Tag Archives: non-fiction

Sir Alex Ferguson, and the Dog

Today has been a very peculiar day for me. I rose a little earlier than I normally would, egged on by my weekly cross-country-and-then-the-Atlantic phone call to my mother, and felt a little dusty. I called her and listened to the Skype tone as I thought about coffee, and work, and writing, and all of the things that sat before me that day. She answered, and within seconds knew that everything was not well. You get to know the inflections in your own mother’s voice when they are often the only markers of mood. Being as far away as I have been for as long as I have been, your senses become mostly dormant when pointed towards home. I can only hear my mother. Her tone of voice tells me so much.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, taking a moment to pause and quickly scan over her feelings, “we, eh, we had to take Mollie to the vet today and have her, eh…and have her put down.”

I heard how difficult the last few words were for her. I almost cried at the sound of her almost crying, and at the thought that she had been crying but thought it necessary not to for my sake. I wasn’t really affected by the dog. It didn’t matter much to me anymore. She was old, and it was best for everyone. But I was sad for my mother. She let go of something a little sooner than she hoped to.

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We got that dog when I was eleven years old, one year after my father died. I think mum felt that she needed to have something around. She told me later that she thought about a cat, but we’d had one of those when dad was around. And a cat isn’t the same as a dog. There’s something inherently sad about a cat. So one day we went to Stirling and picked out Mollie, a tiny Cocker Spaniel puppy out of a chaotic, yelping litter of seven.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the dog represented my father, or that my mother sought to preserve his memory through canine affection, but there was something in that dog that helped all of us. For a little while it distracted us. Suddenly there was something exciting, something newborn and fragile to focus our attention on. In a house that spent a year filled with a sense of loss and expiration it was so refreshing to have this little black and white ball of fluff and ears bouncing around, so upbeat, innocent and tangible. But after the excitement died off it was a companion to my mother. She had someone to run with, something to cuddle into, a fourth mouth to feed. The dog filled a void that lay desperately open for the year after my father’s death.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and the dog is now in a box in the back garden, buried by my mother and my step-father. Le temps détruit tout. Did she let go of something today? I don’t think so. I don’t see there being some kind of emotional burden of grief attached to the poor animal anymore. It shed that a long time ago. Mollie’s roll changed over the years, and yesterday she was just a dog.

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Ta’ra Mollie.

After coming off the phone to my mother I looked on the Guardian’s website, as I do somewhat compulsively everyday. Now, I’ve managed to trim a lot of the fat from my lifestyle over the last few years. Torturous levels of self-discipline and a panting notion of replete failure nipping at my coattails keeps me focused on my goals and working as hard as I possibly can every single day. But, I am prone to daily slip ups. And these slip-ups typically appear in the form of football (soccer) journalism. I don’t even watch the beautiful game anymore. I just like the new breed of football journalists. I take a sickly pleasure in reading suppressed authors douse an often tedious sport with effervescent language and stuff it with philosophical undertones far beyond the contemplative abilities of the “artists” that craft it on the field. I just like imagining their smiles as they write. Reading about football is my equivalent of reality TV. My harmless little vice.

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And today, if you’re someone that knows anything at all about football, you will have heard that Sir Alex Ferguson, the purple-nosed, knighted Scottish manager of Manchester United, retired from football after 56 years in the game, with 27 of those spent at the helm of United. He took Manchester United from being a rusting, once-great side scrambling in a deep rut, to being one of the richest, most successful and consistent teams in the world.

I’m not going to get into the psychology of the man, the controversies he courted, or even try to dwell too much more on belting out a verse upon verse of praise to the tremendous weight his legacy is sure to wield over the game. There are many more talented writers than I doing those very things at this very moment, and my words would ultimately contribute very little (mostly because I would be merely paraphrasing the writers I wish I didn’t read). But I find it hard to imagine life as a football fan without him.

