Unless you happen to be Emily Dickenson, the Writing Life begs experience—getting out there and jumping into the pool—and the lake, and the river, and yes, that gorgeous fountain in the center of the city square. The Writing Life also begs a place–a room, as Virginia Woolf famously argued, and maybe also an apartment, and… a charming inn, such as The Mission Inn in Riverside, CA, and… a spot outdoors, shielded from the wind, and a public house…a pub. Nowhere else does a writer have such an opportunity to pick up (No, not members of the opposite sex– Please. That’s not why writers go to pubs, Silly.) authentic dialogue, characterization, and descriptive passages. Especially dialogue.
First line I heard at a pub in Kenosha, WI, after many years of living away: “No! Lisa’s having the baby in June? It seems like just yesterday she got knocked up.”
“What? Look it up. It’s in the dictionary.”
And people in pubs do tend to talk rather loudly. No need to turn the volume up on your hearing aide in a pub. On any given afternoon or evening, the clank of beer bottles, “Damn right, Sam!” ice cubes clicking, tumblers of all sorts clacking on wooden bars, shouted football-baseball-soccer-hockey-basketball cheers and jeers, the preternatural amplification of the pharynx drenched in alcohol… all creating a perfect storm for the eager eavesdropper.
“When drinking, we irritate our vocal folds,” says Jessica Love, Ph.D. “As a consequence, the pitch of our voice lowers and becomes more variable. The irritant could certainly be the alcohol, but our tendency to speak louder while under the influence could also be to blame. Drunk speech is slow, too. Some researchers have suggested that we slow our speech in an effort to counteract all that motor movement difficulty. Because certain sounds are nonetheless more difficult than others to produce, however, the net effect of uniform slowing may not be all that helpful: we still sound drunk, only now we give sober people longer to notice (“On Drunk Speech,” The American Scholar, http://theamericnscholar.org/24 April 2014).
Given that the writer remains sober, there will be no shortage of interesting, printable material to notice. Dress inconspicuously. Wear glasses. Set yourself up at a table near the bar. Don’t worry about hiding the fact that you are writing, just don’t divulge that you’re writing about this place and these people right at this moment. You might feel a bit of a spy. All writers are.
Use your laptop or tablet if that’s what you usually write on; most people won’t pay much attention. We are all hooked up to something these days. If you’re more comfortable writing in a journal, that’s good too. Gazing up from your paper from time to time as if pondering something important gives you a chance to watch faces and body language. Do come up with an answer in case one of your subjects strolls over and asks, “What you writing about?” This isn’t terribly likely, but possible. Pub people tend to be an uninhibited breed overall.
“Just catching up on some paperwork” usually sends them away. Not much interest there. Try not to let anyone engage you in conversation. You know, adopt that “don’t bother me; I’m in my own little nerdy world” look, the one you use on trains and buses. Then settle in for some productive writing time. Watch the flirting, clowning, crying, bullying, bossing, begging, pontificating, pouting people, and take your time. They will even speak slowly for you. They will also speak loudly. They may even sing. Order yourself some onion rings. Don’t worry about sticking to the facts, nothing but the facts; feel free to embellish. This isn’t newspaper reporting, it’s Pub Fiction. Cheers!
©Rachel L Pohlman, 2014