Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Writing Away From Home

I had laptop envy. It percolated whenever I entered a Starbucks and saw customers at an eensy table, paper cup in midair, a laptop dimming as its owner leaned back in her chair contemplating a next word.

In libraries, when I perused stacks to learn if my memoir was still shelved, and I spotted a laptop owner, eyes right, fingers poised, about to borrow from the open book at her side, I'd grow jealous.

In airport security lines, envy took off once again as I witnessed passengers removing laptops from bags, placing them on conveyor belts, then rushing to meet them on the other side of the security trellis, like lovers reunited after an ocean’s distance.

I already possessed a 17-inch iMac, but now coveted something portable, a companion to carry to coffee shops, libraries, and on my travels. So I ordered myself up a PowerBook G4 and while awaiting its arrival, purchased a variety of bags to carry the laptop and its accessories.

How was it I never noticed the loud music playing in Starbucks? What’s with all that chatter among customers? Multiple cups of coffee require frequent bathroom breaks and bring a dilemma: Leave my little Mac unattended? Ask the stranger at the other table to act as watchdog? Schlep the laptop with me to the Ladies Room?

Libraries are quiet, but coffee is verboten. Even without my caffeine, bathroom visits and stack searches pose the same security problem as noted above.

As for in-flight? One trip with my PowerBook and its plug-ins weighted me down so much, I gratefully flung it on the conveyor belt and regretted it its bulky return on the other end of the guard gate.

So, I permanently installed my laptop on a small table in my bedroom and visit her every day for writing sessions. My coffee cup is at my right, bathrooms are several feet away, and except for my dog's heavy breathing, the room is completely still.

But other scribes, with kinder in the house, or addictions to daytime soaps, or a desire for a community of writers, would do well to investigate Chicago's Uptown Writer's Space. I've asked its owners, Julie Saltzman and Susan McLaughlin Karp to describe their establishment and their own journeys with their writing, and their laptops.

Julie Saltzman (left)
It doesn’t get much better for a laptop then at the Uptown Writer’s Space. First, you get to meet all kinds of other laptops: Dells (poets and novelists), Macs (professors and grad students), IBM’s (tech writers) and even the occasional second-hand Gateway (grad students). Plus, you get access to our secure wi-fi network and free printing. No unsafe trips down the information highway from 4802 N. Broadway, Chicago.

You rest comfortably on the smooth, wooden grain of a sturdy wooden cubicle hand constructed by Chicago Furniture Designer John Lindsay. Or you can sink with your owner into the pillows of the comfy Shabby Chic sofa. Your electronic eyes will bask in the natural sunlight and enjoy the view of some iconic Chicago landmarks including the Broadway Bank Building, The Green Mill, and The Aragon Ballroom.

Your caffeinated, well-fed owner (Uptown Writer’s Space provides coffee, tea, and snacks) treats you with loving-kindness because you allow her or him to escape the clutter of home.
And you fit so smartly and look so swell in that cute messenger bag; unless of course you’re my laptop. You started out all stainless and shiny, but after five long years in the hands of a reckless blonde, your Apple sleekness has been marred with duck tape and dents. Plus, you won’t work unless I prop my “Jesus is my coach” figurine -- a ceramic replica of the savior with two cherubic hockey players, an ironic gift from fellow Jew, Josh Karp -- on top of the faulty power cord socket. (Totems, and other lucky charms, are welcome at Uptown Writer's Space.)

Susan McLaughlin Karp (right)
In 2005, I had a six-month-old baby and soon found working at home with three dogs, three small children, my husband, and a baby sitter fairly challenging. That's when my like-minded friend Julie and I decided to open a writers' space, which would be a great place for us, and others, to write outside our homes.

We rented a suite of offices in Uptown with a beautiful view, we bought handmade desks, and painted the walls and basically tricked everything out to our writerly specifications and opened the space to other writers to enjoy for a small monthly fee.

The first year was amazing, we had about three customers, and I would go every day and sit in this quiet sanctuary and drink jasmine tea and write in my room of my own. It was pure heaven for me, though it gave Julie the willies, because she likes to be busy.

Now we have about 30 writers who regularly use the space, as well as workshops and classes, a reading series, and Thursday movie nights. Happily the business is sustaining itself, if not making Julie and I rich. When I am there, the place is quietly bustling with other writer’s productivity, and the conference room finds two or three folks catching up with each other and having a chat.

This summer of 2008, with a new six-month-old baby, three dogs, four small children, and the babysitter and the husband, I write when I can, where I can. But whenever I need a change of scenery, or a serene spot to compose, I know exactly where to take my laptop. Uptown, of course.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with the novel!
I love that you are writing your blog again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine: I enjoyed this blog. I love the idea of a writing room. It looks inviting.