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Since before I was even born, Sir Alex Ferguson was in complete control of my football club. The only team I have ever watched have only ever had one person standing at the touchline berating the players and referees. He’s the craggy faced ogre that flashed flaccid pieces of mangled chewing gum as warning signs between exasperate sighs to the journalists that asked him “stupid bloody questions”. He swept the old boys out and nudged the new ones in with the butt of his broom. But most importantly, he didn’t succumb to the modern trappings of football management, like player egos, result-based success, reactionary fan pressure, or trigger happy billionaire owners, often because he was smart enough to negotiate his way around them, but occasionally because such things simply did not apply to him. There were football managers, and then there was Ferguson. He was the last of the old school, and the world will never see another one like him.

But how does that relate to the dog? I’m not sure that it does. It seemed profound in the moment I declared it significant, and, despite all the sadness, I was tingled by a precisely serendipitous feeling. Perhaps it’s that relief. I have finally buried something I have been subconsciously reappropriating for years. Football once defined me. As a child I was a footballer, and I was a Manchester United supporter. But today I’m nothing more than someone that finds an incubated feeling of removal in reading about a team I once loved. Every day I make the decision to read something innocuous about Wayne Rooney’s goal drought, or Moaninho’s future over becoming versed in US politics, or the escalating situation in the Middle-East. I should no longer seek an escape route from the news, but a feeling of empowerment through knowledge.

Like the dog, maybe we’ve all served each other well, and can pleasantly move on with our lives. Thanks for everything. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go, and let the past be just that.

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The Bernstein’s Wedding

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* You can click on the images to enlarge them.

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Napoleon’s Drunk

I overheard this at the bar tonight. It was an insurance brokers Christmas party…

“Actually, I was a junior varsity pole vaulter,” said the taller man, fiddling with his pink and white striped tie.

“Oh yeah?” asked the much shorter, more mustached man. “What was your lift?”

The tall man looked at the melting cubes in his empty glass and smiled.

“About sixteen feet,” he said, rocking onto his tip toes as casually as he could.

“Oh yeah?” asked the short man, throwing back his scotch, “I hear the girls go that high these days.”

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Girls – Based on a True Story

* This happened to me twenty minutes ago as I stood outside Ralph’s with a guy I know from work.

Oooft, you see da girls man?
Yup, I see them.
Where you think they going?
To the fashion school.
Oh yeah? Maybe we too.
Nah, I don’t think so man.

Hey baby! Hey!
So you like the white girls then?
Eneeting man.
Anything?
Evereeting.
Everything. Awesome.

Black, whiiite, Mexicaaaan. Eneeting man.
You don’t have a preference?
No preferance man. Pussy. I love-ah da pussy.
Nice.
You have da preferance?
I don’t know. Probably the same.

I like-ah the fat ones.
Hmmm.
Ah like-ah da big titties, and da big ass. Haha.
I like tattoos.
Oh, I have-ah tattoos.
No, I meant girls with tattoos.

My tattoo is of fly.
You have a fly tattoo?
Ona my deek.
You have a fly tattoo on your dick?
Yeah man! Fahkin’ fly on my deek.
Jesus.

I have-ah him too man!
You have a Jesus tat too?
Yah, he do the crying. Crying da blad. See?
Oh yeah. Quality man.
Hey chicas! *Click *Click*
Does ‘chicas’ mean girls?

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Yeah? – Based on a True Story

The following conversation is as accurate as I can recall. It’s the classic fable of young spunky hipster meets old crusty hipster.

This conversation taught me to laugh at haters and realize that they are mostly just bitter.

*

Hey Ross.

Hey.

When are you moving to LA?

Tomorrow morning.

Right on! Good for you man. Tough town though…

Yeah?

 

What are you going to do out there?

I don’t really know. Just keep doing what I’m doing, really.

Yeah?

Yeah.

But what’s your plan?

I don’t really have one.

 

Everyone’s got a story out there.

Yeah?

Yeah. And yours is going to have to be good.

Yeah?

Yeah. And it’s going to have to be fast.

Yeah?

 

I’ve heard your stories. And they’re, you know, they’re pretty good.

