For 3 1/2 weeks in October, I did a hang 10 riding a wave of denial. While I worried for the friends who were losing their jobs, I didn’t think about what would become of me.
Others did, however. After the first two dozen times I heard it, I was no longer surprised when someone told me when they found out Lindaman’s Bistro-to-Go was closing, their first thought was, “Where’s Rachel going to go?” Even the 12-year-old son of a friend – a kid I’d never met – asked that question of his mother.
For the last decade, I’d shown up six days a week to sit at “my” table hunched over a crumb-covered MacBook and endless cups of decaf. At times when I was on a writing jag, I’m sure I looked deranged. I suspect my lips moved as I typed, and I know, especially when I was working on my novel, my face showed I’d just lost a friend.
On rare days, I would sit and pound out a draft of an essay or column from first sentence to last. Mostly I would open a document and spend time revising, playing the hokey pokey with commas and trying to omit as many needless words as possible.
Philip Roth wrote, “I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence, and then I turn it around. Then I look at it, and I turn it around again.”
When people say to me they want to write but haven’t been able to do it, I offer them the secret: You get your butt in the chair and stay there – even when you have not a single interesting thought, can’t compose a compelling sentence, and you’d really rather do anything else.
The trick, as Tom Hanks recently put it in his Golden Globes acceptance speech, is discipline. You have to take the job seriously. Show up on time. Hit your marks. Get things wrong. Hear critique. Try something different. Fail. Fail. Fail.
In real life, artistic pursuits are about as glamorous as scrubbing the toilet with a toothbrush.
One of the things that makes the whole ordeal easier is routine. For me, that involves leaving home and dog and going to a place that feels just right. I need a certain amount of ambient noise, a group of nice people around me and never-ending cups of hot decaf preferably from DOMA.
The day after Lindaman’s closed, I went from one coffee shop to another. I ended up in tears. Too big, too small, too cold, too airy. I am Goldilocks.
The following morning, dehydrated and migraine-y, I showed up at the little place I had from the outset suspected was where I would land – but was reluctant to take up valuable real estate when purchasing only a cup of brewed coffee.
I won’t tell you the name because, well, then you’ll always know where to find me, and I like to think of myself as an international woman of mystery. Plus, I don’t want to it to get too crowded; I need to be able to find a table.
But I’ll just say this: It’s the kind of noshery that’s making Spokane a great place to live, with people and practices – environmental, labor and business – that are good and fair and right and kind. From the moment it opened less than two years ago, it gave off an ineffable whiff of cool, a top note to the aroma of treats baked in a wood-fired oven.
This spot is where locals proudly bring out-of-towners to prove Spokane has got it going on; it’s the business whose name you like to drop because the insider knowledge reveals you to be a person who might still hope to achieve a soupçon of hipness.
Plus, every single thing they make is crazy delicious. I won’t tell you about how the staff has treated me for the past couple of months. I like to believe I’m special, a beautiful snowflake who deserves the attention lavished on me.
But the truth is I’m certain any other waif who showed up with red eyes, wanted only a cup of decaf and muttered about needing to camp out for three hours to turn sentences around would be offered the same compassionate consideration.
For the past year, I’ve been studying an obscure 19th-century Lithuanian Jewish practice of character development called Mussar. One of the steps is to create your own “ner tamid,” a short saying that serves as a guiding light. It’s a personal slogan, an easily remembered motto repeated to remind yourself of the state of being in which you strive to exist.
My ner tamid, the little mantra I came up with and taped above the screen of my laptop (over the camera, thereby also serving to discourage the peeping of Mark Zuckerberg), is “Wow. Thanks.” That’s how I aspire to interact with the world: with awe and gratitude.
Once I settled my skinny, neurotic writer’s butt into my new space, I was able to start learning about the people who work there. Their life histories, work experiences and stories of refined expertise make it hard to stop talking to them and get some writing done.
I’ve come to understand that the place is the result of a clear and evolving vision. I’ve watched as customers catch on – or don’t – to the fact this isn’t your typical restaurant. It isn’t, in fact, a restaurant at all, so if you expect “service,” you will be disappointed.
It’s a venture of a different sort, the kind of boîte more often found in buzzy urban centers. It was created by a group of extraordinary and talented people who have chosen to work together like family. They bring complementary skills and are grateful to learn from each other. They show up on time, hit their marks, try new things. They’re not afraid to fail because they understand that’s the path to growth.
And they make accommodations for the inevitable quirks that come with being passionate about what you do. Including dealing with customers who need, pathologically, to follow a simple routine.
Now, six mornings a week, I get to sit at “my” table in the midst of workers who value creativity – and tend to deploy sarcastic wit. Surrounded by others who appreciate an artisanal approach to local and sustainable food, I turn my sentences around.
One door closed; another opened. Wow. Thanks.
Rachel Toor is a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of one novel and five books of nonfiction.
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