Writing and The Art of Being Together

I call them the Lost Boys. They aren’t lost and they aren’t boys, but that’s what I call them in my head.

While I write in the corner of the coffee shop on Tuesdays and Thursdays, they are already there and stay for hours. I watch them because I am observant and nosey and also I have a lot of work to do.

coffee

They are a group of mostly male friends, including a priest and a cop and guy in a wheelchair. It sounds like the opener of a comedy routine, but it isn’t. It’s just the coffee shop on Tuesday.

One guy wears a newsie black leather hat and a gold ring on his right finger.

A squatty George Costanza-esque bald man smiles a lot, seems eager to please.

The cop, on the other hand, owns the space around him, sits up straight in his chair and drinks his coffee with the lid off.

The priest is quiet, as you would imagine.

And then there’s the woman.

She’s the only woman I ever see with them. She’s pretty, has long curly hair, wears a lot of makeup.

She’s their Wendy.

I look up and she’s high-fiving George over something hilarious, then Newsie Hat is rubbing her shoulders and Cop glances her way every few minutes. She talks loud and laughs louder.

She calls everyone brotha. Except the priest. She calls him Fatha.

Everyone seems to love the guy in the wheelchair. And the older man with the gray beard and the baseball cap offers jokes and lots of them. She sits on the arm of the chair next to the brotha with the hoodie. He’s the best looking in the bunch and he seems to like her there. She stays there long and giggly. Animated. Her arm rests comfortably on the back of his chair.

I come twice a week and every time, Wendy and the Lost Boys are here too. They share dating stories and working stories and they laugh so loud I can hear them through my ear buds. Sometimes I pop in to get coffee on another day and every time I see at least a few of them; same chairs, same story.

For fifteen minutes I wonder how they get the money for their Venti coffees because they are sitting in a coffee shop when clearly they should be at work. Maybe they all work the night shift?

Where does all their time come from? Don’t these people have some place to be?

I’m aware of the collective insecurity of Wendy and the Lost Boys, but also their obvious commitment to community, togetherness, and belonging, however casual those connections might be.

I only know as much of their stories as I can piece together from my seat in the corner, but the more I listen and watch this odd group, the more I realize they do have someplace to be.

It’s here, at this coffee shop.

This is their place to be.

***

Shirley has lived in our cul-de-sac since LBJ was president. Maybe longer than that, but she can’t remember the exact year they moved in.

Last spring, she fell in the middle of the night. She can’t remember that, either.

On a weekday after her fall, I sit with her for an hour or so while her daughter goes to pick up a bed rail (that she doesn’t want) and some nightgowns (that she does).

Carmella is another neighbor on the cul-de-sac who has lived here just as long as Shirley. She comes over to join us in Shirley’s room and we pass the time together. Collectively they’ve experienced nearly a century of living here in this corner of the neighborhood.

The three of us sit together, Shirley’s head propped up on her pillow, one eye black, one arm in a sling. We talk about her grandkids, the different trees in the yard, Greek food. They speak of the past as if it was another lifetime and in a way, I guess it was.

I do a lot of listening.

window

The sun slants through the window, a cane slants against the wall.

I think of the dinner I’ve yet to make.

They talk over each other, keep to the same topics but never truly respond to the other. Each speaks out her own version of the truth. This style of relating seems to work well for them. The conversation is easy and reflective.

“Diane would sit on the curb and wait for the older girls to come out.”

“Lisa played in the yard while I sat on the porch.”

Diane and Lisa are both older than I am now.

As they talk, I watch my own daughters through the window as they play outside. They each hold a balloon and let go, heads tilt back to watch them float up and fly away.

***

Story is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes.

Too often, though, I fail to record the story moments if they don’t seem to have any use or strong enough connections for me to draw conclusions.

As a writer, drawing conclusions can become an addiction. It’s true, conclusions may be necessary for growth, movement, learning, or even communication.

But I don’t want my need for answers and connections to keep me from exploring story for the sake of the story and nothing more.

Sometimes I write because I have something to say, and other times I write because I want to remember how to see.

Comments

  1. says

    “Story is everywhere. You just have to open your eyes.”

