Last August I moved to Chicago. After living in rural Iceland (where it was a big event when the produce truck came to the local shop), walking down Michigan Avenue in tourist season was mind boggling.
I spent a month in suburban Detroit, where I read Sonnet 116 at my youngest brother’s wedding. I went on a nature walk, found an office I liked, met old and new friends, and got to know my parents again. My two brothers and I got the band back together in Charlottesville VA. Between us we play guitar, mandolin, keyboard, banjo, trumpet, bass, and we sing. We have so much fun.
I love Chicago. This winter may be one of the worst on record, but the city has welcomed me. I have made friends with many artists, entrepreneurs, writers, and other creative, ambitious, amazing people. I talk to new people every day. I found an office where I like to spend my days. I eat bacon. I ride the train. I play my guitar. I write. I edit books. I am an American in America.
I visited the Hallgrímskirkja Church in the heart of Reykjavik, where I heard a jazz version of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” being rehearsed.
I’ve loved James Taylor since I was small. Guitar and vocals are me. The video is of rural Iceland.
At work in the studio, we hear a child screaming outside. My friend runs to her son, and I hear her ask why he is screaming.
The horses are running. We hurry down the driveway to look at them, me in my slippers.
“Góðan daginn,” the man leading them calls to us. I call back, “Góðan daginn!” He says something in Icelandic, probably, “Don’t try to touch them.”
“They are beautiful,” I call out.
This is a regular sight here, the movement of horses from one pasture to another. They move like a gym class, with the athletes up front and the reluctant joggers at the back. In front of me one horse decides he’s had enough and slows to a walk. I think they are doing the tölt, a fast and smooth trot unique to Icelandic horses.
I must ride.
I’ll admit it, I came to Iceland on a whim. I found an artists residency that looked cool, and applied.
I thought Iceland would be, well, the name kinda says it. But it’s quite green where I am, and the weather’s been between 8-18 C, or, um, 46-65 F. The 46 was in between two glaciers, the 65 was hiking up a mountain in the sun. As I grow more comfortable with Celsius I am starting to lose my grip on Fahrenheit. I already think in Celsius for cooking. The ovens here have incomprehensible symbols (“what does the Mercedes Benz one do?”).
Food packaging here is labeled in at least three languages, sometimes many more. Today I had ramen made in China, cinnamon rolls from Sweden, tea I got in Ireland, cornflakes from the UK, Icelandic milk and produce. I can either be horrified by this or accept that I am a truly global being.
Landing at Reykjavik you think you are landing on the moon. Lunar rocks everywhere. The airline I flew is named after an active volcano. I had been under the impression that there were no trees in Iceland and I was relieved to be wrong, although they all seem quite young. The locals say, “If you are lost in the forest in Iceland, stand up.”
There are two spas in the town where I am living, one for the tourists and one for the locals, a supermarket/gas station, a few restaurants, and very little else. There are sheep in my yard. They stay up all night eating grass and then lie around during the day as if stoned. Both genders have horns.
The sun does not set this time of year. It just goes behind the mountain for a while. This is profoundly disconcerting, and you get used to it. I don’t know how well I would cope in near-perpetual darkness, I’ve been told Icelanders do a lot of arts and crafts during the winter. People here are pretty comfortable speaking English, but they speak Icelandic among themselves. The money has pictures of people with books.
Most of Iceland is run on geothermal energy. A new friend of mine here, aged seven, wrinkled his nose at the smell of the hot water, comparing it to cooked eggs, until I said that the water was heated by volcanoes. “Nobody told me that!” he said, his eyes growing huge.
The worst part about Iceland is the flies. I have accidentally swallowed two now, while hiking. Flicking a scarf around one’s face tends to help. Wind is the only real solution.
Everything is expensive here, except wool. Wool is astonishingly cheap.
British Airways lets you take 23 kilos in your hand luggage. Scandinavian Airlines allow only eight. While I can’t fit anywhere near 23 kilos in my rolly suitcase, this is making me rethink my entire way of life.
Let me back up. I’ve been living abroad for most of two years. I’ve lived with friends, done a bit of housesitting, booked a few rooms with airbnb, hired a cottage, and stayed overnight in a few airport hotels. Because I’m mostly staying put for months at a time, and because I have nice friends, my expenses end up being similar to renting an apartment in Oakland, California.
