The Brief 2016 Beat-Down: or, Blowing Up the Death Star and Blasting On to a Better Year, Yeah?

We need to blow this thing up and fly on.

Yes, indeed. In my mind – a mind that seems to comprehend everything through Star Wars analogies – 2016 is the Death Star and so I’ve come back at the climax to fire some farewell shots to set-up the spectacular finale where we destroy the big gloomy grey sphere o’doom and swoop off into a starry future full of hope. (Woohoo!)

So here we are primed for the finale and here I am, back out of nowhere (Hyperspace) after going missing for a while. (Sorry about that. I’ve been busy, y’know?) I’m Han Solo/James Clayton, it’s the end of the year and we’ve all had enough of 2016 so let’s be done with it and get on with 2017. In (very) brief, here’s my beat-down of the year that’s been this year, and the year that hasn’t been this year. (I really liked the year that wasn’t. Can we go back and have that instead?) After a cursory glance over some photos, I reckon that this is the image that encapsulates 2016 best…

Ruins, rumination...

Ruins, rumination…

Yeah, I’m feeling that (and as a big believer in ‘Show, don’t tell‘, I won’t write an essay explaining why this particular photo of me moping in Pompeii is the perfect summary of 2016). In total, 2016 has been, erm, ‘interesting’. To paraphrase the lady who works in the Asda down the road and who’s convinced that she’s the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens: “It were, like, sometimes like the best a’times, weren’t it? But then it were like, y’know, the vurry worst, in’tit y’know?

She’s right (about 2016, not about being the re-incarnation of Charles Dickens) but because I’m sick of dwelling on the dark, depressing, disappointing and just-too-damn-deathly I’m going to focus on the fun bits. Thus, [INSERT YOUR OWN END OF YEAR ROUND-UP OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS AND CELEBRITY OBITUARIES, ‘CAUSE I CAN’T DO THAT CRAP ANY MORE AND I HAVE NO DESIRE TO NOW… *single tear*]

First up, the personal stuff: over the course of 2016 I’ve taught a lot of English lessons, doodled many doodles, had a number of adventures and misadventures, geeked out on some great culture and not written as much as I’d have liked to. I’ve shared good times and bad times and rad times with ace old friends and excellent new friends. Lots of learning. Lots of experiences. Lots of stuff that is worth talking about, reflecting on and sharing with people. In total, I guess that means that the year can’t just be dismissed as a bad one to write out of the history books.

I’ve been places this year (geographically, I mean). I returned to Milan at the beginning of the year and enjoyed it afresh for a couple of months. Moreover, I explored Italy further this year and highlights include falling in love with all the creatures in Genoa’s aquarium (awww, the manatees!) and with Naples and its surrounding historical wonders (see photo above).

Later on I had a fantastical time in Prague with my bro, my dad, the Golem and Franz Kafka’s nightmares. Moving on to summer school work, the Surrey countryside and weekends hanging around in London were lovely and then I got to autumn when I completely upped sticks and moved to live and work in Bologna. Bologna is beautiful and now, at the end of the year, I find myself in Italy again – teaching at a superb language school and based in a city that, in so many ways, is brilliant. I’ll write at length about Bologna in the future. (Yes I will. I promise.)

As for cultural stuff, shout out to all the art galleries and museums I’ve popped into this year; thanks for blowing my mind. Shout out and thanks as well to Welcome to Night Vale (now 100 episodes weird!) and the Bruce Lee Podcast for stretching my mind and accompanying me on all these long walks I keep on taking. (Why? Because Bruce Lee once said: “Walk on…“) Musically, this year my favourite fresh things have been Babymetal, Weezer’s White Album and Square Hammer by Ghost (which I believe is one of the greatest rock songs of all time, for the record).

The vast majority of new movies I’ve managed to see have been terrific and my top five flicks of 2016 would be: Kubo and the Two Strings; Captain America: Civil War; Tale of Tales; The Revenant; and, of course, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It always comes back to Star Wars, and that brings me back to blowing up the Death Star and hurtling on into 2017. Right now – with a slightly fatalistic head on – as I face up to Reality and the challenges ahead I feel that my spirit animal is a bizarre amalgamation of all the lead Rebels in Rogue One. (In other words, in my mind I’m running around a cruel and ruined galaxy, fighting for impossible causes and I know I’m going to die but I know that I am one with the Force and the Force is with me and it’s all fantastically cinematic so I don’t give a crap.)

