The Afterglow of Being Freshly Pressed

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Just two weeks ago I had 2 people following my blog. There was pretty much nothing on it (not that I have a good deal more now), and as it can be today, it could conservatively be described as unattractive. Now there are a little over 200 followers of “I Should Really Write More,” and I know I don’t have that many parents, so there are actually people (that didn’t produce me) who have willingly opted to be notified when I write something (it likely won’t be often).

I would just like to say to anyone that has gotten an e-mail with this particular post in the body, and who has managed to read up until this point: I feel really close to you right now.

After a year and half away from the keyboard (and before that, many many more years), I finally got irritated enough with myself, and my tired, uncreative excuses, that I made a blog (baby steps, self).  I mean, trust me, I definitely gave myself credit for every and all status updates, tweets, and even a couple of clever text messages, but even at my laziest I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and declare, “yep, there’s a writer.” Maybe if I squinted.

I imagine I’m one of millions on WordPress and other blogging platforms across the Internetverse that feels this way. We are in a well attended club, us non-writing writers. The one that’s full of folks who have always felt writing was a horizon to be traveled towards, a comfort in a perhaps underwhelming life, a nice idea that existed strictly as an abstract concept: that future day when it all comes together, the skeletal ideas flesh out, and success sweeps in like a gust of warm air after a blizzard. Finally, a body of work, a point of pride, sweet self-worth. But of course the whole getting from A-to-B thing is a real bitch. So, eff that. I am the first to eff that. In fact, full-on-fuck that all the way from A-to-Z. When did I get so shy of hard work and so shortleashed by failure? That may seem like a rhetorical question but I think the answer resides in my early-20s. Unfortunately, self-awareness only takes you so far. If I got karmic brownie points for all the self-analysis I’ve devoted my brain to, I’d probably be able to literally levitate. And yet, here I am, somewhat compulsively checking my word count just to feel the success of a page NOT BEING BLANK. Even opening up a new document would arouse the first twinge of success on some days, sorta like when I would drive all the way to the gym, do a tour of the parking lot, and then just go home. That’s a true story, World, by the way.

The day I got the e-mail from WordPress telling me my essay “50 Shades of Prague” was going to be featured on their Freshly Pressed list, I wondered if it was a scam. Not just because my self-confidence was in the shitter, but also because of my having grown up in a time when taking an unsolicited e-mailer at their word was to send over your bank account information to the Prince of Such-and-such country who needed help transferring Big Money into American Dollars. What did this fake bot-person want from me? A password? My SSN? To give my computer a virus for shits and giggles? Of course the answer was none of the above. I’m not radically untrusting, and my instinct to give serious eyebrows to anyone I don’t know who shoots me an e-mail isn’t all that unforgiving. I’m not exactly standing on the porch of my Yahoo account with a metaphorical shotgun telling strangers to get off my lawn, but I think we’ve all (perhaps subconsciously) refined our filter for what qualifies as actual mail and what ends up designated to spam exile. So, I read the e-mail twice, three times, once more, and finally dissolved my jaded suspicions into exclamation point overdrive.

Sweet, sweet validation.

Some readers may feel my reaction to this news might be somewhat overblown. “Big deal,” they think, “what’s so great about being Freshly Pressed?” The answer is: suck it. I’m basking, people. Every new “like” and each recruited follower chirps a delightful notification on my phone and I effing bask. “This is no reason to create art: for the rudimentary, shallow benefit of attention!” Suck it again. First of all, I’m an only child, so attention is still up there with currency. Secondly, my atrophied sense of capability and sedentary creativity needed a quality smacking-around/shoulder-shaking combo wake-up call. This victory, while trivial to some, is mighty delicious to this self-starved Mayor of Lazytown.

