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…


Referendoom: There is no Great Britain, there is only great grief…

This blogpost was originally typed up on my Tumblr blog which is where I’ve been publishing my writing, recently. Still, I’ll re-post it here ’cause this is quite important…


That’s a good word. It’s an Italian expression that doesn’t translate easily. It basically means “I don’t know. How the hell am I supposed to know?! Who could possibly know?!” and it carries with it an extra sense of confusion and bewilderment.

It’s a good word for these dark days and it’s a suitable response for many of the questions that I’m asking, that are being asked of me and that all of us are asking or trying to respond to.

The other appropriate word – an English word – is “fuck”. I’m getting a lot of mileage (nay, kilometre-age) out of that and its infinite derived variations. So are my family and many of my friends. It’s doing a pretty good job at covering a whole host of confusing emotions while suitably summing up the situation(s). Beyond those words, however, I’m often struggling. Lots of words are being said and written but as I continue to hear and read these words (reading with blurry and sometimes weepy eyes) I find myself even more unable to articulate myself.

How are you, James?” “What’s happening?” … boh?

I’ve been in shock. I’m in a state of acute anxiety. I am despairing and feeling either very angry or very sad. Some time has passed since Friday morning but I’m still a bit of a mess and I keep on finding myself stuck, just stood still and and staring into space (the Abyss?). Or I try to sit comfortably, but this mind on overdrive can’t relax and I have the restless sensation of invisible insects crawling just beneath my skin.

Aside from those Psychosomatic Anxiety Bugs, my body feels hollow and a heavy, foggy weariness weighs down the space behind my eyes. But it’s difficult to find the right words, even after several days of going through this. Erm… boh?

I recognise these physical symptoms and feelings as grief, but this time the grief is greater and goes beyond the personal kinds of grief I’ve experienced before. This is more than a loved one dying, a relationship ending or a medical event happening. For a start, you can get over and recover from those most of the time. This, however, is a national catastrophe that affects all of us Brits, and all of Europe and, in fact the entire world in more ways than we can easily comprehend.

I feel like I need to reach out to others – kindred spirits, like-minds, fellow victims, the demonised and vulnerable, potential comrades in a resistance – but the words are failing me. I want to call people up or send messages to a whole host of friends (from the UK and from the EU) and ask them if they’re okay, ask them what they think and offer them my support, my sympathy or my apologies. I’m unable to do these things, though. I end up in a total-body equivalent of lockjaw and I have nothing to say. It’s all choking, freezing, moping or crying. *sighs*… Boh?

So I go out and take walks when I’m not watching the news or scrolling through liveblogs, to pound pavements and trudge a trail of tears. The past few days I’ve been walking around my neighbourhood and Manchester city centre, partly to try and shake myself out of this unfunkiest of funks.

I’ve also been going out to test reality and confirm that this little part of the World I know is still there and functioning. It appears to be, but I know that things have changed and are changing. In the city centre I hear foreign voices and see stickers boasting ‘this thing was partially funded by EU development funds” and I mourn even more for the lost future in which these things will most likely be less prominent. Parliament seemed calm when MPs recovened, but the House of Commons isn’t a picture of the entire national actuality. (And there’s a lot of politicking, party in-fighting and coups going on in Westminster behind closer doors/vivarium ventilators.)

Out there in ‘reality’, I eyeball people’s faces and want to ask them, “Are you feeling it too?”, “Did you by any chance vote Leave?” or “How? What? Why, oh, why, why, why?” but I can’t summon it all up. I avert my gaze to either the sky, the moors or buildings. I look at my little world around me – a world that felt so familiar – and wistfully rue the fact that it’s either got no future, that it’s changing out of recognition or that it’s not the home that I thought it was. Or perhaps both. Boh?!

