day lying to myself that I would actually revise this Silko article I need to send out. It has been on my mind all day, but it took a backseat to learning some new songs on the guitar.

A few days ago, I dug out my partner’s old electric guitar. He doesn’t play, but it’s a guitar he got from some old pal of his when he was a teenager. For him, skateboarding won, but I’m glad he kept the guitar. I convinced him just a few months ago not to sell it because “when I’m on break I’m going to try and play it.” I’ve never actually owned an electric, so they have always seemed exotic to me–even when I was in a band, gigging, and virtually surrounded by them.

In school I was a percussionist. This was disappointing to my father, who wanted me to play something dainty like flute. It was also somewhat disappointing to learn that the bulk of my school band experience would include xylophone and marimba…not a kit. I was lucky if I got to play the big bass drum at a concert, but mainly I was the crash cymbals, triangle, and random noise makers player. Ha.

In high school my madre took me to a local guitar and drum shop, and she bought me a beautiful acoustic electric, with mother of pearl around the sound hole. It was big, which was good because I’ve always been lanky. I learned how to play all the open chords I could, but never persisted enough to master bar chords on that thing. Any song with an F chord in it was going to have to get a pass from me.

That guitar died a horrible, still tragic death. I was practicing with a friend in El Paso; we had created a set for a gig in a cave that never happened. We were in his backyard and I thought that I would balance my guitar against some chair. It was spring. El Paso is windy in spring. Thrack! The wind took my guitar and body slammed it into the cement. It snapped the damn thing in half. There was no point and no way to repair this beautiful instrument. I tried to hold it together, but it really hurt. Still hurts. That was the only guitar I’d ever had, and it was the one I’d written my first songs on. So it goes.

We had spent so much time on learning the songs that we thought regardless of my guitar’s death, we should record. I can’t remember now, but it may have been that I was leaving for Glasgow and that was the rush…it might also have been that he was leaving town…whatever it was, there was a demand on getting these tunes down in digital format. We did and that was the end of my songwriting for a long time.

When I lived in Glasgow and became part of the band of two guitarists and a drummer, I was of course relegated to the bass. I enjoyed it a lot. A nice blend of rhythm and power. It took me ages to be able to play with some freedom, but we did practice a lot back then, for three hours at a time, so I just kept up best I could.

At the end of my living there, I was finally at a place where I could write songs I wanted to write. That doesn’t mean they were any good, it just means that I was finally feeling like a part of me had mastered a part of the music world I was only ever a spectator of. I had written songs as an angsty or in-love teen, played them, and even recorded some with that acoustic electric. Let me tell you, playing any kind of 60’s garage psych influenced anything on an acoustic style guitar loses a bit of edge necessary for the full effect. My songwriting style never quite made the jump from singer-songwriter to rock’n’roll band.

Which brings me to today, this evening. I’ve sat for three hours on and off learning and relearning how to play guitar. The bar chords are so much easier than they ever were on my acoustic electric, and so my mental and muscle memory are actually picking up very quickly where I last left off. Years ago. It’s very inspiring–enough to keep me from revising that article, the only item on my agenda today.

So I sat and I strummed. The fingers on my left hand bulging with heat and red roundness. My fingertips have small, white ovals where I hope my callouses will return. It’s so different to be sitting in the living room with an electric guitar, effectively mine, plugged into a tiny amp and making music again. As I played through the few songs I have committed to memory over the years, it all rushed back. My fingers just kind of knew where to go, and the results weren’t nearly as dreadful as I thought they’d be.

I’ve a long way to go still, but for some reason when I would pull up the chords for a song I was no longer intimidated. I didn’t feel out of place. I didn’t feel shy or inhibited about how much of a novice I am. I just kept on playing and paid little mind to the myriad mistakes. “I will get stronger.” “That’s a new chord.” “Maybe a few more times through.” It’s intoxicating. There’s no judgment here. There is only me and the guitar and my craving to be better at playing the guitar, something I never thought was for me. Today I guess it is. I was so happy playing through some new songs, managing to get quicker at transitions between chords, and not even wincing at the presence of an F.

I purposefully shied away from gaining this ability all of this time. The timing to pick it up couldn’t be more perfect. Not only do I feel a huge rush of joy, I feel that this new creative way to express myself will be most welcome over the summer ahead.



Intensity and Absurdity

9 May

Holy what, I feel like writing on this here dusty blog site. Fresh off the most taxing semester of my degree, I’m somehow invigorated to produce.

It could have something to do with the fact that there are no more essays to grade, my job at the tutoring center is on pause until the fall, and we just got back from a conference in Las Vegas this past weekend that has inspired and motivated me in a way I didn’t think possible in the first week of May–a time when scholars are on autopilot at best. It could be that a free hour was unheard of all semester, so now sitting here beginning my summer break with seven hours to do with whatever I please is just begging for me to ooze output.

Whatever the reason — it’s refreshing to write uninhibited and unjudged. Term papers, applications for awards, abstracts, presentation papers, and countless emails…they all have a way of stifling the love of the written word I use to harbor unabashedly.

Life here is intense. The heat is intense. The workload is intense. My partner has been tackling college and a full time job for a year and a half without any breaks and I’m so proud of him, but damn is it also intense. Presenting at conferences (I did three in the last three months, with one ahead in June) is intense. Comprehensive exams, where you’ve packed every thought you could about every scrap of text you’ve ever read, into your already-taxed brainbox is intense. Finances are intense.

And then, all of a sudden, the academic part stops for summer.

