Category: At the Café
Distraction: Friend or Foe
“Ok, listen, this one’s REALLY funny.”
My 8th grader is making his breakfast while reciting, nearly word-for-word, an episode from one of his favorite shows and laughing hysterically. I can barely understand him.
I nod and smile and make approving noises but I miss even the intelligible words. I know, bad mommy moment… but it’s 7:46 AM which means I have 14 minutes to make his lunch, shower, do something really important I can’t remember, and gather my stuff because today is my out-of-the-home-office writing day – no excuses – no diversions – and unless someone is bleeding out, “Focus” is my middle name. Period.
Adding to the angst is “The Tardy Letter” we received last week. One more tardy and we BOTH end up in the principal’s office! Neither of us understands how this happened, unless it’s that lingering case of I-forgot-something-itis.
We sprint out of the house, scramble into the car, and catapult ourselves through the drop-off lane just before the gates close. At least we didn’t screech to a halt… much. Students are already crowded at classroom doors, pushing each other and causing last-minute mayhem. My son races off, rolling backpack trailing wildly behind.
I wait for it.
Just before rounding the corner, he looks back to give me a “thumbs up” paired with a maniacal smile. I love this kid!
As the gate closes behind me (yes, I’m the last car), I drive off to Peet’s Coffee where I find the place teaming with conversationalists. Today the din is perfect for writing: the tone is balanced and includes a touch of intensity topped off with joyful over-notes.
I luck into the last seat at the writing bar – a long, high counter perfect for laptoppers – and realize the climb onto the bar-stool chair isn’t as awkward as usual (i.e., no one is injured). My feet dangle like a kid’s as I ponder this important point: Why don’t these chairs swivel?
Seriously. Picture a writer all frozen and tense, caught in a moment of writer’s block, when suddenly (and without warning) she pushes off into a wild swivel ? It could totally break apart that inertia, if you ask me.
After a time, I notice there are four of us huddled over computers: two are furiously writing, one stares out the window with the gleam of inspiration in his eye, and one is catching snippets of other people’s conversations because she is in a state of inertia and sitting atop a non-swiveling bar-stool chair.
Well…. why don’t we just pause for a Peet’s Moment, shall we?
The guy behind me is changing his address and calling various places via mobile phone. I hear the following:
- his new location (Big Bear City)
- his first, middle, and last names
- social security number, passwords, codes
- the sale of his first born child
I don’t make a mental note to forget his info because I’ve already forgotten his first name – but let’s call him Bob. What my memory does latch onto, however, is that Bob will be living in a place with the word “bear” in it’s title. How exotic… and a tad unsettling – especially if you believe in the Law of Attraction (i.e., what you feel/think is what you attract to you).
My vicarious fears aside, I notice Bob has been on hold with his auto insurance company for quite some time now (I SO need a swivel chair). When he finally gets someone on the line, Bob does the unthinkable: He asks them to hold.
Then, get this, he sets the phone down and blows his nose.
My ears grow wide with awe and wonder!
What a bold guy that Bob is. I would have let my nose drip to distraction before taking a huge risk like that. But, then, that’s why Bob is moving to Big Bear City and I am not. He obviously has a whole new take on this Law of Attraction thing.
Well, enough of that. Back to my non-swiveling state of… hmmm…. uh, gee, I’m sorry, but I need to put you on for just a moment…
[insert your favorite “in-the-cue music” here]
Okay, thanks for waiting. Just added some non-whining content to my journal, wrote out an idea for a class I’m teaching, and even created a semi-balanced work/life plan for the day which includes “quality listening” to one middle school student.
Odd time for inspiration – I thought distraction was an evil byproduct of inertia when, actually, it seemed to help. Of course, I’m still holding out for a swiveling bar-stool chair. Perhaps they make folding ones for easy transport…. I’ll ask Bob.
I’m at odds with my desk-top computer today, it won’t write anything worth printing. So, my laptop and I are at Peet’s Coffee & Tea – my favorite spot to get lost in the din. The place is packed and wild: kids romping around, boisterous people laughing and shrieking, a loud argument whose every other word is cr*p or sh*t or choc*l*te. Crazy stuff… probably the full moon or some celestial body in retrograde … like my kitchen.
I spot two bar-stool chairs at the bean counter: one contains a live body; one harbors an inanimate object. I’m in! I ask the guy if I can use the chair his bag occupies even though he knows and I know he can’t say no. It’s Café Law. Nevertheless, he shoves the bag to the floor, looks at me as if I asked him to toss his mother into the trash, and stares back into his laptop.
Guess we won’t be doing much friendly-banter about beans this morning.
I decide to give him some leeway – after all, he’s wearing scrubs. I’ve always found people in uniforms to be awfully busy – take Wonder Woman or The Jolly Green Giant. Goodness knows who they’re saving day in and day out. I know that canned peas saved my own mother’s life day after day …. after day. Mr. Scrubs is probably a doctor discovering big, life-saving stuff even as I gawk.
I don’t like to ask people in uniforms, especially hospital gear, to do anything when they’re obviously off duty. I figure they do enough.
I start to write by organizing my belongings. I’m all fidgety today so this takes a full fifteen minutes because papers keep falling, I can‘t find my phone which I must have handy (in case my son’s school calls to tell me his head is stuck in the fence), and my sweater falls off my shoulders three times before I stuff it in my bag. Aware that Mr. Scrubs has moved his chair slightly away from my cacophony, I try to tone it down.
