Moving Right Along

Seldom have I ever really, truly, paid tribute to my own achievements. Those of you who know me know it isn’t really in my makeup to delve deep within myself to find enough traces of arrogance to celebrate who I am purely for the sake of celebrating. I’m too humble for that. I always have been. But just because I don’t particularly celebrate my successes gun-ho, doesn’t mean I’m not a confident person. Make no mistake, there’s a difference between arrogance and confidence. As the Russian novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy put it

“An arrogant person considers himself perfect. This is the chief harm or arrogance. It interferes with a person’s main task in life – to become a better person.”

And I’m not perfect. Not by a long shot. And I likely–never–will be.

But I’m not saying arrogance is a trait that’s never needed. I believe in some instances it is, such as competitive sport, when it’s used–either individually or collectively, depending on the event–to intimidate the opposition into submission for that ever sacred ‘W.’ But in all honesty, apart from such occurrences, I seek to practice behaviour that comes from more of a confident humility, if there can be such a thing. A ‘I know I’m good at what I do or look good as I am, but you don’t all need to know that’ (til now!) kind of behaviour. In some respects I liken it to how some people tend to practice their religion. For example, I believe in what I believe but I don’t need to go door-to-door to push my belief onto other people, whereas others (more often than not, those who are religious, if I may say so), do–as far as I’m concerned, that’s arrogance.

There. I hope that’s cleared my position up.

Regardless of where you stand in relation to the above opinion, the point is, the two traits should never be confused. Arrogance doesn’t trump confidence. It never will. And as Tolstoy remarks, arrogance merely stems the flow of personal growth, and why would anyone ever want to do that? I’d like to think I’m still growing.

That being said, this past week I managed to extend my stay in America at least into next year, with the view to stay until the expiration of my VISA in July. By that time I’ll have needed to find a full-time job to stay for the foreseeable otherwise my time here will no doubt be up for good. Nonetheless, positive news which was long-overdue.

To those unfamiliar, and to give you the short version, I started my academic and athletic journey in the States in 2008 having followed through with the flash of inspiration I got a year previously after working my first year at an American summer camp in West Virginia. I met a lot of friends that year, some of whom I treasure to this day, but having reached the shores of England once again to fall back into the routine mundaneness of bar work and alcopop-filled-weekends, I realized I wanted more–not of the drinking culture that my homeland encourages but more of America; more of the friends I had met; and more of, well, life.

Making the decision to move here wasn’t to be taken lightly, of course. I had to leave my family behind–everyone–after all. But as an independent soul and lover of the game that brought me here–football (yes, soccer!)–there was an opportunity here I couldn’t turn down, but not before having to prove my abilities through extensive trials back home. I did.

Then I made the move. But my time in upstate New York wasn’t without its difficulties–not playing as much as I had hoped for, for one–but I could never regret it. Whilst the horrors of a winter spent that far north will haunt me til my dying days, as well as some of its local inhabitants (sorry), my time spent in the classrooms there got me to where I am now, while the friendships forged, still last today.

I left Herkimer in the spring of 2009 having run my bank account dry (not before winning a National Championship). Up to that point I had pretty much spent my whole life savings, whether on tuition or housing or buying useless junk at the nearest Walmart because that was the most exciting thing to do in the evenings–I kid you not–it was that kind of town.

Finding myself back home, it didn’t take long for me to get back into the drudgery of a customer service job to earn a few dollars (or what would become dollars) for the “next step.” What that next step was at the time, I wasn’t so sure, so in between figuring that side of things out–if I wanted to continue college–in late 2010 and early 2011 I travelled to parts of Europe and then Israel, respectively. Travel broadens the mind, remember?

Settling back home in earlyish 2011, and deciding to pursue my education here for definite, both indoors and out, the ball quickly began to roll not long after my return. Those who knew me at the time will serve as testament to what I had prophesied, but during my time at camp, I said all along that I could one day end up in Pittsburgh (where the organization who ran the camp was based from), although I do admit, I sometimes said it without fully believing in its potentiality.

Nevertheless, it happened in the fall of 2011 and there I was in a scorching month of August during my first pre-season for my new university, meeting new teammates and coaches alike. Surprisingly, it took a while for me to settle in, and over the course of the first two months I wasn’t particularly comfortable but as we started to gel, everything began to click. I believe it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Not only did we (our team) break ground in terms of the program and become a winning group of players for a very long time (winning a Conference Championship in 2012 for the first time in university history), but we broke ground as teammates. It’s hard to explain if you’re not familiar with the comradery a sports team can produce but I don’t think I’ll ever play with a group of players again that were as close as we were. Bear in mind: those relationships off the field translate to the pitch too. It makes it so much easier to play well if you just know the other person. Where G will play the next pass; where H will run to next; where I should run if J has the ball (I do hope that alphabetized pattern was appreciated as much as I had planned) Is it any wonder we were successful? I miss those days playing, even training, but I’m very thankful to have been a part of them.

Skipping ahead, in May of this year I graduated with a B.A. in Journalism, bringing a curtain down (for now) on my institutionalized education. It may have taken an unorthodox amount of time for me to get there but I got there. The fact is, since 2007, when the idea first entered my mind about playing and studying here, I have achieved everything, and more, I set out to achieve; even now, this past summer, when I decided to stay-on and work for as far as it would take me, and now I have that chance. Come 2015, I’ll have been here on-and-off for seven years. Seven! (Great film by the way).

Along the road, I’ve had my doubts, and others have too, as well as my fair share of bumps, bruises and scrapes, but I’m still where I want to be. I still have an incredible, incredibly, talented, core of friends–here and abroad–whose kindness really knows no bounds. I still have a family who is behind me one-hundred percent whatever I decide to do and wherever I may be however hard it is for them emotionally for me to be away from home for so long. I still have a heap of ambition I’m yet to fully realize. I still want to see as much of the world as I possibly can. But most importantly, in my own traditionally humble opinion, I still believe in love.

I’m still, me.

Just A Dreamer

lennonToday marks what would have been the 74th birthday of John Lennon, the instrumental lead-singer, songwriter and co-founder of the Beatles and just as influential activist, thinker, and dreamer. During a career that spanned 18 years from 1957-1975, and briefly again in 1980, Lennon was the superstar of his day, helping create an untouchable new form of Rock ‘n’ Roll music that crossed two decades and stands the test of time even now–and will for the foreseeable. While admittedly not a perfect man, as he himself acknowledged, particularly during his abusive relationship with first wife Cynthia Lennon (nee Powell), Lennon would later become the Pied-Piper-Protagonist-of-Peace from the late 60s until his death in 1980, having realized violence was not the right path for any, and his own, purpose.

Lennon wasn’t only a great musician but an ideological maverick. Throughout his activist days, controversy followed him. Not because he was doing anything particularly wrong but because his voice went against those of the mainstream at the time (sound familiar?) And as someone constantly in the spotlight, his voice was heard, and heard by many. The best example of this was in March 1969 when Lennon and newly married partner, Yoko Ono, staged a week-long “Bed-In for Peace” protest during their honeymoon to Amsterdam to express their opposition to the ongoing Vietnam War. Quarantining themselves to a hotel room, the pair knew their marriage would be a public event and decided to use the publicity to promote World Peace.

Amsterdam “Bed-In”, 1969

Three months later, the couple staged a second bed-in protest in Montreal, Canada where Lennon wrote the song Give Peace a Chance. The single was soon adopted by the anti-war movement of the time and sung by an approximate crowd of 250,000 people at a demonstration in Washington D.C. later that year in November.

It would take another six years for that war to be over, but as history has made a point of telling us since, despite all the mockery that was sent Lennon’s way, his message, along with the hundreds of thousands of hippies who shared the same opinion, was surely the right one after all when compared to the lost lives–and failed objectives–of the war itself.

