Saturday, March 14, 2009

Café writing and the absence of time

The problem for me of trying to write on a schedule is that I write best when I have no idea what time it is. When I have no idea what time I started writing and no idea when I stopped. When I have no concept of time, when a gigantic zucchini could walk by and wave at me and I would have no idea because I'm so entranced by the flow of energy and thoughts from my head to my fingers to my keyboard that is when I write my best.

I have a 35-hour a week job, and I don't really want to do my writing in the office. I tried once, but the environment is off. I need a hot beverage, the wing-like flutter of laptop keys and conversation, ideas taking flight around me. I need the feeling of euphoric release when I write a sentence like that, something that depicts exactly what's inside of me. I can't succumb to that in my work office.

So, I have after-work hours. All right. But I have some very close female friends and I want to make time for them too, so there goes 2-3 evenings. Otherwise, I have gym time, which is also very important to me, so that I don't spiral into a lumpy depression resulting from excess weight and a lack of strength. Then, I have Amy Time, which I require and take regularly. I know that the phrase might be foreign to people in more bustling parts of this country
well, not the phrase "me time" per say, but making a point to take it might not come as easily. I read somewhere that the pace of the city you live in dictates your internal pace, the speed at which your internal clock operates, which makes sense to me, but I wish I could remember the exact phrasing and research involved.

I'm lucky to have a job now, even if it is outside of the journalism industry.
This recession is, to put it briefly, scary. I feel the anger in people, even in Boulder. Cautiousness coming out as defensiveness. A manager at my gym recently attacked me for giving my girl friend a free pass – when they are the ones handing out free passes to attract more members – asking me hurriedly, "Is she going to join? She never returns my calls and emails! Is she going to join or not?" People are terrified, and if we're not, we can feel it in the air and it suffocates our own sense of calm.

Something that saddened me greatly was watching the folding of the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. After 150 years, the oldest newspaper in Colorado published its final issue on Feb. 27.

"We're an odd bunch in this business. A collection of people who collect: data and facts and anecdotes and people and jokes and sketches. We are consumed by that collecting, by the act of organization and the way in which the random assembles and reassembles itself, revealing something new every time, an unturned corner, an unopened door, a story waiting."

Consumed. Yes. It is consuming, in the best way.

The above quote is from Tina Griego's goodbye column,
"This is what has called my heart." Staffers commented that writing articles for the final issue was like getting to choose the music played at your own funeral. I understand that; I felt that way when writing my own goodbye column in The Globe in North Carolina, and it was I who chose to leave it. And it's still being published. For now.

When working at The Globe, it was suggested to me to write a story on fossil hunting on Onslow Beach on the Marine base I worked on. I did some research and found a 55-year-old local woman who had an amazing, Smithsonian-worthy collection of fossils from that beach
from various ice ages. Fossil hunting became her passion, it was what she did in her free time, when her Marine husband was sent to war, and all of these relics made up a significant part of her life, and in a way they were her life. She was so protective of them. I remember taking photos of her fossils for my article and she was concerned the camera flash might hurt them, so I didn't use it, and compromised by taking them outside and using natural light to capture their beauty.

I spent most of an entire week doing research for this article, talking to fossil club presidents and curators of paleontology at museums, but it was that woman who drew me in. If someone is passionate about something and I'm writing about what they love, I feel that fire and use it as fuel for my writing, and it comes so naturally to me.

Now, I constantly look at books on writing at the Boulder Bookstore, and I am amazed at how so many of them talk about searching for the urge to write, about "becoming" a writer, about being consistent and dedicated to improving your writing, as if it were something to work on, as if it were a creaky chain to lube, a long-term errand to finally check off. The authors' advice makes sense to me but, writing runs so much more deeply for me. It's not so... man-made.

I know my fr
iend Julia would understand; she is a painter, and it's something she does for a living, but she also lives and breathes it. It isn't that she went to school to learn to paint and decided that's what she would do for money and that was all; it runs in her blood. For me, there is nothing else. Well, there is everything else, but it is all filtered through writing. This is why I consider being a writer to be the best of all possible professions, because you can be interested in anything and you get to learn about it and write about it and tell others about it and get paid for it. How could a life consist of anything better than doing that, every single day?

Now that I don't have a dedicated 40 hours a week to write and get paid for it, I make necessary adjustments. It's not about finding a specific time block in which to write; for me, it's about being able to ask myself, will I need to be conscious and alert and ready to respond to people later on tonight? Or will it be all right if, at around 7 p.m. on a Saturday, I take myself to a café and allow myself to disappear for an unspecified block of time? I can come to a café and just let myself
feel whatever is buzzing in and around me, and then I float back into reality. And I'm so lucky that I get to keep what I've created.


  1. hey
    i really enjoyed reading this. i really like the way you write its very captivating and the tromendous amount of passion thrown into your text really shows in your powerful words.
    Thank you for 15 minutes well spent!

  2. Thank you very much, Alex.
    I see you have two blogs as well; I'll check them out.
    Come back soon.