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…

2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

2015: thanks and ta-ra to the Year Fantastic…

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2015! Whoa! Yeah, that happened. Way back on New Year’s Day I doodled up a unicorn and, with a hopeful spirit, hailed 2015 as the ‘Year Fantastical’. Turns out that it lived up to that title and then some. From my perspective, it’s been a pretty damn fantastic and quite incredible year.

So much happened in 2015 and I feel like I’ve done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. Come the end point where we get all reflective and retrospective (it’s customary and inevitable) I’m struck by how ‘big’ and full of stuff this year seems. I’ve got so many memories of moments streaming through my mind and from all of them flow a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Some people say that I think and feel too much (tsk and hush, you people!) but, hey, I can be no other way. Plus, thinking and feeling are what make us human beings and what make us realise that we’re alive. The alternative is living on autopilot and if you’re living on autopilot you’re probably not engaging with life and consciously appreciating it. Hey! Life! Existence! Appreciate it!

So then, here I am thinking and feeling over 2015 and appreciating it before we say ta-ra. It’s been a year in which I thought and felt a lot. I smiled a lot. I cried a lot. (It was the death of Spock, the Norwegian Eurovision entry and Inside Out) I had triumphs and I also had some disappointments, but the good stuff far outweighs the bad bits. I’ll focus on the good in this brief personal look-back, ’cause there’s no point me dwelling on the crappy and/or grave bits here. (Though I will give a shout-out to several late, great cultural icons and my all-time favourite t-shirt which is lost somewhere in Italy. *sighs* I miss ’em all.)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things I did and experienced that made 2015 genuinely awesome (as in they inspired awe and made me go “awwww!” or “awwww yeah!“): I got a tattoo; I levelled up as an English teacher by passing a CELTA course; I got to explore Dublin and Zürich among several other culture vulture trips; I took a train ride through the Swiss Alps; I saw what’s left of the Magna Carta; I got to enjoy la dolce vita over and over in bella Italia in places familiar and new (including Verona, Padova, Venice, hitherto unexplored sections of the Liguria coast and Emilia-Romagna to name a few); I went to the opera and enjoyed that experience in Verona’s ancient Roman arena; I became a hero to a whole new set of Italian children in Milano, Torino and the countryside near Padova; I composed the summer hit single that was ‘Pineapple Hands‘ and that became a minor cult phenomenon; I gave ‘Free Hugs’ on Valentine’s Day in the world’s most beautiful shopping arcade; I witnessed Italy’s biggest food fight – the all-out insanity that is Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges.

I like this photo as an image to encapsulate the beauty, adventure and feeling of 2015...

Yeah, this photo sort of encapsulates the feeling and adventure flowing through 2015…

Throughout, I doodled like a demon and have spent most of the year with inky fingers. I also wrote some pretty good stuff and had a lot of fun working away at various creative projects. Daredevil , WiiU videogames and hanging with my family made home downtime a good time when I wasn’t off on (mis)adventures. Otherwise – turning to ‘important stuff’ and current affairs for a second – in spite of it all, there were progressive political and social moments in 2015 that gave me hope. The same goes for technology and science (there’s water on Mars!) and, sportswise,  I’ve been enjoying the Boston Celtics’ continued upward trajectory towards contender status.

Sonically speaking, my soundtrack to 2015 was mostly Dinosaur Pile-Up and Ghost and they gave me immense live shows to experience and brilliant new albums to crank to death. As for films, there have been so many superb movies released this year but my two favourites of 2015 were Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road. They beat all the rest for spiritual reasons, sentimental reasons and because they are stand-out supreme imaginative visions and masterpieces of cinematic storytelling.

I decided to close the year in suitable style by watching The Force Awakens again and that makes me even happier as I head into the future. Having had my nice nostalgia moment I’m now going to close this self-indulgent rear-view-mirror ramble. First though, before I hurl myself heart and soul into 2016, I’d like to hail all the human beings who shared the experiences and really made 2015 something special. I had a blast with both old friends and new friends this year and I’m grateful for all the energy, the companionship, the generosity and the niceness that people have directed my way over the past twelve months. It means a lot and I truly appreciate it. High-fives, hugs and ‘awww yeah!’s to everyone.