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

It’s strange, and yet, on this day, somewhat poetic to think that we could do with a similar message to what Lennon and Yoko strived for then, today. October 9th 2014 is the now and look at what we’re faced with: an ever disparaging economy between the lower and upper classes; street riots between the people and the law enforcement forces who exist(!) to “protect” us; an everlasting war in Middle East; workplace/gender inequality; marriage inequality; you name it. Where did it all go wrong?

Peace & Love mural by Banksy, San Francisco

Now, although I love my bed, I’m not suggesting we should all grab a camera and film ourselves behind the closed doors of our bedrooms (wink, wink) and send our tapes into the mass media (post-watershed) as a protest to how and why we’ve been led to this mess by the flawed decision makers who control the “system”, but I do think it’s time to wake up and smell the roses (see image above).

Lest we forget, as a public, it is us who should hold accountable those we vote into office, not the other way around. In fact, “they” work for us, a truth I believe can sometimes be forgotten amongst the hyperbole and rhetoric that is shoved down our throats day after day by the mainstream TV networks–who should be held accountable just as much by the way.

Ultimately, no one person on this planet has more of a right to life, and indeed, happiness, than the other, and certainly doesn’t have the right to make another person’s a misery. We’d do well to remember, however, that not everyone is granted even the most basic rights from the get-go, but that shouldn’t mean that those of us in more fortunate positions in society can’t speak up for them either. So while it’s easy to dismiss the essence of Lennon’s message…

“If someone thinks that love and peace is a cliché that must have been left behind in the Sixties, that’s his problem. Love and peace are eternal.”

…as a hippie, liberal and unrealistic notion, especially with what we see happening in the world today, what do you suppose is the counter solution? To continue to accept the hate, discrimination, and suffering we see enacted by our fellow man and woman upon others? Surely not. What an injustice to our intelligence that would be. So what do I say? How about this: Think logically. Question constantly. Act appropriately. Love honestly. Will it change the world? Probably not. But shouldn’t we at least try? Just Imagine if it did.

Blinded By The Lights

I’ve written about it before and I’m writing about it again. The stars. What wonderful majesty. At least, when you can see them. One of the downsides of living in a populated city like Pittsburgh is the light pollution. On a clear night one can look up to the sky and barely see a flicker. The pin-dot diamonds are there, but they’re just not visible. And all because our personal safety is more important than nature. Damn you street lights. Damn you.

On those brief nights when I’ve ventured far enough away from downtown and my hopeful look up is rewarded with some nighttime artistry, the sight always reminds me of where I want my next adventure to be: Scandinavia. I’ve heard and read so many good things about that part of the world that I’ve prospectively made it my next “trip”–sssshhhh don’t tell it. A big part of my reasoning relates to what I’ve already been talking about: the night sky. To venture that far north, as close to the Arctic Circle as it is, means one thing: Aurora Borealis (see first image on link below)the Northern Lights to the average soul–one of the most spectacularly natural wonders this world has to offer.

Shivering next to Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland

Although the sight of such is said to be breathtaking, and could no doubt be seen over and over again by the same set of eyes, I haven’t yet been witness to its colourful choreography. When I visited Iceland a few years ago, I thought I might be, having booked an excursion to travel to those untouched spots of the country that were free of any man-made light.

Lo and behold, luck wasn’t on my side, as the clouds made an untimely appearance and spoiled the potentiality of seeing what I had gone, nay, paid to see.

Posing atop Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Iceland

Nevertheless, my trip to Iceland was far from a wasted journey. Although the “lights” escaped me, traversing a [receding] glacier, relaxing at the Blue Lagoon natural hot springs resort, tripping to two of the biggest waterfalls in Europe and all-round loving the country and the charm of its people, didn’t. In any case, I’ll certainly be going back to discover more of what I missed last time.

It is fascinating to me though to think that the human body is made up of what is generally considered, at least by the expert astrophysicists that tell us, stardust–leftover remnants of the Big Bang which took place over 13 billion years ago. Essentially, the atoms we have in our bodies today: the calcium in our bones; the carbon in our genes; the iron in our blood, to name but a few, came from the skies all that time ago. Granted, not everyone out there is a believer of such a theory and may find more comfort in the view that our existence was the work of an intelligent creator. I accept that’s the case. I don’t necessarily agree with such a position but that doesn’t mean there aren’t those who do–of course, many do.

Royal Greenwich Astronomy Photographers of the Year 2014 Winners

To me, however, it’s all too easy to place the wonder of our universe in the hands of a divine entity. In my eyes, it takes away the spectacle of nature by definition. It placates the notion that the natural world is a multiplying, producible, livable, breathable and survivable manifestation unto itself. It dissolves the responsibility the environment has had around, and on us, literally, and passes it on to 2,000 year old scripture, literary. Inspired by such a concept, I am not. Inspired by the magnificence of Mother Nature, and science, I am.

But to some, the ideas are collusive. A few days ago, as I was walking downtown on my way to the gym, I was stopped by a Christian Bible-study “recruiter” (who, ironically, did his best Moses impression by parting the sidewalk as people walked on by). Rather than do the same, I decided to hear him out and listen to what he had to say. Amicable though our conversation was, as soon as he began to proclaim that the Good Word was indeed “scientific”, I’m afraid he lost me. Faith is faith and science is science. Why pretend it’s anything other than that? If ones convictions about the existence of a God are that strong, why play them off as science, and in turn, give them a fact-based benchmark they won’t be able to live up to? It surely does no favours to the arguments held.

It’s a common misconception–and insult–of believers (not Beliebers) that atheists must lead unfulfilling and miserable lives because of our refutation of “Him”, but specifically, our outlook upon it being the end and not the beginning at the time of death. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s exactly because of this reasoning that we realize we must enjoy and appreciate our beautiful time now. Unlike the religious, atheists don’t welcome death with open arms in the belief that Paradise awaits. It’s just a sad case of life. We also don’t look upon a detestable event like the Rapture (where believers are taken up to Heaven with Jesus after His final resurrection leaving the rest of us to perish on Earth) as something that makes our hearts fill with joy. But hey, where would we get our morality from if it wasn’t for religion?

These thoughts and opinions are my own, of course. Believe what you want to believe. By all means belieb what you want to belieb (if you like his music that much), but I do, however, invite you to click on the top link featuring the most recent winners of the Astronomy Photography of the Year competition, and to watch the above clip of the late Christopher Hitchens as he delivers one of his most famous speeches about the universe in which we live and then ask yourself this question: What sounds more awe-inspiring to you?

Whatever your answer, keep twinkling like the lovely little star you [really] are.

Ripples in the Water

I didn’t sleep too well last night. For the first time in my life I found myself waking up around two o’clock in morning in a state of unrelenting despair. I’m not too sure why but when you begin a mild span of hyperventilation, you know there must be some kind of prominence behind it. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t enjoyable. So much so that I could feel my heart racing to the point of rare concern. Let’s face it: you just never know. Thankfully, rather than falling back asleep on a more permanent basis, I managed to calm down and did my best to rest my eyes until the morning. A few hours later, the morning came. Relief.

Rather than let my seemingly suppressed emotions control the behaviour of my cardio apparatus again, today I headed to the gym to get the blood pumping in a more appropriate and controlled fashion. After a decent session involving an array of leg contortions, arm contractions and full body gyration[s], I left the premises safe in the knowledge that my workout worked out swimmingly (I didn’t make use of the pool). Refueled after a snack bag full of nuts and raisins and one of those overwhelmingly tasteless protein bars, I headed to the nearest point of Pittsburgh’s well-used riverwalk to sample a fresh bout of brisk air.

Once there, I took the time to be still and just watch, being sure to take in a few deep breaths [of pollution] as a reward for my recovering lungs. I wasn’t looking at anything in particular, just the river itself mainly, and the indolent birds of whom the water adopts as its own without fuss. It was a particularly fresher day in the city today in comparison to the mild to high heat of recent weeks and, as such, the fair wind did well to leave its mark on the liquid arteries that surround the beating hub of downtown.

Gazing as I was, as the breeze flicked the surface of the river, the ripples in the water grew and grew. The reflections of the clouds made for a serene, albeit trance-like picture. I couldn’t say why but I was transfixed. Then I recalled. The last time I remembered being pulled into a scene of similar setting like that was with my ex when we took a stroll to the nearby lake (much like the above image) close to where she lives in her hometown.

It was closer to winter than we are now for I can hear the rigamortis-like crunch of the leaves under the weight of my boot as I carefully crossed the crystallized snow of which they were covered. We had gone to skip stones; a small and yet just as enjoyable way to spend time. It’s the simple things in life, right?

Digging our nails into the dirt at the banks edge to find the perfect flat-edged stone, we proceeded to skip our champions of sediment as far as we could, paying no mind to the tranquility of their host, or the harsh cold that had been bullying us since our arrival. Rocks skipped, rocks succeeded, rocks sank, and like today, ripples were rendered. Smiles too for that matter.

Is it not true that a ripple begins with one and then multiplies, much like how a single special moment in time can lead to many more just like it? It may sound silly but the waves I saw on the river today reminded me of that memory, and while I know that wasn’t our first time together, I know that my actions beforehand–as well as hers–had helped us get to that point, which in turn encouraged us to experience many more.

I’m not sure I’m a believer of fate, but isn’t it an amazing thought to think that during our lifetime we all have the power to be the stone that sends a succession of romance-inducing ripples through to someone elses heart? For now, I find myself at the bottom of the lake, but look on the bright side: you’re probably a better stone-skipper than me.

What Ifs

Have you ever just taken a step back from the trials and tribulations of everyday living to reassess the situation? To try to find that ever-elusive bigger picture?

A couple of days ago I found myself in Washington D.C., not only to visit friends, but quite frankly, just to get out of Pittsburgh for a short while. I needed a change of scenery. Although it was only a brief stopover, far from watch the hours count down as my hosts ventured to work during the day, I made the most of D.C.’s last sweltering summer days of the year to take up my own [ad]venture and head out and explore the area. I’ve been to the capital before so rather than be that tourist again, on advice from the resident, er, resident, I took to the streets to find a particular restaurant so to fill the needs and greeds of my impatient innards during the lunch hour rush.

I like walking. I like eating better, but walking is fun too. Plus, it’s healthy for you, both physically and mentally, which is a good thing when you consider once again the statement I just made about how much I like eating. In fact, scientific studies have shown that walking on a frequent and consistent basis can not only help ward off Alzheimer’s disease, but can lead to “bigger brains, better memories and can help improve a person’s all-round mental ability” [BBC]. If you don’t believe me, just look at the image below. It’s science. It can’t be refuted. Unlike G… nevermind.

Anyway, that’s enough journalistic research for one night (Google), I must make my point before I become the chief contributor for you all becoming braindead.

So on my mission to find the sandwich joint I was recommended after my gut letting me know that’s what it demanded (lies, more so the result of the fact I couldn’t bear to decide which chinese restaurant to pick being in and amongst Chinatown), I was stopped in my tracks by a guy on the sidewalk who recognized my attire (an England football shirt) and proceeded to make chat with me about it. Not in too much of a rush–though my interior growls would argue otherwise–rather than dismiss his attempts to sign me up to the charity he was working for, we shared background stories, talked football, and joked, before he finally divulged the information he needed to share. Though I couldn’t be of assistance on that occasion, we shook hands and passed on pleasant goodbyes before going our separate ways. All in all, a respectful encounter, lasting a mere five minutes, if that.

Now while we certainly hadn’t become friends in that amount of time, not long after I left him there on the sidewalk to be ignored by his fellow human for the majority of his day, it struck me: I’d never see that man again. But that in itself didn’t bother me, after all, I didn’t know him, nor did he know me, but it made me think. It made me think of all those people who are in my life. All those that I do have interactions with, or could, potentially, have with in the future. It made me realize how important it is not to take things for granted. How important it is to just, well, use our voice.

Talk. Open up. Be honest.

I’m no pessimist, nor do I care for the proponents of nihilism but if and when you think about that idea for a second, just ask yourself this one question: What if, by the time you said what you wanted to say to someone, it was too late?

Maybe you’re waiting to repair a family feud until the time is right. Or waiting to tell a friend how much you appreciate them being a part of your life. Or waiting to tell that special person how much you love them.

Unfortunate though it is, it’s a part of our make-up as “the” apex-predator to believe that we have a divine right to life, but the simple fact is, whether we like it or not, we don’t. To change tact just briefly, in the animal kingdom, a juvenile Mayfly usually lives up to a year before it begins its metamorphosis into an adult. Once matured, the adult may only live a few hours–maximum, a day–before it dies. Now is that not a perfect illustration of the precariousness of life itself? We develop, learn, create, grow, love, but in an instant it can all be lost. And that isn’t to sound morose, quite the opposite. Such a fact should startle us into appreciation of what we already have. Who we already have. And what we should do to keep it that way.

A bearer of great wisdom I am not, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my recent trip to D.C., it’s this: Don’t wait. Nothing lasts forever. Be pro-active, like with walking. Get the juices of life, laughter and love flowing. Not only will it’ll improve your memory. It’ll surely help create some.

The A-Dream

It was Mr. T who once said, “I pity the fool”, and although I was a little young to be an avid The A-Team viewer, heck, I wasn’t even born, that sentiment is certainly something I can relate to today. Why? you might ask. Well, because I may well be one By now, I’m sure a lot of you already know that I’m again a free soul. A free man. That isn’t to say I was ever enslaved. Or maybe I was. I never felt that way mind you. But at the very least, I was only ever bound by the chains of love and respect, which, apparently, doesn’t count for much these days, so here we are. Single once more.

As I sit here typing this, while the dulcet tones of Chris Martin, Coldplay and their hit single Magic ring out, I can’t help but think of the irony. If you’re familiar with the song, I’m sure you’ll understand why, particularly in relation to the events I’ve detailed above. “Broken into two” I have been, admittedly, these past couple of months, but far from me constructing some kind of sympathetic sob-story for you all to discard without much regard, this post is meant to act as something more, a conviction-bolsterer(?) if you will, for anyone who may have found themselves in a similar position, whether recently or at any time previously. My words, reassurances and actions, both past and present, weren’t meaningful enough to salvage what I had, but maybe they’ll find some use elsewhere, who knows. One can dream.

The truth of it is, throughout these last two months, during which my year-long relationship began to unfold, then crumble in front of my very eyes, it was all so new to me. Because of that fact, I was never really sure how to deal with it. Should I have let time heal the issues and concerns that arose and backed off more than I did? Should I have become a more active mind game player? Should I have been more assertive to help fix things? Maybe it didn’t make a difference. Maybe it was always a lost cause. Maybe I was too naive to think it wasn’t. The fact of the matter is, I still don’t know. Legitimate questions though they might be, what I do know, however, is that I haven’t any regrets about how I did cope with everything for a reason.

As a kid, I was never the type of person who would just say how they felt for fear of being judged or embarrassed by friends and peers alike. It took a long time for that insecurity to change. But gratefully, it did. However unfortunate the circumstances, I can thank my grandparents for that, as I must for a lot of things. Though my one Nan passed away when I was only six years old, into my late teens I experienced the deaths of my three remaining grandparents in the space of a few years. At the time, even in their old age, you never really think that they won’t be around anymore. A feeling I regret to this day.

