You pack your bag. Fill it with the things you will need: your skinny little computer, its plug, your wallet, your phone. You head out.
You head out and you walk. You walk away. Away from home, that safe place, that happy haven. You walk city streets. You look down, at your feet, shuffling along. You study the cracks in the concrete, the way they zig and zag and whisper gritty wisdom. You look up, at the sky, a brazen blue canopy marred by branches and birds. You look around, at the people lugging things – pasts, presents, packages.
You open the door, and walk in. It is warm in there. And you wait with a cluster of others. You study the pastries you might try one day. You scan the lists of fancy coffees you might sip one day. You say hello. And you order your usual. And moments later, it comes, steaming hot and familiar.
And you sit. You sit at a table or in the window. You settle in, and scatter your things. You log in. Plug in. You stare at it, the blank screen, a menacing white, the place you will go. The place you will go while you sit here amid a sea of strangers, souls just like you who have a story to tell and a need to be seen. When you get stuck or stalled, oh and you do often – this is an important part of it all – you look around at the faces that frame you, eyes full of focus and frenzy and hope, brows lined with sleeplessness and struggle and soul. You don’t know them, these strangers. And yet you do.
You know they are here, there, sipping and seeking. That their eyes are empty and then full, remembering, reflecting, revering. You know that they are looking for something, something at the bottom of their paper cups, something at the bottom of who they’ve become. They sit and they stand, stirring in sugar, waiting for the bathroom, waiting for inspiration, waiting. They write words and stories. Words and stories that are pieces of who they once were, and are now, and might become. Words and stories that might never be read.
You know they are there, thinking. Thinking about whether they are happy, what it means to be happy, whether happy is fiction. They are thinking about big things, and small. Life. Love. The little grains that float ominously on the black surface into which they stare.
When you are lucky, one of these strangers says something, speaking to you, you, snapping you from your pod of quasi-solitude. Are you writing a novel too? Do you mind plugging this in? Have you been able to get online? They are small bits, small strings of nothing, small strings of everything, and they come at you and you are thankful to hear voices, questions, something other than the soundtrack of silence you so often choose.
They are strangers, yes.
But they are also you.
Do you like to immerse yourselves in a sea of strangers like I do? Do you like to imagine the stories people are telling, and living? Do you agree that there is material everywhere, and particularly in a bustling coffee shop?