Yeah?

Yeah. I mean, they’re not great. But they’re okay.

Yeah.

But they’re long. Jesus, are they long.

Yeah. That’s me though. That’s the way I am.

 

It’s a tough town though.

Yeah?

Yeah. People will fuck you out there.

Yeah?

Oh yeah. And don’t think that accent is gonna help you. No one will give a shit.

No?

 

But good luck though man.

Thanks, I’ll need a wee bit of that.

Yeah. Yeah you will. I tried it once. LA.

Yeah? How did that go?

Decided it wasn’t for me.

Yeah, I’m sure you did. Just going to the bathroom. Be right back.

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What I Write About When I Write About Writing

“What’s going on here Ross?” I said aloud, in the café, staring at the highlighted blue words on my screen as I hit the delete button again. The eject button on another shit idea I tried to force out of my head.

“I don’t know Ross” I wrote.

*

I’ve been coming to the same places for the same reasons for months now. I’ve been looking at blank screens as I take the first sip of my coffee every single day. Deleting sentences on the second sip. I keep going, sip for sentence, until my coffee cools, I get frustrated, take a mouthful and then just stick with something. Sometimes I just force a sentence out of my head and then square up to it, sparring with it, line for line, until it runs its course and I knock it out. Or it all gets highlighted blue and I go home to lick my wounds.

I’m sitting looking at what I’ve written so far. I’m trying to stop myself from taking the cap off of my highlighter and dabbing that delete button again. Because I should be writing short stories. Because that’s what I want to do. Because if I don’t try to write one every day I might not ever write the story I want to write. That story I know that’s inside me somewhere that will define my life as a writer and give me a point of reference for all future stories. But on some days I have to be honest with myself. I have to look down at all of the word documents open and concede that ‘today won’t be that day Ross.’

I’ve only been doing this for a little over a year. I’ve been writing different stuff for a lot longer. I wrote stand-up comedy for years before I ever thought of writing fiction. They both involve pens and paper working together is a desperate search for appreciation and acceptance. But the similarities end there. Comedy is a different beast entirely. The transition between writing for the eyes and writing for the ears was a difficult bridge to cross. But I had to find a way to do it because I suddenly found that I didn’t feel like being funny all the time. Funny can be a difficult thing to squeeze out of you at times, because even when you’ve injured your funny bone and only barely have enough breath to breathe, let alone laugh, you have to push through it. You have to find your angles and spew your sadness onto someone’s lap and hope everyone finds it hilarious.

I was a storyteller on stage. I had a very tight formula for telling stories. I would start the writing process with the punchline. The last big laugh. For example: I shit myself outside a comedy club five minutes before I was due to go on stage. I would find that big laugh at the end and then work backwards. Because comedy is all about twists. You have to protect your punchlines very carefully because if the audience sees them coming, they fall flat. This is particularly important as a storyteller. You can’t invest ten minutes of the audience’s time taking them on a journey and then give them an ending they all saw coming. That’s a combination of bad writing and bad acting. But you get your end point. Then work back. You build the story and work out how to cover the conclusion. This can be done through the plot or tone. For example:

“The big tranny saw me look around the bar and noticed that I was uncomfortable. I knew that I was uncomfortable. She knew that I was uncomfortable. So we both just decided that the best thing to ease the tension would be for us to kiss each other.”

Given the fact that this was written in bold and your eyes were probably drawn to the punchline before you read the set up, this doesn’t work on paper. Nor is there enough of a set up to do it any justice. But on stage, told in full, this works. Trust me… The idea here would be to take them one way by making yourself seem uncomfortable even recounting the situation. You do this through your body movements and your tone. You stutter a bit, squirm on stage, and then smack that punchline like a pornstar’s ass. Confidently, forcefully and unapologetically. The change in your mannerisms is enough to get a reaction, but blend that with a hidden punchline and juicy ending and you’ve got your standard formula for a comedic story.

