Writing in Restaurants

I had admired the book of essays by David Mamet on bookstore shelves for years before I actually bought and read it. The actual subject matter of Writing in Restaurants turned out to be not what I had imagined. The problem was one of projection. I was thinking about my own experiences with writing in restaurants. Mamet, it turns out, is a completely different person.

As you might guess, if you haven’t read the essay, Mamet the playwright, thinks of the restaurant from a theatrical point of view. There were some similar issues; he considers this space which is somehow both public and private. A writer in a restaurant both observes and (yikes!) gets observed.

There was an era of my life in which I did lots of restaurant writing. I can’t pinpoint specific poems to particular locations, but I do have fond memories of filling up pages of my journal in afternoon cafes. Now that I work a lot, I do less restaurant scribbling than I did when I was teaching or going to school. My friend Stacy Aab does a whole lot of writing at Empire. Years ago I believe my buddy Tom Cambronne wrote exclusively in dining establishments. Add your own story in the comments section, if you feel like it.


  1. As long as I have my special notebook – Kokuyo, Campus Notebook – I’m good to go. I don’t have any preferred location for writing. I take my notebook with me everywhere, and, therefore, I can write anywhere. The key for me is this particular notebook. I first found it at the Kinokuniya Book and Stationary store in Japantown, when I lived in San Francisco. Printed on the cover of the notebook is the claim: “Campus notebooks contain the best ruled foolscap suitable for writing.” And it’s true. The pages, for me, are little slices of paper paradises.
    The physical act of writing in my notebook is one of my deepest pleasures, one I indulge in more than once a day. I’m obsessive about keeping a notebook, partially due to my graphomania disorder, which I developed early in life. Sometimes I think I wanted to be a writer early on because I was obsessed with the act of writing things down on paper. I loved the phenomenon of seeing something form out of nothing, words filling a once blank space (“Meanwhile the whole history of probabilities is coming to life, starting in the upper left-hand corner, like a sail,” — Ashbery’s “For John Clare”). I loved the feel of paper covered with handwriting, the subtle crackle and heft of it.
    Over the years, I’ve written in many, many different types of notebooks, due to the difficulty of finding Kokuyo Campus Notebooks. Now I know better: I cannot settle for less. I special order them from the Japantown San Francisco store in bulk and await their delivery with as much anticipation as I might wait for an out-of-state friend’s visit to Houston.

  2. I love yr blog, love what you say about writing in restaurants, conversation, and poetry. Makes me want to blather on about Van Loc, private life in public places, my discovery of and long conversations at 20 about Frank O’Hara.
    Aieee: I want to join in, but my time is so tight and divided. When I am with my children after a long work day or work week I just want to sink down into my life with them and stay there and fall asleep and wake up with them nearby—and this means I don’t get much done.
    But enough whining… here’s a poem I wrote at Van Loc, which feeds off the images of Van Loc, and here’s one about falling asleep with my kids.
    Thanks for keeping the fires burning.
    Humpty Dad
    —for Laura, age 8
    Darling girl, how do I apologize
    for missing Breakfast with Dad?
    First with a kiss, which you accept
    with grace and without pause, which
    makes me see how much there is
    to do, how large my failures and
    omissions are, how guilt looms, with its
    shadows and winds. The world sharpens
    in its winter light: the jumble of papers
    on my desk, the pall of the computer screen,
    dark green okra in my soup at lunch,
    sleek hexagons of seed, a blotch
    of surface oil. The chiles render a bead
    of sweat that rolls like a single trumpet note
    down my nose. So be it. The main thing
    is to move out from here, to there, outside
    this place, where three men pour new curbs
    and a pregnant woman in hard hat and vest
    waves an orange flag. Things are constantly falling
    apart. In my mind, I take the highway to the door
    of your school, your classroom, where you
    work with the tiny Ms. Perez, head down,
    deep in a problem. My problem is
    how best to be your father. Tonight
    you’ll put on a dress, I’ll don a tie,
    and we’ll have chocolate mousse cake
    at the café, just you and me, my latest
    slice of penance, and bite by bite
    my hopes and yours could
    put the world back together again.

  3. robin–visited your blog & explored other blography–yours is the most appealing site–the only one so very readable. keep it going . . . jacsun

  4. The poet, Tom Cambronne, is my brother. He continues to write poetry each weak in restaurants. On weekends he rises early and spends the entire day on Saturday and Sunday. He has been doing this for over twenty years in San Francisco and Oakland.

  5. Christa,
    I used to use th Kokuyo notebooks in Japan, but I have not been able to order here in the US. What is the store you purchase from in SF? Thanks.

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