Monday, October 05, 2009

Adventures at the Coffee Shop


So Saturday afternoon/evening I spend a little over three hours at a coffee shop in downtown Kalamazoo. One of the nice features of this coffee shop is that it's also a bar so it stays open later than most coffee places (and if you're eager to do more work but feel the need to switch over to the hard stuff you don't need to move).

They have padded arm chairs, and cozy cafe tables, but they also have big study kitchen table-esque things which I am more than happy to spread out on and work.

As I slog down my coffee and slog away at my work (non-fiction project) the sun sets and the well lit coffee shop becomes a little more gloomy; the lighting inside is "atmospheric" at best. At this time I discover--joyfully--that I am sitting beside an electrical outlet, and plug in my laptop. Once hooked up to juice, the glow from the laptop is more than enough to beat the gloom.

The creepy guy in the armchair (who might be staring at me) leaves, and a group of three or four guys are playing chess at the table next to me; they don't talk much except to say checkmate.

Then -- woosh! -- a flurry of activity. At first I think it is the same four undergrads that were studying chemistry when I first arrived but these people are different despite looking like students from K-college. There's a guy setting up amps and mic stands on stage so I start to worry that a music show is about to start and my scribbling/typing away will be out of place. I look around the coffee shop/bar. Definitely not out of place. There are more people here than there were two hours ago but some of them are even more bookish than me. Two middle aged women and a grandmother play Scrabble. A guy behind me flips through some sort of business reports. The students -- they have my attention again -- are pulling two, now three, of the large kitchen tables together. Some of the students are dressed weekend-comfy and some weekend-flashy. It's the two flashily dressed students that made me wonder if the scene was suddenly changing. The settle in to their table and I go back to work.

When I look back up the students all have laptops out. They are gesturing and yelling across the coffee shop to each other as they procure lattes and cookies. The flashiest of the flashy ones has a ruffly scarf on and stacked heels; she gestures a lot. There is a sign propped up on their table. It is vaguely familiar and, as I struggle to place it, I wonder if it isn't a house crest from Harry Potter.

I frown. If a moment ago I thought I was the nerd for doing work in public on a Saturday evening then what will I think of these twenty year-olds announcing to the world their Saturday night Hogwarts fetish?

People are staring at them. The amp-guy pulls up fast before he can trip over them as they continue to rearrange furniture. The Scrabble-women give the flashy ones dirty looks as the flashy woman swishes back and forth and several of the college students hold a conversation over the Scrabble-women's table. The men playing chess remain absorbed in the chess.

Then, I place the shield logo. It's a NaNoWriMo shield! These people assembling in front of me are here for the ardent and admirable task of writing novels quickly and en mass!

For a brief moment I feel like I should join them, I should reach out and exchange the secret handshake with these young, bright, brave ... oddly dressed ... rather annoying ... obviously self-absorbed people.

Nope. Not gonna happen.

I continue working, alone; I do not have time for socialization tonight, particularly not with people whom I don't like.

When I look back up there are even more college students, (probably eight or ten by this point) and two middle aged women, one of whom has a very plain daughter who looks to be in early high school. The middle aged women are looking around like they are wondering if they really want to be sitting at the end of this very long table with all these strange, loud, gesticulating strangers.

The leader -- flashy woman has emerged as such -- calls them to order. She asks who the newbies are. She uses the term "newbies" without first explaining it. If one is new, one presumably does not know the lingo. Despite this, she does not explain the term which sounds harsh and disparaging when said aloud. This is part of the problem when certain content or language develops online and then moves into the realm of the spoke: few people stop to consider how their lingo comes across (gets re/misinterpreted) when it jumps realms.

The flashy woman hands out schedules brought by her not-so-flashy second in command. She tells people not to worry as the schedule is not set in stone and is only for personal use. In the same breath she tells the table that the schedule is their writing bible and they should staple it to their foreheads to encourage them to make their daily word counts.

"So who knows what a word war is?"

There is no response from the table.

"Do my newbies know what a word war is?"

There are mumbles that I cannot hear.

She addresses the end of the table where the middle aged women are sitting. "This is one of the myriad, great advantages of having a supportive NaNo-ing community group," she explains. I am certain, given her propensity toward adjectives, that she has absolutely no trouble making her daily word count without thinking of much content.

I am uncertain if she ever does explain precisely what a "word war" is.
I so happen to know that a "word war" is when a group of people race against, themselves, each other and the clock. They agree to a certain amount of time, say 15 or 30 minutes, and then a time keeper says "go!" and everyone manically clicks away at their keys trying to produce as much verbiage (and it quite frequently is more verbiage than narrative) as they are physically capable of in those minutes. Word wars that take place in person are marked by the sudden and complete silence of the group that is warring. If I had to hazard a guess I would say that there was no word warring that night.

The plain teenager is reading the online discussion boards.

"Who knows what they're going to be noveling about?" the leader asks.

At this point I realize that it is October.

I have known all along what the month was despite my deep longing for it to be September again as I did not properly appreciate that month as it passed by, but the fact of the matter remains that NaNoWriMo, the month of the national novel writing experience, is November. These people are one month early and do not appear to care.

Two or three of the college students raise their hands and the flashy leader squeaks and bounces in her chair. "Oo! Tell me!"

I return to work on my own writing projects, projects due in the immediate future (a little too-immediate if comfort is to be considered), and I am thankful, very thankful, that I did not stick out my hand and join in the past hour of unproductiveness at the non-writing novel writing table.

Highly Recommended