The Sounds of Seething


Retro flower pot shape bike at a coffee shop.

Coffee Shops, Cafes, and Diners have been, and will likely always be, my temples of contemplation and revelation.

Practicing private thoughts within a bustling public setting works as a nice balance for my mind and soul.

Recently, I sat in a nearby, faith-based coffee shop/bookstore. The patrons were primarily college students – early twenties – discussing philosophical concepts while intermittently glancing at their screens.

They appeared to be harmonizing secular with sacred, in soft tones of curiosity and respect. Their vocabularies were as vast as our Western horizons, and they punctuated their speech with a potpourri of world languages.

To me, an eavesdropper, their conversations sounded lyrical. Almost like improvisational poetry. I felt inspired being nested in such artful ambience.

The moment pushed me higher.

Caused me to recall my own college days, where as an English major, I was in love with words. With the raw materials of my art form.

In the arms of such purity, I was nearly 20 years old when, during an all-night dormitory pow wow, I was coaxed relentlessly into uttering aloud the “F” word. It was liberating. I suddenly had a new relationship with the word. I was less fearful of its power.

Over time, I’ve dared myself to speak aloud every forbidden word deemed as vulgar or offensive to someone, somewhere.

Several of these words became familiar friends; others remained forbidden from my speech.

Eventually, I became uncomfortable with my free usage of cheap, easy words instead of giving space to speaking with specificity and grace.

People, both public and private, have stood me still with their eloquence, and kept me at attention until I absorbed some essence of their artistry.

Until I remembered my own love of language and admonished myself for loosening grasp on this romance.

Most recently and most powerfully, Michelle Obama sent me back to my origin: “.  .  . when they go low, we go high.” A phrase I’ve internally chanted like a mantra each time I seethe with enough emotional passion to drop verbal bombs of destruction.

I succeed and I fail at this.
I reinstate the mantra.

And rest in the eternal truth that all beings will be accountable for their own actions and reactions. That there is no need to judge, ridicule, or make demeaning statements about others’ efforts.

Engaging in inward seething judgment – a seething that remains either silent or shouts outwardly – actually retards my advancement as a human.

It does nothing to adorn my own consciousness. So why indulge?

Instead, if I can love myself enough to forgive myself, I can far more easily forgive others and dissolve any seething words brewing in my inner vessel.

And, just in case I’m too puny to silence my ugly words, I can always subdue the tendency with the bite of a sweet confection:

Pumpkin Cake - Minus Bite

In this case, a dense, chewy pumpkin cake .  .  . recipe compliments of THESWEETWORLDSITE.

I embellished my version of the cake, but her elegant simplicity is enough to associate me with the power and the glory of beautifully heart-crafted and purified creative language. And remind me of my ever-present choice:

The Sound of Beauty or the Fury of the Beast


My choice; my reckoning.







10 responses »

  1. Sometimes, just listening is the best part. I give my Eng 101 and 102 students an opening assignment to go to a coffee shop and “just listen” — no intruding, no pictures. Then they write a brief report on what they heard and what they think may be going on. But the prime directive is still “no intruding” — this is about watching and listening, not spying. The difference can be subtle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you!
    What a wonderful assignment to give to students. Listening and watching are fine arts, in my opinion, and yes, subtly distinct from spying.
    Wish I’d had such a progressive English professor all those years ago! On the other hand, though, it’s been exciting to discover the possibilities of coffee shop inspiration on my own.
    Kudos to you for a great idea, with many intricate levels of learning woven into it.


    • A lot of people talk about “people watching” but actually doing it, in a non-intrusive, observational mode, is a little trickier. Some folks like to “imagineer” possible scenarios, but my personal rule is that you can only go with what you actually see and hear and can logically deduce from body language. It goes with the territory that most of the time, you’re not going to come up with anything interesting, beyond, “two friends having a pleasant conversation”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well now that you’ve expounded on the details of the assignment, I can see its reduction in creativity. It’s not the way I approach “eavesdropping,” in which I allow coffee shop ambience to filter within me and release any personal memories, revelations, musings, etc. that wish to come to the surface.
    I’m curious. What is your motivation underneath this assignment? What are you trying to tease out of the students, or, just simply, teach them?


    • Good counterpoint. I should note that I didn’t mean to denigrate the “imagineering” side of people-watching; it’s just as interesting and fun. However, for my purposes, I am trying to accomplish two things:

      1) The project serves as a preliminary diagnostic essay (though I don’t tell them that part) to see their individual writing styles in a non-graded, non-threatening composition situation.They don’t have to decide on a topic or flail around answering a prompt like “Describe how you normally spend a Friday night” (“chill out with a Netflix with my boyfriend, cook some ramen and maybe listen to some music…that’s about all”). This also gives me a chance to get the basic ground rules established with my feedback: double-spacing, use a headline, watch out for typos, capitalization, etc.

      2) Give them a situation to practice DESCRIBING something in graphic detail — setting the scene, the clothing, the actions and gestures. Not just “two people sitting at a table drinking coffee,” but “a man, in his early 20s, wearing all-black — from his black Nikes and black no-show socks to his black hat, seems to have a thug-like look, but then I see that he’s ordered a fancy latte and gently stirs it with a spoon, getting up to hold the chair for his companion who is somewhat older, dressed in yoga tights and a colorful brimmed hat; she looks more like a hipster. At first I thought it was just a classmate but she gave him a big kiss and they held hands as they left together.” This will set up the next, graded essay where they’ll have to interview a classmate and give details of their life.

      So I don’t want them to be too creative about what may or may not be happening, but very descriptive, almost journalistic about what they actually see; and of course they can be creative in HOW they describe the scene.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the great clarity of explanation. It’s fascinating to me to peek inside the instructor’s point of view.

    I like the non-threatening aspect of the assignment. I see and feel how it allows one to write with some sense of abandonment, thus expressing one’s honesty of being (as best as anyone is able/willing to do so!).

    The exercise of “describing,” is what I was hoping to hear. Perfect setting, and set up, for observing details and translating visuals into the written word. Lots of creativity can be unleashed in this practice, without stepping into the temptation to write a screenplay.

    Great technique. I appreciate you sharing your intentions!


    • My pleasure. Allowing myself a personal reminiscence, I think I first got interested in the observational aspect was when i was in grad school at the University of Pennsylvania. The beautiful campus walkways were at once secluded and public. I’d sit on a low wall between the Annenberg School and the now notorious Wharton between classes having a sandwich and drinking coffee in pleasant weather. It was the perfect vantage point for watching fellow students come and go, often picking a spot directly opposite me. No one could say I was spying since I was there first, and simply sitting on an ivy’d wall. The couples would ignore me as they met up at this particular intersection and might fight and make up, or meet and simply walk away wordlessly.


        • Being on a college campus three days a week, I’m surprised that I don’t see many, if any, students simply sitting like that. Maybe because it’s a community college where students are only on campus for their particular classes, maybe it’s the personality of CC students, or the personality of students in this part of the city…or maybe just sitting and watching is not in fashion among the 17-21-year-olds.


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