The Perfect Environment
I’d like to begin by saying that I know the word “coffee house” is actually one word (“coffeehouse”), but I don’t give a shit. It looks too weird that way. I’m splitting it up. Deal with it.
Last weekend I truly could not get my act together and write. I ended up going to a local coffee house to get away from the apartment and stop trying to do stupid shit like work on our Halloween costumes three weeks in advance instead of writing the two or three chapters that are missing from my book. I had these dreams of being like Vonnegut or Hemingway, sitting in a little quiet cafe with the sun shining and inspiration just flowing through me like an electric charge.
That’s not really what happened. I wasted a lot of my morning trying to find this random beauty shop that had a conditioner that I wanted to try. Basically, I ended up running back and forth across the busy avenue like Frogger, dodging cars and freaking out. I eventually called Ralph to give me directions and that’s when I realized that I walked a mile in the wrong direction entirely. I ended up getting to the coffee house all sweaty and stressed, bearing my over-priced conditioner (I would later discover that the conditioner works the same way on my hair as a bottle of VO5 and was not worth nearly getting murdered by Main Line drivers to get).
I went to my favorite place. There are several independent coffee shops in our area but I like this one the best because it has yellow walls and lost of sunlight, which i find soothing. A lot of coffee places are really dark, even during the day. i don’t understand why, because people are there to drink coffee, not have sex with each other. Or maybe they are there to have random, dirty coffee related sex with each other. I feel like it would be super fast if that were the case. Anyway, the only space left was an uncomfortable booth that shook when I wrote. The music was loud Motown, which I love, but I sure as hell can’t write to it. I was forced to put my ear buds in and pump Midlake through as loud as possible, however an occasional, “Whatchu want?! Baby I got it!” filtered through and really broke my concentration.
The place was full of loud, laughing people and I quickly realized when I pulled out my enormous manuscript that I was basically a zoo animal. A writer? Writing in a coffee house? Using an actual pen and paper? Maybe I was just imagining it, but I felt like I was being stared at a lot.
The coffee was so strong that after two cups I felt my eyelashes growing, but I felt guilty not buying more and still sitting there. I kept wondering if I should put more money in the parking meter and thinking about what I should pick up for dinner on the way home. I did eventually begin scrawling out some stuff. After two hours I had to pee something fierce and I took it as a sign to stop. I went upstairs and the bathroom smelled worse than any I’ve ever been in (I realized when I walked out that it was because I was in the men’s room), and that’s saying something since I’ve spent time in some questionable parts of Philadelphia, and I actually once walked into the bathroom at the train station and found a 450 lb homeless woman was taking a shit with the door to her stall open because she was too fat to close it. Things that scar you for life.
On the topic of men’s rooms, I’m pretty sure that men think a public toilet is just a symbol or concept, and it’s okay to just pee all over the walls of any room that it happens to be in. It either has to be that or their pee just smells way worse than girl pee. However, like math, I think pee is the same for every gender and country.
Anyway, when I went back to my spot I thought, “Surely two hours of writing will have gotten me far.” I had two handwritten pages. Which would probably turn into about one typed page.
This is why being an artist can be completely insufferable. You feel in your bones that if you don’t create something then your life was not lived to its fullest potential, but at the same time that doesn’t mean that creating is not a second job. It’s actually really fucking hard, and any artist who tells you that it isn’t most likely is making a shit ton of money and gets to stay at home and work on their craft.
The fact that I need the perfect environment is the worst. I’ve seen Ralph write a fantastic song while he is literally on the toilet. His studio looks like a nerdy tornado ran through it and left behind rare instruments, weird electronics, and all the paperwork that they throw away at the end of Hoarders episodes. Sometimes there is so much garbage and so many cardboard boxes blocking the door that I don’t even know that he’s in the apartment until he comes up behind me later and scares the shit out of me. Ralph moves around like a cat.
I, on the other hand, can talk myself out of writing if even the slightest thing is out of place. My desk is in our bedroom, so the bed needs to be made, all of the laundry has to be done, everything on the desk needs to be organized, the rest of the place has to be picked up, all of the errands should have already been run, etc. Is it any wonder that my book has taken me four years to write so far?
