Now, as I’ve explained before, I don’t usually engage with such Tweets, for two reasons: first, to write a properly intelligent explanation/reply requires waaaay more than 280 characters, and I’m averse to making threads, because IMHO (Twitterspeak: In My Humble Opinion… though I’ve commonly found if someone prefaces a comment with that, their opinion is likely anything but humble… yes, I’m aware of the irony in that declaration, thanks), trying to write a thread is analogous to trying to put War and Peace on multiple cereal box sides, and most people (alas) have neither patience nor the attention span to manage that; and second, because a small, unworthily suspicious part of my mind --- actually more than a small part, TBH (To Be Honest) --- suspects the Tweeter doesn’t really want peoples’ opinions, just the engagement and subsequent bump in their own Twitter statistics. (You can’t make this stuff up.) But… I don’t mind taking such Tweets and making them grist for the ol’ blog mill.
So… the Twitterverse bird-call prompting today’s epistle was someone bemoaning the fact they’d not actually done any writing in a coffee shop, and was feeling distinctly Left Out by this stunning lack in their creative life. (It doesn’t appear to be pandemic-related, either, as they appended the word ‘ever’ in their True Confession.) My reaction on reading this was…
…one very familiar to myriads of adolescent hormonal scholars over the three and a half decades of my teaching career: it began with a slight up-twitch of my left eyebrow, blossoming across my face into two parts incredulous disbelief and one part either simmering irritation or burgeoning incandescent rage, depending on the offending comment’s severity. (I vividly recall one instance where a student made some incredibly ignorant/offensive remark just as I was turning away; I spun back around and in the sudden hush, hissed, “Excuse me?” Well, you could have heard a pin drop for several seconds… before a quiet little voice from the back of the classroom murmured, “Incoming…”)
Now, I know some of you write in coffee shops --- or, perhaps more accurately, give off the general impression of writing. How do I know? Well, from personal observation, because, pre-pandemic, I’ll confess I was known to visit a Starbucks or six from time to time in order to procure overly sweet, fattening drinks which generally made my pancreas howl in anguished protest. And there you were, sometimes for freaking hours at a time, hogging an overstuffed chair in a corner, trying to project an aura of innocent, carefree, creative anonymity while really wanting to convey that Look at Me, I’m an Artiste! vibe, jealously guarding the AC outlet you’d grabbed so you could plug in the ol’ laptop and avoid the dreaded single-bar-on-the-battery icon, flicking your eyes in smugly surreptitious sucks-to-be-you expressions to the poor slobs who lost the Grand Race To The Plug. If you’re one of these miscreants… I have a question to ask…
Well, actually, it’s more rhetorical than anything else… and it’s really a question in two parts. It goes like this: Why?! Are you insane?!
Personally, I can’t think of a venue less suitable to satisfy the creative writing desire than a coffee shop. No, wait, that’s not true --- several come to mind: sports arenas in the middle of a game… darkened theatres, live or film, during a show… a major inner-city hospital’s ER department… the gantry pad at Cape Canaveral during a rocket launch… you know, places like that. They’re less suitable. But not by much.
Let’s examine the dynamics of your stereotypical Starbucks (at least, when Covid did/will permit it to assume some semblance of so-called normalcy... I call it Caffeum Quondum Et Futuris --- The Once and Future Coffee Shop): it’s full of people. Talking. Loudly, in close proximity and general lack of privacy, because a basic economic principle is the more people you cram into a space, the more money there is to be made (actually, one good thing from a writer’s perspective is you can hear all sorts of salacious things when eavesdropping on others’ conversations). There’s hustle and bustle at the counter as baristas concoct their confections and yell people’s names. (I always wanted to give mine as Prim Everdeen, so when the barista called that, I could yell, “I volunteer as tribute!” But I never had the nerve.) And there’s muzak blaring through the store speakers… usually jazz, to enhance the hipster vibe Starbucks likes to project. Sometimes it’s instrumental, sometimes there’s vocal tracks to provide yet more distraction.
In short, it’s bedlam. A cascading cacophony designed not to stimulate the creative process, but destroy it in a clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk. (And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!)
I write in the quiet, cosy, candle-lit cubby you see in the picture (which I realize isn’t an option for all, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have My Own Writing Space), trusty thesaurus/dictionary set handy, notes nearby for reference, Easy Button within reach for ironic comic relief, Middle Earth map overhead for inspiration. Do I listen to music while writing? You betcha, on my iPod. But it’s instrumentals, not vocals --- film soundtracks, mostly, to provide atmosphere --- because, as I used to explain to my students, you can’t write and focus on song lyrics simultaneously.
Decades ago, a New Age-y poem called Desiderata read, in part, ‘go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.’ C.S. Lewis wrote of one devil saying to another in The Screwtape Letters, "Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile ... We will make the whole universe a noise in the end." Yeah, there are definitely times when things feel like that. But they’re not constructive times.
So… shhh. Ditch the decibels. Find somewhere quiet and peaceful to write.
Soak it up. And unleash the creativity.