Offer The Coffee Branch: A Plea For Peace From A Coffee Shop Writer

So there’s this:

Family Guy sure has a way of saying what we’re all thinking, like the time me and Brian...wait, no. Nice try, but I'm not falling for it.

Hating the coffee shop writer, it’s part of the common hate now. The way Bluetooth early adopters were hated, the way we laughed at the one idiot who wore Crocs until every idiot was wearing Crocs and the rest of us were hopelessly outnumbered. The way we sneer at the people who paste stick figure families to the rear windows of their cars. Now, along with the lady who wears tights as pants and the man who wears super tight pants as pants, the coffee shop writer has become a type we’re all sort of okay with hating.

I'm a coffee shop writer. And I want to propose peace. In the interest of that peace, in the interest of mutually-assured brownie enjoyment, I'm offering a treaty. 

Is writing in a coffee shop about getting attention? About making sure people see serious Lit-tra-tour happening all over the place?

We've been at war too long. Like in any long war, we’ve lost sight of why we started fighting in the first place. Like in any long war, I suspect we'll look back on all this with confusion as we're counting up the corpses littered amongst stylized gift cards and roasted Sumatran blends. We'll wonder whether it was all worth it, why we couldn’t just enjoy our latte foam and café seating in peace.

This is the first treaty I’ve ever written. I tried looking for some decent examples. I really did. And let me tell you, this treaty stuff is complicated. Lots of this country that doesn’t exist anymore telling this other country that doesn’t exist anymore to stop crossing a border to another, third country that maybe never existed at all. And to be 100% honest, it wasn’t long into this research that I got very distracted by the Outer Space Treaty which prevents its signers from placing weapons in space and, get this, on the moon. If you ever want to put off a peace treaty project in favor of writing a pilot episode of a show about cosmonaut lawyers, I highly recommend looking into the Outer Space Treaty.

What I did manage to gather before losing track was that most treaties are organized into articles that say something like So-And-So Will Stop Stabbing So-And-So With Such-And-Such. Usually these articles strike a balance, both parties give up some things, both get some stuff. Except no one gets the moon which, again, is off-limits.

The treaty below is arranged into 5 Articles. Each article is represented by a terrible type of coffee shop writer. I'll apologize for each type and explain how we might do better and get along. If you’re a coffee shop patron who engages in non-writing activities at the coffee shop, see how you feel about these terms and comment below. If you're a coffee shop writer, same deal.

One last bit of housekeeping, a quick note on names: All names used below were selected at random from a list of people I hated in junior high. There was at least a small amount of randomness in that there were a lot of names and more than one Ryan. Junior high was not fun.

Article 1: Territories and Greg, Who Threw Hard Snowballs At Me And Is All Spread Out

Greg. This guy’s got a stupid laptop, a stupid notebook, stupid coffee, empty stupid pastry dish, stupid jacket slung over an otherwise empty chair, stupid huge book, a package of those stupid little tab things that I still don’t know how to use. Greg might even have a stupid pencil in his mouth because there really isn't a pencil's-width of space left on his table. He's got THAT much stuff.

I apologize for Greg and all his stupid stuff.

This spreading out is bad form in any situation. For example, I don’t generally rest my entire leg in the driver’s lap if I'm in the passenger seat of a car. I say “generally” because I’m still learning how to flirt and I don’t want to take that move off the table just yet. Another example, most people waiting in line for a water slide don’t hold their fists straight out and spin. It's common courtesy.

You are one person. Yes, a wonderful person, but try and take up about a one-person amount of space, or a one-wonderful-person amount, which is the same as a regular person amount, maybe even slightly less.

Gregs: Pledge to relocate to smaller tables or counters whenever possible. If a large group comes in looking for a spot to sit, offer to move before being asked. It's hard to complain about a guy typing on his laptop who gave up his spot for you and your friends.

If you don't know how to condense your space needs, try this: Walk to the coffee shop with all your stuff. Believe me, after carrying it around awhile, that inspirational Complete Works of Shakespeare will wear out its welcome forthwith.

 

Article 2: Temporal Needs and Cody, Who Made Fun Of My Pants And Camps Out Too Long

It's a good thing someone named Cody was cruel to me in Junior High. Really made that “Cody the Camper” alliteration work.

Cody. Cody might take up only her allotted space as far as the 3rd dimension goes, unlike stupid Greg, but she’s taking up way more than her share of the 4th dimension, time. She's a tick. Once she's burrowed in, the only way to get her out is with cleansing fire or some kind of prescription tweezing device.

Imagine bowling with Cody. She gets a strike, the pins fly around, she celebrates with a little jig, then that jig extends into a dance number, then a brief rest, then some more dancing followed by a rendition of “Wrecking Ball” which makes sense in context, but boy is this going on and on or what?

Hey, we all love a strike, but you’ve danced through most of Bangerz at this point and some of us would like a turn to bowl now.

It’s not about whether it’s okay to do something or not, write in the coffee shop or celebrate success Cyrus-style. Let’s just be reasonable about how long it goes on and the fact that no one else can take a turn until you've finished.

