I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Iowa City. High Ground. It’s Thursday morning. I’ve got my laptop. I’ve got some coffee. I’m anonymous. I’ve got a moment between moments. A little peacefulness.
I’ve opened up this blog. Just finished doing some other writing. I’ll do some other writing after I’m done with this short little telling of my morning in a coffee shop. Get some work done. Pull my thoughts together. I can’t tell you how much I need little moments like this. My introversion is fed by getting lost with my thoughts in a coffee shop. I don’t know why, but I know that it’s important for me to find space like the space I’ve got this morning.
Today will be another day of moving through this world. I’m 42. A few months into a new job. A few months into this new life in Iowa City. The trials and tribulations that always come are coming harder right now. But, for now, I’ve got a little coffee. I’ve got a little space.
Dunn Brothers in St. Paul. Spyhouse in Northeast Minneapolis. Saints Cafe in State College. I’ve spent hours sitting quietly at a table, sipping coffee, and throwing words at pages. These places are an oasis in my memory. Fairy caves to refill my hearts.
What do I have to show for my time in these coffee shops? A nasty caffeine addiction. Sloppy memoirs. A long list of academic articles on my CV. Academic books. Poetry. I’m prolific in my own way. Best-selling. And by best-selling I mean worst-selling. But I’m proud of what I’ve built. Proud to keep building the strange things I build. Still after it at 42.
One of my new students at Iowa read Playing with Sharp Objects this semester. I always read the opening chapter on the first day of class. Tell the same card house story I’ve been telling for twenty years. She was inspired to read the rest of the book. She told me she wept, laughed her ass, and was moved by the book. What more could you want?
No, the book wasn’t copyedited. And yes the cover is a little off-center. But enough people have reached out to me after reading that book for me to know that writing it was worthwhile. The same is true of my other writing.
A student at Nebraska wrote to me after reading one of my articles in class. Somebody emailed me after reading Shot Across the River Styx to thank me for writing so openly about suicide. I’m no Kurt Vonnegut and I’ll probably never be. But I’ve put things out into the world that have meant something to other people, even if it is a small number of people.
At the end of his memoir Black Boy Richard Wright wrote that he’d given up any dream of artistic unity. Instead, he’d keep throwing words into the darkness with the hope of hearing an echo. That’s a nice vision. I’ll keep throwing words into the darkness. I’ve heard enough echoes to keep going.
And so many of those words were written in coffee shops like the one I’m sitting in this morning.
It’s been a doozy of a semester, y’all. Stepping into a new job. Stepping into a new place. Trying to be a professor, a writer, a dad, a husband, an adult with my stuff together. That stuff takes its toll.
I was running in Hickory Hill Park the other morning. Lots of cool trails behind our neighborhood. It was dark and I was coming down a hill. Tripped. Turned my ankle. By mid-afternoon, I was limping pretty badly.
“Get me a wheelchair,” I told my wife Katie.
Her eyes rolled out of her head.
Later, I lurched across campus. A shell of the youthful boy I was. A husk of a man. Enough gray hair to paint a cold November sky. Lord, this has been a fall.
But it’s nice to be in this coffee shop this morning. Throwing words at a page. Getting lost in my thoughts. Sharing that lostness with you in this little blog.