I often do some writing and editing at several local coffee shops. There is something about the energy I get from being around other people, mostly strangers, that draws words out of me.
Most of my visits to those diner-style coffee shops are uneventful. Some, more eventful. Others, very profound. (Even if only in a subtle way)
Two days ago, I stopped by my favorite local haunt to spend an hour editing the final draft of my new book, read a bit, and get a few cups of java down in me. The place was nearly empty when I arrived. After 30 minutes, I was the only customer there.
As I edited, I heard the shift manager complaining to the cook about the state of some other employees who call in often, are late, or just no-call/no-shows. The two men commiserated a bit as they swept the floor, rolled utensils tightly in paper napkins, and did other tasks. Also, the manager called some servers on the phone in an attempt to shore-up the schedule for the rest of the week. He was only partially successful it seemed.
Then, a young (maybe 16 or 17 year old) waitress showed up. As she was walking in, the manager met her at the door, motioning with his arms in an “I don’t need you here” fashion. She walked in anyway, asking what the deal was. He explained that she had called in with only minutes notice a few days prior, put the rest of that day’s workers in a bind, and that he was considering firing her. She attempted to smooth the situation over, but wasn’t successful and left. A few minutes later, she came back in with a middle-aged man and both walked toward the manager. I thought to myself, “This may turn into a blow-out,” and readied my camera phone just in case a video-worthy event took place. I have seen too many things get out of hand over the years and I am a bit edgy when I see people possibly heading toward a serious contention. I figured this guy might be “dad” coming in to straighten the boss out on behalf of his daughter.
The man and the manager started talking about the situation… and I was wonderfully surprised. I am a sucker for civil conversation. I absolutely love engaging in respectful discourse, even if the participants don’t agree on a particular matter. Also, I so rarely observe disagreeing parties in person or on social media who are able to succinctly present their case, hear the other’s, discuss both sides, and then achieve an amicable resolution, respectfully disagree, or agree on something that was previously disagreed on. Beyond that, observing a person change his or her mind on a firmly held position in 2015 is nigh to seeing a unicorn at the park.
Due to my persuasions regarding discourse, I was very happy to observe the manager express his concerns about the server’s performance and reliability in a respectful way and with an even temper. Then, the father-figure apologized for the issues on behalf of the girl. He asked for a second chance for the girl and gave credibility to the manager’s concerns. Also, the girl assured the manager of her commitment to do better and genuinely gave heed to his concerns. After some more conversation and consideration, the manager allowed for a write-up rather than firing. He clearly shared his expectations, which were reasonable, and the consequences present if they were not met. All parties ended the conversation respectfully, amicably, having reached a common position, and asserting a common goal. Not one voice had even been raised through the whole parley. I had to pinch myself.
I know that was a boring, everyday type of story. But, there is a great lesson to be gained. That being, our abilities to deal with other people, have conflicts, argue, discourse, and find common ground (or not) are “everyday” skills. They aren’t just for a college debate class, the board room, marriage counseling, or when some aspect of a relationship breaks down. Those abilities are for the coffee shop, for Facebook threads, for our home, for our friends, and even for our enemies.
Witnessing that interaction between three strangers encouraged me. I personally hope to do as well the next time I have some type of disagreement. Fellow humans, we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go. Pass the love on! 🙂
Here is a related TED talk by William Ury that I very much enjoy. If you have a spare 20 minutes, it would be worth your time.
It was a very strange feeling that I had just minutes ago…
I have been working on the first draft of my new book, “Love is the Middle,” since January. It is the story of how my deceased father and I grew far apart during my teens and then restored our wanting relationship during my twenties. I also cover the few years after when we were very close, his battle with cancer before dying, and how I adjusted to life after his passing.
As my custom is for writing this book, I go to Steak ‘n Shake where Dad and I spent untold hours bullshitting over coffee after we became close again. 100% of my writing of this book has been done at various Steak ‘n Shake restaurants, spread out between two states. I have been writing the first draft since January of this year. Since I am not a full time writer, I work in writing sessions between running my own small business, being a husband, father, and singer/songwriter. The flexibility I have has lent itself well to being consistent with writing the new book over the course of the year. Other than during a much needed emotional hiatus from writing the book for a bit over the late summer, I have worked on it between one and three times per week all year.
It may seem strange to write such a personal book in public. I chose to do so for two reasons: 1. Being in the atmosphere of a place that my father and I spent so much time together has been crucial to facilitate the mood I need to tackle this book now that my dad has been dead for over five years 2. Since I am writing so many difficult and personal things for others to read (and hopefully learn and be encouraged from), I figured that it would be appropriate to do so in the company of my fellow humans.
Writing this book in public has not been without its difficulties. Nearly every writing session, I tackle something that makes me want to cry. I can never anticipate or predict what specifically will cause that. It just happens. As my face sometimes leaks a bit and I become visibly emotional, I trust that my fellow humans around will not judge me as too much of a weirdo.
When I left the house this morning, I was fully purposed. I knew that I was within perhaps only hundreds of words left to write to complete the first draft of the book. With my Harris Tweed overcoat on to protect me from the cold, November morning weather in Indiana and my fully-charged laptop in tow, I lit out from the house for a writing session. After arriving at Steak ‘n Shake, I popped up the book file in Word and started to review a bit of the last sessions text before jumping into a fresh writing session. As I did that this morning, I had a strange realization; other than some “afterword” type stuff that I will not write until the book is completely edited and proofed, the book is finished. Well, the first draft anyway.
And then it started to sink in. The book that I anticipated writing for five years, felt that I NEEDED to write, decided to tackle this year, and have now been working on for ten months… is finished. That took a moment to absorb.
I have cooked since I was very young. I love working on a tasty dish: adding the primary ingredients, adding a pinch of this, a dash of that, and tasting for flavor development as it goes. Then, at a certain point, you realize that the dish just tastes “right.” Everything that needs to be in it is in it. Adding anything else would mess it up. It takes maturity and experience as a cook to know when your dish is at that point. All you have to do then is let it finish simmering and serve it up for all to enjoy.
After I re-read the last half of what I wrote during my previous writing session, it hit me like a brick that this book is done. The bitter-sweet recipe is complete.
Not to be “all dressed up with nowhere to go” so to speak, I just decided to write a blog about finishing the book as I sip my hot coffee with one cream and one sugar 🙂
Writing, “Love is the Middle,” has been one of the most difficult and rewarding creative tasks that I have ever engaged in. Actually, it has been THE most difficult and rewarding creative task that I have ever engaged in. Now that draft one is finished, I look forward to the editing/proofing process that comes next, as well as formatting and graphics. Self-publishing is an adventure! I truly hope that when finished and published in print and online next year, “Love is the Middle,” will “grow legs” and walk around this world a bit. That would make me very happy.
All that said, for the last time reporting from Steak ‘n Shake- Luke