This afternoon I went to Stardust Coffee & Video to read the book I’m currently enjoying, Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, and to work on my application essay for the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. I am looking to start their MA program(me) in Anthropology of Food in the fall. Perfect subject for me, isn’t it?
Now, some people don’t like to write, read or do homework in public spaces such as cafes, but for me, a place like Stardust is the perfect spot for such activities. At home, I am often too distracted by mundane tasks, or wind up fettering away my time online or playing video games. I’m usually not very productive. In the environment of a third space, though, I can focus enough on my work (or my leisure, as the case with the book), with the perfect amount of distraction to alleviate writer’s block. If I’m hungry, instead of putting effort into sussing out my fridge and preparing a meal, I can simply ask for a sandwich and work or read until the Five Easy Pieces appears.
Interestingly, Alain de Botton touches on a similar topic in his book, The Art of Travel. In chapter 2, “On Travelling Places,” de Botton discusses halfway places such as airports, airplanes, service stations, train cars, hotels and the like through the lenses of Baudelaire and Edward Hopper. Part of his writing focuses on loneliness. De Botton writes, “In roadside diners and late-night cafeterias, hotel lobbies and station cafes, we may dilute our feeling of isolation in a lonely public place and hence rediscover a distinctive sense of community.” When observing some Stardust patrons, with laptops open and the surrounding chairs empty, this idea of communal loneliness is rather strikingly appropriate. Within this communal loneliness, however, we can be removed from our home environments of distractions and tackle the tasks that have been dogging us for days, weeks, or months. In discussing his experiences on trains, the flow of consciousness is aided “by the possibility of looking out the window, locking on to object and following it for a few seconds, until a new coil of thought is ready to form and can unravel without pressure.” I find this applicable in a cafe setting as well, where one can watch a couple eating sandwiches or overhear another couple discussing Michelle Obama’s outfits, or simply pausing to drink a cup of coffee or take a bite of food.
Stardust’s ready stock of tasty food and beverages were appreciated today as they were back when I was going to school at Rollins. I would stop by there as I rode my scooter to class, taking in a beer or IZZE before class while working on homework that was due that day or reading a chapter on anthropological or literary theory to be discussed that day. After class, I would stop in for another beer or IZZE and work on short story assignments from my writing classes or read one of the zillions of books Dr Pequeno liked to assign for his classes. It was nice, because I would talk to people behind the counter and the regulars about all things wonderful and weird, and at the same time be wonderfully productive. This afternoon I finished a fourth draft of my application essay that was good enough for me to retype (and reedit) on the computer at home earlier this evening and send it out to a few friends who offered to have a look at it (well, really two who offered, and two who didn’t…).
Today at the Dust, I saw and overheard a few regulars, like Gary (hello!), and spoke with Bret, who gave me an open-door with regards to baking again for Stardust, which was awesome to hear. Thanks to the acupuncture treatments I’ve been getting from FICM, my left wrist and elbow has felt much better, despite being told I have the beginning signs of carpal tunnel (wooo…). Because of my condition, I’ve been hesitant to approach Bret and the Stardusters about starting again with baking on weekends, but it is something I enjoy, and with Bret’s laissez faire approach to my employment, I may just have another go at it sometime soon, provided my wrist holds up. These x-rays shown were taken last year in the fall sometime at an orthopedist who was in the running for the worst doctor ever.
Applications for SOAS are due on the 30th of June for fall semester (seriously!), but I want to have mine turned in prior to March to make the deadline for a couple of scholarships. Once my application essay has been looked over and I make some changes suggested by my proofreaders, I’ll be ready to send out my application… provided I figure out where my degree from Rollins is. Apparently, the University of London wants a photocopy of my Bachelor’s degree, and I can’t remember where I put it. I wish my father had taken me seriously when I asked if we could hang it in the bathroom.
If you would like to know more about Alain de Botton’s thoughts on loneliness or Edward Hopper, you may be interested in this article from Tate Etc., The Pleasures of Sadness. The article includes images, such as Hopper’s 1927 painting Automat, which I love, love, love, so it’s well worth a look. After The Art of Travel, I have at least two other books by de Botton lined up to read, killing the fiction kick I had previously been on with Jonathan Carroll’s The Ghost in Love and The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers.