Today, I am going to write about how pleased I am to be able to be enjoyin’ my coffee once again. The past month I have experienced many disruptions to my mind, body and soul. It is not recommended to dwell on the past, so I won’t.
Coffee is a thing
What I will do is express gratitude for simply being able to taste, savor and enjoy a cup of coffee once again. Yes, I know coffee is a thing. I see many blogs out there with coffee tie-ins. I see blogs started with the first, second or even third post being reviews of coffee houses, coffee drinks or coffee makers. It is a good choice to do this because coffee can and often does attract clicks on said blogs. A blog on coffee stands a better chance of getting noticed than one about shirt buttons, for example.
I am writing about coffee this morning for my own reason. I am writing about coffee because I don’t have a choice. You see, I’ve been at this coffee thing since the late 80’s. As I say above, I was deluded and separated throughout June. I sorted through and crawled out of the wreckage day by day. I have slowly returned to myself. There have many other small milestones and I have passed as I cleared the debris from my mind. However, being able to sit on my porch with my ritual cup of straight black drip coffee brings a historically personal confirmation to my day.
Enjoyin’ my coffee this morning
The two cups I have had this morning did not make me anxious. In fact, the opposite took place. The ritual morning coffee reassured me. It reminded me that I have overcome many other trials and tribulations over the past decades. The repeated sips collaborated with my clear, energized mind. The mind I recharged with real night of unpolluted sleep.
The list of things I left behind over the past weeks is quite lengthy. Some of these I will sadly never be able to get back. Others I simply will never be able to recall. I am looking forward to appreciating many people, places and things once again. I chose coffee from that list because this is partly a coffee blog and because as I said, I have no other choice. Simply put, if I’m enjoyin’ my coffee once again, that means I’m enjoyin’ my life again.
I have been reading a lot recently. However, I was not reading for fun or relaxation. I’ve been reading page after page devoted to helping me understand my mind and the path I allowed it to take. That path led to mental, spiritual and physical delusion. It was an incredibly bad choice. However, I did learn that in order to
It was a cooler day on my porch yesterday when I picked up a book I had started a couple months ago and read just for the fun of it. I began reading for reading’s sake again. It felt great.
Reading for fun again reminded me how much fun reading is
The book really isn’t the point here. Yes, it was a good choice as it was a fun escape and I was half way through it already. That was part of the value in picking it up again as I was remembering characters and plot twists as I went along. Clearly, this isn’t unusual in and off itself as one reads a novel. yesterday on my porch whenever I said to myself “Oh, yeah, he’s the crazy guy with the mechanical hand stalking the main character“. As a result, could feel myself connecting to the “Golden Buddha” inside myself. The one we all have in common, yet is too easily covered up.
I ended up finishing “Squeeze Me” while not having set out to finish yesterday on my porch. Yet, I was having such a grand time reading for fun again that I just kept going. The grace that I was able to give myself a little grace. I felt good enough about myself again to just enjoy the present moment.
It is fair to concede that Carl Hiaasen did not have me in his thoughts when he was writing his book about Burmese Pythons over running south Florida. In the end, he wrote a enjoyable book and it felt good to simply enjoy reading it.
A troubling thing has been happening since I published my historical fiction novel, Tripio. I have been getting asked quite a bit the question: “What is a tripio?” This question was first asked me at a class on memoir writing at the Indiana Writers Center. No one in the class with me knew what a tripio was. It hadn’t even occurred to me. I knew what a tripio was since the fall of 1990 when I started at Starbucks. I had worked at a couple independent, hippy coffee houses even before that, so the word was part of my personal vocabulary so long I assumed everyone knew what one was. Also creating my false sense of security was the fact that there are thousands upon thousands of Starbucks on this earth. Surely, everyone who’s visited a Starbucks has ordered a tripio…right?
one definition of a tripio
I’ll take that as a “no.” In Tripio, the book, Jay describes his tripio, the drink, as “my crutch, my momentum and my solace”. I’m sure that helped clear things up. If it didn’t, I will define a tripio as three shots of espresso which is usually consumed immediately after it is brewed into pre-warmed cup. It is then often consumed with sugar or whatever one wants to add. In Tripio, the book, Jay always drinks his tripios over lots of ice in a plastic cup.
