Right now I am sitting in a Starbucks in the back corner trying my first attempt at immersion. While I have been writing for years, creative nonfiction is new to me and so that means new exercises to get better at it.
In You Can’t Make This Stuff Up by Lee Gutkind, he spends some time discussing the need for a writer to practice immersion as a way to write a story “in a way that allows them to own it.” On his magazine’s website, Creative Nonfiction, immersion is defined as a technique where a “writer submerges himself in his subject, allowing his quest for the story to take over his life.”
“You hang out and wait for something to happen — and sooner or later something will happen — and you’ll be there ready to write it all down” —You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Lee Gutkind
So here I sit. I sit in a Starbucks observing everyone who comes in and out, everyone who sits at a table, everyone behind the counter. I notice how each person here, like me, is sitting at a table with a laptop, but they are just as much tuned out as they are tuned in. Most of them have AirPods in or other BlueTooth headphones in their ears blocking out the noise. Heads are down, no one acknowledges each other.
I am reminded about how an hour before this I was scrambling around my apartment looking for my AirPods so that I didn’t have to torture myself without them. I wanted to create my own background noise instead of immersing myself into the background noise of Starbucks. And then when I sat down, laptop and writing books strewn out across the table, my AirPods stayed in my purse. I am amazed at the different sounds that echo through this coffee shop. One barista whistles while walking from the back, then he greets a new customer who purchases a Utah mug and shares that he is visiting from Seattle. Another barista comes around the corner with her apron off, draped over her forearm, waving goodbye — her shift must be over. Coffee grinds in the machines behind shorter blonde barista walking past the pastries as she speaks into the headset confirming to the customer in the drive-thru that they do indeed still have blueberry scones.
To my right is a cute, darling baby who can’t be more than 6–7 months old. Her thin, fine dark hair swept across the front of her face. She clutching onto who I assume must be her mother who bounces her up and down. This baby is not happy. She’s just been given medicine through a syringe and clearly is upset about. But she soon forgives her mother and buries her head into her mother’s chest until she’s quiet. I got distracted and looked down at my phone for a minute and when I looked up, they were gone.
I kind of like sitting here waiting for something to happen. I have no expectations and have no idea what normally happens to disrupt the peaceful, laid back nature of a Starbucks. To my surprise, the anticipation isn’t killing me considering how impatient of a person I am. AND I’m not bored either. It’s probably because I am procrastinating the long list of topics I need to write about or the next chapter of my book that so far only exists in my head and not yet typed out.
Have I mentioned yet that I hate the smell of coffee? I also don’t drink coffee. Besides it being something I can’t have for religious reasons, I absolutely hate the taste of it! So why come to a Starbucks? Because I was craving a Very Berry Refresher with light ice and it was the only coffee shop whose menu I am familiar enough with to know what non-coffee options I have.
It just occurred to me that none of these people have any idea that I am sitting here watching and observing them. When I think about it, it is incredibly invasive of me — which kind of makes me laugh for some reason. I wonder how many others have watched me or are currently watching me. The guy in the table across from me is picking his nose with his right hand and covering the side of his face with his left hand. Considering he is covering half of his face, he likely isn’t wanting anyone to know this is what he is doing. He just looked up and did the glance around the room move to play it off while checking to see if anyone had noticed. I looked down though so as not to embarrass him and to give him peace of mind that he could continue digging for treasure under the assumption that no one was aware. Is it gross? Yes. Do I want to judge him for that public display of treasure digging? Sort of. But I think we’ve all been there at one point and I don’t want to shame him. Moving on.
Okay finally, a song playing from the speakers overhead that I recognize. Birds by Coldplay. This song brings back memories from a few years ago when I fell for the fireworks boy. Glad this song is over… I’d rather not think about fireworks boy…
I got up to use the restroom and left the fate of my belongings into the young man to my right who had just spilled coffee down the front of his sweatshirt. I made sure to take my phone and wallet with me, but he could have made off with my car from leaving my keys behind and my closed laptop on the table, but that’d be stupid to attempt a heist considering everyone around me just witnessed me asking him to look after it all. It just occurred to me that it is 92 degrees and sunny as can be and here he is wearing a black sweatshirt. To each their own, but it is hot as hell! Not exactly the wardrobe choice I would have gone with if I was in his shoes. Anyways, public restrooms are the worst and having to endure the nasty enclosed area is enough punishment for my day. I will say though that as disgusting as the bathroom restroom was, I am impressed that there is an automatic toilet and a Dyson hand dryer! I mean, I shouldn’t be impressed because it really is the least Starbucks could do since they charge an astronomical amount for anything on their menu. I have high standards for bathrooms period, but especially if the place of business has the nerve to make me broke in the process. Thank you Starbucks for a swell handwashing experience, but please send someone in to pick up the tissue strewn across the floor in there!
Another barista has clocked in and I think she may be the one that drives me away. She has a high pitched voice, is pouring coffee into a Venti cup while singing Nelly’s Hot In Herre, and whining as her co-worker clocks out for the day. Every reaction is overdramatized and think she never learned how to use an inside voice. If I don’t leave, I think AirPods just might be my saving grace to get through this immersion session. I take back everything my criticism of everyone else with AirPods being tuned out to what is going on around them. This very moment is one where I want to join the AirPod club and sacrifice being tuned in.
The young man to my right, the one who watched my belongings while I was in the restroom, has set aside the material he was studying and is now watching lacrosse. By the loud woos and tense fist-pumping, it would appear that whatever team he is cheering for must be winning. The young women to my left are engaged in an intense study session and I now have no desire to return back to college for a Masters Degree. I do not miss the days of tests and writing papers because I was told to, not because I wanted to.
I’ve now been here for over 3.5 hours and have seen countless people come and go. Baristas clocking in and out, study groups forming, and people like myself sitting alone with a laptop in front of them. Did anything major happen? No. But I did learn to be more observant. I could sense the stress in the eyes of those studying for tests or the excitement of a lacrosse game from the man to my right. I watched baristas give genuine smiles and banter back and forth with each other. Day by day we walk other people living their lives, experiencing moments of joy or despair outside of our own moments of joy or despair. Every person in here has a story. As I struggle with writing my own story, it’s humbling to remember that this is a world made up of stories, not just my own. My part is to offer up my story — claim it as my own and hopefully, someone else will want to know more. People watching is merely keeping an eye out for the story — yours or someone else’s.