Of course, they all knew I loved them, and I was young, but looking back, I wish I could have done, or at least, said, more than I did. I would have told both my Grandads that I thought they were heroes, for instance. Real, wartime heroes. I would have told both my Nans that no amount of hugs and kisses in the world could ever make-up for how they looked after me, making me realize how important it is to grow up a kind and considerate person in the process. I simply would have told them ‘I loved them’ more. I can’t turn back that time, but from their passing came my maturing. What a gift I was left.

Roll the clocks forward to this summer. There I am, relationship facing imminent disaster. What do I do? I let my heart do the talking. Foolish some might say. Maybe. But my past experiences have taught me otherwise. Did it work? Well, no, but why wouldn’t I tell her how I felt? Society today has reached a stage so far removed from actual humanistic and empathetic connection that I couldn’t bring myself to become an active contributor. It just isn’t realistic, especially in regards to those relationships personal to your own.

So, as you can imagine, whilst it was soul-destroying to find out that the thoughts, feelings and emotions I felt weren’t reciprocated and the memories we had made after so many good times spent together seemingly forgetful, I for one will continue to tell those who give my life meaning exactly what I feel, and perhaps you should too. I couldn’t think of anything worse than suppressing the regret of not doing so, wondering what if for years to come, or remaining silent until it’s too late, but maybe that’s just me. And sure, I didn’t get the outcome I had hoped for, but at least, deep down, I would know I remained true to my heart.

And that, that, should never be anything to be ashamed of.

Burning Question

At this point, I’m not entirely sure what else I can do. This past week or so has been one of the hardest I’ve ever had to cope with, and while I’m well aware that my troubles and worries are far less significant than a lot of people’s around the world, I have been subject to the feeling of turmoil, confusion and heartache nonetheless.

Relationships can be difficult. Though I’m far from an expert, in my recent experience, it seems even those happiest and enjoyable connections between two people aren’t exempt from being pulled down into the murky depths of skepticism. It can happen in an instant. Something you’re unlikely to see coming at all. I certainly didn’t. But in some respects, I get it: over a prolonged period of time, things may feel more strenuous than they once were, after all, it takes a lot of effort on both sides to keep the spark that ignited it all in the first place, lit.

But that spark had never burnt out.

Until just three weeks ago, it was positively explosive–quite literally–as we snuggled under a blanket together on the dewy damp grass at a local golf course to see in (or out), with her whole family, a spectacular fireworks display to mark the 4th July celebrations. In that moment alone, as booming decorations of every kind filled the night sky with technicolour light, and we shuffled closer together to keep each other warm from the ever-chilling air, I thought to myself, ‘Thisthis is something real’. In my 26-years of life on this planet, I never once had felt that before. That was one of many special moments we’ve shared, and a feeling I’d hope was reciprocated.

“Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” – Anon

Roll the clocks forward to now, and things have changed, but certainly aren’t lost. It’s one of the hardest things to know that the person you fell deeply for (and who did for you) has doubts about “the future”, however long that future maybe. Having recently picked up a couple of jobs local to the area, I could well be around for another year, at least. A year I still believe could be better than its predecessor, if it’s wanted. Sure, commitment can be scary. I just fear regret is worse.

In my eyes, life’s too short to play games, overthink things or preempt events that haven’t even happened yet. As I see it, here and now, only a handful of people walk into your life who, separate from friends and family, flaws and all, truly make a difference to your own. Although I’ve been hurt, I know deep down we had something. Why would I ever want to give something as beautiful as that up prematurely?

When Time Stood Still

Unlike some of my friends, I’m not much of an actor. I used to hate taking mandatory Drama class during Secondary School. Not only was I no good at it–likely as a direct result of my introverted personality back then–but to make matters worse, my teacher wasn’t exactly endearing. I can’t remember her name, but I do remember she stood fairly small, was aged between mid-30s to early 40s, possessed a set of grossly yellow teeth thanks to her similarly gross smoking habit, and had long brownish red hair with grey streaks worn down her back that ceased at the backs of her legs. Although I didn’t have much of an imagination when it came to following her orders to act in front of the class on cue, I did have enough of one to imagine that she wouldn’t look out-of-place being cast as the Wicked Witch of the West if ever a local production of The Wizard of Oz rolled into town. The tribulations of a prepubescent pupil.

Nevertheless, there’s been times in recent memory when things have felt like I was playing a movie role, but have in fact, thankfully, been reality. I pay compliment to Mother Nature for her recent downpours of rain to help in my being reminded of one such occasion.

Not long into dating my current girlfriend last year, approximately mid-July to early August time I suspect, due to my housing crisis issues I was staying with a handful of friends at their apartment until their lease also expired. While I wasn’t new to dating, it had certainly been an ample amount of time since I had called upon my “wooing” instincts to “woo” someone of the opposite sex, though I had hoped I hadn’t forgotten to “woo with style”.

One particular afternoon, we arranged to meet up at the apartment to spend the day together. Making the most of the fact that the apartment, at the time, was empty of its actual inhabitants, I decided to take up the role as stand-in host. Looking at a break within the clouds, I decided to head to the nearby grocery store to pick up some items to cook for us both. Ever vigilant of the sky above us, we scuttled to the shop (no doubt looking like a pair of Olympic race-walkers) just in time before the heavens opened.

Relieved, we took our time to choose our tidbits, then waited at the exit doors to plan our next escape. By this point, the scant drizzle had turned into heavy precipitation; no longer was it a matter of staying dry, but how wet we were willing to get. Agreeing that we would make a dash for it and see how far we could get between downpours, after a hasty “1-2-3″ count, we ran as fast as the Homo sapien race possibly could while wearing flip-flops and carrying bags full of chicken and garden vegetables–an event I wouldn’t be surprised to see approved for the 2016 Olympics…

Three-quarters of the way back, after a gallant effort we simply had to surrender to the now Monsoon-like weather conditions (if you ever get caught in one that truly means life-or-death, just forget the flip-flops and shopping bags). Taking refuge in a sheltered staircase nearby, we decided to wait as long as possible for the storm to pass. In the mean time, things turned Hollywood. With the streets now clear of people, while the odd car or bus hit each puddle with purpose, the surrounding scene felt all the more surreal. We couldn’t just sit there. A moment had presented itself.

Taking a step higher to meet her at eye-level, dropping the bags below, we grabbed hold of each other around the waist and moved into kiss. Soggy though we were, as the rain kept falling, now wasn’t the time to worry about the damp or the chicken. Raw passion had firmly taken over. To this day I still remember that kiss, and likely won’t forget it, not when the rain moves in, especially. Moments like those don’t come around too often but it was Oscar worthy nonetheless. A fact my old drama teacher would be astounded by.

An Ode to Home

It’s been around 6 months since I was last home. Bourne End, Buckinghamshire to be exact. It’s very much a cliché, but I think we can all agree (maybe) that home is certainly where the heart is, wherever we may find ourselves living out our lives right now. Going back for Christmas was the first winter holiday I’d been back for for three years–a Pilkinton record! While the previous two years before then were 1) spent with the family of an ex-teammate and 2) spent taking a road trip to Washington D.C. (probably the least eventful Christmas Day I’ll ever have–no offence Dave!), the festivities, unsurprisingly, never quite felt the same, and never will.

While by now I’m certainly used to life in America–practically my second home now–there comes times, often randomly, when I’d rather be back at my first. There’s so much about England (or Great Britain as it’s usually referred to here!) that is unique to the country that I sometimes wonder why I left in the first place, though of course, I could never regret my experiences in the States. For all its flaws, I love it here too.

