Category: Musing

this present moment

A friend recently told me that they only ask questions if it pertains to who a person is right now.

“I want to know who you are, not who you were.”

Not going to lie, my brow furrowed.

I see a strong vein of truth that I agree with, but almost equally powerfully disagree.

I am who I am because of who I was.

A conversation here, a crazy night there, a struggle, a triumph, a journey, a moment.

 782d549fe7d2ec846fed67210ae6f638

To only want to know a person in this present moment is to lose the rich tapestry of being alive.

The past gives depth. The future gives growth. The present moment is only a snapshot. I would not be who I am if it were not for the experiences that led me to this moment. I am on a trajectory for tomorrow because of where I am today.

You are always told to live in the present: YOLO, carpe diem, all that.

The present is a beautiful thing. Time is a beautiful thing. But to only know one part, be it any part of their timeline, is to miss the true beauty.

This present moment is a kaleidoscope of memories and dreams, taking a deep breath to appreciate a thousand coincidences and questions that drove you to right here.

This present moment is full of opinions and beliefs that are wildly different from the past – but why? When I meet someone, I don’t just want to know that you agree with me, I want to know why. What led you to be the person you are today?

There’s a story.

A beginning, a middle, and an end.

I want to know you, who you are today. But I want to know where you’ve been and where you are going. I want to know why you justify some things, why you forgive others, what causes triggers and emotions to flare. I want to know what makes you you.

Those answers rarely are found in the present moment.

They grow, they develop, they change.

If I want to know you, I want to know why.

I want you to be genuine.

I want the intimacy that comes with revealing.

I want to share in your joy and laughter, your heartache and pain.

I want to know the past, dream of the future, and have it all come back to this present moment.

136 South Dubuque Street

You may have heard by now the sad news: As of November 1, May’s Cafe and the Wedge Downtown will be naught but a beautiful memory. Just as I accepted that I was going to be here for two years, reality burst my glorious bubble. I knew I would leave some day, but I expected it to be on my terms. May’s was always just supposed to be there, with or without me.

I transferred to the University of Iowa as a junior. I was lonely, lost, and doubting that I would ever make a home in this city of 100,000 citizens and students.

This is my fourth August in this city, and I would consider myself as local as one can be without actually being born here.

I’ve watched Greta grow from a freshman to a senior. Watched the benches in the ped mall be painted and repainted. Listened to the debate about the validity of tree scarves when there are so many homeless people without. I’ve taken pictures with Herky, applauded local theater troupes, attended folk concerts, volunteered at the ReStore. The faces of Iowa City started to change: a mass of strangers became a blend of friends. I thesised, I graduated, and I became one of the rare ones to stay in this transient town.

Through the last four years, classes have changed, friends have moved, priorities have shifted, my address changed. The only constant: 136 South Dubuque Street. A little coffee shop in the middle of the ped mall: patron, barista, manager.

136 South Dubuque Street.

Capanna taught me to make coffee.
May’s Cafe taught me to appreciate it.

Capanna taught me to hide my clumsiness.
May’s Cafe taught me to (mostly) overcome it.

Capanna taught me to build relationships with people I saw for 45 seconds every day.
May’s Cafe taught me to keep a smile on my face when people were treating me like subhuman for the third day in a row.
(By the way, the regular patronage of 136 South Dubuque is unreal. People are so genuine, so kind. 98% of our customers are either neutral or fantastic. We are human beings at my shop.)

Capanna taught me to problem solve for myself.
May’s Cafe taught me to troubleshoot for other people.

Capanna taught me to listen to people smarter than myself.
May’s Cafe taught me how to search out the answers when all the smarter people had left.

136 South Dubuque Street.
Two cafes.
My story.

I’ve poured my soul into this shop. As a full time student, I would work here 20-30 hours a week, then study or hang out with friends another 10-15 hours. I was proud to be part of the transition team from Capanna to May’s, loving the people of Iowa City and glad that I could stay with my regulars. It gave me such joy to return after my internship and continue the craftsmanship I had quickly grown to love.

The fours supervisors started running the cafe last November when our manager moved to Minneapolis. By March, Claire and I were co-managing, and in July I was holding the position alone. It startled me to watch myself grow – do I really have it down to an exact time how long it takes to do first day training? Did we really just develop and implement a new menu? Did we really just participate in (and host!) latte art competitions? Is this really my team? Did this new girl really just analyze her shot and tell me what was wrong with it and how she thought she could fix it? These beautiful baristas, excited and passionate about their job? Is this still the culture, where the staff comes to hang out for hours on their day off just because they enjoy it so much?