There’s a lot (too much) to process, and major media outlets are processing it all (at least, the ones interested in reporting and deconstructing current affairs rather than spreading vicious lies and mistruths are). I’ll leave the working out of the political, economic and socio-cultural ramifications to them while I’m feeling a bit inarticulate and am gagging on incredulity. Instead, I’m going to try and type up what the UK’s exit from the EU means to me personally. As I say, it’s far beyond personal but I’m taking it personally. Very personally. This thing hurts a lot, and when you’re hurting you try and work out why. (Unless you’re the kind of person who blames all perceived problems on immigrants.)

How does Brexit (a hideous word that sounds like a brand of conjunctivitis medicine) affect me? I like foreign cuisine and I like travelling around the EU, so it’ll inevitably hit my wallet but I don’t care that much about money. More crucially, as a teacher of English as foreign language my work will be affected. Without freedom of movement, instant right-to-work, free healthcare and so on I anticipate a lot of hassle with visas and suchlike in years to come if I wish to work within the EU as I do (and employers sometimes specify that they can only hire EU citizens to avoid extra bureaucracy and costs).

If I work in the UK, on the other hand, I anticipate a possible decline in students due to lower migrant numbers and a decline in goodwill. Why would foreigners want to come and work and study in a country that has, in effect, turned its back on them and suggested it’s only interested in itself? I teach the ‘international language’ and have nice notions of it being a tool to transcend boundaries. Now, however, the source of this language is putting up fences and behaving in appalling, antisocial fashion.

Ruminating on it all, I realise that a lot of this heartbreak and heartache comes down to ideology and identity. The truth is that I’ve spent decades dealing with my Britishness and it took a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable with (and in fact, proud of) my home nation.

I accept that identity is a fluid thing and that, ultimately, we’re all human Earthlings. From a cosmic perspective, those arbitrary categories don’t matter so much. Even so, there are certain elements in the ‘Who I Am’ brew that I figured are somewhat essential and that I’m quite attached to. As far as ethnicity goes, I understand myself as a Northerner, as English, as British, as part-Italian (thanks to exposure, love and personality quirks) and all of these different identities exist simultaneously and at peace with one another.

Post-referendum, though, they’re fragmenting and fading away. Psychologically, the Leave vote distances me from my ‘more European’ traits and from Italy – a spiritual home of great friends and second families who’ve adopted me as one if their own. Brexit not only drives a wedge between us, but it emphatically insults my loved ones and an entire continent of good people while simultaneously demonising them.

As a British person – by birth and by current residency – I’m tethered to that. I fear that all of us are going to be tarred with the same brush (’guilt by association’) and and dragged down by a strange new stigma on a worldwide stage. Saying “Not all Brits” won’t cut it. And why would I want to be English and British, anyway? Right now – after a spell of summoning up something resembling national pride – I have zero interest in being English or British and that’s a pretty significant identity crisis.

As an English teacher I’ve travelled around telling a whole host of foreigners just how brilliant all the countries of the UK are. I’ve hailed our cosmopolitan society, our tremendous history, a past and present full of scientific and cultural innovation, our marvellous idiosyncracies, our quirky customs and the beautiful sights that make these islands so remarkable. Even though I’m relatively atypical as a Brit in many ways, I do my best to act as a good representative of my homeland.

Now I can’t do that. I couldn’t push my specially-prepared PowerPoint presentation on the wonders of the UK on anyone if you asked me to. Honestly, if someone asked me to tell them about the UK right now I wouldn’t be able to enthusiastically gush about the BBC, Shakespeare, tea, curry houses, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the NHS, porridge, Snowdonia, tolerance and diversity, or the many accents and dialects spoken by a nation of reet good people (etc., etc.). I’d respond “Fuck the UK”, and it really hurts to say that. And it really hurts all the more when you know that all those good things have been either overshadowed by or destroyed by this Brexit ominishambles which is the end result of a Tory government determined to completely crush the people of this country beneath a sick, misguided austerity regime.

