A while back I was interviewed for an online lit mag. The final version had a preface saying, basically, that I am a writer in isolation.
For illustrative purposes, please join me in this brief arts and crafts type of activity: take an 8.5 x 11 inch white sheet of paper, draw a little circle in the middle, and then draw an X in the middle of that circle. (The X can be a bright color if you want.) Draw some waves outside of the circle on the expanse of paper. The end.
I am in that X. The waves are, well, waves … like, in the ocean. The little circle is an island. Pretend you are 4,000 feet in the air looking at that paper. That is how isolated I am when I write. It’s true.
I am very alone.
In the preface of the interview, the editor mentions how I don’t go to “coffee shops and hang out with geniuses”, which made me think: maybe I should go to a local coffee shop and hang out with geniuses? Perhaps this will help my craft! I will try it!
So, I decided to go to one of my local coffee shops and write.
I packed up my computer and some reading materials (for inspiration) and drove. I picked a Starbucks that I thought might not be very populated and made my way inside.
I bought a coffee.
There were already many seats taken. These people all had computers. I wondered if they were isolated writers as well, trying their hand at hanging out with geniuses … or, maybe they were the geniuses.
I smiled at them all. “Look! I am hanging out with you! Like a real, non-isolated writer!” my smile said.
They seemed confused.
Undaunted, I found a chair next to this black kid. He was typing away and I felt ‘camaraderie’.
After settling in, I began reading. It was hard to relax. I felt everyone was looking at me. I tried to focus on the pages in my hands. Eventually, I relaxed and finished reading all the pages in my hands while sipping my coffee.
The black kid left and I moved to take his chair. It was by a power outlet. Now I could plug in and get some non-isolated writing going.
The vinyl chair was ickily warm from the length of time he had spent in it. I felt my stomach squirm. “This heat is from his ass and his back,” I thought. It was like I had sat on a fresh sneeze or something.
Undaunted, I plugged in. A little leftover body warmth wasn’t going to sway me from getting in some writing time with coffee house geniuses …
My computer started up and I opened a Word document.
I looked around to survey all of the geniuses.
There were a couple of older black ladies with papers between them. Meeting perhaps?
A mom and dad with some kids. One of the kids was pulling on a tall stool and it fell. The mom grabbed the kid by the shoulder and said something sharp to him.
A guy in a black hoodie with an iPod in his ears. Scary beard.
Two Hispanic dudes talking animatedly over a computer screen.
An elderly Asian gentleman and what might have been his wife waiting for their beverages. He was using a walker so when their drinks were ready, she carried his coffee for him as they made their way to the door, but not before bringing it to his lips so he could taste it.
A Hispanic dude to my right. He’d been there on his computer the entire time I was reading. Every so often he’d begin talking to himself in Spanish or slurp on his empty drink as if it were going to magically be full again. The ice rattled every time he did this and the noise of no liquid entering the straw sounded like constant defeat.
In the far corner, a very fat woman wearing sweatpants and a burgundy beret. She was sipping on a Frappuccino and eating some sort of crumbly pastry. I could make out specks of crumbs on her jutting bosom, which cradled the crumbs like a shelf.
My fingers poised about the keyboard. “Geniuses, give me strength,” I thought.
I closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, and opened them again, bracing myself for the creative onslaught.
I looked back at the geniuses. Searching for … what? Wisdom? Inspiration? Confidence?
The fat lady’s beret dipped down over her face as she looked down to brush the crumbs.
The Hispanic dude sipped his empty drink for a fortieth time, mumbling.
The family with the stool-toppling kid made a loud exit.
Maybe these aren’t the geniuses the editor was speaking of. After all, whenever I pictured a den of writers gathered at a coffee house, the images that came to mind were beatnik in color. Darkness offset by scattered candlelight, cigarette smoke, jazz music, a bulletin board feathered with posted ads of various hues offering guitar lessons and ‘roommate wanted’ posters. Maybe an ad for meditation classes. The writers in the den were hunched over, wearing black, with heavily rimmed eyeglasses, fondling little cups of espresso in between keyboard strokes.
I looked around again. There’s none of that here, I thought.
Geniuses or not, I managed to type a page or two about nothing here nor there. A couple of pieces I will look at later to see if I can take them anywhere.
It felt good.
I finished my coffee and packed up shop, stuffing everything into my purple bag and then into my car. I drove the half mile home feeling … not as ‘writery’ as I was hoping to feel.
I got inside my house – the place of isolation from which I normally write – and threw this down.
I hope it’s okay – after all, I am no longer surrounded by coffee house geniuses.