2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical…

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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…

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Heart…

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(The Ultimate) Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing…’

Pronto! Okay, the Cosmos has decided that it’s storytelling time and it’s storytelling time even though I’m currently moving through minor mountains of bureaucracy, lesson plans and the all-round busy-ness of being an English teacher in a foreign country with little time to spare. Circumstances aren’t ideal but, hey, circumstances tend to come up to me and mumble “Erm, circumstances?” and then I laugh at them, ignore them or walk through. I do this because I am delusional, in denial, a Conqueror of the Impossible or all three.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that circumstances won’t prevent me marking something a little bit important, and that something that’s a little bit important is the Pictonaut Challenge. The Pictonaut Short Story Challenge is (soon to be ‘was’) the brainchild of Sir John Steele. Every month for so many months (to be precise, 42) the Venerable Meister Steele has been sticking an image up on the interwebs and saying “Alright, write a story inspired by that and try and make it around a thousand words long and have it done before this month is out“.

This is and was an excellent idea and I’ve gamely joined in and taken up the challenge every month for a while now (and when I lagged behind due to last summer’s travels I managed to catch up). I don’t know whether my efforts are good or bad and I’m aware that few people read them but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the Pictonaut Challenge gave me an excuse to write something and it gave me an opportunity to experiment a bit with writing (and, in some cases, not writing) while trying to meet (or just haphazardly grope at) a specific target. As a time-dependent creative exercise it was a fantastic activity to get frequently excited about and devote myself to for a fleeting moment.

Altogether, I realise that I never really cared much about the end results and that I never dwelled too much on what I was putting down on cyberpaper – the main thing was simply the process of creating. For me, Pictonaut was a means of practical way of channelling energy and imagination and it was a constant impetus to create for the sake of creating and then share just because. Sometimes we need those kind of stimuli to keep us sharp and keep us growing.

Now, the Pictonaut High Chief has decreed that he’s calling time on this thing and, thus, February 2015 is The End. As I say, I don’t have time to conjure up something expansive and elaborate but I’ve got to do something as a one-last blast. This month’s inspiral image is the picture below – a picture by the Russian artist Andrei Pervukhin

Concept art by Andrei Pervukhin inspires this month’s Pictonaut effort…

It’s a nice picture. I’ve decided to use it as the basis for a handwritten story image-type thing. It’s not a thousand-word piece but, then again, my approach to this has always been a bit maverick and off-beat. What follows then is a free-flow spontaneous Zen thread scribbled out on paper without excessive thinking or pausing. I’d like to dedicate this to and express my thankyous to John Steele, Alan Watts, water, you the reader and everyone else flowing through life and existence in this Universe. That’s sorta-kinda what this piece of work is about if you want to absorb it that way. I’ll call it ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing’ and it’s the last Pictonaut creation from me. Thank you, and flow on…

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Pictonaut Challenge: 'Flowing, Flowing, Flowing'…

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Pictonaut Short Comic Story Challenge: ‘Square Planet’…

Alrighty! Write on! I’ve been on a mission to catch-up with the Pictonaut challenge (after several months of negligence) and now I’ve caught up. Achievement! *air-pistols, swagger, upbeat 16-bit celebratory music*

(Admittedly, I’ve achieved this achievement while I’m meant to be concentrating on other stuff like preparing my junk for several months abroad and will now, after this, do that in chaotic fashion. My mind works like this: “You have something big to handle and take care of James, so naturally you’re going to focus on doing everything else in the world first and not tackle the essential priorities!“. I’ve been very productive the past few days, just not at packing my bags. Anyway…)

For the first Pictonaut of 2015, Majordomo John Steele selected the following image by the excellent, astronaut-obsessed artist Scott Listfield

Space Ace, Square Yeah…

I like spacewomen and spacemen and I like writing sci-fi-tinged weird tales. I also like writing comic scripts so I decided to make this one into a comic after I got a clear fix on what I thought was happening in the image. The result is a script for a four-page comic titled ‘Square Planet‘ with my envisioned layout and I hope you enjoy it (no art, I’m afraid, because my illustration skills just aren’t that good and I don’t have the time and Photoshop abilities to make the words come to life as graphic magick). It’s really rough and unpolished because I’ve knocked it out very quickly, hey, I’ve got other stuff to handle before I take off on my own fresh adventure tomorrow. I’ll get back to it (and the inevitable ‘bye-bye’ blogpost) and leave you to imagine Square Planet

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…

Andiamo! Abandon the Internet, Amico, and Escape to Italy…

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Andiamo, Super Mario! Avanti!

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Andiamo! Go, go! I’m like Super Mario in the above sketch – on the move and all amped up to take on some colourful adventures. I’m also, like Mario, a two-dimensional fake Italian. The nice thing is that I now get the chance to make myself a better fake Italian by spending some time in Italy.

So, yes, it’s a me, Super-Giacomo, and I’m a-going! Io vado in Italia, to put into practice what I’ve been learning on Duolingo, to see friends, to soak up some culture, to experience some sunshine, to eat the best pasta and to make an ass of myself at kids’ summer camps. I did this last year, and it was such a blast I’m that going back for more. I am now all psyched for the whole experience and can’t wait to have another crack at the “I’m an educational entertainer/entertaining educator, kids! Now let’s all pretend to be bananas!” craic.

First though, I’ve got to do some packing and leave behind an ‘out of office’ note. While I’m on the road I won’t be wired up to the interwebs (the laptop gets left behind) so don’t expect much in the way of online noise from me for six weeks.  That means no Den of Geek columns, short stories or doodles on my sketch blog for a bit but a break is good. What’s more, I’m making the resolution to return creatively re-invigorated and full of fresh energy to kick out some new jams. I can guarantee that I’ll be getting up to creative trouble and forming fresh ideas while I’m flouncing about and pretending I’m in a Fellini film – doodling, scribbling in notebooks, doing the Kerouac thing and suchlike. Then when I return, I’ll unleash some things on y’all and it will be ultra-enthusiastic, dramatic and expressive because I’ll have spent six weeks around Italian people. Hey, I’m a fake Italian whose desperate to fit in. When in Rome… *frantic gesturing*

On with the adventures then and I will now begone from the internet and finish packing my bags. Until July then, mi amici, ciao! Vado! Andiamo!