I also need other things like comfy clothes, the right temperature, smelly candles that smell like whatever season I’m in—that’s right, don’t give me a fucking tulip candle if it’s October! Get some country apple or pumpkin up in here. I need the right lighting. No distractions. I went through a phase in college where I thought I could only write with a 1920s style blue feathered hat on, but then someone stole it and I realized that was not the case at all. In case you think that’s unusual, one of my professors told me that her friend wrote pirate romances while wearing black lingerie and drinking whiskey. A lot of writers are particular about their writing spaces.
That’s how I ended up at the coffee house, even though it was a sub par environment. Sadly, Ralph, my little constantly creating monkey, is the ultimate distraction. His sleep schedule is completely wonky, so he could either be dead asleep at 3 am or up writing a masterpiece. I literally never know when he’s going to go to bed or wake up, which means Ralph is often snoring in my studio when I want to be writing. If this is the case I tend to bundle up and sit on the balcony, but my coffee gets too cold too quickly out there, and the little Indian kids like to stand below it and stare at me, which creeps me out. Get a PS3 and go back inside. It’s 8:00 in the morning.
There are a few glorious times when we are both working in opposite ends of the apartment and I can get a lot of work done all at once. But even then, Ralph regularly breaks my concentration by needing me to listen to what he just wrote, asking me if I want nachos, and his all time classic move—the kiss and hug break.
I almost feel bad saying this, but if Ralph knows I’m in the apartment working, he feels the need to stop me every ten minutes or so for a kiss or a hug and then he goes back to work. This sounds really sweet and romantic, but I’m a bitch so it makes me crazy. When I’m creating I don’t like anyone to see my work. In the past, if someone walked in on me painting I would literally paint over the canvas sometimes and start over. Or I would get out of the mood I was in and not be able to pick it back up again for a while. You know how a cat is really private about shitting in its litter pan and it doesn’t like you to look at it? What Ralph is doing is like trying to kiss a cat while it’s trying to shit in its litter pan in peace. That cat is going to bite you.
The worst part is that if I tell him not to bother me he gets these horribly huge puppy dog eyes and trudges back to his studio with a broken heart and I feel fucking terrible and can’t work. Then, ten minutes later, right on schedule, he comes in and says, “I know you said not to kiss you but just one last time!” He’s literally the sweetest person in the world, so I doubt he understand my Sylvia Plath-ian need for privacy. Maybe that’s a bad reference because I kind of hate Sylvia Plath. I was just trying to think of who else would be dramatic, bitchy and need to be alone a lot.
A kiss break. How can you turn something like that down? You can’t. So I could be a heartless bitch with a finished novel or I could be me, constantly stuck in a universe that is not to writing, with a brain that is always looking for a reason not to write.
When I was growing up, my parents were so supportive. I always had my own private space to escape to, which is weird because my house never even had locks on the bathroom doors, so you would think that privacy would be rare. I poop at record speed now because nothing makes you hurry up a bowel movement like the thought that at any minute your Dad may accidentally walk in on you.
Even when I was really too young to be taken seriously, if I told them I was creating they respected that as if I were a tiny Mark Twain working away in my lavender colored bedroom full of porcelain dolls. One time, when I was about fifteen or sixteen, I disappeared for three days to work on short stories and I don’t remember a single soul bothering me. It’s a shame that I was too young to write anything actually good at that point and all I got out was a bunch of meta crap and some terrible story where catching butterflies was a metaphor for masturbation.
How my free youth was squandered.
I’m not trying to say that Ralph hasn’t done everything in his power to help me be creative, because he definitely has. If there’s anything that I need, he’s on it. I have enough Moleskin notebooks to get me through an apocalypse. I have the best art supplies ever used by someone who regularly draws gay anthropomorphic French fries and penguins. He has even cleaned up the apartment on occasion so that I can take that concern out of my brain and make room for creativity. He’s just a sweet, lovable guy who needs a kiss break.
More than anything I want to be a person who doesn’t feel the need to do anything at all creatively. I want to be a person who only cares about their day job and watching the Home Shopping Network. I want to be the type of person who has the time to reorganize their closet for fun. But I’m not. As I once horribly wrote in those young days, “I’m the type of person who is pregnant with a book and until I get it out I’m going to be severely uncomfortable.” Ahh, a fucking poet, I was.