Papers are turned in. Presentations pass. Grading is over for another three months, and therefore so is most lesson planning. 

It’s a positive jolt.

In the past I’ve generally succumbed to a numb and deadened state post-semester, where I wrap myself up in my blanket (despite the fact it’s never cold here), and binge eat and watch shows. A cold of some sort usually appears, but I welcome it because I’m happy to ride it out while I lie around all day and night in mute celebration that another semester is behind me. Progress through time means real progress, right?

But this time is different.

The conference in Las Vegas demonstrated to me a certain calibre in dealing with literarytexts that I’m not quite sure I’ve reached. I was humbled and intimidated — even though I received good feedback and some interest. We drove back Sunday, only a few hours before I presented, and gave myself Monday and Tuesday to veg before really getting back into it today.

Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, but this time I may forego the fetal-blanket-clutching schtick, skip right over the binging of food and shows, and maybe even the cold. I saw a few sessions on writing, editing, revising, and publishing, and I feel like the overwhelming consensus was: WRITE AND WRITE OFTEN. I’ve let the nonacademic writing slip away these last few years, but it might just be time to get back into it so that writing is no longer reserved to meet deadlines or pressure-related specifications. It might well be the oil for my rusty tin joints. See? I must get better at imagery…

So I have a few weeks left in May where I’ve got heaps of time to write and read and polish some of my academic work, and I really want to hold myself to doing that. I have a tendency to get distracted. Like: Ooh, I’d like to make soap today. Or a radio show. Or bake. Or learn to play new songs on the bass…or the guitar. I haven’t painted in ages…Focus has historically been an issue. Using this space might be one way to begin to work out some writing kinks and tight spots before I feel I am a writer again.

I mean, I know I am and always have been a writer, but being surrounded by so many amazing writers these last few years makes it an ever-harder label to embrace. Who am I in all of this? I’m just some desert lady writing about desert shit, throwing some fancy terms in there in order to show I’ve thought about how others before me have thought about it. And how they thought about the people before them thinking about it, too. And somehow I have to synthesise it all and make it sound better than all of those people. You really do have to sit back and laugh at it all sometimes. Well, I do at least–because I appreciate absurdity anywhere I can.

Despite absurdity–embracing it, even–I do endeavour to succeed in this academic realm, because it just feels right. I know that’s an awful reason…feeling…but it’s true. And if I try and fail, that’s alright too. But so far, I’ve been able to stay afloat and put one foot in front of the other, taking Bob-style baby steps, and I’m still curious to see where I’m taking myself.

This life gets odder with every blink.

People I meet often tell me how many lifetimes I seem to have lived. It does feel that way. It feels a lot of ways. I’m attracted to intensities of all sorts. I also just keep going.

This end of semester I want to keep that spirit and just keep going. Keep writing, keep reading, keep moving. Keep you posted.

Making Sense of This Summer

27 Jun

So, once again, it’s been a while.

Not only am I a resident of the American Southwest once again, but I am also living here with the love of my life and with the first year of my PhD behind me.

Life here is different. It’s not quite what we knew in El Paso, but of course there are so many similarities with the climate/landscape. All I ever saw at first were differences, of course. But now I see similarities. El Paso still has the best sunsets.

I even got a job for the summer, by the way. It came out of nowhere and I’m so glad it did, but man it’s been exhausting. I actually had to call in once last week and am sitting here at home today resting because I’m on antibiotics and in pain from a strange bout of physical afflictions. I won’t go into details, but it’s odd how unrelated all of them are whilst still being so many.

Trying to get myself to read on weekends, because, you know, reading. Reading is everything. Reading is learning is knowing is writing is not knowing. I’m very lucky to have the advisor I have — he’s been pretty understanding about my need to make money instead of read all summer, and he is also very helpful in guiding my way so that I might make my own way soon enough.

Yesterday I cried several times. I cried because I’m so sick of being sick. It’s been two weeks and one thing after the other has been popping up and I just think I’d be able to handle them one at a time but goddamn all at once makes time slow down and makes experience seem endless. I cried to my love and he consoled me and I felt okay for a little. Long enough to fall asleep with my arms wrapped around him and my head on his chest. He’s there for me in the most solid of ways.

It’s been a hard adjustment being here in this new place though. I know people now that I would consider friends, but much like starting out in Glasgow, they aren’t the kind of friends I feel I could bother all the time or when I need an emergency hang-out sesh. Additionally, it’s hard to make those kinds of friends when you already live with your best friend and partner. Plus we live pretty far from everyone I know (work or school), so there’s that.

I’m looking forward to uni starting up again, as the weeks have gone on at work I’ve had fun and I dig what I do, but I miss the over-intellectualisation of everything that happens in my circle at school. Glutton for punishment.

Maybe I’ll write again soon, but for now this is all I really care to. I have a day now open that I want to fill with projects I’ve been putting off but will probably fill with ice cream and binge-watching. Ach. Chin up. I need to start being proud of any progress instead of expecting all progress at once. Today, I wrote something. There.

the future ain’t what it used to be

18 Aug

Well, hello old friends.

I’m going to skip the usual “it’s been so long.” That seems to be par for the course.

The long and short of it is: I left Scotland in April of this year. It was one of thee most bitter sweet moments I’ve ever felt. Scotland, and more essentially Glasgow, had finally become that definition of ‘home’ I’d written about for years. That last year and especially those last few months I will cherish forever with joy and happiness. I built a life beyond my despair. I embraced change, moved along, gained the best of friends and learned to enjoy every day, rain or rain.

