On Friday night, I invited my Beloved out for dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant, because I deeply desired sushi. It has been a hectic few weeks and I like decompressing with a short night out over food that I don’t know how to cook.
We arrived at the restaurant, which is just a few short blocks from home, to discover that the front had changed rather dramatically — most partiularly the name. Our favorite restaurant was clearly under new management. Upsetting, but we went inside anyway, since I was really in the mood for sushi, but quickly discovered that it had been replaced with the Asian fusion people who ruined our local good Chinese sit-down. The food was disappointing, but it was the dining room itself that disturbed me most.
Before the restaurant had been a quiet place to go and have dinner and conversation. The new owners replaced the peaceful green walls with orange, added a wall where before there was open space, and planted TVs around the small room. I am not a big fan of TV in general, but I loathe them most in restaurants and bedrooms. A restaurant is a place where I go to talk with the people I am with and escape from the outside world. By placing TVs on the walls, the outside world is let back in. The TV becomes a contender for all of our attention spans. It reduces the depths of our conversations.
Today I am trying out a new coffee shop in a nearby town. I had been a huge fan of sitting and writing at Sip This in Valley Stream, which is a twenty minute drive for me. But they recently added TVs to their decor and the last time I went there, they had the sound on, which made it an impossible place for me to sit and write. Today I am trying Gentle Brew in Long Beach for the first time, which is an independent shop nearly within the shadow of a Starbucks. There are, above all, no TVs on the wall, so I am listening to people talking to each other and a musician playing Spanish guitar. The walls are white and covered in prints of the beach. It is restful, an escape from the world. It is what a restaurant ought to be — a place for people to relax or connect to one another without constant visual stimulation being blasted at them. I have a new place for sitting and writing.
Virginia Woolf rather famously wrote about how a writer needed independent finances and a room of her own in which to write. Certainly that’s an ideal situation, if you happen to be so lucky as to be independently wealthy. For the rest of us, it is spaces where we can write, as best we can. Places without distraction, places where our thoughts can flow. I am sad to lose one such place, but happy to find another. Environment does matter. We are so commonly overstimulated by our environments that I’m coming to value more and more the few that give me space and time.