23 August 2011

This is good

“This double chocolate praline is so good. It tastes as if somebody who was eating only chocolate their whole life released their bowels, and what came out was made into the chocolate filling. So good. Are you guys travelling in Amsterdam for the first time?”

A burly, bold, bespectacled guy and his four female companions are seated in the furthest corner of the room, but I can hear his every American-accented word.

I am in a café. Its roomy interior comprised by dark wood panels and light brown watercolors on the walls, smooth and polished dark wooden floors, sturdy dark wooden furniture, sizeable windows and mirrors, and high ceilings are conducive to sitting still. This place has a feel of a railway station café, the kind one would find, I imagine, in a big city back in the dawn of the twentieth century, travelers poring over their newspapers, still crisp from the press and odorous of ink, and sipping on drinks in their wait for a train bound for the new and unknown, or, contrary, back to the familiar and predictable.

Given the early afternoon hour it’s still non-crowded inside. I’m here to write. Usually I write in the privacy of my home. There is no definite reason why. Maybe because the prime time to write for me is in the morning when my mind has not yet exhausted me with dubious worries and fears about the nascent day, so instead of going elsewhere in the early hours I choose to stay put and write in quiet. To write home is also convenient, because in case self-deprecating thoughts start bulldozing over me, I’m within an arm’s reach from a jar of Nutella, and, let me tell you, there is no such thought that a spoonful of the sweet, silky hazelnut spread cannot cover up for me, if only temporarily. But somehow today is different; I haven’t practiced writing in days and I wanted to venture out to start to again.

“How about some coffee before we go, guys?”, the man across the room addresses his acquaintances as a waiter dressed in black and white has come up to take their new order.

This person is annoying me. I suppress an urge to stand up and ask him out loud why on earth he is talking so raucously. Doesn’t he see I can’t focus because of him? Yeah, go and blame that guy; it’s his fault you can’t write, that’s right.

I’m thinking about what Molly Wizenberg said recently about her writing process (such a great post!). She compared it to entering the dark cave, “the cave where the story is”. To get there is a scary, even painful undertaking. Yet, tiptoeing around that cave will only make us lynch ourselves all along for avoiding it. There is no other way but in. Unlike Molly, I am not writing a book. Not yet. For me it’s not the story that is in the cave, it’s the writing practice itself. I’m terrified by it. I’m terrified by how vulnerable, almost naked writing makes me feel. I’m afraid to fail at it, to seem inadequate and worthless. Through turning my vitals inside out, it's teaching me to believe -- in myself and in the process.

Ironically, though, non-writing is even worse. Last fall I used to work in my bakery five days a week, from Wednesday to Sunday, non-stop, Monday and Tuesday being recuperation days. Pledging to myself everyday that I would write after grueling working hours, I would go home only to find myself able to do one thing: to sleep. That undid me. I reached for Nutella more often than if I did when writing. That undid me too.

“One Irish coffee and four cappuccinos, please.”

Growing up I didn’t think I would want to write. Until the age of twenty four when I started this blog, I hadn’t touched writing. Turning to the ilk of Tolstoy, or Chekhov, or Shakespeare (in translation) as a teenager, I stood in awe of those mighty writers: Their works are great, they are Cyclopean. Feeling belittled by their genius, page after page, I was rock-solid sure one can’t be a writer unless one is like them. I am not a Tolstoy, or a Chekhov, or a Shakespeare. Nobody would ever give me permission to write. My good school friend used to dabble in writing, more for fun than anything, and secretly I felt jealous that she had the courage and audacity to reach for a pen. She could also bake some mean sponge cake since she was ten or something. I felt jealous of that as well.

If writing makes such an impact on you, this is where you belong then, said Anthony after I’d confided my fears to him. He also added that he feels the same about his graphic designs. But he also conceded that if a blank page on the computer screen wouldn’t scare him, he wouldn’t get excited about the creative process in the first place.

A new customer has come in. He is seated a few tables away to the left from me. Waiting for his order, he plunged deep into a newspaper, his hand perched upon his grey hair.

Why do I want to write? I like words. I like (telling) stories. Why do I write in English if it’s not my mother tongue? It’s an intellectual challenge. I like challenges. English doesn’t ground me in its strict grid. This is good. I like it too. Besides, maybe deep down I’m not quite content with being Russian and all that comes with it -- except my family, the brilliant short-story writer Anton Chekhov, and some food -- and I am just escaping. Perhaps that, too.

A waitress uploaded a tall glass of white wine and a platter of charcuterie, some cured meat rolled in a cigarette shape, some cut into rounds and fanned out, from her black tray onto the man’s table. Not turning his gaze from the newspaper, he is reaching for the glass first, and then for a thin medallion of sausage.

He doesn’t notice how the light pours into his wine the color of hay, making it sparkle like a crystal. He is not looking at his food. I am. And I am writing about it. I am writing because as Dayna Macy said in Ravenous: “sometimes there are promises you make to yourself that you have to keep, because if you didn’t, life would be too dispiriting”.


Gio said...

Great post! I really enjoyed reading it.

anya said...

Giovanna, is it you? Hello there, and THANK you!!

J said...

I'll never think about praline in the same way again!

anya said...

Is it good or bad, J? :) I feel such comparison was made with reference to that revered type of coffee "harvested" in Asia called Kopi Luwak or civet coffee. The Asian Palm Civet grazes on nothing else but coffee beans, turning out the poo that's then turned into the most expensive, and aromatic (no double meaning!), coffee in the world.

J said...

Well, it was bad.

However now I have learned about civet coffee, something completely new to me I suppose because it's something from the Dutch colonies.
I thought you were probably joking until I checked wiki-P.
The story goes that the Dutch colonists wouldn't let the locals eat the coffee from the plantation, but when the peasants noticed that civets poo whole coffee beans a great discovery was made.
Now it's harvested by virgins who lure the civet out from the forest by playing a special flute on the night of the full moon, when they jump out and hit the civet with a special sacred stick to make it let one out.
No, I made that up, but it sounds good.

anya said...

The made-up part is priceless, J! :)

I get a weird sense of comfort from the fact that the humankind's love for good coffee would stretch as far as into the civet's bowels...