Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 2

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

Now that I have a seat, I’m restless.

It’s March, and far from feeling like winter. I settle into my cushion bench seat and look around the room.  This is still the only place to sit.  I reach for my writing bag when my for-here mug of Columbian coffee is brought to my table restaurant style.  What unexpected service.  Coffee shops are usually more self-serve.  I already know I’ll be back.

Time to look busy.  First thing, set up the tablet.  While it boots, I’ll look even more productive with my Happy Planner calendar on the table.  It has my blog schedule in it.  Next, my yellow notepad, a few colored pens and voila!  I’m all set to do work.

I don’t feel productive.  I feel cluttered.  I’m restless.

I always carry a few distractions in my workbag.  The item I’m craving to use is my Café Bingo game.  It was a gift from my writerly friend, Kelly, who said, “I thought of you instantly when I saw it.”  Yep, she got me right.  The idea is to Bingo with coffee shop stereotypes.  There are 12 cards, but I can play by myself.  I wonder: can I cover the entire board, or at least get a bingo?  There’s 0nly one way to find out.

These cards are reusable.  Cool!  I wasn’t sure how that worked.  When I read “pushing back” the squares on the package, visions of pieces popping off onto the table, never to be replaced again filled my head.  With this, you fold the cardstock squares back while playing and then refold them when you’re done.  I’m set to play with only one rule: I can’t count myself in any of the squares.

— Barista

That’s the center square and a gimme.

— MP3 player

Who carries these anymore?  I amend that to seeing a cell phone with headphones.  I see a hipster guy plugged in over in the comfy chair corner.

— Tip Jar

There’s one at the register where I ordered.  I don’t recall the handwritten note on it, but I’m sure it’s something like “Fear change? Leave it here” or “Tipping isn’t just for cows.”

— Newspaper

Sure enough, there’s an older man in a comfy leather lounge chair in the corner.  He’s reading a real newspaper, buried beneath an umbrella of inky pages.

— Laptop

Uhhh…yeah.  Who doesn’t come to a coffee shop without a laptop?  You have to look hip and trendy and productive.  Okay, I’m two for three right now, but my Surface has a detachable keyboard, so it would count for that square, if I included myself, which I’m not.  I’m still hipster-ette.

— Briefcase

There’s a guy in business clothes–a suit, maybe–with a speckled tan bag next to him.  I can’t see it exactly because it’s sitting on the floor and I don’t have a clear shot.  I count it.  I wouldn’t expect to see one of those hardcover square boxes with a latch and handle, and I’m surprised I think that.

— Cell Phone

This is another gimme.  A more challenging square would be “No cell phone.”

— Reuse of Cup

Remember, I can’t count myself.  A lot of people have for-here mugs on their tables.  Some people don’t.  What a waste.  Unless it’s tea.  Tea almost always needs a disposable cup.

— Date

I’m not sure how to count this.  The square shows two stick figures holding hands with a heart between them.  It’s just past lunchtime, so there are no caffeine kisses here.  There are lots of people sitting together in twos, and I’m sure someone is on some kind of date.  Meeting a friend for lunch, I count that.

— Iced Drink

I don’t see ice cubes anywhere, nor a dome lid cup sitting on any table.  Straight ahead there’s a woman with what looks like an icy blended drink.  It’s a shade color different than the store’s cardboard cups, but that’s good enough for me.

— Bulletin Board

This is a local coffee shop. Of course, there’s one.  Heck, even Starbucks has them.  The Fine Grind has theirs on the back wall between the bathrooms.  I saw that the first time I was here, but I found it awkward to peruse while people pee nearby.

— Spilled Drink

I didn’t expect to see this, but within five minutes of pulling out this game, a patron sloshes something on the floor.  It looks like water, but I feel rude staring at him.

— Meeting

There are no poster-board graphs or carpet swatches anywhere in here.   There’s no table of suits. There’s no cluster of notepad papers.  I bet some of these couples are in some sort of business meeting.  I glance at Briefcase Guy and wonder, can I count him twice?

— Rushed Patron

There’s one person walking deliberately to the door, so I count him.  He’s walking with a purpose not trudging along.

Now even the game is making me restless and bored.  I don’t think I can find the rest of the squares right now.  I can’t see outside the door, so I’m not sure there’s a Dog Waiting, another game square. This coffee shop is smooshed in a strip mall, not stretched on a quaint, tree-lined street among boutique stores, so I doubt I’d ever find one.  The woman at the high-top table against the wall, she may be dressed in All-Black Attire, again another game square, but I can’t tell if those are black pants or dark blue dress pants.