And then there was Steve. Boss Man, as I call him. Muffin Man, as Hiba did. “Good”, as all called him. I have worked for many people. Bad bosses, good bosses, and Steve. The man who believed in me. The man who introduced himself to everyone working for him, and made sure he knew their name and personally asked them questions so he would know their story, too. The man who believed in investing in his employees. The man who spentevery. single. day. at his store on the floor. If something broke beyond my expertise, I would just walk up to him and say, “Steve, help.” If I was running low on something, or needed new equipment, I would just shoot him an email and a week later it would magically appear on my shelves. The man who told a coworker who needed extra cash, “Yeah, I wasn’t planning on being open the day after Christmas, but if you want to, go ahead and open the cafe for a while. We might sell a couple of coffees.” The man who would buy a slice of cake for you on your birthday if you wandered into the shop, and if you were going through a family crisis would make sure that you got a hug and definitely didn’t pay for that breakfast sandwich – it was on him. The man who knew the name of just about every regular customer in the shop – who was surprised that he hadn’t heard about our latest “Snickerdoodle Lady” before she gave us a thank you note. The man who poured blood, sweat, and tears into his shop, trying his best to make it a good business and a good place to work.

I once was chatting with a stranger and mentioned I worked at May’s Cafe. “Oh no,” he interceded. “another Disciple of Steve. I hear people come back for his parties that worked for him in the ’90s! Steve, the great and wonderful.”

Not long ago, a worker from the Wedge was getting a different job. When I jokingly protested, he laughed it off. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll see me again. No one ever actually leaves the Orbit of Steve.”

I am so, so blessed to have worked for that man. I do hope everyone someday gets a chance to work for a Steve.

I’ve spent a lot of time weeping since we got the news. I weep, not because I’m afraid, but because I’m grieving. I know people will be okay. My staff could easily jump to another of the half a dozen coffee shops around downtown, and Steve (!) is personally asking if people have another job they can go to or if they need help. I know Steve will be okay. I know I will be okay. But still I grieve. May’s is me and I am May’s. May’s is every one of my baristas. May’s is every one of my regulars. May’s is Linda-large-latte-no-foam. May’s is Danny-70-30-house. May’s is Abbie-iced-cafe-miel-and-a-warmed-up-muffin. May’s is Jake-triple-americano. May’s is soaking children trotting before their mother to the restroom. May’s is the weekly cappuccino and scrabble meeting. May’s is a daily game of speed chess. May’s is finding the small table or the one with the coffee mug painting. May’s is dissertations and bible studies. May’s is conference attendees and permanent business folk. May’s is different students every semester. May’s is a bottomless cup of incredible coffee. May’s is you, Iowa City. May’s is me.

I stayed in this town after I graduated.
I stayed for Steve. I stayed for May’s. I stayed for home.

I literally have no idea where I’m going now. I doubt I will stay in Iowa City. I doubt I will stay in the midwest. The future is wide open. Usually that would be a beautiful thought, but today I just look at it. I turn it over in my mind and I put it back on the shelf. Because today, I’m still grieving the loss of my 136 South Dubuque Street.

IMG_2824.JPG

IMG_2858.JPG

IMG_2897.JPG

Invisible

I’ve thought a lot about invisibility today.

I went to the bank, frustrated by a ridiculously large deposit required when I tried to sign up for a cell phone plan. They told me that because I’ve never had a loan or a credit card solely attached to my name, I have no credit. Years of paying rent, paying bills, never buying anything I couldn’t afford, means nothing – it only counts against you, not for you. I went through three layers of identity theft protection, with the last woman finally apologizing to me. “We can’t sign you up for anything, because even though you’ve verified your name, birthday, address, and full social security number, we can’t find you.” I don’t exist, according to my bank. I’m invisible.

A few hours later, I spotted a boy across the street who I’d had a bad run in with a few years back. I very recently cut my hair into a pixie cut and have had friends not recognize me. Wearing sunglasses, I walked past the boy. He looked straight at me and straight through me. I was invisible.

I continued on my way to meet with my therapist. I started seeing her months ago as I wrestled with depression, lost in my own head, apathetic to the world around me. In the world, but not a part of it. Surviving, not thriving. People passing me by, accepting platitudes of “I’m fine.” In a highly visible position, but floating on by. Invisible.Invisibility.I could run away.I can hide.I can be lost.In a world so technologically connected, it would be easy to pull the plug. Vanish from social media. With people so wrapped up in their own lives, tell your physical friends you’re moving one place and disappear elsewhere. Invisible. Fresh, new, clean. The scary part, though, is trying to be seen again.Because that is far, far harder than being invisible.

Blogging, a question mark

What is the purpose of blogging?

The last several months I’ve noted that more and more of my Facebook friends have taken the proverbial pen in hand to broadcast their thoughts and lives to the world in the form of a blog. I am by no means a regular writer in my own, but take pleasure in reading from others.

I also am constantly searching for new blogs, seeking validation in the emotions and questions that I have – how do other people in my stage of life handle situations, make decisions, move from one day to the next? Although I suppose I qualify as a “digital native”, I am lost in the tangled world wide web, using rudimentary search functions to try find my far flung peers.

I was complaining about this to my roommate the other day. “I can’t find blogs about twentysomethings just trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives! College students, young mothers, business professionals, sure! But what about those who DON’T know what they’re doing with their lives? Who have graduated, are not married, and are not working for a multi-million dollar corporation? Where are we represented? Why can’t I find their daily ponderings about how to survive?”

