When I lived in the suburbs after college, as soon as we girls acquired more furniture than a beanbag chair and a rickety stool, we hosted supper clubs. One of the more favorite versions of the supper club was the progressive dinner party in which the festivities move to a different person’s apartment for each course of the meal. Once I moved to NYC, I rarely went inside anyone’s apartment unless it was the home of one of the few individuals whose living space was larger than an average closet. That is, until I joined an unconventional writing group that operates a bit like the progressive parties of my suburban days.
This writing group meets once a week at a different location; sometimes we meet in the back room of a local bookstore or, if the weather is good, we meet at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, but usually we meet in someone’s apartment. We write for an hour or so and then chat and eat some snacks. I think at last count there were about 100 members, but only 15-20 show up at any given meeting, depending on the location. Because of the relaxed nature of the group, you can come every week, not come for three months, not write a word while you’re there or offer to read some of what you’ve written.
If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ll know that this arrangement perfectly satisfies the voyeur in me. (See the Getting to Know You post.) I get to nose around a stranger’s apartment, see what kind of knick-knacks they have and if they leave the toilet seat up. It’s also given me the opportunity to check out an 1890s brownstone that maintained the details of its glorious past and a hip Soho loft overlooking Broadway and Houston. Oh, and I get some writing done.
The writing group decided to try a noble experiment: have a meeting while riding on the 7 train. As unconventional as it sounds, I liked the idea of having the subway be the destination rather than the means to the destination. The goal is to board the train at the Times Square station, which is the very first stop so the entire group can pile into one car. We will then write during the ride out to Queens, and on the return trip, members can read their work if they choose. Of course there will be plenty of other passengers on the train, and I’ve no doubt that some of us will be the recipient of monetary donations.
This reminded me of Johnny Temple’s essay about a subway party, though the goal of a subway party is to drink yourself into a somewhat shaky state, then board the train with a gaggle of your closest friends and basically harass the rest of the passengers until they leave you with the car to yourself.
Now I don’t need utter silence to write, I’ve often jotted notes or written scenes while riding the subway, but the distractions on the 7 train are too much to handle. Most of the stations are above ground, where you’ll find the work of arguably the world’s best graffiti artists on display. Also above ground, there are the challenges of relentlessly ringing cell phones and general Saturday afternoon din, never mind the stares of New Yorkers as they watch the nutty people all clacking away on their laptops. Most of these people, I expect, will assume that we are filming some kind of documentary or that they walked into the latest version of Punk’d.
Come to think of it, this situation would not be satisfactory at all. I want to be the one conducting the voyeurism, not the subject of it. I know this is quite unfair. One good turn deserves another. So if you’re riding the 7 train and come across a group that seems to be lost in thought, please be a good voyeur and keep your stares surreptitious. That’s what I would do.