travel without leaving

In ALL, LIFE OBSERVATIONS, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein22 Comments

Fourseasonsbar

To create realistic dialogue, I was once instructed to eavesdrop on conversations.  Write it down without the he said, she said clarification.  “It will become obvious who’s saying what,” I was told.  Clearly, she wasn’t eavesdropping at The Bar at The Four Seasons where nothing happens and everything is whispered between clicks of glasses.

 

If you’re sitting at the bar, and you look up toward the ceiling, your immediate instinct will be to hop off your chair and run.  Thin uniform shards of steel float in the air, hanging from fishing wire.  Once you overcome your flight instinct, you want to touch it.  You can almost feel the ceiling beneath your hand; it feels like a nail statue from The Sharper Image.  The lengthy rectangular windows are dressed in chain mail, and as the light hits, you’re certain the walls are moving.  I sat in my chair, taking it all in, along with a really lovely Sancerre, and it got me to thinking about pennies in wishing fountains.  I think it was the metal curtains, which looked like neatly fallen stacks of polished pennies.  It was beautiful and warm in a way I never thought gray metal could be.  It feels like you’re in an Escher drawing, lost in some stereogram world where things pop at you after staring for long enough.

 

You lose yourself.  But I guess that’s true with all mostly-empty hotel bars.  You always feel like a stranger in them.  They’re the same everywhere, regardless of the city.  They smell of mahogany, linen, and brass polish; they smell like London. 

 

Sometimes our lives feel so small and insular.  We know our friends and all their stories, but on our way to work, we see a city full of quick-paced strangers, with their own friends and insular stories.  They all have favorite tv shows and pet names for their friends, and we know none of their secrets.  Yet, we still live small.  I like half-empty hotel bars that will never feel half-full.  They let me feel like a stranger at a beginning.

Comments

  1. Empty hotel bars ROCK! Especially in Japan. Wait, that's not right. I cannot possibly use the words "empty" and "Japan" in the same sentence.

    On dialogue: I think listening to people nowadays will yield myriad "like"s, "you know"s, "oh mah gawd"s, etc.

    Instead, I go to Roddy Doyle or David Mamet.

  2. I've always thought about writing a story about 10 random people on an El train (Chicago's subway) and how their lives intersect and are connected. It's so amazing to me what these other people's lives must be like and how many stories they have to tell. Could I be sitting next to a philandering wife or a man who's leading a secret life? Could the person two seats down be on the brink of commiting suicide, or is she just so very quiet because she can hardly contain her excitement over finding out she's just landed her dream job or finally decided she has the courage to leave a dead-end relationship?

    People and their stories fascinate me to no end.

  3. Kristi, I think that's why lately, I haven't been able to commit to a relationship. I am too intrigued by other's stories, the way they handle stress. I love the intimacy and learning that comes with them, but I want a lot of those, so I can learn more about people, and about myself. Or maybe I just haven't met the right guy. Realistically though, I think I sabotage any chance of a relationship right now because I have an idea that I'm really not ready for one yet. I think I will be come September. In the fall, I'll be in love, and it will be right. I've convinced myself of something based on nothing. How about that for STRANGE.

  4. Stephanie- I don't think that's strange at all. I really think our lives are what we make (in our minds) of them- an "if you dream it, you can do it" type of self-fufilling prophecy, but on your own terms and timetable.

    You also bring up another good point- as someone who's in a relationship, in the beginning I noticed myself becoming more isolated from the rest of the world, due to the work it involved in creating an intimate, lasting relationship. Now, after two years in the relationship, I'm finally coming back to "center" and am making efforts to get back out there and active like I was in my single days- going out and meeting new people in writing groups, doing volunteer work and connecting with people in different socioeconomic situations, and putting myself out there so I can regain that sense of adventure and connectedness to others that awakens my spirit.

    I don't think you have to trade in your sense of self and discovery for intimacy- in the best of relationships, there should be room for both.

  5. Ned, my hobby is empty hotel bars.

    Ms. K, does it irk you that people like me seemingly don't "get" your posts and instead pick up on the peripherals…like empty bars or fiddling trombones?

    (Please note I say seemingly)

  6. No, it doesn't bother me. People see what they want, take what they want, and believe what they want. The minute my writing becomes self-conscious, I'll be screwed.

  7. Hotel bars DO rock.

    Was in a great one in the San Diego area for the last three nights. I asked the bartender, who also did work at a nightclub, which he preferred. He said to me, "You tell me. Which do YOU think you'd prefer."

    I said the hotel bar. It's the neighborhood pub in double time. Where else could you become a regular on the second night?!? Actually feel comfortable in the place… Have your favorite stool or chair… Order "the usual." Actually HAVE a "usual." (And since you're on the road, what the hell… you can invent a new "usual" at each place you visit!)