Jay needs the caffeine from the three shots and the ice keeps the drink alive and refreshing as he goes about his work day. He needs the caffeine for opening shifts at Starbucks. He needs the caffeine for the closing shifts at Starbucks. Starbucks was unknown then and in the process of becoming the global entity we all know today. That didn’t happen by having the baristas and managers in the trenches stand around. Jay needed lots of tripios.
a second definition of a tripio
In the end, I did not choose to title the book Tripio based solely on the fact that the main character drank lots of triple espressos over ice. There are three plot lines that intertwine and collaborate as the novelgoes along. Jay has three life options facing him as he goes about his increasingly complicated days. After reading Tripio, you will be asked to decide if the option he chose was the correct one for him. Or better yet, you have put yourself in Jay’s place. Even better you recognize a situation in your life that you can compare to Jay’s and consider that situation in new context.
In order to read the novelyou will first have to buy it. Before you do that, you will examine the cover and see that subtitle includes a partial definition of the word tripio. Which brings me back around to the class I mentioned above. The instructor of that class helped me in crafting the subtitle. Thankfully, he was one other person in the room that day who knew what a tripio was. And now, I hope you do as well.
A while back I read How Starbucks Saved my Life by Michael Gates Gill. In the interest of full disclosure I read it out of curiosity, as opposed to organic intellectual interest. In other words I read it to see how that memoir compared to my historical fiction novel, Tripio. I may offer a full review in a later post. But for now I will simply offer a comparison of “How” to Tripio, ingeniously using coffee as the yardstick.
How Starbucks Saved my Life = Blonde Roast
Lightly roasted coffee that’s soft, mellow and flavorful. Easy-drinking on its own and delicious with milk, sugar or flavored with vanilla, caramel or hazelnut.
Tripio = Espresso
A complimentary blend of bean of differing origins: it is intense, deeply flavored and when brewed correctly leaves a lingering sweet aftertaste.
Starbucks books I have yet to read
I am also following up on my intention to find other books about Starbucks. I was curious to see if there were other novel length works of fiction out there with a Starbucks flavor. Ha, ha. I found the list below via Christine McHugh who is a Starbucks alum and author of the soon to be released From Barista to Boardroom. I will admit that I have yet to read any of the titles below expect the aforementioned but have pre-ordered from Barista to Boardroom after speaking with author by phone. Both Barista and How can be and probably are called memoirs and so are non-fiction as are all the books on the list below.
I have picked out Don Quixote as the centerpiece for my summer reading. I have been constructing my own summer reading program for years now. My recent life has permitted time to design my front porch to accommodate a summer spent there reading to my heart’s content. In the last few years of I’ve added a mosquito net, a wheeled table, and a small circular fan for hot ass summer afternoons.
During the depths of my Midwest winter I begin to imagine myself out on my porch on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a book, my mind and me. I will chose a book to read that has been calling to me for years. A list of those books includes Moby Dick, Tristam Shandy, Huckelberry Finn, Oscar Wilde’s plays, Hamlet. This year will be Don Quixote which I have already bought and it ready and waiting for the weather to begin to warm up. But this year, something troubling has been happening. I’ve already wondered how I can post about my reading Don Quixote. And when I do, how many likes will it get? How will my SEO program react to it? How do I work Sancho Panza into my meta-description?
A trip to the library
Let me compare my front porch to a library, like the one I grew up going to on Dayton’s near north side. I went there to read books on lots of subjects. At that time in my tween years I loved books on WWII. It was exciting to go to the library. I headed straight for the history section within which lived the WWII books. Sometimes it was hard to chose among the titles. But part of the fun was choosing among the books, and then picking a couple you took an interest in at that moment. There was an element of suspense in those days in doing so without a phone in your hand providing as much information on the book as you could find.
I had to read the cover, back cover blurbs and maybe the table of contents. I had to then trust my instinct, obey my intellectual curiosity, and chose to read the book based on something inside me.