This isn’t the country that I’d grown to love – a process that, in earnest, really started during the 2012 London Olympics. I’d got to the point where I could cheer on the England football team with considerable gusto, but now it’s all gone. (Rock on, Iceland.) I’m witnessing stuff that I’d complacently assumed I’d never see in my own back yard, like the racist incident that took place on a tram on Market Street, Manchester yesterday. (The main shopping street of my city – a cosmopolitan, modern city famed for its diversity, three international universities, its gay quarter, its two football teams replete with talent from all over the globe and its socialist heritage. This city once stood in solidarity with the black slave populations of America, cotton mill workers sacrificing their own work in order to support oppressed foreign minorities.)

If this is England and if this is the United Kingdom of 2016 and beyond, then I’m out of here and I’ll do my ‘Byronic èmigrè’ thing for eternity (I’m already working out my way out for the autumn, and I hope that I can secure EU citizenship in the future when the UK does eventually leave.)

I’m ashamed to be British again, though this time it’s not because of hooligans or because of the lingering guilt of Empire and colonialism. This debacle, for Britain and possibly for the wider world, may well be the biggest disaster of the century (potentially, epoch). I find myself ideologically opposed to the prevailing mood and position of my country – as an outward-looking humanitarian who believes in co-operation across borders, communication and friendship.

As a humanitarian and an idealist I also believe that people are fundamentally good and considerate – that they are compassionate and that common sense, open-heartedness and an inclination towards collective progress and social inclusivity triumph. Every UK election proves me wrong and forces me to question my faith whilst demonstrating that human beings are pathologically destructive and doomed to self-sabotage. This is, therefore, a crisis of faith and a crisis of identity and that’s why I’m hurting so much.

I can regain that faith in humanity, but I can’t recoup my faith in Britain if Brexit occurs (it might not, and I’m basking in every ray of hope that it may not be formally passed through). As it is, I’m a human with a broken heart who finds themselves without a country and I know that I’m not alone in feeling like this.

I will continue to go through the motions in this cycle of grief, processing the trauma while searching for my own progressive way forward in a changed World (truth: it’s taken me four days to type this mess up. Yeah, those words don’t come easily). What I do know is that I will never accept the loss and that I reject Brexit wholeheartedly. As for what else I know? Ah fuck. Boh?!

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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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!

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'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… 😀


Homecoming, Hailing the Best Summer and Creative Action Ahead, Ma Dai…

Allora, “kingdom of trash, came home at last“. Yeah, I’m home! Home from the latest fresh exile in Italy. It’s been four (quattro!) in total this year and I kept on going away and coming back and going away again but now I think I’m going to stay put for a bit. Though, of course, nothing is certain (everything is uncertainty) I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be based in the UK over the coming months.

So s, I’m home but home is strange after a lot of time away. It’s also hard in the winter, especially right after the highs and sunny haze of the summer. This year was the very best summer so the comedown is brutal. It’s cold! It’s wet! The Italian culture, la dolce vita, all the friends and the amped exhilaration, activity and adoration of summer camps (aww, I miss my pre-teen fans) all feel so far away…


So , I’m in that strung-out post-summer state of confusion and I can’t stop saying “ma dai!“, “ma perché?!” and “non lo so!” because I have acute Italianitis. Regardless, now that I’m here and not set on flying away for a longish time again, I’m going to get on with doing stuff – namely doodling, writing and wrestling with and through other assorted forms of creative action. (Note: there will be wrestling and my ring names are alternately ‘Jamezilla’ and ‘Miss Apocalypse Sweetheart’).

I’ve been doing a lot of doodling lately, and in coming days I’ll put together a compilation blogpost collecting more lunchtime doodles from another English-language summer camp (this one from the countryside near Padova). Otherwise, watch this space – I have the wish and will to blast out a whole lot of stuff and I’ll let keep you in the loop. Please, feel free to be loopy with me…

I’ll leave it there, because the rest is just me bleating about the weather, bemoaning the absence of decent pizza and altogether turning into a quasi-Italian version of Jon Snow. (“Winter is coming… ma dai!“). For now, here’s to the home where your heart is, kicking out creative jams and, for the final time, memories of the magical summer.

