Like probably all writers, I have a little fantasy about what it means to be a “real” writer. Mine involves a dimly lit coffee shop, half-full with other artists and writers in the midst of their work. This fantasy exchanges coffee for Hemingway’s booze, or for the red French vintages of the 20th Century expatriates. The room is full of the rich smell of coffee, the sound of a quiet jazz trio, and the scratching and tapping of pens and keyboards. Even the baristas quietly tap out rhythms on the counter, rehearsing their next composition.
As always, though, reality does not care about my fantastic ideals, and the coffee shops I find myself in trying to write are imperfect mirrors of my fantasy. Dimly lit, yes, and half-full, yes - but this café is many things to many people, and the tables are full of suburban mothers gossiping over a snack after their morning calorie burn, not the wild-eyed artists of my imagination. Instead of a snazzy jazz trio, the soundtrack is chattering voices, the hiss of the espresso machine, and a cd of what we used to call “Adult Contemporary” on repeat - neither upbeat enough for bubblegum pop nor improvisational enough for jazz.
I keep trying, though, in the optimistic hope that one day, I will arrive at the proper time, and be introduced to the secret artists’ club behind the facade of the neighborhood social station. Where I do most of my writing, though, is quietly at home, in the early hours of the morning or the dead afternoons of the weekend. My soundtrack is the distant hum of traffic, the purr of a contented cat, and the flocks of birds greeting each other in the trees. Instead of coffee, I drink water or herbal tea, as I scratch words out of blank white paper. And when the gremlins come around, claiming I can’t possibly be a “real” writer, because I lack the coffee shop that stands in for Parisian bistros or Spanish cantinas, I tell them I’m not interested in being a “real” writer, I just want to write. And then I offer them a seat in the café of my imagination, with a sketchbook and charcoal so they can become “real” artists.