She looked at me, and bless her heart, said, “Why don’t you write it?”

Well, the reason is: I’m an external processor. I write when I have something to say. That’s usually when I’m processing something. It’s hardly professional to write about wrestling with the decision of whether to stay at my current job or move on, publishing my thoughts for the world to see before I’ve had that conversation with my boss. (For those of you keeping track: I’m staying.) Nor is it kosher to write about the frustrations and victories at work or in relationships.

I can’t write in an abstract way. I can’t discuss in real time what I’m learning, how I’m changing, what questions I’m trying to answer. It is only after the coals have cooled that I am able to speak with clarity, fairness, and quality.

But frankly, that doesn’t help the next person searching for answers. The thought process I think is just as important as the answers. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and no two people can ever follow the same road map. Viewing a situation through someone else’s lens, and understanding their reflections, can reveal more angles and ideas in ones own world, even if the final outcome is completely different. The journey is the destination, after all, isn’t that what has always been preached?

I do not have the ability to write about my journey. I can only stand on the plains and look around me, sometimes euphoric, sometimes just introspective. I can talk about where I have been, but I can’t talk about how I got there. Forgive me, but I can not write the blog I so desperately want to read.

Humans of New York
“What we see is affected by our memories, our feelings, and by what we’ve seen before.”

To love at all is to be vulnerable -C.S. Lewis

March 8, 2013

My roommate is one of the most profound people I know.

One of our ongoing conversations is the idea that we live in a fanfiction.

You see, neither of us are what you would call “Main Character” material. People aren’t innately drawn to us. We pass quite peacefully under the radar and can be entirely invisible in the midst of a conversation. Perhaps we don’t even register as “supporting characters”. We’re simply the wandering minstrel, or the wise hermit, or even the local baker. (For pity’s sake, I’m a barista! It’s essentially the same character in modern worlds: everyone knows of me and depends on my craft to survive the day.) Our lives give depth and reality to the Main Character, but even the author doesn’t really care about our history.

Enter angsty teenager.

Perhaps in canon, the author mentioned us briefly. This teenager extracts us from our epic novel and plops us into the 21st century. Bewildered, we look around and try to figure out what’s going on.

She writes in adventures and impossible happenings, connections and unreal similarities. (Am I presenting too much of a stereotype, assuming that our fanfiction writer is female?) For a brief, wild moment, these side characters are thrust into the limelight. Seen. With dimension. With purpose.

And just as suddenly, as Angsty Teenager discovers a new topic, the fanfiction comes to a screeching halt.

Where does that leave these characters? Scrambling desperately. Fighting to keep striving in the direction they were headed. But that’s what it becomes. Every friendship is a fight: pursuing, initiating, trying. Reality weighs heavily. And the souls grow wearier and wearier.

Is it worth it? I just want to hide, says one, looking for a comfortable hole. I just want to flee, says the other, searching for a way to escape. “It’s all my fault,” they both sigh. “Not worth fighting for. Not worth protecting. Not worth chasing.”

The weary soul. Lonely. Afraid. Bitter. Angry at this Angsty Teenager for giving them false hope. The scars, so carefully disguised as beautiful tattoos, are ripped open. Not nearly as healed as we gave them credit for. The wounds, still infected, are so painful to clean out that we pretend they don’t need to be.

“What if we could build a time machine? Go back before it all began.”

Well, what if you could? Would those scars really go away? Or would your demons just bare another name?

It is at this point in our conversation that we look at one another. And the fear creeps in. Realizing that this, right here, is vulnerability. That without meaning to, we let someone in, past those walls. Those paper thin walls, painted to look so strong, but no one ever drew near enough to put them to the test. And that right here, if we had that time machine, we would give it away. For our own scars, painful welts smarting with new attacks, are nothing. But you… you don’t deserve this. Take this magical machine, go back, and be free. I’ll be fine: you, though, you need to be free.

If you dive in your hole, I’ll dig one next to you. For what it’s worth: don’t run. For you see, I don’t need you. But I want you to stay. I want you to come. I can survive without you. But that doesn’t mean I want to.

Maybe we are in the wrong story. Maybe it hurts, and we are weary. Maybe we’re tired of fighting for others when no one ever fights for us. Maybe it’s okay to cry. Maybe it’s okay to be weak. Maybe it’s okay to be lonely. Maybe it’s okay that this story has no plot. Maybe it’s okay that the embers are fading. Maybe it’s okay that Gaston really thinks he’s doing what’s best.

Maybe it’s okay. Because someday our angsty teenager will try again. She’ll scrape away all the stupidity and her pen will be fresh with new experiences, new skills, and new perspectives. A more mature writer, she’ll bring us back on track. And we won’t have to try so hard. We won’t have to die to feel alive. We can just be. We can be alive.

Friendships– relationships– are painful.

But maybe, just maybe… they are worth it.