I am writing today’s post in a coffee shop. This fact would not be so interesting were it not for the fact that I am often tempted to do so, but almost never do. Today, circumstances compel me to write away from home and so, here I am. But writing at venues other than my desk is hard. I have written almost every single one of my blog posts on this blog at the same desk; a mere handful have been written at my desk in my office at Brooklyn College, and another handful in other venues: in Baltimore, for instance. I like writing on my favorite desktop keyboard, attached to my ‘home machine’, and have never become comfortable with a laptop. The physical affordance of the keys and the screen is not the same; I am, as they say, not a traveling writer. I do not know if this amounts to a limitation in my writing capacities; perhaps I’m not sufficiently ‘bohemian’ or ‘free spirited’ to bang out inspired prose on the road, no matter what my physical location of circumstance. I suppose this preference does say something, possibly unflattering, about how my low my tolerance for disruption is when I write. (External distractions, that is. As I never tire of noting here, I am very successful at distracting myself with the ‘Net.)
I have tried on several occasions to write in coffee shops. It doesn’t work; I am too easily distracted, too easily drawn into an inspection of the various discomforts that afflict me there. The chairs aren’t comfortable; the music is more often than not, too loud; people talk, loudly enough to make me want to reprimand them, but of course, no one ever said that the coffee shop was a quiet zone. So I’ll confess mystification: I don’t get it. I don’t understand how people can be so productive in coffee shops, how students, writers, programmers, grant-writers, novelists, all get so much work done there.
In a coffee shop, I do not necessarily find the company of people comforting, or a relief from the loneliness at home, from my solitary occupancy of my home-bound work desk. Somehow, in a coffee shop, the company of other people turns into an acute reminder of isolation. Somehow, surrounded by people, by music, by the diverse smells and aromas of a coffee shop, writing feels like a curious retreat, an odd act of seclusion in a public space.
If I do need a change from my regular writing venue, I would much rather pick a library, to be surrounded by books, the written word and the evidence of the massive labor of thousands of other writers. The library is not perfect, as I have complained on this blog before, it too can be a noise zone all its own. But somehow, the presence of large reading tables, the stacks of books, the sometimes visible names of authors, has a calming effect, and I can get to work, to trying to achieve a state of mind that brings me one step closer to joining the ranks of those that surround me. More often than not, it doesn’t work, but the sustained illusion is pleasant enough to pursue time and again.
Note: In one of the ‘distraction posts’ linked to above, I note how traveling away from a usual scene of distraction–in this case, my work desk at home–can be conducive to writing. I stand by that claim; I just don’t think the coffee shop has worked for me as an alternative.