Statistical Noise

November 24, 2008

“[I]f you have to be at a coffee house full of pretentious hipsters in order to write, it seems you haven’t got much to say.”

Quite frankly, I wish I’d written it, or thought of something comparable, because I almost want it to be a life motto, or something like a life motto, but with a sarcastic and self-depreciating category title.  Anyway, my favorite little coffee shop in Evanston got a bad review in NorthbyNorthwestern (it’s an online magazine thing) sparking a little bit of back and forth in the comments, including that zinger from A.K.S.  You apparently can’t “be postmodern and indulgent” there.  It’s too quiet.  (This could be my problem: I don’t want to write self-indulgently “meta” tractates on myself; then again, I do have a blog.)

Maybe I’m of a dying breed if I want to have somewhere I can hear myself think to do large portions of my work and writing.  For example: I turned off my music when I sat down to write this, and the sound of the washer in the next room getting ready for the rinse cycle is exceptionally distracting.  Douglas Adams claimed that music aided his writing precisely once in his life: it’s far easier to get things consistently done when it’s silent, I’ve found.  I spent an hour last spring searching for a cranny in the library where I had both an outlet and not even the sound of the A/C to distract me.

But reading the article this morning, I found myself thinking about Anthony Daniels’ essay on silence in April’s New Criterion, where he laments the loss of

“silence as a prerequisite for thought, contemplation, creativity, and perhaps even the development of character and individuality.”

When it’s quiet (even moderately so), you’re alone with yourself.  Which is when thought happens most clearly and most sharply.  Thoughts in loud places are best preserved and advanced by writing them down in as much detail as possible and returning to them later.  Or running away quickly.Writing (for me, at least) is an exceptionally private and individual act.  Sometimes I need to leave my desk for the sake of scenery, or to keep from distracting myself too easily, and when I do, I like to go where the coffee/tea is “delicious” (in the reviewer’s words), the sandwiches fresh-made, and the pastries tasty.  Which, in this twenty-first century world of coffeeshops, tends to limit my options unless I’ve managed to get restless during non-peak hours.

(Of course, this is all just because I’m personally offended.  The reviewer rattles off a list of all the customers between 3 and 6:30, but I’m not included–even though I was sitting there for most of it.  [I’m even in her little picture!  Eating coffee cake — awkwardly, apparently — and reading something.])

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One Response to “Statistical Noise”


  1. “Ambiance” seems to be weighted pretty heavily: you’d think A, B+, B, and C would average to a B.


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