11 Coffee Shop Commandments

1408971366.556579.IMG_7976The RB closed. It’s as simple as that. One day when I got to one of the two coffee shops in town, the guy behind the counter explained—to me and to everyone else in line—that Sunday would be “our last day.”

Want to buy a coffee shop? He directed us to the sign next to the cash register. Only $10K, he said when I asked what they were asking. Basically the cost of the expensive espresso machine, he said. Of course there’s the rent. That was my next question, briefly entertaining the notion of buying the place—having a coffee shop all to myself. What writer wouldn’t want that?

But seriously. This is a problem. Granted I live in a town of only 8,500 people. But here’s the thing. Both of our two coffee shops—the RB and the MRC—are always crowded. MRC is always my first choice. In fact, I wrote one of my WIPs at the choice corner table. (It’s the most coveted table in the place.) But I would go to the RB when the MRC was full (which it often was even before RB closed). And if you sometimes (or more than sometimes) work in a coffee shop, this is especially a problem.

That’s not what this blog is about. By the way, I don’t want you to get the impression I go to the coffee shop every day (I don’t…not anymore). No, this blog is about coffee shop etiquette and acceptable coffee shop behavior. How you should (and should not) behave in a coffee shop—according to me, of course, because it is my blog and it is critical to my life right now with coffee shop real estate (and I mean in both the table- and shop-sense) at a premium. Good behavior is mandatory.

Here’s my list.

1. Thou shalt not talk on the phone. Especially all the time. One woman does this non-stop (she used to be at the RB and has now moved to MRC—yes at the coveted corner table). She had her headphones plugged into her phone last time I was there when she was; she talked for over an hour before I couldn’t stand it and had to leave.

2. Thou shalt not listen to movies/trailers/music outloud. This seems self evident (to me), but I’m just saying.

3. Thou shalt not hog electrical outlets. Back to the phone-talker. She does. Talk on the phone and hog the outlets…many outlets at once. What is she doing? It’s hard to imagine what combination of electronics could require four plugs. Shouldn’t she get a room (and by room I mean office)?

4. Be polite and friendly to all. This includes pulling in your chair when someone is trying to go by, keeping your voice at a normal speaking, inside—not outside—voice level, kindly greeting others who greet you first. You know, all the things most of us learned at home or if not at home then in kindergarten.

5. Don’t act like you’re at home—you’re not. No matter if you do go everyday (or almost everyday). Don’t speak in a loud voice (even if it’s an interesting story), don’t yell across the coffee shop to other patrons, and never ever put your feet on the furniture…yes, that means you Miss Pink Flip Flops who just put her foot on a table.

6. Make yourself comfortable, but not for too long. And if you do stay too long, for the love of God, don’t bring your own food, particularly coffee. Or soda machine. Or… is it just me or is this self evident? Even if you don’t buy something to eat every day, I like to at least sometimes buy a bagel or croissant—just to show I understand it’s a business. (Maybe then the RB wouldn’t have gone under and then maybe other places won’t go under like the RB did).

7. Make friends with the barista. Sometimes this is impossible (no matter how much you try). But let’s face it, if the barista’s not happy, no one’s happy. Smile at the people behind the counter, put something in the tip jar, care about their lives.

8. Chat with your fellow “coffee shop workers”—but only if they want to—and then not too much, after all—like you—they’re there to work. Making friends with other regulars can be fun and also is helpful when you’re looking for someone to empathize with about other particularly annoying “co-workers.” Need I mention phone-woman again? Or the couple who had the huge argument one day?

9.  Thou shalt not take cuts in line—yes even if it’s to ask “a quick question.” Again, is this not self evident? And yes, I’m talking to you, lady, the one who cut in front of me a few minutes ago to ask for napkins and didn’t even bother to excuse herself to me.

10. Clean up after yourself. Throw your trash away. Bus your table. Brush crumbs away. Sometimes things are so busy the staff doesn’t have time. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is standard. (I’d extend this to the bathroom… there’s nothing worse than going into a public bathroom that someone hasn’t bothered to keep tidy during their visit. Throw paper towels away where they belong, don’t leave hair in the sink, and—well, I hate to be the toilet police, but shouldn’t guys always lower the seat?)

11. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor-writer’s computer. Now this is totally in fun, offered to me by one of my writer friends at MRC. He calls this the 11th commandment. By the way, he does covet my computer. Last month I got my first new computer EVER. A Macbook Pro. Retina display. Super light. My first very-own, non-handmedown computer. It’s pretty slick, I do have to say, and I have to pinch myself occasionally to believe it’s really mine. Don’t worry, there are downsides, if you doubt it, take a look at the blog I wrote about email.

Can’t we all just get along?

What about you? What are your pet peeves and commandments—or am I just too picky for words?

 

Coffee Club Culture

800px-Coffee_shop_JIIT

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons (not my coffee shop)

I knew he was trouble when he walked in. Tall, well dressed, self assured, he strode to the back of the coffee shop to the couches—clearly he saw someone he knew. But there was something palpable in the air. Anger.

I wish I didn’t, but I have radar about these things. Call it sixth sense, call it ESP, call it busybodiness. I call it tuned in, observant. Even with my headphones on, the music turned up, I knew something was about to happen.

This story isn’t quite as dangerous as I’m making it sound. Not quite. But almost. The facts were that this man—middle-aged man—went to the back of the coffee shop to confront what I found out (what we all found out) was his ex-wife. He wasn’t physically threatening but he raised his voice—in his defense, so did she. Then for the next hour they argued.

Yes, an hour. Raising their voices frequently, I couldn’t help but hear them. We all heard them. It was unpleasant. At one point, one of the guys who I see almost every day turned to me and said just one word: “Brutal.” Later in the hour another guy—I’d never met—and I shared a few pleasantries. First we acknowledged the stress and anxiety we were both feeling. The awkwardness that was unavoidable. Then we chatted about the road work outside. He was an engineer for a large project our town’s in the middle of. He said that sometimes people yell at workers, swear at them even. He was a nice young guy just trying to do his job.

The coffee shop I always go to (I called it a club in the title because it sounded better between coffee and culture) has been problematic for me lately. I finally figured it out. I’m a regular. I’m comfortable, as comfortable (almost) as I am at home. I know the baristas, I know the cashiers (even the new ones), I know a lot of the regulars. We chat. It’s wonderful, but I feel like I’m losing my edge.

This morning one of the other regulars apologized for sitting at “your table.” He smiled when he said it, but it turned out another regular had said something to him. We all smiled, but it made me realize even more that I’m too comfortable. I have “my table,” I know the irregulars who come in just to fight in a neutral place or escape someone swearing at them, the barista has “my special drink” (for the record, I only have it once in a while because it costs $5.40 compared to $2.00 for a cup of joe), I know the prices of everything, where everything is. I even alerted the staff this morning that the bathroom was out of paper towels.

I’m too comfortable, leading me to complacency, I realized this morning as I nodded to all the regulars on the way to my table (which I reclaimed after it was vacated—hey, it’s near an outlet), settled into the chair in the same position as yesterday, proceeded to log onto Twitter and Facebook. Then I caught myself. That was the whole reason I started going to the coffee shop in the first place—I was doing those same things at home, having trouble concentrating…and writing.

As for the argument, the angry words died down, the well-dressed ex-husband left, and the boyfriend came back to sit next to the ex-wife. It was all starting to make sense. But the culmination of the fight was still one more distraction I had trouble tuning out, proving once again I’m just too comfortable.

It’s time to shake things up again. Maybe next week I’ll try a new table.

Cheers,

Julia

Have you ever had this happen to you in a too-familiar public place? Do you get complacent in your routines (like I do), leading to lower productivity? Have you abandoned routines because it becomes TOO routine? What techniques have you tried?

Wanted: One Mug

I broke my favorite coffee mug this morning. I put it down in a precarious place on the edge of the kitchen counter, and when I wiped off the counter, I went a little too far and whisked that mug right onto the floor!