I have fairly little regard for this particular blog post. I hardly feel compelled to even proofread it. I’m sure it’s riddled with conflicting tenses, misspellings, flip-flopping tones, from semi-cheeky to pseudo-righteous, and maybe even worst of all, boring. But before it seems as though I’ve jumped into the co-dependent deep-end of self-pity territory (aka Fishing for Compliments Land), let me qualify this apathy with the bigger point, which is that despite these flaws, I’m still writing the damn thing, and sweet Lord if that’s not a mondo-win for me these days. And actually post it? Publically? Rent some confetti cannons and unlock the liquor cabinet.

Ideally the momentum from this experience will inject me with enough energy to write regularly. To what end? What’s the ultimate goal? Amount of ideas I have: zero. But, however aimless as my essaying/musing/writing may be, it will hopefully at least yield one result: the satisfaction of knowing that if I put the words on paper, maybe, just maybe, someone will read them.

Days of writing: 1 and counting.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

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I came upon a writing prompt the other day that suggested coming up with a list of questions to answer about your characters. Um, brilliant. So I did just that. Or, well, I have sincere intentions of doing just that anyway (totally counts, right?). But I did begin to compile the questions at any rate, which means I’m going to give myself a boatload of credit.

QUESTIONS

  1. What did you do on your last day off?
  2. Most attractive quality in a partner.
  3. How do you feel about social media?
  4. How much do you typically spend when you go shopping for clothes? Can you define your sense of style? Where do you go?
  5. Worst high school memory.
  6. Last time you cried.
  7. Animal lover?
  8. Choice of vacation destination. Elaborate.
  9. Describe your kitchen. What’s in your fridge? Are there many appliances on the counters? Dirty dishes in the sink?
  10. How did your parents meet? What is their relationship with one another now?
  11. What role did religion play in your upbringing? Currently?
  12. Can you point to someone who has been a role model to you at any point in your life?
  13. What is your sleep schedule?
  14. How would you describe your style of discipline? (employees, younger siblings, children, pets, etc.)?
  15. How comfortable are you with current technology?
  16. What is one of your vices? Does it make you feel guilty?
  17. Do you consider yourself very knowledgeable about something that doesn’t have to do with your line of work? (hip-hop, penny stocks, microbrews, baseball stats, bird calls?)
  18. Do you prefer to type or hand write?
  19. Are you comfortable around kids? Do you spend much time with any?
  20. How much time do you typically spend at your home?

(NotSo)GoodFellas

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It’s difficult to be assertive when you’ve grown accustomed to being dealt with like you’re a moron for fifteen days solid by every shopkeeper, waiter, bartender, and anyone-ever-all-the-time. So when I got to Prague’s mothership train station after two weeks of my virgin voyage to Europe, my sense of bravado to match wits with the Czech Cabbie Mafia was nominal. (and by nominal I mean nonexistent)

As an aside, I also have to mention that I am apparently in the running for being the most astoundingly terrible pack-artist of all time (see: 65lbs on my back because of girl-rationale like, “choosing between black pumps and nude is just not possible so I’ll bring both!”) Thus, when I finally got to the cabstand, a journey which included roughly 600 stairs, all I really wanted to do was sit the hell down.

I’d even come to Prague armed with the warning that if I were to insist on taking a cab, I would need to be prepared that it might be an unwanted lesson in haggling. I pictured Middle Eastern open-air markets where aggressive textile merchants screamed at you over a matter of pennies, or the high intensity pantomime of Wall Street where there’s lots of pointing and yelling. Sell sell sell! What I got however was way less extreme, but also not as entertaining. And yet equally as shitty. The seemingly simple task of getting from A to B should’ve been more about “money for goods,” and less about, “well, on the bright side, at least I’m building character which I can discuss with my therapist later.”

When I had arrived at my previous destinations (Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam), the cabstands at the airport/train stations boasted an orderly line of taxis with their drivers dutifully behind their wheels, and at times even marshaled by a pleasant gentleman who gallantly ushered new customers to the next available car which would efficiently take you to your destination in a cost-effective dance of common sense and general morality.  When I finally navigated my way to the gaggle of cabs at Prague’s biggest train station, hlavní nádraží, all the drivers were milling about in a pack, smoking cigarettes and looking either bored or conspiratorial. I suddenly felt like the nerdy poodle-skirt-wearing student body president who turned a corner and came face to face with the T-Birds from “Grease.” Or like a gazelle in an open field with creepy reflective lion eyes dotting the horizon.  My signature scent is usually “Very Irresistible” by Givenchy, but I’m pretty sure all they whiffed was fresh meat.  A very empowering sensation in that not at all sort of way.