But in that time and all of those flights, my philosophy of packing has always been to jam as much as I possibly can into the alloted number of bags. My friends in Japan probably thought I was mad for showing up with two huge suitcases, plus my carryon luggage, and I look back and wonder what the hell I was lugging around. Some of it was gifts. But I had a baggage allowance of two checked suitcases, which meant that was how much stuff I needed.
My 8 kilo carryon limit is making me reconsider this philosophy. Packing is a tricky thing when you’re basically moving house. It’s more than deciding how many pairs of socks and underwear and which T-shirts you bring (and I regularly seem to end a trip with a pile of unworn and yet still somehow mismatched socks). Because I don’t know exactly what I’ll need, I bring a range of clothes, casual and dressy, warm and cold. A towel. Boots, dress shoes, and several pairs of sneakers. A light jacket and a heavy jacket. A sun hat and a winter hat. Makeup. Business cards, external backup hard drive, several aging laptops, power cords and international power converters.
Then there are the indulgences that feel like necessities: my blanket from Natureweave Wales, which was made by my friend Anna Morgan and has magic in it. My collection of small bills and change in five or six different currencies, all from places I’ve at least changed planes in, if not lived in for weeks or months. My guitar and homemade songbook. Things you can’t get in the next country, like Australian chocolate, Japanese cakes, and Welsh tea.
Twenty three kilos, about 50 pounds, is the average allowance for checked luggage, and my hand luggage is a respectfully trim rolling suitcase, plus a backpack. Some international flights give you two checked pieces, some one.
And as I’m getting ready for Iceland I think it’s the books that aren’t going to make it. I have half a dozen books with me thanks to BA’s hefty cabin allowance. I bought a few more while here in Ireland. I’m keeping my hand-corrected reading copy of The Loving Dead (which is now available for a mere penny on Amazon!), books one and two of the Way of the Wizards series, silly and fun books by my friend J.E. Honey, and the advance reader copy of Hard Times Blues by Elwin Cotman. I am thinking about how quickly I can read the books I will otherwise have to ship or give away. I may have to get used to reading e-books just to save the agony of letting physical books go.
See, I have romantic ideas about culling down to the point where I only have carryon luggage. How smooth and cool I would be then. Possibly the worst part of travel are those times when you’re sweaty from wearing several layers, your back and forearms ache from lugging oodles of stuff through airports, and and you’re thinking about how to get all of your bags off of the train before it starts moving again. I like my stuff, but I want to carry less of it.
So thank you, Scandinavian Airlines. And sorry, little books.
I just had the loveliest experience with two nearly wild horses. They’re Irish thoroughbred fillies, or maybe one’s nearly a thoroughbred, I’m not sure. Two years old, relatively unhandled (= either frightened of or not interested in people).
So here’s the situation. A field in rural Ireland. Knee high grass and buttercups and weeds. The horses are grazing. When I clucked to them from outside the fence to see if they’d come over, they startled, then went back to grazing.
The goal was to get them to take a bit of cut apple. I went into the field slowly, eyes down. I paused regularly. Soon I was near enough to pique their interest, and then they came to me and sniffed at the apple and started eating.
Well, eating may be too generous of a word. They didn’t really know what to do with cut apple and so would gnaw it a bit, drop most of it in the tall grass, I’d pick it up and try again and they’d want to know if the other horse’s piece was the same and it went on like that. When they got some between their teeth, you could see them having to think about chewing, apple isn’t at all like grass.
Then the really beautiful part happened. The apples were eaten and/or lost, so I turned away and walked half a dozen steps. Then I stopped, my back to them, just to see what would happen.
The horses followed me. I would turn, praise them, give one a rub on her neck, then walk on. We did this six or eight times.
They got even more curious as we went, nosing at my hair and clothing, but gently. I’d only look at them when I’d stopped walking, and then only briefly and not directly in their eyes. They stopped exactly when I did. I remember standing between them, petting the huge brown horse right in front of me, with the other right behind me. The vast majority of my small experience is with horses that are used to people. We were all new at this.
I was aware that if they felt threatened, I could get bitten or kicked, but I also knew that they were calm and curious, and so I trusted that they would play with me. We kept this up until we’d all had enough, and they went one way and I went another. The whole experience might have taken ten minutes, but it was as if time had gone soft, stretching like taffy.
