Words and Coffee

I prefer to write outside of my home. There are numerous reasons for this:

  • My apartment is small, and I don’t have a “room of one’s own” to write in; I often leave the house to get some privacy (even though I usually go to a place full of people!).
  • When the weather is nice, it’s hard to stay inside and write; when the beauty of the day calls to me, I’ll grab my notebooks and/or computer and walk to wherever it is I’ll write that day (and get a bit of exercise, too).
  • Often, I have cravings: Dunkin Donuts coffee. A chocolate and nut mix at the local co-op. Or there’s absolutely no food in the house, and I’m hungry. Why not go out and eat and drink and write?
  • There are too many distractions at home: my family, of course; a messy, dirty apartment that screams at me to clean it; the television, the phone, the refrigerator, the cat, noisy neighbors. Any number of things to take me away from my desk. Sometimes I write on my computer, but the internet is an alluring distraction–when that happens, I’ll grab just my notebook and get out of the house.
  • Natalie Goldberg, my early writing influence, told me to write in different places, and so that’s what I did, and that’s what I still do. It’s what I’m used to. Although I don’t write in laundromats, as she suggested.

coffee and writing

So where do I go to write? Here are my favorite spots in my town:

  • Greenfield’s Market. My local co-op is a place I’ve been writing in for close to twenty years now. It’s easily my favorite spot; there’s good food and drink, free wi-fi I tend to trust, and two different places to sit and write: downstairs near the sunny windows looking out onto Main Street, or upstairs in the mezzanine which overlooks the entire store (I try not to sit next to the railing–I’ll gaze out and people-watch the whole time if I’m not careful). I’ll drink peach Honest Tea and nibble chocolate trail mix; my friend Vince is often there, working on his haiku or reading his obscure books. He’ll stop by my table and chat for a few minutes, but respects my need for space to work. Familiar strangers surround me, and I feel right at home.
  • Dunkin Donuts. I love Dunkin coffee. In the winter, it’s hot decaf with one cream; in summer, it’s iced with one cream. The donuts don’t tempt me, really; it’s all about the coffee. There are three Dunkins in my town, which really doesn’t seem excessive to me. One is within walking distance, and that’s where I usually go. In the morning, there is a large group of seniors who gather there every day to talk and tell stories and laugh. They’ve come to know me, and call out a few pleasantries. They can become quite raucous, but I don’t mind. I’ve learned to block out distraction from the multitudes, the shriek of the coffee grinders, the employees giving each other shit. It’s all background babble, white noise. It’s wonderful. It smells wonderful, and I smell wonderful when I go home, the coffee clinging to me like an aromatic shawl.
  • Greenfield Public Library. Sometimes I need to go to the library to search for a book or do some research, and I’ll sit and write for awhile in one of the many comfortable nooks provided. There are the big tables in the main room, near the computers and the check-out desk and the magazine racks; but there are more private places nestled near the stacks, with upholstered chairs and low tables with vases of flowers on them, or a table near a window with a view of familiar buildings, seen from unfamiliar vantage points. It’s quiet, mostly, and being surrounded by books has to be the closest thing to heaven I can think of.
  • Greenfield Coffee. I only occasionally frequent this cafe in the center of town, mostly because it’s kind of expensive, and the coffee is darker than I prefer. But I like the wrap-around glass windows looking out at the intersection of town that often steam in winter, and the hardwood floors and the shiny steel espresso makers. It’s fairly small, so I’m lucky to find a seat among the many other solo patrons working on their own projects, on laptops mostly, but some with actual books and notebooks. I feel I’m a part of a special tribe, my tribe, even if I don’t speak a word to them.

My peripatetic writing habit suits me; it’s like leaving home to go to my office to work, except my office is everywhere. I’ve written in doctor’s offices, in my car (not while I’m driving, just in case you’re wondering), at work at my register. I’ve even written at a picnic table on the town common on nice spring days. Come to think of it, I might have written in a laundromat once, a long time ago. With a pen and paper, you can do your work literally anywhere.

If you’re a writer, where do you like to do your work?

Costume Drama

Once I smartened up and changed my Netflix plan from streaming to DVD, I finally got to watch a couple of movies I’ve had my eye on for awhile: Love and Friendship, and A Quit Passion.

love and friendship

Love and Friendship is based on early, little-known novella of Jane Austen’s, called Lady Susan. The story’s namesake is not the typical Austen heroine we’ve come to know and love–in other words, she’s not a young, unmarried woman looking for love with a suitably rich husband, a delightful, spirited woman who nonetheless conforms to her society’s norms and conventions.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is not that woman. She’s a still-attractive older widow who schemes relentlessly to score a rich husband, for herself and also for her 17-year old daughter, Federica. She doesn’t care a fig about love, at least not when it comes to husbands. Husbands are a means to an end: financial security. She does, however, carry on an adulterous affair with the married Lord Manwing.

