The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe: Bibliophile’s Paradise

Cards on the table? I came in looking for a fight. Okay, maybe not looking for a fight because that implies I wanted to start one but I definitely went in expecting one, which I think is an important distinction to make. I could blame this mindset on my German/Scots/Irish background but as a human being responsible for her own actions, I can fully place the onus at my own feet on this one.

When I walked into the Writer’s Block Café and Bookstore, I fully expected a long, drawn-out debate of epic proportions. I adjusted the chip on my shoulder, making sure it was fixed there firmly, and I had my cell phone at the ready to capture every moment “just in case”. At a book store. Yeah, I was a feisty little potato that morning.

Why was I expecting a fight? Because I had preconceived notions. The tricky thing about those is that once you have these notions, getting them out of one’s headspace is difficult. Not impossible but definitely difficult. But, for being someone who went in with a scrappy attitude, I was in a pretty good mood generally. Sam had gotten his cast off of his ankle that day and his good mood/excitement at the prospect of freedom/range of motion kind of rubbed off on me. I don’t know why I felt the need to go to the bookstore I had sworn not to go to on “principle” but maybe in a “Clint Eastwoodian” way, I felt lucky that day, punk. As stated before, maybe the vibes from Sammy made me feel in a mood to shift my perspective a bit but not so much a shift occurred beforehand that I wasn’t on my guard. Maybe it was intense curiosity and I was in the neighborhood? Who knows? I went and parked in the snowy little parking lot and girded my loins, ready for battle (after a cup of coffee, of course – because priorities).

Where did I get the preconceived notions that lead me to this pivotal moment? I had been contacted by a friend when I had posted last year on my instagram (@supercaity1) that I was supremely interested/excited about the Writer’s Block Café and Bookstore opening soon-ish. I had gone on, saying that I was not only interested in their existence in a town with only big-box bookstores with zero personality but that I also intended to apply for a job there. If you know me, you know I am addicted to books and, moreover, stories. To have a place where I can not only get a good cup of coffee and read/write with no distractions but also meet fellow bibliophiles? Heaven! Sometimes I’m not fortunate enough to have the presence of mind to sit and write because I’m a. Sick or b. Busy or c. Both. Sitting and writing at home, for me, is almost impossible because even if I’m feeling well, I feel guilty if I’m not taking advantage of the upswing in mobility/downswing in pain and getting things done in the house. In a coffee shop with the right atmosphere, one has more freedom of movement. Add books to that and you get even more freedom to either read *or* write. You can choose to go with friends, go alone, and, depending on your level of gregariousness, talk to others or not. It is truly the best of all worlds.

When the friend contacted me, they told me that the owners of the shop not only disagree with the Second Amendment (2A), which would not bother me, but would be actively barring people who believed in the tenants of 2A, which bothers me immensely. I think the point people fail to understand about the Constitution is that the rights afforded therein are only being violated if they are being violated by the government, not a private citizen or business. If someone told you to shut up, they aren’t violating your freedom of speech. If a private business or citizen said not to carry weapons on premises, they’re not violating your 2A rights. The accusation posited was not that Writer’s Block was infringing upon anyone’s rights in an illegal manner because they can, as a private business, elect to have a “gun free zone”; the accusation was that they were targeting a group of people based on personal politics. To me, this seemed at worst totalitarian in nature and at best fool-hardy for a business to make such sweeping policy that would discriminate against a large portion of Alaskans. If you’ve ever met an Alaskan, you’d be hard pressed to find one that hasn’t at least shot a gun at one point in their lives.

Alaska is a very unique environment politically. I have met some of the staunchest conservatives ever and some of the most liberal people on the planet – and everyone in between. It’s very hard to map but after you live here for awhile, you realize that it doesn’t make one lick of difference because with the harsh climate and the adjacent wild animal population, we’re all just trying to survive up here. Sam and I noted that most politicians use the resume bullet-point of how long they’ve lived here versus their opponent because the loser of that battle is seen as an “outsider”. For a good deal of the populous, that’s an important point. Alaskans are very friendly but when it comes to politics, they’re deeply mistrustful of outlanders, which I would say makes a great deal of sense when you really think about it. I am a native Kentuckian but for all the places I’ve ever lived (Texas, Italy, Virginia, Oklahoma), I would say that Alaska is the place where I have felt the most at home as an adult. You really make your family here, especially if you have no blood relations up here, as we did not. Now we have a family that is as varied, crazy, awesome, and loving as the DNA-tied variety we have in the elsewheres of the “lower 48”.

