Friday, January 6, 2017

Louisa’s Lost

I sat pen in hand at a location that felt wrong. It was not Louisa’s Café & Bakery. In the final month of 2016, Louisa’s Café & Bakery went out of business.

I began writing at Louisa’s. I became a writer at Louisa’s. I came of age – in a belated, arrested development, weird sort of way – at Louisa’s. I owe it all to Jack Remick and Robert Ray.

It began in a memoir class offered through the University of Washington Extension Program. No, it began the evening I dragged my depressed self into an orientation session. As Jack described the course and answered questions, his gray pony tail hanging over the collar of a black turtleneck, I felt his authenticity and an odd combination of nonchalance and intensity. He cared and he didn’t care. He was there to teach not to counsel, guide by example not by dictate. I doubt Jack remembers our brief conversation that evening. I will never forget it. It changed my life.

It was a 3-quarter program co-taught by Jack and Bob. The first night I was introduced to timed writing. At the end of the first quarter, Bob and Jack told the class about an open writing practice at a place called Louisa’s Bakery and Café. Anyone serious about putting pen to paper for thirty minutes of intense practice was invited.

I remember walking through the glass front door of Louisa’s Café & Bakery for the first time. I remember the funky painted wood tables and the welcoming smiles of the strangers who filled the chairs. I wrote. I read. I returned.

A ski accident during the second quarter slowed my writing, but I returned to class on crutches and eventually made it back to Louisa’s. Again I felt welcomed and safe. When I shed tears while I read, decades of tears for a murdered sister, my tears were accepted. By the end of the second quarter, my professors told me I had a potential book and encouraged me to keep writing.Two years later I signed a publishing contract and continued writing.

As the years passed, a personal practice emerged. timed writing worked well for drafting new scenes and blog posts, for meta writes and figuring stuff out. It didn’t work so well for editing and revision. Not for me anyway. For that I stayed home at my computer. But I could never stay away too long because Louisa’s was about more than simply scrawling words on paper. It was a community of like-minded people sharing a table. It was support and creativity and community.

I will never forget when this community came to their collective feet in applause the day I arrived, The Thirty-Ninth Victim in hand, just as I will always remember that hot spring day in 2008, a feeble fan blowing overhead, Louisa’s packed with fellow writers and friends as I launched my first book into the world. That was a special day, a huge day, a Louisa’s day.

Over twenty years ago Jack and Bob started writing together and welcoming others to join them. Fourteen years ago I garnered the nerve to accept their invitation. Now Louisa’s Café & Bakery is gone. I think we need a good old-fashioned Irish wake, but maybe that’s just me. Maybe it’s just a change, not a loss. But I cannot yet convince myself that such is the case.


Nancy McBride said...

I remember you telling me about how important this was to you. Poignant reverie.

Dana said...

Thanks for writing the eulogy, Arleen.

Jan said...

Looks like a great place. Why did they close?