Andiamo, autumn action…

Returning Home So I Can Return to Italy…

Allora, ragazzi! I’m back home. You may remember that I left home to go back to Italy for a month. That month has now passed so, yeah, ecco! I’m here to drink proper tea, watch Jurassic World (dinosaurs fighting dinosaurs! Yay!) and get my regular, essential Captain America-style supersoldier serum shot. (Last time I got said shot I was in Italy and it was delivered by J.K. Simmons’ Italian doppelgänger in a twilight mystery district of Milano and it was an unnerving and absurdist affair conducted without any word of English and I had the disturbing sense that I’d stumbled into a mildly-harrowing Coen Brothers movie. When we’re talking about sticking needles in my arse I think, yes, this time I’d rather go and see my local GP.)

Anyhow, home is nice, home comforts are nice and these things are all good but, hey, I miss Italy. As ever I had a blast and highlights include *clears throat*: visiting and catching up with old friends; making new friends; rocking another all-singing-all-dancing English-language summer camp in Torino and drawing for children and acquiring a fan club at that camp; going to Verona for the first time on a bro-trip with my, erm, bro; enjoying the treasures of Torino all over again; seeing the Shroud of Turin (so, in effect, seeing Jesus); pizza; and so much more in the brilliant heat alongside brilliant people.

It was beautiful, and because I’m missing it all already I’m going to head back next week and enjoy summer in Italy some more. I feel that this trip was cut too short and I’m missing too many things and have left too many things behind (for one, my favourite t-shirt, left behind in Torino) so I’ve got to go back. Then when I return I’m going to get on with working up some creative action and I’m amped to do that. I have some ideas…

I’ll be thinking over those ideas in Italy, but before I bugger off again I’ll put up a blogpost chronicling my daily lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp in the coming days. Also, while I was away this article I wrote on Mad Max: Fury Road – a gushing lovefest exploring the masterpiece’s inspiring philosophy and empowering nature – went live on Den of Geek. It may be of interest. More things that may be of interest will be written up and doodled up in the near future.

For now, though, bear with me because Italy is calling and my soul is yearning and I’ve got to return to the place from whence I recently came. Once more, here’s to Italian summer adventures and la dolce vita. Again then, andiamo

Hooked on a Feeling: Marvel Movies and My Emotions…

Feelings. Feelings, friends. Aaawww. I have so many feelings and they all fight each other in a forest of confusion fogged by the mists of memory, grappling with artificial intruders and elusive subtle intelligences and secret agendas that I may not consciously be aware of. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on or who’s winning. Still, the soundtrack is stirring, the images are moving and it feels quite dramatic in here. Hey! I’m having fun!

It’s just like the opening sequence of Avengers: Age of Ultron, really. Speaking of which, I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron the other day and had an absolute blast. It was a great experience both because of the film itself and because I was actually going to the cinema. I’ve been enjoying this strange old-familiar phenomenon of being able to trip off to the flicks whenever I please after not having that luxury while living in Milan.

In further film-related news, it’s also been good to get back to Den of Geek writing and, with Age of Ultron coming around and my mind occupied by Marvel heroes, I wrote a piece on the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I recommend you read it if you’re interested in these movies or want to see me crying about how much I love fictional characters.