    So true, Emily, so true.

    Bill Hybels once told a story about a night where he was asking God for an opportunity to serve Him. He was walking down a city road on a wintry night, and saw an older woman who was struggling on the ice.

    He had an agenda, and was already running late, but begrudgingly decided to give the old woman a hand.

    After he did and went on his way, he was still experiencing a bit of frustration after being held up for a few minutes.

    Then he realized it.

    That was the opportunity he was asking God for, but he had his own plans and nearly missed the ones God had for him that night.

    A lesson learned.

    Opportunities, like stories, are everywhere. Sometimes they are yours, but oftentimes they are not.

    Just think of how many stories we miss writing because we’d prefer to write one of our own and not of someone else’s.
    Brian Gardner´s last blog post ..Ten Words (That Changed My Life)

    • says

      Seeing is a discipline I forget to practice sometimes. It has value all by itself, even without a measurable result.

      I like the Hybels story – a great reminder to pay attention.

  2. says

    Thanks, Emily. Good word. Powerful. Timely. In the past few days, I have been honored to hear the incredible God-stories of no less than seven complete strangers. Seemingly out of nowhere. Divine appointments, every one. Seven of his children took the time to sit and share. To open up their hearts and spread them about on the table between us. So glad I had the presence of mind to stay put and see.

    But you’re right. The writer in me begins to try to figure it out. Make sense of it. Understand what He is doing. Find the bigger picture. Draw the conclusions. Answer the “why?” Formulate the thesis. Write the outline.

    Your post reminds me that He is the author. I’m just along for the ride.
    Kelli W´s last blog post ..Becoming Sibs

  3. says

    Oh man, I so needed that. I so love the little push. I’ve been waiting for conclusions lately. Afraid to begin until I know how it’s going to end. This is so freeing so thank you. Love this space here you are creating. I am continually encouraged here.

  4. says

    I used to live in the story Emily – my mind constantly transporting me to people and places I saw or read about or watched in a movie theater. Now I often struggle to stop looking for the “conclusion,” – to tidying it all up. I long for the story.
    Linda Chontos´s last blog post ..All Things to All People

  5. says

    Oh, Emily. I love this. It’s beautiful. And true. Everything is asking for a look and a listen if we only slow down. Thank you.

    PS. Praying for y’all this weekend. Wishing I could be there to cheer you on!
    Susie Davis´s last blog post ..Dear Thanksgiving

  6. says

    Lovely. The power of stories is both the reason and means of my ministry. Thank you for this beautiful reminder. Looking forward to meeting you at The Barn this Saturday!!

  7. says

    oh boy…so good. from time to time I write this way and then I don’t know what to do with it…because it doesn’t seem to have produced anything. now I’m seeing that just because it doesn’t produce something doesn’t mean it wasn’t productive. I guess it’s my whole struggle with ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’. thanks for reminding me of the gift of just ‘being’ an observer of life instead of always trying to ‘do’ something with it.

  8. Linda says

    Everybody’s writing such lovely thoughts…me, not so much. The writer in me draws conclusions, too, but then sometimes I go too far and think “this is how the story should play out” because it seems logical to the plot. But then it doesn’t and I get kinda irritated! Humbling, eh??? :D

    It’s a good reminder that God’s stories are often very long, unfolding languidly over a period of decades and decades, when all I’m thinking of is the quick wrap-up.

  9. says

    I love this, Emily – so perfect. Thank you for sharing your stories with us! I love it when I happen to pause for a moment and notice the story beckoning…I’ve often stopped writing a paper or sending a text to jot down the lines + characters that smile hello. I try to treasure every little one, because they’re all stories worth telling. Even if just to myself.

  10. says

    Learning to be present is a lesson we today have missed. I love that we do sometimes just away our time together on the porch or at a coffee shop. I worte about a sitting together with grief a few days ago. Your gang reminds me of the Greek guys who meet in the center of our mall after their walks. Dinner can nearly always wait. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why my mom gave us tomato juice before dinner sometimes. Have a blessed day.

  11. Ellen says

    If we all would just stop now and then and recognize that the journey is our life. We tend to always move with our eyes focused only on the goal. Good story telling is in the details…the journey. My grandfather and great uncle were wonderful story tellers. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to listen.

