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I’m sitting outside Costa, where I work, drinking an espresso and smoking a cigarette. The espresso tastes like shit and I drink my Pepsi among the books and scrambles in my bag. I smoke the cigarette, like the cigarette, it’s a release, a rush, an outlet, like writing. I’m trying to be cool by drinking the coffee. I’m failing, obviously, I can’t force myself to like it. I won’t be one of those espresso-coffee-addicted writers, unfortunately. I’ve transformed, however, into a further cliché – once a broke student, studying English and living off noodles, now a graduate working in a coffee shop, playing the game, smoking cigarettes, publishing stories, writing at night.
As goes our image – or rather perception – of writers. Tortured beasts, addicted to alcohol and drugs, full of whimsy and imagination, conjuring creations with their gut, their anger, using their addiction, their coffee and cigarettes, their absinthe and hallucinogenic substances to say something. Edgar Allen Poe and Lewis Carroll were addicts, creating stories of Red Queens and Red Deaths, stories of madness and mayhem. Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King tended towards the bottle, writing about addicts and relationships, clowns and fish. Byron and Yates, Carver and Capote. Our perception, love and now cliché of the writer, inspired the TV show, Californication, its lead being a confused, alcohol and drug addicted writer who sleeps with different women and is struggling with his manuscript.
We always see the writer as stuck. Confused in some way – whether it be their manuscript or their lives. The writer, to us, as readers, is an authority figure, they command the characters, create the worlds and, by extension, they’re superior to us. They’re far away, removed, fantastical. Lewis Carroll’s image is plagued with the Caterpillar, whose body curls around his letters of smoke and mutters murmurs of mysteriousness. We know he was a man who took a many few drugs and that inspired his works of Alice and her Wonderland. We know his history is embroiled in secrecy – his paedophilia and mathematical careers perplexing scholars to this day.
Mysterious commanders who sit outside coffee shops. Watching people walk by as they think up characters and sentences, construct, as if music, the words that drum together and dance the story. They smoke their cigarettes or pipes, sip their coffee or whiskey, an extra shot of something else. They’re removed from others, forever in their mind. A coffee shop is an opportunity, stories carved into the teacups, poems riding in fingerprints.
Theories have been developed about the idea of the Writer. As readers, should we address them, factor them into the story? Or should we simply ignore? Of course, writers use parts of themselves, they dig deep and splay it out on the page. The more honest, the rawer the writing, the more rich it becomes, we know this. And the tempestuous, longing, imaginative-riddled person sits at the typewriter slamming down on the keys, those dreams and ideas and fantasies.
I stub out the cigarette and sit in the haze of sunlight, beating the rays down on the pavement. I allow the smoke to fall out of my nostrils, down against my shirt – my name badge, my apron. And at night, as one burns in the ashtray, I slam my fingers against the keys, writing the words, as the grandfathers and mothers of literature did also, with their absinthe, maharani, cocaine, MDMA, Long Island Iced Teas, whiskey, scotch, cigarettes, white powder, meth, acid, coffee, their own personal tweak, our universal perception.
Thomas Stewart is a Columnist for Litro NY and has had his fiction, poetry and essays published at The Stockholm Review, The Cadaverine, Storgy, Vada Magazine, Anomaly, Agenda Broadsheet, among others. His debut poetry pamphlet, 'Creation' is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press. He has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick and a BA in English from the University of South Wales. He enjoys folk music, horror films, suburban fiction, watches, cooking, patterned jumpers and beat poetry. He is afraid of the dark.