Awww, feelings. Empathy. Emotional content. Here’s to great art that touches our minds, bodies and souls. Thus, I leave you with a timely bonus sketch of Shakespeare and the Hulk. Onward and upward, true believers, and onward and upward with a whole lot of heart. Excelsior…

Back in Britain and Brewing Up…

*Clicks* And you’re back in the room. Specifically, I’m back in my room. Sì ragazzi, I have returned and I said that with stress and hamtastic disjointed emphasis for dramatic event. See me. Feel me. (And, yeah, touch me and heal me, if you so desire. And then everything gets really weird and turns into a rock opera directed by Ken Russell and I’m not sure why Tina Turner is here) I’m making much ado about this because coming home back to Britain after almost three months in Italy is a bit of a big deal. I mean, I’m a legend in my own lesson schedule over there and I have a fan following so in a way the UK should be honoured that I’m gracing it with my presence… *pouts, with bonus acquired Milanese swagger*

Seriously though – and speaking with my more standard modesty and over-sentimentality – coming home is a big deal because, hey, it’s home. I love Italy and consider it a spiritual home-from-home but Dorothy has a good point. After an extended spell in foreign lands, it’s good to get back to me roots, eeeh by ‘eck, see my blood brethren, drink a proper cup of tea and relax in my own space with my own home comforts. And the home discomforts as well. It’s cold, it’s pretty wet and the moors are scowling but, love, it’s all good. I’ve got a whole stack of films and telly to catch up on, very typically British things to indulge in and some time to savour the English springtime before I bugger off again.

That could be very soon depending on election results and my own whims, ’cause I like warm Mediterranean climates, the Italian way of life and living in a place where I’m a hot commodity (or at least, my mother tongue is) and where some people think I’m a hero. Heck yes I’m a hero (*fist pump*) but I’m going to spend the imminent future trying to be a hero back in the homeland I left behind. I don’t know what that entails yet, but I’ll blog about it here when I find out and am going to retrospectively blog about some Italian adventures. I’m also eager to get on with other writing and assorted creative stuff so, yeah, ‘ave it… (Truth: while living in Italy I’ve continued to lurch into very silly British accents – most often Northern accents – to retain a feel for the Mother Land and the Mother Tongue. Unleashing esoteric dialects and voices on completely confused foreigners and showing them clips of really bad British sitcoms and adverts is a source of great amusement for exiles.)

In total, expect potentially-interesting action on the interwebs from me over coming weeks and until I decide I’m done with home and want to go off adventuring again. For now, though, it’s nice to be back. Eeeeh, d’you fancy a brew?

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Home comforts, guys. Home comforts… 😀

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Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

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Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

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Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!

Saying Goodbye to the Cinema for Some Time…

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Cinemagoer smiles…

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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…

2014: Cue the Upbeat, Uptempo Montage Moving Through My Year Gone Past…

It’s the end of the year! So there! Yeah! 2014, then -. thanks, ta-ra. Aww, but I feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing to just skip on into the shiny/shitty future without noting its passing and pondering a (short, very short) moment on the past twelve months. I don’t really want to dwell on things and get caught up in zeitgeist ectoplasm and retrospective navel-gazing so I’m going to fly through it in an upbeat, uptempo montage. Cue the montage…


(… and I’ve filmed everything in Dutch angles so we’re all anxious and on edge, ’cause this is the age of being-on-edge and anxiety…)

Hey! I am James Clayton and I am moving through space-and-time-and-emotions-and-ideas. Pleasure, pain, ups, downs, upside-downs, down-upsides, maybe-sideways. Uncertainty, near-certainty, false-certainty. Something of nothings and nothings that might actually be something. Ambiguity and ambivalence. No, I don’t know. Really, I’m very lost and reckon (hope?) that time and, in fact, the entirety of existence is an illusion. Even so, conventional time-comprehension and the calendar says that we’ve been going through 2014. What happened? The following things happened, in no particular order. (A lot of current affairs and huge real-world socio-politico-economic things occurred, flamed and roared over. They’re all rounded up, reacted to and wrestled with elsewhere. A lot of those things make us sad and angry, so I’m going to stay in my ludicrous world of 2014 for this, pausing only to say that’s its not as ludicrous as Kim Jong-un’s. Hey Little Kim! You ludicrous, man!)

