She Who Smiles Rarely smiled often

It started a couple of weeks ago with New York Guy. Man, what an asshole. We rolled our eyes together and I got a smile. When I came in tonight she was behind the bar and she gave a ghost of a smile as we exchanged the briefest of pleasantries before I headed for a table in the back.

It was She Who Smiles Rarely who took my order. “Steak zhuh kurzhitschkafrig,” I said.

“Steak z ku?ecĂ­ho?”

“Ano, Steak z kurzhetsho”

That went back and forth a couple of times. She knew exactly what I wanted, and she was helping me learn to say it. Steak from chicken thing, A local delicacy. Finally I punted on the pronunciation and just said “Dvah nahtct awesome”. They write down the order by number anyway. With a smile she drilled me on the correct pronunciation of 28. We worked out that I also wanted rice and she was gone.

It was her next visit I really scored. My beer was perilously close to empty and she came by and asked “One more beer?” In English. I mentioned in a previous episode that if they spoke english here I didn’t want to know about it. I waved my hands in the negative while I said, “Je

Thoughts about Writing

I’m sitting here in Crazy Daisy, and it’s a fine Prague day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing (I didn’t miss them until they came back) and the world is generally a cheery place. A pretty girl went by in a miniskirt and naturally I thought about the art of writing essays.

It goes back to a comment my august sister left for another episode celebrating spring. Some pundit somewhere compared the essay to the miniskirt, saying it should cover the subject but nothing more, or something like that. It’s a nice quote, so you should go back through the comments and find it. Carol Anne had added to the famous quote by drawing a parallel to my comparison between miniskirts and bikinis. To which I simply added “It’s gotta have swish.” I think I just misquoted myself. Can you do that?

I didn’t state it so then, but while a bikini reveals, a miniskirt enhances. Women can probably make a similar analogy involving speedos and board shorts. In any case, it’s gotta have swish.

So what would I say if I was in front of a bunch of kids who are required to take a course in essay writing? I think first I would ask them the last time they wrote an essay, and I would point out that every email they send is an essay, every note they write is an essay, every message they leave on an answering machine is an essay. We will all agree that some people just have a knack for great messages, great emails, great signals across a room that you don’t forget. I have friends that can raise the most mundane thing to a cause of laughter or sorrow. I have a special note that my email program plays when I get a message from one of those people.

So what sets them apart? How much of that can be taught to a class of people who see writing essays as a chore?

In my not-so-humble opinion, there are two things that make a great essayist: they find their subject interesting and they write without fear. It’s important to differentiate between their subject is interesting and they find their subject interesting. I’ve read emails lately about things I care not one whit about, but the way they were written made me read the message more than once. Really I don’t care about baby poop, but when described passionately, with magical language, it resounds, and I’m thankful to hear about baby poop.

The only way to be passionate is to write without fear. So really the two things that make a great essay boil down to one. Write without fear. Talk about things that matter to you and put your balls on the anvil.

I don’t know how many times on my travels I was sitting listening to the person on the next stool spin a great yarn. Usually autobiographical. Holy cow, the stories I’ve heard. Then I would tell them I’m a writer (I love saying that). My co-drinker’s eyes would get wide. Why? They had just run out a better essay without thinking than I could do with blood. They were telling a story to a guy in a bar. There was no fear.

We are taught somewhere along the line that there are three (I think it was three) sorts of essays. Those Essay Nazis are really into numbers. Fives and threes. Three reasons to write an essay, my ass. I bet if you asked the author of an essay you really liked, “Why did you write that?” they might at first cite some social or political reasons but in the end they would just say “I needed to say it.” They’re not writing for a defined purpose, they’re writing to write. Certainly they will hope that the articulate expression of their experience will affect the world, but fundamentally they’re stringing words together to make concrete something that before was only in their head, and they’re doing it for themselves.

I suppose that’s the corollary to writing without fear. Write for yourself. Be yourself in everything. When my faithful laptop makes the plunk-choing sound I know I have something worth reading that will be an intimate reflection of the sender. I will be reading a great essay about baby poop, or Little League, or it will be a long unpunctuated ramble with almost frightening enthusiasm. If you’ve ever been to a poetry slam you’ll know that it is really an essay contest.

