I’m staring at a purple wall, sitting on a bar stool with my back to the entire coffee shop because none of the available tables on the perimeter have an outlet except this one. For the record, that’s a good way to make sure I never return – especially since the battery on the laptop I’m using is dead and I haven’t worked up the desire to buy a new one.
Strike two is a lack of air conditioning. I can hear it humming, but it isn’t exactly making the place as cool as I would prefer.
I’m waiting for strike three, but I decide to at least take a look at the next pitch.
A group of five women, who look to be college age, are chatting behind me and I hear snippets of their conversations as all of them talk at the same time.
“They’re cute, but …”
“I have Facebook.”
“A two-year-old …”
“I looked for it on Twitter …”
“I tweeted so many times ...”
“My Twitter is lame. I follow Associated Press …”
Five minutes later, they all get up and leave.
The place grows silent, except for Radiohead’s “Creep” that is playing on the radio on a speaker mounted on the wall just over my head. It makes me think about how most of us, as writers, don’t think we really belong here – in the publishing world. How many other writers have sat in this very spot, laptop open, banging out a manuscript, hoping beyond hope that it will land them what they are looking for – an agent, a publishing deal, fame, validity?
Aren’t we all creeps in one form or fashion, just looking for our own way?
I’ve written six non-fiction books for traditional publishers and I’m working on a Christmas novella I plan to self publish. I’ve also had hundreds of articles published. But publishers aren’t knocking down my door. That doesn’t mean they don’t call or email once in a while, but that’s hardly the same thing.
I’m not an A-list author. I know that. Truth be told, I’m not a B-list author, either. That makes me a C-list author.
C is for creep.
Maybe I don’t belong here, but yet, here I am – drinking my five-dollar skinny vanilla latte while continuing to write, continuing to forego other activities, because I’m compelled. I know the marvelous effect words can have on a person.
When I pull out a Jan Karon novel and lose myself in the fictional town of Mitford, I realize I’m just a younger version of Father Tim. I don’t live in a small town. I'm not in my sixties. I'm not Episcopalian. I'm certainly not a priest, but yet, I identify with him.
Early in the series, he's a busy guy who gets lost in his work, his dog, the books he is reading, his naps, his buddies he meets for coffee in the local café, the people in his church, and the single life. Substitute a cat for a dog, and shave about 15 years out of the equation, and I am Father Tim. Identifying with him makes me feel less alone.
A plump man who is carrying a hardcover book walks into the coffee shop and approaches the counter. The barista, an attractive young woman with a petite nose ring, asks him what he would like to order and he speaks in a hushed tone, stammering over his words. He finally orders a chamomile tea, and he offers an apology. “Sometimes I’m slow in expressing myself.”
The barista doesn’t miss a beat. “Sometimes I’m slow to understand, so we’re even. Give me just a minute and I’ll have your tea right out to you.”
After he gets it, he sits down at a table in the middle of the coffee shop, and opens his book. Even though he is sitting behind me, I still sense he wants to make a connection with the barista, reminding me of the book Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher, minus the overt spiritual context, but with the same intention to push pass the awkwardness to simply have a conversation.
“Any internships yet?” he finally asks the barista.
Obviously he’s been here before and had prior conversations with her. I wonder how many times he stops in each week, working up the courage to say something – anything to her? My heart aches for his awkwardness. I’ve been there. But I’m also pulling for him – not in the sense that he “gets the girl,” although that would be a great story, assuming they are both single, but more so for him to keep reaching out in an attempt to make human connections.
Creeps eventually shut down. I know this because I am one – on more levels than one. Reaching out takes genuine effort. Our natural tendency is to sit in the corner with a good book and fade into the woodwork. But obscurity never trumps human connection. We know this, so once in a while we venture out of our corner.
“Not yet, but I’m keeping my eyes open,” she says.
“I’m not trying to pester you … just trying to encourage you.”
“Oh, I know. Thank you.”
I have never seen "Beauty and the Beast," but the two exchanges I’ve just heard between these two is what I envision the movie to be about – one outwardly beautiful person showing genuine kindness toward a creep, of sorts, making him feel equal. I’d like to believe she did so because she actually believes that, but even if she was just being polite to keep him at arm’s length, she was gentle with him. As such, she might have given him the courage to keep reaching out to others.
And in my mind, that’s what really makes her beautiful.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.