People-Watching and Passion Projects: Thoughts from Shakespeare & Co. 

By: Mikki Treitel  |  May 11, 2021

By Mikki Treitel, Arts & Culture Editor

I went to high school on the Upper East Side, and in our senior year we got to leave the school building for our lunch period every day. While most students headed to Starbucks or simply walked around for fresh air, my friends and I would meet at Shakespeare & Co., a combined bookstore and coffee shop a couple blocks away. 

It’s like a boutique version of Barnes & Noble. The shelves are lined with all the books you’d expect, plus titles unique to Shakespeare & Co. as part of their incredibly cool printing and publishing service which allows anyone to print, bind, and display their writing for purchase at their store. There’s a coffee and bakery counter, lots of tables, a children’s section with art supplies, and a basement with couches. We used to joke that it was our version of Central Perk from “Friends.” 

Apart from eating lunch, our prime activity was people-watching. Everyone around us seemed cultured and immersed in creative things. We’d look over at the adjoining tables and assume those two women talking over green tea were developing the mission statement for an artsy nonprofit, and the open file on that guy’s computer was the manuscript for his next mystery novel. 

While imagining other visitors’ preoccupations was fun, it also made me wonder how I might be perceived when I’m the one seen sitting with coffee and a notebook. Sure, I’m usually journaling or doing homework, nothing groundbreaking…but for all anyone knows, I could be jotting edits into a screenplay draft or brainstorming media strategies for a small business.

And the more I thought about it, what was holding me back from actually doing those things? 

Picturing myself objectively opened my mind to how much I’m capable of when I look beyond my self-imposed limits. With this perspective, I started coming to the bookstore alone to join the creative masses and work on my own projects. That printing service I mentioned earlier — I used it to compile all my high school writing into my own real book. I didn’t pay to put a copy on their shelves, but I keep it above my desk at home, and just seeing it there makes me happy. I applied to my first internship from a couch in the basement, and I returned throughout college to write, get work done, and people-watch again. 

Self-doubt can hold you back from turning passion into a passion project. It’s helpful, even liberating, to be surrounded by people on the same mission. To me, Shakespeare & Co. offers more than a shared space to meet or work; it invites visitors to a shared headspace, too. Tapping into that positive peer-pressure reassured me that it’s often insecurity — not inability — that limits our potential. With this in mind, we can actively seek inspiration with the confidence to create freely. 

Photo Credit: Instagram @shakeandco.booksellers (with permission)