That’s the coffee shop, the tea room, or the cafe. And it’s not all about the coffee – that’s just an added bonus.
Picture the scene if you will. You enter the coffee shop and look around. There are a few tables occupied but plenty still available to choose one you like. Right by that sunny window with a wide view of the street, where the bars of sunlight cast a glow of welcome over the wooden tabletop, where they may be a little vase containing some fresh flowers to examine and smell, while you wait for your company, preferably one person who you haven’t seen for a while and with whom you know you will have a real conversation, where small talk is outlawed by mutual design. Your company arrives, you might give them a hug, they approve of the table, and you both order that large latte, cappuccino or white Americano and decide together whether you will be tempted by the scones or cakes you saw on display on the way in, your eyes unable to resist scanning what’s on offer, especially a lingering gaze over the cheese scones. You settle down for a chat, which quickly turns into a discussion and then you’re off.
Warnings. You haven’t chosen a table right by the coffee machine where you have to deftly adjust the volume of your voice every time the churning and frenzied grinding commences and ceases. You are not in a cramped position right next to other tables, or next to a gathering of women who periodically whip each other up into raucous peels of cackling laughter (of course you might be one of them on another day) or next to people who are self centred just enough to talk louder than anyone else, and over whom you have to shout to be heard. Where any background music is very much to your taste but not too dominant. No. Your table is devoid of these hazards, but there may be a table occupied by someone else having an interesting conversation that you don’t mind ‘accidentally’ overhearing now and again , for reasons which will become clear.
So why the attraction? Why the compulsive need? And this brings me to the great benefits of having a coffee shop routine in your life, as I have discovered over the last few years when my ‘addiction’ first began.
- For many of us self-employed creative people who are at home a great deal and rather wrapped up in our own concerns, it gets you out and breaks up your day. By interrupting the day in this way, you can come back feeling invigorated and more driven to get on with some work. You may also have stimulated some creative ideas to try out. In this simple way it’s just like the exercise from a good walk or swim, and that is just as suitable an interruption for another day.
- You are in good company, company you have chosen. Someone like-minded, whose opinions and views you respect, who can go deep into a subject, who loves to ‘think too much’ right along with you. You may solve problems together, using those good listening skills I talked about previously. You can think of someone else instead of yourself, you can be supportive as well as be supported. You can be a valued friend.
- And because you’re not at each others home, surrounded by visually hovering current distractions, it helps with objectivity on your life and its current issues, it helps you see things with a sharper perspective. These are the benefits of being in the neutral ground of a public place. There is an equality here between you and your friend, and you are slightly distanced from your own lives, so you can see more clearly. And I’ve found in my volunteering work, that this neutral ground quality is hugely beneficial in exactly this way.
- And what about the creative benefits of people watching? People strolling by in the street or stopping to argue, or looking fed up, burdened by ‘weights’ you can’t see, someone waiting on a corner for someone else to turn up, or not as the case may be. And you can project your self into their shoes, imagine what they’re feeling, get ideas from their demeanour and body language for characters for your writing.
- And this brings me to that other table. Where an interesting conversation is going on. Where you filter out the commonplace to catch the gems that can shine out and resonate in you, a long while after the hearing. For example, a couple of years ago I overheard two women talking about another woman friend, whose husband had an affair and the wife had just found out. Having just presumably separated, the husband was struggling and devastated by the loss of his wife and the marriage he had invested in for so many years. And one of these two ladies said to the other ‘Just goes to show, you reap what you sow’ . This was followed by a long pause. And this well-used aphorism made me shudder, the palpable sense of threat in it – now you could creatively build on that. A story, a novel, a great title. But more generally, listening in now and again just helps you absorb a little of how other people see their own lives, you get a sense of their priorities, their values – great if people fascinate you and great if you’re a writer.
- And ending with romance: if you have a partner who works all week, then a weekend coffee shop visit can be a great way to reconnect, to catch up, to talk properly to each other, to gaze into each other’s eyes and remind yourselves just why it was you fell for each other in the first place.
So because of these benefits, I find I cannot go for a whole week without at least twice visiting a coffee shop, and sometimes I clock up over two hours with a friend. I used to feel guilty I was wasting precious creating time, until I wised up and decided it was time well spent. So when they place that coffee down in front of you with that cheese scone or your favourite tray bake, and you’re all ready to chat – don’t feel guilty – Enjoy!
(images courtesy of pixabay)