Luckily for me the first one to bite was the most dubious looking of the lot: shaved head, gold chain, under bite, and a slightly revealed bicep tattoo that hinted at something vulgar but not enough to be corroborated. Maybe it was a swastika, or maybe it was his twin daughters’ names, I chose to believe the latter.

“%cqd@#+023+.,.=jiamleFHO$NUWT)*@#4!)9jMRBVMOWIUR!#($???????”

Yeah, so I don’t speak Czech.

I’m the asshole American who has come to your country and will answer you in English feigning like I hope you’ll understand me, when I KNOW you’ll understand me because you actually took the time to learn another language. “….English?” Teeheehee? Sometimes running with the stereotype is just easier.

“Yeah. Where?”

Enter: Becky. (who?) Oh right, did I mention I’d been traveling with a gorgeous model? I must say it came in handy when the bartender’s attention on a busy night was at stake. (“HaHA, you’re serving me too by default ‘cause I’m with her, asshole.”) Please, Jesus let this evil Jason Statham looking man be as easily charmed. “Here, please,” she says sweetly while handing him a folded piece of paper with our destination written on it. I mean, God forbid either of us attempt to pronounce the street address ourselves, at this point we know it’s a futile endeavor and pretty much a waste of time. (although perhaps potentially amusing to our eager would-be chauffeur and his merry band of hustlers)

This is the point in the story where I like to make believe that while I may have overpaid for cab fare, I actually got a good deal on the brilliantly theatrical show these guys put on for us. Truly delightful. Brava.

Evil Jason Statham examined the paper for a good while, giving pause as he tried to mentally place the location, looking almost convincingly distraught at how veryvery far away it was that we needed to go. (Googlemaps puts it at 4.4 miles) His look of consternation must have been the other players’ cue to enter stage left, because soon the entire troupe of cabbies had come to surround us and began to volley back and forth their separate opinions on which way to take us. Of course this was all in Czech, but their emphatic gestures indicated that if he just hooked up north, came back down along the river, and went around a traffic circle, then that was certainly the quickest route. But no, no, no, said the others, and then they all took turns throwing in their two cents about the course.

I’m pretty sure in actuality this all translated to: Look, man, take ‘em all the way to the city limits, but then go through the tunnel back to this side of the river, but use the bridge to go over again, maybe back and forth a few times, swing south, drive around the block a lot; I mean, they will have no idea! Look, they even think we are talking about the BEST way to get there, and I am pretty sure the chubby one is about to fall over; they’ll pay anything! You will be buying the drinks tonight.

To our credit we managed to negotiate the guy down from heinously outrageous to moderately insulting, and ended up paying what amounted to about $30 to go four miles. Nevermind, I retract the giving us credit part. So while we got a nice tour of the city, my first impression was a bit tainted considering my vision of stunning architecture was clouded by unbridled exasperation with myself. I knew this guy was taking us for a ride (metaphorically; and no pun intended, this scenario deserves no jaunty pun) but I still sat silently, letting myself get bitched. But once I had played the “teeheehee” card I didn’t have a self-assured leg to stand on, so I just had to let it play out.

My favorite part came when he pulled over to the side of the road and asked to see the paper with the address on it again. He was lost. IknewitIknewitIknewit! I hated myself but at least he looked slightly embarrassed. I hope he drank well that night. (no I don’t)

With his ego a bit bruised, we finally got to our housing and thankfully sans further drama. Hefting my Sherpa-sized backpack onto my weary self once more, I left the driver after giving him my habitual smile of gratitude. Thank you so very much, kindly sir, for ripping me off, wasting my time, and causing me to question my worth as a grown woman. Could I be more of a social sucker?

