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A new chapter
What I’ve been working on this year, and a writing adventure that takes me to Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills.
It’s seven o’clock, and I’m on the Metro. The plan is to go on a writing adventure of sorts today. It’s kind of like journalism on the run, but really it’s just me, my MacBook Air, my Opal pass, and my trench coat, desperate to get some writing done.
The idea came to me two Mondays ago, when I was sitting still at a local cafe, smug in the knowledge that I had two hours to myself and just a little too confident that I would churn out something decent in that time. The cafe, however, turned out to be somewhat of a hot spot for young mums with their kids. Which makes sense, given the nice coffee and the playground outside, and if I were a young mum with multiple toddlers, that’s where I would hang out as well. While I got little to no writing done in those two hours surrounded by an orchestra of screaming kids, it did give me the fun idea of travelling a bit further afield and embarking on a writing odyssey of sorts. Perhaps this will be the first of many; I don’t know. I’m just going with the flow for now, and I guess we’ll see where this takes me—literally (and metaphorically) speaking.
Anyway, the Metro is busy today. Students, workers, kids, parents. Everyone is going somewhere. Everyone is also on their phones. Honestly, what did we do as a society on the commute before the invention of the smartphone? Did we read? Did we chat with strangers? Did we write poetry in our heads? Did we perhaps sit and think of our loved ones? (Personally, I slept a lot on the commute to school when I was young, and I’m happy to report I still do that quite a bit. No smartphone is going to stop me from getting my zzzzzs when I need them.)
But I digress.
The truth is that I’ve really struggled to write these last five to six months. Which is kind of embarrassing to admit. After all, I used to produce from scratch four to five blog posts a week. But now it feels as if I’ve lost all those powers, and writing this Substack has become so much bigger in my head than it should be. Basically, it’s turned into my Mount Everest, but one way or another, I’m determined to climb it or dig my way through it somehow—whatever gets me through to the other side.
Anyway, I’ve arrived at Paramount Coffee Project in Surry Hills. It’s packed and buzzing with energy. I choose a spot at the large wooden table in the centre of the room. At the other end of the table, two guys in matching grey t-shirts are catching up over flat whites. One wears a black cap, one does not. Opposite to me are two young girls on their MacBook Airs, chatting and working at the same time. They both have gorgeous hair. A young bloke sits on my left, also with a laptop open. I feel like I fit right in as I take my MacBook Pro out. The waitress comes and takes my order.
‘A large soy latte, thanks,’ I say, ‘but with only one shot of espresso.’
‘So... a weak latte?’ she asks.
She leaves. Moments later, she returns with an enticing-looking iced matcha latte for the bloke next to me. It looks so good. I immediately regret my own order and have to stop myself from staring longingly at the guy’s latte. He glances up, and I try to pretend that I hadn’t just been eying his drink.1
I put my headphones in and take a good look around me. This is definitely one of the nicest cafes I’ve been to in a while. The decor is modern and minimalist, yet warm and inviting. The variety of different seating options really draws you in, and I particularly love the green velvet upholstery on the bench seating contrasted with the dark brown timber. With the Golden Age Cinema and Bar downstairs, The Office Space on the level above, the Paramount House Hotel upstairs, and A.P Bakery another two levels up, this place is a hive of activity. You get the sense that everyone is welcome here, for both work and play.
‘So glad I discovered this place,’ I tell my husband via text. ‘The vibe is awesome.’
A pigeon walks in, but no one seems bothered by it. Maybe it’s the house pigeon, I think to myself. It pecks at some food on the ground and walks out again. Definitely the house pigeon.
So what on earth have I been up to these last six months of not writing?
Well, believe it or not, I’ve been working. My friend Ryan came to me at the end of last year and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the branding and design work for his business. ‘It’s a really boring product,’ he told me. I didn’t care. I was keen for freelance work, I needed some sort of work, and I had a hunch Ryan would be a great client. Turns out, I was right. Not only does Ryan get design, he gets me, and most importantly, he trusts my vision and art direction.
