Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Getting the Message

Daniel Swenson-Klatt



Sometimes it takes a little disruption to actually get a message through.  For me, at the end of June, it was an Achilles tendon injury that found a way to be that disruption.


Although I had been making it a high priority for my business and myself to reshape my role around the café and take on more “owner” roles and less “at the counter” roles, months kept passing by without any real substantive changes. Somehow, what was once a temporary fix, had become a permanent solution.  I was willing to keep saying that my additional roles and additional hours were not how I wanted to define my work day, but I had no real strategy in place to end the pattern.  No timeline, no end time.  When was I going to learn?


Then I got a message that informed me that the time had arrived.  Unable to walk, unable to even stand, I had a new perspective provided to me by the very nature of having to lay flat with my leg elevated.  The doctor didn’t even blink when he announced after I had described my typical day at work,  “Well, you won’t be doing that.”   The time had come to change my role, like it or not.  I got that message again when the directions given to me after surgery were to make no business decisions for a few days, while medications wore off.  I was getting an enforced “stay-cation.”  Although my “resting” was uncomfortable a lot of the time, I began to appreciate the different pace, the quiet, the time away from the action.


And so the past month has been the kind of learning experience that can only come from dramatic change.  Quickly.  Sloppy.  Habit-breaking withdrawal. Uncertainty and anxiety.  But, along the way, growth and adjustment.   Changing priorities and expectations.  A willingness to accept help in lots of ways.  A desire to increase my communication with everyone in many different ways.


There were times when it was clear that I had been doing tasks that others could easily take over.  And it was clear that there were things I did that no one else was able to do.  There were things that it seemed only I cared about, but only because I never took the time to help others on my team care about it too. Getting out of the way allowed my staff members a chance to build skills and increase their responsibilities.  And as I began to return to café, it was more than clear that going back to old patterns only put me in the way.   Was I going to learn from this or not?


During my teaching years, my high school and college stage experiences and training usually meant that I was the most appropriate staff person to lead drama and theater activities at my school.  I often used theater activities in my own classroom, so leading school wide theater clubs and directing shows was a role I enjoyed.


The scope of creating a show, from visioning and planning, to casting and teaching the show to a group of middle-school aged students is a dynamic one.  It requires an ability to share a vision clearly and an ability to recognize when the students you have selected for the cast require some adjustments to one’s vision to make it actually work.  With performance dates set, the race to learn, practice, rehearse and perfect the show can be extremely stressful.  As director I’d carry the fears that it just wouldn’t come together in time or something would go drastically wrong during the show.  But time and time again, the curtain would part, the show would begin, the actors would take their places, and all I could do was just watch and enjoy what we had created and recognize that we had done enough.


Every day at my café is show time.  Presenting the café’s vision, and working rehearsals into the daily performances are a challenge, but rehearse and train we must.   And the show must go on. 


I have come to believe that it is time for me to be less of an actor on stage and pick up the director’s role now.  Let my staff perform. Watch the show sometimes, but also read the reviews and listen to the buzz on the street to know how it’s going.  Step into the wings at times to offer encouragement or sit down at the end of a show with one of the cast and give a few notes.  But, as director, it’s time to find other parts of the production to pay attention to as well.  There’s always time to learn, isn’t there?


While I’m not walking the sidewalks of Kingfield and Lyndale as much these days, I’ll hope to see you around the neighborhood as I get back on (both of) my feet and keep moving along the Green Path.