This morning, I went to Starbucks because I’m all out of coffee and almond milk. I must admit; this happens quite regularly. Yet, after being a loyal customer (read: addict) for over ten years, I still don’t own a Starbucks card…
I drive into the parking lot of the Starbucks in Little 5 Points. My original plan was to park directly in front of the store; but as my eyes scan and find a homeless man standing in front of the coveted parking spot, I careen my car the other way to park further from the store entrance.
I step out of my car, swing the door shut, and tap on my keys twice to lock it. I waltz towards the Starbucks at around 7:40 am.
The homeless man appears from behind a pillar; startling me.
“‘Scuse me ma’am, can I ask you for something..” he rambles in in a low, unclear tone.
Now, my mother from Queens, New York spent this past weekend with me; causing my tri-state way of talking to temporarily resurface.
“What do you want?” I ask abruptly. “You wanna bagel with cream cheese?”
He looks surprised. “Yes, thank you,” says the man.
I open the Starbucks front door. There is no line, so I walk straight towards the cash register. A really sweet white girl with short hair takes my order and asks how my morning’s going.
“It’s good!” I said. “I do the 9-5 thing for only 20 hours a week, so it’s manageable.”
“Oh wow.” She looked at me with genuine interest. “What do you do for work?”
“Well,” I hesitated. “I write.”
That was it. Her face lifted and brightened all at once.
“Wow!” Her hands grabbed the register console. “What do you write?”
I tell her how I work for a company in Alpharetta that owns a bunch of florists all over the country; and that right now, we’re transitioning all 17 websites, and I’m writing all the content for all of them.
She somehow smiled even bigger.
“Wow!” She sighed. “That’s so cool that you can make a living doing what you love!”
I stopped her right there. “Well, as of now, it’s a part-time paid internship…and, I did graduate from college two years ago…”
She did one of those side-to-side head nods that we do when we don’t want to fully ingest another’s words; as if saying within our bobbing heads: “Yeah, okay. But…”
She finished that sentence out loud. “It’s still pretty cool.” She smiled sweetly again. “I’m a writer. So it’s cool to hear that maybe, someday, I’ll actually get paid to write.”
At that moment, I remembered her.
On another one of my coffee runs earlier this month, as I was waiting in line, this same particular short-haired sweet barista had been leaning over the counter; listening and nodding and looking at a young black woman. When the customer tried paying for her coffee, the barista refused.
She shook her head in defiance. “It’s on me.”
The customer shook her head in thankfulness. The barista looked at her.
“Can I come give you a hug?”
She consented; and the girl with the green apron walked around the bar and hugged the grateful patron. I watched this young black woman cry into the shoulder of the young white woman who had just served her. I thanked God for the privilege to witness such raw human connection.
I let them have their moment. As the only other customer in line, I tried my best to seem occupied by the myriad of culinary goodies Starbucks now serves – which is an easy task; considering the brilliant bold-type branding on every bag of kale chips is enough to make Don Draper instantly drop one on the counter and demand, “WHO DESIGNED THIS?!”
Eventually, the embrace ceased and the customer walked away. My neighborhood good samaritan Starbucks barista returned to her post behind the register; wiping the tears from her eyes as she rounded the counter.
“She lost her son yesterday.” I heard her say to her worker as she regained her poise. After a few quick seconds, she looked up at me. “Hey! What can I get started for you today?”
SCREEECH. Fast forward to the present. Now, she looks at me again; floored by my line of work. I order my coffee and the bagel and cream cheese for the homeless man outside.
As I exit, I hand the man his breakfast. Feeling uplifted and extra spiritual after receiving praise for working an internship that I don’t deserve, I throw in, “Jesus loves you, man.”
Lord, help me.
I walk to my car. I get inside and drive to my job. While driving, I think of things I’d say to the barista. I want to tell her this:
Dear Sweet Barista, (Uh, next time, I’ll actually read and remember the name on her name tag…yikes…)
As a fellow writer, I feel obligated to warn you: The moment you start making money by writing for other people is the moment you’re somehow convinced that you’re a writer. You begin to convince yourself: I’m golden. I’m living the dream. I’m WRITING.
Who’s words are you writing? Yours, or someone else’s? If you’re honest with yourself you’ll admit that your words were not your own. Sure, you have your own voice; yadda yadda…
But you wrote with limits.
An artist who does her art solely according to another’s limitations is not living as an artist. To live as an artist means to compromise some – but not all. It means making time and money to make more art.
So, make time to make art! It’ll take less time than it used to; because your brain and your fingers get in position more quickly. The stream of consciousness is already flowing. It just needs new material.
Granted, it won’t be easy. In order to keep up with it all, you’ll need to read a lot more. After all, generating content for marketing/web/whatever requires content to generate from. But generating content for your own personal writing is easier – because the content comes from your own experiences. And if you’re not careful, meaning; if you’re not WRITING, lots of very memorable moments shall evaporate into muted memories.
Whatever your “art” is. Do it professionally…AND unprofessionally.
After work, (aka; writing all day), your mind, your body, and social media will tempt you to veg out on Netflix. Together, they will convince you, “it’s okay, you wrote a lot today.”
It’s not enough. Write your words; and write them well.
And write now! Before you get that job – which you will – write well.
Oh, I know! Write about that encounter you had with the woman who lost her son. I was here for that, you know. I saw the whole thing; and I’m proud of you.
Thank you for reading my writing; and for always smiling.
Someone who’s just trying to figure it all out.