Coffee Shops at Night

I would always do this in Paris (were I to live there) but in Vancouver? A coffee shop at night? To write? But I found one! Here I can drink a sweetened ginger tea and stare at hipsters. Such interesting people! And in between droughts in that activity, I can write.

Writing is so much more magical at night. Words seem meant for each other; ideas seem to fall from someplace important. No sentence is too flimsy at night – it’s emphatic! No character too flat at night – she’s mysterious! I don’t know what I’ve done to my story, tonight, but there is a ghost where there wasn’t before, and my main character changed relationship tactics.

At night, there’s the  concern that one might fall asleep when writing, but also the hope that the series of letters spelled out from a cheek on a keyboard might reveal something worthwhile.



(photo from

I always try and do writerly things when I’m writing (not only when I’m in public), in some attempt at being less inauthentic than I feel. I lay out papers around me, I move too quickly, I twitch. It started (hopefully) as a show, but has become a part of my writing personality. To make it good, I have to be good.


So I don’t know if I’ll drive here every night for $3.50 tea and the admission that I’m not doing anything fun tonight because I brought a computer with me, but I think I’ll come here sometimes, when I haven’t yet eaten a doughnut that day (whoops!) and when I need something different imbued in my text – a ghostly presence, a night feeling.

Changing a Morning Routine

Mornings are difficult because they are so hard to adjust to. You just got to leave the world for five to twelve hours and now you have to go back into it. That is incomparable to most other things. Most things in life aren’t thrown at you after long periods of unconsciousness. Mornings are.

I’ve never been able to change my morning routine. These are the things I would like to do in the morning:

1. Exercise.

2. Eat something healthier than cereal.

3. Write down my dreams

4. Have a coffee at home

5. Watch the news

Thinking about even one of these things in the first few minutes after waking up immediately takes them off the list. I never get any of these things done. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten one of these things done without my now remembering that day as a glory moment. It’s easier not to exercise, it’s easier to eat cereal, it’s easier to forget my dreams, it’s easier to buy good coffee elsewhere and it’s easier to forget about the rest of the world. So every morning, the first thing I do is break a promise to myself.

I’ve given up trying, of course, to do any of these things, because I know the person who is going to wake up tomorrow morning and it’s not going to be the same person who lined up her running shoes the night before. The morning person hates that person. The other morning I tossed a coin to decide whether I was allowed to eat cereal. Shocker: I was.

Now, I do hear great things from other people. Someone told me they get up at 4 a.m. and stay in bed with a coffee marking papers before going for a run at 7 with their dogs. Okay, yes, that sounds wonderful in principle. Countless people in Vancouver exercise in the morning. I bet even in Paris people go to coffee shops in the morning. Lots of people go to work early so they can get off early. People even do the crossword in the morning! Why does this all sound so great right now, but so terrible, so incredibly terrible in the morning?

There has only been one time in my life that I had a plane ticket booked to Paris. I remember when my alarm clock rang. I didn’t even want to go anymore.

I think maybe we’re nocturnal? I don’t get it!

Because I’ve lately been quoting Thoreau, I’d like to share what he has to say about mornings:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.”

I have never woken up and thought that! Do we all need to build our own cabins on the edges of lakes?

(photo from “Andy the Fly Guy”)

And then, All memorable events, I should say, transpire in the morning time and in a morning atmosphere.”

I will end here with that quote, because if all important things in life happen in the morning and in a morning atmosphere, then I am doomed to approach each supposed milestone in my life with the greatest distaste and lethargy. But maybe what Thoreau is saying is that this list I just made up of 5 things I wish I could do in the morning time are actually the most important things. I might be able to see how that makes sense.

Maybe if I were to take the time to change myself in the morning, to not keep waking up a bad person, maybe that’s the most important thing. Because if I could change myself in the morning, then I could change myself for at least the other sixteen hours I am awake, before I fall back unconscious and reset myself for the following horrible morning.

Good luck, me tomorrow morning!

Coffee in the Morning, Coffee in the Afternoon

I used to work at a coffee shop (I worked at a coffee shop for three years.) But for most of those three years I wasn’t able to drink coffee. I tried to drink coffee: believe me, it was free.

Those who were able to drink large amount of coffee had really cool opportunities like traveling to Seattle on coffee crawls. If we drank coffee especially well, we were sometimes invited to go to “cuppings,” which were essentially wine tastings but in dark basements and for coffee. But I just couldn’t drink it. It gave me anxiety.

So I told myself I would try detoxing from coffee. I had free herbal tea instead. I went months, maybe six, without drinking it at all. Then I stopped working at the coffee shop, I finished school and I started writing five days a week. I had my first cup of coffee that first day of writing and I haven’t had one bout of anxiety since.

These events may not match up exactly in time as well as I say they do, but looking back from a later point in my life, I believe they will appear to match up. I have matched them up in the following way: Writing needs coffee. School doesn’t.

Recently, I have begun to have one coffee every morning and one every afternoon. The morning coffee, if I’m so lucky to have a morning of writing, helps establish my day. It says: you are going to write this morning. It says, see? Writing can be comfortable. You are in a safe space.

The afternoon coffee is a kick in the pants, a signal that a new shift of writing is beginning. It tells me, you committed to a good chunk of time this afternoon. Make it worth it. Do something. The afternoon coffee is more mean.

Drinking coffee with my schoolwork, however, said other things to me. It got my insides moving, so much so that I would feel overwhelmed by the work I had to do rather than motivated. This is because school is a passive act. Even in its most active moments – writing papers, creating presentations or projects – school is about taking material set up by a teacher and professor and in some way learning that material.

Writing (fiction) is purely active. I am either creating or I am editing my creations. If I’m researching, I’m doing it to loot ideas and use them for my own purposes and with my own unique way of looking at them. I owe nothing to anybody. I owe everything to nobody.

Writing needs coffee to get me moving. School couldn’t use coffee – I needed to slow down.

Now, you say, aren’t there mornings and afternoons where you don’t write? Where you go to work or out into life? Or aren’t you starting school again in September?

Yes. You’re right. And here’s what I have to say to that. I like to think of the coffees I have away from my writing desk as standardizing coffees. We try to go to bed at about the same time every night so that our body is prepared to sleep at that time when it really needs to. I drink coffee so I can give my body coffee when it really needs it. I am preparing it for the fuel it needs to write.

All this, of course, is mind tricks. I know caffeine is a drug and I am certainly treating it like one, but it is also a state of mind. How wired am I really getting from caffeine, and how wired from the idea of it?

One writer friend I know writes a poem every time she sits down to write in order to give an offering to her muse. I am sure that like all good desks and bookshelves pile up over time with lovely clutter, so will my superstitions. For now, I sit down anywhere and with anything but always with a coffee at the start of each shift of my day. Because for this period of my life, that works.