I know it is July because the sun rises in the alley.
It is possible to write anywhere but it is easier in the places you’ve worn smooth, where you know most intimately the colors of buildings, the procession of faces, the shapes of conversations. It is easier to write where you know the smells.
Last night it finally rained, so the air smells a little fresh, but here are the cafe nothing ever smells completely fresh. I smell the aftershave of the men walking into the cafe and the cigarettes they’ve recently smoked. I catch the scent of the barber’s cigar two doors down. The exhaust of a passing fire truck. I can smell the trees hanging in the humid air. Yesterday’s heat still lingers deep within the concrete sidewalk. I smell the dust in the street.
I definitely smell the cumin that inexplicably made its way so deep into my pumpernickel bagel.
Yesterday, I was having coffee here with my wife. We were both very tired, so we took a few minutes to ourselves to enjoy a coffee and a little breakfast at the cafe. We weren’t saying much and then suddenly we started talking about being tired (which is tiring in and of itself).
“What would you like to do today?” she asked.
I considered her tone, and I realized that if vacation only reminds you of how tired you are, it’s because your vacation isn’t long enough.
I took a deep breath and said, “I want to finish my coffee and then walk down to my studio and work all day on something important.”
She smiled. “At least you’re honest,” she said.
Of course, I no longer have the studio. I gave it up four years ago, nearly to the day.
A Writer Must Feel
I share this jagged bit of memory and prose not because I want to feel nostalgic or to mourn a lost opportunity. Whether in misery or magnificence, the past is always perfect in memory. No, I share this because I want to understand a feeling I’ve had a dozen of times and a writer does not understand a feeling fully until they spend time with their finger in the gears, exploring the sights and the smells and the memories in both the harsh light of realism and the soft focus of idealism and sandwiching it within run on sentences and fragmentary clauses (and parenthetical asides).
To be serious though, it is your duty as a writer to embrace those nostalgic moments and to find out how they work. You need to break down the magic so that you can reproduce the trick. The side effect is that you may develop a habit of destroying memories others may cherish. You may even rid yourself of the capacity for joy. This is something to guard against because you must feel joy just as you must feel anger and fear and love and hate and longing and excitement. You must feel and you must remember, but you must also understand how these things work for in the balance between memory and understanding is your art.
As for myself, yes, I am a very different writer today, but I am always in the process of being a different writer. I am always feeling. I am always writing.