What is it about coffee shops that kick start a writer’s muse? I first tried hauling my laptop to my local java hut after reading Natalie Goldberg’s books. Natalie, author of Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, suggests writing in coffee shops and I was at the point where if someone had advised painting my face blue and chanting to the moon in order to get some writing done, I’d have tried that too. Usually, I need absolute quiet to write, but oddly, I’ve discovered I love to write in coffee shops. I think the reason is that there is always a drama taking place. Not just one drama, but many tiny scenes from many different lives.
I try to pick a new coffee shop every time. Different venues offer different clientele and different clientele are involved in different dramas. People and drama are what we write about.
Recently, I spent the morning in one of my favorite coffee shops. It’s a family-run operation not too far from my home, where the barista is a boy who grew up across the street from me. I like this coffee shop because so many different people hang out there. The last time I went to this coffee shop I was just having a bad writing day. Nothing I was typing felt fresh and I had been in my office too long with no voices but the ones in my head.
I packed up and headed out for a latte and stumbled into the typical hot bed of drama. There was an older man sitting at a table by himself. He had a newspaper and a single cup of coffee that he nursed for an hour or so while he struggled with the crossword puzzle. During that hour no one spoke to him, no one joined him, and he did not exchange a single word with another person. I thought to myself there is another man who has been alone a little too much and he simply needs the company of other people and the stimulation of other voices around him. Was his wife in hospital? Was he a widower with no family? Was he simply escaping the house for an hour to sit quietly and drink his coffee and do his crossword puzzle? I don’t know the answer to this, and I don’t need to, just the fact of him being there somehow helped me to focus and write.
Two women sat at the table beside me. The tables are so close together in this coffee shop that there was no more than 18 inches between me and the lady beside me. She was probably in her early to mid 40s, and across from her was a woman perhaps a decade younger with beautiful long red hair. I noticed that hair because the older woman mentioned it. She made very flattering reference to this younger woman’s hair at how thick it was and how much there was of it. She said with a smile, “And it sure clogs up the bath drain.”
The younger woman fluffed her hair and preened just a little bit. Soon they were talking about the local sights to see. I’m guessing she was a house guest who might not be invited back if she doesn’t learn to clean up after herself.
Several tables away were two women who looked like soccer moms. But there was something about the way they were speaking to each other that caught my attention. They leaned in close, they rarely broke eye contact while their coffee sat barely touched. I was too far away to hear their conversation, but possibilities darted through my mind. An affair? Trouble at school? A child in some kind of distress? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.
I wasn’t writing that day about lonely old men, inconsiderate houseguests, or soccer moms in turmoil, but I was writing about the human condition, and that day as every day I was surrounded by it in my local coffee shop.