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Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Satre side by side at the Café de Flore writing, chatting with friends, then writing some more. In my mind, that puts paid to the myth of writing being a lonely job that can only be done in isolation. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’ve got something to say most of the time it can be said or written anywhere.

To be honest, I’ve thought it for some time now. I’ve found that I prefer a passing parade, even if I’m only peripherally aware of it. I like to be surrounded by life if I’m going to write about it. This works quite well for me when I’m in a red hot fog of inspiration and the several re-writes after that. There does come a time when I have to check facts and cover some of the bare bones I’ve missed. That’s when I need ‘the quiet of ‘a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air’ and free from other distractions. Whatever their thoughts on the ideal place to write, Beauvoir and Satre would have found their options limited in German occupied France. Things were grim but their writing doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result which I suppose dispels another myth, which is that conditions have to be perfect before you can get those pearlers out. The place was warm and comfortable and Nazi free (perhaps they didn’t like French intellectuals), that might have been their inspiration at the time.

There’s no perfect condition. As a mother, a grandmother, a wife and freelance writer I’ve found it out for myself. You have to find your own strategies, use whatever works for you. I tell myself not to moan about inspiration or writer’s block. Sit and write has been my adopted motto; holding my head in my hands won’t get a single word down that will lead to another and another. Holding my head in my hands only gives me a headache. I tend to write until something starts to take shape, then look at it again the next day. It’s amazing how my subconscious has worked something out while I slept.

I often think of that French couple when I’m all set up with my notebook and biros under a tree or on a bench at the beach if it’s warm enough, or the many outdoor places that I frequent. I wonder what they would have made of McDonald’s. Nothing complimentary, I’m sure. The reason for McDonald’s appeal would have baffled them. It suits me. Last Sunday I was there. It’s a great place to go if you want to be left alone. It’s far less aggravating than the bunch of cafes down the road with their refined clientele and genteel ambience. Staff there are constantly urging me to order something else. As I see it, I’ve rented the table. I buy a coffee or a cheese Danish and the table is mine until I choose to leave unless it’s jam packed and someone else is waiting for me to leave. Which is another reason why I prefer McDonald’s.

People come and quickly go there and there’s always room to spare. Last Sunday, every time I lifted my head there was a new group occupying the table in front of me. The only distraction, proved to be a young girl with a mermaid puppet who had decided to adopt me. She entertained me with lots whooshing of the mermaid as she torpedoed it through choppy waters; lots of smiles and giggles as she watched for my reaction.

McDonald’s is the king of take away places. The ambience is neutral; the scent of chips and frying burgers does nothing to enhance the dining experience; the only thing in its favour is that it’s cheap and the service is fast. McDonald’s is the hangout of students on a budget, families on a budget, single dads on a budget and pensioners on a budget. People keep buying and eating the products. The smell after you’ve eaten is even less appealing than when you first arrive so there’s no reason to linger over a cup of coffee. The reason for McDonald’s appeal would be a worthwhile study. I’m sure it’s not an original idea, but it’s finding a fresh angle that counts. I pop these thoughts into my notebook and save it to explore another time.

McDonald’s is filled with noisy adults, but when I write, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m on my own or in the middle of a crowded room. Having raised two raucous boys, I’ve learned to zone out when I need to. Some restaurants add music to the noisy mix. I don’t see the point. People have to speak over it to be heard.

When I’m home, I sit at my computer writing and Googling, then I do a print out and go for some fresh air and a fresh perspective and try to finish what I’ve started. Ever since I took up writing I have found myself subconsciously picking up topics from every day events to develop later. Even an advertisement can become grist to my mill. I saw an ad recently for a Cami Shaper. It’s a pull-on garment that allows women to cover their unsightly bulges. I found myself humming that song about everything old being new again. Those Cami Shapers were nothing more or less a girdle come back to haunt those of us who thought we rid freed ourselves of the constriction and discomfort.

None of my ramblings are exactly in Satre and Beauvoir’s league. But I decide that if I want to write I can’t let that sort of thing worry me. That’s a sure path to writer’s block and the oly one that I will allow. I’ve decided that whether it’s an article, a short story or a jingle, if I’m entertaining someone with my words then I can consider myself a writer. More importantly (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) if I’m being paid for it, as I occasionally am, I know for sure that I’m a writer. I might even stop talking about it and do something about my elderly novel. It has done its duty keeping my place draft free, perhaps it’s time now \to see if it can be resuscitated.

NB I was watching ‘Leonard Cohen: I’m your man’ last night after I’d already posted this piece. It was a tribute to Cohen the songwriter. Singers of note must have fought tooth and nail to be allowed to be involved. His peers sang his songs and talked about Cohen. Now and again Cohen would chip in a word or two. People say that he can’t sing but it’s my opinion, no one else agrees with me, that (like Bob Dylan did for his songs) Cohen wrote those songs to suit him. So, even though, and I’ll admit it, his singing voice leaves something be desired I like his lyrics best when sung by the songwriter. Still, I’ll admit that the exception is Rufus Wainwright. I agree with Cohen when he says that Wainwright brought his lyrics to life.

What leapt up at me a quarter of the way through the show was Cohen reading from a preface for ‘Beautiful Losers’. It was going to China and Cohen’s preface addressed this new audience. Cohen says, ‘Beautiful Losers was written outside on a table set among the rocks, weeds and daisies behind my house on Hydra, an island on the Aegean Sea.’ (Cohen is also a singer, an author and a poet, but I think his lyrics are also poetry; mostly the only poetry that I like and understand. If you respond to the power and influence of words, how can you not be all over Cohen’s lyrics?)

I’m adding this information to my lowly piece so I can point out that it must be an open secret that everyone else must know and that I’ve only just discovered. I’m sharing it, just in case there’s anyone left who isn’t in on it. You can’t write in a vacuum. Your own thoughts might be perfectly marvellous but if you don’t at least meet other characters outside your limited sphere and experience opinions other than yours even if you don’t agree with them, your work becomes one-dimensional.

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4 thoughts on “Only the lonely

  1. Yes, please do resuscitate it. I like your ramblings today, Mary. I had no idea you wrote outside of your home. I’ve never ventured out to one of the bookstores or a McDonald’s to write. I think it could be fun and a unique experience. I know some people need absolute quiet to write, but I think I am more like you. I like a bit of distraction going on around me – even if it is just my open window and the traffic going by.

    “if I’m entertaining someone with my words then I can consider myself a writer” … I asked Rich the other day, “What am I? Am I a writer or an author?” I don’t write articles, and I’m not paid to write anything; therefore, I don’t consider myself a writer. I think of myself as an author, because I wrote a few books and published them. When I read your words, I see I am a writer. Does it matter?

    • I think I might give that awful opus another go, Maddie. I’m certainly older if not necessarily wiser than I was when I first wrote it.
      If you tell a civilian that you are a writer, they immediately assume that you write novels. But writing is a broad church with novelist being top of the writing tree. I think that if you write meaningful or entertaining prose, whatever area you belong to, then you’re a writer. It’s the poetry thing that has me bamboozled in more ways than one. 🙂 

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