Notes from a Coffee Shop 2

Apparently this is going to become a recurring thing.

A coffee shop is rife with potential subjects. The people, the smells, and the noise all conspire to make wonderful topics for writing. But there is a certain sense of etiquette that I once thought everyone was aware of. Apparently not.

Going to the coffee shop during the week is one thing; there aren’t very many people, and they mostly keep to themselves. On the weekend, however, the coffee shop becomes a free-for-all. It’s every man, woman, and child for himself (or herself). I can hold my own in this kind of crowd. But I refuse to be rude.

I refuse to be a lone patron who occupies a table meant for six. I find myself judging the people who occupy a booth just because they are waiting for a bigger table to open up. Isn’t there supposed to be a certain sense of decorum with which people conduct themselves in places like this? Isn’t there some unspoken code that prevents minor injustices like these from happening?

If there aren’t, perhaps there should be. Maybe I’ll start a one-woman coffee shop revolution. I will be a vigilante of all fine java establishments. I will police the seating areas, making sure all tables are occupied by the appropriate number of patrons. I will make sure that people don’t monopolize the drink station thus prohibiting the rest of us from doing the same.

Or I’ll just sit and sip my coffee while I watch all of these things taking place, and I will complain to anyone who will listen (or read) before I gather my things and go home.

Notes from a Coffee Shop

It’s funny how the line forms at the coffee shop. None of us are entirely sure where to stand since the line doesn’t really seem to have a beginning or an end. So we make a decision, and we decide to stand behind THAT guy. Why do we assume that he knows so much better where to stand than we do? We wait patiently (and sometimes impatiently) for our turn at the register, and by the time we get there most of us have forgotten why we wanted coffee in the first place. The barista takes our order, and we once again find ourselves in a sort of bean-inspired limbo, waiting to retrieve the drink we know we want but don’t know why.

Does anyone ever order just plain coffee at the coffee shop anymore? Do they even serve it there?

Behind Screen Number One Is…Another Screen

My world is made of screens. At least that’s what it feels like most of the time. As I struggle to find the words to write what I want to write, I stare blankly at the computer screen. That is until I conjure the right words; then I’m actively staring at the screen.

When I’m not staring at the computer screen, I am staring at the screen on my Nook, hoping to glean some inspiration (or technique or something) from the electronic pages written by people more successful than I.

Every now and then I take a break from reading to check my phone. Another screen. The constant scrolling on mobile social networking sites is enough to give me motion sickness. And when that happens…

I turn on the television to alleviate the stress on my eyes.

I’ve tried reading real books, something that still comes more naturally than picking up the Nook. But the necessity of wearing reading glasses compels me to put the book down again. Every now and then I try to remember a time when my life was less reliant on screen technology, but the reminiscence simply doesn’t come. I can’t help wondering if I am the only one who is bothered at this revelation.

I’m disconcerted by the thought that everywhere I turn there’s something to stare at, not something or someone to engage with. I want to be actively involved with my occupation; I don’t want to be a passive bystander anymore. I want to be a necessary component of how I spend my mornings and evenings.

I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is, if indeed it is a problem. It may be that screens are a necessary part of this increasingly technological world in which I have insinuated myself. If that’s the case, then I will simply have to accept reality for what it is and figure out a way to embrace it. Whatever the case I think for now my eyes need a bit of a break from this computer. Perhaps I’ll try reading for a bit…

Dream Residue

A dream is an elusive thing. Except when it’s not. There are some dreams that come racing back to memory the moment they are recalled. But there are others that remain on the periphery, standing close enough in our minds for us to recall that they existed but far enough away for us not to be able to recall anything about them. These dreams leave behind a residue, a suggestion, and they color the lens through which we view the rest of the day.

It is the intangible, indefinable feeling that all the cogs and wheels that make the mind work are not functioning in unison, that all our levels of self are not aligning properly. It is the mental equivalent of trying to put together a puzzle with too few pieces. In general, the puzzle is complete; we know what it’s supposed to be. But there is still something missing, something important. And the only way to dismiss it is to fall asleep again.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?
From “A Dream Within a Dream”
~Edgar Allan Poe

“Monday, Monday/Can’t trust that day”

The Mamas and The Papas were the first, I believe, to suggest that Monday is an untrustworthy day. I happen to be in complete agreement. It’s not that I have a personal grudge to bear against Monday, but Mondays are slippery. They begin and end before I have a chance to get completely involved. It’s like they’re trying to get themselves over with.

Most of us are only too happy to see a Monday pass. It means the week is really underway, and the weekend is one day closer to its arrival. I happen to enjoy Mondays when I can get a firm grasp on one. They are a chance at a fresh start, a chance to be more together than I was last week. More often than not, though, Monday becomes the blur that gets the week started. It doesn’t really seem like the beginning of anything. It’s just a day of preparation for the rest of the week. Maybe The Mamas and The Papas were right on two counts; sometimes it just turns out that way.

I’m on Base!

We use the term base for so many things: home base, he stole a base, his baser instincts, based on, I’m on base. When we were kids we played hide and seek; our object was to outwit our friends and make it back to the designated safe zone. The base. It was the one place our opponents could not touch us. We were safe. You can’t touch me; I’m on base!

As an adult I find that I am always searching for a place to touch down, a place to call my own. My island. Base. It’s the place I go for consolation when life seems to be too much. It’s the place I go to become untouchable, if only for a brief moment. I collect myself here. I read here; I write here. I think beautiful and terrible thoughts. I pause here. From here I decide my next move.

I’m not the only one.