I apologize for Cody.

We can work this out. Peace treaty, right? What’s the right amount of time in a coffee shop? Better question, what’s the right amount of time in YOUR coffee shop?

It’s not an exact science, however the owner of a shop makes choices that set the course. Throw some easy chairs or a couch in your coffee shop, free WiFi, refills, all of a sudden you’ve got a place built for a nice linger. If we're looking at a small space, small counter, a couple patio chairs, then not so much.

It’s up to the owners to decide how they want things to go, and their decisions are expressed through choices. Sort of the way the Sumerians chose to write a peace treaty on papyrus in order to deeply offend their enemies. That was a choice. Or the way I completely made up a fact about Sumerians just there. Also a choice.

Codys: Pick up on cues. There are spots where a person can sit for quite some time without taking anything away from anyone else. Pay attention. If you work long hours, consider giving up your favorite shop for one that's less popular, or at least less busy.

 

Article 3: Environmental Control and Roy, Who Was 8 Feet Tall And Terrified Me And Now Has Control Issues

Roy. This guy is the worst.

Can we change the temperature just a teensy bit? Can we turn down the music a skoche? Do you mind if I adjust the shades all the way across the room, maybe just a smidge? How about I just rearrange all the tables?

Turn your back on Roy, and when you face him again he’s carrying a chair over his head in order to prop the door open just a tad to create a cross breeze with the fan he brought from home and set up in the corner, all while he’s on the phone with a contractor to see about getting a skylight installed over his favorite table.

I apologize for Roy.

The purpose of working outside the home, Roy, is to be in a different environment. This is how it works. So get over yourself. If you want to play god, I recommend either Sea Monkeys or possibly an Ant Farm. Feel free to rearrange their environments any way you wish. They can't complain, and so far I haven't heard stories of ghost Sea Monkeys revenge-haunting a cruel owner, or even haunting a neglectful owner who maybe was too embarrassed to ask someone to care for his Sea Monkeys while he was at the Grand Canyon and instead let them perish (I'm so sorry, Sea Monkeys).

Roy: Decide if writing outside the home is really right for you. Take your biggest problem, whether it be noise or sun or just an unending hate for Josh Groban's holiday albums, and find a place where that one thing is resolved. You get one thing. Forget the rest.

 

Article 4: Community and Pete the Office Grump

Yes, my name is Pete. This name still falls within my name guidelines, only using names of people I hated in junior high. Self-loathing counts.

Pete. Pete is not approachable. Buried in his laptop, headphones screwed deep into his ears, love for fellow man entombed under layers so thick they're only punctured by the sweetest of souls and cinnamon rolls, Pete is clearly not happy.

The problem isn’t so much that Pete brings his work to the coffee shop. It’s that he brings his work attitude. Scowling. Grinding. He’s working, and man his face isn’t going to let you forget it.

I apologize for Pete

Pete, you have to remember that other people are there to have fun. To enjoy the weekend. You might be hard at work, but you're not grinding it out at a warehouse, assembling dolls for the dollar store, killing yourself with thoughts of kids opening boxes on Christmas Day only to find these inferior, homely dolls with visible hair follicles. You're writing. It can be a lot more fun than slapping together sadness dolls.

Bring your work, but don’t bring your work face.

Pete: Be a bit more approachable. If someone interrupts, be kind. You’ve got 40 hours a week to be grumpy about working. Use your coffee shop time to be happy about working on something you enjoy. I know it can be a grind, I know it's not always easy. But hey, if you're not enjoying the writing, I know a terrible man at a terrible doll factory looking for someone with crushed dreams and some weekend hours to kill.

 

Article 5: Attention-Seeking and Connie

Connie. Connie is always at the coffee shop near my house. Always, always there, always, always writing.

Connie is a real author’s name, by the way. She's a known author. If you read sci-fi, you know who I'm talking about. I broke the name rules a bit. Sorry.

Connie’s not prickly like Pete, and she doesn’t try to feng shui the Starbucks like Roy, but she does pull a Cody and linger, and she definitely has a Greg thing going, her handwritten pages spread out all over the table.

It works. She writes books, great books. And many, many people I've talked to love seeing her. I'm not nearly alone in smiling when I see the longhand paper piles that make up her next book fanned out all over a Starbucks. She sits and works hard and the results speak for themselves. She gets attention for her writing, but not because she demands it in the shop. She gets attention because she wins awards, because she's been inducted into the Sci-Fi Hall Of Fame.

There’s no apology for Connie here. The reason I won't apologize for Connie, the attention-seeking writer, is because Connie isn’t attention-seeking. And I don’t know that the attention-seeker shows up as often or in the way Seth Macfarlane would have us believe. The truth is, I don’t know that the attention-seeker is really a thing, and I certainly don’t believe that this person is representative of those who choose to write in a coffee shop.

Is writing in a coffee shop about getting attention? About making sure people see serious Lit-tra-tour happening all over the place? Or could it be something else going on here?

To get at an answer, let’s talk about other things that happen in a coffee shop.

