For most of my college days, two or three times a week I would go to coffee club. This was not a real club, per se, we didn’t have table at club day. It was group of about a dozen friends who would meet to drink coffee and tell stories.
Over steaming mugs of Alterra’s Dark Sumatra, we would regale each other with tales of awkward moments of college life: I once raised my hand in a class only to get half was through my comment and forget the second half, so that I ended up just blurting out mid-lecture, “I read a lot of books,” to the confusion of my classmates and to my embarrassment. But that week as we waited for the coffee to brew, I could retell the story to those friends who would laugh and then sporadically declare for the next hour, “I read a lot of books!”
Three times a week we’d bring our experiences of flirting attempts gone awry, over-sharing coworker’s eccentric diatribes, nocturnal roommate’s bizarre guests, and our own gaffs, missteps, and rash words and pass them around with the freshly brewed carafe of Kenyan AA coffee. And there we’d experienced that great currency exchange. You take something that made you feel small and silly and unwelcome and turn it into something that makes you feel connected and alive and wanted.
Coffee club was a time marked by rhythm and ritual. There was an old shower caddy that held our mugs. We each had our own mug just for coffee club that permanently lived in that white plastic shower caddy and got rinsed out somewhat regularly. My mug was one that my mother had gotten for me—black with my Myers-Briggs on it (ISTJ) in white letters. We belonged there, just like the assortment of old graphic mugs featuring Garfield, advertisements for long defunct insurance agencies, and beautiful hand-crafted pottery mugs.
It was easy to make time for coffee club, to make time to sit and laugh and sip and be present. Showing up to do creative work is often half the battle of actually doing the work, so I think that coffee club has something important to teach me about making time for creativity. For making time for creativity, like coffee club, needs to be marked with a sense of rhythm and ritual that helps me to commit and feel like I belong in that time.
The one explicit rule of coffee club was that the coffee had to be drunk black. Until coffee club, I don’t think I had really ever had good coffee, or thought about where coffee came from, and I certainly had never drank coffee black. But now, in an age of my life in which I rarely drink black coffee (I drink it with whipped coconut oil and butter), whenever I do, I feel like I can taste coffee club—the caffeinated chatter and loud laughter.
Have a physical ritual for creative time. Tying our creative time to a physical place, a particular drink, or thing that we always do helps our bodies adjust and eventually enjoy it. Now when I write, I always turn our couch around to face out the window and start my writing time with midday prayer from Divine Hours.
At coffee club, the first sip of black coffee was almost always hard for my cream and splenda (oh how could I have been putting that in my poor coffee?!) mouth to adjust to. But the second sip was easier and by the third sip I realized that I was enjoying it. Having a dedicated place and ritual—a lit candle, hot lemon water, a favorite sweater—helps to anchor you to all the times in the past when you did the work and helps you transition to doing the work today. It might never be easy to start, but by the third sip it won’t be as bitter.
Have a set time for creative time. Tying our creative time to a particular part of the day or week removes the need to make a conscious decision to choose to be creative. If every day I had to assess whether I felt like I had something important to write about, most days I probably would find something else to do that would seem more urgent and feel less emotionally and intellectually challenging.
For coffee club, the rhythm of meeting together several times a week meant that stories and people had a context; we began to know the supporting cast of each other’s lives. We didn’t have to decide that something important enough to share with friends had happened that was worthy of calling the crew together; we just came with the mundane and strange and hard details of our regular weeks.
Within your week, creative time needs to be regular enough to nurture a relationship between you and your craft. Coffee club would set the time anew each semester based on people’s class schedules, so the time can change from season to season. But it needs to be regular enough for it to be a part of the rhythm of your week.
What helps you to create rituals and rhythms in your life?
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