Mar 11, 2015

Ode to the Caffe Mediterraneum

It troubles me that, after years of studying ancient Rome, and several concerted efforts to spell it correctly, I invariably misspell and must look up "Mediterranean" and its cognates.

I am slowly coming to appreciate the effect that my environment has on my workflow. When analyzed, it makes sense – the pathway is quite clear: the environment I'm in affects my state of mind, and my state of mind affects both my level of focus and my desire to work, both of which bear heavily on my workflow and output.

This is not to say that my workflow is determined by my environment. There are many factors: immediate personal history, current physical health, current mental health, current conception of the importance of the work to be done, etc. But I am sometimes amazed at what wonders a change in scene will work.

One of my favorite places to work is the Caffe Mediterraneum (where I am typing this now). It is a place for misfits – refugee college students, old men with their newspapers, another type of old men equipped with very thick books and scribble pads, Berkeley kids immersed in video games, the internet, or their favorite old men.

I often feel like a misfit. When I'm at the Mediterraneum, I still feel like a misfit, but a misfit in safe harbor. Everybody is odd here, odd in a way without phoniness, and all that is asked of Caffe participants is a gentleness of manner and and a quiet respect for the eccentric pursuits of others.

The Med is a dirty place (filthy, in some corners, by some standards). It isn't contrived dirt, nobody was going for a look. No, it is the sort of dirt that comes from decades of staying the same. There have been efforts to combat this slow slide, you can appreciate the results of some of these campaigns, but the overall trend is towards grime and dust.

The dirt doesn't bother me. The dirt is part of the allure. Besides, the important parts (tabletop, toilet seat) are quite clean, though in close proximity to some of the roughest parts (tablebottom, every other part of the bathroom). And the coffee is tasty.

So here I find myself, amid the eccentricities and filth, very ready to work. Tasks come easily, everything is organized in a "ready-to-go" way and the execution is simple. It is feeling like a maestro over her orchestra, well-prepared and confident that the music will carry itself out through the imperfect players assembled. The imperfections of the players are not absent, no, they are readily apparent, but the thing will be done well regardless.

This sensation was entirely absent just hours ago, as I sat at my desk by my bed, in my quiet room that I like very much. There, my imperfections ruled, and this computer was a device fit only for entertainment and light reading, and very poorly suited for serious work.

So I credit the Med, its dirt, its participants, and their eccentricities. It provides a staging for a change of scene; a destination for a much-needed journey that shook the dust off my mind.

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