The Mark Blog

Writing in Bars

Back in my mid-20s, I was sitting alone in a bar in London, trying to write. A woman appeared from the shadows, speaking in a smoky voice. “What are you writing?” she asked.
These days, when I get that question I have an answer. But back in London, writing was more about ripping open a raw nerve and letting the blood flow. So I stammered out something like, “I’m just writing.”
Though in truth, I wasn’t. Not much. I was too distracted by the raucous bar crowd in which I’d embedded myself, especially the pretty girls, nursing a fantasy that one of them might notice me all by myself in the corner, writing. A fantasy that seemed to be coming true.
Despite evidence to the contrary, even now I still hold on to this glamorous image of writing in bars. I’m not sure where it comes from. Sure, a lot of writers will write about getting drunk in bars, or fighting in bars, or picking up strange people in bars, but rarely do they write about writing in bars. And why would they? It would make a damn boring story.
“Sorry if I’m bothering you,” the girl said, though bothering was more or less what I was hoping for, especially from a pretty, local girl with rosy cheeks and skin as white as my notebook paper. “I just thought it was so interesting to see someone writing in a bar.”
Sometimes, if I’m not too drunk, or desperate for company, I can get in the zone. Especially in a nice, quiet, classy place, a candle on the table, some background jazz, a glass of Syrah. But there I go, romanticizing again. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually written in a place like that.
This Irish sports bar in central London was almost the polar opposite–more of a meet market than a cozy salon. But I’ve always found it difficult to meet people in a foreign country where everyone speaks your language. It’s harder to discern whom to approach, especially when you’re the lone and lonely American around gobs of drunk Brits. So I didn’t bother to try.
I wish I could say I was working on my first novel, or an epic poem inspired by my time as a junkie living in a squat near King’s Cross, but I’d be lying. No, I was probably writing about some girl back in the States I was still in love with, wondering why she couldn’t see how we were meant to be, a topic which consumed a lot of my writing back then (the heartache, not necessarily the girl). Actually, I guess it still does, though less directly and in better writing, I hope.
Back then, journaling helped me make sense of the senseless world I was adrift in and deal with the overwhelming emotions I had trouble controlling. Writing was one method, drinking was another, but that often backfired. I filled notebooks with this self-centric, not-so-creative writing, which I’ve still got tucked away in a large suitcase somewhere in my closet.
I’m sure the London journal is among them, and there was probably something in there about this very night. But it would take me too long to dig through and find it, so I’ll rely on the ol’ unreliable memory to tell the rest of the story.
The conversation was brief. It didn’t take her too long before she asked me, “Do you live around here?”
“Me? No. I’m an American.”
Her smile frayed at the edges. “Oh, really?”
“What about you?"
“I’m from Iowa.”
“Oh,” I said. “Neat.”
And then… awkward silence. It was obvious that we were both hoping to talk to true locals, or at least someone European, but had found a fellow Yankee instead. Pretty soon it was “nice to meet you” and “have a good night.”
I went back to my notebook and started to write about the previous day. I'd hit the town with a cute French girl from the hostel, taking in the sights–Picadilly Circus, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge–and drinking all afternoon in various pubs. That night she had to catch a train back to Paris. She almost missed it and had to say goodbye while running to catch it. As I watched her go, I felt deflated. I’d wanted to kiss her all day. Now, I’d probably never see her again. I put down my pen, killed my whiskey, and left the bar, out into the ripe London night, in search of more adventures off the page.