I was talking to a doctor friend the other day, telling him a story that involved a guitar player I met at Starbucks. The doctor, a man who spends his time fixing children in hospitals, asked me how that works. How do people with books and computers and cell phones actually meet each other in coffee shops?
It’s a good question, and not one that I would have been able to answer before moving to Chicago, which will eventually be the key to my response.
I don’t regularly make friends in the coffee shop or on the street or in the park…except when I’m traveling.
When I travel, I am 100% open to anything and anyone. If the Ecuadorian taxi driver wants to take my boyfriend and me to the Casa del Arbol on top of our hotel’s volcano, we go. If the local Spaniard wants to tell me every single detail about his town’s bullring, I ask more questions, just to keep him talking. If the sweet man listening to a busker on Granville Island’s wharf wants to share the occasional glance and short observation with me, I sit patiently until he does it again. It’s the traveler’s mentality. Nothing is trivial and every person is an opportunity for human interaction.
I love it.
When I moved to Chicago, local friends shook their heads at me when I said, “everyone is so nice here!” I felt silly for a moment because maybe I was missing something and Chicagoans weren’t really very nice. All the evidence I had collected supported my case, though.
Here’s the reason, as best I can tell: I was acting like a tourist. I was 100% open, and people responded kindly.
So, that’s my answer. When you approach life as though you are merely a traveler, you meet nice folks in coffee shops.
I didn’t go to away-camp as a kid. I had enough brothers around to terrorize me, take me to swim lessons and choir practice, and convince me to go hang out with the neighbor girl, all of which kept me adequately occupied. It was awesome. And most importantly: it wasn’t school.
Now that I’m big, I find myself seeking out away-camp and, yes, school. This morning, in between singing and hearing other people sing, I listened to early music soprano Ellen Hargis talk about rhetoric. Oh, and in Vancouver. It was delightful. We’re going to talk more about it and other lofty ideals later in the week. I can’t wait. I’m staying in a dorm and bought a plastic bowl and plate for $2 at the Safeway so I could eat my cheese sandwiches and yogurt in the shared kitchen. I guess years and perspective have made these once tedious rituals a delight. I will get homesick and long for my iron skillet and fresh herbs, but by then my 2 weeks at the Vancouver Early Music Vocal Programme will be nearly over and I’ll be off to my next adventure: moving to Chicago.
Away-camp lets our multi-tasking minds be singularly focused for awhile. I guess it’s like a sabbatical. It takes a couple of days to shed the other voices: “Where ARE you going to live when you move to Chicago? Should you start job searching immediately? Email folks about auditions? When are you going to arrange that promised 45-minute Ring for UAO?” Once those voices start slipping away, though, I figure they leave behind some space in our heads.
After a long and busy, busy semester, it’ll be nice to just think about one thing. I feel more room in my brain already.
One of the things occupying my brain this semester:
Valencienne’s Can-Can in Merry Widow at Muddy River Opera
I almost felt like it was a professional development workshop when I arrived at the base of the Washington Monument this past Saturday. I huffed and puffed and looked in front of me and behind me at My Nation’s Capital and thought, “Wow, I feel patriotic right about now.” And then I remembered that I get to sing the National Anthem again, and soon.
The thought accompanied me as I ran the 5k back to my friends’ house in Capital Hill.
As I inch towards the mic this Saturday morning before a bunch of people who are Pedaling the Cause, I’ll surely hold that view and feeling in my mind…and then I’ll sing about it. Not a bad hour of professional development, eh?