I want to be out of my house, in a place – any place – alone.
Specifically, I want to go to a coffee shop, with a book, my journal, and my laptop, and just be. I imagine walking into a bustling cafe, probably Takoma Bev Co, standing in line to order a latte and one of those delicious almond bars. Behind me is Takoma Park’s main drag, full of people sitting on the patio or running errands in downtown Takoma, perhaps walking from the post office to ACE Hardware. At the counter by the window are two strangers reading next to one another, a young woman alternating between her hardcover book and her laptop; an older man, likely retired, mostly looking out at the sunny fall day, intermittently flipping a page in his well-worn paperback.
As I step up to the counter, the twenty-something cashier, who is equal parts cooler and nerdier than I am (we are in DC, so both have more appeal than my mid-30s mom vibe), definitely wearing a knit hat and glasses, asks what I want and hands me a little metal stand for my order number. I wait by the counter for my latte (perhaps I didn’t need the table number after all), while I crinkle a brown wax paper bag, dreaming of the pastry I’m about to savor alone. I take a peek into the always-crowded larger seating area and spot a small table on the far wall. While they’ll do in a pinch, I hate the tables in the middle of the room, where my bag inevitably tips over, and then I’m in everyone’s way in the never-empty dining room. But the tables at the edges of the room let me nestle in and leave me feeling protected under the rotating paintings of local artists hung on the wall.
After I grab my latte, I settle in, getting out my laptop, book, journal, and pen, as if I’ll use them all at once, prepping for a few hours of caffeinated bliss. The espresso machine and milk frother make themselves known every now and again, punctuating conversations while also giving me the ambient background noise I love to write to, both boosting my concentration and mellowing me out.
A few neighborhood moms are sitting on the couches nearby, one idly pushing a stroller a few inches back and forth to keep a child asleep, another nursing her baby, another lamenting the current state of the world for the one hour she has away from her child at home. Other people work nearby, camped out at the long communal table at the front of the room, typing away at manuscripts and PowerPoint decks. An older man, who always takes the family table for six and spreads his belongings out as much as possible, is oblivious to the family who just walked in with two squirming kids looking for a seat.
The server, who wears his matching shirt-and-short set screenprinted with kittens, bustles around picking up dishes and joking with regulars. A couple sits at the table next to mine, cheersing glasses of white wine at noon on a Friday (do they, too, have a small child who happens to be in daycare on their parents’ day out?).
As I observe all of this, I’m satisfied by the click of the keys beneath my fingers, seeing progress on a page. It’s not perfect, but in this setting, I feel free and myself, and I write like the wind, without self-editing or worrying about the time wasted or if the words are even any good. I breathe deep and smell coffee, breakfast sandwiches; I hear chatter and dishes clinking; I see a neighborhood full of quirky and utterly normal people crammed into a little coffee shop.
Of all the places I’ve dreamed of going during the pandemic, the mundane tops the list.
Lately, I find myself wanting to write more and more often, but on the days when I feel not even a spark of inspiration, I look to writing prompts for a little help. The past month, I’ve been working my way through the “Name Your Anchors” series of prompts from author Molly Caro May. Some days, it just gets me to put words on the page, and other days, I dig deep and want to keep writing and writing. The post above is a result of one of those prompts.
What are your favorite creative prompts? What kick starts your writing when you’re in a slump?