But remember, if you are telling a story, and this isn’t specific to the stage, this can be in social situations, or on the page, you have to remember that a story needs to move like China’s GDP graph. It needs to grow over time towards the point it’s at today, taking peaks and troughs along the way. People need smaller laughs before you get to the big one at the end or they’ll get bored. So give them a funny character, a little simile or metaphor, a turn of phrase and then move the story along. Repeat this all the way to the end, building pace and laughs as you go and you’ve got your comedy. It’s really simple, but it takes practice.

But this isn’t what I set out to write when I sat down with my coffee this morning. I brought out a cheat sheet with writing prompts on it and I told myself that I’d sit down with it and try to skud something out. But I got distracted writing about comedy. It’s like reminiscing about your first love. You remember her fondly if you grew apart, but hate her intensely if she pulverized your feelings. You either remember the good and forget the bad, or vice a versa. Comedy broke me over and over again but in the end we grew apart. Writing fiction is doing the same thing to me, but I can’t help but feel I’ve got a life partner by my side now. I can put up with the crushing blows because I don’t have to suffer them in public.

*

I write because I have to. I feel my brain cramp up if I don’t use it every day. Writer’s block is the scariest thing I come up against. It’s the only common thing that can throw me into a spiral of depression. I’m pretty thick skinned with most things and normally handle my shortcomings with maturity and positivity (thank you stand-up comedy), but writer’s block is something different. And because I fear it so much, I fight it every day and force myself to write something.

But as I mentioned earlier, this is all new to me. I’m not an English Lit grad who thought that he could do it better. I didn’t do a course in Creative writing and sit in coffee shops armed with a style manual and Macbook. I have absolutely no training in this art form and know very little about the rules and structures in place. The only things I know how to do are turn a phrase inside out, weave imagery together in a tight web, and tell a story (thank you stand-up comedy).

I’ve flirted with the idea of getting some formal training in the past, but the prospect of it always worried me. I don’t want to know the reasons why I write the way I write. I am a sucker for the mystique I feel when I’m writing. I like the feeling that it’s coming to me naturally. I like the challenge of growing my own editor inside of me, someone who knows how I like my stuff being edited. But I know that everything I know has seeped in gradually from reading other writers, but I don’t want to know the ins and outs. I’m happy enough cooking from taste, know what I mean?

Basic grammar is something I would encourage everyone to ignore when writing fiction. There is no place for it in writing. You can start sentences with ‘because’ or ‘and’ if you want to. You can have sentences with only one word. You can put line breaks in anywhere you like. Using punctuation as a form or timing and pacing is one of my favorite things to do. If you find yourself applying the freedom of poetry to the style of prose you can do some pretty interesting things with cadence and rhythm. Using lots of full stops in a paragraph can slow your stuff down and give the reader a chance to think. But using a lot of commas can keep a rolling speed going if that is what you’re trying to achieve. I’m an advocate of forgetting what you know and doing whatever feels right.

I’m working on a style right now that I hope to get into full swing in the next few years. I’m not going to go into the details of it because I’m very excited about it and I hope that it will be something that will help to set me aside from some other writers and will hopefully drag me away from emulating Raymond Carver! But in the last couple of weeks I have been putting covers up with each story. I am going to keep doing this because I have been drawing a lot recently. Every time I feel writer’s block working away at me, I start drawing. My desire to create stuff can be a blessing and curse sometimes. But I like the idea of building up a strong sense of aesthetics and using that to strengthen my writing.  I like to think that the drawings that I’m doing support my stories and give people who might be coming to my writing for the first time a good idea of what my writing will be like.

*

What I’ve written here is a cop out. I didn’t have any stories to work on. Well, that’s a lie. I have plenty of unfinished stuff I could have been doing, but when I don’t feel that I’m in the mood to tackle a particular thing, I just write something else. And I don’t have any ideas today. I spent four hours working on a drawing last night and my head is in pencils not pixels.

I understand that some people might interpret what I’ve written as being deeply arrogant. Others might overlook that and think that what I’ve said is of no value. And I know that I’m not in any position to tell anyone how to write. I’m just telling you how I do it. One word at a time. Fading the word ‘delete’ on my keyboard every day.