In January I was very ill (mentally mostly) after returning from a long trip back west. I was on the couch day and night, unmoving, not hungry, just sad and scared. I knew I had to apply for university. I knew my future depended one hundred percent upon the outcome of said applications. I spent those first few weeks in such a sorry state. If it weren’t for T I don’t know where I would have been by the end of it. Atop of this mountain of worry that had accumulated with my stench from not bathing was the paralysing fear that my ex would find out I was back in the country. Out of fear and some sort of unexplainable feeling I had left in November without really saying final goodbyes to anyone, but with them all under the impression that I wasn’t coming back. I don’t know why I just didn’t tell people, but I guess I figured if they knew I was coming back that my ex would know…and I didn’t know how to feel about that apart from scared, really.

Eventually through some unfortunate circumstances the jig was up. That was that. They knew. That last, horrid exchange was the final one and I bid it the best of riddance.

There were so many ways I wanted to cope. There were so many times I wanted to get lost in beating myself up. How could I have been so blind? How could I continue in such an unhealthy way? Why didn’t I listen to friends and family when they told me so much sooner? Pride. Ego. Youth. The truth is, none of this matters.

I could have easily taken to some less than savoury approaches of dealing, and occasionally, if I’ve had a really bad, really reflective day, I’m still tempted — I won’t lie, but I know that that’s wrong and base. Because to what point or purpose? The relief beyond the exposure is hollow. Nothing good can come from brooding on such a negative part of my life. The damage in my self is there and the only thing to do is to repair with love and time and positivity.

It’s especially hard because of social media/networking. I can’t ‘unfriend’ all people because they’re all friends, but I am still so traumatised that I occasionally entertain the ‘deactivate’ thing. Then I bounce back thinking, I can’t let this fear control my actions. Then I logged in Sunday (what would have been my wedding anniversary) and facebook’s latest “fuck all of you who are trying to move on” feature TimeHop decides to ask me if I wanna post my wedding pic to relive that with all of the friends new and old that I’ve made in the years since. How the fuck am I supposed to move on from something that has its tendrils lodged so deep into my cyber being? Will I ever be free? The answer, as we all know, is this: nothing dies on the internet.

Let’s move away from there, as I can feel my blood pressure rising. The whole point of starting this entry was to recap (briefly) and look ahead, but as I haven’t written in a while I guess it’s all just oozing out in it’s emotional glory.

Turns out I got accepted to a few different universities. A few of them offered to pay me a salary as a TA and one of those offered a few extra thousand bucks. But then there was one which took all these offers to task by offering me a fellowship for this first year (no teaching, just studying) and a TAship the subsequent years. A free ride. Yaldi.

I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed that whatever that January weirdness was eventually succumbed to a determined side of me that produced an application that yielded the fellowship that goes to the house that Jack bui–ahem, sorry.

I had a plan. Not only that, but if my fuzzy memory serves me right it was also around that time that the legalities of the divorce were sorted out, which meant I had no more legal business to attend to upon my leaving the country.

Steps were being made and as I was making them I started to realise that leaving was not going to be easy. That living my entire adult life in Scotland was going to have its effects on my returning home, to live with my parents. That I had managed to make friends in Glasgow that truly were there for me through all the good and bad shit. That I had been making music with some of the most brilliant and creative minds. Everything I was leaving was no longer tainted, I was leaving the life I built for myself, after the split. I was leaving on my own terms for my own reasons, but I was still leaving. God, it’s still so scary.

I wrote about those last months, but man those last weeks and even those last days…My bestest of friends threw me a leaving night and they were kind enough to let me fuck up one of our favourite songs on stage with them. The bill for that night was perfect, though missing pickles and ivies and bucky, but what do I want, a parade?

And then there was the pub quiz that had brought me a centre every Monday night and beyond. It was my last one and J and I had decided (upon my push, ha) to host. Unbeknownst to me, at some point during the quiz they handed out party poppers to all the tables and J gave a mushy speech and the bar gave me bubbly and the tears started along with a fantastic POP and the whole place was slow motion as the confetti swirled and soared. Then there was applause. It was beyond moving. You really understand where you stand when something like that happens. I knew how lucky I was, and I knew I had to leave anyway. Life is calling and I must go.

So with all of those memories and all of that support I had to just keep looking ahead. Final dinners, outings, road trips were all in order and boxes were packed and shipped.

Goodbye, Glasgow. Goodbye, my home who was like no home before.

The actual physical journey itself was grueling at best. It took something like 48 hours to get three flights to get back west. It was as if the universe was telling me, “you’re going to remember this forever.” Daunted but not discouraged I faced the option of sleeping on the Denver airport floor or reaching out to one of my best and oldest friends who I hadn’t seen in six years. It was strange how that all so serendipitously happened, but I look back on it now and see it as my kind and gentle welcome back. Somehow I was spared the immediate hugging and crying my mum the second I reached her by this generous friend who took my mind off all that bad stuff and made me laugh a whole lot about good times.

I fear losing the real thread of this entry, but I’m gonna keep truckin’ here because I’ve now almost reached where I wanted to end up when I started writing.

With a plan to move to Arizona at the start of August and with a new partner in my life, I spent the summer trying to relax and enjoy all the things I would miss about my hometown when I was in Glasgow. Eventually I really only started missing things from Glasgow, because that’s human fucking nature and sometimes it’s brutal like that.

That being said, I started looking at a future with this person, and my future in Arizona and with school. And that was nice. “The future ain’t what it used to be.” For me it had always been so unsure, so chaotic and complicated, and now I’m looking down the barrel at up to five years in a place I’ve never lived. Stability whacked me upside the head somehow.