Over time our bases may change; the places where we once sought refuge are no longer the primary places we go for comfort and consolation. The places we never expected to feel untouchable become our havens. But the need for some personal spot of refuge, a safe zone, never changes.

For the Record

The Morgan Library and Museum in New York opened an exhibit on Friday called “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.” On display visitors have the privilege of studying the pages of journals and diaries that belonged to authors like John Steinbeck and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It sounds fascinating. But it got me to thinking:

Why do we write things down? Why do we chronicle our lives? And when we do, are we true to who we really are?

I have been a journalist from the very tender age of ten. My first diary had Spottie Dottie (a Hello Kitty character) on the front. It was also kept under lock and key. There was something about being able to decide for myself which secrets to share with everyone and which ones to keep to myself. When I put them down on paper, they feel more real.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion writes: “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself…So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.” We don’t write things down for other people, and we don’t write things down in an effort to preserve our past experiences. We write things down so that we can remember them the way we think they ought to be. If Didion is correct (and I believe she is), these writings are never intentionally useful to anyone but the person who writes them. This is only logical since our lives are most useful to our own selves.

I suppose the stakes are different for famous people who are in danger of having their private thoughts put on display in some library years after their demise. Understandably, they would feel compelled to censor themselves to promote the image they worked so diligently (or maybe not so much) to create. But it has been my experience as a normal person with a normal life and normal thoughts that censoring yourself in your writing is best left undone. Otherwise you revisit the writings later, and you have no knowledge whatsoever of the person you find there. That person is an enigma, a fictional creation that provides no bearing on where you’ve come from or what you’ve been through.

My writings to myself are much more frank and straightforward than they have ever been before. There are no self-imposed limitations or restrictions on what I am allowed to say to myself, and there are no omissions in the interest of future readers. If you seek to know me through my writing, you will know the truest, most honest version of me. If I can’t recognize myself in my own experiences years from now, what was the purpose of writing them down at all?

Rainbow Not-So-Brite

A few nights ago, I discovered that the Rainbow Brite cartoons are available on InstantNetflix. My initial response was that of great excitement. But then I realized that every time I revisit the cartoons and movies I loved so much as a child I am disillusioned. I find them to be annoying and trite, and I always feel compelled to call my mother and apologize for watching them so much.

How is it that we can love something so much as children only to find that, as adults, that object of our affection is in fact loathsome?

It reminds me of reading a Roald Dahl book (or watching one of the movies based on his books). As a child, I loved his writing. I loved the characters, and I loved the stories, although I could never have told you why. As an adult, though, I revisit these stories, and I realize why my mother always thought Willy Wonka was a creepy guy. I find it fascinating that things always look different through the eyes of an adult. I find it even more fascinating that there is no way to return to the vision we had then.

I have been burned too many times before. Pippy Longstocking. Shera Princess of Power. They have all proved to be less than the amazing entertainment I thought they were. So while I am enthusiastic that Rainbow Brite is available to me, I am inclined to do what I haven’t done and leave her memory in tact. To destroy one of the last bastions of childhood memory would almost be like emotional masochism. I don’t think I’m ready for that.

Anything I Can Do I Can Do Better…x2

There are those of us who can only do one thing at a time. We do that thing to the utmost of our ability, and then we move on to the next task on the list. Then there are those of us who feel like the only way to be productive is to do a minimum of two things at once (and that’s on a slow day). We go about life simultaneously (so we think) getting things done. We are taking care of business times two. Or three. Or four. It all depends on how daring you want to be. But in the process of undertaking the role of WonderWoman (or SuperMan, whatever the case may be) are we really accomplishing what we think we are?

Is it better to accomplish a lot of things in a mediocre way, or should we focus on fully and accurately completing fewer tasks on the list?

I waver. Sometimes I feel like the only way to get done what needs to get done is to multitask. There are household chores and responsibilities that have to be done simultaneously to keep our lives in working order. Then there are days when I feel like the only logical thing to do is to expend all my energies making sure that a few things get done just as they should be with no corners cut and no shortcuts taken.

I blame graduate school. It would have been virtually impossible to complete graduate school without the gift of multitasking. No one can read that many books one at a time and write that many papers one at a time in the time frame of a semester. If you can, I want to know your secrets. Actually, I’m not sure that blame is the right word. I think graduate school is responsible for honing an innate skill.

I’m sure there are people who would suggest that championing the ways of a multitasker is wrong. But I am equally as certain that there are multitaskers who would claim that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish things the old fashioned way. I suppose in cases like this the only thing to do is to decide for yourself, leaving all matter of scientific data in the dust.

Now excuse me. I have to finish the breakfast I’m cooking while I research data on how to save the world from itself while I pay the bills while I answer the phone…

Blue Skies Smilin’ at Me?

Greetings from the afternoon! I promise not to make this a habit.

Every year around this time I find myself wishing away the months until warm weather arrives. With Christmas finished and the new year begun there really seems to be no point to the cold anymore.

In mid-December, the cold is expected and, dare I say it, welcome because it is the harbinger of the holidays. We want to hear about Frosty the Snowman and chestnuts roasting on open fires. Christmas comes and goes, and we arrive at the new year with a sense of hopeful anticipation and burgeoning potential. We countdown the seconds and throw our confetti while we snuggle in our warm coats against the current winter weather.

But then what?

When the celebrations are complete and normalcy has resumed, why does it need to be cold? I would contend that cold weather serves no purpose after New Year’s Day. The only thing to be expected of cold weather in January is a nuisance. For those of us lucky enough to live in milder climates, cold weather abates rather abruptly, and we are all the better for it. Bring on the blue skies! I have a new blue sundress waiting to make its debut…