There was a brief moment of respite when the first face I saw as I entered the building belonged to a woman with a warm smile.  But before I could indulge in the pleasant greeting, she switched gears: “Did you take a taxi here?”

“Yes…”

“How did—“

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That backpack sure looks heavy.”

“….it really is.” So fucking heavy.

“The Song Remains the Same”

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How, European Music Scene, have you so successfully failed to meet my expectations when I had absolutely none to begin with? That is a special, varsity level of screwing the pooch. And let me qualify this judgment further by being completely transparent about my level of fandom within the music scene back home in New Orleans. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being deaf (i.e. Justin Bieber fans) and 10 being a season ticket holder to the Grammys, I’d say I hover around a 4-ish. I have my Stevie Wonder Pandora station on regularly and can have a surface-level debate about contemporary jazz versus the blues, but I’m also sort of the douchebag all the hipsters hate because I jump onto the bandwagon of their favorite once-underground Irish punk band. So, even though I come from the city of Rock ‘n Roll (Cleveland), and live in the birthplace of Jazz (New Orleans), my DNA failed to be coded with the fanaticism needed to follow The Grateful Dead from coast to coast.

Okay, so, taking into account this pseudo-working knowledge of my pseudo-fandom, when I say that my standards of musical excellence are low, I’m talking basement low. Sub-basement low. Linsday Lohan’s self-respect low. To not aurally appease me is somewhat akin to dividing by zero, so in some ways the music scene in Europe has blown my mind. (much like it would be if the fabric of space and time unraveled)

Perhaps I sound so hyperbolic because as I think back to my first encounter with live music in Europe, it may still reign as the most bizarre. I had come to Barcelona knowing very little about the city. As it was, my expertise basically boiled down to: their patron saint of architecture was Gaudi and people went to the beach au naturel. I was pretty excited about one of those draws, but I’ll just leave it at that. Having worked at the same Spanish tapas restaurant for going on four years now, I will concede that my expectation of what the country’s music should sound like was a bit informed. How could it not be when I’d been forced to listen to the same 25 flamenco songs on repeat for the entire last half of my 20s? (if I grow old and senile, I may forget my name and/or to wear pants in public, but I will always know every damn chord of that fucking Paco de Lucia album) So, as I strolled through the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona on my first day, taking in the history of the oldest buildings I had seen to date, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the faint whisper of a distant melody.  A familiar melody my subconscious veiled from me, as my only mission became to find the source of the music.

I sussed out which direction I needed to go, and felt an unexpected but reflexive anticipation at finally seeing the genuine article in person despite so many years of suffering the laborious repetition of my restaurant’s soundtrack. The closer I got, the stranger the tune was. Was that even a guitar? Somehow I managed to navigate the cobblestone labyrinth and stepped out of the grid of side streets and into a sun-dappled square. Cradled among buildings, schizophrenic in their architecture, some specters of the city’s ancient Roman occupation, some augmented to support tourist shopping, the moderately sized plaza was home to historic Catalan church, Santa Maria del Pi, a pair of quaint cafes with al fresco diners, and adjacent to the cathedral’s august Gothic facade, my Spaniard musician.

Who actually wasn’t Spanish at all.

In fact it was a small Indian man playing a pan flute, karaoke style, to the instrumental version of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Dreams crushed. End of story.

From that moment on, I couldn’t help but keep my radar calibrated to other signs of live music during my trip.  Barcelona continued to amaze as the karaoke street musicians seemed to be the status quo, even branching into the underground metro system where they would serenade riders with Phil Collins from what I can only assume was a sad regurgitation of their failed American Idol auditions. (Spain Idol auditions?) Did I go in search of the city’s authentic music scene? No, I would classify this as a passive (lazy) case study, so Barcelona ultimately gets a pass.

