A Portrait of the Artist at Lunch

I approach the orange umbrellas and high tables. I pick the middle table, where I know the sun will eventually slide, plop my backpack and my purse onto a neighboring chair, and wriggle awkwardly into my own seat.

I open my laptop. Stare at the group of men vaping across the grass lawn. Wow, I reflect. I really don’t want to be here right now.

The WiFi here is public and doesn’t require a password, so I turn it off on my laptop and watch my email blink angrily at me.

Not connected. Connecting in 3:01…

I don my noise cancelling headphones and start up a playlist. Today, it’s Skyrim. I let the ethereal music pull me away from the bright blue sky of Southern California (and the pop music blaring from the speakers to my left. Seriously, why do public places feel the need to constantly fill a perfectly good silence with music? This is a major Point of Contention in my life).

The sun has moved just enough to start warming my left shoulder and cast a glare onto my laptop screen. I glory in it, soaking in as much heat as possible before I have to return to the chilly office fourteen stories up.

And I write. Sometimes grudgingly, oftentimes with the sense of a chore to be finished. Hit 300 words and then you can read, or watch a stupid YouTube video, or listen to a podcast. And very rarely, with the exhilarating swiftness and ease of running downhill.

Very, very rarely.

This hour in the middle of my day is the time I’ve chosen to set aside to write. I’m not an early riser, and as much as I would love to bang out my word count before 7:00, it’s not going to happen. I’m not a night owl, either—last night I stayed up till 11:30, lost in a book, and I’m paying for it today.

So, not an early bird or a night owl, but something in between. Maybe one of the sparrows or the crows that flit around my table and dart between the proud palm trees.

An afternoon sparrow? A midday crow? Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

I stop typing, brush my hair out of my face from where the wind’s blown it. The sun is warming both shoulders now, burnishing everything yellow. My feet are bare—I’ve kicked my shoes off—and my toes rest on the sun-warmed metal rung of the high chair. The soles of my feet glow with heat. When’s the last time the soles of your feet saw the sun? I highly recommend it.

(Parenthetically, October in Southern California is a blessing.)

It’s 1:22. Almost halfway done. If I squeeze out a few more sentences, I can read for the rest of my break.

I no longer hear the music streaming through my headphones. It’s background noise, dulled by the vision in my head of the scene, the characters, the far-away land.

With a final motion, I highlight the words I’ve written today. 413. Pleased, I sit back in my chair and pick up my Kindle.

This is how books are written: 300 words at a time, squeezed in wherever you can. There’s no gloomy, romantic attic or isolated tower where authors go to hide (but if you know of one, hit me up). They write in the margins, when they don’t want to, as often as they can.

And they keep going.

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