the circular runner

writing: the antidote to the sonic-speed of life…

In life, observations, writing on July 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm

There is a bakery not far from my house in San Francisco.  It’s famous, and like a lot of places here, if its good, then people will take the time to stand in long lines in order to enjoy.  I like bakeries, especially ones that have a little bit of a vibe to them, which this one does.  By “vibe,” let me be clear that I am not talking, “the-place-to-be” coolness.  Instead, I mean that the place in question is alive with people who are willing to slow down and wait for brioche bread pudding and a bowl of coffee.  (The coffee at this bakery does come in what looks like a small serving bowl, btw.)

I drive by this bakery all the time and watch as people sit outside and look on at me and the other motorists (and cyclists) passing by.  They look calm and happy, I think.  I always feel this longing to be among these people but often don’t let myself stop.  During the week, even if I have time, I tell myself that the week is for work.  During the weekend, the lines are just a little too out of hand, and since it’s the weekend, I don’t want to stand in line for brioche bread pudding and a coffee.  (BTW, I like espresso, but this place for all of its charm, makes a putrid cup of espresso.)

I’m not sure if you can see the endless nest that is my mind.  So if you’re willing, let me untangle a few strands as I try to figure out why this bakery and its slowness-loving denizens haunt me.

First off, operating here is what I will call Catholic guilt. I’m not very religious, but my mom, who was when I was a kid, can be a little practical–maybe too practical.  I can hear her in my mind say something like, “sitting around on a weekday is not a good thing.  That’s what the rich or lazy people do.”  My mom, btw, would probably never say such a thing, but she worked really hard–I mean really hard–and I guess I compare myself to her.  I’m pushing 40 now.  I am an adult.  And my life here in SF is more relaxed, more calm than hers ever was–especially this summer.  I am a teacher, and I find myself living for the first time the type of life I envisioned for myself.  A life when at least for a couple months of the year, I’m more broke than I should be, but I have the time in my day to pull over for brioche and putrid espresso if I want to. But today, when I actually let myself do this, I had a hard time enjoying it.

I was thankful, let me say that.  I was giving my thanks to the world, God, the life-force, what have you.  Even the putrid espresso–I was being a good non-Buddhist Buddhist, sending my gratitude up into the sky along with the steam coming off my little cup of acidic nastiness.  But I was also conscious, very conscious, of the time and of the need for me to go home and write something and read something because for once, I have the time to write and read.  Which all leads me to the Great Speed-Up, which, if I’m honest, may be even more powerful a force than Catholic guilt.  People say that life seems to go faster as you grow older, but for me, the speeding-up has almost become debilitating.  I get more done in a day than ever before, but everything is truncated, cut up into small pieces that I can do in a multi-tasking, multi-media blur.  This is fine (maybe necessary) for the many tasks I need to finish as a teacher and as a husband, and in a practical sense, as a writer.  But as a writer, I also need the long-haul.  Hours to dream without worrying and without lists.

So here’s a dichotomy, a Catch-22.  In order to get writing done, I know I have to section the day off.  I need to force myself to unplug and to just sit down with a pad of paper.  I also need to find time to read and learn from other writers.  I need to do these things just like I need to get ready for my classes and do my monthly reports, and help my wife with the chores, and network so that one day, I can be granted even more time to write and read, and feel anxious at a bakery made up of slowness-lovers.

But for now, it’s my job to write when I can, and so it goes on my list of things to do, even though it’s different in kind from most of the other things on that list.  It has to be different.  With most things, I am racing against a clock, but with writing, I am trying to build a pocket of timelessness.  I’d like to think that the words on my pages will eventually do the same for others, but even if I’m writing rubbish, I feel like the process demands that I enter a timeless, list-less world first.  Kind of like a pioneer, I need to get things ready for the people who will come after me.

It’s obvious to me now that I like this bakery and its vibe because I want to be among those people who take time out for bread pudding and eclairs and even small cups of death.  Who say to the world that an hour is a fair trade for a Fair-Trade espresso, even a nasty one.  Where I make the mistake, I think, is feeling that I have to do what they are doing to be like them.  Maybe, I am not really a bakery-dweller, at least not all the time.  But I seek the will to slow down, or the talent, or the ability.

The proof is in the pudding, I guess, though not the one from the bakery.  It’s mid-afternoon, and for the first time today, I am calm and focussed.  I am writing.

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