However, as my journey across Europe continued, my musical experiences only seemed to grow odder. Enter: Paris. I suppose it wasn’t too unexpected that when a group of four young(ish) female tourists sat down at a street-side patio in the Latin Quarter, we quickly came into the crosshairs of the strolling minstrels who performed the theme to Amelie. Oh yay, we’re so easy, here’s some Euro. But once the duo had continued along to the next five consecutive cafes and played the same song at each, we could only look at each other, groan, and feel simple. Yet, as luck would have it, our redemption was in the cards when one of our fellow hostel-ites clued us into a show “some New Orleans blues musician was having” later that night.

It seemed like kismet, Mona Lisa in the morning, Dr. John at night, all on the 4th of July. The newest Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductee from our own backyard was sure to turn the tides of our musical failings. And yes, the Dr. brought it as he always does with his funky self, but the crowd we’d folded into was of a different ilk than we were used to back home. Apparently the citizens of Montmartre are too busy pretending to be the next Picasso to actually stop taking themselves so seriously and do more than just nod their heads to the high-energy music born to get people out of their seats and dance.  Not taking these social cues to heart, we two-stepped our hearts out, eventually recruiting others around us to do the same. When all was said and done, we couldn’t help but investigate the strange dynamic of the crowd, turning to one of the gentleman who had shaken loose and joined our second-line, asking him what the deal was.

“I was happy people were finally dancing, but I’m from Portugal.” (and as it happened, the other folks who had taken up the call to dance action were all from other places) “You will not see this crowds get into it. They are The French.”

Oh right. Of course. Silly us.

But it wasn’t just “The French,” who had the visceral reaction equivalent to Agent Smith from The Matrix. The trend seemed to follow us even as we crossed borders from France, to the Netherlands, and finally the Czech Republic.

We rallied our optimism for our introductory weekend in Prague and attended a few more shows, one even billing itself as a “Night of New Orleans” affair. We bought our tickets, took our seats (no moving allowed), and pried open our minds with a crowbar; what were we going to be in for this time? A Czech jazz orchestra? Well, they brought it, even as the older crowd created another seemingly unresponsive dialogue with the performers. During the second set when the band struck up some Duke Ellington, a handful of people finally began tapping their feet silently and lethargically nodding to the music. It was then that I spotted a young, black male twosome (the only ones in the venue, and maybe the whole country), who wore a matching pair of private smiles that seemed to say, “so many white people, so many different interpretations of the same beat.”

Then there was the contemporary jazz club where the Central European musicians performed with technical precision, stepping to and from the microphones for their respective solos with the soldierly synchronicity of a Swedish cuckoo clock. And the Led Zepplin cover band that boasted Robert Plant’s vocal doppelganger, who were awarded with sober applause from drunk people.

What was the common thread? Why did these audiences seem to pride themselves on their reserved, almost introverted concert-going ways? My insight falls short of any plausible answers. Maybe though, it’s the same reason why the natives stink-eyeball the loud Americans who fill their public transportation commutes with big laughs and their restaurants with a higher octave of dinnertime chatter.

Well, as they say: when in Rome, stay in your damn seat.

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50 Shades of Prague

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My darling Praha,

I hardly knew thee. And yet here we are, at the end of our brief courtship after being set up by a mutual friend. I will always remember the day when she showed me your picture and told me your were not so out of my league as I might have imagined. In fact, only a few more thousand dollars in student loans and we could be together.

Your reputation preceded you. Nearly unblemished by centuries of war, your battles had made you strong, but somehow no less handsome: the epitome of a romance novel hero. Who better to give my European virginity? You seemed just the right size.

“I’m jealous,” one of my dearest friends confessed, as so many others had done once I’d announced our betrothal. But this particular admission came from a woman who’d at one time said about True Love: “Do I believe in love? Romantic love? No. I mean, if I walked into a store where there’s a sweater I really wanted, and I had to have it, I believe in that love. I can love that sweater.” Imagine my surprise then as she revealed that her jealousy was not simply one’s typical reaction to a friend headed overseas, but rather because there was one amour fou dream left to her, and it was inspired by you, Prague, muse to loveless lovers.

