A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood



One of the things I’ve learned to love in Seattle is a sunny day.  It’s not that they’re exactly rare here (Indiana has its fair share of grey), but when the sun is out like it was today, it’s a celebration and I don’t want to ignore it on the off chance that I won’t see it again until May.


Since I had an errand to run near Z’s campus, I decided to make an afternoon of it. I loaded my bag with a book of Lopate essays, my laptop, and my camera, and headed to a picnic table under a maple tree within sight of my beloved dog green.  Z came out of his office to give me a kiss before heading off to his class, which was also a bonus. I held my face up to the sky and I swear I could feel the Vitamin D going right into my pores. (This is not something you will ever see me doing when the temperature is above 65, by the way.)


Before I had a chance to pop open my laptop, an older guy ambled toward me. He was carrying a paper coffee cup and a reusable grocery bag, and because the sun was in my eyes, I had no idea how to categorize him: should I smile or gather my belongings and find another spot. Before I could suss him out,  he said, “Do you mind if I share this space. I’m a writer. I won’t talk to you.”


I could hardly say no to a writer who promised not to speak. Fortunately, it was a day when I was feeling great love for Seattle and all its people and not one of the days when I want to scream at passersby, In the name of all that is holy, can I not have two quiet square feet to myself for fifteen minutes? Because it was a good day, I sat beside this stranger and wrote. I tapped words into my computer and he scrawled out pages in a dark script on a steno pad. I wasn’t tempted to look surreptitiously at what he was writing, though I did glance at him out of the corner of my eye when I heard him reading what he’d written under his breath.


Some of my more extroverted writer friends have writing partners, people with whom they get together on a regular basis and sit for a couple of hours working on novels. I’ve never understood. In general, any sort of human distraction is deadly to me. I can’t imagine getting together with a friend and not spending the designated time talking about writing instead of doing the actual work. The only reason I can write with Z is because he has this willpower and focus that doesn’t allow for interruptions or distractions. (Such an annoying trait when you yourself want to goof off.)


It was a bit of a surprise when I looked up from my laptop and it was almost two hours later.  Because this complete stranger had been sitting beside me, it hadn’t occurred to me to waste time in all the ways I usually do. There was no internet surfing. No staring at the dogs. No watching passersby and guessing what their lives were like. I put my head down and I wrote. (Though it was impossible to ignore a squirrel with its mouth full of orange maple leaves that stopped a foot away from me and stared.)


The sun had started to go down and it was too cool to comfortably sit still and write anymore. Z would be coming along soon and there was a particularly bossy corgi on the green that I wanted to see up close. I packed up my stuff and the man said, “It’s been a pleasure writing with you. You’re an excellent writing partner.” I commented on his handwritten drafts and my need for the keys clicking under my fingers. He told me to have a good evening. The end. Perhaps I am capable of getting together with someone and writing so long as he or she is a total stranger. Before you know it, I’ll be writing in coffee houses just like a bad Seattle cliché.


So that’s it. One perfect fall day. If the rain comes this weekend and knocks all the leaves down, I won’t be able to complain.





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