Sunday, September 20, 2009

Coffee shop politics

Have you ever been a coffee-shop author? I certainly have, but I've also experienced a phenomenon that Belcher mentions in Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: "Some [authors] tell me that they are itinerant writers. Fixing on one writing spot doesn't work because, after working in a space for a week or two, the place becomes tainted for them.... notice when a place is no longer working for you, and move on to the next. May you live in a town with many coffee shops!" (18)

This odd burnout certainly happened to me. When I lived in Beverly Hills, a tree-lined neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, I used to go to nearby Del Ray and sit at St. Elmo's Coffee Pub to write. But eventually denizens of the pub would plop down at my table for a chat. Authors-to-be figured out that I liked it there, and some showed up unannounced. It was usually flattering, but I became quite nervous when one espionage author used his CIA connections to track me down even when I hadn't told him where I lived, and I used a PO box specifically to elude writer/stalkers! When the morning barista began asking me to do chores like I was staff, I realized the honeymoon was over. After two happy years at St. Elmo's I moved on.

Once in DC in my comfy Georgetown neighborhood, I was thrilled when Saxby's coffee opened just one block away a month after my arrival. For the better part of two years I was there almost daily, sitting in a corner with my latte and trying to be careful about how much time I spent (purchasing a drink or food every hour is a reasonable suggestion). I love the owners of Saxby's, but eventually I got less and less work done as my faculty authors learned where to find me. I love my authors, but writing time gots to be sacred.

A year after Saxby's opened, a nifty, brand-new little Starbucks arrived just down the hill at the corner of 34th and M Street, and I enjoyed it for its corporate anonymity. It was busy enough to feel friendly, but quiet enough (i.e. no faculty authors, no friends, no distractions) to work as a writing space. So imagine my distress when a disaster involving a car and a fire hydrant resulted in a severe water-main break that even made the evening news. The destroyed shop did not re-open, and the space is still empty.

Now I write at home, at the same groovy wooden desk that I bought in grad school from an antiques shop in the Charlottesville hills. I wrote many papers and a fun dissertation at this desk, and now it is my writing space. Other times if I need a distraction I go to Lauinger Library two blocks away. I still love Saxby's and its free wireless, and I sneak in there sometimes if I think the table visitors won't find me! :-)

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