When to retreat…REALLY???


taking it all in

by Kenneth Justice

~ “It just seems so strange to me that people simply start talking to you at coffee shops….and you’re trying to tell me you don’t start the conversations?” asked the mid fortyish woman sitting next to me at coffee yesterday.

“Not usually…. and actually,” I said, “You were the one who struck up the conversation with me twenty minutes ago

The woman got a serious look on her face as though she thought I was trying to lie to her…but after a moment her lips erupted into a smile and laughter, “You’re right Kenneth, I did…..didn’t I? I turned over to you and asked you what kind of laptop you have because I had never seen one like it before, and then I asked you what type of work you do on it” she said

People want to connect. That is what I was talking about with the woman and her Italian friend who was seated at her table…..the two of them had been sitting next to me sharing a coffee together when randomly the one woman leaned over to me and started asking me about my laptop……and the computer questions led to us talking about dogs (I have two) and then somehow the conversation morphed into community and connection.

People want to connect. I think few people would disagree that our day-and-age is marked by a lack of connection;

—)  the average person in the United States doesn’t know their neighbors

—) many people see therapists to simply have someone to talk to

—) ‘loneliness’ is at an all time high in the Western World

Part of the reason that social networks like Facebook have taken off like a firestorm is the thirst that people have to connect with each other. In a world where people are starved for connection; even though Facebook and Twitter have flaws in their ability to connect us to each other….the little connection they do offer becomes a big deal to many people.

Twenty one years ago I began hanging out at coffee shops, so for me; I never really thought about the dynamics of strangers talking to strangers over coffee. I guess I assumed this was standard fare for the whole coffee house culture……..and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered how interesting people find it that strangers enjoy talking with strangers at coffee.

I’ve always been a solitary person. Immersing myself in books at a very young age I’ve always preferred the company of a good book over a good conversation….and perhaps that is a flaw in my character. I have to make a conscious effort to sit down with my loved ones and friends and ask them ‘how is your day going?’…….perhaps it doesn’t help that I have a lot of responsibility in life; work, family obligations, and more…….that I tend to spend too much time thinking about being alone. If I’m not careful, I could let a whole week or month go by where I spend the overwhelming majority of my time alone.

Thus, for much of my adult life I have had to learn how to be sensitive to my loved ones and friends; knowing when I need to spend time with them and knowing when I need to retreat into my study and books to be alone. It’s a balancing act that I haven’t yet learned to master.

I have a couple really close friends that go back to my late teen years. Although we are separated by long distances….we call each other regularly…..daily actually. If I’m not careful, I can find that I just spent up to three or four hours on one phone call with a friend. I really enjoy the phone conversations; partly because these friends have become so engrained into my life that I consider them my brothers…….however, even with my closest friends I have to be aware of my limits; I need to make sure I leave plenty of time in the day for myself because if I don’t I know from past experience that my mental faculties will begin to wear thin…..I easily get worn out emotionally and intellectually.

In 7 days I begin what will be one of the biggest journey’s of my life. I hope to visit more than 100 coffee shops in 10 countries, and 25 U.S. States in the coming year. Connecting with readers, fellow bloggers, and all of the strangers that come across my path is both an exciting prospect and one that fills me with a little trepidation. For someone who started out this life with a love of books and being alone……I find it rather odd that this is where I find myself all these years later.

People want to connect. The success (or failure) of my Drinking in the Culture Tour lies at the feet of my hypothesis that there is something engrained into our being which drives us to connect with each other. I believe we are social creatures. I believe we enjoy community and connection……..and I believe we live in a day-and-age where more of us need to learn how to connect with each other in real life….not simply over the Internet.

There is something about the magic of touch. Of embracing another human being in a hug. I’m not talking about the sexual intimacy that two lovers experience. I’m taking about the wonder of real life connection that two human beings experience when they shake hands, reach their arms out into a hug…..or feel a warm smile from across the room. There are some things that the Internet can’t reproduce.