What a marvelous fantasy it was she weaved for me, an infectious scenario that began with a song. Not just any song, but an aria jewel composed by the titan of Czech opera, Antonín Dvořák. “Rusalka,” my friend repeated for the third time, smiling at my lack of recognition. Patiently she began to clarify, “It’s the story of a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince and when she tells her father, the King Goblin that—“ But in the interest of time she paused to summarize, “It’s the original Little Mermaid.” Ah, a fairytale, something my speed.

Dvořák’s heart-gripping “Song to the Moon,” was the soundtrack to her whimsical tapestry. A soprano’s showcase pregnant with desire and passion and need.

There was also snow. And the Charles Bridge. And an oversized, fur-lined coat ala Dr. Zhivago. (but not at all Russian) And the moon of course. Who was the prince though? My friend, no water nymph, said she hadn’t any parameters for the man who met her in the center of the bridge, the two of them looking over the frosty Vltava river together before he declared the sort of love that never ever ever ever ever dies. That is what makes her story so significant to us, Prague. You see, it was not the Prince who anchored the dream, but you, my sweet.

All this, of course, served only to inflate my hopes for our imminent whirlwind affair, a promising beacon for lifelong dreams breaking the horizon to be realized. It is the East, and Prague is the Sun!

I ached to be in you. The sort of ache that makes your hands go numb and your chest tighten like it’s the infinite point of a black hole. Is there such a thing as love before first sight?

I know, I know, my expectations, now that you hear them, must seem unfair. I am sure you encounter this phenomenon quite regularly, people thinking they know you without having met you. Wanting a piece of you, invading your space with incessant paparazzi style picture-taking, making you the subject of their trite Facebook statuses. An a-list celebrity country, backdrop to Kafka novels, Elysian Field to American women’s daydreams about soul mates. I realize there is only so much reality can match up to this unreachable gold standard.

But now that we have met, and you have in small, incremental intervals revealed yourself to me I can say……. you can be kind of a dick.

I realize you come with baggage, we all do; but damn, baby, why you gotta be so cold? (and then hot, and then cold, and then super hot, and then wet) And what’s the deal with the bedbugs? Not cool.

Some may accept your latent sadism in earnest; it’s all part of the adventure! And in fact many probably, in their own masochistic endeavor to harness the raging bull that is Life, seek out your darkest corners, perhaps getting more than they bargained for. Do you and they have a safety word before shit gets too real? Is this something that you have listed on your tourism bureau’s website that I overlooked?

I realize this may sound disingenuous now, my love, but you truly are a beautiful country and make many visitors very happy everyday. Your rust colored rooftops are at once uniform and unique, creating a rolling sea of structural waves. Your immortal, shimmering river splits you open with ease, not abrasion, hypnotically sparkling in the sun, twinkling under the moon. Some travelers are instantly smitten with your full-frontal beauty, others relish in the way you methodically expose yourself like a striptease, tantalizing a newcomer to make the many pilgrimages around your circumference to see you from all sides since you refuse to twirl like a pretty girl in a new dress. Did you hear that I broke my toe during one of those hikes? Was that a test? Was it another opportunity to play the game of cat and mouse between two flirtatious, potential lovers?

Well, I’ve always liked a challenge.

I put Rusalka on my iPod and journeyed once more to Charles Bridge, jettisoning the stigma of my initial rain-soaked encounter only a few days before in favor of a clean slate and maybe, just maybe, an actual connection. The rain was at bay, and in its place, laser-guided sunrays, unfiltered by absent clouds, searing through my fair skin and heating me double, directly and then again from the inside-out as my blood felt like is was coming to a boil. Mind over matter, I tried to remind myself, repeating the mantra in time with Dvořák’s beat. I cannot say for certain, but I consider it a valid guess that my good friend’s romanticized fantasy did not include a crush of tourists. Mind over mind, I amended, as I performed an awkward ballet of crowd dodging before finally planting at what I estimated to be the midway point.

