Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cafe Writer

J.K. Rowling, who couldn't afford to heat her house, wrote in a cafe because it was warm.  Simone de Beauvoir also wrote in a cafe, I suspect because she needed to get away from J.P. Sartre's demands for clean ashtrays, praise, and cigars.  Lately I too have been doing some writing in the cafe attached to the sacrosanct independent store in the next town.

Like all cafes, this one is noisy.  I can hear every detail of the confidences the two young mothers at the next table are exchanging, and there is music, a fairly harmless variety of country that I nevertheless would rather do without.  And yet, despite the talk and the music, I sit at my table, sip my Dark Roast Peruvian Rain Forest Decaf, and write.

In college I did a lot of studying in the campus snack bar while the juke box blared, hamburgers sizzled on the grill, and people wandered in and out--it's a miracle that I ever managed to learn anything.  But I would sit there despite the chaos until the last possible moment before going back to my parents' house, where many duties awaited me.  Sitting in the snack bar was the closest I could come to dorm  life, that halcyon state of unlimited freedom and few responsibilities that my American contemporaries enjoyed.  Also, if I sat there long enough, whoever had custody of my heart at the moment might come through the door and plop his books down on my table.  And then--oh, then there would be no more studying.

Perhaps what makes writing in a cafe enjoyable now is that although I am surrounded by distractions they have nothing to do with me.  If the women at the next table get into an argument, it's not for me  to intervene.  And I certainly cannot step into the laundry room to put the clothes in the dryer, or run downstairs to let Wolfie and Bisou out and spritz the lemon tree while I wait to let them back in.

In the cafe I sit with my coffee inside an imaginary but powerful bubble, simultaneously exposed and protected, and wait for the words to come.  The only thing I'm missing (and I'd write so much better if I had one!) is a cigarette.

11 comments :

  1. ah, so evocative. this brings me back.

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  2. It's too bad that you can't smoke in cafés anymore. I think better with a cigarette too. Other than that, I do need the silence of my apartment where there is no one to distract me and going for a walk with the dog is a nice break from sitting behind the computer for a long while. xox

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  3. I'm waiting for my 95th birthday to start smoking again...

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  4. Lali,
    Strong, evocative piece about the cafe. I was there - your writing put me there - so clearly you made it work. Thanks.
    Michael Downend

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  5. When you turn 95 you can also eat all you want, drink to excess, and ignore your garden, if the nurses will let you.

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    1. My worry is, will food and drink still taste good?

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  6. More seriously, I use the cafe for conversation, rather than writing. The conversation there with friends often generates the ideas or questions that I can write about, and research, at my desk. Thanks for the cafe conversation. It has gotten me thinking.

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    1. This reminds me of the hallowed Spanish tradition of the "tertulia," in which men would gather regularly at the cafe to smoke and drink coffee and talk. There were artist tertulias, writer tertulias, politician tertulias. The women had their tertulias in the kitchen...

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  7. It was a rainy day in North Carolina until I woke up and hankered for your story. Thanks, and more! more! Nobody does it better. Emily

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  8. Emily, I seem to remember that you have your writing spot "at the bottom of the garden," as the English say.

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