I went to the bookstore to write today. I never do that, but there’s a coffee bar inside and being surrounded by words seemed like it would be great inspiration. I wandered around the shelves for a bit, ending near the graphic novels and comics, as usual. Buying books is overwhelming to me. You can never be sure if you’re going to get a good one, or a dud. There are so many books now, too. The choices abound and it makes me anxious. Sometimes I’ll leaf through a biography, read the jacket, see if I know the author and walk around with it in my hand for a while. Nine and a half times out of ten I put the book back and don’t buy anything. What if it isn’t good?
Ending my walks by the graphic novels is my routine because I know the characters. It’s familiar, it’s easy, and it helps to know that I’m at least investing twenty bucks in something that will keep me reasonably entertained for a while. Of course even then I tell myself I could just see if my local library has it so I don’t have to buy it. Then I think of the collection at the library, which I almost know by heart, and shrug because I know there’s not much to choose from.
I walked through my routine a little faster this time. It gets faster each time I go. I’m proud of myself for not splurging and indulging myself in things that a tiny part of my brain knows I don’t need. So I made my way to the coffee bar and got a venti, sugar-filled drink. The granola bars were on sale, so I got three.
Almost every seat was taken, so I ended up by the window. I sat down next to an old man that had on a light tan jacket. He had yellow notepads in front of him and a folder that looked like it had been used over, and over, and over again. I pulled out my laptop to begin writing a story that had been in my head for a short time. It’s about a dive bar, and will have something to do with a bad guy doing the right thing that still ends up being a bad thing in “the eyes of the law”.
Two pages into that story I couldn’t help myself, and I glanced at the notepads in front of the man next to me. It was poetry. The word “cancer” was in one of the lines. I loved the way he would write for a time and then put his pen down to sip his espresso. He would stare out the window and I could hear him breath, quietly and gently. He was pensive, but not afraid. The cancer probably wasn’t his, but I’m guessing it might have been his wife’s.
For a moment I considered letting him read my first two pages, something I never do, even for my closest friends and family. Something told me that he would give me some great feedback. But then I started thinking about what I’m like when I write. I can’t stand to be interrupted for fear of losing the flow. Then I thought, I wish I could write with a pen and you could still read it. Instead I have to type it. That way I don’t lose my own thoughts.
The man started to get out of his chair and I was worried I’d disturbed his flow, just by sitting next to him. But he was just going to get another espresso, and he came back to sit next to me again. This time, he wrote faster, with fewer breaks. I know that feeling, when it all seems to click and you have to paste it all together in your head and scribble it out before it disappears forever. His presence was calm, and inspiring.
There we were, two writers sitting next to each other, not saying a word. And yet I felt compelled to acknowledge him, to let him know that I could see him. But my fear kept me at bay, because I know what I’m like when I write. So I went back to my dirty, gritty story that may or may not turn out to be good. I hope the cancer wasn’t his.