A few weeks ago, I was in a busy (and expensive!) café in Byron, waiting to meet friends for lunch. I was on my own, but I’d purposely arrived early to have a coffee and write down a couple of things I’d been thinking about. So I pulled out my slightly dog-eared notebook and, pen in hand, scrawled across the pages.
The waitress eventually came along with my coffee and, as she put it down on the table, had the unfortunate urge to speak…
“Is that ‘Dear Diary’ or are you doing work?”
I took a breath and slowly raised my eyes to give her a deeply patronising look over the rim of my glasses. I also raised one eyebrow and pursed my lips. She retreated.
The inference that dripped off her tongue (along with the sarcasm) was that one reason for my writing would have been acceptable and the other one, lame. Why exactly? Why would one be better than the other? Why is it ok to work in public but not to write for pleasure?
Work, I suppose (and this, I admit, is conjecture) has currency in its contribution back to the economic world. Even though I was sitting in one of the symbols of middle-class luxury and relaxation, as long as it is ‘work’ then it’s ok with her.
The other option, journal writing, is clearly lame in this context. It’s time-wasting, has no final goal and is the practice of travellers and romantics: silly, time-wasting and slightly pathetic, it should be hidden from view, carried out instead in the privacy of one’s dorm-bed or home. Why is this so? Writing isn’t a particularly noisy process. It doesn’t disturb those around you and it isn’t hazardous to anyone’s health (unless you are Perez Hilton).
Yes, yes I understand that I may just be taking this all a little seriously, but it’s not the first time that this scenario has arisen. I have always been a writer, whether it be stories, journals, letters or something with more substance, and often I write at restaurants, galleries, on buses and trains and ferries, and very often, I write while I sit on my own and drink a coffee. There is, funnily enough, little to distract me and I am left alone with my head, and these end up being the places where I find I am inspired. Is that so lame? I always carry at least one notebook in my bag and must admit I carry a variety of pens. I love it. And then sometimes I’m a full-blown nerd on my computer too. For years I didn’t have an internet connection at my house, so I became a familiar sight at the local restaurants that counted wireless connections amongst their assets. I would sit on my laptop and surf the net and spend happy hours writing and hanging out. Good times I tell you.
Writing, for me, isn’t necessarily such a privately conducted thing. Indeed, it depends on what I’m writing and where I’m writing from, but I find that being in a more public space frees me up somewhat. When I write around people, I don’t feel like there is so much importance on what I put down. The noise, chatter and movement around me becomes a part of the rhythm of the whole moment for me and often I find there is more music and life in my words that if they have been composed in the silent confines of a walled and solo space. When I sit in public places and write, it feels more like a conversation and less like a soliloquy, more engaged and less like a self-indulgent rumination. There is inspiration and colour and music and laughter and these are the things that move me. When I am in the world, I remember the bigger picture and that I am simply a small piece of this – don’t get too caught up in yourself Rebecca because you’re simply a girl in the world.
Because, I don’t know about you, but inspiration rarely floods me as I stare at a wall, or as I sit in an office chair for hours on end. Most usually, I feel most joyfully inspired as I walk around the city, or on the beach, look at art, listen to music, watch people go about their day or sit with my mind at ease and slowed down. When I can write in my very particular flowing (some would say, illegible) hand in passages that are meant only for me, or a loved one. Or I can scratch down an idea that I can build on later. The first words of this were drawn with pencil on scrap paper as the waitress in question turned and left me in peace (with the descriptive word, ‘bi-atch’, grandly filling in the bottom of the page).
So, if that silly, small-minded and rather rude waitress doesn’t approve of me scrawling out a half page of notes to myself, then what a dolt! She is missing out on something that is such a simple pleasure and which really is something that isn’t all that unusual.