Coffee Shops, the Pandemic, and Evasion Strategies

When the pandemic began, I had a lot things I needed in order to write. I needed to write away from the house, preferably in a coffee shop. Even more preferably with a friend across the table, doing their own writing. I had two writing friends in town who enjoyed the same activity, and I met each of them weekly — one on Tuesdays and one on Thursdays. Many weeks this was the only writing I did, though on good weeks I’d manage to get to a coffee shop on my own and do some solitary writing surrounded by strangers as well.

Then the pandemic hit, and all the coffee shops closed down, then re-opened for take-out only. I wouldn’t have gone to one in those early days even if they had been open. And I wasn’t writing in those early pandemic days either. I was spending time with my child, who was eight at the time. I was structuring their days, making sure that they felt as okay as they could, with school suddenly closed and the whole world feeling hostile and strange. We drew together along with Mo Willems on my computer screen. We took long walks around the neighborhood, admiring the blooming daffodils and crossing the street when we encountered other pedestrians. We read books together each afternoon during what I dubbed Mommy Storytime. I gave myself permission not to write.

Time passed. Summer passed. School re-opened in its new strange virtual form. I found myself spending days sitting in the living room, listening to my child’s third grade class conduct its business in the den over Google Meet. The teacher’s voice traveled all over the house and she started to feel like a close friend, though she hardly knew my face or my voice. It occurred to me at some point during my second time through third grade that I really needed to learn to write in adverse conditions. So what if I wasn’t at a coffee shop? So what if there was no friend across the table? A professor from my MFA program had called these evasion strategies, and I admitted to myself that he was right.

And I found my way back to a writing practice in starts and stops and eventually with the help of an old friend who became my writing coach. I learned to write even though I was at home, even though 3rd grade was going on in the background, or, once summer returned, when my child was playing Prodigy Math. During the summer between 3rd and 4th grade I had a daily writing practice at my desk in the living room while my child had a daily Prodigy Math practice in the den. It worked, and it kept working until I took a break for us to move houses.

Now I’ve got a feast of places to write within my own home. There is my home office, which occupies one wall of the bedroom. There is a desk in the guest room. There is the dining room table, which is my preferred spot with its view of the side yard and its large and beautiful tree. There is a table out on the patio. And I am writing again, happily so. One small thing the pandemic accomplished was it forced me to confront my own evasion strategies.

And today, for the first time in over two years, I find myself writing at a coffee shop across the table from a friend who is also writing. We are sitting outside on the patio. I’m wearing a mask. Neither of us has a perfect breakfast burrito on the table beside us. (In the before days, there was often a perfect breakfast burrito.) It feels good, coming back to this new form of my old way of writing. It also feels a little strange. I can see why this was my preferred way of getting writing done in the past. It is a luxury, having company while sitting deeply inside my own head. But I also know that tomorrow, I’ll park myself at the dining room table at some point, and I’ll write a poem. My child has the day off from school, so there may be the dulcet tones of video games in the background. I’ll likely only write for 30 minutes or so, but I will write. And it will be good too.

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