Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Serenity Sucks (or, writing in cafes with friends)

The other day I was imposing myself on a very patient Penfatale (I won’t say who, but she’s an excellent knitter) who was writing in her favorite café. Since I’m on deadline, I’ve become a child about writing and needed her presence across the table to keep my you-know-what in the chair.

It’s a bustling coffee shop, always full of folks chatting and plotting and studying and writing. It also has a dedicated section for children, with toys and chalkboards and toddler-style effluvia – the kind of place I would have given my left arm for when my own son was a tot.

So as we’re writing, the play-sounds of children begin to rise above the murmur of the adult patrons. Specifically, some kid starts banging on something wooden with something metal. Or something. Point is, someone small is making noise.

The man at the table next to us sighs heavily in exasperation. He looks over at the children’s corner and scowls, harrumphing loudly. Bangs his hands on the table. Sighs again.

Then, since his will is still not done –despite his obvious displeasure-- he glances over at me and tries to engage me in conversation: “Can you believe what people let their children get away with these days?”

I stare at my computer screen, pretending not to notice his very public discontent. I decide I love the loud banging and laughing from the children’s area. I decide that pretty much whatever this guy likes, I like the opposite.

After a few more minutes he packs up his computer and books – including one titled Too Many People—and goes to complain at the counter, then hangs around to grouse with a trio of other middle-aged white guys for a few minutes before leaving the shop in a huff.

This leaves me pondering what my friend calls "white people problems". By which she means, of course, the relatively inconsequential inconveniences that ruin the day of folks who are far too privileged to understand exactly how privileged they are. And thus have their days ruined by children having the audacity to act like children in a children's play area, while they're trying to read.

Speaking only for myself, I’ve noticed something important in my life: When I feel peaceful on the*inside*, I can cope with a good deal of external chaos. In fact, I often search for a lack of peace. I once painted a mural in a massage studio and between the peaceful music and the peaceful quiet and the peaceful whispers and the peaceful colors, I thought I was going to tear my hair out. I left everyday and sought out brilliant colors and raucous laughter and vibrant life.

Sure, there are days when I want nothing more than to curl up in bed and ignore the phone and not talk, at all. Or go sit in a redwood forest somewhere all by myself and breathe in the serenity. But in general, some of my favorite things are just not peaceful. Children, animals, cities, my friends, beach boardwalks, dancing, parties….just about my whole life.

All that said, if you need peace and quiet in your surroundings, by all means, go for it.

But here’s a tip: don’t choose a busy café with a dedicated space for children to play. Things are going to get loud.


Sophie Littlefield said...

ha - sorry i missed that! I too work well in people-chaos. I like the idea of life moving around me, especially if it includes some kids, some joy, some creativity. I guess you know my feelings on serenity :) - - and trust me, that asshole with the book doesn't know what it feels like - he only feels good when he gets to tell other folks what to do. Jeez I hate those guys. and my sensor seems to be getting ever more sensitive to them lately.

Good luck with that durn deadline!

Lee Lopez said...

I love the sound of children. When my husband and I retired, we looked at retirement gated communities, but found they were too grumpy and quiet.We bought in a family neighborhood. My den faces the street. Especially in warmer weather, I have my window open to listen to the sound of the kids playing the street, riding bikes, yelling to each other. The teenagers on the corner will play basketball for hours. There is comfort in those noises, even in a store. The toys are there for the kids, not for the adults to have silence. Go to a library if you want quiet or home.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Yes, Lee, I love that! I think I'll be just the same, seeking out the noises of children all my life. And yes, what's wrong with a library when in need of quiet? Great to know there's an option.
Sophie -- you would have cracked up, as Rachael and I did the moment he left.

Zombie Joe said...

My wife went with me to a coffee shop once. She was reading a book while I was working on writing. Between the people talking, the mixer going for those shakes that some people call coffee and the various other noises, she couldn't concentrate to read. Eventually when I took a break to refill my coffee she asked me how I could work in this chaos and not at home.

1. I'm not trained to these people's voices. If I hear a family member's voice, my ear catches it and wakes me up.
2. I don't really care what these people are saying. Rarely someone will start spouting something that will catch my attention. That means its break time.
3. None of those people are talking to me. If I am staring at my screen typing away furiously, people usually have the sense not to disturb me. The only time someone has asked about writing with an iPad or the like is when I am paused and doing something not-writing.

Also the closest coffee shop is right next to a religious book store. There is a strange sense of satisfaction writing horror, violence or smut in the presence of religious discussion groups. ;)

Bill Cameron said...

Ah, I have seen that white guy. I laugh at him. Bwa ha ha. I also love the loud kids, the chatter, and humanity. For me, it helps me to write about people when I'm surrounded by them.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Zombie Joe, I love your breakdown of why those voices are so much less intrusive than the sound of my son, say. And I *adore* that you're sending horror/smut vibes through the wall to the bookstore ;-)

Bill,I couldn't agree more. I think our interest in humanity is one reason we write. And I laugh with you: Bwa ha ha!

Rachael Herron said...

I can vouch for all of this, including that very improbable title he had with him. HA!

Gigi Pandian said...

Even though I now have my own quiet study at home, I'm much more productive at a noisy coffee house!

Nikki said...

I love this. I took a meditation class once... Once. One of my what-was-I-thinking moments in life. I had a tremendous urge to channel the Energizer Bunny throughout the entire class. I thrive on chaos. I am non-Zen. Children are life, and isn't that the point (as my two boys create noise to outdo the two dogs)?

L.G.C. Smith said...

Your cafe grumpy-gus reminds me of one of our neighbors. He moved into a suburban neighborhood chock full of kids and dogs packed into smallish houses and yards. Then he vociferously complains about all the dogs. One bark and he's in his yard yelling over the fence for the dogs to shut up. (That works so well.) He told another neighbor with a little bitty (and okay, maybe kind of yappy) miniature Dachshund that the dog had ruined his summer. Seriously. And he plays The Grateful Dead on Sunday mornings at considerable volume. When my sister mentioned that as a nuisance he inflicts on the rest of us, he looked shocked. How could anyone object to classic rock? The point was, of course, that no one had objected, even though they noticed it and didn't like it. Kind of like what peaceful folks do when they hear their neighbors' dogs and kids.

Anonymous said...

In order to squeeze out some precious writing moments, I've become adept at ignoring my children. I think that has also made it easier to ignore the children of others.

William Doonan

Martha Flynn said...

I shall take by this post of course that our imposing ourselves on you is quite welcome. :):):):):)

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