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  • Colin Phelan

Revisiting "The Coffeehouse" One Year Later




As we continue to grapple with and reel from the global pandemic, the world and its people seem to have entered a new era. Many global events continue to startle us; at times it feels hard to keep track of or to get a grip on the ramifications of our persistently changing lives.



For many, me included, there exists a persistent state of anxiousness as we try to grapple with such changes, make amends, and navigate towards a better future.


Yet, amidst this continued chaos, many people are dedicating themselves to their creative callings. It’s amazing to see all the wonderful work people are producing in their spare time and how – likely set in motion by the pandemic – people are redefining themselves and sharing their visions of our world. I do believe that we are living in an artistic renaissance; everyone has a voice inside them urging creation and introspection: to paint, to sing, to dance, to write, to photograph, to make laughter. The inspiring artistic litany is endless.


In July 2022, I wrote a poem called “The Coffeehouse” (below) in which I discuss how it is our duty to utilize social media platforms in similar ways that19th and 20th century coffeehouses allowed people to share and hear visions and ideas about the world. I ended up adding the poem to the end of The Local School as it synthesized some of the messages I tried to communicate through the book. Moreover, largely set within India, in the book I discuss the history of these venues in the Indian context and how, although British-introduced, these coffeehouses ironically became places in which Indian freedom fighters honed their ideas and negotiations for independence.


Despite me and maybe others longing for the charming historical mainstay that was the Coffeehouse, we now in a different world ; for coffeehouses to make a resurgence and play host to unfettered debate, discussion, and sharing seems, although wonderful, unrealistic.


Yet, we do have the tool of social media at our fingertips, and, although different in design, the concept is, or at least can be, the same. The more deliberately I use social media, the more I realize that it can in fact be utilized as a coffeehouse; when I scroll aimlessly, which I certainly do on occasion, I fail to see or engage with the achievements, ideas, and visions of our human community.


On the other hand, when I carve out time for social media – just as I carve out time to sleep, eat, read, exercise, work – I am inspired by the innovations and new ideas expressed within my network and beyond. Just as the mediums for expression are endless, so are the accomplishments, pursuits, and worldviews of many people. The Coffeehouse.



If you want to give the full poem a read, I’ve attached it below: And as I wrote above, it’s also in The Local School, so you could also buy yourself or a friend a copy if you like the message and want to support my work.


Closing poem from The Local School


We need

A coffeehouse


To: my generation,

And the generation above,

And the one below.


We are in desperate need

Of a place for public discussion,

A public forum.


Gradually stripped of our soul,

Of our right and ability to think,

We take to, and are manipulated by

The technologies at our fingertips.


Social media surely has utility,

Of course it does,

But we are all learning

How to effectively use it in moderation.


We are headed down a dark path,

And have been for a while.

We need conversation,

Real conversation,

Conversation like,

And don’t call me a luddite for this,

Conversation like the old days.


We are in desperate need of a coffeehouse.

No, not a Starbucks or a Dunkin,

A not-for-profit place

To gather,

Phones placed in lockers upon entrance,

Cheap Coffee

Or Tea

Or water,

Whatever you please.

I’ll repeat, cheap.


Tables, lots of them.

A perimeter lined with people

Demonstrating and articulating their cause

And their beliefs;

Opposite them, maybe someone whose convictions

Fall on the other side of the (aisle) room.


Or aspirant artists, promoting their writing

Or painting,

Or voice.


A place with a balcony,

Providing a bird’s-eye view

For the newcomer, the intimidated

But brave soul

Who wants engagement

And personal betterment.


We all know we need it.

And the youth, we need to rectify

Our mistakes, our excessive consumption,

Of, what a friend so accurately pointed out this evening,

Many of today’s ‘content creators’

Are in fact creating the opposite of real content,

Often stripped of value

And help.


We never seem to learn from our mistakes,

We continuously eat the junk food,

For our heart, tummies, and mind;

Manipulated,

Let’s stand up.


True democracy,

And our humanity,

Dies when we are trapped,

Unable to comfortably express our

Thoughts and opinions,

Our voices.


We all,

At least allegedly,

Had revelations last year.

Bound to our homes,

Stuck with our thoughts,

Within our deepest depths,

We recognized the things we

Need to change,

And many of us made vows that we would.


In the past,

A wake-up call, global pandemics,

Have yielded:

Following the Black Death,

The Renaissance;

And the Spanish Flu,

The roaring 20s around the globe.


We need encouragement,

We need to follow up

On our promises,

And follow through

With ourselves:


A coffeehouse.

Like the ones which the British spread

Through their colonies,

But ironically became places

Where such colonies hatched

And supported

Ideas for independence;

Unadulterated, collaborative, productive

Thoughts.


Nowadays it seems

We all strive to return

To the office,

Remembering those days when,

And many have heard this logic by now,

Instead of sending an email,

One would

Run down the hall,

Knock,

Or just open a door,

Bursting with an idea,

A critique,

Some feedback,

Or encouragement.

So then why,

Have we not yet come to our senses,

About the need for true discussion

Out of the workplace?


A coffeehouse,

A place fostering

Our desperate need for thought,

And bravery

To where students,

And adults,

And vendors,

And peddlers,

And all,

All flock,

To share,

To see,

To hear,

To form

Oneself

And

Another.

This comes to me

Now.

That the coffeehouse is actually at

Our fingertips

We just need

To learn

To use it.



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