There is something about enjoying a good conversation over a cup of coffee….which reminds me,


(P.S. If you haven’t heard I’m going on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee houses in 2014 check out my link for the news and stay tuned for dates and locations <link>



Categories: Culture & Society

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67 replies

  1. That’s a cool idea to travel around and visit coffee shops. Good luck.

    • I talk WITH people everywhere…the grocery store, the bank, waiting in line for the public Ladies room; even in foreign countries where the person and I might struggle to understand each other. My husband is English. He’s reserved. He doesn’t understand Americans who make eye contact with strangers, who smile and say “good morning” to a person pushing a grocery cart down the aisle in the opposite direction. He was horrified recently when in the produce aisle I asked a Spanish lady how she was going to use the fresh prickly pear cactus leaves she just put in her cart. She shared her recipe. People want to be asked things. People want to share expertise and opinions and experiences. All it takes is for them to see an open face, a smile, any signal of safety in approach. I’ve learned so much from strangers.

    • Wowsers. I am with your English husband on this one.

    • I think we share a common attitude; people want to engage in conversation….it’s something that I believe is wired into us 🙂

  2. I love this post and your blog. It’s great to meet strangers and connect with them… and there’s nothing better than a conversation over a cup of coffee… you are lucky that you have so many of them!

  3. that sounds like a fantastic project! I totally agree with you about the lack of real connections in our society, its a real sad thing

  4. I am an introvert that has always been around lots of people. I was a High School Biology teacher for 20 years. I belong to a fellowship that I have volunteered my time in for 10 years. Life events have sent me into a cocoon. I have never done this before. To retreat seems necessary to once again enjoy community.

  5. Facebook and twitter got big due to the need of connection. yet we do not know half our neighbours. We spend Inside our houses or on our phones. rather then walk 5 feet to another door and get to know our neighbour.
    No we want to connect with people half way across the world or in a way to connect so we do not have to deal with our neighbour.
    We westerners are taught not to interfere with peoples lives and sadly we see that as leaving them be all together
    I think your journey will come up with some astounding views on cultures and human behaviour.

  6. Mwahhh! Brilliant. “For someone who tarted out this life …

    • “tarted” – is this more accurate? 🙂

    • Woops! Keyboard issues! “For someone who started out this life with a love of books and being alone……I find it rather odd that this is where I find myself all these years later.” Pro Found. And so Hum Ble! Love it KJ. Just love it!

      And if you want a bed for the night(s) 30 miles east of London (we even have hot and cold running water) and or airport transferring / food / stuff that helps – just say the word. Hospitality without strings.

      I’m now off to get some new fingers for my keyboard

    • Paul, I would definitely take ya up on that offer 🙂 I will let ya know the dates and time 🙂

  7. I am a loner, even though I was born and raised in a housing project with a zillion friends I was always a loner . . . even when I lived in the commune I was a loner . . . or all the other places. . .

    My greatest joy is finding that connection with another soul . . . but I would inagine finding authenticity in the US, where even the avante garde wear the same mask, it would be hard to do.

    I would go to to Hanoi and talk to some old soldier who fought the Americans . . . or Australia and talk to an aborigine bush man about his spiritual connection with the planet . . . or an Appalachian hillbilly about the little people, or . . . . .

    My thought is that in doing so I would find a connection that would far surpass gabbing with the faceless status quo in this country. . . (kinda negative comment, I know . . . sorry) Good luck on your journey

    • “I would go to to Hanoi and talk to some old soldier who fought the Americans . . . or Australia and talk to an aborigine bush man about his spiritual connection with the planet . . . or an Appalachian hillbilly about the little people, or . . . . . ”

      JJ, I only wish I had the money and means to go to places like that to talk to those people……I could do that for the rest of my life and be pretty happy for sure.