Little did I know last week when I took the picture of my desk for my blog posting, that it would be the last, maybe only, one of my mug. Now I’m glad I have it. (Not that I make a habit of taking pictures of my mugs, or any of my other dishes, for that matter.)


It’s just that I have a particular attachment to my coffee mug. I use the same one every morning. In the afternoon, when I heat up leftover coffee, I use a small jelly jar. In the evening for tea, I use a large green glass mug.


But in the morning? It’s always the same small white and blue flowered mug. Because I’m a creature of habit that way.


It will take me a while to find a new one. I’m very particular: it has to be on the small side because I like to take lots of trips to the kitchen for refills, and I never fill it up more than half way to make sure that I’ll need a break soon.


In truth, I’ve had several great mugs over the years—a few better than others, but once broken all hard to replace. One other favorite we got when we first moved to Maine was striped blue and white with white and blue clams, fish, and starfish. Another favorite—a tall narrow cup from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts—was adorned with lovely, graceful blue irises.


For a while I’ll use a stand-in, with many to choose from, but none seem quite right. I’ll take my time to find my new morning companion. Because I’m picky, but patient that way.


And until I find one, please…


Be on the lookout for a mug fitting this general description.


1. It must be narrow, preferably curved, to fit the hollow of my left hand, so in winter I can hold it against my chin or my chest while I think, look out the window, and ponder what to write next. But it should not be so narrow that it would stand out as being its most obvious feature.


2. The walls of the cup must be thick(-er than thin) because that will keep the coffee warmer longer—particularly important because I add milk to my coffee, but I like to drink it when it’s very, very hot.


3. The handle needs to be wide enough for two, preferably three fingers, but narrow enough for flexibility in handling. This is of particular importance when I’m carrying my laptop to another room—so I can take my coffee at the same time. But it’s also important when I hold the cup against my chin (see #1). And when I hold my cup with my right hand (which is purely utilitarian for actually drinking the coffee), I need the versatility of grabbing it by the handle or slipping my thumb or two to three fingers through the handle, while cupping the cup in my hand.


4. It most probably should be white with a predominantly blue design or pattern: flowers or fish or some other entertaining picture or print (but definitely not words). This gives me something to think about when I stare at my coffee cup instead of off into space.


5. It must have a sturdy, steady base that is well weighted and can balance on a stack of papers, on a couch arm, a pile of books, on the roof of a car, or—yes—even on the edge of a kitchen counter. Because I’m clumsy that way.


If you come across a mug of this general description, please alert @wordsxo as soon as possible. Your help is greatly appreciated.


Are you particular about your coffee or tea mug? Or is there something else you always need to have with you when you write? Are you distracted, like I am, that way?


Cheers,


Julia

Wednesday’s Word is Iterate, Then Again


Iterate

(verb) to say or do again or again or again

– Merriam Webster online


A writer’s life. Wake up. Make coffee. Drink coffee. Check Email. Check Twitter. Respond to email. Start writing blog. Take break. Drink coffee. Check email. Check Twitter. Go back to writing blog.

Alone. Most of the time.

Get in car. Drive to coffee house. Friend arrives. Talk. About her looking for work. My blog. Her dysfunctional family. My dysfunctional family. Laugh. A lot. Get in car. Go home. Write.

Alone. Again.

Go to store. Buy butter, milk, bread, tortillas, beans, avocado, tomato. Go home. Write.

Alone. Again.

Sit at computer. Dog nudges. Needs walk. Stand up. Put on jacket. Walk outside in the sun. Even for a just few minutes it feels really good. Cold but warm. Go back inside. Take off jacket. Sit down. Dog goes to her bed. Sit at computer. Write.

Alone. Again.

Get in car. Go to library. Check out books that someone else wrote. In her house. Somewhere. A writer’s life. Alone. She writes. I read.

Alone. Again.

Tomorrow. Iterate.


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. What’s the pattern of your life? Do you ever feel like you’re in the movie Groundhog Day?