We moved at the start of August and I think it has only in the last few days hit me that my move out here means I won’t be returning to live in Glasgow. All that time this summer almost felt like a holiday. But no. I am here. We are here. School is happening no matter if I have doubts about myself or not. Rent must get paid.

In a new place where the temperatures have been up to 118 degrees and sometimes stay in the 100s even at night. In a new place where I don’t know the street names or the restaurants. In a new place which feels like the old place which feels like such a distant memory.

But you know what? I think I’m overcoming the adjustment more every day and I feel lighter for it. I’m actually beginning to be excited and happy because this is the first time my life feels on track and normal in such a long time.

I feel like Glasgow is my Neverland and I’m the Peter Pan who has to leave and grow up. Forgive the extended metaphor but I never want to forget that I can fly. I never want to forget all that fun and spirit and heart that Glasgow showed me about myself. But I just couldn’t stay.

And now I have a certain knowing happiness.

I’m looking ahead knowing what’s past and I’m learning to trust hope again. I’m learning to trust love again. I’m hoping for and loving the idea of being happy. I feel like the dust is settled and I can start really making my way. Not starting over, but moving on again. To the edge of another horizon, under the watch of the desert stars which always drove me to dream and do.

let’s get political.

17 Sep

Every day I wake up I feel differently about my situation. Some days I wake up excited at the prospect of starting over back west, and others I wake up unsure I want to leave this place I’ve called my home for the last three-and-some years. It seems to me as if my life evolves in chunks. I spend a small chunk of years in a geographical location before a shift occurs. Obviously the shift across the pond was the largest I’ve ever experienced, but now here it is again. Unexpectedly, unplanned, unavoidable.

Perhaps making this all worse is the fact that September in general tends to have really beautiful, crisp yet sunny days. The leaves are going all kinds of reds, yellows, oranges something I never properly experienced in the desert. If I’ve learned anything throughout the years, it’s my sensitivity to the weather and nature. I’m extremely easily influenced by them in my moods and my writing.

I’m also swept up in all the referendum buzz. What a time to be here. Regardless of how the vote goes, it’s a monumental achievement that upwards of 90% of the people are registered. I walk through the streets in awe of all of the YES flags and signs. There are NO signs now too, of course, and occasionally even in the same window. It’s the action though. It’s the visibility of political engagement. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.

On the news in America and the UK there are different things reported than what I see here. It’s been such a peaceful and warm experience, and I have to write that way about the YES campaign, because I honestly have enjoyed their approach, their enthusiasm, and their knowledge. The NO campaign has been a bit of a thing to witness in the flesh. For me, someone who has taken chances when there is no surety, I can’t understand the idea of Better Together when Scotland has so long been an afterthought to those political giants down in London. Only now are we being told we are needed. As an outsider who has only lived in Scotland, any visit to England has included getting my Scottish money (still the British Pound) rejected and mention of kilts, haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars.

What’s happening right now, no matter which way it goes, is that Scotland is claiming an identity beyond the tartan and shortbread — an identity which has allowed the world to see that we are politically engaged, intelligent, and peaceful.

To me, the idea of a chance at independence where no violence is necessary is incredible. People have fought, do fight, and die for chance at an independence, and here we are with pens and paper, utilising democracy and no matter which side you are on, this is something we should all be grateful for.

I know that it’s a divisive topic over here, and everyone has their own reasons, sources, opinions. I enjoy reading things from both sides and hearing healthy discussions from both, but inevitably facebook threads ensue where so-and-so deleted so-and-so or it got too heated or personal. That exists no matter what the topic, though, and that is the world we live in. A world behind a screen.

All of the things I see on Buchanan Street and George Square, even at Partick, remind me of things I used to study in history about the counterculture of the 60s in America. The end to segregation. People used to say that people of colour were lesser, and if you let them drink from the same water fountain who knows what might happen? People used to say a woman’s place was in the home, what would happen if they went outside the domestic sphere? These were people who were afraid that change would doom society. It’s a similar vibe I gather from NO campaigners, personally, that we shouldn’t be on our own because we can’t come back and we can’t keep the pound (that we can’t use anyway), and our children will suffer. That to me just reeks of fear and lack of confidence in our children and our own future.

To me, we are on a side of history that may one day look as strange as “Coloreds Only” signs at restrooms or restaurants. Then again, just because YES have been ubiquitous and very active doesn’t mean YES will have it. It’s far too close to call, and I hope, no matter what the outcome, everyone here can eventually appreciate the togetherness that has occurred throughout the last two years, but especially the last few months. It’s been a sight to see, and I’m so grateful to have been here to witness it firsthand because I know the rest of the world is not getting the full story.

summer recap: quitting my job, meeting strangers, looking ahead.

1 Aug

Summer this year feels like it’s over already, and it’s just over a month in. This year feels like it’s over already, and it’s just over halfway finished.

Since returning from back west I have moved out into a lovely flat, courtesy of a very generous person who totally saved me a lot of stress and discomfort. Upon learning that I had less than a month to find a new place, I wrote said person in a flippantly distressed way about my living situation and was completely surprised and relieved when they said they would see if I could stay at their place. I’m not sure where I would be otherwise, and I don’t like to contemplate that for too long. I’m very happy where I am.