Going back to one of my past birthdays when I was unable to fly back for the summer, where I had saved the couple of presents I had sent to me, I proceeded to open one from my brother, a book, called Notes from a Small Island by American-born travel writer, Bill Bryson. The gift itself came with its own note, which read along the lines of: Just a little something to remind you of home, Love Bro (I assume it said ‘love’ anyway). Though I’m not an avid reader, it wasn’t long before I had read its last paragraph, thus paying compliment not only to how well written the book was, but also to my sibling’s sense of brotherly gift-buying.

A frosty morning on the moors of Bourne End and the River Thames

First released in 1995, the book reads as an account of Bryson’s last trip (at the time) discovering the intricacies–sometimes peculiarities–of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland!) and its culture, before returning to his homeland after living in the UK with his family for more than twenty years. His reasons for doing so go a long way to describe the humour inherent in his writing.

“I had recently read that 3.7 million Americans, according to a Gallup poll, believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, so it was clear that my people needed me.”

To date, the book is widely revered by Britons themselves as one of the most realistic portrayals of the country itself, and considering Bryson’s years in the country, is written with as much sarcasm and wit that we would be proud to call him our own. To give you a taste of the work, here’s a short excerpt:

“Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain – which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad – Marmite, village fetes, country lanes, people saying ‘mustn’t grumble’ and ‘I’m terribly sorry but’, people apologizing to me when I conk them with a nameless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, stinging nettles, seaside piers, Ordnance Survey maps, crumpets, hot-water bottles as a necessity, drizzly Sundays – every bit of it.

What a wondrous place this was – crazy as fuck, of course, but adorable to the tiniest degree. What other country, after all, could possibly have come up with place names like Tooting Bec and Farleigh Wallop, or a game like cricket that goes on for three days and never seems to start? Who else would think it not the least odd to make their judges wear little mops on their heads, compel the Speaker of the House of Commons to sit on something called the Woolsack… What other nation in the world could possibly have given us William Shakespeare, pork pies, Christopher Wren, Windsor Great Park, the Open University, Gardners’ Question Time and the chocolate digestive biscuit? None, of course.”

And you know what, it’s true. We’re as barmy as they come. Sure, we have a darker history than most, but all that aside, where else can you eat something as peculiarly named as a chocolate digestive biscuit and consider it the norm?!

In fact, it wasn’t too long ago I was asked by my girlfriend, to paraphrase, Why are they called digestives? Are they something medical, to help you digest food? Shocked as I was to have a British institution as “digestive” biscuits are back home questioned about their integrity as a perfectly and commonly used biscuit to dunk in cups of tea nationwide, I didn’t actually have an answer. I had no idea why they were called that. Conducting research (I use the word as loosely as possible) since her query, I’ve since found out that her initial suspicions were correct, with certain ingredients when the biscuit was first made [in the 1880s], holding certain antacid properties. Who knew, eh? Well now you all do. If it ever turns up as a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, or Jeopardy!, you’re very welcome indeed. And brownie points go to her for being so correctly intuitive in the first place!

Anyway, aside from the great digestive debacle of 2014, I probably haven’t done the book much justice. I probably lost you after the second paragraph. I probably want a cup of tea and an appropriate dunking morsel to go with it right now. I may not have even sold my Motherland to you well enough, but regardless of any of the above possibilities, if you’re a book lover and Anglophile, as I now am, give it a once over yourself–you’ll be longing to be transported to the rolling hills, countryside pubs, and quaintly historic towns like Boggy Bottom in no time (yes it’s a real place).

As for me, I’m off to dream about sipping a nice cold cider near the banks of the Thames as the brisk valley air cuts through the sun’s rays and welcomes me home with a modestly British kiss on the cheek.

Hit the Road Jack

Nearly a full year has passed since my last post to this blog, and my how that year has flown by. Although I hadn’t planned to take a break from updating this site for that long, in my current circumstance, I think it’s taken me that long to realize how helpful writing can be to clear the mind. After all, a healthy mind leads to a healthy body, and considering I’ve been in the States–the greatest nation to find a good burger–for another decent amount of time, my body certainly needs to get healthier.

As strange as it is, having forgotten what my last communication with you all was actually about (feel free to revisit my past posts too!), the embodiment of this post may actually follow a similar path, or road if you will. To sum it up as succinctly as possible, last time my fingers tapped these keys, I touched upon the stumbling blocks and obstacles life throws at us, which, with any luck, help us grow as people, in addition to providing us with suitable experiences from which we can learn.

At the time, my biggest obstacle was remaining in the country, as I hadn’t yet fully committed to the upcoming school year (my very last year in college education) due to the fact I was still negotiating my financial obligations, which weren’t certain. Thankfully, at the very last knockings, this issue was resolved and everything about my existence suddenly turned into butterflies dread and rainbows despair as I now knew I had to attend the classes I had scheduled–a worrying realization for any student worth their salt.

To cut a long story very short, by May of this year, after a very long and winding road, I finally graduated college with a B.A. in Journalism. If you don’t believe me, look below. Just look at my stupid face.

This is what success looks like

My other concern at the time was where I was going to be living, as my lease at my old apartment had expired, and as I didn’t yet know if I was continuing my schooling, I was in a position where I couldn’t seek to sign one somewhere else and be tied to the terms of a contract. Helped by a few dear friends who enabled me to live with them for a few weeks rather than be left in limbo, I had a roof over my head, but only for the short-term. The start of the fall semester was days away and by then I was technically homeless, but in an act of kindness I’ll never forget, I was offered a place to stay by someone I was currently dating.

Reluctant though I think we both were to be spending that much time together so soon into our relationship, everything seemed to click so well and so fast. In short, we enjoyed each others company, and still do. For me, it was my first serious relationship, having spent more time, years previously, focusing on other avenues of my life rather than becoming entangled in a situation I was likely too unprepared, and immature for.

Though ups and downs presented themselves (particularly over Christmas when I flew back home and we had to cope with our first real goodbye), for the vast majority of the time, things were going well. We laughed every day, cooked together, even vacationed. I met her entire family, became best buds with her two dogs, and spent both our birthday’s making surprise breakfasts for each other. By the way, if you’ve never tried baked brie cheese with maple syrup and walnut pancakes, find a recipe, it’s heavenly–that was my surprise!

But while for the time being, we’ve decided to give ourselves a little more breathing room–no doubt as a result of the speediness of which our relationship first developed–these are all things which I deeply treasure and am entirely grateful for over the course of this past year, though I know at times I may not have always shown it–a flaw of mine I’m yet to shake.

So as things stand, this is me, just hoping to navigate the next few turns present on my life’s road, attempting to keep those who truly give it value, in it. Maybe one day my tarmac will be as straight as it is in the picture, but then, I guess life isn’t always that easy.

Augustus Gloop of Sparta, It’s, Er… August!

You can admit it. Go on, admit it. After my last post about national surveillance, you thought “they’d” caught up to me didn’t you? That’s why he’s been away for so long, you thought. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. You know who I mean. The “establishment”. You thought they got me, didn’t you?! DIDN’T YOU?! Well “thankfully”, for you, they haven’t. I’m still a free man–apparently. And being a free man means one thing–I’m still able to write about stuff. About what stuff, I’m still not sure, but let’s see where this one takes us shall we…

Well, as the title of this post suggests (forgive me, but having recently revisited Anchorman and 300, I felt it was only natural to fuse the two together to create a distinctly Ron Burgandy-esque-type quote), the month of August has, rather rudely I suggest, arrived. And arrived guns blazing it has, ready to rain on my, and I’m sure many of my peers’ currently sunny and bright parade. How so you might ask? In the form of that ever challenging and long-winded experience: education! D’uh! Yep, by the end of this month we’ll have participated in a weeks worth of classes already.

On a personal note, having been struck by the first-week-of-classes-lackadaisical-bug, I’ll still be a few notebooks and textbooks short of a party (that isn’t a metaphor–I will literally still have neither!)