Personal shenanigans: I wrote some things, doodled some bits ‘n’ bobs, ran a few month-long projects here and there and daydreamed a lot. Things I wrote and doodled went up on the internet and in zines but the best stuff is still in my head. Alternate reality incarnations also unleashed groundbreaking epics and art masterpieces but I’m playing catch-up to those guys (Yeah, they see me comin’). Lots of stuff on the internet, and then I flip between my things and the fog of information, disinformation, Wikipedia entries and basketball highlights reels. The pixels burn me out a bit, cyberspace seethes, the Twitter stream turns into a steaming torrent and portals on Facebook show me prettier pictures of places that seem more appealing. Andiamo! Adventure! Go travel…

I discover Dublin this year, find solace in a Shropshire countryside writing retreat and dig London again during the annual videogame convention bro-trip. The most epic adventure, however spans the summer and takes me further afield. I jump on a plane and then I jump on another plane to go back to and, again, go back to Italia. Lo adoro – è il luogo dove il mio cuore è. Italian friends old and new. Refamiliarised with familiar places and enjoying an array of new cities and experiences. I realise that I have a spread network of extended families for life and I feel alive, connected and soul-fulfilled. And then there are all the old and new friends from all over the world and we’re all brought together and share the sacred summer camp tutor bond. (It is sacred. We have rituals, shared hallucinations and an unshakable faith and sense of vocation.) It’s all-singing, all-dancing, educational entertainment English-teaching action. It’s fun and games and frustration and trauma and battle scars and war with demonic bambini. It’s physical and mental exhaustion but it’s also triumph and exhilaration and it’s the greatest time of my life. This summer was the best summer, so grazie.

Away from the best place with the best people, best food and best quality of life (yeah I’m in love), the other most-excellent stuff is culture. A vast celluloid sea of supreme movies inspired many smiles, many tears, many emotional and cerebral moments in the dark space of the cinema. Oh my Godzilla: Inside Llewyn Davis; Her; erm, Godzilla; Guardians of the Galaxy; Boyhood; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Nightcrawler; The Babadook; Pride; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; FuryThe Raid 2; Black Sea; The Double; Calvary; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Lego Movie; 12 Years a Slave; and so many more to make this movie-maniac go wild over and over. There are too many genuinely awesome films, so I have less time and inclination to watch much TV. The most terrific telly is Cosmos and BBC documentaries in my 2014.

There are also lots of books and comics, but they’re mostly old books that weren’t published in 2014. Fresh music moving me most would be Monster Magnet Milking the Stars and Weezer telling me that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. “EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIIIIIIIIGHT… IN THE EHHH- EEEEEEHNNNND!” Now I’m dancing and all the freak misfits of the galaxy are having an empathetic moment where we realise that we’ve been losers and been through some noxious crap but that, hey, we’re okay. We’ve grown and we’ve learned some things. We’re better for the experience. We’re moving forward together into the future, ’cause we’re slightly crazy, cosmic quirky heroes hooked on a feeling and high on believing…

I think that’s what I’m taking from 2014. Am I forgetting a lot of things? (most definitely yes) What did it all mean? I’m not really sure and I don’t really care anymore, to be honest. I’m already in 2015. See you there, in the future. TO THE FUTURE!

*blows a kiss to 2014. Love you and remember you always, sugar…*

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Saying "Bye!" and jumping off 2014…

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Merry Christmas, Everyone…

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A Christmas card to everyone from me…

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Hey hey, ho ho ho, fa la la, la la! It’s Christmas Eve and I’m tuning out to enjoy the holiday season. Before I do that though, I thought I’d stick up a best wishes message to anyone who might be passing by. There’s a full festive round-up of links and thoughts right here if you’re interested. Otherwise, thanks for reading and all the best of the festive season to all you beautiful souls out there, wherever and however you are celebrating. I urge you to have yourself a very Merry Christmas… 😀

