I can’t do coffee shops. They never work for me. Not enough focused energy. It’s all scattered coffee winos chattering away about their day, or about the latest corporate blah blah blah, or the latest so and so in their circle to have an affair.
People are rarely sharing anything real. Sit-down restaurants are better, hotel lobbies. Anywhere where people could forget you’re there. I’ve heard a couple of interesting conversation from the back of a taxi when the driver answered their cell phone, or from the back of an Uber.
I especially liked the incident where the girl answered her panicked friend’s call in the middle of a cosmetic procedure that was apparently going very wrong. That one was on video chat, by the way. Or the one where the driver spent five long minutes on the phone with his “overbearing” mother as she tried to get him to agree to pick up a family member that was a couple of hours on the other side of town.
He kept shouting “I’m working!” in this raspy, exacerbated tone, then tearing his hands back through his wavy blonde hair. And her voice kept crackling through the speakerphone saying, “Where are you?! Where?! Can you pick up your cousin? Can you pick up your cousin?!” The driver had a lot to say about his mother after he hung up with her. Almost none of it was good. And all of it was said to me, a total stranger.
I’ve been thinking a lot about immediate and long-term environments lately and their effect on the process. When I start having thoughts like, “Jesus, Am I even a writer?” I can always trace them right back to my immediate environment.
I finished one intensive writing program, thinking, I never want to write anything again. But then years later, I left another program thinking, I’m so excited to keep writing and shaping this material. The major difference in the two scenarios was the nature of the environments. One was solitary and stifling. The other was interactive and exploratory.
The old picture of one person sitting alone in a room staring at a keyboard, in a tattered bathrobe, staring at a blank wall, so as to not get distracted from the work that needs to be done, is definitely not me. Neither is the picture of seven writers fighting it out over the thirty different ways the next arc can go in the story. I’m probably somewhere in between.
And attempting to always sit still in one place, shuts my brain down completely. My mind seems to be connected to getting up and moving around, a lot, taking in some visual variety, new experiences and perspectives. Talk to story out a million times before writing it down, and doing a bunch of other interesting things in between that have nothing to do with writing. Trying to live life with bits of story in between instead of the other way around.
In our Western, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, culture, we try to downplay external factors like environment, as much as possible. But social, physical, cultural environment, can be the final determining factor. And having, or seeking, or making environments that support our particular process can be the difference between getting the story on the page or not.