6 Reasons Coffee Might Make You a Better Writer (and 3 reasons it might not)


“Caffeine helps stimulate creativity as it speeds up the body’s functioning. That’s why coffee is often associated with writers and other intellectual professions. Other drugs tend to make people dumber. Consider what happens when people get high off of crack or when they get drunk off of alcohol. They won’t be functional at all. But with coffee, an individual gets a creative boost while still helping their bodies.” True quote from: http://ezinearticles.com/?What-Coffee-Does-to-Your-Health&id=1708085


Can coffee make you a better writer? I think so. Yesterday, I decided to try and make it through a whole day without coffee. (I’d like to say it was because I was testing my theory for today’s blog—but it was really because we ran out.)


And I was lazy. Maybe because I didn’t have any coffee. Studies have shown that coffee perks you up. Duh. And, if you’re like the average American, you drink 416 eight-ounce cups of coffee a year. But, if you’re like me, you’re closer to batting a thousand.


But this blog is not about coffee consumption statistics. The question is: can coffee make you a better writer? This is the question I researched yesterday when I was too tired to write…which brings me to the first of six reasons coffee can make you a better writer.


1. Coffee keeps you awake. Perhaps the most necessary condition for writing is actually being awake…so you can have the ol’ butt in the chair time. Researchers have found that caffeine blocks a brain chemical (adenosine) that prompts feelings of drowsiness. This was discovered by giving rats a caffeine-like substance. When caffeine thwarts adenosine, go-to-sleep signals get derailed until caffeine’s effect wears off. (I don’t know about rats, but I’m pretty sure writers would prefer a latte.)


2. Coffee may help preserve your memory. Research showed that caffeine in three daily cups of coffee helped older women have better memories. (That is, preserve memories. Nothing except a life well lived can help you have better memories.) Nonetheless, remembering things—a very helpful thing for a writer to be able to do. (By the way, the most important thing I learned from this study was that I did not qualify as an older woman. WOOHOO!)


3. Coffee perks you up mentally. Austrian researchers found through conducting brain scans that caffeine stimulates areas of the brain governing attention. This means that you might actually better understand what you’re writing or come up with new and exciting ideas. The caffeine in just two cups of coffee showed increased activity in the anterior cingulum that controls attention. (I can’t think of one funny thing to add to this.)


4. Caffeine can help energize you and keep you focused on boring and repetitive tasks, even when you’re well rested. If you do any kind of business or technical writing, like I do, there may be times that you’re bored or doing repetitive tasks or repeating yourself or you get bored (especially if you work on technical or detail-oriented projects).


5. Coffee makes you more cheerful, so you’ll have a better attitude about your writing! A study from Brazil shows that people who drink coffee every day are less likely to suffer from depression. In fact, caffeine is generally considered the world’s most popular mood-enhancing drug. Therefore, if you write really depressing things, I suggest you drink something else, say Bourbon, so your writing isn’t too upbeat. (Or, drink way too much coffee, which has been shown to wreck your disposition.)


6. Coffee is good for pretty much everything, ergo it must be good for writing! Harris Lieberman, a research psychologist at the Military Nutrition Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, says: “When you’re sleep-deprived and you take caffeine, pretty much anything you measure will improve: reaction time, vigilance, attention, logical reasoning—most of the complex functions you associate with intelligence….”


Finally, here are those three things (from a writer’s non-medical point of view) that could be downsides of drinking coffee:


1. There can be too much of a good thing. Too much coffee can make you jittery or make it hard for you to sleep. And we all know that if you’re sleep deprived, you can’t think as well, and if you can’t think, you probably can’t write either.


2. If you take too many coffee breaks, you might never get any writing done. If you’re like me, and you go into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, you might get distracted by other things to do. And if you meet a friend for a coffee break, forget about it…


3. You may need to use the bathroom more often—since coffee is a mild diuretic—so if you really need to get a lot of writing done in one day, then make sure you balance your coffee intake with the output necessity. Or get a “pilot’s friend.”


Off for my second cup….


