On The Verge of Productivity.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Every yuppie knows the mural in all of the Barnes & Noble stores; it’s a wall of Anglo authors (and of some random nigga smoking a pipe that looks like the smallest possible saxophone) sitting, looking pensive, unkempt but well dressed. I, too, could become a great writer by drinking wine midday and growing a beard and never getting laid, but fuck that; I must hustle.

Staring into my laptop. I know I shouldn’t be wasting money on the overpriced food they sell at the counters in these paradise neighborhoods, so I’m munching from a box of dense wheat crackers that I brought with me from the apartment. My keyboard is greasy, shiny and gross. Oddly greasy crackers crumbled all across the table.

“Excuse me…”

A white girl just ducked under the table to plug her charger. She’s got high, tight grey shorts; this chick is dressed for spring, but it’s misty and miserable outside today. She’s still wiggling at my knee; a few shreds of wheat shake from the table’s edge down onto the small of her back. I stare back into Microsoft Word.

“Thanks, sorry about that,” she pops up and winds her way back to her side of the café; the backs of her knees wink at me.

Guys can be too horny to write, I think, or I’m too horny to write at least. Rub one out where? Forget it. Facebook. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. I’ve got more than ten tabs open in my browser, and more than half of them are Facebook, which I admit is redundant.

I’ve got to get out of here.


I’m in a bakery now – a bakery café. It’s apparently a slow day, so no girls in cutoffs or other such distractions. I thought they might have internet here as well, but there is none, which is good for me really because I need to “get some writing done.” I say that a lot these days, ever since graduation. Alright, man, I gotta go get some writing done. That’s kid writer talk for: I must go write the next great novel now, but I’ll meet you for coffee at 10am tomorrow.

I’m listening to a This American Life podcast about historically notable pen pals. (“Noriega, it has to be said, was a very good pen pal.”) One of the speakers in the segment, a history nerd ex-speechwriter from the Clinton White House, began with a story about how John Winthrop banished Roger Williams from the Massachusetts colony but then kept up correspondence with Williams as he went off to found Rhode Island. Every month, Williams was like, It’s hard to start a colony, the colonists suck, and Winthrop was like, I know, right?

The segment host is talking about how the conversations of this decade’s younger generations are generally vapid because people communicate freely, so casually, with so little forethought. I think he’s right: in the course of a year, I’ve tweeted a novel’s weight in words with minimal effort or attention to detail. More persistent tweeps have at least outdrafted David Hume by now in sentences-per-lifetime. But who’s editing all of this crap? Back in the day, even God needed editors. Modern grown folks agonize over cover letters, but that’s about it.

On a sharp, bright laptop display, book reads like a dead word. Still, I figure that if I remove myself from the internet entirely – from my blog, from Facebook, from the social media circus – maybe I could write something worth selling instead. I read an item on Gawker about “the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine,” where you can feed all of your web logins to an application that will then lock you out of your accounts – forever. Ten years ago, you’d have had difficulty trying to explain the point of that service, but now hypertext is the great, familiar siren of Western thought.

My own writing is mundane, but it has taken me a few hours to write these several paragraphs, and that’s a sort of discipline, I think. One day, maybe in the near future, my computer will crash, and it won’t matter to anyone else that I’ve spent so much time writing all of this, but it will matter to me because I will have had my chance to vent into this monitor. Everyone needs to vent some way or another.

“Sir, would you like to start with some coffee, or maybe something to eat?”

“Uh, coffee. Can I get a pot of coffee?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.”

Today’s exercise may be a waste of words, and now I’m paying for the privilege to sit around and type them. Barnes and Noble doesn’t mind if you lounge at their stores all day without buying anything, but anywhere else will bully you back out onto the sidewalk. A pot of coffee here at the bakery is fairly cheap, though, and it’ll buy me a couple of hours at a table away from my sister’s living room floor.

“Here’s your coffee, sir…”

Right, no more distractions: I’ve closed my browser and shut off my wireless connection. My nigga Ice Cube is thumping loud, creative hatred through my earphones. Indoors, under dim lights on a rainy day. I’ve got to get some writing done. I think I’ve got a story to tell.

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  • Leigh

    I really enjoyed reading this. If you wanted to keep this story going here, I’d be up for it.

    I often joke that I’m going to have to fly around the US to finish my dissertation, cuz the plane seems to be the only place where I cannot get on-line, and therefore the only place where I can totally focus.

    • RtG

      More and more airlines have wi-fi on board now. They’ll be no place safe soon. ;o)

      • Leigh

        I know! I was secretly trying to pretend that wasn’t true as I was typing my comment. So far, I think most of them are for an extra fee, or not on the airlines I fly on. So so far I’m safe. :)

    • R.A.B.

      Try northeastern Iowa. I couldn’t get internet there to save my life.

  • Alisa

    Your writing makes me smile :-)
    I’m rooting for you!

    • I just looked for the Facebook “like” button to mash.

  • Can somebody explain to the old guy in the room why do people drag their computers to god knows where with a WiFi connection to do “work” when you could be posted up in your house, wearing what you want, drinking your own free coffee, and not distracted by some White chick in tight grey shorts?

    Just askin’? My lab is the garage – it’s got a wireless connection, my dog keeps me company, and when I’m tired of the computer I can stream ChoiceFM out of London and wrench on my motorcycle…

    • R.A.B.

      I do it because when I write at home, I’m either distracted or suffocated by my surroundings. When I go sit in some random place, especially far from my apartment, it’s like a down payment on productivity: I can’t Metro five miles from home just to poke around on Facebook.

  • I’m enjoying reading your work R.A.B. Hope you keep it going.

  • Damn that was great.

  • R.A.B.

    I wrote this mainly to nudge/shame myself into restarting my novel project. Thanks for the comments, fam.

  • I get all my best writing done at 2 in the morning. Any time before that is just a chance for me to screw around.

    • R.A.B.

      Yes! So true…

  • R.

    I enjoyed this very much. Good luck with your novel R.A.B.

    • R.A.B.

      Thanks, mang. Hopefully I’ll finish it right before U.S. employment stats pick back up, lest I be distracted by a real job…