Andiamo… ancora! Going AWOL and Escaping to Italia Again…

Ciao ragazzi! Allora, devo andare. Io viaggio da Italia ancora. Perché? Perché sono in amore…

That means ‘Hey guys! Right, I’ve got to go. I travel to Italy again. Why? Because I’m in love.’ Hurm, I’m doing okay with this learning Italiano schtick. I’m looking forward to the extra, full-immersion practice as I return to the place that’s become a spiritual soul-home to close out the summer season. I get to do another kids’ English language camp, experience la dolce vita a little more and spend time with some of my favourite people. I’m very happy to have that opportunity again, so off I go…

The upshot is that I’m going to be AWOL all over again and not very active on the wider interwebs. This blog will be silent, there’ll be no tweeting and all the assorted blogs will most likely not have any fresh matter to offer until mid-September. Still, all being well there’ll be a Den of Geek feature that’s something of a film noir special on the site next Friday (22nd August) so keep your peepers peeled if you like the sound of that.

Otherwise, I’m away again and you’ll have to come find me somewhere in northern Italy where I’ll be educating i bambini by singing things like “do you like broccoli?” at them (only people who have worked this gig will appreciate the nuances and hilarity of the ‘Broccoli Ice Cream’ song. I apologise for this esoteric in-joke. To be honest, the kids don’t get it either). Andiamo. Until mid-September, be excellent to each other, take care of yourselves and I’ll see you when I get back.

*Hard Arnie face* “I’ll be back…”

(* = In Italiano that’s tornerò. Just so you know, Terminator 2 is ace in Italian, and so is Star Wars…)

Sweet Memories, Feelings and a Sentimental Summary of my Summer in Italy…

Allora, I feel like I should write a blogpost about my adventures in Italy because I’ve been back a while now and time is ticking away. The moment is passing. The trip is becoming old news and something that has been and gone, fading from view in the rear view mirror. If I don’t type up some stuff soon then surely soon will be too late, right?

Even so, I’m feeling ambivalent about the idea of blogging. I could write a blogpost about my travels, but what’s the reason for doing it? Is it because I feel obliged to – that I have to account for myself or file a report because if I don’t I’m being oddly evasive or acting as it’s like it didn’t happen?

I’m also wary because I know that some people out there are interested but I also know that others don’t care much at all, and that’s fine. People – people like me and probably you – put a lot of stuff out into the aether and upload things into cyberspace but cyberspace is vast and indifferent, and that’s also okay and understandable. People have busy lives and there’s just too much going on in real life and on the internet to engage with everything. If I share something on the web and it doesn’t register or cause a ripple, hey, never mind. I’m not very precious and create stuff, first and foremost, because I love creating things. “Do what you love and if other people like it as well then – hey! – that’s a brilliant bonus!” is my kind of general mindset and a terrible working title for the creative self-help guidebook that I’m never going to write. “‘Tis better to share and find that others aren’t interested than to never share at all” is a similar summary of the way I tend to see things, though that line is going to need some editing if it’s ever going to make it into a poetry book or onto a teatowel…

Anyhow, in spite of that it’s not pleasant feeling like – and knowing that – you’re pouring out your heart and soul out in public spaces for no purpose. If I were to write a blogpost on my recent trip, I know that I would be pouring my heart and soul out because Italy has given me feelings. So, so many feelings. This trip meant a lot to me and I don’t want to wrench out all those feelings and beautiful memories and do them a disservice by knocking out a badly-written blog treatment that folk quickly skim over. I don’t think I can adequately encapsulate what was possibly the best six weeks of my life so far in a few thousand words accompanied by context-free photos. There are so many details, moments and intangible elements – way too many to try and tie up neatly and definitively in a post.