Which brings me to the karaoke semi-simile (kind of like) I used in the title. On karaoke night you will remember two singers, the best and the worst, the two most fearless of all the participants. Attitude the same, results different, both remembered, both walking off the stage with head held high. If I were to grade essays, there would be points for all the technical stuff, because you always want their courage to be as effective as possible. There would be style points, asking whether the writer is finding their own voice, their own way of expressing things. But there would also be a courage score. There’s gotta be points for laying it on the line. There’s gotta room to acknowledge art when you see it, whether it’s dismantling the modern power structure or discussing toilet water splashing back up onto your butthole.

It’s my only advice to anyone who wants to write. Write without fear. If you’re in school, screw the grade. There’s nothing wrong with technical ability, in fact, you’ll find that all that grammar and crap ultimately gives you a much faster car to drive into the brick wall. To really be great you need the technical skill, but all the skill in the world will never replace passion. And everyone has the passion. Everyone. You just gotta let it show.

Loud Phones

You know, modern phones know with great precision exactly where they are. (Which means they know where you are.) So why can’t they just make it so phones change ring mode by location? In a theater? No ring. In a restaurant? Quiet ring or no ring, the restaurant’s decision.

That would be cool.

Hollywood Nights in Prague

Today began the shooting on fuego’s Top Secret movie project. They didn’t mention to fuego at the start the Top Secretness of the movie, which led to an ugly moment for the wayward Second AD, but now things are safely under wraps again and you can rest assured that none of the details of the film will be revealed herein.

There will be a few details about the kickoff party, to which fuego graciously invited me. I met lots of cool film people, mostly on the production side, and I enjoyed myself quite a bit. When we first arrived a very pretty girl greeted fuego warmly, and when her hints went completely ignored there was no ruboff on me whatsoever. It was only a matter of moments before she was being groped by the director and the director’s brother. The director, who I believe fuego now refers to as “Barbara” (rhymes with knee-high sloth), had his name on the back of his t-shirt and I think the shirt had his picture on the front but I may be wrong about that. It was dark and beer was free.

After Barbara (rhymes with knee-high sloth) and the girl disappeared for a while the director returned and came over and sat where fuego and I were hanging with some other folks. Actually, he didn’t sit, there was a couch along one side of the table and he sacked out on it. Maybe sacked out isn’t the right word, either — his posture wasn’t sleepy but he was very relaxed. He didn’t sit, he didn’t sack out, what he did was lounge, and he did a damn fine job of it. We talked for a bit and he seemed like a good guy, considering his name is Barbara (no offense, Mom). He even seemed genuinely interested when I said I was a writer, but his interest waned when I could cite no major publishing credits. By then he’d partially opened his fly and had his hand down his pants, making extensive and protracted adjustments. I found it difficult to converse in those circumstances.

I met another girl who fuego told me was the girlfriend of another friend of his. I’m guessing that won’t be the case much longer, although I suppose that depends on the sort of relationship they have. At one point, briefly, I thought she was hitting on me. I convinced myself that couldn’t be the case and at any rate I wouldn’t do something that could put fuego in a bad spot with his buddy. When she started hitting on the other guy there was no doubt. Sorry, Mortimer (rhymes with hairy).

This pseudonym thing is fun!

My mistake was going to Roma while I waited for fuego to finish work. It’s not that I had very many beers at Roma, and I didn’t have that many at the party, but combined, it was just too much. As far as I know I only made a complete ass of myself with one other person, but the potential number of people who are now saying, “I like fuego (rhymes with pill) but his brother (rhymes with dairy) is a jerk” is pretty large. I think for the most part I was fine, but that one chick was annoyed, if not downright cheesed. We won’t go into it. Other people were still smiling at me at the end of the evening, and at least I kept my hand out of my pants. And everyone else’s pants, for that matter.

Luckily it was about two and a half kilometers home from the second bar; a walk through the cool predawn air was just what I needed.