Unlike Lizzie, Emma, Catherine, and the Dashwood sisters, Lady Susan is not likable. Her outward charm masks a cunning ruthlessness that one nonetheless has no choice but to admire. Why? Because, despite being a woman in a staunchly patriarchal society, like any true Austen heroine she gets what she wants–not by some fairy-tale luck (having the good fortune to fall in love with and to secure a conveniently rich man). She knows intimately well the system she’s working within, and pulls all of the strings to her advantage. In the end, she scores a rich husband, who is stupid enough to believe the baby she carries is his own; her daughter fits the more typical Austen heroine in that she falls in love with a suitably rich man and blissfully marries him, but she is not the star of the show.

That Austen wrote such a scandalous main character–and have it all end well for her–is just another reason I find Jane Austen endlessly fascinating. She was a proto-feminist that knew Lady Susan could never be published in her time. It only took 200 years for this character to see the light of day, and though we may cringe at her methods, we must concede her brilliance and determination. Lady Susan forged a life on her own terms in a world that afforded her very little choice.

quiet passion 2

A Quiet Passion is a biopic of Emily Dickinson that I’ve been very eager to see. Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) plays the enigmatic Dickinson, and she does so brilliantly here. Nixon recites her poems in a voice-over throughout the scenes of the film, and one gets a sense of Dickinson’s brilliance, her sensitivity, her spiritual struggle, her fierce intelligence.

She was extremely close to her family (her parents, brother Austin and sister Vinnie), and was content to live with them forever. She feared being parted from friends and family, either through death or marriage. She quite probably fell in love with both men and women–including a married pastor–but her loves were always fervently spiritual and intellectual in nature, and never consummated physically.

Inevitably, her parents died. Her good friend, the outspoken Vryling Buffam, married (and therefore relented to convention) and was no longer hers. Her married brother Austin commenced an affair with a married woman, and his infidelity enraged her.

“Why does life have to be so ugly?” she beseeches her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) at one point.

Near the end of her life she became embittered, and her fear of loss and death caused her to withdraw from life and society, never leaving her home, or even her room, for that matter. She pushed people away with cutting words. She continued to write, however, always struggling with the state of her soul, with the question of whether God existed, what awaited us after death. She was a brilliant, complicated woman who suffered and died from Bright’s disease at the age of 55.

I enjoyed the film, but had a problem with much of the dialogue. I expect witty banter from intelligent people, but these people talked in a way that raised it to ridiculous heights. Did people really converse in this manner? Their conversations didn’t feel at all natural; rather, they seemed artificially constructed, as if they were reading from well-thought out orations or speeches. It wasn’t believable, and actually got a little annoying. The only time it felt real was when characters lost their tempers and screamed at each other (in a very articulate manner, of course). Finally, real human beings!

Have you seen these movies? What did you think? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

Two Memoirs

I’ve been in a memoir kind of mood lately, and recently finished two by women my own age dealing with different issues in their lives:

Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, by Claire Dederer.  Dederer is a writer with a husband and two children, and by all accounts, a wonderful life. This is what she had always wanted. So why all the crying and restlessness and apathy that has suddenly invaded her life? She seeks out her old journals and letters from her youth, and digs up the past, trying to find the “disastrous pirate slut of a girl” she used to be. Turns out, she misses that wreck of a girl, her misadventures and her freedoms, her bad choices and impulsive wanderings. I was drawn to this book because of my own midlife growing pains; Claire Dederer is a brave soul who isn’t afraid to tell her own particular truths.

love and trouble

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay. I’ve been meaning to read Gay’s book of essays, Bad Feminist, for a while now. I haven’t gotten there yet, but her recent memoir caught my eye, and on the heels of Love and Trouble, I hungered for another memoir. Gay’s story, on the surface, is very different from Dederer’s; Gay was raped when she was 12 years old. That violent experience shaped her life from that day on, and she steadily gained weight into adulthood until she became morbidly obese. She used her weight as a shield to protect herself from male attention. She wanted to become invisible, but in doing so, she became, paradoxically, more visible for a very different reason. Gay explores society’s judgmental preoccupation with women’s bodies, and comes to terms with the violence that was done to her.

hunger

Both writers explore how women’s lives are defined by their bodies (one trying to hide from the male gaze to protect herself, the other seeking it out to find love and validation). Both are riveting memoirs I won’t soon forget.