Working in the shop these last few months has tested the very fabric of my mental stamina, now frayed but not in complete ruin. Somewhere shortly after I returned, maybe late April or the start of May, my boss just stopped acknowledging my presence. I was going through a rough time in my personal life, but then getting to work and having to deal with the pettiest of things, as if there are life-threatening consequences to clothes not being displayed neatly on rails, was starting to wear me down. Sometimes there is nothing more off-putting than someone’s complete lack of perspective. So, she stopped saying hello, goodbye, or anything in between. Other than the occasional ‘this customer is looking for this’ and ‘where would you like this?’, we spent 8 hours a day for four days a week in utter silence.

I began fantasising often about just walking out of the shop and never going back. Not answering their calls, not ever having to return to the too-brightly-lit masquerade of a bohemian shop. This peaked when I was called out for my appearance, being told we needed to look ‘smart’ and I needed to come to work with my hair and make-up done and nice, not arrive early and do them in the restroom like I had been. My lack of sleep and personal issues were none of their concern, and as far as they are concerned, I always dressed in uniform and there are some days I don’t want to wear any make-up at all. Again, really, this is just petty-yet-frustrating bullshit that I’m still frustrated by even now, even though I’m gone.

Yes, gone. I gave my notice at the start of july, and had to endure four weeks of seeing this boss. The whole time she never asked me about leaving. In fact, she got the last three days I worked there off. Almost like a parting gift. We didn’t have to say goodbye because she wasn’t there, saving us a moment of awkwardness that I’m sure would have stuck out in my memory for the rest of my days.

Throughout the last month or two, I’ve been spending lots of time with my friend, I call him my distant cousin, the closest thing I have here to family, A. A has been helping me these last few months to embrace who I am and to help me establish my sense of self again. We have the craziest adventures together. I’ll include one here, because I just don’t see why I should keep my failures to myself. Ha.

A few weeks back, on a Monday, I had the first day off I’d had in a week. I went into town just walking around, ‘taking it in,’ etc., etc. A and I had been discussing all things spiritual (as that’s his life’s work, really), and I, having been until recently completely atheistic, had been trying to open up to the possibilities of spirits, crystal energies, you name it. Anything, even if it’s placebo, just to help ground me and keep me feeling calm and stable. So I walked into town and on the way to one of my favourite shops, I saw the pan flute Indian guys finishing up and spotted a row of necklaces with stones on them. I, trying to be open to such things, asked which one would be best for me, and he gave me a quartz one. Great. Somehow I asked where he was from or he asked where I was from, I don’t remember. When he said Arizona, we started to talk a bit more. In and out of Spanish, we had a wee chat before his brother, much older, came over. We started talking and packing their stuff up (yes, I was helping), and the older one came over to me and started basically ‘reading’ me. ‘You are very confused, but you have to think positive. You don’t know what you want to do. You have a good energy, very good energy, but it is low.’ This went on and eventually we had decided we were going to meditate on Wednesday in Edinburgh. Yeah. I know.

So I got home, excited to tell A what had happened and ‘oh look, things are happening!’ Like everyone else I had told, A was a bit unsure. He was going to come with me on Wednesday and bring our mutual friend as well. So Wednesday was here. To Edinburgh we went. It was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day. Scorcher, in fact. I was actually drawn to just go sit in the park with hundreds of others. They wanted food. I said alright, I’ll be lying down in the sun, come find me and we’ll call him up when you get back. So we did that. When I called something wasn’t right. He just kept talking to me in Spanish and refusing to answer questions like ‘where are you?’ and ‘what are we going to do?’

Eventually we spotted him, and A, being the lovely and cheeky person that he is, ran up to him and caught him off guard. I had told the guy I would be bringing friends, and yet somehow he was just so confused. So he came and sat down with us for a little. Maybe five to ten minutes of utter uncomfortable chat-then-silence. He was totally testing A. I don’t know if maybe it was too much spiritual energy fighting between the two of them or what, but he kept looking at A and trying to get a rise out of him — something that’s not easy to do at all. Our other pal just seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. Cut to me and you have one uneasy soul. I was just sitting there thinking: ‘How could I have brought us all the way out here for this? What in the hell was I thinking?’

So he says, ‘alright you want to go to mine then? Let’s go,’ to which we all reluctantly agreed. At least there are three of us. On our way to his bus stop, another street performer intercepted our host and they talked for something like twenty minutes — the whole of which we spent laughing, cringing and debating our escape plan. Eventually A went up and told him we had to get going, to which he responded ‘okay, you go. They stay.’ A turned around and looked at us with a look that could mean nothing except what the fuck are we gonna do. So again, we were four.

We got to the bus stop and he tried to tell us that it would be five pounds for the three of us. We all looked at each other and said to him we didn’t have any change. Frustrated, he boarded the bus, only having said ‘My house is in front of the bus, like this. Call me later.’ A just looked at him and said ‘Really? Really?!’ as the bus was off into wherever it was going. I just know that I felt a huge wave of relief. All the tension and worry drifted away and I was aware of the glorious sunshine once again.

The lesson learned: Don’t make friends with randoms just because you’re on a new spiritual path. Because of all the studying and things that were going on with A, I think I was just thinking that people like this guy were also tuned in. In reality, I think he was just a lonely guy with not-so-good motives in the end. Definitely something I’ve enjoyed writing about here in hindsight but was in no way enjoying while it was happening.

A week later I ended up talking to a guy on a bench in town who was offended when I declined to take his number. I had told him about the pan flute guy/edinburgh experience in vague form, but this was only met with ‘not everybody is the same.’ I am now on my guard a lot more, and I feel the better for it.

