We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

“Every reiteration of the idea that _nothing matters_ debases the human spirit.

Every reiteration of the idea that there is no drama in modern life, there is only dramatization, that there is no tragedy, there is only unexplained misfortune, debases us. It denies what we know to be true. In denying what we know, we are as a nation which cannot remember its dreams–like an unhappy person who cannot remember his dreams and so denies that he does dream, and denies that there are such things as dreams.”
― David Mamet, Writing in Restaurants: Essays and Prose

Downtown McKinney Texas

Oblique Strategy:
Retrace your steps

John Scalzi wrote critically about writing in a coffee shop:

You’re not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop, you know.

I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said “Looking For Sex.” Go home, why don’t you. Just go.

He expanded this simple idea into a book, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing.

He’s not wrong, of course. There can be a certain stuckuppishness about going to the coffee shop to write – either with a laptop or with a Moleskine.

With me, however, it’s different. I like to go to coffee shops sometimes, I like to drink coffee that someone else makes for me sometimes… and I write wherever I go.

For years, a long time ago, I took my son Lee to two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. While I was waiting for him, I’d go to a nearby Starbucks with my laptop and write. I developed the ability to nurse one Venti coffee for two hours. In addition to getting two hours or writing done in an otherwise wasted window of time I perfected the writer’s ability to listen in to stranger’s conversations without looking at them.

This particular Starbucks was always crowded on Saturday mornings and the conversations were usually interesting. It seems that the main topic was to beg forgiveness and seek redemption for what had been done in passionate error on Friday night. There were some interesting stories floating around.

So I view Starbucks not as a coffee seller (which is good because their coffee is awful) but as an office rental space. For the price of an overly expensive cuppa Joe you get an office, internet connection, and conference room (if needed) for a couple hours. Good deal if you ask me.

Tonight I needed to finish a short story but there was too much going on at the house. I needed to be left alone for a few pages, at least. So I packed up and headed out to a coffee shop not far from our house. Of course, in my neighborhood you won’t be able to eavesdrop on conversations, they are in too many different languages.

But at any rate, three hours and one Venti later, my story was done. And I didn’t care who saw me typing and didn’t worry that absolutely nobody noticed me.

18 responses to “We Are A Nation Which Cannot Remember Its Dreams

  1. I used to write a lot of poems in which I and my two companions (a Cossack and a Kickapoo) spent our time in a coffee shop, where the Gaggia steamed up the windows, and there was little to do except improvise games of chess using salt- and pepperpots filched from other tables, and watch the pale, daytime moon navigating the cracked rooftops opposite. But IRL I find coffee shops to be better places to observe than to write, unless it be a jotting in a notebook. I once watched a woman take something out of another’s eye with the corner of her handkerchief. They occupied two high stools, and the first woman was so intent and performed the removal with such delicacy that I sat enthralled. They were both beautiful. The fact that they were both holding themselves still, barely breathing made time slow down for me as I watched. The result (later) was an erotic short story about a woman who posed as an oculist in order to steal kisses.

    • Interesting. My writing group met in a Starbucks on Wednesday night for years. It was a popular meeting place for computer date matches – always fun to listen in on their conversations. One evening, I arrived early and as I was waiting, some woman walked up to me and said “David?” She thought I was her internet date.

      The only problem was the visible look of relief on her face when I said I wasn’t David.

  2. Reading this put me in mind of the smell of coffee and the low hum of conversations. It’s a shame that most of the big coffee houses make dire drinks. Good writing, Bill.

  3. And here I thought you were strictly a man of [beautiful and interesting] visual words. 😉 Interesting writing (by you) and read (by me), all topped off with an interesting song twist (by the always interesting Postmodern Jukebox). Can’t always get all that in a Starbucks. 😉

    • Thanks for the kind comment.

      For years back in the ’90’s I only wrote online – mostly because there wasn’t enough space to upload very many photos. Since, I put most of my writing into my fiction – but am slowly getting back into writing online.

      My son showed me Postmodern Jukebox. I’m trying to pick my favorites and post them one at a time.

      • Time [for writers] is a hot commodity and blogging [with a focus on writing] is a time thief if separate from those larger projects. Keeping up with one is at the detriment of the other (for me at least). I’ve had a subsequent desire lately to try my hand at letting pictures do the talking, at least every so often. Hope it gets me the balance I seek. If I had a New Year’s wish for writers/bloggers, I suppose that’s what it’d be . . . that they are successful at finding balance. 🙂

  4. I tried writing in a coffee shop once but felt like a pretender. I prefer the library but the one near me closes at 8:00. They start flashing the lights at 7:30 just in case you think you might want to stay until 8:01. I’m actually pretty comfortable at McDonalds. No one bothers me and the coffee is cheap.

    • McDonald’s is a good option. The library is too quiet, closes too early, and has too many distractions (books). I like the murmur of voices at a coffee shop and since I am a pretender, don’t mind looking like one.

  5. Sounds more like research that writing. Now, if some of those characters looks like Guido and some look like Hans… And you see one Hans hands handily handle a blaster, and you jot all that down? OK, there might be a little writing in there somewhere.

  6. When I’m stuck in the middle of something, my writing-buddy and I head over to Starbucks. We sit in the corner giggling and typing away, and get a lot done despite all of the eyes on us that say “oh my god they are so pretentious.”

    Starbucks has the best hot chocolate. Coffee? Meh. But you’re right – it’s like renting an office for a few hours to pound out those tricky scenes.

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