The other items I can’t find now are: Book; Menu Typo; Foreigners; Student; Latte Art; Goatee; Political Debate; Pastry Crumbs; and Artiste Glasses.

What I can’t wait to find is a friend to play this game with.


Have you ever had “Writer’s Block”? I have it all the time and I hate it! I’m sitting in front of the computer getting ready to write. My fingers hover over the keys.


Ready! Set! Go!




What am I going to write about? What can I say that anyone, yes anyone, would want to read?


I gained inspiration the last time I went to the Deadwood Writers’ Group. My friend Barbara brought this picture:img_0155


“OMG! Where is that kid when I need him? The last time I had a problem with my computer, I phoned Apple. After waiting 18 minutes on hold, someone picked up.


“Let me connect you to the person who handles that,” he said.


I put the phone on speaker and started answering my email. 20 minutes later and still no one had picked up. I checked my phone. It was still on speaker.


I went back to answering my email. A few more minutes passed. I noticed something. What was it?


OMG! Silence.


I’d been disconnected. My phone said I’d been on hold 25 minutes just to be disconnected. No!


Where is that kid? He may be young but I bet he knows what to do!!!

Using Social Media to Overcome Writer’s Block?

Writing takes practice.

Sure, we all know that, but too often, we are frozen by the blank screen or paper we call Writers Block. At least, that’s the excuse we tell ourselves.

The only way to break down that wall is to write.

And that brings us back to the beginning. How do we begin writing? Where do we find ideas?

Blog Writing Challenges

 Whether you have written or write for a blog, you need some social media presence to maximize this option. People are sharing their creative arsenal to battle the widespread war of writer’s block across the webisphere. These challenges are sites all across the Internet. Your journey is to find them.

I’m a fan of the social media site Twitter. Unlike Facebook, it’s an open media without memberships or restrictions. Connecting with writers and readers and celebrities is a Follow click away. Unlike LinkedIn, it’s not business-focused. Unlike Google+, this is not a new, unknown experiment. Twitter is established, creative and short to swallow with its 140-character limit in each Tweet. It’s easy to find similar topics and groups with a simple #hashtag search.

On the day I wrote this, I found an array of challenges with directed yet general hashtag searches. Some of these lead directly to the moderator’s website, while others simply group posts together under that specific hashtag.

Searching the Twitter hashtag #challenge showed writing and non-writing Tweets.  Scrolling through feed, the most relevant ones came from users like @convince to post a photo with every Tweet for one week, @RonovanWrites with his weekly haiku prompt  and @lettrs posing a #WordOfTheDay challenge.

One of my favorite hashtags is #6WordStory, a challenge posed by @Kelsye. Other searches relevant and directed to writers include: #WritingChallenge; #poetrychallenge; #FiveSentenceFiction; #haikuchallenge; and #fictionchallenge.

Twitter is not case-sensitive, so upper- and lower-case usage is personal preference. The words get you to the same location. I like to capitalize some of the longer hashtags to make them easier to read.

The beauty of Twitter is the prompts are provided, and the ideas out there are bountiful. Once you find an inspirational idea, attack that challenge with all your creative energy. Many people link to their personal blogposts, but you don’t need a blog to participate. Create a separate file on your computer and dedicate 15 minutes a day to play with words. Do an email exchange with a friend or family member. If you are uncomfortable sharing, choose a journal to write in for your personal enjoyment.

If you want to publicly share your accomplishments submit these, or parts of it, on your social media or link posts to your personal blog. If you want to make a visual expression of your art, use a smartphone app like InstaQuote or Notegraphy to create a graphic to share with others or save to your camera roll.

Using photos allows your social media reach to increase. The Twitter user @asilartist tied her #9WordStory challenge together by cross-posting from her @reclaimed poet Instagram account. The same hashtag exploration applies there. I found creative posts with the tags: #WritingChallenge; #PoetryChallenge; #threewordstory; #poemaday; #flashfiction; and #4WordStory.

Beware! Most users will use more than one tag, adding several related hashtags so their post can reach various audiences. As your curiosity increases, you will find yourself winding through a maze of related hashtags so that you can forget the original hashtag you started searching for. It’s glorious. It’s frustrating.

There are worse things than being lost in a new tag that connects to a newer tag that inspires you to search for a personal interest of yours. It’s the only way to drag yourself over that tall writers block wall.