Not happening. When I finally climb into the chair I realize there is absolutely no leg space at the bean counter. None. I squirm to reach my computer and my knees complain. I try a side-saddle position, but my back complains. I move to a not-so-lady-like posture; Miss Manners complains. I try the healthy option of standing at the counter but I’m too short to semi-comfortably reach the keys. Back to side-saddle where I manage a whole 37 seconds of stillness. Maybe Miss Manners will find me a seat.
Mr. Scrubs side-glances me for the third time which prompts my Inner Squirrel Freeze – the one that says “I am not a squirrel, I am a rock. I was not running across the street even though I am somehow in the center of it. Do not look at me, I am not here.“
I wonder if Mr. Scrubs will slip a Valium into my coffee to get some peace. I wonder if that’s not such a bad idea.
Mid-Squirrel, a mom and child bonk my chair as they walk by. The mom apologizes, the child smiles and shows me her pink bunny. I offer a “not-to-worry-I-get-it smile”. They remind me that I, too, am charged with keeping a child alive 24/7 despite his lack of memory for doing chores. My uniform just happens to be dark circles under my eyes and a crumpled schedule written on last-week’s grocery list.
I then remind myself that mom’s do enough, too, so I put myself back on equal status with Mr. Scrubs and decide to squirm at will…which, oddly enough, calms me right down.
I find this interesting. I allow myself to be fidgety and now I’m not? I pose a question to myself and ready my hands at the keyboard, prepared to be wholly enlightened by my inner knowing.
I ask: What else am I not allowing myself to be or do?
But out of the corner of my eye I see an open chair by the window…with ample leg space! Enlightenment, shmitenment – Miss Manners just worked a miracle. I wonder what her uniform looks like…
© Beverly Belling – all rights reserved
Space – The Stuff that Writing is Made Of
“Look at the space where you write,” says our writing coach. “Is it inviting? Does it promote creativity? How would you design a space for an honored guest?”
My classmates nod and jot down these questions dutifully while I wipe up the tea I just splurted all over my journal. At the moment, I’m pretty sure I don’t have “a writing space”. I have keyboards. I have screens. I have journals and pens. But a “space”?
I do have writing “time”. I have scheduled time in my calendar plus stolen time where I write in between work, vacuuming, child rearing, waving to my husband, and burning something for dinner. But this “space thing”…I just don’t know. That’s a whole different cartridge of ink.
I decide to investigate – here is my report:
WHERE I WRITE by BJ Belling
1. My Head. It’s not a bad head, as heads go. Inviting? Well, the ruffly outside is kind of fun. Promote creativity? Hmmmm….the imagination department seems to be coming online – much more activity than, say, 3 years ago. I notice, however, that the Fight-or-Flight area is on alert a bit often – something about lots of change and feeding on mac-‘n’-cheese. Made a mental note to sooth this area more often, but can’t seem to fit it in…oh! Wow…the Mental Note department is way overcrowded. Too many gangs of Cruddy Thoughts lurking about. Time for a purge and bit of redecorating. An Honored Guest might like a bit of violet chiffon with a touch of gold inlay – will get on that straight away.
2. On the Go. Includes driving, exercising, showering, and maybe grocery shopping if I have a list that I stick to and don’t have a child with me saying “can we try this? can we buy this?”. I find it curious that I do NOT write when I’m shopping for a new purse… but I’ll leave that addiction alone for now. If I have an idea worth writing down (and they are ALL brilliant ideas, aren’t they?), I locate any scrap of paper and writing instrument – which could mean I scratch with my nail at the back of a receipt. A little precarious when driving a car or grocery cart, perhaps. I tried fumbling with a digital recorder a couple of times but the sounds of “gak!” and “oh no!” and falling displays of all-natural dog food put a damper on my A-hah!-moments. Probably not Honored Guest friendly.
3. My Office. Where there are at least two sides to every story:
a. On the plus side there are two windows. One overlooks our front yard and street; the other, my neighbor’s house. Out of these windows I see my neighbor’s neat-as-can-be yard, a flowering bush, a bit of sky, and people ducking to avoid a concussion from the oak tree that leans over the sidewalk.
b. On the minus side, my office is the place where Papers come to retire, living out their golden years free from confined spaces. The Papers have been so comfortable here that word got around and now many Household Items have joined in, such as, The Old Computer, The Empty Vitamin Bottle, and The Paper Bowl which I’ve stepped over at least a dozen times because I just can’t bring myself to disturb its daily meditation.
I know the Honored Guest Remedy for this, but thinking about it requires more oxygen than is available in here. I move on.
4. Peet’s Coffee & Tea. A cosmopolitan atmosphere, Peet’s offers just enough din to both fuel inspiration and drown out people’s gall-bladder stories. Other than once in awhile needing to locate an open table by using my super-powers (i.e. I stare at the back of someone’s head until they think they’re being haunted and leave), it is the perfect place for me. I just make sure I purchase enough stuff to pay for my seat but not so much that I look like I’m paying for my seat, ifyouknowwhatImean. Oh, and the coffee here will knock your toe rings right off. Definitely an Honored Guest spot.
So, in retrospect, this is not TOO bad. I honestly didn’t think I had any writing space at all! Although I’m fairly certain an Honored Guest would pass on the window seat in my office (see “b” above) or a ride in a grocery cart, a trip to Peet’s could definitely work. And if not, there’s always a lovely spot in the center of my mind.
© Beverly Belling, Rarely Balanced, All Rights Reserved
All photographs & drawings are original and © Beverly Belling, Rarely Balanced, unless otherwise noted.