One tradition that my friend Asia and I have adopted is to go out to various little cafes to read, write, and talk about all manner of things. We have a variety of favorite places to go, so here is where I get to show off the non-brand-name places to have absolutely beautiful study hours.
One of my perennial favorites is the Bourgeois Pig, on the North Side of Chicago. It's a marvelous little student diner that used to be an antique shop, so not only does it have a small, homey atmosphere to it, it also has an upstairs area with tiny tables, overstuffed couches, and a fireplace, with wonky faux haute couture French decorations.
One I rather recently discovered is Bridgeport Coffee House, which is fairly close to campus and really good for getting quality coffee and tea, fair trade, at a good dollar-for-quality trade. Also lovely atmosphere, and the servers are super friendly, although I feel I have an obligation outstanding to defend Their Eyes Were Watching God from one I met there who despises the book.
Another one that I am just starting to get into is Noble Tree Coffee and Tea, a fantastic North Side cafe with killer drinks and food, free wifi, and three stories to spread yourself across and do your thing. It's such a shame it's not open past 11 pm.
Last but not least, the best 24-hour place I have discovered (besides the Starbucks up north, but I'm not doing brand names) is Clarke's on Belmont, which has bottomless coffee and pop music in the background all night long. It's really the coffee and the 24-hour service that pulls me there; it's a cheap way to spend a coffee-fueled night of studying, which is what I did last night. Which brings me to the more interesting parts of that combination.
In between reading Plato's Republic (him) and writing an essay on Carson McCuller's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (me), we had all sorts of whacked out discussions (getting increasingly more excited the more coffee we consumed), but two things stick out in my mind. One, the idea of people and how they are put together in terms of their personalities and thought patterns. I really love Virginia Woolf's diary where she describes her characters as "fragile webs of contradictions," and that's really how I think people's minds work: all these different voices and emotions going on at once, being somehow unified into a single person, who may or may not be aware of this process. Asia has an idea for a dialogue exploring this by having two people facing each other on stage and having a conversation, but each of these people is made up of ten different actors all talking or expressing emotion at the same time. This may sound discordant, but we would arrange it so that each thought is coherent while at the same time expressing the range and variety of impulses and emotions that go into a statement. It would be a wonderful exploration of the human mind. We're still working this out; perhaps it will be a Writing Week project.
The other topic we got really hung up on was the idea of love and hate. We have different working definitions of love, but we were discussing the idea of love as a complete interest in the other person, not necessarily having to do with attraction, but rather a complete and mutual baring of each other's mind and soul in a relationship being the expression of love. That fell into place for me with what McCullers was saying about love, but also my concerns about that kind of relationship, because if it isn't mutual, it can be a terrible thing. McCullers writes: "Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare the beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain." Now, the bareness between two lovers can be a beautiful thing, if both people want it and they understand each other (because for me, love springs from a certain understanding of another person, and seeing that person as a fellow human being). However, when one person has that love, they crave its reciprocation, and when it isn't respected or returned, that is where negative feelings like anger and hate come up. Now, the important part is that hate isn't the opposite of love (that's apathy). Rather, hate comes from fear and thwarted desires, from a violation of trust with someone you care about. (It also comes from objectification, but that's another issue altogether). This is the difficulty with lovers: finding that mutual feeling and being on the same level.
There was also a great deal of this conversation dedicated to sexuality, but that will be for another time. These are by no means my final thoughts on love, but it is a subject I have been reading a great deal about lately and pondering. The best thing about late night coffee sessions isn't necessarily the amount of work I get done, but the kind of thinking I do and the things I learn and talk about with others. Last night was certainly my ideal alternative to sleeping wasted hours away.