I am sitting in the coffee shop (oops, I should say “café”) at Book Passage, one of the last great independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The place is hopping – as far as the patrons, who, by the looks of it, are mostly over 60, can hop ... and some look like they could out-hop a couple of 30-year-olds easily. The younger crowd, numbering well under five, if at that, is almost motionless and silent, with only their fingers moving and interacting with the world at large via the keyboards of their laptops.
I came here to write, along with a couple of friends who are working on big projects of their own. But the words are not coming. Or to be more exact, the focus is elusive, as the few words trickle through the fingers down from the gooey mess of them in the imagination.
Why do we write in cafés? Why the public display of something, which in my mind, is so private and in needing solitude for the blossoming of ideas to turn into the ripe fruit of communication? There’s the rub, though. It may well be that for me writing is a process of distillation that involves a survey of the external and internal world, an inventory of emotions, and a “reasoned” engagement of all this “data” into an argument, even if that argument takes the form of a poem.
In the café, if I try to write, I can’t hear my own voice. The clamor of the world takes up all the psychic space and the muse goes in full social mode, wanting to chat at best and to amuse at worst. Which might just be how other writers like their muse to deliver the goods – I mean message – for them.
I am beginning to think that my idea of writing has morphed into an impediment. All that concern with the distillation and the proper “aging” of ideas so that the spirit of a voice will give it unmistakable (and inimitable) flavor is superfluous for palates that crave and are satiated only by the flavor of the quickest and the latest bit/byte is antiquated. It smells of lavender and roses, of talcum powder and other cloying hints of generations whose hold on the "nowness" of reality is slipping.
Maybe the rise of Instagram and countless other photo-sharing apps that let us play with filters is there to evoke that depth of experience that words used to dig and color for us when writers and readers had more time and fewer social apps to connect them 24/7. Sure, smart phones make it a snap to record images of moments from our lives, but the plethora of filtered images, to me, is a sign of an appetite for something less literal and more literary.
But I digress… which is exactly the point I was trying to make about writing in coffee shops.