Just to sit and sip

Today I went to a coffee shop with my laptop to write.

There was just over a dozen customers in the cafe, some writing, studying, reading. Conversing. The usual, well-traversed cafe visitors.

One person stood out as I looked up in between paragraphs.

A man, likely in his 50s (though tough to ascertain on appearance alone). He wore a maroon t-shirt and cargo khaki pants. He sat alone at a table, had already been occupying it when I arrived, still there two hours later. He’d ordered and sipped at two different beverages in the time since I’d arrived.

He had not a book in hand, or a pen, or a phone or notebook. Nothing to read or write. No one sitting across to talk to.

Just stared straight ahead; occasionally sat with eyes closed, perhaps listening or meditating. I did not hear him speak to order his second drink.

There’s simple assumptions that I made: that he can hear, that he speaks English, that he prefers to be alone. That he likes people, that he likes coffee, that he is wealthy and spends all his days here. But these are all broad and based on personal experience and expectations, not on any gathered evidence or conversation.

Out of all of the customers in the cafe, this man stands out to me. Does that say more about me than him? That I found his sitting alone, without a book or a pen, to be interesting? How is that abnormal? Why do I think that is abnormal and not just, y’know, natural?

There are also judgments based on assumptions: that he is lonely, that he likes to be alone. But he’s also around people.

Perhaps he does live alone, but prefers to surround himself with people just to feel a part of things.

Or maybe he just likes the drinks and it doesn’t matter that he’s alone, not reading, not studying, not writing or doing a crossword puzzle.

Perhaps, to feel complete, he just likes to sit among people and feel the air tremor from the populace; for a short time every day recognizing that the society around him, the community, is family.

There’s a thousand reasons he could be sitting alone in a public cafe, and none of them really matter. This is just an observation of a person I found interesting as I was at the cafe today.

Perhaps he looked at me the same way: why does this guy sit with a computer, sipping coffee, instead of just sitting and watching, listening, learning. Why does this guy write out his thoughts instead of thinking about them?

Why does Joe not just sit and sip?

Family Dream

A few mornings ago, I woke up early but remained in the cloud of a dream. A good dream.

It was a holiday, but I don’t recall which one. The family was all downstairs in my parents’ home. Not the entire extended family, just a chunk of the closest cousins, aunts, uncles.

I’d just woken up and walked downstairs, saw my mother in the kitchen, and I could hear my cousins in the family room watching television. No idea what they were watching, maybe they were playing a game instead. There were large plants I didn’t recognize that were supposed to be Christmas trees, but I know they weren’t because, come on, and also I don’t think it was really Christmas even in the dream.

The house is laid out in such a way that there is an upstairs and a downstairs. Upstairs are the bedrooms. When you walk down eight steps, you reach “downstairs”, which is the common living room and kitchen. At the other end of the kitchen are three steps that take you into the family room, and on this level is also the garage. Then there is a basement below that.

I walked through the kitchen and started down the three steps to the family room when I heard a laugh, familiar and one I hadn’t heard in a long, long time. I reached the bottom step and instead of walking straight towards the family room I turned to the left, which is a small corner that, in my dream, held one of the Christmas plants and an armchair.

Sitting in the armchair was my Grandfather, laughing. He said, “Hi Joey.”

I stalled. I panicked a bit, in my dream. I was caught off guard.

My grandfather passed away in 2001.

But there he was, in the dream. I remember saying something to my mother, because she asked, “Who are you talking to?”

And I replied, scared or in shock, “Grandpa.”

And she commented, “That’s good he’s happy to see you.”

Grandpa, in the dream, had mostly black hair with only streaks of silver. He wore glasses and smiled while sitting in the armchair, just like he used to appear to me when I was younger and visiting the grandparents’ house.

We spoke a bit, but I can’t remember what about because around that time my alarm went off and I woke up to reality. I purposely hit the snooze, even though I was running late, because I wanted to visit with him, and indeed I actually slipped back into the dream for a few moments longer.

I don’t think we talked any more. I think, in the dream, I went to sit with the cousins and enjoy time together, but would look over my shoulder every few seconds in disbelief, Grandpa in his chair smiling at us. Even in the dream, I knew it wasn’t real.

But it was nice for a while to imagine it was so, and to hear that laugh again.

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Mouse-X short film

Below, embedded, is a short film entitled Mouse-X by filmmaker Justin Tagg. The concept is simple: A man wakes in a mysterious room, and as he tries to figure a way out he comes upon only the room — and himself. The atmosphere is eerie, the sense of dread lingers despite a faceless authority running this “maze”. The photography, design, and sound are all top-notch, and the fact that nary a word is spoken adds, in my opinion, to the sense of dread.

I’ve been toying with concepts like this myself lately, experiments in concepts and atmosphere over pure A-B-C Hollywood Storytelling. When I write projects, I’m usually on my own, though lately I’ve dealt a lot in collaboration, and things that end up popping up again and again are:

What motivates the characters?

Why do we care about the characters?

Why is this happening to the characters?

In Mouse-X, we care about this guy because he’s as confused as we are, he wants to get out, to be free. WHY this is happening is not entirely clear, and allows the audience to come up with their own conclusions. The WHY is not necessarily as “important” (yes, I put that in quotes) as the WHAT and WHO. WE relate to this character because WE, at one point or another, feel trapped, looking for answers, whether physically or emotionally or in some other way.

Therefore we care about what happens to this guy, despite not knowing anything about him. It doesn’t matter. Whatever answer the filmmaker and actor came up with for the backstory is hidden entirely from the audience. For all we know, this is a bad dude, in a prison, who has done despicable things. Yet we still care, because we’re intrigued by the mystery.

I’m not saying backstory is not important, it’s just not as relevant to the piece itself as the motivation of the character. He doesn’t need a “reason” to escape — just the fact that he WANTS to escape is enough to drive the short. It’s in this way that “Hollywood storytelling” is not always the most effective when inspiring a feeling in an audience.

I suppose.

Or maybe I’m not seeing something you are? Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!