Archive for June, 2013
As a kid I was fascinated by Brownies. In folklore, Brownies are Elvin folks who run around your house picking up after you and making shoes. The Slavic culture has their own variation called Domovoi, the English and Scots have Hobs and even old Harry Potter had his house elf, Dobby.
Despite Dobby’s rather overwhelming presence, folklore states that these little dudes don’t like to be seen, so they do all of their cleaning and craftwork after you’ve gone to sleep.
Even as an adult who drinks coffee, gets hosed on taxes, and gripes about those who leech off the welfare, I still harbor these childhood dreams of the mythical and folkloric. It’s fun to think that some ancient, magical entities might be governing your household after you’re asleep. And admit it, things are always just a little different when you wake than they were when you went to sleep, right?
If I have some Brownies living in my flat, they have a hell of a sense of humor. That or I’ve really pissed them off. Cause here’s what they do to me when I’m sleeping.
Want to be a writer? Here’s your first lesson: Learn from everything.
And that includes TV.
Don’t get me wrong, I love books. There’s nothing like dipping into a great mystery, horror, fiction, historical nonfiction, anything. My shelves are filled with piles of them and choosing a new book to read is both a joy and a burden. I stare at bookstore shelves sad in the knowledge I’ll never be able to read everything I want before they drop me off at the coroner with a toe tag and my fillings in a sack.
But as far as guilty pleasures go, I love me some television! Oh, there’s nothing better than blowing off a night out in lieu of watching a couple reruns of Seinfeld, Northern Exposure or Frasier. When talking about sitcoms or other television with someone who writes, you often get an eye roll, as if to say: “Well, Kafka would never have spent the evening watching Golden Girls.”
And that is bullshit.
If you don’t think television can teach you a thing or two about writing, then you are probably a snob who takes himself too seriously. Back in the days before television, James Joyce, heaviest of the heavy authors, used to read everything. Everything. He read the Ladies Home Journal; he lost himself in gossip magazines, fashion pages of newspapers, romance novels, hunting manuals. He read everything, surely knowing that inspiration and little lessons are everywhere, not just in the pages of Middlemarch, War and Peace, and Ulysses.
There’s no doubt that if you want to write books, you have to read books, but television surely has its place in terms of helping you advance your writing. Here are some examples of how television helped me as a writer.
There are times when we are confronted with just how much we have become like our parents. For some, this is a heartbreaking look at your turkey gobbler neck in the mirror. For others, it’s a snort-filled laugh, or a predilection for middle-aged bassists.
For me, it’s putting together a fan.
When I was ten, my friend Eddie and I watched from an esoteric locale (basement steps) while my dad attempted to put together a ceiling fan. It was sort of like watching Frodo engage in hand to hand combat with a propeller. We could barely contain our giggles as his frustration grew in a circus of exaggeration and profanity. His face had gone completely red, and as he exploded like some deranged Italian volcano, we knew that by watching we’d gotten an education, but perhaps hadn’t been ready for this particular rite of passage.
My vocabulary of vulgarities quadrupled in one hour.
I try not to be an old fuddy duddy. I can listen to 18 whole seconds of rap or R&B before rolling my eyes and weeping for the human race. Though I can’t believe how promiscuous girl’s clothing is these days, I enjoy it to a pathological level. And when my students mock me for using outdated slang, I resist the urge to tell those beeotches that they can eat my shorts, whilst reminding myself that I am, in fact, the bomb.
Nothing makes me feel more like a fuddy duddy than grumbling about a PDA, (or using the term ‘fuddy duddy’). A PDA, if you are not privy to this outdated term, stands for a public display of affection. In layman’s terms: making out in public.
And the Czech Republic is the global capital of the PDA.
We’ve just watched James Tiberius Kirk, rebellious and adventurous Captain of the Starship Enterprise, kick some butt. He kicked Klingon butt, he kicked Star Trek villain butt, and he even kicked a little human butt. He was joined in these adventures, of course, by Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, a few very attractive ladies, and a bunch of doomed guys in red shirts.
The cinema is full of the exact people you expect will see Star Trek at an IMAX cinema. The room is a testament to the chubby white male. And Collin. Though there are only ten women in the room, there are well over 200 breasts. I mock these people, and yet I resemble them so much so that I could be on a poster for the movie called: Chubby White Trekkie.
I realize this as I poke my fun: I somehow set myself apart from these people. Even more alarming is the realization that this isn’t the first time I have mocked a group that I belong to.
I am in the fortunate position to both love my parents and live 4,166 miles away from them. I only lived in their basement for 6 months after graduating before getting in a car and driving away with a CD rack and a pocket full of psychological issues.
Like many people who live far away from their parents, and George Costanza, I enjoy a Sunday afternoon call. The call comes either before or after I meet a friend for my Sunday evening Czech lesson with beer. And this is perfect since I either need the soothing effects of beer during the conversation or directly after.
My Sunday calls are phenomenal. They are comforting, enjoyable and fun. I catch up on the goings on of my Hobbit like clan and hear the neighborly gossip that can only be enjoyable after spending a decade in another country. I hear about baseball, football and the bowel habits of my niece and nephew, who are both of an age that this is not wildly inappropriate.
The Sunday call puts front and center the quirks that I have come to know and love about my parents.
I wonder if anyone really notices a plague on its first day. I am guessing that people might just say things like: “Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I saw a locust,” or “Jiminy, there sure is a lot of pestilence afoot today.”
On the first day of our biblical Plagues here in Prague, I say, “Geez, it’s been raining like crazy.” Still, I don’t think about the Bible or plagues. I think that I live in central Europe, which means bad restaurant service, legal prostitution, and rainy springs. And then I go back to my television show, which is about an apocalypse. I should see the premonition.
Rain and Hail
On the third day of almost literally unrelenting rain and a constant veil of darkness, I feel as though Prague is the setting for a horror or thriller movie of some sort. The dark skies are a perfect backdrop to a Hitchcock flick, and the continual rain is straight out of Se7en.
Still, in the back of my mind some little guy is standing on a hill asking the skies, “And what exactly is a cubit?”
Working with young people forces an old fogie to accept lots of things in the world. I am very aware that almost everything about me is outdated. I dress like a pensioner, I don’t understand Twitter, and I only have a passing knowledge of Justin Bieber. I am certainly not hip to any new vernacular which arises these days, and as a result live in a world of confusion and sweat.
Confused though I can be, there are times the younger generation just has to be mocked. Bieber love is up there on the mockotron, as is the current fascination with soy products. But most of all, the younger generation has some very strange ideas about what constitutes a workout activity. And I don’t care if it makes me sound like Archie Bunker, let the mockery begin!
First on this list is something called ‘trampolining.’ And if you were born before 1990 you know this activity as ‘jumping.’ The basics of this workout routine are to get on a trampoline and jump up and down. Now, there are lots of neat things you can do, like jumping up and down and doing a flip and jumping up and down and doing a twirl and other things that involve jumping up and down.