I want to paint a picture of a guy in a coffee shop in North Carolina. Exposed brick lends its wall space to chunks of plaster, gray remnants, white wood trim. It’s 8:30 am and I’ve been writing for an hour and a half. Now there is a line stretching to the door. I’m a stranger in this neighborhood where it appears everyone, even the guy who is sitting with his head in his hands at an empty table in a coffee shop, is known. The hipsters roll out early here, and ironically I hadn’t noticed him until much later. I was focused on the task at hand. Clearly planned and written in my notebook were all the things a perfect writing day would entail, no mention of a guy in a coffee shop.
Perfect indicates completion or finality. As I sit writing in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, I look at my to do list and am trying to focus on process over product. I am quickly distracted from my goals and intentions for this writing time. It has also become clear that part of the process of writing is to observe and connect with the world around me. I allow myself to get wrapped up in the goings on of the coffee shop and watch the guy with his head in his hands as a smoothie and banana are set down in front of him.
We make eye contact. His eyes are tired and empty. I watch him stretch his back and grimmace. He is holding visible pain and trauma in his shoulders. His body looks stiff from the morning cold. His nose is pink. I notice everything about this coffee shop in my periphery and the man who is now specifically in my focus. Two men sitting next to him turn and lean into his pain. I sit from afar and create a story about what is happening.
There are many layers to the stories we write and the way they come to us. They are handing him a piece of paper…someone he needs to meet and talk to. He glances at the paper and stashes it away. They are giving him directions to somewhere downtown. He keeps holding his head. I wonder if he can focus on the fast words they are saying. I notice the more tired I get the less sense the world makes. We are not our best selves when we are exhausted, but few people categorize sleep as a basic human need. We feel like we can function on all nighters and coffee. Not well, I would add. These men hold his hands and speak kindness and hope into his ears. It is the most beautiful picture of humanity and a reminder of why we are purposed to move towards others and not away.
On a piece of paper, I started a story about the perfect writing day. I believed it to be a scheduled time of writing and reflection. A timed time. A tasked time. Quickly I discovered the heart of writing comes from connection with real people. It wasn’t for me to rescue a man in distress, but I sat with his rescuers. The perfect writing day was not made in isolation of unplanned distractions, but from the time taken to notice the goings on of a guy in a coffee shop.