SKOOB Café: Life is short. Write well.
E. Jane Raines and I took a table at a café next to the Saturday market in Nice on an early July afternoon. We have maintained intermittent contact since she visited my high school as a remarkable exchange student from the UK. Later she proceeded to a career as a force of nature in the worlds of high-tech and journalism. In fact, I’ve watched Jane silently define culture ever since she suggested “Apple” to Steve Jobs in 1980.
I sipped the house white wine, tucked into my salade Niçoise, and fretfully brought up my current assignment.
“By the way,” I began, shifting my fork to my left hand, “The Skoob people are asking for a blog post, something for writers and about writing. Any suggestions on a topic?”
“Tell writers to remove their heads from their backsides [sic] and realize everyone in the world now writes. Don’t you agree?”
Jane reached over to the next table and grabbed the oil and vinegar while pecking Eric Clapton on each cheek. Then, splashing her quinoa with balsamic, she went on.
“The problem with writers is that they think they are special. For gods’ sakes, why doesn’t anyone who can put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards realize that they write?”
“Explain?” Here it came–the full-blown diatribe I’d hoped for.
“Everyone writes: blogs, Facebook posts, reviews, commentaries. This is the writingest episode in Western culture, and no one gets it. They all merely deride the idiocracy and deepen the cultural abyss between those who write ‘literature’ and those who write what people actually read.”
“How do Facebook posts and hotel reviews count as writing?” I asked.
Jane ordered a carafe of the house white – since she’d emptied my glass – and went on.
“Remember characters in Jane Austen, George Elliot, and – God help him – Charles Dickens. They wrote letters to everyone all over the countryside all day long. That’s what the masses do now, including those who would have worked as char-women in Dickens’s day. Some are adept with words, and some are not, just like nineteenth century letter-writers. Nevertheless, everyone writes. Everyone.”
I set down my fork while she reached to another table and swiped the salt and pepper from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s table, whereupon an exchange in Spanish interposed. I waited and mopped the gravy from my plate of braised rabbit.
“Pardon me, dear, but truly, all the populace write. You should tell them to write something worth reading. Really worth it – like how to do things such as
- unstop drains while drying their hair
- boil an egg correctly
- use online referencing generators
- write your own obituary.
Also, tell them to keep it short, include a story, use bullet points, and create the fictional voice of someone they would wish they knew but could never possibly meet.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Indeed, dear. Also, your writers should remember Benjamin Franklin (your sexiest American founder) when publishing opinions. Franklin carefully qualified opinions with ‘I think’ or ‘It seems to me.’ Yet Americans lack that humility, sad to say.”
The waiter approached Ms. Raines, whispered a word and nodded at a man at a corner table.
“Ah, bon. Lui donner, s’il vous plait, mes remerciements,” Jane whispered loudly. Then she donned her rainbow mirrored aviators, picked up her bag, and exited the café. I trailed, confused.
A decent distance away, I asked, “Did the gentleman cover our meal?”
“That Ethan Coen! He has never stopped thanking me for getting him his first job—at Macy’s.”
Jane picked up a sachet of local lavender at a stall and inhaled deeply.
“One more thing: remind your blog audience that whatever they are writing might be their last post, message, or note. Abandon the bitterness. Write what you want remembered. And make sure you include food and aromas.”
We turned the corner to the Promenade des Anglais where the crowded beach stretched for miles, kites soaring above, like freed souls.