*GULP*

And I’ve no doubt, that, by that time, I’ll already be up to my eyeballs in homework.

*DOUBLE GULP* 

But excuse me, I’m getting ahead of myself. Seeing as I’m still none-the-wiser, in regards to whether I’ll even be enrolled in the upcoming term, all of the above may as well be considered a string of hypothetical’s(!)–meaning, in short, there’s still a chance of me having to [regrettably] leave this great place to head home, and apparently, as a dastardly foreigner, that would be my only other option.

This calls for one thing, I think you’d agree…

*TRIPLE GULP*

That’s quite a few gulps. That’s nearly as many gulps as Gloop took himself in Willy’s wonderfully magical, yet ridiculously hazardous adventureland. Unfortunately, before his suctioned-pipe-fate, as he was tucking into lickable wallpaper, edible toadstools–eventually taking an unwelcome dip in the river of chocolate–the gulps I’m experiencing are rather ones filled with anxiety, tension, and other nervous-related symptoms–not ones of childhood-ecstasy and sugar-coated yumminess!

You may have won zis battle Gloop, but you haven’t won ze war, and considering you hail from Germany, I’m fairly confident about zat result! If only you had some Spartan blood in you to help your cause, as opposed to just having high blood pressure(!) Those cakes are the real enemy, eh Gus?

But excuse me, I digress. Apologies.

On the subject of Spartans, however, there’s one part of 300, specifically a quote, which jumped out at me more than ever the other night, as I was sat watching. Not because of its absurdity, or how profound it was (let’s be honest, you’d be hard-pushed to find something enlightening during a revamp of a graphic novel!), no–but because at that particular moment, at that particular time, I interpreted it in a way that, I felt, pertains to my life, in particularly, right now. So, rather than give you a convoluted rundown of the scene, here it is in all its Greek glory:

And that sums it up for me. “It’s just an eye…” could so easily be replaced by a more common phrase in our culture. After all, things could be worse couldn’t they? As I write this, and as I’ve touched upon already, my near future still remains uncertain. By the end of this month I may not even be in the country anymore–a semester or two short of my long-desired graduation. More timely than that, even, by the end of tomorrow you could technically call me homeless, having recently fulfilled the contract of my own apartments lease and outlasted the temporary accommodation I’ve been lucky enough to have received from a good couple of friends.

These things are, of course, problematic. In an ideal world I’d have preferred for these issues (and plenty others) to have been sorted out by now, to relieve me of the stress and worries I naturally have. In an ideal world I’d like for the national England football team to not be so drastically mediocre anymore and actually fulfill their potential. In an ideal world our old friend Augustus would have been able to happily bend down besides Wonka’s chocolate river to enjoy its cocoa-goodness, without having the misfortune of falling in and making his way to the dreaded Fudge Room, as supervised by that mystifying populous; the Oompa Loompa’s. In an ideal world I’d have already had the privilege of seeing a Loompa in the wild…

But “things” are never this easy. Not to get too Plato-esque on you all (as if I could ever reach that level of thought!), but obstacles and challenges are all a part of life. If we make them so, they are, in my opinion, what make us grow as people. It’s how we react to such pressures and concerns that make us evolve, and with any luck, learn. Similarly then, our own navigation of what life throws at us, is, I believe, paramount to how we mould our own personalities, and this alone takes me back to my original point. For me personally, yes, my current situation isn’t exactly ideal–I’d like to know more about the path ahead than I currently do–but then I take a step back to look at the bigger picture and remind myself; whatever happens, it isn’t the end of the world.

Of course, I could still be left disappointed, and if that’s the case, then so be it–I’m sure I’ll get over it. But at the end of the day, the “things” I do have far outweigh any negative outcome I could well face. It sounds cliché, but it’s true; I’ll still have my health, I’ll still have my family, I’ll still have my friends, and importantly, I’ll still have my aspirations. So I put it to you, is that not enough? Am I not already lucky enough to have these things afforded to me, when a vast majority of people around the globe suffer on a daily basis?

It’s important to remember, I think, that in today’s society “we” all too often get caught up in the idea that “we” deserve, or more so, need more than “we” already have. While this is entirely someone’s right, I feel it can also blur their perspective on the world around them, which, as innocent a thought as it may seem, could, as a collective, serve as a means to isolate and distance themselves with those less fortunate, on other parts of our earth–thus becoming a destructive influence on the concept of society, as a whole.

So, appreciating the fact that I still have use of both my eyes, to enjoy life’s stumbling blocks in full resolution–unlike that maimed Spartan of ours–I can also appreciate the fact that these “things” are merely a part of life’s tests; tests of our inner, humanistic resolution. No matter how herculean (or should that be Spartan?) these tests are, however, we’d do well to remember that somewhere, someone, has it harder than we do.

Now, you stay classy world-wide-web.

Independence: YAY!

Happy Independence D- wait… that was last week wasn’t it? Oh my, do excuse me. As you can imagine, remembering holidays whereby “my people” lost (and rightfully so, I might add!) isn’t one of my strong suits. In truth though, I’m glad they did–I mean maybe I wouldn’t be here now enjoying the vast fruits of this great nation if they hadn’t succumbed to America’s mighty (and it is mighty) hand of justice(!) Now, I know some of you who know me might indeed detect a slight hint of sarcasm in these words, but be assured, I do actually mean them–to an extent. Not to get too sensitive, too soon, but I truly am grateful to this place for allowing me the experiences and memories I’ve come to know and love, which, of course, include the people I’ve met along the way. However, just because I am a “suspicious” foreign Limey (that’s derogatory slang for “Brit” by the way), an alien of sorts, who likes to think he attains a certain degree of logical thought, doesn’t mean I can’t be objective to American current affairs; and my, hasn’t there been some affairs recently!

Where to start. Actually,come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t at all. My Dad did warn me. People might be watching. People might be recording. People might be… people might be completing other-covert-operations-related-to-this-blog-post (that is, if things are rather slow in the office today). But regardless, it still deserves an anxious *GULP* Well, too late now anyway–I already clicked the save button, so whatever they’re looking for, they already have it–may as well continue then, right?

But really, what the hell is going on in the world?! Is it just me?! Sometimes it feels like it. I mean, I’m not even American and some of the things that go on here astound me! Specifically though, and for those of you who have no idea what my last paragraph is alluding to, then I have to ask, in the most respectful way I can; where have you been?! Although to be fair to you, it’s not like it’s been doing the rounds much on national news stations–why would it? It’s not like the story completely questions the whole idea of independence in the first place. OK, you can count that last sentence as sarcasm this time.

To cut a long story short (and no doubt my time in America), the story in question is that of whistleblower… oh god, what do I do now? Can I mention his name? Oh shit, I’ve just given their gender away. Errrm, OK, so for the purposes of this post I’ll just mention him/maybe her by the initials E.S.–nothing suspicious here folks! Anyway, the story of E.S. broke a couple of weeks ago by The G… nevermind, you just need to know it was a UK newspaper. In short, E.S., who had worked for a U.S. (United States that is; this wasn’t another person!) government security and surveillance agency, revealed to the media (for the public’s sake) for the first time about the seemingly typical and intrusive practices the agency subscribes to–including, but not limited to (apparently!): the collection and archiving of billions of citizens’ phone records, in collaboration with the top four cell phone companies in the country, and the ‘search and save’ policy held upon most electronic data the general public communicates through (e-mails etc.) Nothing too heavy then? Oh no, not at all. Compared to the domestic drones this country supposedly uses to gather even more information and day-to-day imagery of people (even you?), this breaking story was probable, playground  piecemeal.

