New Spaces

I just sat down and fell in love.

I hadn’t been to The Bookmill, found in The Montague Mill, and was looking to escape my house while the septic system tank is being replaced. I’m a big fan of toilets and running water, so having no facilities for five hours is not something I seek to keep on my agenda.

Members of my writing group spoke of this space in passing, people online had asked if I’d ever been there. It was becoming evident that I needed to go check it out. I don’t live near The Bookmill, in fact it is about 25 miles from my home, but when you live in the country, that’s not so far.

I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared to fall in love with the space.

I sometimes get nervous going new places by myself for the first time. I push past the fear and go anyway, but it’s still there. Driving north toward my destination that initial panicky feeling rose but I squashed it: This is the purpose Tara, discovering new places. After you get there, it will no longer be anxiety provoking. It will just be another one of your places you go to write. Luckily, I’m very good at convincing myself to be stronger and bolder than I am.

I arrived before The Bookmill opened and a kind man was quick to inform me that it didn’t open until 10 am, but the Lady Killigrew Cafe, attached to the used bookstore, was indeed open.

I order coffee and precariously carry the overfilled cup down a small flight of stairs. Only one little round pine table is available near a window and I head toward it. As I arrive, I look out the window, a grin overtakes my face, and my chest fills with unexpected happiness. I am in love. And standing there like a grinning fool.

I hadn’t heard it — a small river. The Sawmill River flows over rocks creating mini rapids, the sound muted by a combination of closed windows on this chilly fall morning and The Velvet Underground singing Beginning to See the Light overhead. I want to cry and soak it all in at the same time, it is such a salve to the chaos my life has been.

I realize as I remove my jacket and sit that I have a thing for old renovated mills, always have yet never thought about it. And water. There is inherent peace near water. Reminders of things I like has become a daily phenomena, and I am loving it.

The Lady Killigrew cafe has large windows, typical of old mills, surrounding sashes are painted black, flanked by maroon linen curtains, and rise from floor to ceiling. The wood plank floor is worn throughout, and perfect. Outside is overcast, but bright. Wild flowers — daisies, orange marigold-like blossoms, purple trumpet shaped sprigs I cannot name — modestly sit in a miniature wine carafe serving as a vase on my table.  Mismatched chairs of a redder hue than the tables are worn in places that bodies rub and a local artist’s creations hang on the wall, one featuring the mill itself.  Thick pipes painted yellow hang from the wood ceiling, a sturdy floor to ceiling beam runs through the center of a long rectangle table in the center of the room.

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Conversations go in and out of my awareness as I write. A man in his 50’s is discussing the presidential candidates, states that Trump and his behavior, featured all over the news these days, is triggering his own tormented memories of youth. “I had no safe space,” I hear him say and I think: Me Too. Just not in the same way. This place seems like a safe space though. Yes, this is a safe space. And I had to push past fear to actively discover it for myself.

Someone grounds coffee beans and the music changes to The Zombies’ Time Of The Season. College age couples laugh over old photos on a computer, older female professors flanked with books about ethical and legal issues in counseling sit nearby. One stops a woman she doesn’t know and thanks her for the prayer offering at a peace rally she has participated in. I witness kindness. This is why it is important to go out into the world, I think. Witness the good in people being human. I like those who accept the frailty of others without trying to destroy it out of their own insecurities.

At that moment, I realize, I am holding space. Holding space for myself.

The sun breaks through the clouds and makes its presence known across the treetops, onto my little round table, and bounces off the coffee in my cup. One of the employees asks patrons if she can open some windows and my ears are flooded with the wonderful sound of rushing water. I was thinking I might be ready to leave soon, but now I can’t. My ears can’t get enough. I can’t fill up enough. So I just let the sound flow through me.

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I sit next to that window and try to remember, was it new spaces I’m looking for, or safe spaces?

Either way, yes.

The Extroverted Writer

Ideas are generating on my desk — telltale multi-color sticky notes cropping up is my first clue. This tells me that the last several weeks of working on me is going somewhere even though I’m still in the panicky baby-step phase of that procedure. However, I am learning things.

I’m an extrovert — not new information for those who know me — so alone time, while needed, gets to me after too many days… or hours. Some extroverts, at least my kind of extrovert, hover close to the introvert line without wading fully into those more solitary waters. There are free MBTI tests you can take online that will tell you exactly what percentage into extroversion or introversion you are. Look it up.

I will never be the reclusive writer that disappears for months on end while I delve into the literary world I create. Extroverted writers like me need breaks that include human interaction, whether it is texting, calling, speaking, being with others. Sometimes, with extroverts, you don’t even need to participate as long as it’s around you.

This is one of the most recent things I’ve discovered about myself. Or rediscovered, I’m not sure which.

After my first marriage split up and before I dated the Wusband, I would leave my house — a place filled with more unpleasant memories than pleasant — get away from the residual negative energy, and find myself in various artsy coffee shops. Writing had been wiped off my scope of practice through the turmoil of my marriage, and inspiration swept away by the pain of being unhappy for so long, so I would bring my laptop into cafes and figure out bills, look for jobs online, fill out applications.

I did this again once I entered graduate school a year later. I’d find myself writing papers in those same outlets between classes or before picking the kids up from school, theater, sports, etc.

I always thought I sought out external places to concentrate because I wanted to get away from the house, be somewhere neutral. I was wrong.

It’s because I’m a writer who happens to be an extrovert.

I’ve noticed some of my more recent prolific writing is occurring in cafes and coffee shops. People are all around, the hum of conversation surrounds me drowning out the indie music playing overhead. The occasional word or sentence of a nearby conversation punches through the thrum for attention — snippets of another’s life — laughter rings out, dishes clunk down on thick wood tables or clang into the return receptacle. I sit on the edge of this human experience and find I can work.

When I need a break from the solitary act of writing, I just look up.

I look up from my table at some rustic, grass fed, organically-minded cafe and see the triad of older ladies, grey to white hair, dressed in chic styles denoting comfortable lifestyles, and overhear words like Amsterdam, canals, and Van Gogh. Near the entrance, two women, one round with pregnancy, greet each other with happy hoots and warm embraces. I look beyond them to the line of patrons waiting at the order counter, make accidental eye contact with a balding academic type in his late 30’s, and note that he has fashion sense before darting my gaze away and reprimanding myself that I have sworn off dating to concentrate on me.

Okay, sworn may be a harsh word. I’m not seeking it, I’m not pursuing it, I’ve turned away from it. For now. While I work on me.

I’ve noticed many in-person interviews/potential freelancing entrepreneurs meet here to decide if they want to trade services or combine their efforts on a project. Professors sit over coffee and exchange ideas or discuss personal lives outside of academia. Middle aged sons take their mothers to lunch and catch up on what has occurred in their lives over the past weeks, sometimes months. And then there are the writers, like me. Hovering over laptops, scribbling on love worn pads of paper, eyes that gander up only to stare into space, or sometimes at others as I do, and then return to their task.

It only takes a few moments for me to glance around and take it all in, but it fills the social need of my extroversion enough that I refocus on my laptop screen, type in my password — having timed out by 20 seconds thanks to the diversion — and get back to work, satiated.

I do this several times per visit.

See? I’m learning about me already.

 

Photo by Luke Chesser