And so, since about February this year, I’ve been re-developing his brand from the ground up. I’ve created a completely new visual identity for his company and his product—a visual identity that I’m delighted to say sets his business far apart from his competitors. We’ve created new product photography, new product flyers, and we’re about to commence work on new packaging concepts as well as the e-commerce site. I’ve also helped out at one of his tradeshows, which was held at the International Convention Centre. I enjoyed exploring the newly revamped Darling Square, and it was so refreshing chatting face-to-face with people. It really brought me right back to my corporate marketing days (in a good way). Plus, it was a nice reminder that a whole world of marketing still exists outside of Instagram and other social media platforms—thank goodness. More recently (just last week, in fact), I co-ordinated and art directed a two-day photo shoot which involved shooting the product range on nine different heavy machines, including a fifteen-tonne front-end loader, a skid steer, a telescopic handler, a knuckle boom, an excavator, and an articulated dump truck. And yes, I now know what each of those different machines actually do (thanks to my husband, who sent me a rather comprehensive database via text messages), and no, I did not have a go at driving any of the machines—despite my husband’s somewhat fervent encouragement. (Seriously, darling. I’m weird, but I’m not crazy.)
On reflection, the photo shoot was tremendously fun and energising. It was so satisfying to rock up confident in the knowledge that everyone knew what they needed to do. The videographer knew what he needed to do, the photographer knew what he needed to do, Ryan knew what he needed to do, and even the studio manager contributed helpfully in all the right ways. We were ahead of schedule for the entirety of the shoot and even got to enjoy delicious authentic pho for lunch (the latter was quite an unexpected boon, I have to say). Watching the guys steer the machines around the site was impressive, entertaining, and slightly terrifying all at once. At one stage, I wasn’t sure whether they’d be able to get the huge front-end loader into the cyclorama but, miraculously, they did—thanks to a mechanic down the road who kindly popped in and manoeuvred the machine with spectacular speed and dexterity.
Quite frankly, Ryan’s product is far from boring. It is literally a life-saving device, and anything that helps to protect lives could never be boring in my books. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I feel honoured I get to help make Ryan’s product more accessible to companies all around the world. For now, the focus has been laying the groundwork for building a powerful brand, but I can’t wait to dive deeper into the storytelling side of things.
(The pigeon is back. Again, it’s pecking its way around the cafe, and no one has batted an eyelid. The two young girls opposite me have left, and a couple has taken their place. The pigeon starts pecking at their feet, and they look down, slightly startled. Don’t worry, I tell them. It left pretty quickly the first time. I think it’s the house pigeon.)
Ryan jokingly calls me his Brand Manager, which I guess I kind of am. One time, the event manager for one of the industry tradeshows actually tried to get Ryan to approve the fact that their graphic designer had cut up and re-shaped our product logo—because it suited their advertisement layout better. I wrote a very pointed reply on Ryan’s behalf, and he told me later how he had to explain to them that he had a very aggressive brand manager. That made me chuckle. I mean, come on. If I let someone hack our logo like that, then I can’t be very good at my job.
Honestly, it’s been so refreshing working for someone who trusts my creative vision and art direction. I still recall the day I finished working on my 30-page concept proposal for the new visual identity, and how I held my breath after pressing ‘Send’ in my Apple Mail. In my head, I knew that Ryan’s response to my concept would set the tone and direction for our partnership going forward. Thankfully, he loved it. The relief (on my part) was immense, and we both laughed at the fact that that was the longest concept proposal he’d ever seen and would probably ever see in his life.
The waitress sees that my coffee cup is empty and comes over to collect it. I smile up at her and quickly scan the menu next to me on the table.
‘Can I order the B.K.E. roll please?’ I ask.
Moments later, the bacon, kale, and egg roll arrives. I take one bite, and I am smitten. Who knew kale goes so well with bacon?
I send my husband another text:
‘Coming here has been a success. I’ll be back for sure.’
p.s. If you are here and reading along, I want to say a huge thank you! I’m very eager to get back into writing, and I really hope that publishing this post will help me get back into the swing of things. I quite liked this format of ‘writing on the go’ and can see myself repeating this formula quite often going forward. In fact, it felt a little like you guys were right there having a coffee with me, and I love that. But I’m keen to hear what you thought—feedback is always helpful, especially when staring at a blinking cursor and a blank page. To keep it simple, let me know in the comments which option(s) apply to you (be as honest and harsh as you need to be):
I skimmed this post, so I have no idea what you’re talking about.
I read this post and now want the last eight minutes of my life back.
I read this post and liked it, and I also drink weak soy lattes.
I read this post and liked it, but I think you have weird coffee preferences.
For future writing adventures, please rate the coffee and food.
I have no opinion whatsoever.
I want to know what happened to the pigeon.
Later in the afternoon, I did end up ordering an iced matcha latte myself (pictured above). It was good.