    • well I have enough loot to go to one of those places myself . . . just walk up the valley a piece to my neighbors house . . . 🙂

  8. I am REALLY excited about your future posts!

  9. What happened with the pie and welcoming new neighbors, Kenneth? I still watch that in your movies…

    • Dana……lol yea I wonder how often that happens these days?

      in the movies when they bring a pie over it seems like it usually leads to an affair now-a-days 😉

  10. I have often wondered how you get people to talk to you in coffee shops. Honestly, I would never speak to you unless you were hogging all of the half and half at your table or something. I’m not a shy person, but I am very socially awkward and introverted. (And I’m blissfully okay with that.) It is amazing to me that people would have conversations with strangers about meaningful things. If someone in public speaks to me, I respond politely and throw on my “please leave me alone” invisible armor. 😉 I’m glad you’ve been able to break out of your solitary mind…it makes for a great blog. 😀

    • Emily……ya, I don’t know how else to say but its not that I’m ‘looking’ for people to talk to….although admittedly on this year’s coffee house tour I will be looking for people to connect with so this tour will be quite a bit different than my normal daily routine.

      I couldn’t even give you a number (cuz I hate math :p ) as to how many people over the years have simply leaned over and started talking to me or tapped me on the shoulder and started talking….perhaps 5000 people. An average of 200-300 people a year times 20 years of hanging out at coffee shops…..so I guess its a lot of people……..

      and 99% of the time I’m sitting with a book that I’m reading or I’m at my laptop typing away.

    • Yikes! See, that’s why I drink my coffee at home. 😉 Book reading and computer using should be universal signs for “leave me alone.”

    • Currently in Paris and I have to say that the cafe culture is one that u can very easily fall into. Being Australian, people do tend to stop and talk, its very friendly and relaxed. No wonder u spend your time in cafés drinking coffee.

    • Hmmmm….I think maybe friendly and relaxed for people that enjoy that. For people (like myself) who get twitchy at the thought of that much interaction, I suspect it would be overwhelming and stressed. Don’t get me wrong…I’m glad you enjoy the chatting, but not everyone is comfortable in those situations. 🙂

    • Emily,

      maybe you just need to connect with the ‘right’ people and you’d suddenly find that you enjoyed it 🙂

    • LOL If you could get my husband and BFF to wait for me in the coffee shop, I’d probably chat with them. 😉 Seriously, there is a lot of “extrovert” pressure out there…that something is off with a person if they *don’t* crave the frequent company and companionship of others. While I very much enjoy spending time with my loved ones, I very much don’t enjoy awkward conversations with strangers…particularly if I’ve gone somewhere to relax with a book or to work on a project. It’s okay that we don’t all want to chat, I think. 😉 (The “right” people would know to never approach me while I’m reading a book and enjoying coffee.) 😀

    • “Being Australian, people do tend to stop and talk, its very friendly and relaxed. No wonder u spend your time in cafés drinking coffee.”

      traveling abroad as an American…every café I’ve ever been people always want to talk because they want to hear about life from ‘somewhere else’….you’re a lucky one being in Paris!

    • I never had invisible armor. My odd coping mechanism was to blather up a smokescreen– either people re-engaged me to where I was more comfortable or they got annoyed and walked away.

  11. The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone. – James Baldwin

    This is a topic that crops up often in the world of writers, whom are perhaps the last people in the world to care, bizarrely enough. While the stigma of being alone has been prevalent in society for many years, it is more of a current topic right now, I have often wondered myself why that is.

    I would note that media often places unreasonably high levels of social interaction on TV programs and film characters; who have essentially become our role models (outside of vacuous personality images) They have seemingly no downtime when “happy” and are always alone when sad.

    While perhaps other factors such as mistrust, the death of open community and a love for immersive technology must play an important role, I believe it is ultimately the comparative effect (ie. how normal is what I am doing vs other people) which makes us feel more or less lonely, and additionally how okay we feel about it.

    Coffee shops are an interesting example of places it is “okay” to be social with strangers and “okay” to be seen alone, alongside the gym or doing a hobby. It even seems there is now a certain stigma to drinking alone in a bar, a place specifically designed to be open for the public to waste time (public house), which in my mind goes to prove my point that we are picking up levels of social norm from relevant frameworks rather than any form of objective discourse.

  12. It’s the conversation that develop connections and reflects lives. People feel what’s real, and it’s always some magic in face to face conversation. 🙂
    I wouldn’t mind drinking coffees around the world like you Kenneth 😀

  13. I relate 100% to the section you’ve written which starts…”I’ve always been a solitary person”….and ends…”I easily get worn out emotionally and intellectually.”

