It’s Wednesday night, I am lounging on the couch full of bologna and liver dumpling soup – my favorite. Despite that, I am a bit glum, it’s been a long week already and my plan tonight is to lethargize my brain with inane sitcoms. As I queue up one such sitcom, my phone rings. A quick peep tells me that it’s my dad.
But it’s Wednesday.
My dad and I chat twice a week – Thursday and Sunday. We are men of routine and this is one we adhere to with gusto. But like other people of routine, any break from that routine is an instant red light – something’s wrong.
If you are older than twelve, then you know there are so many universal truths out there. Your bus only breaks down when you are running late, the tallest person in the theater will sit right in front of you, and your water only gets shut off when you reek of bourbon and fried meat and have a meeting with your boss in an hour.
They are universal truths and sometimes we get reminders of them. And then we let loose with a number of colorful vulgarities that your mother would smack you for uttering.
And why do we get reminders?
Well, if you paid attention in your religion class, you know that the universe is run by evil little imps called jerks. And every now and then, the universe likes to use these guys to remind us that we are its bitches.
These reminders are usually doled out in minor increments, one every month or so. But now and then you endure a week which consists of so many universal reminders that you feel like the butt of an intergalactic prank. This was one of those weeks. And I suppose in order to not throw myself in front of a bus, I jotted them down. And now you get to read them.
This is not nearly a comprehensive list. Add to it.
I am in church and dressed to look like a demented elf with a plaid fetish. A nun asks (orders) me to go up to the pulpit and write The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in cursive a hundred times. However, I find that I am not wearing pants and that my clip-on tie has a tomato sauce stain on it. This, I know, will be two demerits. The nun takes out her ruler.
I wake up in a sweaty mess shouting for mercy.
Let’s be honest, everyone in their twenties and beyond is dealing with their own little tailor-made version of hell. If you went to Catholic grade school, then you were given a dose of guilt, rules, and memories that you will have the joy of working out for the remainder of your life.
Here are some of those things. This list is not comprehensive, please add to it so that the healing begin.
It’s the Ides of March today so you should beware. If you don’t know what the Ides of March is, there is a solid chance you have lived a completely normal life suffering absolutely no ill effects of not knowing that March 15th of every year is a day of bad omens.
March 15th is the day that Julius Caesar was stabbed by Brutus and gang outside of the Roman senate in 44 BC. Ever since then, March 15th has symbolized a day of pending doom, so much so that the fact that our weekend has included a Friday the 13th and the Ides of March should suggest that a meteor is about to plunge into the Atlantic and send us the way of the Tyrannosaurus and Vanilla Ice.
But it didn’t…hasn’t.
Having inherited a familial interest in everything related to doom, pestilence, and death, I decide to look up the Ides and see what this if there’s anything else to suggest March 15th carries some more evidence of bad juju. Not only did Caesar get filleted on March 15th, but Germany took over Czechoslovakia in 1939, and CBS cancelled Ed Sullivan.
I am pumping myself up before class. I’m imagining the scene, the human circus I’ll be greeted with when I enter the room. I prepare my opening line and get ready to make them laugh before lowering the boom with some grammar.
Tonight, I enter the classroom expecting to enter the multicultural zoo that I walk into every Tuesday, but there’s nothing. Not a soul. I put my coursebooks down and look at my watch. Two minutes, I dare to dream.
I decide to take a moment’s pause. At first I focus on my breathing, which stops the minute I hyperventilate. So instead I look out the window at picturesque Jarov, which sits on the outskirts of Prague. Jarov is not exactly the Prague that shows up on postcards or on decorative plates.
There’s the car dealership across the road, the Kaufland next door, the tram depot loop beneath. There are the stop lights along Koněvova Street which runs up into Žižkov, and construction workers stepping into the herna (casino) bar across the road. I can hear the car horns going and the people who got drunk too early in the day shouting at each other. An ambulance is speeding along.
Above it all, there’s a blue sky breaking into the light gray of dusk. It’s framed in the horizon with orange pink. Two things instantly become clear. Spring is springing in Prague and I am not going to have any students tonight.
A Prague spring is something marvelous. It’s a warm sun, cool shade, fresh air. It’s bright mornings, cobalt blue late afternoons, and evening suns that stream into your windows warming your belly as though you were a cat. A Prague spring means walking along the Vltava, Italian tourists, and drinking beer outside. It means getting yelled at for opening windows on the trams. A Prague spring is enjoyed so much more since it comes at the end of a winter full of short gray days, long dark nights, and ample suicide fantasies.
A Prague spring’s onset is evidenced also by a palpable mood lift across the city. People’s faces go from winter yellow to spring pale. Soon they might even be flesh-colored or tan. Nobody still smiles on the trams or in the streets, but as spring breaks there’s less open hostility between fellow Praguers. In Prague time slows down in the spring. People take it easier, and take things less seriously than they do in the winter. It’s as though the whole week becomes one big Thursday afternoon, people are eyeing up the weekend, or in this case, the slower summer months just around the corner.
