It’s been a while since I’ve written an update for the blog. It’s been a while, truly, since I’ve written much of anything. Aside from a couple of scattered days when I’ve blocked out time well in advance, much of my time has gone into my students’ work: planning class sessions, grading, advising—and to working with the university’s track and field team, namely the sprint and jump squad.
That’s all to say, it’s been a busy time.
When I do get some hours to devote to my own work, it’s generally been spent on the business side this year: re-ordering book copies and merch, booking and preparing for readings, submitting work I’ve already written and on and on and on.
All that stuff is part of the gig. In the middle of it, though, I’m finding that writing is something that’s really easy to avoid doing, if you put your mind to it.
That’s why yesterday, on the first day of Fall Break (coincidentally, also the first day that felt remotely like anything that could be accused of being fall), I set aside the insurmountable pile of essays and portfolios that need grades and responses, and I drove to my favorite caffeine spot within reach of our western Kentucky home.
I drove 40 minutes to the White Swan Coffee Lab in Evansville and sidled up to the register to ask for a Chemex. When the owner, David Rudibaugh arrived to take my order, he asked what I needed for the day’s work, and I told him something light a sweet.
But then he did something that served as a much-needed kick in the shins. He called me by name, and then told me he’d enjoyed my book.
Because of the long drive and aforementioned schedule, it’d been months since I’d set foot in the shop, and I’ve never been more than a sporadic customer, though I would be if the earth could somehow fold in on itself and subsume some of the redundant miles of fields between us. But still he picked up the copy of “Thrift Store Coats” I’d left in the store’s give-and-take library. He took it home, he said, read it and passed it on—then found more of my work online and bought copies. It floored me, almost as much as the excellent cup he would go on to prepare for me, which I would deeply enjoy agains the backdrop of wrestling my way through some fresh paragraphs for a new novel.
He didn’t need to do any of that. I’d have kept buying coffee there, whether or not he’d paid any attention to me as anything aside from the guy standing at the register, ordering his next cup.
He didn’t need to pick up the book, certainly didn’t have to read it, and didn’t even need to put effort into knowing my name. As I took my seat and typed and drank, it was clear he knew a lot of names, knew a lot of people at a deeper level than coffee-buyer/coffee-seller.
And that was the kick in the shins, the pointed reminder I needed. Because for all the value of setting apart time to work and hone and craft and revise, the real function in making things is the chance to connect and form bonds with others. Others who make things of their own, and others who want the things you make, and others who don’t understand what you make or why. The best part about writing is the way that, in the end, it puts the writer in proximity to others—personally, socially, intellectually, digitally, and in person. And the same thing is true for master roasters and brewers of fine coffee, or designers of great furniture or…you get the point.
And no—this isn’t a public celebration that someone read my book. I am excited by and grateful about that—it is, frankly, a really cool feeling. But there’s more in it than that—the whole enterprise of creating, at its best, becomes a wonderful connective point, excuse to get to know each other just a bit better. A chance to extend a conversation just a bit further. A chance to exchange just a bit more than the small things we make with the time we wedge free.
There are times, truthfully, when I feel deeply isolated as a writer in my community. There’s not a hub of literature here. There are a handful of folks who practice as writers, but we’re loosely connected when at all. I sometimes envy writers working in larger cities, in literary hubs. But I have to—and we all have to, sometime—put the idealistic version of life aside and instead look for what is around us. Yesterday, it was a skilled maker who took time to appreciate someone else’s craft. Which makes me, too, want to be that person.
Tomorrow, I’ll sit behind a table at a literary festival in southern Ohio. Maybe I’ll sell and sign some books there. I certainly will buy some. In between those two acts, what I hope for most are the small moments of community and connection. Those are the instants that will make me continue to squeeze some moments of sentence-producing into my schedule.
But first: yes, dear students, I’ll get to your papers shortly.
Learn more about White Swan Coffee Lab HERE, then go visit David. Chances are, he’ll find a way to remember you.