Sitting in a local Berkeley café trying to find another 800 or so words to concisely, yet accurately, answer questions given me and my classmates for a school paper, I find the words are not coming. Perhaps it’s the cold I seem to have acquired standing around in the cold, wet Berkeley night. If I were honest with myself, (and I usually try to be) I would say it’s because the words just won’t come. This paper should be the easiest thing for me. I’ve read the material; I’ve looked it over twice. I’ve even asked a friend who knows about these things, and he seems to think I’m on the right track. So I'm sitting here in this cafe wondering why I'm still here.
Maybe I should go home, but then I think. If I'm a writer I need to write. If I can't write my assignment, I should still write. I'm here, in my perfect little space (if not my favorite table.)
I took a bus up here because I didn’t feel the energy to walk. Now all I want to do is lay down.. But there’s other things I want to do. So I’m left with the decision, do I just give up writing anything all-together or do I just write for the pleasure of writing? Why do I even come to this café or any cafe, several times a week, when I could be writing at home? I could easily be passed out on the couch with my laptop asleep, my cat poking me in the face with his claws, oh yeah! That’s why.
The reasons I leave our airy loft on the edge of Emeryville to trek on foot or by bus (like today) is many-fold:
First and foremost is the furry love of my life, Alexander. He is not as calm and mellow as his namesake. No, his mindfulness only extends to his need to be the center of attention at his whim. I don’t blame him. Who wouldn’t, when the time is ideal, want the undivided attention of someone endearing to them?
Alexander Bunny (alias "Stinky" or "A Bun" as my friend Ed Branley calls him) sitting on me while I try and use my laptop..
Secondly, despite our having a large loft, we are forever in a state of moving in or moving out. The walls start to close in on me. There’s no door to shut and get away from anything. Referring to a book I'm reading for my current class, I find myself wishing for my own quiet place to hide away in and get away from the noise energy. Yes I could go into the bathroom and shut the door but that would only solve so much. There’s still the neighbor’s baby.. The barking dogs that bark at EVERY thing. Also there’s the fact that our bathroom just isn’t ideal for writing anything; definitely not a school paper.
Thirdly, the next thing to decent writing ambience for me is the silence. The right tone of silence depends on the individual. I like the sound of a few particular cafes. Not too loud, not too quiet, music that plays but isn’t overtly noticed. Other people like myself writing but not talking, the occasional cough or sneeze, or sound of the barista. There’s no constant grinding of beans. Occasionally, a glass or plate will rattle and remind others of the fact that real labor is going on in the background, behind the scenes. No one is taking conference calls. The local sports game is not being blasted from every available television screen. If a game is on, it’s muted.
Lastly to a lesser extent, is camaraderie of the pen. I may not know anyone in the café with me but if you come often enough you see the pattern. There’s the older gentleman working on his research. Maybe he’s writing a book, and is making scads of notes. Highlighting and writing into the margins. He orders the same coffee every morning. There’s the returning students sitting in the windows, occasionally one of their tutors will come along and help them with their calculus. There are the writers working on whatever paper that’s due, or perhaps the Great American novel. You’ll see totally unrelated people sharing a table all working in silence, all understanding that their mind is somewhere else, in various realms of academia, of fantasy, or literate passion; there’s no need to feel bad about asking one of your table-mates to use a random outlet, they get it. There’s the handful of older patrons, most likely professors or lecturers, pouring over their readings, journals, or working on their presentations while having their bagel. These are the folks that work alone, are uncomfortable putting their own sugar and cream in their coffee, the ones that puzzle over a table not properly bussed. These are the guys that worry themselves before turning and asking a nearby patron, “do you know computers?”
There’s usually no gushing teens making a fuss or having loud conversation. If a random couple come in and talk too loud, someone invariably looks at them. Not to say it’s a library, but if we all talked in outside voices, the ambience for working and writing would be shattered. We’d have to find another café. Berkeley has tons of cafes. However, once you find the "right" café for what you’re doing, and you’ve come to appreciate the mix of patrons, sound and coffee, it’s hard work to find another place. Best to keep going and support your local and your neighboring regulars of whom you may never know their names, but have come to appreciate in silent companionship.