  12. says

    “Sometimes I write because I have something to say, and other times I write because I want to remember how to see.” YES YES! Of course this resonates with me and my love of story. Spot on. As I sit here in Sbux overhearing a conversation that is heart breaking…Story everywhere. Eyes to see.
    Kelli´s last blog post ..7 Book Movies for the Holidays

  13. says

    Observation is the prerequisite to storytelling. Even when we resurrect the past to tell a story it’s our observations that give it resonance.
    I’m not a Coffee Shop person, but this has me thinking about dropping by my local Starbucks just to see who’s there.
    Kelly Grace´s last blog post ..How to Have Happy Holidays

  14. Rebecca says

    I need to slow down and hear/see the story. I need to give up my need for answers too. I really enjoyed reading this. Your writing is so life giving. It is so real.

  15. says

    THIS! oh my word – love!!!
    because i too am a people watcher.
    a story chaser.
    always curious and wondering…
    and now i’m thinking the starbucks lost boys would make a great sitcom -
    i want to know more about them!!!! {will you take video next time?} ; )

    such a good reminder to be more aware of those around us-
    their lives and stories.

    i’m always struck by the crazy thought that out of the millions of people in this world it’s not accident we come in contact with the few we do – i think God has a plan and reason for every single one. even those strangers across a coffee shop.

    xo.
    amber@grace.to.be´s last blog post ..{grace wins. parenting teens}

  16. says

    This is absolutely lovely. I love looking for stories in people, too, even if there are no morals to the story, so to speak. I think it’s when we can see the moments, the so-called “little” scenes in the Big Story, that we really experience the full beauty of life. Without those, the Big Story would be more of an outline, moving from plot point to plot point without much to draw the soul into it.
    Bekah´s last blog post ..Holiday Pine Cone Garland

  17. says

    I read and re-read. Whenever you write these kind of posts, Emily, it brings me back to what made most of us become writers in the first place: the act of telling a story. I love what you say about conclusions and the fact that making connections can become an addiction.
    I don’t know how to explain it, but I think I have started to crave an ending, much like you talk about — it’s more about trying to see than anything. And oftentimes what I’m called to is not how everything resolves, but the journey, settled or not settled as it may be. What happens with the lost boys and Wendy? What happened to your neighbor that fell? My mind wants to jump to the ending.. May we be content with this place.
    Julie´s last blog post ..Rolling Ink on It

  18. says

    This is just what I needed to read today. My cousin always says she’s impressed by how I can relate every story and scenario back to writing when I blog. But the thing is, I’m starting to feel a little confined by that. Like you, I want to be able to tell the story for the story’s sake. Nothing more, nothing less. Instead, I’ve become addicted to drawing conclusions. Thanks for the reminder that it’s ok to just write for no other purpose than because.
    Ashley Brooks´s last blog post ..NaNoWriMo Day 21: Remember Your WHY

  19. says

    coffee shops are a snippet of community,especially the local ones. some of my best writing moments are done within their walls.

    love this piece greatly I need coffee just thinking of this

    Blessings
    Nancy

  20. says

    This is so beautiful. I really loved reading about your lost boys and their Wendy and something that’s apart of your life like that. “Story for the sake of story” . . . Thank you for that, too. Real life indeed.
    Kayla

  21. says

    Beautiful post, Emily. I loved the pictures, the lives you painted. I’m reminded of how much I, too, love story and how I often also write to remember to see. That’s probably why I enjoy writing, blogging and Instagram so much… because they tell my story and the story of our family and they make for us a way of remembering.
    Jenny Barker´s last blog post ..Burn Bright

  22. says

    Great post. Story really is everywhere…even when our eyes and hearts fail to see it. Love this, “But I don’t want my need for answers and connections to keep me from exploring story…” Sometimes the answers and the connections only show up through the exploring!