All this leads up to my last day at the shop last week. I had been having the strangest time learning with A, meeting randoms and going on adventures. I could feel my slow liberation waxing with every passing day. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday just got progressively more joyful, and oh! to walk out those doors on Saturday, you couldn’t keep my grin from touching my ears.

So here I am now. Back to working at the climbing centre and happy to be doing so. I’ve got so much less stress and so much more free time to just enjoy life. The band has been doing more things together (recording, gigs), and it’s an exciting time for it. We played with Guitar Wolf this week (minus the mighty Grant Canyon) and will be playing tomorrow for a huge street festival in town (again, minus Grant, but he’ll be back soon after).

Today I’m sitting around, reading, writing, playing a bit of guitar, and just waiting to go in for my shift. Just generally feeling really good.

Summer’s gone fast this year, but it’s not gone yet.


10 Mar

So today is the day before I head back west for my visit. My first visit, in fact, in nearly two years. The excitement turns to anxiety turns to excitement again. I know when I return things will be different, even though in memory, no one has aged, no new buildings exist, the ASARCO stacks are still erect, and it’s always warm. In reality, the city is always developing, people my age will be my age, the red and white will no longer be a part of the view, and it may very well be very windy.

I just want to catch some big blue skies. I’ve always thought that the sky here is a lot closer. I blame it on the latitude, but I have no real knowledge as to the cause.

I want to drive around like I used to — taking the long way just to listen to the end of a song. Cruising at night when the roads are empty and the stars are out.

Most importantly I can’t wait to see my friends and family. I am fortunate enough to have them, and some days out here I miss them so terribly because it can be so hard/impossible to have the same connections out here. That’s a history thing, I think. I mean, I grew up in that city, with those friends and a close family. The friends I’m fortunate enough to have out here, well, they mean a great deal, but our histories only go back two or three years. Time will change that too, though.

I know I’m overthinking this. I should really just be thinking “Spring Break!” — but I’ve never been away from home this long. I’ve never worked two jobs for this long without a break or quitting one. I can’t even fathom what it’ll be like to not have to work for a few weeks. What a great thing!

I’d better get running along now to do my last minute errands. I’ll be updating from the other side. To the west!

My Second Medway Visit (five years later)

22 Jan

So this last Thursday I headed down to Rochester — I should say historic Rochester — for the first time in over 5 years. What brought me there all those years ago was my first trip to the UK and some chance that instead of a gig there was a book launch and a generous invitation to join. It’s such an odd thing, but it’s very much like me. I just find myself in places, Paris/Glasgow with A, B, and P, Denmark with S, O, K, F, (and many others), and originally Medway with W, A, and too many others to name.

What brought me down this time was an impulse, mainly. I had initially seen Mick’s work on my first visit and was already familiar with Wolf’s. The title of the exhibition — “the Skull grins relentless” — also inexplicably helped the increase of the importance of this event. Another big factor that has been motivating me to get back down there is the fact that Wolf and Aurelie have since had a child, who I virtually watched grow up via Aurelie’s amazing photographs and son-related facebook posts. There are no words to describe how precious he is, or why I feel so connected to him. The only way I can justify it is that when I first visited, Aurelie was pregnant, and so in a way I knew him before he was born. He’s really the first being I’ve been old enough to remember ‘before you were born’.

So I arrived in London early Thursday morning, and there was no rush to head east, so I wandered about a bit (okay, more than a bit) lost. I saw the Duke of Wellington’s statue, which, now that I’ve lived in Glasgow so long, didn’t look right without a cone on top of his head. I briefly entered Hyde Park, the first place I discovered in my first trip to London. Last time it was summer and dry, so I sat underneath a giant tree for a while and pondered what the UK would have in store for me. This time it was a bit colder and definitely more wet, so I passed up the opportunity to get soggy jeans and instead headed to the palace. Mainly because it was close, but also because I kept hearing my grandma’s voice saying ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!” — and that was convincing enough. So I got there and there was a definite letdown. I’ll never understand why hundreds gather at the gates to watch an outdated, irrelevant tradition continue. Ooh, guards with funny hats. The rain started up quite heavily, so I took a few pictures for grandma and headed to the station.

I called Wolf up and he said he’d meet me at the station. When I got there floods of memories about my first trip rushed through my mind. How could it have been that long? We headed to his house and waited for Aurelie. I took what I thought was going to be a brief nap before waking up to a small voice downstairs. I went down slowly and peeked into the living room where he was on the couch dancing about. I couldn’t believe how big he was! So they said, “come and meet Celina.” He turned and immediately grew shy and hid behind his mum’s leg. Adorable isn’t even the word.

So we sat down to an amazing dinner and got ready for the exhibition. When we got there it was quiet and a vibe of uncertainty coursed through the room. As more people showed up, the atmosphere turned, quite frankly, lovely. All kinds of folk showed up and the paintings as well as the ceramics / poetry were great. Mick and Wolf seem to have unknowingly synthesize their artwork so that it compliments each other without ever having had that intent. The painting that they did collaborate on illustrates this subtle relationship more overtly, and ties in Wolf’s portraits and very human themes with Mick’s more abstract and morbidly playful ones. In short, it was well worth traveling to see.

After the exhibition, we headed to a pub and spent the night pretty much how my last night in a Rochester pub was spent — laughing and having a good time. Good people.

When we got back to Wolf’s we had toast, tea, and chatted for what seemed like a little while. Unfortunately we kept Aurelie awake, which I still feel awful about. I blame Wolf entirely.