I wouldn’t know where to begin and I wouldn’t know how to shape it to do myself and my experiences justice. I also fear – and this is one of my major worries as a writer who says things on the internet – that I’ll come across as smug or insincere (and that is never my intention). I also don’t want to be insufferable and irritate others by banging on about how I had the most awesomest of amazing times. I did, and I feel I can better represent that in person on in more personal sections of the internet (namely, via emails or among friends on Facebook). These black and white bits of text on a screen can’t carry the full, authentic force of emotion and convey the deep truth of what I’m trying to express either. I’m a gushy sentimental soul and there’s a danger that cold pixels will distort or dilute the genuine passion and feeling, making me seem trite and mawkish.

Altogether, I’m not satisfied that a blogpost chronicle of my six week trip around Italy is going to cut it so I’m not going to write one. I can’t find the words and effectively articulate my feelings about the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve had the privilege to spend time with and all that they have all meant to me. Italy is a very special country for me and I’ll treasure this particular trip especially for the rest of my days. All I can do to express that is shut up and scribble down some doodlings on a piece of paper in a sort of reminiscence mindmap to try and give a visual picture of my happy memories.

Basta. I will finish and move on by saying thank you to everyone and everything that was a part of my Italian experience. The best time of my life… 😀

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My travels in Italia, a scribbly reminiscence mindmap…

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I’m Back from Italy and I’m Confused but I’m Gonna Create Some Stuff…

Ciao ragazzi! I’m back. Here. Here I am, sono qui. Mi scusa, I had to go off and have some adventures and abandon ‘th’norm’ for a bit because I’m in love with a state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) called Italia. There are lovely people there. There are amazing experiences there. There are children there who have been sent to summer camps to learn English and they need people like me to draw things for them and sing at them for their entertainment and education.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past six weeks but now I’m back in Blighty, plugged into this laptop and connected to the wider internet and ‘th’norm’ again. This feels very strange. Where am I? What am I doing? What is this alien land? I’m in a weird-and-confused state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) and I’m very tired, lost and listless. I haven’t had much sleep these last few days. I’m all out of kilter and discombobulated. Mamma mia, I’ve left my love behind.. *cue beautiful memories, bittersweet sensations and then the inevitable melancholy when imminent reality seeps back into conscious awareness…*

Allora, anyway I’m back and I’m now trying to adjust (re-adjust?) to the stark change. I’m doing this as a changed person because I think I have changed or have been changed because travel changes you. In spite of that, I’ve got to get back into some of the loops I’ve not been looped into for a while and move to some ‘old’ grooves I’ve not channelled for six weeks. For a start, I’ve got to get back some keyboard mojo and relearn how to type stuff on a computer.

I’ve also got to get these camp songs out of my head (no more ‘No More Monkeys On the Bed’, per favore) and condition myself to stop automatically responding with words like sì, grazie and salute! (that last one for when someone sneezes or farts). Mainly I’ve got to accept the fact that I’m not in Italy though I still think I’d like very much to be in Italy. È troppo difficile, so I’m going to find some progressive and therapeutic comfort by doing what overemotional creative types do when they need to perk themselves up or deny reality – imagine up some stuff and create things. I then might share it on the internet, ’cause I can do that again now that I’m reunited with my beloved laptop. (But it doesn’t show me as much affection as all the sweet Italian children and their families and hasn’t even touched the frittata I made for it yesterday afternoon. A laptop is a poor substitute for real love…)

In summary, avanti, creative action is go and there will be writings and doodlings all over the show again (on this site, on my art blog, on Instagram and possibly other cyberspaces). There may be some blogposts about my adventures, there should be some fresh fiction bits, maybe some new ‘projects’ and ideas and there will definitely be a lot more sketching. At least there will be when I’ve refound some rhythm. Anyway, welcome (or welcome back), I’m here again and – in spite of my melancholy and yearning to be somewhere else – I’m psyched to get back to earnest, online creative action again. Here, have some of my delusional fancies and some frittata. I’ve got a lot to spare…