The Cafe, the Notebook, and a New Beginning
Writing my way into life's next chapter
Industrial lights hang overhead. The lighting is clean but yet diminished even in mid-morning. I’m in a favorite coffee cafe that has changed hands a few times, out of my way from where I live, but I continue to frequent it. It’s been a creative setting off and on for many years. Today, the cafe is busy. I’ve ordered a cortado, a coffee not many corporate cafes know how to make. My table is a high top in a corner near a window, offering a strange and welcome privacy.
I have returned to the cafe with joy. The pandemic had threatened to kill the creative coffee culture, the places so dear to those of us who find solace in them. I wrote about this nearly two years ago, lamenting the tenuous nature of it all. Now, I’m back. We’re back. And I’ve decided to make this both an ending and a beginning, fueled by a new notebook.
In a few weeks, I will leave my college life behind. I have been teaching for 18 years as a professor in the Communication Department of Columbia College Chicago. Now, that part of my life is coming to an end. It’s a planned departure. I hesitate to call it retirement. That word and description feels arcane these days, in this era, in my world. I’m far from retiring. No move to Florida. No golf course living. It’s not me, or my wife. Instead, this is a new chapter, as cliche as that might sound. It’s the end of one thing, and the beginning of another, a world not fully formed yet. And this notebook before me is my attempt to crystalize what comes next.
I plan to write daily in the new notebook as a way to pull out of the fog some clear picture of what I want these remaining years to be. There are certainties. I will still write, words and music. I will still conduct my broadcast work. But I will also settle into a new existence.
I place the notebook open to its lined pages. I write the date and a few words about the weather and what I see from this window seat.
April 19, 2022. Dew streaks the tall window from top to bottom, somewhat obscuring my view. Still, sun is apparent, hitting the brown bricks of the building across the street and the face of the man standing at the crosswalk.
I don’t know why I write this, not sure what it will reveal about what I’m trying to discover. As Patti Smith wrote in her book M Train, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.”
But writing about nothing, is the only way to find out what I’m trying to discover, to earth, to unveil.
Some time ago, I wrote about the beauty of notebooks like this one.
Keeping one should not not be a chore. It should not be a duty. It should be freewheeling with its purpose shifting and changing to the delights of the writer. It should be a volume of dreams. Not a volume of tasks. It should be a place of fantasy, whimsy, and imagination. Write in it. Draw in it. Doodle in it. Use black ink and red and purple. Use a pencil. Use a crayon. The notebook should be a place to poke around in the dark or in the brightest light, a place to survey the brain, discover the deepest thoughts or the silliest realizations.
So here I am creating my new world, one word at a time. One entry a day. Some will be detailed, some not so much. Some focused. Some meandering. But each is an attempt to dig below the surface, where the diamonds are, the gold. One must shovel earth to find treasures.
Some who come to this time in their life believe in a plan, an exact idea of what they will do with their days. But I hope instead to find joy in the searching. And so, I keep writing this morning.
What in my life would be incomplete if I did not have it?
A tough question. But one worth considering. I think of Rilke’s quote. I write it down.
The only journey is the one within.
And then I remember the poet Donald Hall.
One day, of course, no one will remember what I remember.
And what did Aristotle say?
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Now I’m getting somewhere.