Sitting in a Bookstore Window Writing about Sitting in a Bookstore Window Writing
May 3, 2019 § 15 Comments
By Kathy Ewing
“You can always just pretend to be writing,” my friends said when I told them about my upcoming adventure.
To celebrate November, National Novel Writing Month, Appletree Books in my hometown of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, invited writers to sit inside the display window and write. I accepted the invitation.
“You’ll be on your computer, won’t you?” one of them said. “So you can go online when you get bored.”
The friends continued. “Nobody’s going to be checking on you, right? They’ll let you get up, right? There’s a Starbucks down the street.”
“Or, you know, I could just write,” I said sheepishly. I wondered, do they think I can’t write for two hours straight?
Now, at 10:00 am, an extremely bright sun shines into my tiny alcove in Appletree’s window. People pass by on the sidewalk, but no one stops to read my little sign: “Kathy Ewing: writing an essay in a bookstore window about writing an essay in a bookstore window.” I thought it might make someone smile, but that would require a passer-by to notice it.
Inside the cozy store, conversations about books attract my attention. Writing at home, I’m distracted by my dog, severe coffee cravings, and a compelling need to dust the woodwork in my bedroom. That is, anything besides writing. So the chatting itself is not especially troublesome, but it does bother me that they’re talking about books I hope to read someday.
“What’s it about?” someone asks about a new novel I’m interested in. As the other someone launches into a detailed plot description, I try to cover my ears and type at the same time, which is very difficult. I realize that bookstore employees are a captive audience to garrulous customers bent on ruining the plots of brand-new novels.
The blinding sun is another problem I didn’t anticipate. The glare on my computer screen forces me to climb out of my tiny alcove to locate the cursor. At home, of course, I can move away from a window, but today my being in the window is the whole point. Snow is forecast for the weekend, and I remind myself to feel grateful for one last warm day. The sunshine is also highlighting how dirty my keyboard is, so I suddenly feel relieved that no one has stopped by to greet me.
Soon, another distraction arises, in the form of a familiar worry. My suburb’s parking meters are notorious for accepting only quarters, of which I had exactly one when I arrived. (Another concern I don’t have when I’m home at my desk and my car is in my driveway.) Because I forgot my watch, I have to lean down to the floor and grab my phone, which tells me it’s now 10:36. I get change at the register and dash out to feed the meter.
As I climb back into my chair, Starbucks coffee in hand, I consider my friends’ certainty that I would feel conspicuous sitting in a storefront window. Instead, hardly anyone even glances at me. It reminds me of leaving my children’s belongings on the stairs to take up to their rooms: those steps immediately became a Bermuda Triangle of invisibility. The kids’ belongings could sit there for weeks. That’s me, right now, invisible to any and all sidewalk pedestrians.
Whenever I glance up from my keyboard, brand spanking new books are calling for me to pick them up and read them. My phone tells me I have 50 minutes to go, and the words haven’t stopped coming, but my filthy computer is getting hot, and I’m getting hungry. I keep typing, until at last, as my shift is drawing to a close, my friends stop in to take me to lunch. They snap pictures of me. Finally, some attention from the public!
At the very last second, a young woman out on the sidewalk reads my sign, waves, and says, “That’s cool.”
A few minutes before noon, I hear a gentleman asking the bookstore owner about Some Writer, Melissa Sweet’s book about author E.B. White. The lovely title derives from “Some Pig,” a phrase the spider Charlotte weaves into her web to save the life of Wilbur the pig. How fitting to hear about my favorite book at this moment and about the spider who writes. In Charlotte’s Web, as in many books I love, the writer was writing about writing. And here I am, sitting in a bookstore window, surrounded by books, writing an essay about writing.
Kathy Ewing’s work has appeared in America, The Millions, The Bark, Belt, the delinquent, and other publications. Her memoir, Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother (Red Giant Books), appeared in 2016.