    It’s actually one of the things I truly love about who I am. I love quiet moments even when they are shared with a friend, strong thinking and reflection.

    Your trip will be life changing. I have no doubt.

  14. Reblogged this on Gr8ful Bugger and commented:
    This is a great post! I can totally relate….

  15. I have never gotten into facebook, and I never got into Myspace or twitter or any other such as that. I have blogged off and on for the past ten years, but that is the most social that I have ever been over the internet. I prefer my time alone, and brew my coffee at home to avoid interactions most of the time. I have close relationships with a total of three people in my life, and often find that prolonging those engagements results in me being so worn that I cannot handle any more prolonged interactions with anyone for days if not weeks. I honestly do not think I could handle what you are proposing, but I wish you the best of luck.

    • I too enjoy coffee at home as well 😉 for me, I’m not a big drinker (I.e. alcohol) so coffee shops are a nice place to hang out when I want to get out of the house….especially on a cold day

  16. Can it be that people are taking the easy route by having interpersonal relationships in coffee shops and via internet where there is no real commitment – in other words, that it is a form of laziness?

    • Hmmm, interesting question…..I would say that coffee houses serve society as being a “third place” in our lives which I wrote about recently as being an important component of cultures throughout history

  17. In regards to the quote that starts off this post, I have to admit I thought the same thing. However, I actually thought it was almost better in some ways if every post wasn’t based on a conversation at a coffee shop and something you were just making up rather to start a conversation. You don’t really seem to be the preachy type and I think giving your blogs and air of conversation is a nice way to keep conversation going. Either way, I like the tenor your posts and enjoy reading them. 🙂

    • I should add, that I would prefer to live in a world where people sat down at coffee shops to have conversations, rather than just sitting by themselves and looking at their iPad or whatever. 🙂

    • Swarn,

      Yea, when I first began blogging I don’t think I ever mentioned conversations from coffee…..it’s sort of evolved into it because of two factors;

      1) the traffic to my blog is much higher when I use coffee conversations as the context for the article….and I think there is something to say for having a ‘theme’ to our writing….whether I like it or not I’ve become that “guy who writes about meeting people at coffee”….i guess I’m okay with that..well at this point I have to be 😉

      2) it still allows me to talk about different topics….I just have to be more creative ( which can definitely be a bit more work for me) in figuring out how to take an experience I had with someone and shape it into some kind of topic to write about

  18. When I first moved away from the small town I grew up in, it seemed odd to me that people didn’t know their neighbors. Growing up, my family was very close with our neighbors. We even had holiday parties with them.

    And here I am, with know idea of who lives next to me. Apartments are different than neighborhoods, though.

    (and I’m kind of jealous of your Drinking in the Culture Tour…)

    • TK, I guess I’m something of a conundrum….I love visiting cities, museums, meeting people, and seeing new places….but I’m not the biggest fan of the whole traveling experience I.e. airports, busses, trains, cars……sigh….so it’s kind of a toss up in my mind

    • I love it all. Every aspect of traveling. Unfortunately, I’m too nervous to do that stuff on my own (but I’m sure D would come with me if only to protect me from the oh-so-cruel world), My big dream, however, is to visit all 7 continents. That’s what I’m saving my money for. High on my list is Machu Picchu, The Great Barrier Reef and Tokyo.

    • Too many airport delays in my past have made me weary of those elements of traveling……one winter on a trip to Cali I sat stuck in the plane on the tarmack for four hours waiting for the snow to clear enough for take off….it was also scary seeing them spray the wings every twenty minutes to de-ice the wings……I think I worry too much at times

    • I can top that. I was in an airport in Belfast to fly back to the states. The plane was supposed to take off at 10 or noon (I forget which). The flight was delayed 15 minutes, than another 30 minutes, then another hour. Finally they told us the plane was having engine trouble (AND YOU WANT ME TO FLY OVER THE OCEAN IN THAT???!) and they had to order a new part in from London.

