Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Alternate Universes and the Writing Life

You find yourself with some regularity leaving the quiet and distraction-free work area of your home in favor of one of two or three coffee shops with an increased level of ambient noise, random distractions, and the additional potential of having to fend off some well-intended conversation.


At these venues, which you rank according to your perception of which serves the best latte, you bring note pads, pens, books, magazines, and often your laptop computer, your intended target one or more projects such as a weekly book review, an additional book review, class notes,an editing job, notes for a blog essay, or work on a larger project such as a book-in-the-works.

Peets has splendid coffee but is often crowded with academics, fleeing the call of office hours, or of students busily texting friends elsewhere, or bible study groups.  The French Press has begun serving a superior coffee, but its original venue has parking problems and its newer one on Cota and Anacapa is noisy.  The funky ambience of Cafe Luna is easiest to concentrate in, but its coffee is a distant third.

Your implements and trappings spread about you on a table, coffee close to hand, you set forth to accomplish here in a noisier, less comfortable place what you left a comfortable, quieter, more convenient place to engage, the coffee you make at home on your Bialetti stovetop at least the equal of Cafe Luna's larger, steam-driven machine, thanks in no small part to the fact of your freezer being filled with various incarnations of Peet's beans.

The irony is not lost on you, is in fact a deliberate infliction of outside influences, endured in the belief that the necessary focus to blot out these sensory gatecrashers will allow you here to do with some ease what you could not do at home.

This condition is a correlative to your belief that having chores such as teaching and editing outside your writing goals will contribute to making you use your writing time to better advantage.  This condition also falls well within the turf of irony.

In an alternate universe, your working day would be eight to ten hours in which you would variously read, write, listen to music, take the occasional nap, leaving you fourteen to sixteen hours in which to dine, maintain your dog, car, and apartment, sleep, socialize, exercise, educate yourself, indulge your needs for recreation and associations with friends.  This alternate universe is blatant speculative fiction.  Had you the means and opportunity to lead this imaginary life, you believe the high possibility that the eight-to-ten-hour work day would deteriorate in direct proportion to the inner, unarticulated whims driving you even now as you set these words down.

How easy it is to to infuse our goals and ideals with a metric of perfection, how easy to admire the focus and concentration of mad persons, individuals so intent on their goal that they must be at complete union with it rather than the lesser focus most of us bring to the game.  In this case the game is the art we engage in our attempts to achieve a goal with such diverse results as entertainment, education, warnings, panegyrics, satires, revelations, or a combination of any two or more of these.  The final score of the game is the weight and measure of the work we bring forth and the effect that work will have on others.  

Cause--the driving force(s) behind the creation of the work--and effect--the impact of the work on its audience, are in the same kind of uneasy alliance as, say Christians and lions.  At one time in history, lions were eating Christians.  Today, the occasional lion might nosh on an occasional Christian, but there is a greater likelihood that the occasional Christian will send a lion packing off to a zoo.

All work and no play makes you a candidate for becoming a tendentious writer.  All play and no work puts you on a vector for becoming a wannabe writer, whose best work never leaves his mind.  A footnote here is the stipulation that play is work in its juvenile form.   Another footnote should be that work may be playful in nature.

A saving grace of particular significance to your ironic coffee shop pleasures is the sense you often get, having filled several notepad pages, of eagerness to get home, get the handwritten work transcribed, then printed out for editing, which for you is always best done at home. 

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