I have always loved road trips, train rides, flights — any travel scenario with a view out the window, affording a thick slice of time for daydreams to unravel in a captive seat.
When I was little, I used to cherish the three-hour drive from home to my aunt and uncle’s house each Thanksgiving. I would plug in my headphones and listen to the same songs on repeat on my hot pink iPod Mini — before that, it was CDs via Walkman, when Walkmen still existed — while watching the scenery swoosh past like a wet oil painting.
I would pretend that I was in a movie. I visualized a camera zoomed in on my musing face while I played out my internal monologue in my head.
It was like a game, imagining life cropped into short, sweet scenes, set to a self-selected soundtrack. In film form, any mood could be contorted to a mellower rendition, captured in recognizable cliches, and toned to match a chosen tune.
But the game always ended the second the car stopped. When the car stopped, life began again: with all of its messy jolts and sloppy spontaneity, sans styling or cropping or background music.
I’m blogging less lately, and I went two days in a row this week without posting anything on Instagram — for me, that was almost a record.
Sometimes, you have to make a choice between finishing a blog post or catching an award-winning brass band from New Orleans in a free, last-minute, once-in-a-lifetime concert in your neighborhood. Sometimes, you have to make a choice between perfecting the setting on the cafe table shared with a friend, tweaking the colors with photo filters, fine-tuning a caption — or sipping the coffee and conversation while they’re still piping hot. Sometimes, you have to make a choice between styling, capturing, and contorting or just, you know, living.
Lately, I choose the concert. I choose piping hot. I choose living in real time.
I’ve stopped ordering lattes. The truth is, I prefer black coffee. Even bad black coffee. The kind you can get from the corner bodega with burnt and gritty grounds at the bottom of the cup. It took me a long time — at least a year — to realize that I was ordering lattes I didn’t even want, just because they looked pretty.
I like pretty things. I like fresh flower bouquets and red lipstick and delicately designed espresso. I like neatly composed table settings and perfectly cropped photos. I like my essays dripping with alliteration like diamonds, with metaphors in shimmering mouthfuls. I like movies that make moods into art.
But there is also an art to authenticity. There is beauty in behind-the-scenes — the shocking sort of beauty that takes you by surprise.
By definition, serendipity strikes only in unplanned places.
While I’m as enamored as the next New Yorker with the lovely ephemerality of heart-laced latte foam, I’m more enchanted by the bokeh in the silver spoons, by the way the spills in the saucer settle into looped layers like tree rings, by the reflections rippling across the curved coffee surface.
Because that’s reality. Most of life is the messy, blurry bits, not the brief moments we contort to pretty. The styled shots — the unsipped lattes, the unsmudged lipstick, the fresh flowers — are the true outtakes, not the other way around.
Real life is not a photo shoot nor film. It’s improv.
Lately, I’m aiming for imperfect on purpose. I’m trying to trust ideas to take their time to percolate, slowly sputtering like coffee brewing. I’m letting art take second string to life, because art is borne of wholehearted living, anyway. I’m savoring everyday comforts, like my café negro from the corner bodega. It just costs $1.50. It isn’t pretty. But it’s piping hot.