Thursday, April 06, 2006

Coffeeshop Adventures

Throughout the past two months or so I've found myself visiting the local coffeeshop several times a week. This has not been to hang out with friends, meet people, perform social experiments, or otherwise be cool. My aim has been a creative one, for the coffeeshop serves as the perfect local spot for me to go about my creative pursuits (usually writing) in relative peace.

I've probably made it to the coffeeshop between 15-20 times in this time, and above all things I've come to appreciate the meaning and importance of "ritualizing" whatever experience you're seeking. For instance, I could most certainly do my writing (or whatever) at "home" -- the noise distractions might be less, I'd probably spend less money, and I'd be quite nearby all of my personal possesions should I require them.

But these are the exact things I'm not looking for. In fact, it is these very things I'm trying to get away from.

When it comes down to it, it is adventure I seek. While many may look at a 3 hour trip to the coffeeshop as a poor excuse for a creative adventure, I am certain they are mistaken. For it is a journey frought with its own sort of peril, unpredictability, and mystery. By putting yourself out there into the unknown, you open yourself up to the forces (of both good and bad) that may help or hinder your creative quest.

I don't want the peace, quiet and comfort of my home. Too much peace stifles one's inner-drive for action. Too much quiet makes even the smallest disturbance an avalanche of frustration. And too much comfort invites distraction at every moment. In setting myself away from these things, I'm "putting myself out there" and forcing myself to use my supplies, knowledge, and wits to deal with any and all situations and predicaments I might find myself in. You must leave the comfortable confines of the village if you're to bring back to the flame from the depths of the forest.

And so, in each journey to the coffeeshop I do find myself on an adventure. Will I get there okay? So far so good, but I can never be certain. Will it be crowded or empty? I've seen both ends of the specturm, each of which have their relative ups and downs. Will I find a seat alright? Far from trivial and meaningless, one's seat can make or break the adventure. Will I spill my coffee, get my laptop stolen, or get into a fight? All things are possible.

Perhaps I'm going overboard in my dramatization and glorification of these things... though on some level I speak the truth. It has, for instance, been a beautiful thing to watch my comfort-level and confidence slightly swell with each visit. Slowly and little by little am I learning the menu, finding my preferred seats, recognizing the regulars, and noticing the small differences that can boost an experience from routine to majestic.

Rather recently, for instance, have I recognized that this very coffeeshop holds in it all the things I loved about the University of Maryland Food Coop, which (until recently) had been my most treasured little hang-out throughout each week. I realize now that it was not the Food Coop I was in love with, but the meaning and ritual that I found therein. This same meaning and ritual has been rediscovered at this local coffeeshop, and will surely be rediscovered in various different disguises (and facilities) as my life rolls on by.

Most importantly, it is the magic of the small things that bring enchantment to my each and every visit. Last week I found myself sitting in a new seat in a new room and noticed a bookshelf tucked away in the nearby corner. I had never noticed this before... had it manifested itself out of nowhere? I found myself imagining the hundreds of different readers of the dozens of different old and tattered books. In each reading of a book, I've always believed, the reader transfers something back to the book (just as the book transfers something to the reader). This spirit or energy remains, and lies dormant and waiting for all who might next open the cover. Sitting next to this bookshelf, I allow its gentle winds to rush over me, perhaps guiding me so that I might find the treasure I seek.

Another great thing about this coffeeshop is its beautiful lack of conformity in its decoration. Everything clashes to an extent that there is total union and harmony. Each chair is different, for instance, and this is another thing I have come to love. For it is in picking your seat when the nature of your forthcoming adventure is decided. This is something I've become aware of and grown to respect enormously. I think of all others who have sat in this chair before me on their own adventures. Be they writing a poem, drawing a picture, planning a murder or starting a religion -- something of their journey has been left in this chair, and (for better or worse) is waiting to be conferred to me. I too, I know, have something to give back to this chair at the night's end. And so it goes, continued by all for the many who've yet to make it this far along.

And lastly, we have the prescious and ever-important beverage that defines my each visit to the coffeeshop. In a recent conversation with a friend, I commented on the fact that I have yet to visit the coffeeshop without purchasing something to drink (coffee or tea). [Note: the coffeeshop in question is certainly NOT a place where you're at all forced or in anyway pressured to buy something. They're simply happy to have your company] I find myself wondering, is this healthy? Is this showing a sign of weakness -- that I am unable to find the worth of an adventure without a little boost from a cup of coffee?

Ultimately, we decided the answer was no -- this was not unhealthy. From a financial standpoint, spending $2.25 three or four times a week is quite sustainable, especially considering how mUch I might spend at a bar or at other places instead. From a health standpoint, knowing that the only caffeine I ever ingest comes from these visits has me without worry at all. From a social standpoint, I totally realize that my "identity" or "image" is not at all defined or dependant upon me questing to be this "cool townie post-grad artist who drinks exotic coffee at the local dive coffeeshop." That isn't what its about at all.

The answer is this -- just with the coffeeshop visits in a wider scope, it is the sheer ritual of each cup of coffee purchased that brings meaning and importance to the table. In this cup of coffee (I have grown to see), the fortunes of my adventure are to be found. The wisdom lies not within the coffee or the caffeine... the wisdom lies within me. And it is this coffee (and perhaps the caffeine) that help guide me to this inner-wisdom and retrieve it from the depths. Just as mythology describes for us countless tales of the Hero who braves the darkness in hopes of stealing the fire, I too -- in my every visit to the coffeeshop -- utilize the quite-satisfactory aid of my worthy guide (the coffee) to help me retrieve the fire from the darkness within.

And in doing so the treasure is found... treasure that remains when the last sip has been consumed, after the coffeeshop shuts its doors, and the sun has set. Even after I am long gone, the to-be-Heroes among us may hear my hushed whispers of guidance still sounding in the chairs I've sat in, the cups I've drank from, and the coffeeshop where adventure was had and treasure was found.

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