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Happy New Year

“You want job?” Nenchook asked me, without looking up from the baby crib he was making.

“Aye, what do you need me to hold?” I asked, snapping out of my daze, leaning forward and trying to become more ‘manly’. Nenchook was the same age as me, but he was a camel safari manager that lived in a hut in the desert with his family. I was a metrosexual, jobless wonder surfing the wind, shoring up in any Indian town worthy of note in the Lonely Planet.

He looked up at me and smiled.

“No. You want job? Here camel safari. You work for me.”

I looked at him. I started laughing.

“Ehhhh” I said.

“You go to Jodphur and bring people to camel safari. No more hotels. Always taking money.”

He meant that the hotels that arranged the camel safari trips took a lot of commission. They would earn about the same amount of money as he would just for taking a booking. It was the way things worked in India. The price was never the price. And even if it was, it never represented value. That, like beauty, was very much in the eye of the beholder. If you thought that a sari was worth 2000 rupees then the person selling it to you was not about to tell you it was only worth 50. But cuts and commissions were a standard practice. Nenchook wanted me to help him cut out the middle man and make the business more direct, and in a sense, more ethical. He would get a fair price for a fair day’s work and his family would bring in more money. The hotel owners would cease to pick his pockets of the thread that held them together and everyone’s happy. Except the hotel owners. But they would just have to make their money the way they were supposed to. By renting jail cells to middle class hippies.

But I’ll be honest. I didn’t give a thought to any of the ethics. They would come later as I justified myself to various people. I was thinking about bragging about the experience.

‘Yeah darling, I spent a few months in a hut in the desert as the Senior Foreign Liaisons Office for the Thar Desert Camel Safari company PLC. Yeah, it was a wonderful experience. Shall we get out of here and go back to my place? I’ve got a bottle of white in the fridge and I can show you pictures of the family!’

So, without really thinking of anything other than how awesome it would make me, I said yes.

“Yes. Yes. I would love to!” I said to him. He smiled. We shook hands. He went back to making a crib. I went back to thinking about how I awesome I could potentially become.

*

I got way too stoned that night and spent the evening freaking out in my bed, listening to the fireworks going off in the distance from another camel safari trip. It was New Year’s Eve. I was lying in a hut, freezing my wrinkly little bollocks off, worrying that I was not awesome but that I was in fact a complete idiot.

I lasted a week as the Senior Foreign Liaisons Officer for the Thar Desert Camel Safari Company PLC and didn’t sell a single camel safari trip. I wasn’t good at selling camels and I felt guilty about it. I worried that I wasn’t doing my job properly and that I was instilling a sense of false hope in my wonderful, courteous hosts. But the real reason I left was because I ran out of weed, and in the chilling light of sobriety the reality of living in the desert was far shitter than I imagined.

*

This was how I ended 2010 and started 2011. I have no idea how I will end 2011 but I know that it is certainly going to be much more ‘normal’. I will probably be in an Irish themed bar in South Korea, stone cold sober counting down to nothing but a little bit of symbolism.

2011 was a fucking great year for me. But I have reason to believe that 2012 will be better. So with that, I give you my New Year’s Resolutions:

• I want to write a new book. It will be longer, better, and have a firm theme.
• I want to become a legitimate artist. Drawing is the one art that I have always lacked in but I am determined to change that and develop my own sense of style and, eventually, use it to assist my fiction.
• I want to quit smoking. I don’t want to die before I’m supposed to.
• I want to get involved in more acting projects. Filming with Sonny Side films tomorrow and looking to expand my acting portfolio.
• I want to keep this blog going. It has brought me so much pleasure entertaining you guys over the last year. I have told you a lot about my life and you have always listened and been so helpful in either giving me critique (Shawn) or in giving me undiluted, concentrated, free-based blind praise (Katja). It is the biggest outlet for me right now and I intend to keep it that way.

