I put on bicycling capris and fill my water bottle. I consider making coffee, taking a thermos out and rolling it between my hands. It’s hot today though. For once I don’t need extra heat. I’ll make coffee when I come back; I’ll need the energy for typing up the latest draft of a short story.
I carry my bike downstairs and ride across the lawn, across a short bridge and into the street. Down the New Berlin Trail, listening to a Nerdist interview with Pauly Shore. They’re talking about how fame ruins some people. How some people never grow up, evolve, find their center. I ride past the golf course, turn right, go under the bridge. Cross another street, ride around the pond, past kids playing on the steps going into the water. It always smells like fish right there.
Beyond the pond lies a wide open lawn. A gaggle of geese forage there for lunch. They walk slowly with their heads down, watching the grass, occasionally stabbing their beaks in. They look like a search party seeking a lost trinket.
I rest my bike against a tree beyond them and set up my camp chair. It’s nice having mobile seating. You get to pick the spot that way. The view. The level of separation. The clean factor. Benches and picnic tables are too close to footpaths. Too close to stares and loud talkers. I need distance.
People usually feel closer to me than they are. The closer they are, the louder their noise, the weight of their presence. It’s fine to be in among them, but not for very long. I have to pull away and absorb the experience, or it’s lost to me. Like smelling a strong smell too long or too often. The ability to sense it diminishes.
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about the restaurant atmosphere, how it provides just enough stimulation to keep you writing without your mind getting bored of all the silence. To me, restaurants and coffee shops feel close and crowded and loud, even when they’re mostly empty. I do have some favorites that are tolerably quiet: The Stone Creek Coffee store on Bluemound, or on 5th street across from the bus station, and (my favorite) the one in the Radio Milwaukee building with its many counters and tables and corners. The best places, though, are parks. I take my camp chair and a water bottle and notebook and set up camp wherever seems good. Something about bringing your own chair to a public area makes people keep their distance. On a park bench you’re shared property. All kinds of people will come bother you, shout at you from the playground, sit alongside and ask you questions. But when you’re out in some spacious grassy area on your own chair, you’re in a boundary that people inherently sense and avoid. Plus you’re writing which strengthens the barrier.
After an hour or so, my thoughts and experiences stored on paper, freeing up space in my mind for new things, I pack up and ride home, back into the world, exchanging nods and smiles with people I pass.