Friday, July 4, 2008

The Third Place

In the You've Got Mail DVD, director/writer Nora Ephron discusses in passing Starbucks as a place that is neither home nor office but that surged on its own wings to the heights of a location that so many people consider familiar and use for activities that were once exclusively relegated to either the home or the office. Starbucks as a Third Place, as she says.

This applies to me entirely, even though I find that the coffee shop, be this Starbucks, Costa, Nero, Republic, or your local one that doesn't know what an espresso is and pours lukewarm watery instant from an old glass carafe, usually works very well in concentrating the mind of many people. While I often see business people out for meetings at Starbucks, I equally often see creative people drawing and writing in their journals. I am one of those that uses Starbee Time, as a call it, to get myself into a trance where I right all of my working wrongs, and where the Concentration Muse descends upon me as soon as I put the caramel macchiato down and sit at the table. This is another reason why I usually prefer to go to Starbucks unaccompanied; my brain is hard-wired into it being a place of writing work and I cannot work if I am to entertain company.

Twyla Tharp refers to such a place in The Creative Habit, where she talks about rituals that get the creative habit into gear:

" In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn't scare you, doesn't shut you down. It should make you want to be there and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that's habit-forming.

All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: when you enter into them, they impel you to get started. [...] It's Pavlovian: follow the routine, get a creative payoff."

That's it. Starbucks it is for me. The weird thing is that when I first read Twyla's book some time ago, I wistfully sighed, wishing for my very own creative ritual, for a third place that automatically instills concentration and the creative trance as soon as I flip the switch. I already had it and did not even know. We cannot force ourselves to find the third place that naturally becomes our creative place, the locus of work that is automatic, spontaneous and trance-like, but we can experiment during our quest for it.

I certainly tried to create routines for myself over the years and found that the conscious effort never paid off. I was struggling to concentrate and once concentrated, I was struggling to stay that way. Take my study for example, a room that I have furnished and painted with the sole purpose of promoting intellectual pursuits and relaxation, usually a combo that yields good writing results, at least as far as I am concerned. I cannot work in the study. I loathe the place (as I already mentioned here).

Yet, I don't have rational reasons to hate it. It just works that way. Similarly, I have no particular reasons to fall into a trance at Starbucks, it just happens. Significantly, it doesn't happen in all coffee shops I visit. The one in Wilmslow is the one that I consider my creative hole. And I'll tell you something peculiar about this: most of these posts I have made over the past few months were all drafted in my mind while at the Third Place, thoughts and ideas rampaging in my head as people were coming and going with their java and I did not even notice them. It just works. What's your third place?
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