Due to a chest cold, I decide to stay home on Friday and spend the day enjoying the comfort-style foods and influences that make me feel better. There has been soup, tuna sandwiches, old sitcoms, and sweatpants.
And at some point in the evening, I decide to call my parents.
Me: “Hi Mom.”
Mom: “Hey! How are you feeling?”
Me: “Sick, you know.”
Mom: “The funniest thing happened when we were on vacation. Your cousin—no, it’s not there.”
Me: “Mom…what are you…?”
Mom: “Sorry. Sorry. So anyway, the baby was sick and there…was….try in the top cabinet. Not that…does that look like a cabinet?”
Me: “What’s going on?”
Mom: “Well, we have to….have to…there’s a….Dad needs….”
A male voice again interrupts from background.
Mom: “…well you have to go get some then.” My mom then has a four-minute conversation with my dad, who’s desperate need for a snack has superseded our long distance conversation. When she returns she continues.
Mom: “So anyway, you can go get anything you want at the Giant. There’s a huge deal…”
Me: (breathing deeply and slowly) “That wasn’t the conversation we were having.”
Me: “Cousin. Baby.”
Mom: “Oh, right. Anyway, when we were in California. Oh shoot!”
Mom: “Well, you know the Eagles traded McCoy, right?”
As my mom and dad discuss this and I become a spectator to the conversation, I spill into the fetal position and think.
In the last week I have received two emails rejecting my fiction. Adding insult to injury is that one of these stories was submitted for a Halloween contest and was just rejected on March 2. But this is the way it goes at times.
If you have ever submitted your writing to a publication or contest, then you know what a terrifying and exhilarating experience it is. Terrifying because someone will shortly be reading and judging your work. And you care. No matter how much you want to play cool, the fact is that you want to be accepted.
It’s exhilarating because your story is no longer sitting in a file on your computer; it’s sitting in a file on a magazine’s computer. It’s out there and so many things can happen. They could love it. You could get noticed. But the real excitement is that your writing will now be assessed by someone you don’t know. It’s no longer just you, your cat, and your friend Jack. You have put yourself out there.
But, as in all areas of life, putting yourself out there means the possibility of rejection. And when you enter the world of writing and publishing it means getting rejected. A lot.
So how do you deal with it? Well, I don’t know how everyone else deals with it, but here are the 5 stages of rejection that I tend to go through.
I am on the couch jotting notes in my notebook on my lap desk. It’s Sunday, the lazy day. I sharpen the pencil as my notes full up the page and I near the bottom. It’s as though I am hesitant. When I get to the end of the page I turn it and wipe a tear from my eye.
This notebook is filled.
It’s time to crack a new one.
The changing of the guards is about to begin.
Notebooks are a part of my daily life, and I refuse to simply discard a filled one. I carry around each notebook for months. It’s gone to pubs and meetings with me, it’s been the recipient of my most embarrassing rants and crappiest tripe. But it never tells; a good notebook keeps secrets. It is my therapist, my friend, my brainstorming partner, my shopping assistant.
It takes in everything I have to get out of my system and it does it all without judgment.
If you’re American and older than, say, thirty the combination of the numbers 976 should conjure distinct images. Images like lingerie clad nymphs or cheerleaders beckoning your phone call in between reruns of The Price is Right and the People’s Court.
If you’re under thirty or not from the U.S, then in the time it took the thirty and over’s to read the above paragraph and settle into reminiscence you most probably googled “What is a 976 number?” and you should be up to speed.
Though there were many 976 numbers, many of them were adult chat hotlines which you could call for prerecorded sex-talk messages. Every fetish was represented – twins, teens, older women, mechanics, etc. It was the refuge of the forlorn, the lonely, or the curious kid who’s stayed home sick from school.
One day when I was eleven years old, I found myself with a raging temperature – 98.7°F – and milked it into a day home. Staying home from school was glorious, more so if your parents worked. I’d lie in bed, reveling in the jealousy of my siblings, and then mosey to the television. I could eat sandwiches all day and watch TV.
It hasn’t occurred to me until now how similar kid sick days were to adult Saturdays.
On this one particular day, between an episode of The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC, a woman appeared on my television. She wasn’t wearing much and what she was wearing I had only seen on women in magazines I found stashed around the house. I watched. She told me to call 976-something to talk to her, and being the impressionable young lad that I was, I followed her direct order.
I sit down in front of my computer this morning waiting for the cobwebs in my brain to be scattered by caffeine. As I click on the Guardian, I am surprised to see that the Oscar Awards happened last night. In a moment driven by nationalistic duty, I click on the link.
I only know two of the films up for best picture and I give a half-hearted “Mmm” when I see who won. Then I make oatmeal.
One fact of Expat life is that I’ve found myself, both literally and figuratively, out of touch from my native land. When I first came to Prague in 2004 this could partly be explained by simple lack of contact. There was nowhere near the internet accessibility as there is now, so I could only get online once every few days. So being out of touch was a great deal due to inaccessible information.
But now, due to wifi in every restaurant, bathroom, and shoe shop, we are uber-informed and connected. And yet, I am still kind of out of touch. I feel removed from things that used to be important parts of my life.