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.

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Daily Writing Tip 13 of 100, Use Dialogue As A Trigger For Stories

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Use Dialogue As A Trigger For Stories

Source – Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella

Learn this quirk. Put it in your bag of tricks. Use dialogue as a trigger for stories.

I go back to my old advice first. Listen. Don’t Talk. Listen. If you’ve trained yourself as a conscious listener, almost any line of overheard dialogue can make a starting point.

This reminds me of a time many years ago. My son would take two hours of art lessons every Saturday morning. I’d drop him off and then head to a nearby Starbucks to kill the time.

I’ve never looked at Starbucks as a coffee place – I view it as an office rental firm. For the overprice of a beverage, you get somewhere to sit. Probably the most important thing I learned in the years of spending every Saturday morning in that Starbucks was how to sip a Venti in a way to make it last two hours.

It was a crowded spot at that time of day – but also crowded in a certain sort of way. People weren’t in there alone with their laptops (except for me). They were there in pairs or groups and they all seemed to have some sort of business to attend to. And on a weekend morning, that business was of an emotional nature.

I became very good at sitting there, taking in all the sounds around me, and sorting out a single thread of conversation. It was always interesting and often more than a tad salacious. For some reason that Starbucks seemed to be a popular place for people to come and confess the sins they committed on Friday night.

To this day, I miss those hours spent listening and writing. I haven’t found any other place with dialogue as interesting as that… just floating around in the air.

What I learned this week, September, 9, 2011

I have gathered a garland of other men’s flowers, and nothing is mine but the cord that binds them.

—-Montaigne


An economic crisis is nature’s revenge on those who make and those who accept false promises; it is a holocaust of lies when the dross is burned away and only what is real and true remains. Think of cotton candy melting and charring in the flame of a blowtorch; that is what is happening to the secure retirements that “caring” blue politicians and “committed” blue union leaders promised gullible state workers.

—- from Rhode Island Pension System Collapsing – by Walter Russell Mead (read the whole thing)

I seem to be linking to Walter Russell Mead a lot.


How Bikes Could Transform Dallas

Constructing a city for the car alone shackles all to the burdens of car ownership and maintenance costs. In a city with a poverty rate of 23 percent and household transportation costs approaching 25 percent of income, fewer and fewer can afford to participate in the local economy, getting from point A to point B, without a miserable two-hour DART bus commute. Without choice in the transportation network, Sun Belt cities will go the way of the Rust Belt. A monoculture of transportation follows a monoculture of the very industry that produced it into collapse. Nobody thought Detroit would collapse when it was dubbed the Paris of the West. Paris, however, is alive and well. And so is bicycling in that world-class city.

—-From D MagazineBicyclist


The Shortlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize is out:

The six books, selected from the longlist of 13, are:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape – Random House)

Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate Books)

Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers (Granta)

Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail)

Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)

A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)

I have not read any of these. Have to take a good look (don’t think I can read all of them in time). Any recomendations?


You don’t have to know what it is that you are eating in order to have a delicious meal.


Writing Tips for the Week

Eight Secrets Which Writers Won’t Tell You

by Ali

  • Secret #1: Writing is Hard
  • Secret #2: We All Struggle With Procrastination
  • Secret #3: We Put Ourselves Into Our Work
  • Secret #4: First Drafts are Always Crap
  • Secret #5: Each Piece Exists in a State of Flux – and it’s Never “Finished”
  • Secret #6: We Do it Because We’re Obsessed
  • Secret #7: Money does matter
  • Secret #8: We All Struggle With Self-Doubt

I had forgotten how much I enjoy a good, steep hill.



Even a titan like Starbucks is struggling in this difficult economy.

Yet, the little Vietnamese Coffee Shops in San Jose are thriving.

What could be the difference?