On Finding New Places to Write
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 23:03
About halfway through Spring Break, I got the itch—the one that tells me it’s time get the hell out of Jersey.
Listen, I love my home state, but one can only take so many trips to the local diner and watch so many middle-aged Italian moms with oversized sunglasses gossip about how skinny Nicky’s daughter got now that she started dating that Antonio from the next town over and that they better call Roseanne about it later.
See, that never really happens, but once you start imagining that it does, it’s time for a change of scenery. In other words, once a place starts looking like its stereotype, you need to take a look at something else.
In my world, that means finding a decent place to write.
And so I decided to jump on an NJ Transit bus to New York City in search of the Hungarian Pastry Shop.
While this destination seems initially insignificant, I decided to visit because of author Julie Otsuka’s appearance at Emerson College, where I heard her reference the Hungarian Pastry Shop as the place where she wrote most of her two novels. It is near Columbia University, where Otsuka was a graduate student. It is not overly common for authors to reveal where they write, and so the art of finding a place that works for you is truly an individual one. I figured that if two acclaimed novels had been produced within the pastry shops walls, however, I might enjoy the chance to sit in Otsuka’s seat and write for a little while.
Lord knows I tried to figure out the subway to make my way uptown—I really did, but I eventually caved and hailed a cab. New Yorkers, forgive me.
By the time I finally made it uptown to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, it seemed that everyone had wanted to see where Julie Otsuka writes her work, because the place was packed. It actually did not occur to me until later that maybe the people were there for the pastries. (Because, you know, that’s not obvious.)
After grabbing a cup of coffee and finally squeezing myself down into a table, I realized I had no idea as to why Otsuka would choose this as her place to write. Granted, the lighting from the wall lights was pretty good and there were plenty of people to watch, but it was hot as hell in there. According to Otsuka, however, there are free refills and no distracting Wi-Fi. Perhaps on a cooler, less crowded week day, it would be just right for a writer.
But not that day. I got out of there pretty quickly, feeling a little disappointed. (I know, it was shocking to me as well that I had not managed to write the next Great American Novel.)
On a visit of mine to Boston’s Brattle Book Shop two weeks ago, I told myself that I often visited Boston so as to become more familiar with it, as I had always been told to write what I know.
Perhaps, then, I should not have gone to New York City to write, because I do not know it. I may have been better off sitting in my local Jersey diner to write while observing the familiar gossiping mothers.
Julie Otsuka, not surprisingly, may be wiser than I. I like to think that she chooses to write where she does because it is just down the road from her alma mater—it is what she knows.
And so I choose now to gain some wisdom from a younger version of myself, a boy in a New Jersey middle school who would write underneath a tree in his backyard, completely unafraid to write near to his roots.
As I write this column now on a train, a thousand locations flashing past the window, I am confident that I will have a place to write when I return to Boston, too.