The icing on the cake was that if you had time you were able to read at least some of it then and there, before you had to head home. Once home you could read that whole book that you did not know existed just an hour or two beforehand. By reading it you could learn, discover and grow. As a preteen, I felt a rush, a buzz on the walk home holding the new book, this new world under my arm. That feeling was one of both anticipation and excitement with a dash of something undefinable. It was perhaps the sense, the understanding that I growing my mind and furthering my understanding of the world I lived in.
Keep your mind shut. No one wants to hear it
But what if I went to my library looking for something I knew was already there? A book or books that someone had told me to go find for some other purpose beside genuinely wanting to read it? Another reason besides satisfying honest intellectual curiosity? You know, that energy that can’t be defined by formula, measured by a scale or held in your hand? That thing, that mental force that got us out of the caves one fine spring day and on the way to indoor plumbing? What if you put other books aside and read a different one because a SEO program told you it was what someone else wanted you to read? Expected you to read, so that you could post about it to get clicks, likes and comments?
And this is what is scaring me about myself. More and more often I have been finding myself basing my choice of what I read and if I can post about it, or how I can post about it.
When reading was for it’s own sake
Give them what they want, to hell with your your own intellectual curiosity. SEO it steering your content towards clicks. Where does the content orginate? My mind. Who is in charge of my mind and all of it’s possible thoughts? Me. Or, it used to be.
It may be me over-reacting a bit, but I want to roam all the stacks in my library again. SEO and Google can piss off. I want to read so I can continue to learn for it’s own sake. I thought that was supposed to be the great thing about the internet, it was supposed to give us unlimited access to the world, not contain and control that access bit by bit. Like I said, I decided last year that it was time to read Don Quixote. I will honor that intention when it finally warms up around here. The book has been calling to me the same way all the books on the summer read lists have: In an undefinable way which I’ll call it the law of intellectual attraction. I am going to read Don Quixote because I want to.
All the said, the point underlying all this is that I like to write fiction. And recently, I have found writing about writing fiction in this blog to be too time consuming and not all that much fun. I have posted weekly for about two and a half years, which is quite commendable considering most blogs die after just a few months. So, I’m going to post less often for the time being. I’m going to ignore as much as I can SEO, SERP and web crawlers. I’m going to read and write and post for the fun of it!
So there. Is this what they call “tilting at windmills?‘ If so, I’m about to find out.
I think of my journals, my sketchbooks of the mind, as both landing spots and launching pads for thoughts. The pages are book marks for storing mental energy. These bits of mental energy have been stored on my journal pages for a bit now. They landed from my mind and are ready to be launched elsewhere. I hope they serve you well.
The mind is only one click away from your purse, wallet or credit card
Mistakes are self created learning opportunities
You can only really see the big picture when it is still small
Prepare for the long haul but take a few swings at the long ball
There are a lot of people doing a lot of jobs a lot worse than mine
Talent, if there is such a thing, is hard work photoshopped
As a writer, when you are writing, you must not be the one telling the story
I spent yesterday making tomorrow a good day
It is good to do what you can, but even better to do what you can’t
You can’t go through each day looking for sharpened pencil
Before you spout it, doubt it
If there are only two sides to your story, don’t bother telling it
If one of us is, then we all are, because we all are one
It led to thoughts of quitting everything for good. Not stopping, or taking a break, but quitting everything for good. – a journal entry from last week
I wrote the above entry in my journal after a tough week working on the books and the blog. I could list the causes that generated that entry but they are all downstream. The lists always are. They are different for everyone, everyday, every time. My list of woes, trials and challenges were mostly all of a technical, after market nature. I can do content. That is no problem. It’s the rest of the stuff involved in moving the books and the blog along that drove me to the point I noted above. My life as whole was fine and dandy. In fact, the next day’s entries mention that I got a raise at work. I am grateful to have a job in the first place so don’t bust out cryin’ for me just yet.
What about that writing you used to do?
