There’s a dainty little café in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco where often I make an attempt at writing. It took me about three visits to discover they had an outdoor patio in the back, and that small courtyard has become one of my favorite spots in the city. Usually it’s pretty packed out there, and I’m lucky just to find a seat, let alone an entire table for myself. The only one there with a journal, a pen, and my one Apple device resting cozily and silently in my bag, I’m able to concentrate in that outdoor space and form full thoughts on occasion without much distraction.
One day during a large music festival that I passed on this year, I was over the moon to find the back patio completely deserted. Like a bachelor on a game show, I had a lineup of fine-lookin’ tables, but the burden of choice receives no pity. Minutes after I sat down and dove into sketching an outline for my next ode to old movies, a woman approached me and asked if I was in the middle of anything important. I thought, “Well, I’m writing about Florenz Ziegfield with an actual pen in an actual journal, so, my dear madam, would you kindly name something that you would classify as ‘more important’ than that?” But I decided to hold back on the sass, since the woman had a genuinely kind smile and didn’t look like she was after my wallet (she’d only walk away with three bucks and my blog business cards, but hey, maybe the Hayes Valley pickpockets have some connections!). I answered with a courteous smile, “No, I’m just doing some scribbling.”
I’ve mastered the “stranger in a café” banter by now, so I assumed the woman was going to ask me to watch her bags while she used the little girls’ room or grabbed some coffee. Maybe those of us who write in journals radiate a similar we-won’t-steal-your-wallet-or-laptop vibe. But no, as soon as I assured her I was far from reaching an important stage of writing, the woman sighed happily and said, “Oh good; I just need to test something quickly.” She opened a small case and pulled out a few shiny objects that within seconds banded together to become a flute. A few notes turned into a giddy little tune, and for two minutes she had an audience of one, while I had my own private outdoor concert.
When she finished, I asked her if she played for the San Francisco Symphony, as it was only a few blocks away from the café. “Oh gosh, no,” the woman replied. “I play in that park up the street. The kids and the dogs love it.” She said she used to dream of playing professionally, but apparently a house of kids and a day-job that has completely consumed her life never allowed her the time. Before I could gather the words to give her the pep talk that everyone has been giving me in the last few weeks, the woman packed up and thanked me for allowing her to interrupt my day. A brief moment permitted me to tell her it was a lovely non-interruption, and we said our goodbyes.
Overall my taste in the arts tends to mimic that of a 70-year-old Jewish woman, so we’re all safe in assuming that I’m unfamiliar with current music. Any discussion about music that involves me and a close friend is prone to have “oh, do you know who that is?” as its second or third sentence. Lest I be accused of not knowing the words to any song released after 1989, I present as Exhibit A my love for the British duo known as Goldfrapp. Accompanied by musician Will Gregory, Alison Goldfrapp has a soothing voice that I’ve enjoyed over the years, and I’ve been fortunate to see her perform live three times. Yet she has never performed what’s been my cream-of-the-crop song from the 2008 album Seventh Tree, a song that I have had on constant repeat for the last few days. Goldfrapp has told me repeatedly to dream, dream, because it’s not too late. I should take my time and see the signs on the road to somewhere. The song “Road to Somewhere” is a beautiful song with a beautiful title, but after 20 or 30 plays, still I can’t seem to listen.
A few days ago, another fine company turned me down for a job . . . a job that had an online listing lifted directly from the pages of my résumé. If you choose to believe such things, the universe is undoubtedly guilty of sending us mixed messages. I’ve come closer than spitting distance (um, ewww?) to new jobs, but as the rejections begin to pile up, my friends and a few strangers, bless their hearts, have all begun telling me the same thing: “You’re doing everything right.” I’ve heard this sentence at least four times in the last month, because they all know how much I hope to learn and evolve and challenge myself in a new work environment. With potential employers, I’ve made it from emails to phone calls to second phone calls to in-person interviews to second in-person interviews, but the time for change is not right yet.
We’re a generation stuck at a dirty truck stop alongside the road, somewhere near the three cities of “Yes,” “No,” and “Get Your Hopes Up.” But hey, at least the car stereo still works and there’s a pretty great album in the armrest. This week’s lesson: when life throws lemons directly at your head and you can’t find a juicer, try to find a cheerful flautist – she may know a few bars of Goldfrapp.