Monday, January 24, 2011

Keeping Up Appearances :: The Perils of Writing In Public

This morning, my friend Dre talked on her blog about the public perception of those people who write in public.  At coffee shops.  This was apparently prompted by a clip from Family Guy, which I've helpfully appended at the end of this post.  Dre writes at a Starbucks from time to time and delves into this with gusto.  If you enjoy a bit of snark with your coffee, I commend her blog post to your attention.

This isn't really about Dre, it's about my own perception of the issue of perceptions and "performance writers" and other hipsterkind.

There's no end of people who are more interested in being seen to write than they are in writing.  Just as there are those who read Russian Literature not because they enjoy it but because they want to rub your nose in the fact that their taste is elevated above your plebeian romance novels.

But applying this label to anyone seen sitting in a cafe putting words in a row is intellectually lazy.

If you operate from the home position that anything and everything one does in public is performance art.   or if you're just offended by people being literate in your general vicinity.

There's a guy in the window of this very cafe where I am typing.  He's wearing an old grey sport jacket and green waistcoat and has a tweed cap on his head.  He has earbuds in his ears and, God help him, he has a laptop.  I think he's writing something snooty, something with lots and lots of polysyllabic words (like "polysyllabic" for instance) or maybe he's blogging about bands I've never heard of...  

On appearances alone, I'm sure to get a conviction in the court of public opinion; jury returns condemnation as "hipster jerk just waiting to disdain my latest Ke$ha song or Stephen King novel."

Gosh, all those people who write at coffee shops are such sanctimonious hipster putzes.  And those uptight bastards that actually read actual books in public?  How dare they be literate at me!  Obviously they're just showing off, the jerks.

Maybe he is.  Except that he's not.  Because he's me.  The old jacket is because it's cold outside and because it's darned comfy and the hat... well, I just like hats.  And though there's a bit of polysyllabism in the story I'm writing, there are also quite a few fart jokes.  And while I do read the Russians from time to time, I also enjoy a good properly-schlocky mystery or adventure story.  And the only reason I don't read  much Stephen King is because it gives me bad dreams.

It's hard to be snotty about something that gives you the willies.

In short -- appearances are often deceiving. And what's more, until I started reading Dre's blog this morning, I never gave much thought to what the people around me thought about having me here, pounding out a novel between appointments.

As anyone who has read this post (or just been around me for very long) I am well known for pulling out a pen and notepad or laptop at any rest break.  Any horizontal surface will do really, and I do write at home but mostly I write at a coffee shop because I like the bustle and energy of public spaces.  And because I need to be at work (across the street) in a couple of hours and I shoehorn my writing in wherever it fits.  If you want to write and maintain an otherwise hectic life, that's how you do it 

Not everything has to be performance art.  And I'd wager that most of the people around you -- whether they're writing, reading, or just staring out into space -- haven't given a whole lot of thought to what you're thinking about what they're doing.  They're just doing their thing.  And the ones that do care what you think?  Who cares, really?

Honestly, I think we'd all be happier if we'd just each do our own thing and let the chips fall where they may.

So if you see me, stop by my table and say hi!  I'll stop what I'm doing to share a cuppa with a friend or to meet someone new.  And I promise not to be literate at you as long as you're willing to wait just a sec while I finish one... more... paragraph...


  1. Awesome! I love your take on this. Now I'm off to the "Fireman Store", to get a Grande non-fat, no water, chai tea latte, do some writing and try not to look too douchey! ;)

  2. It cracks me up that you call it "the fireman store". Though personally I think "Because there are hunky firemen across the street" is one of the better reasons I've heard for someone hanging out in a cafe. As always Dre, you are nothing if not refreshingly honest. Cheers!


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).