The potential for any measure of enchantment evaporated when I inventoried my surroundings.  If there were a union for caricature artists it lobbied well to gain their constituents monopoly of the Charles Bridge, as much fixtures of it as the statues that have stood sentry for the last 600 years. I heard a cacophony of languages, which could have made for a surreal, dream-like quality, but instead simply aroused the familiar: a Japanese tour guide prompting their group to stay together, a Swedish father reprimanding his toddler for darting away. Different words, same meaning. Then there was the music, an all too recognizable Dixieland Jazz quartet who drowned out my dulcet Rusalka no matter how forcefully she sang, or how high I turned the volume. Instead, the Basin Street Blues took hold, and yanked me away from the present, displacing me back to my everyday life in New Orleans.

The experiment was a wash; drawing whimsy from your Charles Bridge, my not-so-enigmatic Prague, seemed more difficult than sucking wet cement through a curly straw.

In fact, more and more similarities between you and my home began to unveil themselves: the inauthentic souvenir shops, the restaurants most of your locals avoid, the huddled families that hyper-analyze a street map. Every quality reminiscent of the place I’d left to find something new. Too many common threads are the enemy of mystery. There must be more to you, my dearest, I’m sure of it. But how was I to discover these other facets of your hidden personality if I could be nothing more than just another tourist to you?

Was I supposed to seduce you in some way? Coax you to shed your layers instead of expecting you to simply flaunt them like just another metropolitan whore, like the burlesque Paris, or gaudy Barcelona? Has my imagination run amok, or do the members of your society seem to throb with engorged pride, guarding you from visitors they see as locusts on their living history? A history they may resent, but protect ceaselessly in the way only a native can feel about their city in the most basic of love-hate relationships.

Yet, maybe it has nothing to do with your reservations about opening up to me. In fact, as I aimlessly strolled through your cobblestone streets, trying to force some bond between us, the epiphany unfurled: it’s not you, it’s me.

My heart was lead astray by the same fool’s gold that had my countrymen headed West all those centuries ago, the fallacious promise that if a person keeps moving, there will always be a better destination, an ideal place to settle just a few more miles beyond the horizon. But never where they already are. And yet that’s what is so extraordinary about you, Prague. Unwittingly you have served to show me that my home, while habitual, and comfortable, and familiar, is truly fucking kick ass.

Do I sound like the spouse who just had an extramarital affair only to realize how good they already had it? Perhaps I am. Perhaps I committed city-adultery when I bounced around Europe, leaving New Orleans to wait by the door until I returned. I believe she probably smiled knowingly even as I put my hand up the skirts of her transatlantic sisters. And now that I am eager to get back to her, knowing that she holds that deed to my heart, I can honestly say to you Prague: don’t worry, baby, you’re special.

But you didn’t need me to tell you that.

With friendly regards until we meet again,

– Hallie

Writing Lessons for the Student of Storytelling

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[note: if the title and structure seem familiar, it’s quite intentional that I paid homage to the great Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal; it seemed the most appropriate tip-of-the-hat as my final essay while studying abroad in Prague during the summer of 2012]

