Coffee Shops at Night

I would always do this in Paris (were I to live there) but in Vancouver? A coffee shop at night? To write? But I found one! Here I can drink a sweetened ginger tea and stare at hipsters. Such interesting people! And in between droughts in that activity, I can write.

Writing is so much more magical at night. Words seem meant for each other; ideas seem to fall from someplace important. No sentence is too flimsy at night – it’s emphatic! No character too flat at night – she’s mysterious! I don’t know what I’ve done to my story, tonight, but there is a ghost where there wasn’t before, and my main character changed relationship tactics.

At night, there’s the  concern that one might fall asleep when writing, but also the hope that the series of letters spelled out from a cheek on a keyboard might reveal something worthwhile.



(photo from

I always try and do writerly things when I’m writing (not only when I’m in public), in some attempt at being less inauthentic than I feel. I lay out papers around me, I move too quickly, I twitch. It started (hopefully) as a show, but has become a part of my writing personality. To make it good, I have to be good.


So I don’t know if I’ll drive here every night for $3.50 tea and the admission that I’m not doing anything fun tonight because I brought a computer with me, but I think I’ll come here sometimes, when I haven’t yet eaten a doughnut that day (whoops!) and when I need something different imbued in my text – a ghostly presence, a night feeling.

Being Cool Alone


I always thought it would be neat to be someone who is cool alone. It’s maybe why I write. It’s why I bought I neat glasses. I remember the first meal I ate out alone: it was at lunchtime at a Thai restaurant and I read a newspaper. It was not a big deal, but the start of a learning curve: what does it take to live alone?

It takes a lot of guts. It means going out your door even when you know you might find nothing. It means never telling anyone the full contents of your day. It means making a lot of decisions and then turning back on them. It means getting used to being lonely.

I don’t know why I think living in Paris alone would be easier. It would be so hard, surrounded by such beauty and energy but still feeling on the outskirts of it. I think it’s because I know that Parisians are so cool alone. Do you have to be cold, to be alone?

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

Being alone is a very careful place: the moment you fall into a circle of friends you are no longer doing it. Life becomes easy, swimmable. Being lonely is edgy. It’s being at the brink of having it all, but choosing to stay outside of it, looking in, being comfortable in your selfishness.

I am lonely when I travel; it’s the only real chance I have at trying to live alone. At home I have a family, I have friends. I could never really do it – I know I would always give up. This is the second time I have sent myself somewhere alone. Both times I have given myself fail-safes: a roommate, an aunt and uncle. But sleeping in a room alone in a new city is something. And though right now I’m in my same country, though I speak the language, it’s hard to penetrate, to not be alone.

A lot of the time that I’m with people I’m thinking of the next moment I will be alone: what will I read? What will I write? I don’t know why it drives me, these words flowing in and out, but somehow it’s a big part of what I live for. I fuel up with energy and life from my relationships with others so I can come back to myself and do this writing thing. So loneliness, it has its pay offs and its draw backs. I get to write, yes, I get to write a lot. But what am I writing about?


The Place Where You Are From

Everyone thinks they are not from a place that counts. People think they have to be from New York or Paris to do something. People think they have to go to New York or Paris to do something.

I mean, it’s true, to a certain extent. When I went to Paris, I realized that it’s true. In Paris you feel like you are somewhere where things are happening. You look around and realize that this is a place people make movies and write books about. You think you can’t really be an artist until you move to Paris. You think all artists live in Paris.

Then you read something someone wrote about the place where they are from. And at first you wish you were from that place. Then you realize that everyone is from a place. You are from a place too.

Or maybe you’re from a bunch of places. Even better.

When I first started writing my novel, I based it in Vancouver because that is what I know. I stopped myself at one point and realized that this didn’t feel like a book that could ever be published. I tried to change the setting to San Francisco, or at least somewhere in California.

But maybe I got lazy – I didn’t want to research a place I wasn’t from – and I kept my book in Vancouver. And by doing so I decided I am going to write a Vancouver book. What do I know about Vancouver?

Well, what I know about Vancouver is that I don’t really feel I’m from Vancouver. So I wrote about that. And I realized that the feeling of not being from Vancouver would lead my main character to find where it was she was really from: Cape Breton. This created the main problem of my story: she hadn’t been there yet.

And I knew that she had been on a road trip across Canada. So I told the stories of the places where she stayed a while. I told the story of Lake Louise and the Rockies. I told the story of Moose Jaw, of Saskatchewan. I told the story of the Great Lakes. I told the story of Prince Edward Island. And I told the story of Cape Breton.

I’m still in the process of telling these stories. I’m searching for them, from the land where they take place.

I work with high school students writing their university application essays. They keep wondering what to write about, like they might find the answer in the question, like they might find the answer if they ask it out loud, or if they write down things that are true, aphorisms they’ve heard before. They seem offended, like it’s too simple, when I suggest they write about themselves.

We all think we’re so boring until we try to describe ourselves. We grew out of the land where we were raised; our minds and our hearts did too. It’s only in trying to write the stories that come out of us that we realize we’re any different.

If we all moved to Paris, we’d be great artists, of course, but we’d all be writing something fake, trying to please the others who themselves aren’t from Paris. The stories we love from Paris are from those who have somehow grown up there, who have discovered the place for what it is and have grown it out of themselves. Until I move to Paris and live in it, I won’t be writing my Paris story. I’ll be writing my Vancouver story, my Vancouver story where I dream of the places I might be from.

Changing a Morning Routine

Mornings are difficult because they are so hard to adjust to. You just got to leave the world for five to twelve hours and now you have to go back into it. That is incomparable to most other things. Most things in life aren’t thrown at you after long periods of unconsciousness. Mornings are.

