I want to tell you about a coffeehouse I found while I was in Port Townsend. To get there from Whidbey Island, I had to get on a ferry and cross the Puget Sound. It’s a lovely ride along what is called the Whale Trail so I had to stand at the bow to look for some. I didn’t see any, sadly, but another writer who was on the boat with me (and had been to Whidbey before) knew that a depression in the water could mean that a whale was just below the surface. He showed me what to look for and I looked hard for fins and blow holes clutching the camera just in case.
On the ferry there are booths where you can sit and talk with your other writer friends about writerly things like how cool would it be if a whale jumped out of the water and over the ferry.
Some of the booths have puzzles laid out on tables, and when I first got on the boat and saw a guy working on one of those 4,675 piece puzzles I thought, “Geez. This boat ride must be long if he brings a puzzle along with him.” But on the ride back I realized that these puzzles are there for everyone. You sit down for a time, take a look at the problem, see if you can contribute to the whole picture, and then be on your way.
Isn’t that nice? You do what you can for a time and then give someone else a chance to create the picture.
But back to the coffeehouse. Look at that beauty. You know what this kind of coffee does to me? It makes me tell you stories. All kinds of stories. I start running at the mouth about my kids, my husband, my brother, my best friend from high school who’s getting married in a month did you know and let me tell you about the time when we…well, you get the picture. This kind of coffee makes me happy and safe and when I’m happy and safe I can tell you stories.
I came with a group that day and when we walked in one of us said to the baristas, “Did you know your website says you’re closed on Tuesdays?”
“We know,” they told us. ”He’s not gonna change it,” one guy said pointing with his thumb to the other guy making our drinks, to which he replied, “Isn’t it a nice surprise when you come here and you think we’re closed and we’re not?”
I felt very welcome in a place that hopes on surprises and ordered a macchiato (not a caramel macchiato you Starbucks folks – NEVER a caramel! That’s like drinking Boone’s or Milwaukee’s Best) and sat down with some friends and told my stories. A few hours later I came back and ordered more coffee. This time, I talked to the baristas while the darkest brew they had slowly plunked into my cup from the filter above. I told them how much I loved the individually brewed cup of coffee and we began a discussion about Intelligentsia.
“This kind of coffee,” I said, including theirs and Intelligentisa’s, “is so much better but it takes more time.” I continued to tell them that in Chicago, there is a Starbucks across the street from one of the Intelligentsia stores and for every one person that goes in, probably 25 come out of Starbucks.
“Yeah,” they both say, and smile. Surprise! You had to wait a little bit longer but isn’t this so much better?
I bought a pound of coffee for my parents on the way out.
On Tuesday, two weeks to the day I was sitting at the coffeehouse, the girls and I took a trip to Washingtonian Center to play at the park, then go to Barnes and Noble to read books. On the trail to the park was the train, that to our knowledge, only comes out in the summer. Surprise! Here it was with its red, blue, and yellow cars, waiting to pull kids around the water.
“Do you want a ride?” the conductor asked.
“Of course!” we said and got in the yellow car.
It’s not Port Townsend. It’s man made, and commercialized and oh so suburban. But surprises are here, too.
Surprise! My oldest child, the one whose transitions are like butter melting on pancakes, got scared on the train. Hadley was gripping the sides of the car when Harper noticed first.
“Here, Hadwee, hold on to my hand,” she said and Hadley took it. Then Harper held out her other hand to me. “You can hold my hand, Mommy. I’m not scared.”
I wanted to tell you about this coffeehouse almost two weeks ago but didn’t get around to it. Up until I began this entry I thought those pictures I took and that story in my head would just drift away because the moment was over. But a friend of mine suggested a few days ago that instead of instantly updating a status, refreshing a feed, clicking the button on the camera, we allow stories to be in our hearts for awhile. So I thought again about the coffee house, and my writing, my girls, and the stories we are all living together.
Maybe you don’t see the whale. Maybe you don’t complete the puzzle. Maybe you have to wait a little longer for the good stuff. I say that’s OK. I say pay attention to it all anyway.
The whale is there. The puzzle can be finished. And your stories can be told. Your past is usable.*
*taken from Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith by Luci Shaw. Quote, “William Saroyan, an American writer, said: ‘The task of the writer is to create a rich, immediate, usable past.”