However, it isn’t. How can it be? This very story alone, and I’ve no doubt there are many more that we’re yet to know about, here and abroad (to give you an idea, a recent report in the UK recently found that to every 11 Britons there’s at least one CCTV camera!), contradict the exact notion of a free, independent and democratic state; the very traditions America, rightfully, prides itself on. There is no prouder state on Earth than America, and I wouldn’t be the only Brit to tell you that, for national pride back home, though it certainly exists, is on a far smaller-scale. But that just comes with the territory of being different kinds of people. For instance, Brits tend to have much more introverted personalities than Americans, not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course there isn’t–for me personally, I’m glad we’re that way–for it’s what makes our culture, as well as America’s more extroverted nature, particularly unique.

Nevertheless, it’s stories such as the one mentioned above that threaten the cornerstones of these patriotic values people hold so deeply here, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly–no matter how many PR opportunities are taken by a government to divert the public’s attention away from an issue, no matter how much for the “greater good” (i.e. safety of the borders) such intrusiveness apparently breeds, and it should be said, no matter how much drivel national news channels pump out for the very same effect, according to their own political or partisan agendas, which, in all honesty, I believe to be an even more iniquitous “crime.” I mean, does real journalism actually exist anymore? As a journalist-in-training, I tend to ask myself that question more than most. What kind of journalism do I want to be involved in? The kind that commands utter devotion to network agendas and minimizes scrutiny, or the kind that extracts the true truth from real, newsworthy news… that is, proper newsworthiness, wherever it can be found? By my tone, I’m sure you can guess what my answer would be.

So while I found myself also joining in with the festivities of last week (it’d be rude not to), I’m careful to recognize that in this day and age of widespread and/or worldwide, Big Brother like politics and technology–independence–for what it really meant when America’s Founding Fathers built themselves this nation, no longer, really, exists. Take this for what it’s worth, but I know I’d rather live in a place whereby questioning government policy for the purposes of transparency was encouraged, rather than restricted. That, to me, is the sign of a true democracy. I mean, if the people themselves aren’t willing to know the truth, who’s regulating the government? If you want “them” to harness more power, then I’m afraid democracy may as well just pack its bags right now. In fact, send it to Syria… they could probably find it more useful than a few AK47’s, no?

Anyhoo, we’re nearly there now, so let me leave you with this quote by Benjamin Franklin, I’m sure you’ve heard of him before;

Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.

Here’s another;

I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.

Oops, my apologies, that last one was said by Mr. E.S. whistleblower himself–sound familiar? Does to me. You know, “fighting” for freedoms can come in all shapes and sizes. As courageous as it is, just because you fight overseas and arm yourself with a gun doesn’t mean you can’t protect your country’s liberties in other ways, at home, that, at the very least, should serve to protect anyone who is a law-abiding citizen. Think about it. What E.S. and others like him have done is merely show the government for what it thinks it is; an omnipotent, untouchable, all-seeing, singing, and dancing fist of rule. They are not, and never should be. We’d be wise to remember as the proletariat, that it’s us that put them in that position in the first place, and as a consequence, it’s us that at any time, can take those positions away–but only if we see fit to do so. If we aren’t offered the answers we deserve, then surely, we should do just that.

Now, I’m well aware that this post may come across as plain ol’ paranoia seeping through my pores, but trust me, it isn’t. It’s simply an objective opinion. If I’m unable to have one, I may as well become a robot (give it time Jack, they’re still working on the technology) Now, who’s that at the door… wait, you’re from where? Oh, so I should grab all my things? Bollocks. Nevermind democracy packing its bags–looks like it’s my turn–next time, I’ll listen to you Dad…

Feeling Antsy

I’ve no idea what it is with my house at the minute but following on from my last post, whereby the black-beetle-bedroom encounter will live long in the memory (UPDATE: beetle remains on the run), it seems as though our house is now the preferred summer-travel destination for a particularly persistent family of ants–extended members included. Although this has gone on for a while now, especially during the warmer months (Winter gave myself and my roommates some respite!), it doesn’t get any less annoying to venture into the resort kitchen and find a throng of happy-go-lucky holidaymakers scampering around on the floor and counter tops while they enjoy a feast of microscopic crumbs and condiment spillages, treating the place as if they were on an all-inclusive on the beaches of Hawaii.

Well you know what ants, you’re not! You’re in my home, and from this day forward I vow to stop this madness! While I commend your endurance and tenaciousness, to which the most resolute of Tour de France cyclists would surely appreciate for the next few weeks, your antics must stop, got it?! Don’t make me break out the pesticides–there’s nothing worse than a vacation full of showers, and especially not the toxic kind! Anyway, moving right along, as I try to forget about the swarm of bug-problems enveloping my life right now, let me digress entirely and get serious. Well not too serious, but more so in comparison to my literary exploits relating to ants(!)

Surfing the web the other day (though I’d much rather attempt something similar on some Hawaiian waves), an article on the New York Times website caught my eye, and thus I followed the links (not as self-satisfying as turning a newspapers pages, I must admit) and read on. Titled The Decline and Fall of the English Major and written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, an American non-fiction author and newspaper editor (don’t forget that attribution journos out there!), the article encompasses two main themes: One–as the headline suggests–why there’s been a percentage drop of students at university taking English as their degree, and two, the author’s reaction and concerns to such trends. 

Please click here to read the full article

As someone who can list Harvard and Yale amongst the institutions he’s taught at, Klinkenborg certainly has “some” expertise in the English field. The most compelling part of his article, however, was the fact that he continually faces students who are able to adhere to the standard curriculum, which includes clear comprehension of English jargon and semantics, but in contrast, are seemingly unable to write “clearly, simply, [and] with attention to and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them”–the kind of writing, he says, is “clear, direct and humane… the very root of the humanities” itself.

I don’t wish to quote the entire text, but one reason for this result, Klinkenborg argues, is the somewhat harsh (and tragic) reality for students, that graduating with an English degree just doesn’t offer them the prospects of being able to afford the [standard] financial burden, aka paying back loans, that comes with enrolling in higher-education. In short, jobs in the English-arena just don’t pay enough, or quickly enough to satisfy the average student in today’s ever-restrictive economic climate; a sad but true, yet completely understandable position to hold. Nevertheless, the English major offers something more worthy, to Klinkenborg at least, and his stance on the matter is summed up rather poignantly in his last couple of paragraphs, if you’ll let me cite them now;

Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.

No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.

Comparatively, as a student who is currently majoring in journalism, I’m unable to entirely relate my own experiences to those who study for an English degree, although I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to writing, a lot of the intricacies and characteristics of the language that Klinkenborg talks about, can surely be intimately linked. Additionally, I believe him to be right. In journalism, the nature of the subject, or business of it, allows the opportunity for writers to take an objective and neutral standpoint towards an unlimited amount of topics, and at the same time, have them inform the masses. This “neutrality,” of course, is open to debate considering how un-neutral news reporting seems to be nowadays–with which American media is probably the biggest offender–particularly within the “western world.” But to a degree (lesser so in terms of media agendas!), this is also my point, and Klinkenborg’s too. In essence, being able to write and communicate concisely, whilst constructing your words consciously, in regards to your inner thoughts and beliefs is what the English major, and others, like journalism, do offer; the chance to engage an audience in your own unique way. It might seem an obvious proponent, but as Klinkenborg’s article describes, it’s not as easy as you might think.

But by no means am I a certified writer. By no means am I qualified to advise anyone about writing itself, I’m still finding my own way, but this is just one of the luxuries that is afforded to me as well as amateur and professional writers everywhere–the fact that if I choose to, I can make a difference with, or at the very least, give people the opportunity to read, the words I create. It’s true, I’m no gambler, far from it in fact (Vegas could tell you that), but in my mind there is no doubt that writing is a game of chance, and especially so, if, like me, you’re aiming to mould a career out of it.