What to Expect When Your Writing Class is Online

Tempted by the forty free online writing classes available at my public library, I enrolled as an experiment. The full catalog of 350 courses competed with MOOCs (massive open online courses) and delivered a shorter continuing education opportunity in writing and other business topics. I joined with a hundred online learners from across the country and Canada for a brief six weeks of creative writing lessons. The interaction and other classmates were as interesting as the course content.

The exercises began innocently enough asking each student’s reason for taking the class. I’ll share several of my submissions. For instance, here’s my introduction:

The dog made me do it. He worries about neglecting important things like watching sunsets, skipping rocks at the lake and hiking nearby trails.

sitting writer2It was irreverent compared to the other classmates’ expressions of genuine excitement and unbridled nervousness. They used their first name, their full name or a nickname like Jelly Bean, Milwaukee Maiden, GalSal or Mother Bird. The anonymous classroom became a haven for over sharing. I discovered, most of the class was currently in crisis – death of a loved one, newly retired, birth of an infant, empty nests, schizophrenia, cancer, abuse, graduates from high school or college, English lit major wanna be’s, traumatized veterans, divorcees, joblessness, dead end jobs, stressful “on the verge of quitting” jobs, sexuality concerns, and caregivers to parents and spouses. The class offered an outlet to cope, a catharsis for the traumas of the past, present and future.

To that note, I was not so far removed from crisis myself. One of the assignments required writing about a candle. Pent up emotions spilled into this exercise. Yes, tears fell on the keyboard over an imaginary candle with a fictitious past.

The tin box sits next to an empty and worn book of matches from a Mexican restaurant near my mother’s old house and a cigarette lighter I confiscated when my teenager flirted with smoking. Graphic whirls of block printed roses decorate the lid. The image resembles both my college hand-carved block printing and my Connecticut rose garden including the wicked, hateful thorns of the floribundas deceptively named Cinderella. Yet, the tin hints of a different Cinderella – purses, crowns, wavy flourishes and little flower dots of pink – and a costume, plastic face mask on top of a printed rayon tunic visible through the cellophane window of a shallow cardboard box. I lift the candle’s lid, smell the sickly perfume of roses and remember my mother. I spark the lighter. The candle wick, a charred nub at the bottom of a melted ring in the wax, fails to light. I return the heart-shaped tin and matches to the drawer with other keepsakes and throw the lighter in the trash under the sink.

Two months after writing about that candle, I reread my passage and still feel the complex emotional mother child relationship, filled with roses, thorns and cigarette lighters. Fortunately, the next assignment was safe from my own memories and focused on a prompt, an ex-spouse arriving on a bus in a snowstorm. Each student chose a point of view and present or past tense. My classmates, more savvy to the woes and causes of divorce, wrote of anger, betrayal, infidelities, abuse and addiction. Instead, I wrote of a homesick young man uncertain of his future.

John jolted awake at the bus driver’s announcement of Grand Haven. The snow globe effect of pelting white flakes obscured the view of his hometown bus depot. He grabbed his backpack and rushed to the door to find whichever family member drew the short straw and had to pick him up in this miserable weather. His mom probably paced at home at the front door waiting for him, having planned a family get-together to hear his tales of living in New York, the small bit part in an off Broadway theater and his new friends in the city. Bounding down the steps, John slipped on the last wet step, tumbled out the door and landed spread eagle on top of a woman waiting with her bag. Expecting her to be angry or hurt, John jumped up only to discover Martha hysterically laughing and joking about his daring dive and poor timing to wait until their divorce was final for a grand effort.

The most joyful assignment embraced free writing – unfiltered and unedited. The instructor explained about Galumphing and Bricolage. Galumphing was to select an item from three different categories – a person, a place, and an object. I chose Bricolage which was to write whatever comes to mind about trivial objects, such as a candy wrapper.

The iridescent candy wrapper rested in my palm, a tidy two inch square of yellowish cellophane. In my kitchen, I sucked on the hard candy, mystified at the pleasant, yet unrecognizable, exotic flavor. And when I glanced again at the wrapper, it was twice the size. I scratched at my head, pondering where had I found this odd candy. Oh yes, it was in the console of my car after I had let my lost, and recently found, relative Larry take the car for the week to Burning Man. I wanted to ask him about the candy, but Larry, was still sleeping in my guest bedroom, a walk-in closet if you want to be precise, and by the sound of his snoring, probably out of contact for the next four to six days. Now, the candy wrapper was weighing heavy on my hands and increasing to the size of a poster board. I reached for the ruler in my kitchen drawer and found I was too short. The wrapper had not grow; I had shrunk. Naked, I slipped out of my very large clothes and tore a bit of the wrapper to use for petite clothing. I vaguely remembered seeing other candies in different colored wrappers. If the yellow wrapped candy made me small, what did the others do? Which color should I eat next?

