A Large Iced Latte… And A Weekly Dose of Sanity

And add a dollop of creativity on the side please…

Some may think that 4.2 euros (5.8 USD) is an outrageous price for a diluted (tasteless?) espresso, some milk and ice cubes, for commercial music in an anonymous place that looks the same all across the world… I normally agree (I’m not very knowledgeable in coffee), but I confess having a soft spot for Starbucks anyway, because their iced latte in the lobby of my office building in Beijing was the only thing that kept me going under the sweltering Chinese weather on over-busy days. Yes, I may be one of the few people for whom Starbucks actually reminds them of China and not of the U.S.: a weird side of globalization for sure!

It’s been 2 saturdays afternoon in a row that I found refuge in a Starbucks near Boulevard Haussmann: while the baby is in his father’s care, I spend 2 hours with a large iced latte, writing away… I haven’t really progressed on my short stories, but I have written so much in my diary lately, probably because things are rather hectic in my life since Baby Smithereens’ birth and I need time to reflect on the events. Mr. Smithereens offered this break because he thought that returning back to work would be too difficult if I staid 24/7 with the baby. He thought that I would go on a big shopping spree… Yet all I spend is 4 euros and I have a wonderful time by myself! (I am considering bringing my computer with me, but it’s not something Parisians seem to do here and for the time being I am quite happy with writing longhand on nice stationery)

I found that I am quite unable to write at home during my maternity leave… The baby asks for a lot of attention and whenever he’s napping, I feel the urge to catch up on all the house chores (if not necessarily reaching perfect cleanliness and order, at least paying bills on time and stocking up on frozen dishes, not to mention never ever being short of nappies). Whenever I am home looking at him, the urge to write stories takes the back seat and I have a nagging voice in my head: are these stories good enough, is it worthwhile to devote time to write stories when I could / should be playing with my son?

Guilt takes so many forms in motherhood: I don’t feel guilty to go back to work as it will enable me to bring money home for him and us all, but writing seems such a pointless, egoist activity compared to the rest. I’m just learning how to be a mother, and in the middle of this my flitting identity as a writer threatens to disappear altogether. Let’s be honest, I don’t write so much and my attempts at being published haven’t been very successful so far (except for one story). I’m not going to be the one writing The Big Novel and seeing the 700+ new books published this fall in France, I’m not sure about this all. My writing is not really important to anyone but me, and now is the time to make hard choices and decide how I want to spend my very precious time.

For the moment, Starbucks iced latte was a powerful weapon against self-doubt and I came home not exactly rested but surely more peaceful and happier. I don’t know if I will feel the same once I’ll spend the week at the office, but it was nice so far.

And if you’re wondering why I don’t spend these 2 hours in one of those quaint, traditional Parisian cafes and terrasses that tourists from all over the world come to visit and envy us, don’t ask. It would theoretically be cheaper, but thanks to the notoriously rude (alright, stressed-out) waiters, I wouldn’t be able to stay as long as I want, I would have to re-order and also take their glares and jokes (yes, it’s not only against foreigners, they do it against locals too!!). Sometimes anonymous, cafeteria-style, globalized big brands are nice!

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2 thoughts on “A Large Iced Latte… And A Weekly Dose of Sanity

  1. I remember so very well that sense of guilt and wondering whether I’d ever get anything done again. It DOES get better and you do get a little more time to yourself. The first best thing to happen that you can look forward to is the baby going to sleep from 7 in the evening onwards. A lot of babies do this (particularly if you encourage them) and having a quiet evening to yourself is blissful. You’ll probably be more tired than you realise too, and it’s hard to be creative like that. I think that sitting quietly in a cafe when you have some time is an excellent thing to do – very restorative!

  2. Creativity and fatigue have never worked together for me – for some people this is the opposite, they get incredible, fantastic work done especially when over-tired. I think its wonderful that Mr. Smithereens suggested the two hours on Saturday, what a thoughtful idea, and even if you’re not sure you should be writing (I’ve read your work, so I hope you do keep writing!) the time spent off on your own must be divine.

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