  23. jennifer w. says

    Thank you for this post. I find that I don’t write because I feel I have nothing to say (nothing significant). But, just to write the story to have it. “to remember how to see” or just learn to see in new light. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  24. Babs C. says

    Maybe it’s because my childhood neighbor was named Carmella. Maybe it’s because I’m Addicted to analysis…over-analysis, really. Maybe it is just that for some reason Wendy and her Lost Boys echoed deeply in me and evoked tearful and yet unclassified emotional response on my part. I can’t explain fully why this post moved me in so many ways, but I realize my head or heart or spirit is continuing to translate the many layers of messages and mysteries tucked into these paragraphs.

    I began to read this the other day and had to walk away. Not the right time then.

    I’m not sure if you spent purposeful time to weave the three vignettes together or if you realize all that is hidden within, Emily. To me, there are definitely several different story-line threads that create a very rich tapestry.

    You are speaking to my soul and who I am, how I observe, analyze, process, categorize and draw conclusions.
    You are speaking to areas that I’ve struggled in regarding the blank page. I have so much to say, while I operate at varying levels of energy or motivation to write the stories and daily events. Energy and motivation that is sometimes dependent upon, even directly correlated to whether I have been able to arrive at answers or conclusions that seem to have import. Limited energy, which must be weighed against my need to resolve what stirs within me, to determine the cost-benefit of wordsmithing to uncover the pattern and translate the spiritually or intangibly seen.
    Yes, I have a voice. I have a story. I see the stories everywhere. So many stories with too many voices rattle about in my head.
    Is there time enough to clarify my own voice and share the stories that God would have me share? Have I the energy for the sake of the story? Isn’t it worth it for me to fully see? Art for the Glory of God, and to benefit (edify) the hearer/reader? The truth will “out” itself, indeed, and insecurities must be cast aside for the sake of art and community and love. I desire to be His artist, I’m just not sure what it is He would have me to say.

    • says

      Babs –

      I spent a lot of time on this post and before I finished, I wondered how to end it, wondered if I was the only one who would see the connections. I hadn’t the energy (as you say) to work that out for the reader. Or even for myself.

      That was when I realized how I often put conclusions above all else – while not always wrong or bad, it is also not always preferable, at least not to me. It was freeing and empowering even to write and then let it be simply what it is.

      I need to do this more often.

      I deeply connect with what you say here: “Have I the energy for the sake of the story?”

      • Babs C. says

        Emily –

        I want to say “Thank you” for the time you invested in the original post and in your response. In a ripple-effect way, I believe there is a great return on your original investment being experienced – at least for me and from comments in others too.

        There are many things on my mind which I think I could share – sort of tell my story as it relates specifically – but I desire to be brief on this point. This year has been one of both God-prompted changes and many un-sought, un-desired life transitions. I am operating either in growth-mode or limbo in almost every aspect of life. Yet I know how the year began and the fact that God was prompting me to step into being me without apology and to make the choices needed to un-stop the flow of His giftings through me. He called me to take my place as a “general artist” in His service, so to speak. I’m walking it out and you are one of the encouragers/challengers with whom He has blessed my life.

        Your post continues to resonate and open up in my consciousness. A further thought that has occurred to me is how grace applies to telling the stories to be told. My mention of energy, the lack thereof being a state of weariness at times, seems to lead me deeper to recognize that the promise of “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” applies to telling the stories He has for me to tell. My belief of grace defined is that God’s Grace to us is a God-given empowerment for one to do or accomplish more than one could on her own. Grace is the great multiplier in God’s Kingdom. It may be that I need not fault myself when I have not the energy, for surely God will empower me to do whatever He has destined for me to accomplish?

        I’m also considering Jesus. The Great Storyteller. Often speaking in parables. Sometimes without the explanations or conclusions. Leaving the room for the story to speak uniquely, and on levels of both natural and supernatural import. Now I’ll reconsider…if my energy gives out upon writing the story and I seem to lack the grace to formulate conclusions for the reader, might this be ordained design?

        Freedom for Art to Sing…for the Holy Spirit to do its completing in each and every one according to their own need. My goodness, Emily, I’m suddenly hearing the songs of the universe and am humbled. Only Jehovah God can heal and teach and reveal. You or I are simply typing the story as a witness, an ambassador’s report. Maybe that is just exactly how He intends it to be most of the time?

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