So when I headed to bed — initially made by their son out of two couch cushions, a blanket and some couch pillows, and later perfected by Aurelie with a few more blankets, a proper pillow and a hot water bottle — i finished my tea and fell asleep feeling incredibly comfortable.

Sometime early in the morning (I’m assuming around 6ish) I was wakened by a gentle voice: “Celina, would you like to go into my room.” As discussed the day before, I was to move from the living room to his bed as he was away to school. Aurelie also had a lesson at 9 30, so we (Wolf and I) were instructed to either stay asleep or stay hidden while she worked. I did the former with no problem at all.

At around noon I woke up and chatted with Aurelie. She has vibrancy that I admire be cause she is just so genuine and warm. I remember that from my first trip. Just a very beautiful and intelligent human being. I took a shower and she made us some delicious omelletes before Wolf came back.

Because my flight was so late I didn’t really have to rush and so Wolf very kindly invited me to an interview he and Mick were doing about the exhibition. At first I felt pretty out of place (as aforementioned, it is a bit of a strange situation because it just kind of happened that I decided to go out to Medway and that Wolf just happened to be so kind), so really I felt like I should just stay quiet because I shouldn’t be here for this interview anyway. Even so, I’m pretty grateful for getting to listen and kind of be a fly on the wall. Wolf’s very lucky to have such a warm circle of friends.

So we stayed and they ‘interviewed’ for a few hours before we thought I should head to London. We headed and I got to say goodbye to Sarah and Mick before walking to the train station. The train had been delayed, which should have worried me more than it did. I said goodbye and thank you again to Wolf before boarding and back to London I went.

When I got to Victoria there wasn’t much time to get to the coach station, and true to my intuition I had just missed the fast bus. I asked a very helpful clerk which stance it was and if he thought I’d make it, and he said “probably, but it’ll be quite tight.”

So as I paid for the bus I asked the driver if this was the hour and forty five journey, at which he scoffed and said “hopefully, but that’s if we’re lucky.” It was 6 40. At this point a man seated at the front said “it’s really tight, I have to get to the airport for a flight at 8 45.” I laughed and said how that made me feel somewhat better. It did — until I saw the traffic.

It was endless. 7 30 came and went. I looked for any road signs that mentioned Stansted but there were none, at least not until 8. As we started getting further from all the houses/flats/lights, I felt like we still might actually make it. And then taillights. Hundreds of them. Two police vehicles whizzed past in the left lane and a road sign was blinking that a “stranded vehicle” was on the road.

Those last ten miles felt endless. As quarter past 8 approached, I felt my heart sink a bit. At half eight we had made it onto the airport grounds. This gave me at the most 10 minutes to get through security, find my gate, and board. Several others and myself ran off the coach to the departures area, and as I approached security I asked if there was any way I was still going to make the flight. She very indifferently said ‘If the barcode lets you through then you’re fine.” The light went green and the gate opened. I had done it! I ran to security, took off shoes, belt, coat. Exposed laptop. Emptied pockets. Dressing myself, I ran over to the screens for departures.


Gate closed? But the security woman said it wouldn’t have let me in otherwise. I had no idea what to do. Then I saw the guy from the bus. It was his flight too. So I ask someone if there’s really no more hope. I really pray that I never get to be as jaded with unfortunate circumstance as the people employed in London’s airports are. They told me, “Well, no. You’ve missed your flight. Go and see if there’s anyone at the desk of your airline,” That turned out to be the least helpful thing ever. No one was at the desk because the last flight for that airline was the one I missed. Somehow I kept passing the guy who’d also missed the flight. He managed to find out the next flight was going to be the next morning and arrive at Glasgow for 11.

I may have glossed over the fact that I had work the next morning. At 10. So landing at 11 was pretty much impossible. It was still early (as far as transportation goes), probably around nine. Not to mention that they had told him the flight would be 62 pounds. Now I know I traveled down at a time when I probably shouldn’t have because I couldn’t comfortably afford it, but 62 pounds is just outrageous. Especially for a flight that will not get me to work on time and after a series of events that weren’t my fault.

So I go to the information desk to make sure that that is the case. She suggested I pay for internet access and look it all up on the airline’s site. She also told me I get free wifi for an hour on my own laptop. So I did that. I let a few people know my situation just in case and looked up flights from all London airports. The stay put all night and pay 62 pounds option was looking like the best until I came across the bus site. If I took a bus out of Stansted, back to London, I could potentially catch a coach all the way to Glasgow.

I verified this with the guy at the counter and it all checked out. And it was well cheaper than 62 pounds. So I boarded the bus back to London, and waited. We actually arrived with plenty of time, so I sat with my headphones trying not to think much. A man with a big canvas rucksack asked me if I was going to Scotland. The second he spoke I felt transported north. I said yes and he asked if I could watch his stuff while he went to go mail a letter. Why he had waited until eleven at night to mail something is beyond me, but I looked after his stuff and when he returned we talked a bit.

He says his mum’s just had a stroke and so he’s going back north to hopefully spend some time with her before it’s too late. He also says his brother is a well known painter in Glasgow. I’ve written the name down and am going to investigate. With regards to the bus journey, which he says he’s done many times, he told me “Oh you’re going to hate it.” I laughed. What else could I do? A 7+ hour bus ride sitting next to a stranger and inhaling body odor is not ideal. But, it will hopefully get me to work on time. I’m sure I’ll be feeling it in the morning. At least I’ve not got work Sunday.

