When you guys read my column every week, and I hope you DO, do you ever picture me writing it? Not that I encourage ANY of you to visualize me in any form -- I'm not especially pretty. But I occasionally wonder if there's a stereotype of the hard-at-work columnist.|
I'd like it if you pictured me sitting at an antique mahogany desk in a broad chair with well-worn cushions, looking the part of the intellectual writer, while the smell of stale leather lingers in the air. Or maybe you see me in a noisy fluorescent-lit newsroom, bags under my eyes, running my hands through my hair, desperately trying to beat deadline while fielding calls from Deep Throat and cranky editors.
I just hope none of you pictured the actual reality of my creative process: me in an ill-fitting T-shirt, lying sideways on my living room couch and shoveling pretzels into my mouth while typing the occasional sentence during commercial breaks of "Big Bang Theory." I'm starting to wonder if I truly am THE least cool human being on planet Earth.
I need to get off the couch, wipe off the pretzel crumbs and make a change in my writing process. I say this with both determination and willpower, for three specific reasons: 1. I have absolutely no idea what to write about this week, and a change of scenery could do me some good. 2. I have a wicked backache from lying sideways on the couch last night, and a repeat performance could land me in a back brace. And 3. I have already seen this episode of "Big Bang Theory."
That's why I just packed up my laptop and ventured into the real world. I am typing this from the warm confines of my neighborhood coffeehouse, a place I drive past every day but had yet to walk into, until just now. For the first time in ages, I feel like a real writer.
This place has honest-to-gosh ambience. Stories have happened here, I just know it. The table I'm sitting at has a couple of nice dings in it, and my chair has the slight give that says many a butt have come before me. Great works of literature aren't written during commercial breaks. They're written in places like this. Sitting here with my laptop, I feel ... Important. Creative. Productive. COOL.
Too bad, then, that I still have no idea what to write about. And it's hard to think of anything while I'm trying so desperately hard to look important, creative, productive and cool. Oh, well, good journalists observe, so let's take a look-see at what's around me ...
7:03 p.m.: There's a girl on a laptop working hard on her Pinterest page. From what I can see, her primary Pinterest appears to be "hot supermodels." Or maybe just the stuff the hot supermodels are wearing. Still, she looks deeply concerned about what she's doing. And whatever it is, it currently involves pictures of mascara and Beyonce. I don't have a Pinterest page, and if I did, I doubt anyone would find it Pinteresting.
7:10 p.m.: The waitress -- no, wait, I'm at a coffeehouse, the BARISTA -- just brought me the caramel latte I ordered, and it arrived at my table in a cup that's roughly the size of your average soup bowl. I seriously have NO idea how one's supposed to drink this without a spoon. It has a tiny handle on it that's either for decoration or the hands of a toddler, and while I don't know much about child-rearing, I'm pretty sure you don't start feeding them caramel lattes until they're at least 5 years old, right? For now, it's just going to sit beside my laptop and help me look important, creative, productive and cool. So far, so good.
7:16 p.m.: The couple next to me is studying for a math class. Their life is my recurring adult nightmare. You know when you're in school and studying pre-calculus and you say, "Omigosh, I will NEVER use this in real life"? YOU'RE RIGHT. YOU NEVER WILL.
7:26 p.m.: Omigosh, into the coffeehouse has just walked the rarest of rare breeds: an actual, authentic goth kid. Black hair? Check. Ankh necklace? Check. Trench coat? Check. Bauhaus sticker on his laptop? Check. Where do you even GO to buy a Bauhaus sticker for your laptop these days? Hot Topic? Goths-R-Us? Once upon a time, we were brethren. I wore black, listened to The Cure and hung out in coffee shops trying to look brooding while bemoaning that people misunderstood me. Now I'm one of the people who misunderstands him. Getting old sucks. If this kid knew that I had the entire Bauhaus discography in my iPod, it would shatter his world.
7:37 p.m.: There's a REALLY cute girl sitting by herself on my left. She's not even studying. Just sitting there, sipping coffee and texting on her phone. For all I know, she could be texting "OMG THERE'S A SUPER IMPORTANT CREATIVE PRODUCTIVE & COOL GUY NEXT TO ME. SOOOO DREAMY." I'd better play it safe and act hard-to-get.
7:55 p.m.: I wonder what's on TV? I miss my couch.
7:58 p.m.: Whoa. Goth kid just took it to another level. In my day, you'd wear a Joy Division T-shirt to woo cute goth girls. I never thought about advances in goth technology: As I type, this kid is sitting a couple tables away, earphones in, watching a Joy Division concert on his laptop, which is turned juuuust enough for every passerby to see what he's doing and appreciate just how committed to his gothiness he is. Bravo, my technologically adept friend. That said, only one of us was alive when Joy Division was, and it's NOT you, mopey.
8:04 p.m.: I just realized in the back corner of the coffee shop sits a writer for a rival newspaper, also appearing to be hard at work on some important piece of journalism. Or maybe he just wants to look important, creative, productive and cool, too. Except he's actually typing stuff, though. Hmm. I need to get outta this place.
OK, so maybe I couldn't figure out how to drink my enormous latte, and maybe the Joy Division kid made me feel like the Gothfather. And I left without talking to the cute girl. And shoot, I guess I never DID come up with anything to write about. The mission may have been a failure -- but it was an important, creative, productive and cool failure if there ever was one, so it's fine by me.
In the meantime, I'm back on the couch, finishing this column the only way I (10 minutes of "Big Bang Theory" later) know (10 more minutes of "Big Bang Theory" later) how.
Shane Brown is a columnist for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at http://shanebrown.blogspot.com.