For each of the assignments The instructor urged the class to follow the golden rule of feedback – give comments to receive comments. My fragile crisis-fraught classmates needed support, encouragement and praise for their brave undertakings. And every evening, I returned to the class website to see the comments left for me, such as the ones below on my Bricolage candy wrapper exercise.

Jenn on 5/28/2015 10:09:51 AM

What a great twist! I love it! Makes me think of Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So creative!

GalSal on 5/28/2015 12:46:57 PM

Wow–I was so fooled until you said you had shrunk.  Great imagination!

Chuck on 5/29/2015 8:17:01 AM

Great creativity, it kept me spellbound.  Are we having fun yet?

Joy on 5/29/2015 5:27:38 PM

I struggled with bricolage but you made it seem easy to be creative with something so simple

Dave on 5/30/2015 10:10:56 AM

A great start and you could take it in two interesting ways.  The obvious, fantasy way, is to go on a hunt for the other candy.  The other way, the candy having come from Burning Man, is that the character is tripping and she might have some explaining to do to people that wonder why she is running around naked with a piece of candy wrapper for clothing.

Lea on 5/30/2015 6:42:35 PM

It also makes me think of Alice in Wonderland! I like the normalcy at the beginning while it slowly starts to become magical. Great 🙂

Mama Crow on 6/1/2015 5:53:07 AM

What an adventurous piece! Great job keeping the imagination vividly strong!

Milwaukee Maiden/Linda on 6/3/2015 4:52:21 PM

Very good storyline with a twist. I enjoyed reading it. You will make a great writer.

The course made me appreciate the ability of technology to engage humanity across the country. The encouraging comments were fun and an unexpected treasure. Before the class ended and all the words deleted, I copied the comments to a file and saved them for a time when I might need generous and supportive comments. For now, another class begins.


Let Your Passion Fly Free

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

“Don’t die with your music still inside. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul.” Wayne Dyer

You’ve always wanted to write the “next best seller,” yet you haven’t completed one manuscript. I know, I know. You’ve been busy with school, work, and family which has left little time to pursue what your family considers your “hobby.” If you still want to write the story that keeps disturbing your sleep, then it’s your passion, not your hobby. But when you sit at your computer, you freeze. Is it writer’s block or are you suffering from a fear of failure? Are you afraid of criticism or do you lack the self-confidence it takes to become a published writer?

Try getting past your fear of putting your words on paper with some of the following techniques that worked for me.

Talk to an older relative or neighbor about her childhood memories. Don’t concern yourself about what you’ll do with the information during the conversation. Just ask prepared questions, but listen carefully to the responses and to the way that person answers. This may lead to more questions. Take notes and ask permission to utilize a recorder prior to the interview. If at first the person is reluctant to talk, get her to relax by talking about the present. Maybe a conversational trigger will lead her to reveal more about her entry into this country, her life on a farm, or what it was like during the war. A memoir, mystery, or love story could be enhanced by some of the details you hear.

While caring for my elderly, sick father, I heard him talk about his mother’s compassion toward others during the depression. Delighted to hear his coherent voice, I coaxed him into telling me more. The stories he told me became a short memoir I wrote for his benefit. He enjoyed the story and encouraged me to write more. “My Grandmother, Little Mama” was published in On the Shores of Detroit: History through Prose and Poetry which became a component of the 2002 Midwest Poets & Writers Conference.

Enter writing contests. has a quarterly 24-Hour Short Story Contest with an entry fee of only $5. At noon on a predetermined Saturday, contestants are given a few sentences that must be used in their story and told the maximum word count allowed. The sentences and word count vary from contest to contest. The story must be completed by noon the following day. On a whim, I entered the contest several times. I didn’t win the WritersWeekly contests. However, I tweaked one of the stories and entered it in other contests. That story won a first place cash prize in one contest and was published as an honorable mention in another one.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenges writers to write 50,000 words during the thirty days of November. That’s a minimum of 1,667 words a day which should help you get into the habit of writing regularly. I’ve tried this twice, once successfully. I’m now working on the results of my second NaNoWriMo manuscript.

The Writer’s Digest has numerous contests several times a year as well as mini contests in their magazine. Writing prompts or story starters may help you write on a regular basis. Keep a notebook handy to jot down any ideas that come to mind. Starting small may work for you. When you’re ready for a bigger project, write one chapter at a time until you’ve finally written the story that has haunted you for some time. Now put away your fears and let your passion fly free. We’re waiting to read your story.