I write in cafés. I have written in cafés mostly for more than 25 years. One of my novels (The Common Bond) was dedicated to the three cafés where I wrote its first draft. But I have had little experience writing in cafés in a country where I understand the language well — the United States, in this case. Now I find that I am not able to write in cafés in the United States.
After a while, I found this one. Trident, on the west end of Pearl Street in Boulder. It is basically perfect — half of it is a used bookstore, carrying many old first editions, and the other half is a distinctly literary café (almost everyone in the café is working at a lap top, in a notebook, or with a pen on scraps of paper). The music is interesting and not intrusive. Comfortable chairs. Occasionally a pretty college girl. Have a look at the web site for this place by clicking on the link above.
Hopeful. I got a coffee, a croissant, a water, and found a comfortable table. Opened the work file. Stared at it for a few minutes. Changed a word in the first sentence. Attended to a trivial email. Read to the end of the first paragraph. Changed another word.
An hour passed. All I’ve done is listen to the conversations around me. I understand every word everyone says; although, of course, much of it is boring and trivial, sometimes juicy bits flow by, sometimes the topic is interesting enough to follow for a while — and follow I do.
Since I can’t write, at least I can pretend by blogging while I attend to the talk around me. And that’s the point: I cannot avoid attending to the talk around me.
In foreign places, where we live most of the time, where I rarely take the time and effort to learn more of the local language than I need to get through the basics of the day — taxi directions, do some food shopping, ordering in cafés and restaurants, making polite but brief conversations when meeting someone. Realistically, I speak and understand no languages other than English, although I can get through the day in a number of other languages (German, Slovak, Spanish).
In these foreign language environments, talking is white noise, background elevator music, just another source of sounds that are easily turned out. In fact, it has been these extraneous white noise sounds that have always promoted the concentration I need to write in public places. My mind brackets out what it does not understand or comprehend. But the presence of life, the sounds of a vibrant world, does not let me forget that I am not alone, that I write within a context, and that context is life. When I am in a quiet room alone, it becomes tomb-like, lifeless, and my brain deadens.
Therefore, I have always written in cafés.
Now I see (I remember, actually) that this only works when I do not understand the language being spoken around me, only when I can make white noise of it.
Any volunteers to proof read and copy edit my new book? Otherwise, it will lie unattended until we get to Mexico City after mid-August, and I can work again.
Giving up and heading home with a slice of life photo from the streets of Boulder — the coming and going dichotomy of American women in current times.