Monday, February 22, 2010

Writing at West 5

Can you write in public places? Maybe it matters if we're talking laptop or longhand. Blogging at work doesn't count. I'm thinking back to coffeehouse mornings, quad espresso singing in my head, camped out in a nook with the New York Times covering the table and my journal propped open, pen madly scratching some kooky notion or other into semblances of legible script.

Not that I've never blogged at work. That came later.

If you could only see what an ad hoc contraption my laptop is. The very idea of mobilizing it to a public place is insane. Since the screen is dead, I've got a thousand wires hooked to this large monitor; since I get cranky pointing with anything other than a mouse, it is jacked in wirelessly, with the port's green sensor winking at me from the base of the screen. It would require a wheelchair or grocery cart to lug this business anywhere. Would I even want to be seen at an establishment that lets people park their carts outside? No, I'm not ready to become a traveling circus.

It wasn't until last year that I got the idea to edit the novel anywhere but at home. I was already in the habit of coming to the office an hour early and using that time to get a bit of writing done. (It turns out that my brain only really functions until 8am, at which point it's only good for routine tasks and Facebook.)

That left me with a stack of writing I wanted to edit first thing after work. The novelty on public transit wore out fast and it wasn't until I became a regular at West 5 that I discovered two great tastes that taste great together.

I average twenty pages a visit. Not bad. I've had a couple Dewar's with a Manny's chaser by then and shift to my notebook for composing in the abstract, thoughts, gripes, blog subjects, etc.

It's been several months now of this habit. The staff know me by now. One approached me the other day and mentioned that this was an interesting place to correct papers.


"Yeah," she said, "aren't you correcting papers?"

Ha! I didn't know I was traveling incognito! Of course, being mistaken for a teacher is flattering and far more respectable than what I really am.

Writing is by its nature private. Any scribe worth their salt has a sanctum. I read in an interview somewhere that Iggy Pop is very specific where he plants himself to write: a cold attic. He says (and I'm paraphrasing) that words are only accessible in an unfamiliar setting, one that unsettles you a bit.

West 5 is not a cold attic, far from it, but I can get behind the idea.

There's an urgency that comes with writing outside the comfort zone. Not being an itinerant, it's not always that simple to find somewhere that fits the bill but I think using a public place makes me just restless enough to get the focus I need for good editing.

Before you kill me, I recognize that writing and editing are different; one is pouring in, the other cutting out. The source material has to come when I'm sitting at my desk, speakers blaring Vivaldi, Orbital, or something in between, door shut tight against the world. I'm in a bathosphere at the bottom of the sea. It's me and Major Tom in a tin can. I've parked my sand buggy on Olympus Mons with only Martian ghosts to bother me, which is hardly ever... you get the idea: writing is the Phantom Zone of the soul.

West 5 is not the Phantom Zone.

Far from it.

Which makes it perfect for editing.

Excuse me, I mean "correcting papers."


Lidian said...

I like writing in longhand in different places, then typing it up later, but my favorite place is a bus or the train - something about staying still and moving at once, being alone/with others, is ideal - only problem is, I can't write that well when the train is moving. Alas. My pal Joe Gould claimed to have written about 100,000 words once in 12 hours of riding the NYC subway without stopping - I ought to try that sometime when I have fewer obligations!

West 5 looks like a great place to edit, BTW.

wngl said...

Lidian, I can't imagine writing on a subway! Used to be I'd ride the BART around the Bay Area habitually -I have a special fondness for public transit, and maybe a bit of that being alone/with others feeling you describe- but the scrawl in my notebooks invariably was beyond my powers to translate. You've planted the idea in my head, even so, that taking a long trip by train with the intent of writing might be fun!

David Tamayo said...

I personally am in awe of both you and Lidian. I wish I had the same concerns about writing that you both have such passionate opinions about. What I am trying to say is that I wish that I could write as well as you. ;o) I do draw however and using that as a competing example with writing, I can say that I most enjoy my craft while I am alone. I find that inspiration finds me more readily it being the shy creature that it is. ;o) I want to thank you for taking the time to comment on my site regarding my post about "Dropzone". The author of that site even sent me a message over at Entrecard telling me that he placed my site on his and that should I not want it there to let him know and he would remove it immediately. This impressed me so I decided to give his service a try. Not bad so far. Take care my friend. ;o)

wngl said...

Thanks, David! Have you ever thought about sharing your work? In fact, I started out wanting to be a cartoonist, but shifted to writing in college after discovering girls were more responsive to words than drawings of men in capes. So it goes, eh?
As for Dropzone, I really appreciate the time and expression you've put into the issue. EC is transitioning and folks like you are helping us to understand that much better the details of what's going down. As you can see, I have the widget on my page now and plan to keep it there for the time being. There might even be a post on the subject! I like discovering new blogs that I otherwise would miss without a "gateway" like DZ. Thanks for tuning in, see you next time! Take care,