    Then, for the bartender. Every few days, the entire place cycles through… reinvents itself. The good guys come… they go… The a**holes, too! New faces, new stories, a new set of regulars sets up shop until it's time to roll out for the next set.

    I stopped the reverie and looked up at the barkeep.

    "That's pretty much it," he said. "So what'll it be tonight, Bri? Rocks? Two olives?"

    "Yeah, Mike. Dirty."

  8. I know exactly what you mean.

    I love, love, love the *smell of London*…if I could bottle it I would wear it all the time.

  9. it's funny — i can't remember how london smells. i often pine for the smell of the paris metro cars though. it's kind of a st. joseph's children's aspirin mixed with something similarly soothing…

    and as for hotel bars, count me in with extra olives.

  10. I don't even know where to begin. The subject of most of your fiction is enough to make me want to wretch, vomit, and find work as an accountant. A sexually-active-but-not-in-a-slutty-way-and-intelligent-independent-park-avenue-pet's daily conflicts with men, and um… men. This bitch is putting the women's movement back decades with every entry, and worst of all, she has an army of teet sucklers encouraging her to write this crap "bearing her soul and being honest." I'm sorry, hun. To even label your blog as "greek tragedy" makes you a pretentious cunt. There are dozens of women writers in my classes who have experienced a hundred times more pain, and write about it better, too.

    I hate the way you use scene description for no end but to force an image onto your audience. Make it vital to the story in some way, or LEAVE it the fuck out, and let us see it ourselves with something called an imagination. I hate the way you cop out of writing difficult scenes, literally by saying "this was too intense, so I've cut it out of the story," or skimping over anyone's emotional state of mind other than your own. "We talked about his childhood, his mother, I knew everything about him…" And you give no detail whatsoever. I hate your sentence structure. I hate that everything you write sounds exactly the same. I hate that you're actually getting paid to spew this literary monkey crap while real, talented artists are eating ramen noodles and staying up till 3 in the morning re-working powerful personal novels.

    And you're not hot enough to put up 400 pictures of yourself, either. Get over yourself, learn how to write, and stop making my eyes bleed with every sentence I see. Please, for all that is good and holy in the world, stop writing.

  11. Speaking as someone who lives there, London smells of vomit, fast food and repressed frustration.

  12. Tim…please tell us how you really feel. If you dislike her writing so much, then why do you constantly come back to read it? If you don't like the way that she looks, then why do you stare at her pictures? Why do you feel it is necessary to degrade others for no reason?

    If you are having emotional problems, don't take it out on others. Just by reading what you wrote, I think you need to seek some professional help because you are scaring us all.

  13. Actually Tim is not scaring ME. Also, I believe this is the first time he's left a comment; I'm inclined to think that he's probably read through a lot of pieces here to formulate his opinion, so that's probably the reason he's come back so often. You know, one can't write a scathing review of anything unless one has read consistently. Hence, his repeat visits.

    And he's right…Ramen Noodles at 3 am may SOUND romantic, but indeed tastes like shit. ESPECIALLY the Garden Vegetable flavour.

  14. Damn, Tim… Hope you feel better after that little tirade.

    If you want your little critique to be taken seriously, why don't you leave out the personal attacks and 4 letter words? You just came across as bitter, angry, and jealous. And you dropped the "C" bomb. Ouch. Whether the shoe fits or not, that was un-called for.

    I happen to agree with some of what you said, but frankly, your intentionally offensive style overshadowed the substance of your message. Avoid that second cup of coffee, next time.

  15. When you're in a room full of nearly deaf people you need to scream. And if I was jealous of her, I'd have to kill myself. This is the problem today. Everyone is afraid of criticizing writers so they get lazy, complacent, and write… stuff… like this.

    If you're scared of a vicious review of a melodramatic blogger, you seriously need to move out from under that rock.

  16. I'm not scared of a vicious review, I just object to assholes who, from the safety and anonymity of their computer keyboard, make judgements about people they've never met, and say things they wouldn't dare say in person – or do you routinely call women "cunts" to their faces?

  17. God, Tim, what a friggin' WHINER you are. You know dozens of "women writers" who write better than Stephanie? Well, tell them to get out there and start their own blogs. Put up or shut up.

    If Stephanie is getting paid for her blog while your friends are eating ramen noodles and working on their overwrought novels 'til 3 a.m., who the fuck's fault is that? She didn't get a popular blog because she knew the publisher's daughter…

  18. A little over interpretation of my comment…the scaring comment was not meant that we are afraid of him. It was along the lines of that there are way too many people out there that talk to and treat people that way. Especially ones that claim to be educated.

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