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. No offense to tea drinkers meant. For most of these studies, they did say that tea/coffee were interchangeable, some were not. Are you a coffee drinker? Tea? How much coffee or tea do you drink? Do you think it helps or hurts your writing? Or has no effect?

Tomorrow is the New Today


Today was going to be the first day of the rest of my life. As far as writing schedule goes anyway. As previously disclosed in yesterday’s blog, blogging has thrown a wrench into my schedule. To be specific: I no longer have a schedule.


But today was the day that was all going to change. My only client meeting was cancelled (thank you Mother Nature!), so I was determined to whip myself into shape, and:


1. Not check email, or


2. Twitter, or


3. Any blogs I follow, or


4. Even glance at the stats for my blog.


Until I:


a. Wrote today’s blog.


b. Finished revising a piece of flash fiction that I still need to cut 200 words from.


c. Wrote the 900 words I committed to writing everyday (except now it’s 900×10=9000 words, because I’ve missed 10 days of writing due to blogging).


d. All of the above.


But then I woke up this morning with Tweeter’s Neck or Blogger’s Shoulder—I’m not sure which but definitely something to do with computer ergonomics. And now, with my neck in a holding pattern, I can only think about:


1. Coffee.


2. Advil and Tylenol.


3. Swiffering the unbelievably dog-hairy kitchen floor—which I was easily able to notice thanks to the new angle of my neck.


4. Reading and tweeting (and griping) about the impending snowstorm—another 6-10 inches today. Thank you Mother Nature.


5. Sprinting (or some other much less graceful facsimile) up the stairs to make sure the oil delivery guy didn’t see me in my bathrobe.


6. The shooting pain in my neck when I (a)drink coffee, (b)swiffer, (c)tweet, (d)sprint/facsimile upstairs (e)all of the above and more.


And especially:


7. The heating pad on the couch.


I’m glad that I at least fulfilled my commitment to daily blogging (or some facsimile thereof).


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. Unfortunately I did not read the really good and very helpful post “Protect Yourself From Writing’s Physical Hazards” on Writeitsideways until I spent far too many stretch-free hours in front of the computer this week. But I highly recommend that you read it (and stretch) now. Trust me you’ll be glad you did.

Video Postcard from the Coast of Maine with love from wordsxo

(Recorded Saturday, February 19, 3:50 p.m.) 33 degrees F

A Very, very windy and blustery day at the Maine beach overlook today. It’s warmer this week, but not with the wind chill! It feels so much colder than when we took the video on February 13th. And, possibly for the first time ever, my teeth were cold.


It’s a shock to the system—because we went from almost 50 degrees on Friday to this. It looks prettier—all the ice is gone from the beach and water—but the wind is howling. And (perhaps needless to say) we didn’t see any other people, just birds. BRRRRRR.


What did this inspire? Hot coffee, stew for dinner, and hopes that the Punxsutawney Phil was right and we’re in for an early spring!


Cold Greetings from the coast of Maine!


Cheers,

Julia


p.s. the stew was delicious! What’s your favorite comfort food when it’s cold outside? If you live in a climate that has great changes in temperature, is it warming up (or getting colder) where you are? How does this affect your writing?

Commitment

It’s the first warm-ish sunny day in a while, and I’m inside at the computer. If you live in the Northeast, like I do, you know these days have been few and far between this winter. Lots of snow, ice, rain, even lightning, you name it. If you don’t live in the Northeast, trust me: it’s been miserable.

A friend I met for coffee this morning was on her way to go cross-country skiing. I haven’t skied for years, and then only once, but it sounded really fun. “You can walk next to me,” she offered. I imagined myself running down an ice-packed trail in my clunky L. L. Bean boots. I declined.

The truth is I was anxious to get home. I started blogging this week, and I am serious about the commitment. It sounds silly even to me. No one is counting on me but me; maybe no one has even read my first blog from yesterday, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. I am blogging to get myself writing, and so it’s words I must write!

After coffee, as my friend headed toward the sunny side of town, I headed the other way. I drove home, and I booted up my laptop. It took all morning, and six pages of starts, but I did it. I wrote my second blog. And that’s good enough for today.