I begin every day by looking at a screen. Sometimes my laptop, usually my phone. Either way, it’s a square emanating blue light. And though it has caused many terrible things for many people (addiction, depression, totally incapacitated social skills), it has, at least, opened up a chasm of literary opportunities for writers. Nary a Nabokov nor Nietzsche had the chance to wrestle with cell phones. The subject is rife for the kvetching.
When I was in high school, a boy wrote a poem about “glowing parallelograms” that were progressively taking over our lives. I liked that description. It’s good to remember the simple weight and shape of things. And it’s good to remember adolescents waxing lyrical in their lovely adolescent way — “oblongs of absence,” “glimmers of the grotesque,” “cell
phboners” — and so on, as I imagine in the scribbled in the Google Docs of today’s high school juniors.
I bring all this up because I started working remotely a few months ago, and that means I keep the company of a glowing square, and not much more, for several hours each day. I don’t spend more time on the screen than I did in New York really, but I have fewer humans plugged in next to me. It’s unclear if the takeaway here is that there is comfort in community, or it’s just chaos all the way down.
But life goes on. Several weeks ago I got lunch with my friend Robert. He took me to his favorite taco place. It’s a thing I don’t take lightly because you never want your top hangouts infiltrated by too many acquaintances you know. (And let’s face it, most people come with a few bozos in their networks.) But, should you ever find yourself at a good LA taco stand, may I suggest the tinga de pollo? Anyway, we munched on the goods. I talked about the woes of fiction. He talked about the woes of screenwriting. We both felt bad for poets, who don’t have a prayer of a chance.
We were somewhere around Little Armenia when we parted ways, and it was 45 minutes or so back to my place by foot. But it was a good day for that kind of walk. Griffith Park Observatory was off in the horizon, the tawny dome vaulting into a sky filled with cotton ball clouds. So I started my trek, and taking a cue from the facility overhead, observed. People watered their towers of cacti and succulents, turfgrasses and sea sprays, and various potted architectures that guarded the grounds of their front yards. While I walked down Fountain, I passed street art that read:
Someone asked Bette Davis for “the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood.” She said, “Take Fountain.”
Perfect strolling fodder. I thought about how I’ve managed to carve out, against all odds, a little slice of New York life in LA. Namely, I don’t have a car, and thus walk everywhere. I live in a hip little neighborhood, half a block shy of the main drag. I can skip to a pile of coffee shops and taco stands. I can take 15 minutes to stroll to the Rite Aid for shampoo and light bulbs. I can even walk to get my groceries — both the normal one, and the overpriced organic one. And, since I work from home, I have nowhere to be during the day except attached to a screen. Which I can use to order a Lyft, should I need.
I split my time between working from my desk at home and my neighborhood coffee shops. So I’m next to other people who work out of coffee shops a lot. In New York, you’ve got a lawyer, a grad student, a nurse, a playwright all sitting side by side. But everyone in LA is part of “the industry” — or its cousin, “trying to break into the industry.” I have heard so many screenwriters pitching their plotline to producers, it has spawned my own short film idea which is just a composite of all the pitches I’ve heard. The things you overhear in coffee shops are one of the biggest differences between New York and LA.
I quite like working remotely. Sure, there’s an intense expectation of laser-sharp communications and airtight autonomy, less human interaction, and you miss out on the in-the-room vibes that happen in all rooms with more than one person. But it’s also kind of nice to just own your work, wholly, and try to exceed the trust that was placed in you. And do laundry if you need to. And, anyway, we’ve got the screen to connect us anytime, any place, and that has taken us some real distances — for better or worse or very weird.
Ah, well. As they say, turn and face the strange. And perhaps grab a taco or two while you’re at it.