writer, speaker, content creator

In Praise of Coffee Shops

In Portland, Social Conventions, Writing on October 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Working at home is possible, but it takes discipline. One must focus intensely while the objects of leisure are right there. I’ve been working on a manuscript for a while, but to write or edit at home, I have to ignore the Internet, video games, my roommates, and my books. I have to shut out people who may be over, or other stimuli that seems to show up at my house on a fairly frequent basis. Besides, this is my home. This is where I relax and do fun things, the place where I sleep, read novels, and watch movies. I associate it with idleness and off-time.

Fortunately, there are coffee shops.

I’m convinced that coffee is not really the primary product of most coffee shops. Coffee is something I adore, and if I don’t have either it or tea I usually am in for at least a noticeable headache later in the day. However, the primary product of coffee shops is really a place to sit. A place, outside of your house, to read, socialize, or work. I’ve found them an ideal place to focus on my manuscript about Japan. I finally printed out the material I have so far (224 pages, single spaced) and have been editing it for the past week and a half.

I sit there for an indeterminate amount of time, imbibing my favorite stimulant, and spilling red ink. Without fail, there is someone else with a laptop or a notepad or some other such portable object whom I often imagine working away on a similarly creative endeavor. I like the simple presence of others, and I like the atmosphere and smell, the piles of alternative weeklies in the corner, and the paintings on the walls with price tags like footnotes. Oftentimes, there’s some kind of music playing, usually jazz or some obscure imported genre that is simultaneously interesting and easy to ignore. I like that, too, a low-level white noise that eases attention to detail.

I’ve been staggering which ones I go to, and seeking out new coffee shops. Yesterday, I found a new one in Southeast, in the Hawthorne District, a converted house filled with paintings. The owner had dragged in an old-style school desk which I found too amusing not to sit at. When I went in, there was a guy on the porch reading a newspaper. He was there when I left, too. Across from me a guy with extremely long hair and hemispherical earphones sat at a laptop for the entire time I was there. A girl reading what looked to be a gigantic novel said “thanks” to the counter guy as she left, and he said “see you tomorrow!”

Not home, not an office, but another node or point of contact, another place on the map that can be used as “base,” a resting zone. If all coffee shops had was coffee, I wouldn’t go to them nearly as often, wouldn’t drink nearly as much of the stuff. I go there for the state of mind, the focus, go there to be outside and at rest at the same time.

  1. Aren't they great?!? I love that we live so close to Hideaway Bakery in Eugene. It's one of my favorite places to go. Have you ever been to Townsend's Tea House on Alberta up there? If I'm in the neighborhood, I always try to visit that one when I'm in Portland. You should check it out if you haven't already.

  2. I love this about coffee shops. Most of my expereince has been from the other side of the counter. The coffee shop I worked at the longest was on the bottom floor of the nicest retirement home in town. There were some obvious groups of customers. Our location was close the the 'business' district of Eugene (if such a thing exists) so we had the professionals who came in at predictable times and didn't stay long. We had the old folks who would come and sit and chat before returning to their cushy rooms upstairs. But then there were all the other regulars who would always be working on something, or tutoring someone or reading. I always wondered who they were and what they were working on.

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