More optimistically, I’m psyched for 2017. I’m resolved to do even better and have some fun. I’ve got fresh inspiration and motivation to create things and I’ll be blasting ’em out as a work ’em out. (Yes I will. I promise.) I’ve got a very, very long New Year’s Resolution list but I won’t bore you with that. Ultimately, it’s all about positive energy and enthusiasm, essential humanity, creative action and love. It doesn’t matter if that sounds simplistic and vague – love is easy and it’s blatantly clear to me that, after 2016, we need to go forward with more love.

Let’s go do that then. Now I’m going to blow up a Death Star ’cause it was just too doomy and hug a Wookiee. So long, 2016. Here’s to 2017…

Saying Goodbye to the Cinema for Some Time…

Cinemagoer smiles…

A post shared by James Clayton (@jamazingclayton) on

Movies! I love ’em and I write about them. Some writing about movies would be this week’s Den of Geek column: an exploration of the Taken movie series in which I discuss the films’ thematic concerns with wish-fulfilment and how they expound the ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ maxim. There’s also some stuff about vigilante cinema and a few photos of Liam Neeson looking moody as a bonus.

And that’s that. There’ll be no more Den of Geek articles for a while. That makes me a bit sad because I like writing Den of Geek articles full of personal gushing, offbeat references and spurious film theory. “Why no more?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you why: in a shade under a fortnight I’m flying off to lands afar and that means that I probably won’t be able to turn in a weekly piece. Even if I could find the time and space to knock out columns, they probably wouldn’t be very relevant because I’m going to be out of the moviescene loop and not watching a lot of new films.

If I find good Italian cinemas that put on VO (versione originale) screenings in Milano (that’s where I’m going) then I will be catching a few fresh blockbusters. In spite of that, I know I’m not going to be getting to the pictures as much and I’ve absorbed the idea that it could be an age before I sit in a cinema again. I take on that kind of view every time I go away to Italy for an extended period and it’s totally cool. I’m not hurt or damaged in any way and, if anything. “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.* Even so, the basic notion of ‘you ain’t going to the cinema, man’ is a bit of an odd one to my mind – a mind conditioned by habit and that’s heavily shaped by years of cinematic obsession.

Right now – less than a fortnight from departure – I’m in a weird place where everything feels extra significant and where I’m really savouring everything I’m about to leave for a while (stuff that just isn’t in Italy). That includes and is not limited to my family (available on Skype), British accents and dialect and curry. Movies are also a really important, ritualised thing to me so I’m currently cramming in as many visits to the cinema as possible before I go for months without frequenting any moviehouses.

Altogether, I could be missing very many awesome films set to come out soon so I’ve inured myself to the hype, excitement and intensive interest. I’m now only really psyched about the films I’m going to see before I travel, plus Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I hope to catch) and Star Wars VII at Christmas (which I will catch ’cause nothing is going to keep me away from Star Wars and I will move planets to catch it on the first day). It’s not so bad, because I’ve already seen the film of the year (Birdman) and because I’ve got great real-life adventures to occupy my imagination (an imagination that relies on very-regular cinema trips for stimulation). If it comes down to a crude choice of ‘La Dolce Vita in Italia for Real’ and ‘Escapism and Fictional Friends For a Couple Of Hours in a Dark Theatre’ I’ll take the former, ta muchly. Still, I’m going to miss getting my movie fix (and my family and the sound of British speech and curry).

So yeah: that’s a cinema aficionado, film studies student and obsessed movie geek saying “Goodbye, darling!” to one of his favourite things for a while. These things aren’t hardship or epic tragedies or anything like that. If anything, it just re-enforces that you should appreciate what you have and live in the moment. I’ll now wrap this up and appreciate the moments I have left in the UK. Some of those moments will be in the cinema…

* Get me when I’m feeling really maudlin and I’ll tell you about the time I was stuck in hospital and couldn’t get out to the cinema then finally got out to the flicks and cried all the way through Real Steel because it was just the most beautiful experience…

Things That Are Gonna Be Big in 2014…

2014! Happy New Year! WE ARE IN THE FRESH FUTURE AGE! THE FUTURE IS NOW!

