I never know what my time at the coffee shop will bring. This day I had an impromptu trip and ended up journaling a little pep talk to myself.
A string of a dozen four-year-olds paraded by the front of the coffee shop, chubby little hands grasping the rope connected by a teacher at each end. Some kids waved and smiled, one asked the teacher what we—the folks sitting at the open coffee shop window—were doing, but it was a little girl in the middle that caught my attention. She was in the center of the pack holding onto the rope just like all the other kids, but what made her stand out was that her eyes were closed. She had red, curly hair, and a tiny, knowing smile on her freckled face. She followed along, trusting the rope, trusting the teachers at either end, trusting the kids in front of and behind her. The pack moved slowly enough for me to see that she wasn’t peeking out from squinched eyes, she wasn’t glancing at the ground while trying to maintain the impression of trusting. In fact her eyes weren’t squeezed shut, they were simply closed. She looked…relaxed.
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde
Write about it.
Want to be liked? Get ready to relegate yourself to last place. Get ready to spend your hours studying what pleases people and then more minutes, hours, days to dedicate your life to doing that, the thing everyone likes. Last-place-people work hard. The pathological need for external approval is silencing us.
Write about that pathology.
For several years I have been working on versions of an essay titled “Why I Quit School,” and now it has become my memoir project. From the moment I stepped into my kindergarten classroom to the moment I walked out of my university office for the last time, I’ve had a tortured relationship with formal education. Instinctually, I knew its obsession with compliance, uniformity, and competition was antithetical to real learning and growth, but I couldn’t keep myself from participating, from trying to show my classmates and teachers I could could excel within the system while giving it the finger at the same time. At times I succeeded, but ultimately the battle I was waging exhausted me and I had to walk away.
I tried to read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” years ago while on a spiritual retreat in the San Jacinto Mountains of California. In my early 20s, I believed it was required reading for a good feminist. Sliding that thin book off the shelf among all the other options, I felt like an actual grown-up woman, anticipating the wisdom I was about to receive.
Here’s the thing, though: I could not get into it. And I tried. But it was: (a) boring, and (b) irrelevant to my life. A year post-college, I had recently moved to Chicago and was crashing in a rundown house with a group of my new co-workers. I was years away from beginning to write, and nothing about my sketchy living arrangement indicated the potential for a closet of my own, much less a whole room.
I have yet to gain an appreciation for Woolf’s style, but as I have aged I’ve certainly come to understand the wisdom behind having a room of one’s own.
Since the Fall of 2016 I’ve been living with a car that constantly needs work and a country that continually feels broken. Every few weeks another sensor on my dash would light up – I’ve been spending countless dollars in a perpetual state of irritation each time it needs to go into the shop, not unlike every time I turn on the news.