Coffee Shop Blues

As I write this, I’m tucked into the corner of a coffeehouse, elbows on the table, sleeves pulled up, my right shoulder gently grazing a display of cakes, white icing piped along in rows.

And my eyes fall on everything but the page.

To my right sits an older couple, noses deep within papers, magazines and newspapers spread over the booth. She with The Washington Post, he with The Wall Street Journal. In all the clutter, I see their fingers laced across the table, their eyes steady on periodicals held up with free hands.

In front sits a mother and daughter. They spill coffee into saucers and smile and speak like friends who never see enough of each other. Crinkling skin around the eyes, exaggerated hand gestures. Through the fog of blues progressions sifting down from overhead speakers, I hear their voices play up and down the major scale.

To the left sits a man on the sofa, his hands jerking back and forth between his phone and mug, his eyes on the door. I imagine his eyes seeking out a tall girl, eyes done up, dark hair sleek down her back, smiling widely enough to make his hands shake when he holds them out to her.

He stands and walks to the door, the sound of bells falling in layers like confetti. But he looks as if he’s won nothing.

For the first time I see a second cup of coffee by his phone, by his empty cup.

He walks back to the sofa – alone.

Twenty minutes later, he walks back to the door – alone. But only after tipping the untouched coffee, now cold, into the trash.

And as the bells jingle again, I’m instantly aware that I’m also alone, however willingly so.

When it comes to art, it’s easy to drown in your own ambitions.

Even when the paid projects sit finished and the invoices have been cast far and wide, we keep on working. Working at those self-imposed projects, staying determined in our art, our discipline.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a thing of beauty.

Art keeps us breathing, keeps us chasing meaning in our lives that without, we’d be little more than moving machines, parts without souls.

But there’s this concept called balance, a word too heavy to grasp in our greedy, impatient fingers, a word that gives itself over only after years of failure and growth.

We need balance in our little worlds.

We need to temper our ambitions with heady doses of love, life, and the present moment.

Not the past where we remember our beginnings: awkward sentences, smudges of paint, thumbs covering the lens.

And not the future where we see ourselves with publications and book spines stamped with our surnames and thicker wallets.

If we only look back and forward, we become slaves to our artistic ambitions, unaware of the beauty around us to be enjoyed in the present.

Coffeehouses savor of honey to creative types. Think of cafe tables all over the world that could boast of Hemingway’s elbows, Isben’s papers and pen, Dostoevsky’s coffee rings.

They provide spaces of creativity amidst hustle and bustle, fooling us into feeling part of the scene while we sit against the backdrop.

We watch and file away images, but we rarely step into the spotlight.

Over time, these places become reminders of loneliness, surrounding us with laughing mouths and brushing knees.

Good.

Because we need to remember that this great creative process is cyclical.

Life gives birth to art.

And then, and only then, will art give us life.