It feels good to be in the Future-Now at the beginning of a whole reboot/fresh start/new era. Seizing the spirit of change I will now list my New Year Revolutions and New Year High-Def Resolutions… or not, because it’s actually better to keep them to yourself. Sage advice: internalise your self-improvement schemes and stay pretty quiet about them and you have more chance of actually achieving your idealised goals. You also decrease third-party pressure and are less likely to irritate people with your your pity-parties, your self-loathing and your self-flagellation.(And you’re good, by the way. Best wishes and all power to you as you go about your empowered self-improvement missions.)

Instead I’m going to list the things that are going to be big in 2014. I mean huge. I’ve consulted the Oracles, whispered with the ravens and squeezed my scrying teabags and all of them concur and can confirm that the following things are going to be hot, on trend and oh-so-zeitgeisty over the next year. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon right now and embrace the hip crazes. The things that will be big in 2014 are…

  • Godzilla.
  • Labyrinths and mazes.
  • Artichokes.
  • World War I-era facial hair.
  • Men calling each other “Sister” and women calling each other “Brother” and everyone completely smashing the idea of gender-specific terms of endearment for friends. Believe it, brothers and sisters.
  • Top-knots.
  • Prog rock revival.
  • Amateur astronomy.
  • Amateur astrology.
  • Brutal honesty.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Brown paper bags.
  • Dissonant audio.
  • Séances.
  • Steam.
  • Supermarket sabotage.
  • Overlong shoelaces.
  • Putting vanilla syrup on everything.
  • ‘Adopt-a-Bee’ conservation schemes.
  • Da dance craze dat all demz be callin’ ‘Da Soup-Doop’.
  • Grow-your-own garlic.
  • Big eyes.
  • Minotaurs.
  • Kit Harington.
  • Japanese mythology.
  • The critical re-evaluation of phrenology in academic circles.
  • Wardrobe sharing.
  • Iran at the FIFA World Cup.
  • ‘Reclaim the Comments Section’ activism movements and the consequent prolonged troll battles that follow.
  • Warzone tourism.
  • Corporate assassinations.
  • Sci-fi poetry.
  • Stroking people’s faces (no longer seen as ‘a bit weird’).
  • Diaries as a smarter alternative to stream-of-consciousness venting on social media platforms and on the public spaces of the internet.
  • Presenting Shakespeare monologues in surreal fashion and uploding them on YouTube.
  • Owning a pet sheep.
  • Independent political candidates.
  • Rock Paper Scissors tournaments.
  • Origami.
  • The word “Ishrific!” which means “Whoa! It’s terrifically shit-hot!
  • Elaborate faking of deaths for life insurance scams or for sympathetic tributes on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The flaming unicorn-horned crocodile “ARE YOU FOR REAL?” GIF meme.
  • Storytelling chain-letters.
  • Insomnia.
  • Baristas and other service industry workers adopting kooky pseudonyms and work personas as company policy.
  • Polygamous marriages.
  • Affecting an Eastern European accent.
  • Customised coffins.
  • Coloured cardboard boxes.
  • Tibet.
  • The insult: “You genefreak!“.
  • You, genefreak.
  • Research into gene therapy to modify and perfect your impefect genes, genefreak.
  • Spontaneous unprovoked laughter.

And if the rest of the world fails to turn these things into trending topics and doesn’t catch on to the fact that they’re the cool stuff making 2014 so 2014, I’ll just celebrate them myself until the wider Universe adopts them as well. I’m a futurist and a forward-thinking fashion trendsetter. Mark my word and heed the soothsaying sources: 2014 is going to be an excellent year and it’ll be especially immense for everything in the lengthy laundry list above.

Welcome to 2014, brothers and sisters! It’s gonna be ishrific!” I say in an affected Eastern European accent while pouring vanilla syrup all over an artichoke. Oh my Godzilla, I’m psyched about this future-now. Ha ha, ha ha ha!