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I take my coffee with a splash of ideas

February 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

Coffee? Yes, please. I can’t get enough of it. I. Love. Coffee. I drink it black; good coffee only comes in black. If you’re adding cream, milk or sugar, you’re not drinking coffee. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I think Tim Horton’s and Starbucks do not make good coffee. Good coffee doesn’t come in a pod or a disc. I also like cafe culture. I like visiting, Euphoria, my local coffee shop. I like seeing Phil and Jacqueline; I like the decor – the brick walls, patchwork seats, the art by local artists. I especially like the hole in the wall, where people leave notes for other people to read. I like when I see Jake and Craig, from Moguls, on their break. The fact that I can look out the big windows and see Broadway and watch the world pass by is another reason I like the place so much. I like seeing people I know; I like seeing people I don’t know. I mean, of course, I love coffee shops – I write. Writers and cafes are like paper and pen. For me, cafes conjure up images of post-war Paris, Italy, and Austria where intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries planned, plotted and schemed. 

Recently, while waiting for my coffee at Euphoria, I spotted Clare McCarthy – former teacher, local writer and fellow newspaper columnist. He was reading a book and having himself a cup. I walked over to him and said hello. We talked books, family; he mentioned this column. He told me he read it and added, “I don’t always agree with you; but I enjoy reading them. I often wonder where you get your ideas from.”

It’s the question writers get asked most often. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it a difficult question to answer. Not because there’s some great mystery about it, or a trade secret I’m reluctant to disclose to anyone outside the authorial equivalent of the magic circle (I don’t consider myself to be part of any ‘magic circle’). The truth of the matter is, I’ve never given it much thought. I’ve been writing for so long now, it’s just a part of who I am and what I do. 

If I had to come up with something, I’d say that, simply put, to find an idea, I just put myself out in the world, make sure I’m alert, alive, aware and awake to everything around me. I make sure I find the space – physically and mentally – for me to think, listen, scour, to ruminate. I’ve gone days without hearing the sound of my own voice, spent days living inside my own head, constructing, deconstructing, thinking about things, life, family, students, strangers, gestures, smells, colors and sounds. I like to think; I like to walk; I like talking to strangers. I see opportunities for stories everywhere – you just have to know where, and how, to look (the how part is the most difficult part). Some people go to the bar, movies, hang out with friends. I like to frequent the Solitude Cafe. 

Robertson Davies liked to tell young writers that the worst thing they could do was quit their day job. The workplace is rife with potential ideas. I’ve been a high school English teacher for 18 years. My first two books came to me from some of the experiences that occurred during that time. The idea for my first book came to me after a young boy committed suicide; he was in grade 9. The idea for my second book was triggered by a student of mine, after she interrupted my lesson to ask a question:

“Sir?”

“Yeah?”

“Is it too late?”

“Too late for what?

“To save the world.”

I was gob smacked; I didn’t know what to say. Instead, I spent the next six years writing my response; I called it ‘These People and Other Stories’. 

In the end, ideas are just an excuse for me to play with words – to play, think and dance with them. I love words; breathe words, the letters that make them up, like D, N and A – are a part of me. I write because words make me happy; I don’t write to be read or liked; if I did, then writing would be an exercise in vanity. I also find ideas in words themselves, words so beautiful, chaotic that I want to touch them, taste them, shape them like putty. I like the shape of words- the way the word dog looks like a dog; bed looks like a bed; the way the word ‘look’ glares at me. 

Words are so much more than the letters that comprise them. William Gass wrote that ‘words are modules of consciousness’. Words make me giddy. Words let me play with rhythm on a page – rhythm that I can’t express out on the dancefloor. Gass also wrote: “It’s not the word made flesh we want in writing, in poetry and fiction, but the flesh made word”. I have no idea what he means by that, but I’ll spend hours trying to figure it out. Ideas also come out of chaos and confusion. 

In the end, ideas define who and what we are. They shape the way we think and see our place in the universe. Ideas are the beginning and end of everything. A good idea is like a good cup of coffee: it energizes you, keeps you awake, moves you and has you looking forward to the next one — even before you’re finished with the current one. 

I have a confession to make: until I walked into Euphoria the other day; until I ordered my coffee and sat down with Clare for a little chat; until Clare asked me “where do you get your ideas from?” I had no idea what this column was going to be about. It was Clare that gave me the idea for this piece. Clare, if you’re reading this, whether or not you agree or disagree with what I have to say, the next time you visit Euphoria for a coffee, it’s on me. 



         

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