“I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.”
Peter De Vries

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

have laptop, will go drinking
Thu 2014-12-04 00:39:29 (in context)
  • 7,020 words (if poetry, lines) long

I'm finishing up my writing night at Loaded Joe's. The only event listed was "free games," but as it turns out there's live music tonight too. It's a little louder than I like, and the performance can most kindly be described as "unstructured," but what the hell. I was stalling out in the hotel and I needed some stimulation. So I came over here, bought a cup of darjeeling tea and a pastry, and made a small but meaningful bit of progress on the new opening to Iron Wheels.

It's weird. You'd think that "introvert trying to get writing done" would require being alone somewhere quiet. But sometimes where I really want is to be alone is somewhere out in a noisy, happy, rowdy public place. Hence, writing in coffee shops and bars.

Writing in coffee shops has come to be generally accepted. Sometimes I hear people mutter all disgruntled about how no one ever goes to a coffee shop to talk to their friends or just think--no, they always have to be on a computer. Kids these days! My lawn, get off it! But for the most part, writing in coffee shops has become the norm.

But sometimes--not tonight! Not so far, anyway. But sometimes--I get bothered in bars.

I'm not talking about getting hit on. Fortunately, I've been more or less spared by the lamentably common "woman! alone, in a bar! must be available!" phenomenon. I suspect it's a combination of my not performing femininity particularly well, so that I'm not the first woman whom That Guy wants to approach; and my failure to pick up on the subtle openings of the flirtation game, so that I inadvertently signal "Not interested, scram." Which is exactly what I'd want to signal if I knew flirtation was going on, so, great.

(I also have a tendency to shut down some forms of gendered approach with the verbal equivalent of a tactical nuke. Somewhere along the way I decided that if someone else fires the first shot in the rudeness wars--by, say, physically grabbing my arm or acting aggressively entitled to my attention--I will have no compunction about firing the second shot, and it will damn well be big enough to be the final shot. Ain't nobody got time for that shit.)

No, what I get subjected to is better described as, "woman! alone, in a bar! must be lonely. I will remedy this!"

Last year I was at Loaded Joe's on karaoke night and, as often happens, I was here alone. With my laptop. And to the woman sitting at the booth next to mine, this was obviously a tragedy. So she took it upon herself to relieve my loneliness by chatting with me.

Now, this could have been enjoyable if I hadn't really just wanted to play on my computer and rock out to the music. And even then, it could have become enjoyable if what she had to say was interesting. But it was bog-standard drunk person chatter. And every new volley in the conversation began with her practically punching me in my shoulder and shouting, "Hey! Hey!" in my ear.

(At one point she noticed my computer, a Dell, and began trying to convert me to the holy church of Mac. Only she kept framing the comparison in terms of Mac versus Dell, rather than Mac versus PC or Mac versus Windows. It was disorienting.)

I remember being a little irked that, while she chatted at me relentlessly, she never took the opportunity to say something like "Hey, nice job up there," after I took a turn at the karaoke mike. (I think she didn't care for karaoke in the first place, and considered it a necessary evil to be endured in the acquisition of booze on a Friday night.) It's not that I needed her to compliment me on my singing; it's more that she declined the opportunity to turn the conversation in a direction I'd actually demonstrated interest in.

The other version of this when someone--either a man or a woman, it's been kinda 50/50--leans in to scold me: "Hey! You are in a bar! You're supposed to be having fun." But thankfully this type of interaction tends to end after I say, "I am having fun," or, if they're being particularly rude about it, "Who the hell do you think you are to tell me what I'm supposed to do?"

Anyway, despite the pervasive narrative of "you're doing being-in-a-bar wrong," the above examples are more exceptions for me than they are the rule. For the most part I do succeed at carving out my Circle of Protection: Intrusive Extrovert (please, someone design that Magic: The Gathering card for me?). Which is awesome. I get to enjoy the atmosphere--and a drink--without giving up my alone time. I get to have my cake and eat it too. Tonight is, happily, no exception.

So why am I thinking about it? Well, I am at Loaded Joe's, and I'm even sitting in the exact same booth where I was last year when Generous Chatty Woman talked my ear off. But also, earlier today I was reading this Captain Awkward post and its subsequent comments about men acting entitled to women's attention, and this related Doctor Nerdlove post. Particularly, I was reacting to the Doctor Nerdlove post asserting that it's generally OK to approach a woman in a bar because that's a social context in which being approached is expected. And I thought, "Well, yes, usually, but not always..."

But it's OK. Doctor Nerdlove has that covered too:

People who are uninterested in talking to people – especially people they don’t know – will often make a point of signaling that they wish to be left alone through non-verbal means. ... Similarly, someone who is engrossed in a book, her laptop, her phone, an iPad or a sketchbook is likely not interested in talking to a random person at that moment.

There is an order of operations here, and, alas, some people get it wrong. Just remember: the non-verbal signals trump the locational context, 'k? K.

email