Caribou & Creativity

white ceramic cup with brown liquid on brown wooden table
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I like to write in public; sometimes. Writing at Caribou (not the animal: the coffee shop) is my favorite. Here in Middle America we can be territorial about our Caribou Coffee shops. This tribal quality can be heard in expressions like : “Their coffee isn’t bitter; like Starbucks.” “Their mints and mugs and drink-ware are waaaay better than Starbucks.” “The atmosphere is superior to Starbucks.” And… “They were founded in Minnah-Sota! Don-cha know!?”

We are suspicious of coastal trends. However, if Minnesotans want to over charge us for hot water over dried beans, we are not only good with it–we gladly support our own. As for me I am still avoiding caffeine and stick to their peppermint tea. So coffee aside, Caribou Coffee had me at their chalkboards.

Each day an employee writes a new question, like ‘what motivates you?’ Or ‘who is someone you find inspiring’? Or ‘what do you like most about school starting up again?’ and they invite their customers to write out their thoughts in colored chalk all around the question. I love to read what others have written while waiting for my tea. I love to see when someone gets creative with the chalk and lettering, making the entire board into a work of art. I love to respond myself (if my reply isn’t already taken). And my phone has snapped photos of some memorable responses. There are even Caribou Coffee Chalkboards on Pinterest. You come in alone but you read the chalkboard and become part of a community with everyone who bothered to pick up the chalk that day. It doesn’t get more hometown than that.

On a typical afternoon there are the regulars. (A group of retired men who huddle for hours on the leather chairs by the fireplace). There are people conducting business transactions or launching new ventures. There are women meeting to visit and pray. There is a familiar man in a scruffy sweatshirt who might be homeless. I once watched an employee bring him free food samples. I’ve even seen young men studying the Bible and preparing sermon notes.

The parking lot is overflowing. The drive-thru never lets up. The blender mixing frappes is just loud and frequent enough to prevent constant eavesdropping, fostering a feeling of public privacy.

It is popular, faith-filled, and creative. It smells lovely. People are very friendly. It is Middle America and so we do nice very well here. Yet when I catch the eye of someone I think I might know, or who thinks they might know me — their eye goes to my open laptop just as mine return there too. They might nod but they rarely invade with a brief hello. Boundaries are respected when they perceive you are working. (We have a strong work ethic here).

However…When I’m meeting a girlfriend for a visit we are quite likely to be interrupted several times by people we know. Or by someone who knows someone whom one of us might know in order to talk about another person entirely; who is related to that other person… as see, the poor soul just had a cancer diagnoses…or what have you. It isn’t really gossip. It’s passing along information for prayer and other purposes.

Caribou has become the small town cafe of years gone by. Oh we still have some of those little cafes around town as well. I guess, where I live, a lot of people just like gathering places. And we keep them going by actually gathering there. Often.

I’ve recognized through research and sharing my story, that many people who are abuse survivors are extremely creative. We are also very sensitive to smells and outside stimuli; hence our environments are quite important to us. We waver between periods of reclusiveness and lots of social activity.

I fit all those descriptions.  Usually I like to create and write things alone. With bed head and a bathrobe and strong chamomile tea (which they do not sell at Caribou, but I’m hoping they might start soon). There are other times that I find it necessary to make myself fancy and head to a place where the buzz of energy puts me into a writing zone faster than anything.

And there is definitely a buzz of energy in a room filled with people who are working or surfing or who-knows-what on laptops, amidst a whole bunch of others who appreciate good conversation, religious debates, and/or entrepreneurial ideas (I’ve overheard many business pitches). It is also one of the places that helps me overcome my lingering social anxiety and my great hunger for love and acceptance. I have always felt safe there, even though it is very busy and very public.

As someone who survived many forms of familial abuse, including incest, it goes a bit deeper too. I think that what I appreciate most about taking my computer to Caribou, or meeting a friend there for a leisurely visit and cup of something sweet– is the feeling of ‘place’. It is a welcome feeling after so many years of feeling dis-placed.