Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coffee Shops

It is a great daydream of mine that I am somehow able to dip into other lifestyles for a few days or weeks or months. Dipping into other lives is a passion for me; it’s why I read fiction. I hope that there will be time in the next life for us to sample different life situations for a few weeks (just as I hope there will be a chance to read all the great books I missed). I keep an informal list in my head of the things I’d try: a summer on a farm, a year in a cabin in the forest, a few months on the coast in the northeast, a few months in a high-rise in a happening city (with plenty of money for plays and concerts), a few weeks as a power executive, etc. etc.

Near the top of the list is the coffee shop culture. Berkeley was a great place to be a coffee drinker. There were some really cool coffee shops with inviting tables and interesting looking people and books around. I wonder how many people “do” coffee shops un-self-consciously. Could a person possibly go get their latte or whatever, find a table and sit down without thinking to herself, “This is the coffee side of me”? Maybe if I were a coffee person it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. I suppose nonchalance comes from habit and oldness, and coffee culture would never get old for me.

While I was living in Berkeley, I, of course, sampled the coffee shop thing. I got really cool girlfriends to come with me and we got our flavored steamed milks and pastries and sat at little tables and tried to talk about cool stuff like books and ideas and stuff. It was fun, but it never felt quite right. We were, after all, housewives who were just escaping for the evening, and who had to be back by 9:00 or our husbands would start getting anxious. Also, I was as often as not wearing maternity clothes (and not the stylish kinds I saw on the power-office chics on their lunch breaks in San Francisco) and, as is usual for me, my hair and makeup and clothes never looked right and especially not the Berkeley kind of right which involves a lot of looking like you don’t mean it. So it was all sort of an exercise in pretending. It was fun, though.

There’s a coffee shop not too far from my house, in the same strip mall as the Kid To Kid and the copy store, so I pass it regularly. (Poor South Jordan. A coffee shop in a strip mall isn’t really the same, is it?) I see people (mostly teens) hanging out at the little tables out front and I wonder what it would be like to have that kind of time in my life, to be able to go and sit at a table outside in the middle of the day and just sit and sip and chat with interesting friends. Sounds awfully nice to me. Even if I could make time for such a thing, it would be time I had blocked out and sandwiched in between things, and that doesn’t really feel the same, does it? The sort of “and is the time that we have scheduled for doing something totally unscheduled.” And I look at my life plan and I realize that I probably won’t ever have time like that (except perhaps when we’re retired and empty-nested—but even then I think we’ll be busy volunteering and missioning and definitely writing and taking classes) but I don’t mind much. How much worse would it be to have an empty life in which days need to be filled?

Still, it sounds nice, for once-in-a-while.

Maybe someday (when the kids are in school?) I’ll make it a goal to schedule one day a week or month to remain absolutely empty, for filling with activities that occur spontaneously. Sounds nice.

Meanwhile, what is the Mormon version of the coffee house thing? I was thinking maybe the Letherby’s (ice cream) thing, but it’s not the same. It will never be the same for Mormons because we are just too darn busy. Too many day planners. Too much to do before the next meeting.

I wonder how much we miss by being so anxiously engaged.

But this is not a tirade against busyness. Because I’m busy, but I love every single one of my activities (except the doctor’s appointments), including the church meetings. I don’t mind having a full life. I’m remembering what they said about President Kimball, who “when he was with you, acted as if he had all the time in the world, but in between people he ran.” That’s the trick, I think: to bring some of the coffee shop into every interaction I have during the day. Mindfulness.


Marj said...

I like being busy too but think it would be nice to have someone over for tea and crumpets once in awhile.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Having been both Mormon and non-Mormon, I have a theory about why a Mormon will never really fully engage with a culture like the coffee house, and it's not just that coffee is "bad."

When you're not Mormon (or maybe I should say religious), you rely more on other people--they're all you've got. So you feel fully invested in your little groups and cultures, almost desperately so.

But when you're Mormon, it's all about the Lord and your family, and you don't really NEED the other cultures in such a basic way. Yes, we dabble in them, but we know they're not really very important and won't really do much for us an any large scale, so we just don't engage as much on some deep emotional or spiritual level.

Sometimes I miss the friendships and social scenes from my two years as a non-Mormon, because I was able to fully invest in them and they were the primary thing in my life.

texasgal said...

I liked how you captured the ideas here.

I think we've all felt like "pretenders" sometime. (such as the ONE time I flew first class).

I also like how you describe that mormon busyness and the irony of scheduling some "free time".

I also like your description of wanting to sample other lives. I imagine it all the time. I marvel that Christ truly understands every person's experience as his own.

Those were my three favorite ideas from your article. Thanks for posting it.