Thursday, 20 May 2010

[338] Coffee + Creativity

After Sizemore's recent post on the benefit of writing everything down, I was reminded of a short creative exercise I wrote earlier this year, touching on similar points. Something from the Loose Ideas folder. I think it deserves a home. So this is me, attempting something creative. Do your worst. It will be appreciated nonetheless.

Nearly all my scripts start in a cafe. They can develop however they want from there, but the cafe is where they begin. "A man walks into a cafe, carrying a briefcase and a wilting rose." "A girl sits in a cafe, staring out at the rain pummelling the pavement outside, twirling a business card in her slender fingers." It's a blank canvas. Readers and interpreters can spin that out as they wish. It's a neutral space that stays non-specific, but invites illustration. Is it a chain cafe? Are there sofas, or chairs? Do they serve food? Are they open all night? What's the ambience? Is there a shuffled playlist of suitably mellow MP3s droning in the background? You tell me.

I may add in these bits of colouring and information as I go along, I may get rid of the scene altogether, but I always start there, in the cafe. Two men (one in coat-tails, the other donning tweed and spectacles) argue about Stravinsky's late dalliance with twelve-tone serialism. A group of exchange students proclaim generally and with great authority about their home country, comparing with great swipes and strides its foibles with that of the United Kingdom.

A cafe is a handy location: a hub of social life, a well of stories and encounters. A waitress removes a pencil from behind her ear, and squints as she doodles a sketch on a customer's receipt. Another groans as the coffee machine splutters scalding hot milk onto the sandwich preparation surface.

It is a stage for building up characters, for testing out dialogue and seeing how exchanges progress and ferment. A void where time is irrelevant, and space can be rigidly defined, or kept slack. It can be a waystation on a journey, or the last bastion of human culture. What's more, the combination of hot beverages, comfortable furniture and a welcoming atmosphere manages to support the most intimate of conversations. Some chatter may not be intimate at all. Two girls share a pain au chocolat. One pokes it with a fork, as the other mops up the pastry crumbs with a licked finger. "I could tell the film was going to be terrible," Fork says to Licked Finger.

"I just knew. In the reception area, before you go into the screening room, they had laid out this massive spread. The food of gods. You know, they actually put out fois gras? I didn't even know what the hell it was when I first saw it. I had to ask the guy serving, and he enlightened me with this slightly cheeky look on his face. A little crack in the veneer. I knew then - this can't be good. When they're expecting bad reviews, they whip out the high class dining."

Licked Finger laughs, Fork continues, stabbing the air periodically. Meanwhile, a teenager sits in a greasy spoon, leafing through a second hand copy of Gregory Corso's selected letters. His engrossed reading is only interrupted by his shovelling of soggy bacon into his mouth, his eyes barely leaving the page.

The cafe is the world in miniature, and the imagination made manifest. It contains and inspires.

By that token, I find myself in a coffee house. I am waiting for an engagement. They are late. I sit on a high chair, the kind that frustrates, due to the awkward lack of comfortable leg support. Mine dangle. My bag, stuffed with paper and unfinished projects, has been given its own chair. Over my shoulder, a middle-aged gentleman stares at a Blackberry, a neglected Macchiato cooling in front of him. The rain outside stops. Inside, it is quiet, but music plays. I finish my hot chocolate in three gulps, and cannot help but think of time. Time passes. Time beyond the agreed point that I had pencilled into my diary weeks before. Not that this meeting had much competition. Even though it is early evening, my day starts in a cafe.

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