Patrick Ward words, code, and music

How a Coffee Shop Can Drift Into Your Thoughts

I’m looking out through a window of the WestPark Starbucks, it’s streaked with an almost opaque condensation; the veins of water form as many patterns as there are in a snowflake crystal. The inside is a balmy 74°. I can hear the gentle refrains of the Decemberists strumming in the speakers above me. The aroma of steamed milk and roasted coffee beans accompanies the sweet scent of the pastries that just passed by my table. By all measures, it’s a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the year. So, why do the insides of my palms feel like the jungles of Phnom Penh in the middle of July?

I’m about to send a weblog entry to my website. It’s my first public writing project in nearly five years, but for some reason it feels so much more intense this time. I wrote the piece nearly a week ago. It only took me an hour or so to write. Contrast that to the many hours I’ve agonized over whether it’s the most vapid piece of self-aggrandizing gibberish that ever vomited forth from the insides of my head.

This will actually be the second publishing of this particular blog entry. It made a brief debut yesterday, before I took it down around midnight. The thought of it sitting there, vulnerable to the critical eyes of any anonymous citizen to peruse kept me awake. How can an excerpt of silly writing take over your thoughts like that? It’s embarrassing to realize that it has taken over my thoughts; as if my writing were so important that it requires any consideration at all. It’s just a dopey blog entry that so few will ever read.

A young couple just walked through the door, letting a blast of cool air in. The chill reached through the doorway to waft slender fingers of icy cold reminders across my forehead. “Wake up!” it seemed to say, “Are you here?”

Fred Astaire begins to sing “Heaven, I’m in Heaven”. I look up to see the couple peering at each other with optimistic glances. I remember how that felt, those moments of blissful presence. It’s a pleasant site, which seems to soften the sticky maze of thoughts rushing through me right now.

I don’t think it’s that I fear the importance, or non-importance, of my writing, it’s that writing authentically feels so vulnerable. I’m trying in earnest to feed this itch, but it feels like all those adolescent dreams I used to have, of standing naked in classrooms full of snickers and jeers.

Part of my DNA requires that I approach every project with the intensity of a viper approaching it’s prey, but it’s also the source of my perfectionism. The problem is that being a purist is difficult when you’re not at a skill level you expect the perfection to attain. It screams of desperation. Leveling up is the answer, but it’s such a difficult position to be in while you’re getting there. When you’re hungry, about to lunge at your dinner, it sucks to have the hunting skills and speed of a turtle.

The girl’s voices behind me have taken on a new candor and reentered my conscious thoughts. I don’t like eavesdropping, but it’s a fascinating discussion they are having: the relative pros and cons of a group of boys they’re meeting later. I only get pieces of the conversation in between strains of Ella Fitzgerald singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”; it’s a snappy jazz tune that’s got my foot tapping in beat.

“You deserve plenty of…. He’s really weird like that.”

“I really must go…”

“Yeah, I know he’s such a sweet talker, but there’s something about him.”

“But, baby, it’s cold outside”

“….dinner, never mind commit to a lifetime.”

“I got to go ‘way”

“He keeps texting, but I’m not sure what to say.”

“But, baby, it’s cold outside”

“So, that’s my confession…”

They are abstract elements of a conversation that is probably very different from the puzzle I’m fitting together inside my head. It’s a quaint reminder of the complexity of the human community; we can love and hate so many aspects of each other in so many disparate ways.

It’s also a reminder that reality is not so black and white, that it’s very different from the draconian certainty I envision about other’s thoughts concerning me or my creative outputs.

My fears are mine alone, I can’t share them with others, nor can others shares theirs with me. We live in these organic cages for a lifetime, staring out through the eyes of an experiential being while another sits quietly observing the scenes that drift by. We’re all experiencing the creative outputs of each other. It’s a lovely thought that each of us contributes to the majesty of the other’s experiences.

Ultimately, my writing is just an abstract snippet of a conversation I’m having inside my head. The trick is to allow it to grow, to observe these thoughts as they float by and piece them into something pleasant for others to see, to contribute to someone else’s reality. It might find it’s way to an art form, or it might just be an amusing anecdote about the coffee I had on a blustery January day.

There are bound to be some pieces missing, but in a way, that’s what makes it more interesting — like the fragments of conversation I hear from others or the patterns in the windows I’m gazing out of. This may be a lifelong conversation, a journey of discovery leading me out of the miasma of my past.

Maybe, in the final end, I’ll be able to string all these scraps together into patterns that lead to something beautiful as a whole. Just maybe, it’s worth pursuing to see where the lines in the windows will take me or how the songs that drift in between the sentences of my own conversations will create new puzzles.

So, I’ll have to let that first post go, if only to start the conversation. In it, I mentioned that some words have to escape in order that others might follow. This second entry was easier to start, even though I had no idea where it would lead. So, maybe, it’s important to allow that first rubbish to burn away in the public square so that those few gems of the future might find their way to the surface.

As I push the button, and let that first entry go once again, I hear the ending of a song: “Baby…It’s Cold…Out…side.”