I was a regular at my neighborhood bookstore coffee shop in Washington, DC. My usual routine involved going to the coffee shop, and ordering a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese and a double skim latte with a shot of sugar free vanilla. Most mornings, I would arrive, sit my stuff down at my table, walk to the counter to place my order, then return to my table to set up my lap top and prepare to write. Most mornings, a man with a brown fedora and black trench coat would sit at the table directly behind me. His grey hair and ponytail indicated flare and wisdom. The depth of his smile alone could tell a story that would make me yearn for a grander life. This particular morning, he asked me to plug his power cord in to the outlet which was directly by my feet. I had just gotten back to my table with my bagel and coffee in hand. I turned around and smiled when he asked. I then took the cord and plugged it in. I think the real reason he talked to me was because I had proven a certain amount of seriousness by showing up at the coffee shop to write on so many mornings. He did not talk to just anyone who wandered in with a lap top. The power cord provided an entry into a conversation
He asked what I was working on. I told him a collection of essays that I eventually saw as a memoir. I briefly explained, but was immediately more interested in his story. He was surrounded by note cards, journals, manila envelopes, books, and paper. He was the picture of artistic process. I asked if he was a writer. He said, in fact, he was a writer. I asked what he wrote. He said all kinds of books. He told me he was currently working on a book about Marcus Aurelius. He had a contract for a series of slasher novels, which he wrote under a pen name, and had just finished one of those. He was deeply interested in Stoic philosophy, and felt compelled to explore that tradition through writing about Aurelius. He had just fired his agent. He was working on a proposal to write a book about Desire. As he described his work, it seemed there were books he wrote out of love, and books he wrote to make a living. That made sense to me, as someone who wrote evaluations of Federal programs to feed my stomach and essays to feed my soul.
I was in the presence of a real life writer. He had book contracts. He had written books. He had books he intended to write. His eyes twinkled as he talked about Stoic philosophy. His passion for his subject seemed particularly writeresque and artistic to me. Our conversation filled my soul with hope. He actually was what I could become. In a world where no one makes a living as a writer, especially a writer writing about Stoic philosophy, he did. It is a true gift to be given a glimpse of the possible. I longed for the rhythm of his days without even knowing the logistics. I wanted my own corner table in a coffee shop with the smell of espresso and the morning light streaming in over the keyboard. The mythic and elusive writer’s life became a bit more real to me as we talked that morning.