Saturday, 5 May 2012

Fast-Forward, Pause and Rewind

Fast forward ten years from now to kids, a mortgage, life insurance and a crossover vehicle with frustrating car seats that you can never get to close. Now twenty years: teenagers, marital challenges, career changes and a handful of what if questions. Is this what we wanted? Is this it? If happiness really is what we make of life and how we see the world, all perception, then does that mean action too? Does that mean we should make drastic changes in our lives so that we can see how good we had it, or does it mean acceptance of what we do have, here and now, our partners, careers, homes and other life choices?  Some one once said, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.” So why then is life so scary, I think, “there is nothing to fear but life itself.” These are scary times (and I don’t mean that we are living in a scary period of time historically speaking) I mean the time between the age of 25 and 30. So many major life decisions are being made at such a rapid pace that I can hardly keep up with them; I’m missing the details because they 
are too hard to see. Everything is macroscopic and the small stuff, that I love, that I think we all love, is getting pushed aside and that itself is scary, because those details are what makes us who we are.
            Today I decided to stop. I stopped marking students’ work, planning up coming units or even the lessons I need for next week, I did not make wedding plans, or look at interior decorating ideas for our new house. I had to stop, because my mind and my body were so angry with me that I had to listen and stop. We tend to get so wrapped up in the comings and goings of our lives that we leave so little room to stop, breathe and reflect. Another great person said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates had something here, its not that we need to be re-hashers and think, reflect and pine over every decision we make. Or that life without question is a problem, but rather that we might understand ourselves a little better if we listen to ourselves, stop and take a moment once in a while to think about where we are at and where we’ve been so that we can have a better understanding of where we might be going and what it all means.
            Life has thrown me a few curveballs so far and I’m not upset about them, nor do I regret what I’ve done and who I’ve become. I think this piece would sound a little different if I was regretting my choices; it’s just that I see things a little differently now. I see people a little  differently then I used to, but I’ve passed the point of “bitter distain for humanity” and have started to accept that we (humans) are flawed, make mistakes, hurt each other and even that some of us are just plain spoiled (like the apples, not in terms of overindulgence). So what now? I’m ok with all of these things, even the spoiled people, but there is still so much more. I guess at this point there is much more to look forward to and then to one day look back on, hopefully with a simile. The sun came out today even though the forecast called for thunderstorms, life’s funny like that

Friday, 9 March 2012

Creatures of Habit

Habit: a settled or regular tendency or practice.

            Where do you sit on the bus or train every morning, do you have a table at your local coffee shop, that if occupied leaves you tense and confused?
            I will admit that in the past I experienced all of these scenarios at least once. When in school it was a library table, a spot that I associated with comfort and focused study. If by chance I came to that spot intending to study and someone happened to be occupying that space my whole day was off and I some how thought that my studying would be less productive as a result. As got older this became a train seat for the morning commute and, most recently, it is the communal table at my local coffee shop. I associate this table with productive work and comfort, just like the library seat.  I think about this spot before even walking into the store, hoping that at least one chair will be free. I don’t think this is problematic, in that I have not come here and been forced to work at another table for a very long time, but I do want to make a change, shift my own thinking about habits and try something new.

            So next time I come here, not today as I am already sitting comfortably in my regular spot, I will try the bar seats by the window and I’ll let you know what it’s like and whether or not change is really all it’s cracked up to be.

Are you a “creature of habit?” If so share your story here and give change a try.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

I Don't Need this Much Space

This might sound strange and even selfish, but in the past two days I’ve started to really learn and appreciate two amazing things: “Kindness really does make a difference”, if only in a small way and even if you are the only one who can appreciate the choice that you’ve made; and “only take what you need.” Living in a world where we want “to have it all” and  “take what we can get,” the ideas of moderation, simplicity and modest living really can be really hard to appreciate, understand and apply. So continuing with this theme of Kindness and finding the “it” in life, I am going to try my best to live by these two very real concepts as much as possible. Saying yes to favours I would normally not want to do and giving up my space at a big table especially when there are others who need it a lot more than me. Just to touch on the last topic in a real way and explain what inspired this entry, I am going to tell a short story about only taking what you need and the difference that can make.

