THE BARTENDER KNOWS #24
I write at bars.
Now, those who know me aren’t going to find this specific confession shocking. There is a long and storied history of scribes tooling away at their ink in local watering holes. Certain names come to mind: Dylan Thomas. Brendan Behan. James Joyce. C.S. Lewis. Ernest Hemingway; the list goes on and on. (NOTE: You can go ahead and add Matthew D’Abate to that list).
Over the years, however, I was asked the question…“why do you write at bars?” That, on the surface, is a mildly loaded question (which we will address momentarily). When proposed with good intentions, it deserves a proper answer. So here it is.
Like any idiot youth, I started writing at the cafes. This was all before Starbucks and the “coffee revolution” in the 90’s (that’s the 1990’s to you, pal). I must have read somewhere that certain literary heroes of mine wrote in Parisian and British cafes—so in an act of camaraderie, I decided to follow suit. Maybe I thought it would lend itself to some sort of tangential inspiration. Turns out, it just made me a raging drunk (although a highly creative one). Funny enough, I turned out a wild array of product. I had a great system. Go to a bar or a cafe, get a bit tipsy and write the rough draft of a new project. Then, intoxicated by the spirit of creativity (and libations), land at a local dive bar to continue the process of putting pen to paper, sometimes to a degree that my mind travelled to all corners of the creative universe.
The next day — the real work appeared. I would examine all of the bizarre scribblings from the night before. The secret was to print out the literary detritus, edit it sober with a strong coffee and dial it all into a computer. I would then print out the work and boom — new material. Then I would take that printed material back to the bar and rinse and repeat. Continue this quite lonely technique and one would have a very decent second draft. That’s how real writing is done.
I would only confess these matters to a person (like yourself) if they asked in a genuine way. But to repeat: there are others who ask questions to a writer writing at a bar with less than curious intentions. What are these intentions, you may ask? Dear reader, I must admit, I think some people hate writers. And if they don’t hate them — they are confused by them. I have faced a ridiculous amount of condescension, scorn, and even distain from people who saddle up next to me while I’m scribbling away — perfectly minding my own business, and ask — “oh, why are you writing at a bar?” I’ll repeat. Genuine curiosity is awesome. I’m curious about everything. But usually there’s a tone there…something lurking behind the question.
I’ve heard derision, insults, and mockery at my attentiveness to writing stories in public. For those that do not know, allow me to illuminate you — the hate IS real. Here’s three of the most irritating questions (spoken with foul or demeaning intentions) asked of us damned souls that God chose to be laborers of the pen.
“Why don’t you write at home?” (we’ve already talked about that — see above).
“Are you writing about all of us?” (This has to be one of my favorites. Technically, it’s not all that bad of a question. But folks, trust me, writers aren’t studio painters. We’re not conducting a ‘life drawing class’ with words. We’re probably editing or focusing on some story we have already had in mind. But thanks for the arrogance, though — as if we’d actually write about your life. What the hell am I supposed to write about you? That you drink 4 beverages and try to sleep with some less than par person in the grim hope you’ll find love at a Brooklyn bar at 3:30am? Or perhaps tragically avoiding the vacant space that was carved out of your own soul when you abandoned your dreams somewhere in your mid-twenties and decided to live your life in the most traditional, mini-mall spirited, vacantly shopping for nothing at IKEA life style — hoping that it will all mean something when you lie on your death bed surrounded by family members who are busy scrolling on their cell phones for the cheapest plane tickets to fly back to their own suburban future banality? Is that what you mean? I’m just checking.
“So, like, are you a real writer?” (My FAVORITE QUESTION — if ‘favorite’ meant which cancer would I like to suffer from next. I will address this issue in two portions. I like lists.)
REAL WRITER. What does that even fucking mean? Do you ask a chef, a cop, a teacher, a lawyer, a plumber, or a nurse this question? What does that mean: a real writer? I know what they mean. They mean, in the most American of ways: do you make money writing? Isn’t that kind of a gross question? I mean, I don’t go around meeting people and lead with the question: “yeah, but, how much money do you really make doing that?”
I would NEVER broach that question to a stranger. Jeez — thems fightin’ words. But mathematics hasn’t invented the number of how many times I’ve been asked this question. It’s disgusting and wildly discrediting.
This part goes out to the actual writers and dreamers out there. Write because you have to. It doesn’t make a difference if you make a dollar a word or sell a TV show to Netflix. It doesn’t matter if you have to drive a truck or wait tables to do so. A writer is a writer if they write. Just like a plumber. If you fix toilets, for whatever price you charge your client or customer, you are a plumber. REMEMBER THAT. If you take time out of your day and craft a story from start to finish, you’re a goddamn writer.
So what’s my final say on this writing at bars issue?
- If you see a writer at a bar writing, buy them a drink. If they have a moment and your being genuine, they will answer your questions for you. If you’re a douche bag, move on to your awesome, uncreative life. Leave the rest of us who seek beauty and adventure in our lives alone.
- If you’re a writer at a bar — keep it up and buy yourself a drink. Maybe one day you’ll start writing about writing in bars just like me.
Until next week, happy drinking.