So here I am, one in the morning, somewhere past Milton Keynes and heading home. I managed to find a radio station on my phone that was broadcasting the Celtic Connections concerts from the CCA on Sauchiehall Street. I don’t normally like that kind of thing, but it’s been a welcome comfort through all the late night hysteria. I’m going to try and sleep sitting upright now. Hopefully I’ll succeed. What I wouldn’t do for the bed that 4/5 year old made for me last night. Two couch cushions and a blanket sound like luxury indeed.


12 Jan

So, January. In Glasgow. Some argue February is harsher. I’m not sure. They kind of clump together under the same “wish it was over” portion of the year. The harshness is an amalgamation of weather (cold, wet, grey, dark) and mentality (cold, grey, and dark).

Every year I look forward to December 21st as the turning point where I get to see the sun, or at least what makes it through the clouds, for longer. At least we’re past that. Last January was the last time I saw my madre. That was in Paris, where I also got to meet my longtime friends A, B, and P in the flesh for the first time. It was also in Paris where I received the job opportunity which turned into my current job at the climbing centre. January wasn’t so bad last year at all. February I really can’t remember.

Anyway, we’re here in the now. January 2014. I am struggling to keep it together, but I know that at some level it’s only temporary. The problem is not knowing at which level. Is it that I’ll just have to keep doing this until I break? Is it that I’ll be offered some amazing PhD opportunity and just have to work some of the time? I am constantly repositioning the responsibilities of my life according to wherever the train of thought tracks lead. Most of the time it’s into a tunnel that I can’t see the end of, so I snap back to reality and start over.

Life is hard here. It’s good but hard. I think some people even call that ‘rewarding.’ I’m learning all the time. For instance, I can cook now. I won’t kill anyone with improperly prepared meat dishes or bad flavor (maybe bland, but not bad). I’ve also made a few friends through my newest workplace and am hoping that these kinds of bonds continue to be meaningful and enjoyable. But with friends and culinary skills comes poverty. I’m always broke. Always. And I hate it. I work so much and my earnings are gone before I can see them. Council tax, PAYE tax, rent, etc. It’s easily half of my wages, and that means I’m doing all this and not getting a chance to treat myself, even to something like Ben & Jerry’s, without feeling extremely guilty.

It’s a hard way to live, but as I’ve mentioned, it feels somewhat temporary. I don’t know how to justify why it’s going to end at all, other than a feeling. So seasons come and go and blend and days get longer, shorter, then longer again. Last year I didn’t get to go back home — back west. I was enveloped in the constant ‘things will get better,’ bogged down in the day by day and never had a chance to save or plan.

Is it stupid to be hopeful? Sometimes I think yes, very. Other times I realise I can’t just snap my fingers, blink my eyes and make all the struggle go away. Human condition, etc., etc.

So, January. Cold and dark and wet and grey. Particularly today. Half three and the sun is on its way out and I’m trying to be creative and productive while still resting on my day off. What is life if not a constant search to balance things best so that pleasure can somehow seep through now and again?

A brief catch-up for the new year.

5 Jan

September 2013 changed my life for a lot of reasons. I had finished my Masters in Literature, Culture, and Place. I was no longer a university student. Family stuff was happening here that threw everyone for a loop. Our drummer left the band. I got a second job. My residence permit was expiring, so I had to apply for settlement and pay 1,100 pounds just to stay here. I felt so low. I was hurt, tired and confused.

Luckily the weather had been beautiful for most of the summer and even heading into autumn. The weather means a lot. The second job is at a shop that sells all kinds of handmade clothes and cultural crafts and crystals. We get lots of interesting folk in. We also get conservative, quiet types who only come in for their patchouli oil and/or their boxes of nag chammpa. I like working there a lot. I think it’s safe to say I may have even made a few friends there. It’s like its own community, and there is good and bad to that, but mainly good.

This job along with the climbing centre job makes my work week six days long, with an average of 40+ hours a week. You would think I’m not poor anymore. You’d be wrong.

It took a while to get used to what working that much feels like. I’m into the swing of it now, but basically need my rest and routine or else I’m useless and cranky. Alan got a job, which was an amazing break. It’s currently temporary contract so he’s doing his best and that’s all we can ask for. If he keeps this job, or gets put into a similar one, I think we’ll be able to finally and at last be financially comfortable. What a relief that would be. To be comfortable.

November 2013 I received, officially, my degree — with merit, even. It was beautiful and sad because I had worked so hard and because it was over. I’m very proud and very appreciative for all the support I received while working on it and now after. I start looking into PhD opportunities this month. Fingers crossed.

December 2013 I took and passed my Life in the UK Test. It was the final piece to the puzzle that was my settlement application. I received a new residence permit valid for 10 years, so that has alleviated a lot of visa-related stress that has plagued me since I moved.

In the spring of 2013 I was climbing a lot, and loving it. I was strong, I was active, and I made some real good friends. As my dissertation took shape, and things with the band got busier, I put climbing more and more on the ‘next week’ list. It eventually fizzled to a noncommittal once a week and then a pathetic once in a while.

I never do new year’s resolutions, but this year is different. I am committing to multiple climbing sessions a week. I miss it a lot and when I don’t do it I actually do get down about it. I even bought a few new clothes to climb in. I also want to get better for whenever I can go west and go climbing out in the middle of nowhere. I have dreamed about climbing in the desert since I started, and I have yet to realise that dream. It will happen and it will be beautiful.

So here I am. 2014. A master, working the climbing centre and the shop, making a 6 day work week the norm until I figure out whether or not a PhD is happening this year. Today is grey outside but I feel optimistic. It’s the closeness of something like happiness.

Happy New Year.