Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fishbowl Writing

Since I live in a house with other people who tend to rely on me for things like... oh, I don't know... providing food and other life essentials, it's sometimes difficult to write within a one-mile radius of them. I actually think my middle child would prefer to run a mile to ask me for something than to ask his father, who may be sitting as close to him as on the same couch. Therefore, I often flee... er, escape... er, relocate... to somewhere public when I want to write without being asked for yogurt/apples/juice/water/milk/attention/CPR or polled on important, immediate issues such as, "What's your favorite cat?" There's a certain chain of cafes that receives my patronage 90% of the time, because there's one fairly close to my house and another close to where I work. It's a warm, fragrant, comfortable place with free Wi-Fi (although it's sluggish, which can be frustrating when I'm researching important things for my books... or looking at pictures of attractive actors with English accents), and I frequent these places enough that I feel at home there, but the people who work there don't know me by name... yet. It's an ideal balance. Now, if all the other patrons would simply... go away... it would be the perfect place to write.

Because you may not know this about me, but I'm going to tell you:  I'm a spaz. Therefore, I'm often worried that I'm inadvertently and unconsciously doing something to embarrass and draw unwanted attention to myself. Writing in a public place does not mix well with this paranoia.

For example, someone always seems to be in my eye line who appears to be staring at me every time I look up from my laptop monitor. That person probably thinks I'm staring at them every time they happen to glance at me. This inevitably results in a monkey-see, monkey-do sort of game that psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists and other -ologists (zoologists!) love to see. I swipe at my face with a napkin, in case the person is staring because I have something gross on it. The other person, thinking I'm tossing them a hint, does the same. Or vice versa. In most cases, I outlast the other person (because I've conditioned myself to be sedentary for hours longer than when most people begin to develop blood clots). He or she finally leaves, only to be replaced by someone else who plays the game with me for the next hour or so.

It doesn't help that I regularly do things to reinforce my worries that I'm doing something mortifying for everyone to see or hear. Case in point, the time I had my earphones plugged into the wrong jack on my laptop, and so I kept bumping up the volume on my music, frustrated that nothing was coming through them. Turns out, I was blaring my music for the whole room to hear. I finally figured it out when I got enough dirty looks and it struck me that it was odd for a place that  normally plays classical music on the P.A. system to be playing Jet's "Are you Gonna Be My Girl?" Oh, wait! That's what Pandora's playing for me!

Or I'll sit there with food dribbled down the front of my shirt. Or I'll knock my drink over. Or someone will walk behind me just as I'm looking at a picture of a scantily-clad guy (for research purposes, of course). Or, worse, they'll see the reflection of such a picture in the restaurant's window behind me. Whatever. Unlike the "Pandora incident," these are all theoretical embarrassing moments, but you get the idea. I have a knack for doing awkward things, which is why my oldest son doesn't go out in public with me very often, and I don't really fault him for it or want him to go out in public with me, so it works out just fine.

And when my insecurities (and faux pas) aren't the problem, the presence of other people is. In addition to "The Starer," there are five basic types of people who tend to like to sit near me (even when the place is pretty empty) when I'm writing in public. They are:
  1. The loud laughers (groups of women most of the time, I hate to say);
  2. The talkers, who have such interesting lives and no qualms about discussing them, no matter how personal;
  3. The table-drummers;
  4. The under-the-breath singers; and
  5. The conversationalists, also alone, but who think I must want to talk, since I'm alone, too.
Since it's a public place, I don't expect it to be silent. That's what earbuds are for. Earbuds can only do so much, though. Usually, I can drown out the talkers and the under-the-breath singers, but I can't concentrate with music playing so loudly that it drowns out the laughers. The table-drummer is more of a visual distraction than an auditory distraction. And the conversationalist doesn't give a damn how many times I have to pop out my earbud and make him (yes, it's usually a guy) repeat himself so I can respond to his unwelcome question or comment.

And before you suggest it, writing at the library isn't the answer, either. Libraries are no longer the quiet, tranquil places they used to be (I refuse to say when I was growing up). They're overrun by loud children and their parents, who seem to walk around in a daze wondering, "Noise? What noise? My children's ultra-sonic screams deafened me months ago! I don't know what your problem is." And since libraries are free hangouts, where you don't feel obligated to purchase anything for the privilege of using their electricity and Wi-Fi (no matter how crappy it is), the percentage of Type 5 patrons is vastly higher, and they can be even more persistent in their efforts to chat and/or less diligent about hygiene. Not always. But often.

The point is, Virginia Woolf was pretty messed up, but she had it so right when she said everyone needs a room of one's own. A room where nobody else is staring (or appearing to be staring) or hearing your music or asking you inane questions or expecting you to be a nurturing mother with an unlimited supply of Go-Gurt. The question is... as conditioned as I am to work in the midst of so many distractions, would I even know what to do with myself in such a room?

Probably not.

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  1. OMG, I so identify with your hilarious comment, ..."because I've conditioned myself to be sedentary for hours longer when most people begin to develop blood clots...". Being semi-retired has led me to such conditioning also since I now have all the time in the world to read/play on fb/talk on phone/hold grandkids on lap...yep, fit as a fiddle (when it comes to bloodclots). I will soon return to my local library as a librarian assistant (where I once worked before needing to make real money) and can strongly attest to the fact that "quiet, tranquil places" they are not!

  2. Congratulations on your semi-retirement (another one of my fantasies that will probably never come true) and your sweet grandkids. It's also always been one of my dreams to work in a library or a bookstore, so in my book, you're pretty much livin' the dream right now. Thanks for your comment!