Back to WWF Fight Night:

When I came in and actually sat down and talked to Kathy McCue (part-owner) and Jessa, I found that the accusation leveled by my friend probably wasn’t made maliciously but might have been misinterpreted. It is possible that the owners might have made a statement at one point in anger or passion and amended their position for the good of their business (I.e. public relations). It happens, certainly, but from talking to the employees here, I didn’t get that impression. When I spoke to the main owner, Vered Mares, on another visit, her assertion was simply that she does not care about a difference anyone’s personal beliefs politically, religiously, and in any other way, shape or form than her own. She further went on to state that the purpose of the establishment she helped bring to life on 3956 Spenard Road in Anchorage, Alaska was to encourage the opposite of the accusation leveled against the owners: to create a space for people of even the most diametrically opposed political ideologies to sit down civilly over a cup of coffee and talk; to read books that expose them to a myriad of ideas, thoughts, and beliefs; and to, hopefully, help everyone understand each other a little better.

Vered mentioned that the store/coffeehouse/open mic forum/wine and beer bar/purveyor of fine foods is meant to be used in a manner unlike the divisive atmosphere of the internet. The “real world” (or “IRL” to you internet dwellers) people’s lack of civility has significant repercussions as opposed to comparable conduct online garnering no more than temporary banning. After a banning, one can create a new email, make a new account and voila – you’re back in the game. You cannot rant and rave at people in public and expect to be heard with any degree of seriousness. Just as political blogs are the equivalent of getting one’s financial advice from the audience members who scream shit out on The Price is Right (thanks for that observation, Wyatt Cenac), so is social media in the world of debate. Civilized discourse is a dance of give and take, tit and tat. There are no winners or losers in any kind of discussion of this caliber and anyone who goes into such a discussion with that combative mindset has already missed the point and “lost”. Without getting into the minutiae of the conversations held, there is no prohibitive policy towards guns or gun owners. Vered requests that while she personally prefers people not bring in their guns, she doesn’t oppose it or oppose/dislike anyone who owns/operates guns. She said she would never, no matter how strong her politics, discriminate against anyone based upon political opinion. She went on to tell me that she deeply respects many people who are pro-2A and works with/is friends with many of them.

Basically, here’s the “policy” from what I gathered: don’t be a dick. Gun owners generally are not this way and admonish those that make the rest of us look bad. Most owners of firearms that carry in public do so very discreetly not because we have anything to hide but rather because most feel it is stupid to openly advertise carrying a weapon. I would say the prevailing belief structure is that we would rather “have it and not need it rather than need it and not have it”. As Jessa (a former competitive shooter herself) joked, “just don’t come in here waving a gun around or pointing it at anyone [and we’ll be fine].”

All the preconceived notions and anxiety about missing out on a project/business I was excited to patronize put to bed, I went about actually experiencing the dwelling. Surrounded by an open, airy, yet comfortable floor-plan, I easily found a spot on the floor in a big, comfy, fluffy “bean bag” chair on the ground with small floor-level tables. This area is primarily for children but no one gave me a side-eye for it and Rejoy, the barista, happily served me my breakfast sandwich and latte (Uncle Leroy’s brand – a local company).

The food? Absolutely amazing. It’s a panini-style sandwich with havarti/cheddar scrambled eggs, tomato and a “zangy” garlic parsley spread. I found a book that looked interesting in the sci-fi/horror section entitled “The Secret History of Witches”, a supernatural historical fiction (my current favorite genre). I settled in and just absorbed the atmosphere with my headphones half-on and enjoyed my culinary fare. I read the first chapter of my new book with a profound sense of peace. Later, a little girl of about Abby’s age sat down in the space that I was inhabiting (which was more suited to herself than myself). She had picked out a Shel Silverstein book from the pretty amazing kids’ book section and was consuming it voraciously. We talked about our mutual love of the author and how I used to read Silverstein when I was her age, though I wouldn’t tell her exactly how long ago that was lest I lose my “kid-cred”. Her father bought her a copy of one of Shel’s books and they left, smiles on both their faces.

Currently, I am writing this piece in The Writer’s Block, which is now one of my more favored places to go if I’m in the area. A group of young-at-heart women are having a birthday party for their friend, Rae, and wearing some pretty fabulous hats/tiaras to celebrate the occasion. People are sitting at tables, talking to their friends or, as I am, reading/writing with a cup of coffee by their side. Coincidentally, the song “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones has come on my Spotify: quite apropos! Tomorrow (March 9th, 2018), the store opens “officially” as part of their grand opening celebration. All the information for this event can be found on their Facebook or their website; hey, sometimes even social media can be useful/helpful/informative if wielded responsibly. I use the internet quite often, obviously, and I’ve more than once forayed into the world of arguing on the internet. I’ll probably be guilty of it later on but I’m trying to take steps to lessen this activity or at least recognize it when it happens and learn from it.

Kenneth J. Gergen once described civilized discourse as “the language of dispassionate objectivity” and pointed out that it is necessary that those so engaged in it respect each other. The art of this discourse is afflicted with a societal cancer as the false bravado/misinformation/malice of those on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram rule the day; The Writer’s Block and storefronts of its ilk serve as the chemotherapy. Here’s hoping the metaphorical terminal illness goes into a permanent remission.

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