Apr 21, 2003

Writing At Starbucks

I get writer's block a lot. Not that it was ever easy, but I am so easily distracted. Like I'll be sitting at my desk, my document open, and then it hits me. I have to check my email. Or, call someone. Make a list of things to do. Just when the muse hits me, I get an urge to smoke a cigarette. Oh yeah, I don't smoke. Not any more. Maybe that's why I can't write.

Your own home can be a death of creativity. I had a writing teacher say, write at the same place, same time, every day. Another said, if you're having problems writing at home, go somewhere else, somewhere that's quiet enough to write and think but has a little white noise activity to lull you into your creative muse.

And I came upon this great idea for a place for a writer to write. Shhh, don't tell anyone. Starbucks. It's perfect, because they have nice blonde tables, an easy flow of traffic and mildly hip music to lull you into a white noise concentration. And they have coffee. Coffee, the great incanter of the Muse.

Last week I had a couple of hours to kill between appointments, so instead of going home, I went to the Starbucks to write. Actually it was the one in Barnes & Noble. I figured I'd double my chances at finding a good spot. Head up to the non fiction stacks, find a Craftsman-knock off table, sit down with a nice nonfat latte, let the caffeine buzz kick in, and let the muse do the work.

Okay, wrong. First of all, Starbucks heats their milk to a tepid, just above botulism growing warm. When I get there, all the tables are full. So I hit BN. Every table desk and chair is taken there too. Two big black mama's with bags from Jamba Juice reading Ebony. A college couple holding hands and smooching over their biology textbooks. A man and woman doing a table read of And Miss Reardon Drinks a little. Apparently when Miss Reardon gets drunk, she also gets very loud. And there is one guy just sitting there. He's got a book on the desk, "the Big Cats of North America." But it's not even open. And he hasn't fallen asleep over it. He's sitting straight up, eyes adrift in some trance. None of these people have bought anything, they're just sitting there taking up space. I want to scream, what is wrong with you guys? Don't you have jobs?
Oh yeah, I don't either. So I head back to Starbucks, cold latte in my sweaty hands.

Now I really get a look at the torsos taking up space. A couple of Section 8 looking guys. An old man reading the New York Times, apparently from Front Page to Personals. Two guys playing chess. Go to the Park, already. Another guy with gelled hair and a vaguely actory face is giving his guest a booklet on the four spiritual laws.

The best table in the room is in the corner, against the window but out of the way of the afternoon sun. And it's taken up by some young white guy of a nebbish-frat mix, with a PowerBook G4 and a script open on the table. A screenwriter.

So I am forced to take a seat on the black pleather banquette cushions within earshot of Mr. Screenwriter. I settle, adjust the angle of tabletop and pull out my pen.

Mr. Screenwriter is on his cell phone. Has been on it since I got here. He is talking in a nervous staccato rhythm, dropping kind of words you hear in film school. Like, Production Costs and development deals. I overhear him say, "Well if you get in, I'd like to come in on the pitch as your producer." Well, he certainly isn't going to come in as the writer.

A table opens up in the full glare of the sun. But there is a narrow sliver of shade cast from a support column. I pull the table toward me on the banquette. But the chair is in the wrong place. I have to move further to the left. Move my latté. Business cards fall out of my bag so I put those back in. I move my bag down the banquette. Crumbs from a croissant on the banquette and my bag picks them up like a lint roller. Who eats here, Shreck?

I look up. In the three seconds that I was preoccupied with croissant droppings, a table has opened up! A table in the shade, away from Mr. Talking Screenwriter. And an old lady in a velvet baseball cap snags it. She sits down. She has a library book! Hey wont' someone police this place. She can't even buy something here. What's next? A thermos? Lo and behold. She brings out her thermos.

So, I am forced to accept my round table in the shade strip. I open my notebook. And Mr. Talking Screenwriter is on the phone again, talking to someone else. I hear the words "Barry Diller." He has an urgency in his voice now. The desperation of a writer trying to make a deal without a SCRIPT! What? He is getting off his phone. Praise Jesus.

I must have said this out-loud because the Four Spiritual Laws guys look up at me. I go back to my work. But now the sun has moved, and so has my column of shade. My notebook sits in blinding sunlight now. I move further down the pleather, then move the table, then readjust my things. In moving, I have given room for two men to sit near me. They are loud and gesticulative.

"What do you think you bring to the craft?"
"Well, as an actor, my craft is my emotion, and I practice accessing my emotions every day, like a pianist practices his scales."
"Mmm. Very well spoken."

I realize these are the Four Spiritual Law guys. Great. I give them the "One Way" sign. Using the wrong finger.

They are getting up. They're getting up to move to another isolated table in the shade that just opened up! And now that they're gone, Mr. Talking Screenwriter is back in view and earshot.

Mr. T.S.: (nervous). Whssup? I'm at Starbucks. Santa Monica. Cross from Banana. Writing.

I want to grab his T Mobile, shove it down his throat and send the guy on the other end a digital photo of Talker's esophagus.

Just then, the old man reading the New York Times folds up the paper, gets up and puts it back on the Newspapers For Sale rack. He didn't buy it. But he is leaving! Yay Hooray! I slip into his still-warm chair. I sit. Ah! A table in the shade. A column blocks out the view of Mr. Talking Screenwriter. I settle. Press my pen to the paper. The table wobbles a bit but adjust it calmly. All is well. At last, truly at last, I can write!

I'm all out of ideas now. Wish I could hear Talking Screenwriter. I'd have something to write about. So, I get out my cell phone and call a friend.
"Whssup? … Nothing, just writing."

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