Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Out of Coffee, Out of Mind


Originally my blog had a very lame name:  Confessions of a Caffeine Addict.  I mean, I basically took two clichés, fused them together, and created something as worn out as the Frozen theme song.  And while I knew it was awful when I chose it, I kept it for two reasons.  A) I couldn’t think of anything better, and I couldn’t very well let my blog go nameless, now could I?  B) I have a pen pal, a friend, who writes like I do—and we usually dedicate at least a paragraph of every single letter to the virtues of coffee.  It’s something familiar, a shared interest—a shared addiction.  I liked that so much, I wanted my blog to feel just as familiar—like an oft-frequented café.  But Confessions of a Caffeine Addict just wasn’t the right title. 

Speaking of coffee, though, several days ago I thought of the perfect horror movie—made from the stuff of nightmares.  What if the world’s supply of caffeine ran out—what if it just ended?  Imagine a post-apocalyptic landscape of some sort.  Supplies are scant.  Once more chocolate is reserved solely for the military and the rich.  Meat and milk are scarce.  The fish are dead.  Low-grade vegetables are perhaps the only steady source of food, but winter is coming, and a hundred million mouths—the remnants of humanity—still need to be fed. 

In this metaphorical planetary darkness, the equally metaphorical light of a tiny South American village shines but dimly.  Ailing from the almost incessant nuclear bombs and biological warfare, the last coffee plants stand stooped over the dry earth, their leaves rustling mournfully in the wind as if they are keenly aware that they are the last of their kind.  Travel is difficult—almost impossible—but somehow crowds stream in with pounding headaches and ready mugs to stand peering through the barred windows of the last café on earth as cultivated strains of macchiato and espresso sift through the glassless apertures into the dusty red streets.   Noses press to the openings in eager anticipation as a lone server hurries about his counters, boiling water and brewing the human elixir as he has done for years.  Behind the shop, in a tiny, rundown building, a weary old woman inventories the dwindling supply of beans.  Only she and her husband know that the trees are almost dead.  This will be their last yield. 

After these barrels are gone, there will be nothing—nothing to sharpen minds or stave off the bitter cold when mere warmth is not enough.  The disaster of this goes beyond pounding headaches.  Coffee has become more than a simple love, more than a bothersome addiction.  It has become the living, breathing soul of civilization.  No street corner is without its coffee shop, no citizen without a cup in hand.  Raised on coffee since infancy, the human mind no longer remembers what it is without the steady, constant flow of caffeine.  And once the coffee is gone, there will be no more.  The woman knows this as she calculates the remaining doses in her head—likewise the man in the shop, as with every portion he serves, he assists in the end of the world. 

Okay, so that’s totally fictionalized—hardly something that would ever happen.  But the thought still makes me shiver and cling more tightly to my mug.  I owe much to coffee.   

Anyone who has ever participated in NaNoWriMo will understand the fear and anticipation that come with embarking on this grand adventure—this fearsome goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.   Before 2013, I had never participated, though I had reached similar word count goals in a similar amount of time.  But despite my lifelong obsession with writing, leading up to November, I felt nothing—no anticipation, no excitement, no nothing.  I had lovelessly fiddled with an array of busted ideas, but frankly, I had been going through a period of apathy, and all through the preceding summer I had begun to quietly question my identity as a writer.  I had lost sight of who I was.  Life had thrown one too many punches at me, and I was ready to throw in the towel.  But there was that incessant voice in the back of my head nagging me to write even when I didn’t care.  I knew that if I made the wrong decision at this turning point, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life.  Or something melodramatic like that. 

What helped me in the end was a cup of coffee, about three days before November 1st.  Not just any cup of coffee, though.  Usually I drink mine black—I like the flavor.  But when the limited edition holiday creamers roll around every autumn, they find my cup a ready and welcoming place.  And that fall, when I made my first annual mug of pumpkin spice, that familiar smell and that marvelous taste brought me back to another time and place—a better place.  A writing place. 

The last time I’d had pumpkin spice coffee was in 2012 when I was hard at work on DSS—the longest project of mine up to date—when my love for writing had not yet cooled.  And always that coffee had been my call to write, my constant companion, sitting patiently beside Adele the laptop as I tapped away at the keys.  Come 2013, I heard that call again and was compelled to answer. 

So coffee didn’t save me—nothing as dramatic as that.  But it was enough to broaden my focus and remind me of a larger world beyond the scope of my myopic understanding.  It didn’t heal any hurts or fix any problems.  But like a faithful friend, it handed me a key to the good old times that I had despaired of ever unlocking.  And like flypaper, every time I sit with my customary mug, it traps a dozen more good memories. 

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