I am so dead jelly of Ralph. I see him get a look in his eye and then he disappears for three hours and emerges smelling a little musty, not knowing what day it is, and bearing a new incredible song that he wrote. Instead of using that three hours wisely myself, I’m usually looking for the perfect earrings to wear to a wedding that’s two weeks away or trying out a new meatloaf recipe, all the while drowning out the little voice in the back of my head that says, “You should be writing!!”
But, maybe it’s only fair that Ralph gets so lucky with creating in any place because I have never seen anything harder to produce than music. I once painted billboard sized community art and that was easier than making professional music. In fact, I think making a sculpture out of live bald eagles and feral cats would actually still be easier than making music.
It could just be because it’s not my craft that it seems so hard to me. I mean, I can play guitar but being in a band is a totally different thing. By “play guitar” I mean my Dad bought me a really expensive guitar when I was thirteen and I filled a composition book full of Christian folk songs that I wrote using only fifteen chords total. They were so bad even Jesus hated them.
Over the past few years I have really gotten to see what having a band is like. Ralph’s band in college was excellent, but then they all graduated and went their separate ways, leaving him a solo act. I want nothing more than to be a solo act, but Ralph is a band kind of guy so for a long time he searched for band mates on Craig’s list, while I researched people who got murdered by meeting people from Craig’s list.
A band has to be a mix of people when are talented and also not egotistical assholes. If they can be your friends, too, that’s amazing but that’s not always possible. They have to be within driving distance from you, with the time to practice. Honestly, the mere thought of organizing a band just freaks me the fuck out and makes me want to escape into a little hole and paint by myself.
For a while I was really worried that Ralph would never find the right mix of people, but then his old friend (a guy who was actually in our wedding that’s how much we like him), happened to move back to the area. He’s also the best bass player I have ever heard in real life. Then Ralph somehow came across a fantastic drummer who I don’t know very well, but he has a green glittery drum set that reminds me of The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, which makes him more than okay in my book. This was really all pure luck. But that’s just like a third of it, because the songs still have to be learned and recorded and then the have to be able to play them live.
You may be wondering why I’m writing about all of this, but I happen to be sitting in a recording studio right now with the sound guy while Ralph’s band plays and records two of his songs. They seem to be having fun, but I’m stressed out enough to start smoking again and I’ve already taken enough pain killers to relax a horse.
I can’t figure out how Ralph has the big, hairy balls to be creative in front of a bunch of other people. Also, he has the patience. I feel like I really can’t complain about being a writer anymore, because if I weren’t such a weirdo I could write almost any time, and it took us two hours and nineteen minutes just to set up all of the instruments and do the the sound check. The equivalent of that would be if it took me over two hours to find the right pen. I would just give the fuck up.
And yet, here they all are— drinking the coffee that I brought them that has long gone cold and laughing while they play the same song for the sixth time. I am in awe of these people. And when I compare myself to them with their patience and stamina I realize that by comparison I am a complete and total pussy. Which I guess fits my cat in the litter pan analogy. I like coming full circle.
I guess if I could sum this all up I would say that being a writer and an artist is hard, but I would never want to be a musician. And when Ralph calls me a machine because I’ve painted ten cartoons in one long afternoon, I’m sure that he’s also wondering how I’m able to paint for hours without so much as a pee break. Maybe when you love something enough, it makes it a little bit easier. I complain about writing a lot, but when I hear from someone that my post made them laugh or when I read a passage from my book and feel truly proud then it really is worth all of the pain of writing and the time.
As a side note, being in the sound booth is really fun and the compulsion to touch one of the millions of buttons in front of me or scream, “More cow bell!” is overwhelming. But I’m no Yoko Ono, so I’ll just keep my trap shut and let the guys do their thing. I’m more than happy to sit back, relax, and for once really relish the fact that I am a writer and not a piano player. Or bald eagle/feral cat sculptor. Then again, aren’t we all happy to not feel the urge to sculpt with animals?
In case you missed it, this blog now updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—so I’ll be back on Wednesday with a cartoon that is not approved by vegans. See you then!