Archive for October, 2018

A British Man Buys Books

There’s a new English bookstore in town and I have found myself there several times in the last four months. This bookstore has everything I could possibly want. It’s a large room filled with cheap English books, those selling said books are young, attractive, and clad in boxy glasses, and it’s literally across the street from one of my favorite pubs.

Last Saturday, I brought three books up to the counter. Life couldn’t be better. It was Friday and I was about to leave my second favorite venue for my first favorite one.

Perhaps in anticipation of that mecca I looked across the street at the pub’s entrance.

“Dobrý den,” the woman behind the counter said. She was early twenty-something, guardedly chipper, and wore glasses which suggested a knowledge of Sartre.

“Dobrý den” I said back.

“Oh,” she stuttered a second. “Um…hello. Is this all?”

OK, this happens. Sometimes Czechs switch to English upon realizing their interlocutor isn’t a native Czech speaker. It has upset me before, both morally and conversationally. Morally I sometimes take it as an indictment on the quality of my Czech. Conversationally I get flummoxed as to what language I should speak back. I have had entire conversations with a Czech person speaking English and me speaking Czech. It’s like being in a David Lynch dream sequence.

“Right,” I said, “that’ll be all then.” The words themselves aren’t as notable as the fact that I spoke them in what my brain tells me is a British accent. I clipped the ‘T’ off of the ‘Right’ and based the rest on Inspector Morse, Tiny Tim, and what I’d always imagined Mr. Bean would sound like.

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Folkloric Villain Support Group Discusses the Concept of Blame

Big Bad Wolf: Thank you, Wicked Witch of the West, for your thoughts on modern day beauty expectations and our collective role as scapegoat. Agreed that there is something to be said for the physical representations we’ve been put into. I am, after all, a massive wolf. Big eyes, big teeth. You know the deal. I do think it’s best you don’t sit next to Rumpelstiltskin next time. I think his short stature make you a bit squirrelly.

Wicked Witch of the West: Yes, I think so. Thank you.

Rumpelstiltskin: Bitch.

Big Bad Wolf: That’s enough.

Evil Step Mother: I’ll put on another pot of coffee.

Big Bad Wolf: Thank you. Rump, I’m recommending a course of sensitivity training for you.

Rumpelstiltskin: But she started it!

Big Bad Wolf: (Growls)

Rumpelstiltskin: Fine. But she goes too.

Big Bad Wolf: We’ll talk about this later. (lights cigarette). OK, Hideous Old Witch, you’re up. Everyone give her your attention please. We’re talking today about the concept of blame, how it’s affected us all, and perhaps the unfairness of our perception in everyday society.

Hideous Old Witch: Thank you. Hello.

Everyone: Hello, Hideous Old Witch.

Hideous Old Witch: I’ve been having trouble recently.

Ogre: It’s OK. Just tell us what’s happening.

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Ten White Guys Who Speak English

You have no doubt seen some of those “challenges” around Facebook now. Which ten album covers most influenced your fashion choices as a teen? (sadly, Harry Chapin) Which ten Bob Dylan songs are your favorite to sing in the shower (obvs, Desolation Row).

The one I was nominated for was simple enough: Your ten favorite books. What the hell, I thought. I love books, talking about books, and making lists. This was a win-win. Naturally I took the opportunity to enjoy the nice autumn air (at my local pub’s garden) and make a list. And while I was making the list, I made a decision: I would not lie.

I am not saying everyone out there is lying about this stuff. But I do feel there’s a tendency for people to lie about these things so as to look more sophisticated and worldly than their actual choices might suggest. The things we like vs. the things we think we should like. I have a friend who gushes over the brilliance of Citizen Caine and 8 12, but he could do every character from beginning to end in Groundhog Day as a one man show.

And so I wrote my list. Each writer on that list have three things in common: they’re all white, they’re all male, and they’re all native English speakers.

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Screen Time Rules

My Menagerie Anxiously Awaits the Return of the WiFi So They Can Watch The Muppets)

I walk back into the office in my flat. I click the WiFi settings. I refresh. The horrendous yellow traffic cone is still there’ its message conveys no WiFi yet dude.

As I have two computers now, I go to the computer in the living room. It’s older and makes the same sounds my neighbor’s dog used to make when he’d gone blind and start an argument with the wall. Still, it’s hanging in there by a string and a prayer and we use it as our television for Netflix and streamed shows.

I click WiFi. Refresh. Yellow cone. No! It’s official, I’m offline.

As someone who groups words into stories, I am often looking for a little more time. I get up at 5 a.m. during the semester in order to get my writing in first thing in the morning. If given the opportunity, I would get up at 7:30, but I have no control over my schedule and I have to deal with what I’m given.

If a school task or a proofreading job takes up time that should be spent on fiction or blog, I can get quite testy. I feel uneven if I can’t get the words in every day. I snap at the cat. It’s a bad scene.

So on this lovely Saturday afternoon in which I am home alone, have exactly no obligations in the immediate future should be a godsend. I could hole up in my office and work for two hours, go out for a beer in the evening with the creative juices brewing in my cortexes.

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Hobby Time

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

I was leaving my home office this Saturday afternoon when Burke said it me: “You work pretty much every day, don’t you?”

“Work? Well it’s writing. Writing work.”

“So, work?”

“I guess.”

I won’t pretend to be one of those people who claim that writing isn’t work. It is. It is something I immensely enjoy and an activity to which I am fully addicted. And there are certainly times when putting a new story down on paper gives me an immeasurable childlike joy.

But to write with the aim of publishing becomes to a large degree a job. It involves story and character development, editing, fulfilling public need, and working on narrative technique. And, yes, to improve and become a better writer in these areas requires a lot of hard work.

Work. Huh.

I thought about it, too. I never walk back into my office saying “I’m going to gleefully write a story for the simple joy that it brings my soul.” I may go on and do exactly that, but when I walk back into my office and there’s a person in my house (or a cat) I always say, “I’m going to go get some work done.”

Work. Hm.

When I was young, writing was my hobby. I could sit at a desk and write stories all day about ghosts or adventures in the woods. I remember in particular an alternate look at the battle of Gettysburg and one about a monster who had a million arms. It was all for fun. And that certainly changed as I got older and other points had to be included in writing that was going to be taken seriously.

Roger Kahn writes in The Boys of Summer, a book about his experiences with the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, that to watch professional baseball players practice was to realize that they were no longer playing a game, they were professionals honing and perfecting the skills of their profession, just as a dentist or a carpenter might.

So my childhood hobby had now become a job. I wrote my blog, a book, for some humor websites. And while I loved it, it had someone become work, not a hobby.

And then it occurred to me: I don’t have a hobby.

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