Two years ago I couldn’t touch horses. I’d get hives. I was scared of them; they’re big hairy powerful animals. Even a small horse could kill you if it was frightened or upset enough.
But some friends took the time to teach me how to be with horses. I started to learn to handle them and to ride them. Two years. I’m still very much a novice. I’m aware that I could be killed or hurt if I make the wrong mistake, and that will always be the case no matter what skills I develop.
I write this now trying to convey a feeling of awe. I had expected that learning to handle horses would be rewarding, but I didn’t realize how intense it could feel. There’s nothing like a nearly wild animal choosing to be with you.
I am proud to announce that the first three titles of Shueisha English Edition are for sale as e-books. This is Call Boy‘s first appearance in the English Language, The Stationmaster and Summer, Fireworks, My Corpse were originally published in English by VIZ Media. I’m an editor with Shueisha English Edition, and I hope you’ll check them out.
Call Boy, by Ira Ishida (US $5.65, including 5% discount)
In contemporary Tokyo, youths are lost. The future doesn’ t seem bright, and life is boring. Ryo is an almost dropout college student, who spends most of his time alone or at a small bar tending it nightly. But his life will change drastically when a beautiful middle-aged lady appears at its door. She invites him to the shadow world of male prostitution for women of all ages. When he’ s assigned to the demanding task of satisfying every kind of client, he finds the meaning of life for the very first time. His quest begins: to explore and understand the mysterious and strange world of female desires. All he has to do is to give, giving his heart, mind, and body. And his clients have problems, too. Their desires cannot be fulfilled by ordinary means. So he becomes a Call Boy.
The Stationmaster, by Jiro Asada (US $4.70, including 5% discount)
The Stationmaster examines the lives of the downtrodden, finding redemption in the strangest places. Extremely popular in Japan, this short story collection is about marginalized people: the stationmaster of an obsolete train station; petty criminals; a clothing salesman; a dying sex worker. According to Margaret Atwood’ s introduction, Jiro Asada’ s combination of “daily time in all its humble and often harsh detail with the hidden, haunted psyche- how people see themselves from the outside, contrasted with their knowledge of their own wounded inner selves- is a potent achievement.” Often a ghost or other supernatural element comes in to help right previous wrongs, allowing these characters to find some semblance of peace.
Summer, Fireworks, My Corpse, by Otsuichi (US$ 2.95)
Nine year old Satsuki dies after being pushed out of a tree by one of her friends. This is the story she tells of how it happened, and the lengths her friends go to in order to try and cover it up, not wanting to upset anyone. But she is soon missed, and her lost sandal provides a clue. The writing is both lyrical and stark, and the effect veers from horrifying to absurd as the people closest to her simultaneously search for her body, and try to hide it. Days pass and her body starts to decompose, while her ghost calmly narrates, and her panicked friends struggle to keep their secret.That is the very first short story by a young author, Otsuichi, who wrote it when he was just sixteen, and won an award to be published by Shueisha.The collection also includes “Yuko”, the story of a young woman who takes a job looking after an elderly couple. Kiyone enjoys her work, but is unnerved because she never meets Yuko, the wife. Yuko’s husband pretends that she is still around, while requesting half of their previous portions of food. He never allows Kiyone to clean the bedroom he shares with Yuko. And when she finally trespasses into their room, it is filled with dolls.
IDW, the publisher of Zombies vs. Robots: Women on War, commissioned art for each of the stories. I hadn’t known, so it was a surprise, and I was well chuffed with the art for mine. I think it perfectly captures the moment, and the relationship between the young woman and the robot. My thanks to the illustrator, Ericka Lugo, and everyone else who helped make this book.
I play guitar, have done so off and on since I was a teenager. I’ve started writing some originals, and decided to share this instrumental.
Amelia Beamer is an American science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer who has spent the past few years in the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Germany, Ireland, and Iceland.
She is the author of The Loving Dead, the number two zombie novel of the past decade according to Barnes & Noble. Her most recent fiction appears in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, and Zombies vs Robots: Women on War!
If Chuck Palahniuk and Christopher Moore had a zombie love child, it would look like THE LOVING DEAD.
Read the first four chapters of THE LOVING DEAD, or click on the cover for more info.