Whether I’m writing a sermon or a blog post or a scene in a manuscript, there are two types of places I go to in order to write. In general, I like writing in places that inspire me, that provoke me, that stretch me. These places inevitably give me other things to see when I look up. People, books, art, drinks standing and waiting to be consumed. A view of a busy street. The constant stream of children or joggers or dog-walkers or people pushing baby carriers.
So, as I said, two types of places. One is a cafe. I’ll mark my time in the cafes that “belong” to my friends. My friends like Starbucks or Bronzeville Coffeehouse or Z & H. I don’t like those places. In a pinch, I’ll find a spot at Starbucks. But me? I prefer the less known spots like what used to be Istria, the tiny closet of a shop where they just changed ownership and the new co-owner reminds me of Alex Taylor on three shots of espresso. Or there’s Medici’s cafe side where I find a table at the oddest hours because they stay open late in my neighborhood, a community where nothing nothing nothing stays open late–a fact that loses me since I live near the U of C.
Then, of course, there is my favorite place. Little Black Pearl. Come. Come anytime. Just not when I’m there, please. The place perpetually smells of coffee and fills my ears with the whooshing of an espresso machine, swishing of foamed milk, and a Pandora station that almost always plays music I know and love. LBP gives me more than the smell of coffee grounds. It gives me an ever-changing gallery where the art switches almost on a monthly basis. For the last few months they’ve showcased photographs from the neighborhood’s storefront churches. The photos took me back to the days when, as a child, we’d go to visit churches on Sunday afternoons and stay out forever, listening to the same songs and the same words from the preachers we’d heard earlier that day. This month the artistic display is all about shoes. Women’s shoes. Pumps, heals, whatever you call it. It’s fine. It’s a distraction when it needs to be. So, LBP and the cafes like it are my first preferred places to go.
The second type of place is a library. I work on sermons in theological libraries because they help me do the second phase of sermon work, the phase when I’ve “gotten” my direction and my trajectory, if you will, and am ready to look for the exegetical or theological strands for the message. But the public library is my better context to work.
At the library I saw a woman with dreads walk in, pushing up her glasses, and asking for books about relationships. I looked up from my reading and paid attention. I’m immediately interested, nosey. I’m not ashamed. I watched her go back and forth with the librarian who would get up, her ID tag swinging. They walk from the desk, and the shorter ID wearing woman leads the woman with dreads to a wall near me. She’s fingering titles, calling out names, muttering them and pulling them out for the guest to see.
The public library reminds me of who I’m working for, who I’m trying to talk to, when I speak. The same is true when it comes to writing fiction. I’m writing for the people reading and typing and playing in those libraries. That spot is an inspiring reminder to me that what work I’m doing will eventually (and hopefully is inside that word, is it not?) be received by listeners or readers who are looking for something meaningful. The library’s a reminder that writing and sermon-working is a meaningful labor if only because people will read those words once or hear those phrases once and that those people might try to make meaning from those words.
I work in an office too. I get good work done there when I have to, mostly meetings that can’t be as public or as “in somebody else’ face” as a gallery would require. But the library and the cafe helps me see people for whom I’m working in a way that my Boston Fern-painted room doesn’t. What about you? Where do you work? A phrase or two to describe your work space?