Thanks for listening to me this year. I have written, cried, laughed, thought, boozed, sobered up, smoked and drank coffee the whole way, and I’m still here. Still writing, still laughing, still looking forward, still talking shite, still improving, still moving faster and faster, still feeling Death’s cold breath tickling the hairs on the back of my neck, reminding me that one day I’ll be gone and the world will keep rolling on.

Happy New Year troops.

Piece

 

 

Ross x

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Neither of Us Were Korean – Part Two

I looked at the subway map for the place she told me. It was right at the end of one of the lines. I lived in the middle of the city. Not quite downtown, but close enough. This place was twenty-nine stops away. Two transfers. And then a bus journey. I got really pissed off. I swore at the computer. I almost picked up my phone and told her to stuff it. In a polite way with a perfectly believable excuse of course. My dog had died. I got food poisoning. My real job had called me into work. But I didn’t make an excuse. I thought about the money and how it could make Patti smile.

I thought about taking a cab. A little treat to myself, what with it being a Saturday morning and all. But the price it would come to would probably mean that I had worked all those hours for the privilege of riding in a cab. I liked cabs, but not enough to work six hours on a Saturday just to take one.

I decided to ride the subway all the way out there. There was another dude called Paul who I met at the last one of these presentations that was coming along with me. I liked him. We met at the station.

“Dude, did Maria pay you everything she owed you last time?” he asked, swaying from side to side in the subway. Even at this time of the morning, on a Saturday, we couldn’t get a seat.

“I don’t know. I think so. We didn’t discuss specifics. Koreans don’t like to talk about money too much.”

“Yeah man! I feel that. I think she undercut me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. How much did you get?” I really wanted to know. I knew how much I got. I knew he didn’t get as much.

“100,000.” Now that sounds a lot more than it is. It’s like $90.

“Yeah, I got the same” I lied. I got 200,000. But I did do a lot more work.

I asked him what we would be doing today. He said he didn’t know. It was some religious school. We would be doing the same old thing probably. Teaching Korean kids how to give presentations and then watching their rushed, botched presentations. Paul dealt with content. I dealt with public speaking. I’d been a comedian for a few years back in London, so I knew how to keep a room full of people engaged. In theory at least. Paul had worked for some kind of telecommunications company back in the US. He had prepared presentations for guys like me hundreds of times. Between us, we knew what we were doing. But, on this Saturday heading out to the boonies in Seoul, we didn’t have a clue.

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Neither of Us Were Korean – Part One

Maria begged me to come along that day. I was pretty reluctant. I think she could tell. I did that umm and ahh thing on the phone. You know where you sort of tell people that if they can find anyone else who could possibly fill your place, they should probably do it. But they were in a jam. I thought back to the last time she asked me to do a presentation. I kind of enjoyed it. And they paid well. They’d have to to get me out of my bed on a Saturday morning.
“It would really help us out Vincent” she asked, pleading with me a little.

I exhaled loudly. A bargaining technique of sorts. She would have to treat me with gentle hands. I waited.

“I’ll speak to the owner and ask if we can pay you in cash this time.”

I smiled.

“Okay.”

I heard her exhale loudly. But it wasn’t the same sound.

“Thank you so much Vincent. You’ve got no idea how much we needed you.”

“10am?” I asked.

“If you could.”

Of course I could. But I didn’t want to. She told me that her boss Corey was going with us this time. I hated him.

“See you then” I said.

She thanked me again and we hung up. I swore at myself for letting her twist my arm like that. I hadn’t been sleeping well all week. I had been looking forward to that Saturday morning lying in bed until it turned into the afternoon. But I needed the money. Mine and Patti’s anniversary was coming up and it was dinner, drinks and a hotel for the night. And I was broke. I couldn’t even afford one of those things. But I guess that love is the special ingredient that ramyen noodles need to make them edible day after day. Maria’s money would help me afford a starter, a brief look at a cocktail menu and a three-star room. That Saturday morning lie-in would have to wait twenty –four hours. I sighed.

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