At our first meeting for the semester, the new tutor was surprised at something. I’d been dithering about what drink to order, and during this process admitted that I don’t drink coffee.
“That’s a first,” he said, “a writer who doesn’t drink coffee.” He looked as if the idea was, indeed, new to him.
“I guess it is unusual,” I said, while secretly not being sure about it, there must be non coffee-drinking writers! I wasn’t telling him the complete truth however. I didn’t tell him about the instant coffee. It is better to admit nothing at all than that.
Now I know that instant coffee is inferior, possibly even embarrassing in certain company, but I like it. It’s comforting, and makes me think of my parents when I was a kid, drinking it from beige plastic mugs, of people in little fibro houses in the 1970s, looking out at the newly planted garden, thinking about what the future might be like.
And the last thing I want to be is a cliched writer. I have never sat in a café writing, for example. In fact I don’t think I’ve been to a café by myself very much at all in my life, probably about a dozen times. I don’t mind going to them with other people, but by myself I feel fidgety, I just can’t sit there, I feel like a caricature and all I can think is that I wish I was back at home with some Moccona.
My favourite places to write are: lying in bed, sitting at my desk and on trains. Cafes are not the place, with people digesting friands within close proximity, giant prams being angled in, and people catching up (or, worse, going over architectural plans at the next table, as happened to H and I last week. “They’re planning what to build after they’ve demolished my house,” I said, joking, but she looked shocked, as if I should not say such things).
Maybe I’m just wary of categories. As soon as I get called a writer I immediately think of the most distasteful aspects of that identity. Of course it’s not about what you like to drink, it’s about explaining the human condition, making people feel better about being alive, less alone. But there are a lot of other things that go on besides that that aren’t so noble or so interesting. Have you ever been to a writers’ festival?
Most of the time I try to forget about all these dreadful aspects of it. When I say I’m a writer I picture a woman in a twin set, at a desk with a typewriter, frowning earnestly, paused in the moment between one sentence and the next. She loves the world and hates the world in equal measure. What she drinks is of no consequence.
(This is my back step in the morning sun. I don’t tend to sit out here very often, as the neighbours can see me. But sometimes I do. I don’t think the chap with the Australian flag on his wall really cares about me sitting on the back step with my computer.)