Today I sat down at the larger table in my local coffee shop (knowing that I often need a lot of space to complete the work I bring with me). I did notice the smaller table by the window (with a lot more light) but I immediately thought, I need the bigger space because it’s there, so why not take it. Within five minutes of sitting down, a family of three came in looking for a big enough table to sit at. Now there were a number of smaller tables available, so at first I figured they will be fine, I’ll stay here. Within seconds of that first though at light went off and I realized, today I don’t need this much space, but they do. I picked up my bags, books and tea and asked would like this table? The dad looked shocked and thanked me three or four times, offering to help me move my stuff. He seemed so surprised by this offer, genuinely not expecting anything from me, or anyone in the shop. Five minutes later the rest of the family came to sit down, there were seven of them (three of which were very young children). If I had not moved, there wouldn’t have been enough space for that family to sit together. This was a small gesture that had a fairly large impact. I know that my moving was no act of social heroism, but rather an act of common decency. So I want to keep giving a little, not to change the world, but to change the way I (maybe we) see It!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

So Close, and Yet So Far

 Coffee shops have incredibly small tables, generally speaking. So small that if you lean across, the small circular space you and your partners’ noses can touch. Touch, see, and smell: three things that we hardly do anymore. What do I mean by this? You might be wondering. Well, in the digital age; the age of enhanced communication via technology; we have become so close, and yet so far. Far enough that it takes multiple steps to finally reach face-to-face interaction. As if we have created a social etiquette for communication boundaries wherein some people are worthy of our “real time” and others are only deserving of a status update, constructing an endless stream of miscommunication and distant discussions.  We can reach each other and send messages through social media outlets, BBM, texting and even see each other through mediums like Skype and Face Time (the option of video chatting offered by the iphone) and yet we are so far from one another. The need to connect has created a series of digital communication streams that ultimately lead to an inherent disconnect.

Solution: The Café or Coffee Shop.

            Whether you are dating, want to meet new people or just want a space to chat; the coffee shop, depending on its design, gives us a chance to escape the lonely world of digital communication and physically connect within the same space and time. It offers us a real room where we can connect and communicate through spoken  word and body language. But more importantly, we can reach out our hands and touch, we can lean across the small circular table and kiss noses.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A Place to De-Stress “Stresses Spelled Backwards is Desserts” ☺

            I consider the coffee shop something of a middle ground; a space between home and work. A place where there is too little to do to distract me, and enough going on to keep me interested, focused on my work and somewhat de-stressed. I recently saw this picture (see above) and realized that yes, the key to de-stressing is finding something pleasant to distract you from the stressful things in life. We should all find our middle ground and enjoy those moments where dessert is the perfect remedy. For me it’s a sweet drink, during the day this could be the usual London Fog (also know as the Earl Grey Latte), Vanilla Latte, Tea with milk and sugar, or a treat like; hot chocolate, or a mocha. A night a cool Pinto Grigio does just fine.
            Whatever you consider to be the “dessert” or sugar in your life, whether it be a sweet drink and some time to calm down in your middle ground, or cookies and milk with your favourite book, just remember that “Stressed Spelled Backwards is Desserts,” so enjoy yours and take time to de-stress!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Space for "Us"

As I looked up from my work I could see an old group of friends gathered on the comfortable chairs, meeting to discuss their past, present and future. You can see who they are now and who they once were, all frozen here over a cup of coffee. Just to the right of them at a small table sits a beautiful couple, coffee in one hand, their free hands clasped tightly. He looked deeply into her eyes they way they had for more than 40 years now and as they left, he held out his hand for her and she, so naturally, slid her hand in his. A small moment, a snapshot in the history of their love. Behind me two friends, it’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, both starting their careers, both dating other people, but somehow drawn to the social elements of their connection. In such a public space they’ve discussed their political views, personal trials and perspectives on various institutions. Her voice much louder than his, demanding the lead and holding it until her breath runs out.  Across from me, sharing this table, sits a young man exhausted from a long week of work. He’s been working for a while, stopped. Reading for a while, paused, and is now enjoying a short nap. All this happing here; private moments shared in this open, public space for us. The beauty of what can be shared over a cup of coffee. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Confessions of a Coffee Shop Junkie

 Ok so it’s official, I am a “coffee shop junkie”, or so I’ve been told. I got off work early today and was so excited by the fact that I could take my “work” outside of the school and complete the tasks in my favourite coffee shop. While I would not consider myself a “workaholic,” I would say that I absolutely love to take my work outside of the work place and complete it where I want.
            Why is it that I would rather bring my work to a coffee shop rather than working in the comfort of my own home? Why would anyone go to a coffee shop? For good coffee, right?  Well my case the reasons might seem somewhat strange. I come here, and I say here, because I also do most of my writing in the coffee shop, for everything but the coffee, in fact I don’t even drink coffee (in the traditional sense).  I am more of a tea lover and occasionally I enjoy a tea latte (London Fog being one of my favourites).  Rarely I will try a new mocha or a holiday treat, but for the most part I am a tea drinker. I love the feeling of a warm, sweet drink between my hands as I pause between marking papers, or try to come up the with the perfect word to express a thought.
            Enough about me and my drink preferences, why is it that someone who doesn’t even love coffee, would love coming to (and sitting for hours in)  a coffee shop? I am going to suggest a couple of reasons. For one I am a very social person and love the sound of “coffee shop chatter”.