      They gave us somewhere around 30-50 euros so we could eat while we waited to board the plane. In total, I spent 12 hours in that airport. We flew over and landed in the states around 1:30 in the morning. Since the airport wasn’t even open at that time, I had the pleasure of sleeping on the floor until the morning flights started.

      It was not super fun.

    • See TK, that’s what I’m talking about! Truthfully, most of my recent airline flights have been good…..but the ones that go sour end up sticking in my mind forever….and this year will be so much traveling it seems like the statistical chances of “sour” moments might be increased..

    • No, you’ll be fine. Just think of them as time to get a jump on your blog post. Imagine who you could talk to over coffee at an airport! You could meet people from anywhere in the world.

    • Yea…..I’ll TRY and look at it that way…..we’ll see lol….I tend to whine to much at the airport 😉

  19. I often think how I get up go to my garage get in my car drive to my office sit in my office shuffle paper go right back into my car and then drive my car into my garage and go back in my house. Never do more than wave at the person living next to me. It seems very antisocial and anti-community. I had to take action to make sure I could at least get to know my neighbors.

    Other communities are a bit different. I haven’t figured it all out but it seems to me when people are walking to their destination they are more open to talking than when they drive.

    But yep I’m like you I love books – especially the audio versions – and so I am also pretty stingy with my time. In my case that is probably the bigger problem and not the driving.

  20. I find it interesting that someone who prefers to be alone has a theory about people preferring community and needing connection. While I tend to agree, I just think it’s peculiar, even oxymoronic or better yet, ironic. That said, I agree that you’ll find people are social creatures. Science has shown that simple gestures like a smile, a hug, a handshake, etc., are vital to our health – mental and physiological. Science has also shown how important it is for babies to be held. There is an actual effect on their self esteem, etc., associated with being held/touched. It’s a big deal. As before, looking forward to all that you find on your global trip. 🙂

  21. why do you end your post headings with “really”? Anyway, i really think you live are an isolationist, yet you crave company? It’s weird really. Alone is alone:by yourself, no one to interrupt:)). But although you need the aloneness you spend alone time on the phone with friends??? Don’t get it.

    For myself, internet is intrusion for me much less conversation for 30 mins on the phone with friends or family. High intrusion. Alone time means, me and ****.

  22. “that I tend to spend too much time thinking about being alone”

    That sounds like you’re an introvert as I understand it, Kenneth. I’m sure you understand that’s not a bad thing– it’s just that you need alone time to “recharge your batteries”, as it were.

    I like being around some people, but prefer close friends in small groups or 1-on-1, rather than crowds. I’m not sure how you make it in the big city– for me, walking around Seattle was hard, because I didn’t like making a disconnect walking through crowds of people.

    I had to ditch a social activity once– meeting with a board game group– because I realized that I kept trying to duck into a smaller room with fewer people, and I all too often started thinking about what I was going to do when I got home. It didn’t help that the host was an engineer that liked to make fun of how badly I lost games in the session reports. Even my board-game-winning cousins didn’t pull that crap with me growing up.

  23. http://www.templecoffee.com/locations/index.html
    Just the 411 on boutique coffee houses in Sacramento just in case it’s on your itinerary.

  24. well written – especially this part – whew!!

    “There is something about the magic of touch. Of embracing another human being in a hug. I’m not talking about the sexual intimacy that two lovers experience. I’m taking about the wonder of real life connection that two human beings experience when they shake hands, reach their arms out into a hug…..or feel a warm smile from across the room. There are some things that the Internet can’t reproduce.”

    nailed it.

  25. by the way, in today’s featured post picture – is that you in that art portrait???

  26. My Mum said she almost found it pointless sending me to my room as punishment as I seemed to like it there, being alone!

    I have always balanced my need for alone time with my need for being with family and friends too. And I love, love, love chit-chat! Best thing ever!

    Good luck on your journey, can’t wait to hear about it 🙂

  27. I loved this post. I actually read it a few days ago but have been under the weather and only today felt energetic enough to respond. This should be the introduction to your future book of your upcoming coffe trek adventures!

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