Whichever way you look at it, and no matter what the odds are, the outcomes remain the same; some people may appreciate what you have to say, and some may not, but to me personally, the principle reward that writing, and the concept of the English language gives me–which I’m sure masters of literature like Hemingway and Shakespeare appreciated too, is this; I’m allowed to write about anything, at any time, and how I want to. For a free spirit like me, that’s priceless, regardless of the promises writing may or may not provide for me, now, and in the future.

Becoming a high-roller would merely be an added bonus, but if not, then I’ll always have the chance to spin the roulette wheel once more. Now, time to check flights to Hawaii…

Beetle-Mania

Having spent a reasonable amount of time, in reasonably good company, at a reasonably “respectable” watering-hole last night (drinking just one bourbon and coke–quite reasonable for me), I found myself returning home at a very reasonable hour, thanks to my friends astonishingly reasonable driving (a rarity, let me tell you!), to which my internal reasonable-meter began reacting particularly unreasonably, and thus shook uncontrollably until it ceased to exist; a reasonable, albeit somewhat convoluted outcome, I think you’d agree.

Once through the door, however, I brilliantly navigated the dark hallway and made it to my bedrooms’ entrance, making sure to switch on the light before descending the rickety and worn stairs that lead to my basement bed. Light on, and reaching approximately the third or fourth step, my attention made its way to the basement floor, and it was there that I happened to catch an unsuspecting black beetle scurrying back into the darkness having made a temporary haven beneath my laundry basket.

Suffice to say, whether I’ve inherited a mild-phobia of creepy-crawlies from any other ancestors from my gene pool, or whether it’s just pure Jack, I froze in position and “naturally” let out a fairly acoustic “[expletive] hell!”–let’s face it, as profane language goes, that’s pretty much the standard go-to when faced with a scene of shock–and right then and there, I was in shock, as sad or as understandable as that is(!)

This time, as I began ascending the stairs, while I contemplated not sleeping down there–my initial reaction to seeing the beast (and as beetles go, it was!)–I drew my breath and practiced some amateur meditation, before deciding, that, for precautionary measures, I should at least embark to the depths with some sort of tool, which would be used for capturing the critter if I experienced its terror once more. Kitchen in close quarters, I proceeded to scour the cupboards and without much deliberation, in the end, I decided on this…

<<< I hope my roommates don’t mind.

Safe in the knowledge that my trusty beaker would serve as a useful protector against the sinister element that had entered my domain, I calmly reached my bed, being careful not to leave a trail of broken exoskeleton, in case I had the misfortune of stepping on the creature with my bare feet. In fact, if that had happened, I’m fairly confident I’d have to check myself into therapy the next day to get over such trauma. Mercifully, it didn’t, and hasn’t since, but I’m well aware that the [unwelcome] visitor still roams my room amongst the nooks, crannies and shadows that exist; you can imagine my concerns.

Thanks to the evening’s developments, it’s not unreasonable to think it had been A Hard Day’s Night, and even though it all took place Yesterday, you can be sure that I still need some Help! I’d like to think We Can Work It Out but I just don’t think that’s feasible–I’d rather just say Hello, Goodbye to the dastardly bugger, in all honesty. For now I’ll Let It Be, and I hope that by the end of this post you’ll have seen how this has all Come Together. Oh wait, this is the end of the post. In that case I should just sign off, but, before I do, please take note: Beetle-Mania is very much alive and well.

Yours truly,

[An uneasy] Paperback Writer.

Twister 2: The Sequel

The threats were vast last week. By Wednesday afternoon, I was already receiving flash flood and tornado weather warnings via my rather worn and beat up iPod–its help was appreciated now more than ever. Under my breath, I muttered the words “thank you” to its ragged facade. I knew now we had each others’ back for the rest of the day; a slight comfort in an otherwise uncomfortable arena. In shock, and slightly panicky, I stood still for a few moments to process the information. What do I do now? In England I never had to face such a situation. What if I’m unable to snap into survival mode. I couldn’t stew on these thoughts. There was no time. The storm was closing in.

Reminding myself of the ‘Of Monsters and Men’ concert I was supposed to be attending that same evening with a friend, I managed to digress from my earlier concerns and get my things together (including rain jacket–as if it had the power to protect me from 100MPH winds!), ready to relax and enjoy some live music in downtown Pittsburgh. Or so I thought. Not long after picking up the weather warnings, I received a text from my friend who had his reservations about going as he wasn’t too keen on being soaked through to the bone–considering the venue was remaining to be played OUTside, rain OR shine. The problems were mounting. Our evening’s entertainment was slipping through our grasp.

To further forget about the concerns, I ventured to a friend’s house to which I ended up playing that ever comforting man’s game–FIFA. Although it might have been the 2010 version, and therefore featured teams whose players were no longer in blissful matrimony together, the mere fact that I was able to win on a consistent basis with “my” team Arsenal (a juxtaposition to real life!), did a lot to quell all matters tornado-related, right up until I received a call from my co-concert-going friend. He had made a decision. ALL SYSTEMS WERE GO; we were gonna head on down to the venue. I couldn’t know for sure, but in a moment of defiance against Mother Nature’s flirtations with seemingly frigid storms, I knew a part of him felt like a true rebel–and in all honesty, I’d have to agree.

So as the evening progressed, while the weather remained overcast though still humid (are Pittsburgh-based meteorologists ever right?!), my friend and I waited/melted in line, until we had finally reached our destination–deciding to sit on the cool grass towards the back of the arena, surrounded by a seemingly diverse crowd (including two 60-somethings directly in front of us, who later left early after critiquing the band on their “dullness”). Nevertheless, with two chilled beverages in our hands, and as the clouds stayed away, we were ready for Of Monsters and Men’s Icelandic tones. Here’s a taster from the actual show…

By the time the concert was over, the late evening had presented itself. Once home and thanking my friend for his kind invitation, I once again trundled over to the FIFA household, where I shared the evening’s events with its occupants and continued to bring home the title for Arsenal–a rare occurrence, as recent history shows. In the meantime, word of the tornado was back on everybody’s radar (today’s pun is sponsored by actor Bill Paxton–if you don’t get the Twister reference then just leave, go on, leave!)…

The live streams of weather maps everywhere were telling us so. The reds and greens that represented “tornado” or “flash floods” were back. There was no time for video games now–our collective concentration on the incoming “super storm” (so it seemed) was a must. But, we did take it a little too far; this is why. Have you ever seen that show ‘Storm Chasers’ on the Discovery channel? Well imagine a scenario where all those guys are chasing a huge storm inside their crazily teched-out Transformer-like vehicles, tracking its every move. Soon, debris from all angles begins wreaking havoc upon everything nearby, while chilling cracks of lightning work in cohesion with baseball-sized hailstones as they strike down upon the vulnerable earth below.

Got that pictured? OK, great. Well now imagine a similar episode, minus the excitement-infused-adrenaline the above sentences include, and then you’ll know what we were doing in the safety and comfort of the apartment(!) Nope, we couldn’t exactly call ourselves “storm chasers”–or even amateur ones at that. No, we were merely two blokes looking outside a window for a [phantom] tornado that would never arrive (click the link below to see what we were seeing) Oh, and did I mention that we stayed up ’til 4AM in the vain hope that we’d be awake when it did? Well yeah, that happened, and we paid for it the next morning believe me. Pittsburgh would no longer be under threat from the weather–the way we were staggering around, you’d think there was a zombie apocalypse.

What the “super storm” actually was… yeaaa.

I suppose you could say I’m lucky to be alive. I suppose you could say that’d be a severe exaggeration. But one thing is certain… although a lot of my friends are in the business of acting, that doesn’t mean to say they’re the only ones who can be dramatic ;-)

Fin.