Coffee Shop Chatter: the sound of various conversations that can sometimes blend to create white noise when tuned out, or inspire ideas when listening.

            Coffee shop chatter is one of the more interesting elements of being in a coffee shop. Most of the time I don’t hear everything because I am working and can tune a lot of the words out, but what I do hear are tidbits of people’s lives, which can be very intriguing and sometimes make for good writing. While the coffee shop is a public space, people tend to share very private thoughts without whispering. Some things are better left unheard, while others are often amusing. Some examples include the traditional “Woman to woman coffee shop date.”

Woman to Woman Coffee Shop Date: when two female friends meet to catch-up, discuss the titillating details of their social and love lives, and rag on their significant others.

            Woman to woman coffee shop dates are something that I myself have done many times and are one of the more popular types of coffee shop meetings that I have witnessed during my experiences as a coffee shop junkie.

            While, creepily listening in on coffee shop chatter can be interesting at times, one of the main reasons I come to coffee shops for work is the atmosphere. Yes, this might sound cheesy and somewhat cliché, but I have to admit that the atmosphere in the coffee shops I visit really keeps me focused while working, or helps me to feel welcome. From the lighting to the music, you can see that a lot of thought has been put into the development of these spaces. Coffee shops are designed with workers, readers and different types of meeting in mind. There are some large tables, often called “community tables” where a large group could sit or various workers could spread out their lap tops and papers. There are comfortable reading or meeting chairs that are designed for short dates or long reads. There are also traditional small tables, generally for two. These tables are often small and round, designed for two people to rest their coffee, scone or small sandwich while meeting to “chat.”

            Finally, I love the people who work in, and frequently visit coffee shops. I guess I should say most of the people. There is a certain culture that comes with the coffee shop experience and those of us who come often tend to share in the small joys of friendly faces and courteous gestures.  I guess the real reason why I like coffee shops is the people, they are the ones who help to create the atmosphere and share in the same small joys of the space.

If you consider yourself a coffee shop junkie please share. What is it that makes your coffee shop experience a good one?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Coffee Shop Etiquette

Ok so at around noon, this place (the local coffee shop that I have become a regular at) becomes overcrowded, giving me lots to write about and little physical space to do any work. I know the schedule well, so I try my best to get here at an appropriate time (sometime between breakfast and lunch) in order to get a good seat. Yes, I think about my seat before coming here. Sad, yes, obsessive, just a little. With these kinds of expectations, I have to think about the environment and my choices sometimes. Do I want to be surrounded by interesting people, who might provide me with mild entertainment and good writing material, while I slowly dig through this pile of work that seems to consume my mental and physical space, or do I want to be completely alone with nothing to occupy my mind except for the work?
             So why would this be an issue at all? Well for starters coffee shop etiquette has been something that I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. I’ve spent the past three out of five workdays sitting in the same coffee shop only changing locations, not chains, to get a different perspective and give the staff a break from me. I’ve been trying to get through these infinite piles of work and I have to admit that I take up more physical space in the coffee shop than most people would consider appropriate.  The new coffee shop near my house has a huge table that can accommodate my work and at least two other people who need just as much space, and we all seem ok with sharing that space. It appears to be inviting and communal, however, when I made the change today I needed to sit at one of those “four seaters” where the tables could be separated and of course I had a couple of ladies ask me (while looking at that piles of work surrounding my space) if I needed both tables. Well, after looking up in confusion as a result of having been entrenched in work for over two hours straight, I thought to myself, is this situation not self-explanatory? I felt like a jerk for thinking this and hummed and hahhed while slowly starting to move my things. Luckily, they spotted another table and rudely left, grunting as they walked away. I’m not sure how to handle this situation. Was I being greedy by occupying too much public space? Is there even a measurement of public space that we are all allowed to occupy, like parking spots or something? Or was it rude of them to assume that I should accommodate them?
            In keeping with the integrity of this blog, I want to try my best to be as kind as possible, however, this was a difficult situation and even when I do move my stuff to accommodate others I feel as if they are already upset at the fact that I have taken up that much space to begin with. I’ve been asked, “is this your office away from home?” and in all honesty, yes it is and I know this the same for many people. So what do we do? Try to cram ourselves into the smallest seats possible in an effort to accommodate others, or do we go about our business using as much space as we might need to complete our own work? What is the appropriate coffee shop etiquette in this situation?