I come to Grub Street to write, to exploit the first membership perk: “access to Grub's daytime community space and library.” Like most writers, I suffer the age-old challenge of finding a writing nest that sings—or rather, one that makes me sing. I’ve done my coffee-shop time, and while they’ll always be part of my workspace cocktail, coffee shops grow stale if they’re the only ingredient.
My cat likes it if I work at home, and laundry, unmopped floors, and dirty dishes don’t distract me as much as they probably should. What’s difficult is getting out of bed in the morning. No one’s making me (except my cat, who wants tuna at 6 a.m.), but it’s not like anyone’s watching a clock or recording that I’m late getting to the computer.
I want to be Meryl Streep as Julia Child, the way she jumped out of bed every morning to attend Le Cordon Bleu, to be excited about where I will write for the day. I saw Julie & Julia five years ago and haven’t transformed myself into an early riser, but it’s not from a lack of trying to create the setting. I’ve succeeded enough to finish the first draft of my novel, and I approach its revision with fervor each morning, but an ideal workplace has eluded me.
A book discussion was my cover on the first night I ventured into Grub Street, but I was really there on reconnaissance, to see if it was a place in which I could pass hours upon hours getting my novel in shape to pitch to literary agents. I sighed when I passed the Steinways behind the glass on the way to the elevator. An amateur concert pianist in another lifetime, I’ve lusted too much after pianos when I should have been practicing—or doing something more practical, like writing.
Grub Street was an easy sell, a low-risk proposition, an inexpensive membership for how I planned to use it. Along with coffee shops and my home, I’ve written in worksharing-type places like WorkBar and WeWork—slick office-space alternatives for the small startup or contractor who doesn’t want to work at home—but I didn’t find the writer-type work colleagues I’d hoped to acquire, and it’s lonely not having a work social life. Since moving to Boston I’ve made fabulous writer friends through a group I found on meetup.com
, but it’s still not like "going to work."
I write this post in one of Grub Street’s classrooms—high-ceilinged classrooms in soul-feeding primary colors, white-painted wainscoting separating the walls from creaky carpeted floors. Old-fashioned double-hung windows give onto Edgar Allan Poe Way. Poe was born on this site, and even more fun, Charles Dickens once spoke in the all-but-forgotten performance hall buried four stories beneath this 1896 Beaux-Arts edifice. All of the classrooms enjoy cheerful light, the openness of the tall windows, but my favorite is Classroom One for its sliver of a view of the Public Garden from the far end of the big table.
The ambience isn’t that of a coffee shop, but there’s coffee—a Keurig in the kitchen next to a $1 donation box. The kitchen with fridge, microwave, and toaster oven means that lunch is easy—easier than sneaking food into a coffee shop. I pack Tupperwares full of veggies, fruit, and nuts and munch throughout my Grub hours, pleased to eat healthy, under my control, without spending a fortune. I drink lots of water while I’m here, staying hydrated without the coffee-shop courting ritual of befriending the person at the next table so they can watch my stuff while I’m in the bathroom.
Instead of coffee shop chatter and music, the noise of people watching videos, I catch snippets of writing conversation in the hallways and from the kitchen and neighboring classrooms—never enough to constitute eavesdropping, but pleasant, enthusiastic murmurs of people who care about putting it down in words. The only music is the distant tinkling of pianos or operatic echoes from the in-between floors where they conduct music lessons.
The ambience works, amusing my overactive imagination in the right way, making me imagine that, along with bodiless vocalists and piano phantoms, I too have begun to haunt Grub Street. I high-five Poe, Dickens, and the other literary ghosts of Boston when I pass the pianos on the way to the elevator. Eventually people here may know my face and name, but for now I accept the smiles in the kitchen. Grub Street is something of magic, and I’m grateful that it exists, though I keep feeling like someone will catch me and tell me I have to leave. I hope not, because these days I wake exhilarated, jumping out of bed when I know I’ll be writing at 162 Boylston.