You see people reading the paper. Does that elicit a, "Well, well, well, look at J. Freakin' Jonah Jameson over here, reading the paper. Just HAS to show off his love for print media!"?

There's a group of older men who play chess at a coffee shop near me. It's never occurred to me to say, "What do we have here? Seems like Bobby Freakin' Fisher is ready to show the world he's chessing like crazy."

There's this other guy I see all the time who stares at the wall in sadness. I don’t have a clever slam for him. Well, I do, but it seems unnecessary.

If those people can do their thing at the coffee shop, why not the writer? If one writer can do it, maybe there's hope for all of us.

Connie: Keep kicking ass.

Final Terms

The truth is, I write outside the home because writing at home is very, very lonely. Which would be okay except that so many other parts of my life can also be very, very lonely. The truth is, it's difficult to go all the way from Friday after work to Monday morning without hearing another human voice. Except for the voices of the wonderful actors from TV's House, of course, now available on Netflix streaming.

The truth is, I’m writing a coffee shop peace treaty because it's scary to admit you need other people, and it’s even scarier to worry that those people you need only want you to go away.

I need other people. Please don’t make me go away.

I didn't apologize for Connie. I do apologize for my neediness.

The truth is, I want to offer peace, and I’m willing to condemn a lot of coffee shop behavior to get it. I’ll toss the Codys and the Roys and the Gregs into the sacrificial, near-boiling French press water if it means you and I can coexist.

So how about it? How about we find peace together? Me, you. Greg, Cody, Roy. And Connie. Especially Connie. Believe me, it's in everyone's best interest to keep Connie hard at work.

And fair's fair. I'll keep the spread to a minimum. I'll stay a reasonable time or find somewhere better suited to a long haul. I won't play Property Brothers and remodel the entire store. I'll try and leave my work scowl at work and use my leisure scowl at the coffee shop.

And fair's fair. If I hear one more Josh Groban album, I'll jump up on a table and kick the speaker right off the wall.  I'm a man of peace, but a man of peace can only be pushed so far.


Yearbook Images: From The CMU 1981 Yearbook http://www.flickr.com/photos/milesgehm/273644225/
Image of The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories
Manufacturer: Del Rey
Part Number:
Price:
Image of Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Price: $7.99
Publisher: Spectra (1993)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 592 pages

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Comments

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 28, 2014 - 10:35am

lol

I write at cafes because I get tired of sitting around at home on days off from regular work. That's all. I guess I could be a fast-food joint writer, or hospital waiting room writer, or airport lobby writer, or whatever.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Adjustment Day May 28, 2014 - 10:54am

Great stuff! As an avid writer in the coffee shop for close to 20 years now I can certainly appreciate this article. I'm happy to say I don't fall into any of these categories! I'm a model attendee - I buy stuff, sit at the small table, smile, headphones, chat if approached and don't give other people a hard time if I think they are being too loud. Sadly, this doesn't make my writing any better by being a good patron!

I certainly think the writer has way more quarrels with the non-writer when it comes to etiquette - I know it's not a library, but its also not a bar or a daycare - which we see plenty of! Sad man staring at the wall - all too often, and it bums me out, man! But at the end of the day, I don't want to write in my house - like the article reads, it's already a lonely prospect, but to be out of the house around a few people helps in a peripheral kind of way!

So I'll sign your treaty - though I suspect I won't be the first to break its terms!

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 28, 2014 - 1:32pm

I've had people I've disliked, though looking back on it I wonder if it was me as well. (I've always been more of a loner, nothing against anybody.)

Sofia's picture
Sofia from London, UK is reading everything May 28, 2014 - 2:29pm

My rule is, if 20% of the tables are empty, it's okay to occupy the smallest table. Also, buy food, or leave a big tip. Taking up a table with your laptop and a single cup of coffee from 11 to 1 is not okay.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami May 28, 2014 - 3:52pm

I never even understood being at a coffee shop for writing. Never could I be able to concentrate on a particular story.

Scott Hinderer's picture
Scott Hinderer from America is reading Art of Fiction by David Lodge May 28, 2014 - 11:34pm

I don't really have a problem with coffee-shop writers per se. However, the thing the bothers me is that many of these shops have essentially become cubicle farms. I don't know what all these people are working on, but it essentially sucks the atmosphere right out of the place — and eliminates a lot of the seating. And don't get me started on the trip-hazard extension cords strewn across the floor that I've had to navigate with a hot drink in my hand.

I remember when coffee shops used to be cool places to hang out and meet people, have cool conversations, etc. I feel like that doesn't happen anymore in this new environment. And, I say that as a rather extreme introvert.

If I were so inclined, I sometimes think about opening a no-WiFi-, no-public-electrical-outlet-having coffee shop. But I did/maybe do enjoy reading in coffee shops, so I question whether or not I'm just prizing one technology over another. Meh, I'm OK with it.

I rarely write in a coffee-shop and when I do it is to get away from the distractions at home — cable, stereo, internet, etc. So, I usually only have a notepad and pen with me. I don't stay long though, it's just not for me.