I’ve never been able to change my morning routine. These are the things I would like to do in the morning:

1. Exercise.

2. Eat something healthier than cereal.

3. Write down my dreams

4. Have a coffee at home

5. Watch the news

Thinking about even one of these things in the first few minutes after waking up immediately takes them off the list. I never get any of these things done. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one of these things done without my now remembering that day as a glory moment. It’s easier not to exercise, it’s easier to eat cereal, it’s easier to forget my dreams, it’s easier to buy good coffee elsewhere and it’s easier to forget about the rest of the world. So every morning, the first thing I do is break a promise to myself.

I’ve given up trying, of course, to do any of these things, because I know the person who is going to wake up tomorrow morning and it’s not going to be the same person who lined up her running shoes the night before. The morning person hates that person. The other morning I tossed a coin to decide whether I was allowed to eat cereal. Shocker: I was.

Now, I do hear great things from other people. Someone told me they get up at 4 a.m. and stay in bed with a coffee marking papers before going for a run at 7 with their dogs. Okay, yes, that sounds wonderful in principle. Countless people in Vancouver exercise in the morning. I bet even in Paris people go to coffee shops in the morning. Lots of people go to work early so they can get off early. People even do the crossword in the morning! Why does this all sound so great right now, but so terrible, so incredibly terrible in the morning?

There has only been one time in my life that I had a plane ticket booked to Paris. I remember when my alarm clock rang. I didn’t even want to go anymore.

I think maybe we’re nocturnal? I don’t get it!

Because I’ve lately been quoting Thoreau, I’d like to share what he has to say about mornings:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”

I have never woken up and thought that! Do we all need to build our own cabins on the edges of lakes?

(photo from “Andy the Fly Guy”)

And then, All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

I will end here with that quote, because if all important things in life happen in the morning and in a morning atmosphere, then I am doomed to approach each supposed milestone in my life with the greatest distaste and lethargy. But maybe what Thoreau is saying is that this list I just made up of 5 things I wish I could do in the morning time are actually the most important things. I might be able to see how that makes sense.

Maybe if I were to take the time to change myself in the morning, to not keep waking up a bad person, maybe that’s the most important thing. Because if I could change myself in the morning, then I could change myself for at least the other sixteen hours I am awake, before I fall back unconscious and reset myself for the following horrible morning.

Good luck, me tomorrow morning!

Such a Good One

An excerpt from Adam Gopnik‘s Paris to the Moon

“The hardest thing to convey is how lovely it all is and how the loveliness seems all you need. The ghosts that haunted you in New York or Pittsburgh will haunt you anywhere you go, because they’re your ghosts and the house they haunt is you. But they become disconcerted, shaken confused for a half a minute, and in that moment in December at 4:00 when you’re walking from the bus stop to the rue Saint-Dominique and the lights are twinkling across the river – only twinkling in the bateaux mouches, luring the tourists, but still – … you feel as if you’ve escaped your ghosts if only because, being you, they’re transfixed looking at the lights in the trees on the other bank, too, which they haven’t seen before, either. It’s true you can’t run away from yourself. But we were right: you can run away.”

Love to Hemingway Style

I just read (the foreword of) Carlos Baker’s biography of Hemingway (Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story). I was afraid a biography of Hemingway might dry up the mysterious longing I have for him, the kind that makes me want to keep returning to his standoffish narrators to find out more about him, knowing I never will.

(photo credit The Toronto Star)

Instead, I found this: “The small boy who shouted “Fraid o’nothing” became the man who discovered that there was plenty to fear, including that vast cosmic nothingness which Goya named Nada -Baker

Hemingway in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Placewrites: “What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada.”

I quickly realized something in the foreword to Baker’s Hemingway biography: Baker writes like Hemingway! Or at least he channels the same emotion Hemingway did in his writing. Paula McLain also managed to do this in The Paris Wife, through the character of Hadley. I don’t feel any distaste for these emulations; in fact, I can’t get enough of them. I am obsessed with Hemingway-style writing. Did you hear Corey Stoll inMidnight in Paris? I can’t get enough of the beat.

“The romantic activist, the center and in many ways the originator of his own universe, became the pragmatic moralist whose leading aim was to find out how to live in life, how to last and (having lasted) how to convert a carefully cultivated stoical fortitude into the stuff of which his fictional heroes were made.” –Baker

The Hemingway-like sentence construction “the stuff of,” the “having lasted” in brackets, it all makes me tingle. Did I connect with Hemingway’s writing for the same reasons that everyone else did? Of course. Did I take it and make it my own and try to pretend no one but me had ever read this? Of course I did. That’s what all great art does. I love John Mayer. John Mayer loves me.

“He admired courage and stoical endurance in women as in men, disliked hard backtalk, fishwifely screaming, false accusations, true accusations.”

“He divided all the world into good guys and jerks. With some notable exceptions, he preferred the lower and middle to the upper classes, although his taste in people (again with exceptions) was usually excellent.”

There was the fierce individualist who resisted fad and fashion like the plague, who held that a writer must be an “outlyer” like a gypsy”

Don’t we all wish we could resist the fad and fashion? Why is it so hard to do? Instead we emulate Hemingway. Hemingway is so stylish right now because we want to be stylish too. We want to be the person who started things, who made things simple again, who lived all over the world and did what he pleased and was a jerk but drank it away. We want to be tragic, we want to be the stuff of.

I don’t believe Carlos Baker is one of us, moving to Paris and wearing Hemingway moustaches (I wish I could). He was a contemporary trying his best to channel Hemingway the man. He succeeded at channeling what I know of the man – his writing – or so far his Foreword did, and through him and his prose we get to live a little longer through the words and the life of the man.

(photo from Wikipedia)