So, that was 2015 then, and thank you 2015. I say it’s high time we hit the New Year and moved on to the fresh adventures and experiences lying ahead in 2016. Awww yeah. I’m excited…

Heart…

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Merry Christmas from Me to You, You and All of You…

Fa la la la, ha ha ha muhahahaha! ‘Tis Christmas Eve and all the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are in the aether and haunting my brethren’s beautifully decorated Christmas tree. (The Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect will have arrived by the time I finish writing this timely blogpost.) Altogether, I feel that there’s some irrational, uncanny spirit upon me and am experiencing the realisation that “Whoa! I’m in the midst of Christmas ritual!

'Tis the season! Have a cup of good cheer…

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It’s all happening: Doodling up Christmas cards; Watching Christmas movies; Rocking out in celebratory style to ebullient party metal and Christmas tunes; Going to a Nine Lessons and Carols service and having minor crises (I can’t settle on one key when I’m singing and struggle to work out how my Zen Buddhist principles fit with this Christian festival).

Tomorrow is Christmas Day and the rituals will continue: gift-giving; gift-receiving (I like socks); videogames and board games with my lovely relatives; feasting on sprouts; cleaning up all the greasy pots and cutlery that my lovely relatives have left for someone (me) to tidy up. That’s what my Christmas looks like every year and it’s always nice. I’m now going to go and enjoy that very typical and very nice Christmas, taking a conscious moment to: be with my blood-clan, be present, be (semi)relaxed and be grateful as I meditate on the good stuff amidst the bleak (erm, unseasonably mild) midwinter.

I hope that your Christmas is, likewise, lovely. If you’re finding things hard, this article on being depressed at Christmas is a good and possibly helpful read. Otherwise, take care of yourselves and each other and take the opportunity to reach out to your fellow humans and realise that, if anything, this holiday is all about reconnecting with the best of the human spirit. The best of the human spirit is within you and you’ve been working too hard, handling too much stress and you deserve a break and warm fuzzies. Yes, I’m talking to you, you and all of you. And that thing too. I have no idea what that is but I’m going to invite it in, feed it roast parsnips and dance with it.

Allora, enough! Christmas! The spirit is upon me and I’ll now spirit away. (There are greasy pots to wash and gifts to wrap in ham-fisted fashion.) All my festive best wishes, thanks for reading and have an excellent Christmas… 😀

 

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Restless Spirit’…

Alrighty, I’m a bit restless and nervous-excited. “You should write something, man!” I said to myself, and that part of myself was thinking right because writing is a righteous and an effective way to deal with nervous-excited restlessness. It’s also a good idea when you’re trying catch up with a personal writing challenge. The personal writing challenge I’m trying to catch up with is John Steele‘s monthly Pictonaut, and that’s all about turning an inspiral image into some kind of story/fiction bit. I’m now up to December (last month) and December’s chosen image was this beautiful piece of work by artist Joshua Hutchinson

‘Soul Ascending’ by Joshua Hutchinson…

I like this piece (title: ‘Soul Ascending’) and thought I could go off and do something shamanic (or ‘Noveau Shamanic’ if I’m looking to channel Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately (?), I went and saw Wild last night and am preoccupied with my upcoming trip to Italy, so that affected the kind of tale I wished to tell. I’m thinking about journeys and the idea of journeys being opportunities (or, indeed, the means) to find yourself or find some spiritual truth. I really like and believe in that, but this little flash of fiction I’ve spawned is a bleaker, more downbeat affair. Instead, it’s more about being lost and unable to settle (physically, mentally and spiritually). I saw something a bit tragic in the image, so quickly knocked up a thing titled ‘Restless Spirit‘ that I hope doesn’t bleak you out too much. Make of it what you will by clicking on this link to read it, while I go about preparing for travel so I can find myself/find something else/find spiritual truth…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins…

I like writing and I like having fun with dead people so today I wrote a story about a ghost. This story, like most of the stories I upload here, is an effort for John Steele‘s Pictonaut challenge which I’m still trying to catch up on (’cause it’s January, and I’m only up to October as you’ll see in two sentences’ time). Same objective as always: the Steele Supreme selects an image every month and says “yeah, write something inspired by that”. The following photo (we know not its source) was picked as October’s picture, back when it was Halloween and there was suitably seasonal spookiness in the aether…

It’s a ghost! Unfortunately, no one knows who took this photo. I’d like to pretend that it was a ghost because that’s a nice fantastical thought and saves us from guilt about not correctly attributing our human sources. (Ghosts don’t have human rights, right?)

I like this picture. I saw that phantom and, after thinking it through a few minutes set about knocking out the following vignette. It’s called The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins and I hope you enjoy it…