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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I KNOW YOU ARE READING MY NAPKINS: A literary life

A lot of people ask me, “What’s it like to be a writer in New York City?”

A few people have speculated on what it is like. The speculations usually run something like this: I wear all black, head to toe, sort of like a ninja. I carry my silver notebook computer with me at all times, going from coffee shop to coffee shop, fueling myself and typing away. I basically ping around New York like that, typing and drinking and drinking and typing.

There’s some truth in it. That whole thing about running around with the little silver laptop (I’m an Apple girl) . . . that’s pretty accurate. I don’t go further than a mile without my darling girl (my Apple is a girl named Gilda). I also love coffee shops (though I have recently, and to the amazement of all who know me, given up coffee—at least for the time being).

But the truth is, it’s not easy writing in coffee shops.

For one, the tables wobble. This seems inevitable. If there is only one wobbly table in the whole place, I will find it. I am a wobbly table divining rod. And that wobbly table is never next to an electrical outlet. My computer is a thirsty girl, and she can’t go for very long without her juice.

Plus, you can’t move very much when you’re in a coffee shop. Someone can steal your seat at the wobbly table—or worse, your precious silver computer that has all your books on it. So whenever you have to get up to do anything, you have to enter a complex series of negotiations with someone around who likes a.) unlikely to leave in the time you will be gone, and b.) unlikely to take your computer and run giggling off into the sunset.

And then every once in a while, I have an encounter like this one:

I was sitting at a large table in a coffee shop, writing away, when a fairly normal looking guy came and sat down next to me. He had purchased a coffee, and had brought an unusually large stack of napkins over with him. Producing a pen from his pocket, he proceeded to write on them in big, blocky handwriting a long, continuous letter that went something like this:

I HAVE BEEN WRITING A LOT AND THIS TIME I HAVE HAD ENOUGH.

I HAVE POINTED OUT ALL OF THE THINGS THE (offensive term deleted) HAVE BEEN DOING TO ME.

THEY HAVE BEEN SNEAKING AROUND AND I HAVE SEEN THEM.

THOSE (offensive term deleted) ARE (offensive term deleted).

THIS IS ALL BECAUSE OF THE GOVERNMENT.

HAVE YOU BEEN GETTING MY LETTERS OR HAVE THE (offensive term deleted) DESTROYED THEM?

This went on for about twenty napkins. He could only put a few sentences on each napkin, so when he ran out of space, he would carefully stack the napkin upside down in a pile. I was watching this nervously out of the corner of my eye.

He wrote something down on a napkin, and then didn’t put it in the pile. He set it not far from me. Not directly in front of me. Just close enough. And he never looked up. I just made out the words:

I KNOW YOU ARE READING MY NAPKINS.

Which is when I left. Because I can smell my impending death at times, and I chose to delay our acquaintance. I am a magnet for this kind of thing. Crazy people cross the street to get close to me.

So the answer to this question is: generally, I write at my office at home, or at the desk at the London Office. This is a boring answer, and it makes me feel like I am letting people down. I wish I could tell you I write in a hot air balloon, or on the back of an elephant—but those things are pretty distracting. As good as they sound, they’re aren’t that great in practice. Everyone likes something different, but I find that the best thing for writing is a quiet, familiar setting. The drama should all be on the page. (If you read about famous writers of the past, more than one expressed a liking for a simple desk or table in an empty room, often facing a wall. It’s true!)

But right now, I am blasting away several songs from the 13 Little Blue iMix. And it is hardly grim here. The New York Office is a festive enough place. And no one is edging quasi-threatening napkins into my peripheral vision.

3 Comments:

Blogger mina said...

I'm really curious...what IS your 13 little blue iMix?
:D

...or is it a sekrit?

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Chelsea said...

That's a little creepy. I might actually sit at Starbucks and write creepy phrases on napkins until I'm sure someone is reading them, and then I'll drop the bomb that I know.

It sounds thrilling.

7:57 AM  
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