Without question, one of the things I most wanted to do when I visited Paris was sit in a cafe and write. Sure, flip through Vogue, too, but mostly journal with a cup of coffee. It’s one of the highlights of almost every day of my life, so an exotic or foreign setting for it when I travel is part of the joy. I’ve gone to spas and found my own little corner of the world. Same with cities. It sets the tone for my day.
So I had a mixed reaction at first when my friend Erin sent along a recent piece by Mark Helprin from the Wall Street Journal titled “Skip the Paris Cafes and Get a Good Pen.”
“Never write in a café, especially in Europe,” Helprin writes. ”… Literary skill, much less greatness, cannot be had with a pose, and exhibitionism extorts the price of failure. Also, have pity on the weary Parisians who have wanted only a citron pressé but have been unable to find a café where every single seat is not occupied by an American publicly carrying on a torrid affair with his moleskin.”
This made me laugh self-consciously, I confess. I once had a guy in my community label the folks working in cafes as ‘posers’ and I flinched. But Helprin goes on to write about the joy of pen to paper, too, and that made me smile a kindred spirit smile. My journaling — actually Morning Pages a la Julia Cameron — is always done in a standard spiral notebook with a very regular Pentel R.S.V.P. black pen.
My day is grounded as that pen hits the lined white pages. I don’t feel the need to be neat. It doesn’t have to make sense. The thoughts don’t have to be related to each other. It’s stream of consciousness which occasionally contains cohesive enough thoughts to get carried over to become the genesis of a column. That isn’t the purpose of the MPs, but it happens a lot in what I call a magical bonus.
But that brings me back to the ‘posers’ thing. I’m not denying there are some in the bunch. However, we now live in a world where Internet access draws a lot of artists (and entrepreneurs and independent contractors and the like) to cafes to work. Why is it more purist or romantic to create at a desk in your home?
As it turns out, I spend a lot of time writing. A lot. It comes in mostly three forms — journal, columns (two a week) and book. If I did all of this writing in my home — much as I love my fabulous glass-topped desk with the cushy red rolling chair — I would go stark raving mad. Trust me.
So the journaling and coffee very often happens at a cafe, the columns and most of my coaching business happens at my gorgeous desk, and the book writing is mostly getting done in a Starbucks. As a former sports writer, I got very used to writing courtside or in a bustling newsroom, so the noise actually helps me concentrate sometimes.
None of these is any more or less noble a pursuit. It’s all just part of the joy of being a freelancer who can write while in crummy sweats at home or be out among actual humans in Starbucks. Even better is if it’s nice outside and I can snag an outdoor table. Makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world, expressing in my own little cocoon while the sun shines and people go about their day around me.
Here, though, Helprin has me full on: “Your most important tools will be your honesty, labor, courage, practice, luck and utter concentration.”
Ah, yes. Let the writers write and get all of the above wherever they can find it.