Finding Your Voice. Noticing Life.

In preparation for my writing group meeting on Sunday at the Old Goat Coffee Shop, I recall that I am meant to have reviewed and worked on the chapter one exercises in Susan M. Tiberghien’s book: One Year to a Writing Life. Angela and I had agreed to linger for another month on this chapter since we had only really done a few of the exercises each, and there were still some good ones on which to focus.
Before digging in, I assess my surroundings this morning. I sit at the Starbucks on the corner of 54th & Lyndale, my old work hood. This revamped location is a bit more sterile than the old layout. When I first popped in a few months ago to check it out – it felt too crowded to me. In an attempt to figure out what they had in mind, I survey the seating a bit more closely. They have added quite a bit of high top counter space along the window facing Lyndale- this used to be the place where you would find two overstuffed leather arm chairs with small side tables, and about three cafe tables. That seating could accommodate about six people. Now, they have this long high counter that is mounted to the window so that the high top chairs are facing out and they are very close together. This means that if I were to consider sitting there- I would likely have to rub elbows with a complete stranger as I attempted to craft some writing finesse. Not comfortable. Then, in the middle of the floor they have a tall long table – again community style, that could seat a family of ten with bar stool style chairs… a high top dining room table for 10 right smack dab in the middle of traffic. The line for ordering your latte is right next to that tall table for ten. Again, here if I were to take up one chair, the assumption is that I am inviting others to join me at the table- like I want to be part of a club or something. I can surmise that this is intentional – again, bringing strangers together? And, there is another such family dining table – this one the more traditional low style, and this one is seating for eight. A man sits at the corner of that table listening to his mega-headphones music which I can hear from across the room and he is laughing to himself while sipping on his coffee. He wears sun glasses in the morning, in a darkened coffee house, black clothing, a black cap and some black athletic shoes with the white swoosh. His left hand cradles his chin with his elbow resting on the wooden table. And I wonder, is he listening to music or a comedy routine. He seems relaxed and pleased with whatever he is listening to or thinking about. Next to his table at the far end against a wall are two straight backed leather chairs with a more taught and stiff leather and then a small side table in between them. Cozy but they are less than two feet from the end of that table for eight… so if one were to sit there, one would expect people sitting in such close proximity that it would be either difficult to concentrate or hard to hear. Then, there are the two tables for four pushed against my wall, opposite side of the store from the table for eight but just next to the table for ten. This is where I am sitting, facing outside – looking straight onto the traffic light and traffic zooming northbound on Lyndale; in my view is also the condiment and creamer station. There is only enough room between the tables for ten and my table fo one to allow one person to walk, by but not two. I remember when I came in here when they first openend that I felt squished in and not relaxed. It was a morning not too unlike today, and I was meant to buy coffee and hang out with my iPad to write a bit. But on that morning, it was so crowded, many seats were occupied, and I didn’t feel like squeezing in to claim a spot. So, instead, I ordered my latte and headed to work without writing. At the time, I don’t think I was that conscious of my feelings of claustrophobia from the layout of the store, but now in hindsight, I wonder about the people who planned the layout. They have many chairs in this place, many places to put fannies. And I wonder what this place might be like in the evenings- is it filled up? Are people content to sit next to strangers at these long tables? Do they meet new people? Are these the kind of people seeking this kind of forced connection with others? I am likely overevaluating but I am wonder in this world of ours that often feels disconnected and a solo experience in many ways; are commercial endeavors attempting to bring together people? Or, is this simply a plan to maximize revenues in a coffee shop? Make room for the largest possible number of people to reside for awhile as they enjoy the products of Starbucks? It’s probably the latter and I am sure that a lot of evaluation went into this design. They likely consulted with experts and maybe have their own expert department that collaborates on maximizing flow and revenue during various parts of the day. And this layout also factors in the wall of merchandise on the other side of that line that forms next to the table of ten to my right. Coffee beans, mugs, grinders, teas and more- all lined up in three shelves of merchandise space. It’s all about capitalism and likely little to do with psychotherapy. Leave it to me to look to deeply into a mundane thing like use of space.
On this morning, as I spend less than an hour at Starbucks at the corner of Lyndale and 54th, I find only about five of us lingering at tables and chairs- the rest of the flow is a steady stream of commuters moving as quickly as possible through the coffee concoction line on their way to work. So, having made enough of this space- having likely spent too much time evaluting things, I now move to the book.
Chapter one is all about journaling. It covers first what journaling is and why do it. Some of the key points that garner a nod from me include (and not necessarily layed out in this order in the book):
-To find your voice

-To discover what you think

-To capture memories (places, characters, conversations, events)
The morning light outside has brightened since my arrival only about twenty minutes ago. Now, I look up from the keyboard and see that a man has installed himself at the end of the counter facing the street- last chair, close to the wall. He wears a ball cap and glasses, his light tan leather jacket is drapped over the back of his chair. His hands are holding the morning paper. In one of the leather chairs, another man- this one has his laptop on his lap and his coffee on the side table. He is reading from the laptop and he looks pensive to me. Three people are squeezed into the condiment station and five people are lined up to make their order. Behind me a woman and her two small children have paused for their morning breakfast together – afterwards, it is possible that she will walk them the half block to the catholic school just up the way and across the street. The place is humming with activity and capitalism and community are in full swing.
As I look at the front window, I notice that the building that used to be there is gone. There used to be a pizza place there- but it burned one evening about two years ago and sat there with the remains of the blaze for quite a long time. They finally brought it down.
Observations of my surrounding, overhearing conversations, paying attention to my environment. That is what writing is for me. Gaining a sense of hightened awareness of the world that ebbs and flows right in front of my eyes. Being conscious of life, the pulse of it. I love this act of writing that helps me to float on a different plane. Without it, it is almost as if life just passes without an expression of it. Writing is like talking out loud but on the screen (was going to say on the page or on paper- but these days the writing is generally electronic). Yes- this is the best part of my day- a way to help me breath better. To feel things in a more meaningful way. to help me in planning – not just the day, but the week and even the year. To establish a pattern of living life in a state that is more satisfying.

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