“. . . the greatest art seems unsophisticated, the greatest love seems indifferent, the greatest wisdom seems childish. . .” (Tao Te Ching)
As I sit here at this tall, towering, and wackily-wobbling table at one of my favourite downtown cafes, I am content to watch the shoppers stroll by and the line-up of coffee drinkers ebb and flow beside me.
Moving from café to café on my writing days, buying a relished or obligatory cup of coffee at each, I am happy to be “alone in a crowd.” Each downtown coffee shop has its own vertical and neighbouring community, its own increasingly predictable patterns of interaction and relationship.
As much as I like making occasional eye contact and exchanging greetings with the many regulars who frequent each location, there is a happy, healthy balance between this interaction and the reflective expression that is my soul purpose. I am heartened to know that people want to chat and share thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I know how desperately and longingly we all wish to be truly heard and understood.
At the same time, I continue to wrestle with how much and how often as I hasten to meet my writing deadlines and heed the creative callings that are my oft-neglected life’s work.
Not only is it necessary for me to change coffee shop locations for inspiration and not wear out my welcome in any one place, I also need the “privacy” and “anonymity” this affords. Distracted too long or too often from what “needs” to be written, I grow frustrated and weary like anyone who misses what sustains and motivates him most.
As deeply immersed as I am in my writing–musing longhand in cursive in my journal, answering letters in black ink calligraphy, sending email on my iPhone, or tapping away on my netbook–I am almost always attuned to the hum and the drum of life around me. It is for this reason that I so seldom write at my desks at home. Although I am loath to admit it, I can’t!
As beautiful as the city and country views have been from my writing desks and alcoves through the years, it is people that fascinate and inspire me. Although my time to chat is limited, I desperately want to understand each person, contextualize every snippet of conversation, and visualize the world as each person lives and perceives it. Taking a “good, long loving look at the real”–the perspective that a dear educational mentor and friend shared with me so many years ago–is my passion. Paradoxically, my impetus for writing is as social as it is solitary, and I remain committed to finding creative ways to honour both.
Although lacking in cinematic score, I have always had the dramatic sense that heroic, tragic, and comic characters are all around me as I read and write–as much or more than when I read a work of fiction or go to a movie or play.
I admit that each coffee shop experience is a psychological and sociological “field study” which is my most favoured way to learn from both literature and life. Whether sunken in a soft, comfy chair or perched atop a stool at a wibbly-wobbly table, I am the observer and the observed (for I am seldom alone in this pastime). Real life is infinitely more fascinating than fiction!
In person, (in admittedly smaller and smaller doses as I accept and embrace my soul-full longing to go inward and choose quality over quantity), I wish with all my heart to listen fully and deeply. As an aging teacher, librarian, counsellor, and writer-type, I find that listening as deeply as possible is one of the rarest and most precious gifts I can offer. With every passing year and the growing realization that trendy ‘group think’ so seldom hits the mark for searching souls, I become less able to give voice to the pat answers and platitudes that are so common in personal and professional life.
As I continue giving humble, heartfelt, reflective expression to all that’s inside me for children and inner children of all ages through creative nonfiction, narrative poems, and children’s stories, I am happy and fulfilled. No matter how “insignificant” or “childish” it may seem when compared to so many programs backed by (quasi-) empirical research that are popular in my chosen professions, know that I am giving from the deepest abundance and most life-affirming place I have ever known.
This, soul-full generosity is my wish for givers and receivers all!