Saturday, February 9, 2008

Coffee and People Watching

Every once in a while, I need to change locations when I’m working in an effort to shake things up. The new environment helps to get the creative juices flowing once again; open the mind and revive the senses.

So, about once a month, when I manage to drag myself out of bed early on a Saturday (which doesn’t happen as often as it should), I pack up the laptop and head to my local Panera. For those who don’t have a Panera, it is essentially a coffee shop that also has a pastry/bagel shop as well as a restaurant that serves these fantastic sandwiches, soups, and salads. The atmosphere is relaxed and warm, with a mix of booths, round tables, and few big comfy chairs. And naturally, they have free Wi-Fi.

Every Panera that I have been to is a major yuppy haven. The place is almost always filled with people sporting their Abercrombie & Fitch sweaters and their $100 haircuts. Now, the one I go to may be a little worse due to the neighborhoods that surround this particular Panera. The region is a collection of older, established neighborhoods filled with the upper middle class. Now, keep in mind that I don’t live in this area – I’m a few cities over in a town that is trying to edge away from its rural, farming roots into suburban tranquility and anonymity. But it’s a short drive to this Panera and the people watching it always interesting.

But regardless of the crowds that surround you, getting out to just watch people on occasion is vital for a writer. We spend so much time locked behind the computer or notebook, so deep in the worlds of our own creation that sometime we loose contact with the one group that we need to stay connected with if we are going to have any hope of breathing life into our creations.

I look up from my laptop and my eyes dance over the scattering of people. I wonder about the girl sitting alone in a basketball uniform, waiting for her mother to return to the table with food. She vibrant and active, taking in her surroundings yet in her own world at the same time. Is that liveliness due to the fact that her team won their game this morning or is she always this active? Would a loss put a dent in her cheerful disposition or would it roll off her like rain down the glossy feathers of a swan?

Or how about the couple in the booth to my far left? They sit on opposite sides of the table with laptops before each of them. The small table is cluttered with trays of half-eaten food they intermittently pick at. The rest of the table is piled with folders and papers. When they speak to each other, they don’t look up from their screens. And while I can’t hear anything they say, the comments seemed to be limited to short, one-sentence comments. Is this brief glimpse of these two people a broader reflection of their lives together? Am I looking at two people who have promised to love, honor, and cherish, yet they are struggling to do it while living in two separate worlds, two separate lives?

Writers are the great historians. We are the watchers, the gatekeepers, the interpreters, psychologists and sociologists. Even if we are writing pure fiction about a strange race of creatures living on a distant planet, those ideas were built on what we have seen and not seen in the world that exists around us. We suck in the world and the people like a sponge. After a time, all those images and impression come out again in our work. Someday, somewhere, that little girl’s distant gaze and half-smile will appear in a book. The couple with their separate lives will appear in a book.

Keep in mind when you are out in public, you are being watched and one day, some little part of you could be immortalized forever in the written word. Scary and humbling at the same time….


daydream said...

This is why I read your blog. Every time I read something that leaves me breathless.

"Writers are the great historians. We are the watchers, the gatekeepers, the interpreters, psychologists and sociologists." ~ Just made me shiver, because I felt both awe and empowering rush. Just magical.

And yes. We writers are the prisms of life and can bend it in our works, but in order to let it shine with all its vibrant shades of colors, we must let its light course through us every once ina while.

Freedom Star said...

Woo-hoo for Panera! It's one of my favorite places to hang out back home. It's a little different here at school (the Panera is at a shopping center about twenty minutes from school). People watching is lots of fun. There are so many stories each of these people could tell. I do a lot of people watching myself if I go down to dinner on my own. My fellow college students are interesting people to watch.