Just as I had come to Prague with an optimist’s endeavor for self-discovery, I now face this final chapter of a student’s reflection with a cocktail of hope and trepidation, something that is not so very uncommon among the enterprising youth who seek both to gain ground in growth and at the same time maintain some sense of childlike wonder, perhaps two divergent missions, but to hell with the naysayer that wags a finger at the dreamer’s right to progress, a balance that I myself have long searched for and now feel the slightest bit closer to after surviving what I would consider a writing boot camp, well, maybe not a boot camp exactly, there were never any unreasonable demands, like having to wake up to Reveille at dawn and write a novel by dusk, but I can say that every assignment felt a lot like a twenty mile run through the rain, ending with an army crawl across a football field of mud, the sort that sucked on me when I tried to pull out of it, and accumulated in inches on every limb so that even when I freed myself from one wet, boggy pit, it released me begrudgingly and continued to fight against my ever-slowing forward momentum until finally there was only sheer willpower to see me through to the end, and that is something that I’ve never boasted to having harnessed, however, between deep breaths and failed plans of attack, I somehow managed to triumph over my own self-imposed mental obstacle course, feeling all at once chewed up, spit out, and victorious, although not so foolishly proud that I was ever in any danger of falling victim to hubris, because I knew that the next time I was to square off with yet another blank page, it would intimidate me as if it were the thirteenth Labor of Hercules,  and the pushing of the boulder uphill repeated: pace the room, stare into space, feel inadequate, question existence, crest the summit, receive the next assignment, and find myself back at the foot of the mountain once again, battle-worn and almost imperceptibly stronger to show for it, but even that 5% increase of strength served me as stoutly as it could, like a Chihuahua in the Iditarod, doing its best, but only able to cover minor ground, so really, even as I sensed my creative muscles building, their limited lifting capacity still handicapped me, a shortcoming that most earnestly broadcasted itself when push came to shove and the guillotine (thy name is Deadline) hovered ominously above me, ready to sever the head of my essay from the rest of  its body, leaving me with a decapitated mess instead of the beauty queen I’d envisioned when first conceiving of whatever concept that seemed so brilliant in the beginning, and too often did I feel the dread of this premature birth, as though I’d been forced into a back alley C-section that cut from me a bloody, underdeveloped baby who I was too ashamed of dragging with me to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day (see: critiques), and yet, at least there were signs of life, something that in the past would have been glaring absent, solely a series of ideas jotted in the sidebars of my notebooks, existing only as potential and never as reality, which is in itself a familiar security blanket, one that lets a young artist play Genius Dress-up, pretending that their “high-brow” musings could one day grow legs and climb rapidly into the exclusive echelon of The Elite, another great voice of a generation, but of course this ego-driven aspiration works against the more substantial goal of putting words on paper, to strive for something so audacious (pause for self-reflexive moment) is the antithesis of motivation, paralyzing the writer, or worse, turning their own pen into the mighty sword they throw themselves upon, preferring to remain silent instead of disproving their fallaciously latent talent, which is why over the course of this course (over the course of this course), I’ve done my best to turn a deaf ear to the self-negotiations that prompt me to question the craftiness of each sentence, the finesse of every word choice, clevernessclevernesscleverness, and to instead push past the haze of second-guesses and into the concrete world of just doing the damn work, which is admittedly a new territory that forces me to unfold the map of my brain, gain my bearings, and design an actual route instead of trying to purely intuit whichever direction would be the least harrowing, the most effective, and maybe even passably scenic, but in what way can an old bitch teach itself new tricks: by force, unfortunately, and so I have tried to build the bridge between fickle, free-spirited inspiration and tangible evidence that I, at times, have actual thoughts in my head, thoughts that, as I have come to learn, are most potent when I’m just shaking off the residue of sleep, transitioning from the unconscious to the waking where there exists a miasma of imagination, but it is an elusive catch, so all I can do is be ready, net in hand (aka, writing pad on nightstand), for anything worthwhile that may come within arm’s reach, and sometimes there is only the sound of my alarm clock, but occasionally I am inflamed with an arousal of “Artistic Morning Wood,” when all I can do is grab my pen and jerk off as quickly as possible, or find myself with “Creative Blue Balls,” unsatisfied, ideas scattered like cockroaches when the lights get turned on, and then the tipping point see-saws away from the realm of inspiration and towards the more fundamental arena of putting on pants, brushing teeth, feeding self, and forgetting anything worth a damn that I may have whipped up before digging out the sleep in my eyes, a cocksure metaphor that doesn’t let me escape the idea that maybe I will never be able to call upon my elusive muse like a snake charmer with a fluted gourd, but am completely at her mercy, wrestling when she wants to wrestle, and dancing when she wants to dance.

Adrift in 33

Standard

“Let’s make a mess of ourselves,” he said, meaning sex.

“Appealing,” she replied, meaning a connection.

They kissed. They wrestled off clothes. They got sloppy. And on it went as it often does.