Wednesday, 17 April 2019

The Hobra Files Part 1: Albania

So I  finally saved enough money for a little holiday to Albania. I have been excited about it for weeks. Telling my Albanian friend, whom I often see on the local bus, how I can't wait. He always just seems to smile and then pull a slightly worried expression like he hopes my excitement is warranted.  He need not have worried - Albania was brilliant.

Of course, I had my usual anxiety just before I left. Mainly about leaving the cats but I also knew I needed this escape. I needed to look at Italy from 12000ft. To get some distance. To wake up the Joanna who feels like she has died inside.

Artwork on an electricity box in downtown Tirana
I knew I was getting closer to Albania when I arrived at the check-in which was redolent of hairy sweat and cigarettes. And the plane trip, which was like one of those mad middle eastern flights I used to take where the people are in aisles before the plane has even landed, confirmed my adventure was leaving the sterile confines of western Europe. Actually, the descent into Albania was quite steep because of the surrounding mountains and all I could hear was the desperate cry of the flight attendants: "Signore seduti" as this young man started bundling his child towards an exit with the plane still at a 75-degree angle. I think I would probably get the trophy for best passenger actually because I was the only one with her seat belt still on when the plane stopped.

I took the bus into the city. No taxis for this budget queen and strode purposefully off in completely the wrong direction. I can't read maps, it is official. Even when I draw them. The hostel I was staying at was only about 30 metres from the bus drop-off but I managed a goodly hour and a half wandering around Skandenberg Square asking, among others, a very dapper policeman (no clue), a talented crepe-maker (some clue) and finally a handsome waiter ( most clue) where the street was I was looking for. It made me glad I was traveling alone because that sort of lost wandering doesn't bother me. I know I will eventually get there but often I find people get into panics and don't appreciate the wrong turns. It simply means I get to start talking with the locals almost immediately and this is always a joy.

I checked into my hostel. No one else was there which I was kind of relieved about. I don't really relish sharing a room with strangers but budget queens must make do as best they can. Then I went out walking, eating grilled cheese, and drinking a very generous wineglass-serving of wine.

Sigh. It felt good to feel alive again.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Safe Space Stories

 It is interesting when you see photos of yourself taken unawares. Perhaps they are the truest glimpse of how you were feeling at that moment. A guide, if you will, of whether something is working for you or not. The two pictures I have attached are from the second of two writing workshops I attended recently and I look so engaged and happy in them I almost don't recognize myself.

The first workshop had happened two weeks before these pictures. I wasn't going to go as I have an ambivalent relationship with these things. I don't feel you necessarily learn to be a better writer from these meetings but they can be useful if you need a reminder of why you love to write. Mainly I went because these past months have been so consumed by teenage monsters (whom I spend waaaaaay to much time preparing for)  that by the end of the week I realize I have not spent a single minute creating or feeling whole.  So I went to the first one hoping that I would at least put something on paper, and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, at the end, this woman came up to me and said "You should be writing" which made me feel very cherished.

Anyway, then the facilitator of the course announced there would be a second workshop. I knew that this would not be possible for me. The workshops cost 20 euro a pop and the first one had been an SOS to myself but there was no way I could afford another one, especially so close. So I explained I couldn't come in very general terms ( it is embarrassing to admit you cannot afford something) and a day later I received mail from the facilitator offering to waiver my fee because he felt my writing voice and my feedback was vital to the group's success. Part of me wanted to say no because I find it hard to accept a free lunch but then another part said: "Go on Joanna,  people offer things because they want to." So I went, and from these pictures, I can see I was very happy. I even came out of it with a new story idea about a man who keeps a bag full of planets in his back pocket.

Two days later I received a manuscript rejection from an agent in America which made me feel very sad. Bubble short-lived, I guess.