But the two are connected. I received my raise partly do to the fact that I go into work mentally energized and ready for the day. Often times, I have already achieved something such as a good first draft on a post that has put me in a good place mentally. This carries me thought the work day and it’s challenges. Before I know it, I’m home and work has gone well.
That cycle has been generated over and over by getting up around five every morning, making my doppio, and writing on my books and my blog. My after work day mind is fatigued, my stomach empty and body in need of a shower. Yet, I can sometimes find space in the evening for social media, blog maintenance and revisions.
This is a great routine for me. It may not be clear yet but I am simply doing what my mom asked me to do years ago. My mom is not the most direct person on the planet. She would not ask directly for things. I remember once making a pot of afternoon coffee for a group of family and friends and my mom was there. She saw me obviously performing the task and asked, “Are you making coffee?’ This was her way of saying that she’d like some.
So, when she asked me, “What about that writing you used to do”, she was, in her own round about way, telling me to get my ass in gear and do something more constructive with my time besides drinking beer and watching football. This was half a decade ago or maybe longer ago than that. I still prepare and brew coffee the same way.
What about that writing you used to do?
When I noted in my journal that I was quitting, I had to ask myself why I started my writing based routine in the first place. I had to find the place I go back to. What do I go back to? My purpose? What hill was I choosing to die on? What would I do with my hours and days if I were not following my mom’s round about suggestion that I start writing again?
So, what about that writing I used to do? I write to give me incentive to achieve and maintain mental clarity, energy and calling. I do what I do because it generates a positive sense of self before work and on weekends. It gives me a settled mind which in turn rewards me with a great night of sleep. I wake up at “divine time”, not clock time, when my subconscious and superconscious minds have recharged and tell me to get up and begin this day. The day I will direct, define and refine by doing just this, exactly what I am doing now.
I asked myself the question my mom asked me years ago I realized that I would be quitting for the wrong reasons. OK, I’ll list a few : Tripio cover upgrade rejected by Amazon, cost of an editor, writing to keep Yoast SEO happy. Give all this up for that? No way. I was thinking quitting for reasons that had nothing to do with why I started in the first place. Fortunately for me, I think I remembered my mom’s suggestion because in few days I am finally going to be able to safely visit her again.
I found it again
To conclude, I think that it is too easy to get distracted in this world today. It is too easy to stop something for reasons that aren’t your own. Even something that you know has been good for you! And that is a red flag. Or even a red apron recipe. If you are feeling discouraged about doing something that is good for you, try to see where those thoughts are coming from. Find your way back to the why. Try not to look at the downstream list of attachments or results that are really beyond your control. The distractions, the reason you want to quit are most likely not truly your own. You are a golden Buddha, hidden by a layer of mud. Take a look, scrape off a bit of the mud. There you are! Carry on!
Oh by the way, mom, thanks! And, your coffee is ready.
“Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility”
I take this blog seriously. I know I have come to use humor more frequently as the blog goes on. However I believe that is an indication of growing confidence in the blog itself. The humor, mostly self-deprecating, is an attempt to create an enjoyable, unique experience for anyone reading the blog. I feel responsible to put out a good post even if it is read by a single person.
But this week, I have devoted the mental energy usually spent writing the blog to the countless other details required to sustain and maintain a published novel on Amazon. In addition I am occupied with the progress of novel number two, following other blogs and the housekeeping required to manage it all. As such, last night arrived and I found myself without a topic in my head for this morning’s first draft. It is the end of the week, the time when I usually begin work on my Monday post. Mildly panicked, I did glance over some books I have around that I sometimes refer to for inspiration. They provided none.
Shaking the content tree
Earlier this week I had met a fellow ex-Starbucks barista. We exchanged battle stories and favorite coffee drinks. I promised I would drop off a signed copy of Tripio when I returned next week. Consequently, Tripio was in my head more than usual since then. However, I could not dredge a post from it all week. Then I tried movement. I wondered around the house hoping to shake the content tree. I can usually pick up fallen fruit off the content tree after I step away from the laptop and move around a bit. Letters to Theo, by Vincent VanGogh came into my mind. I went upstairs to retrieve my copy, brought it downstairs and did nothing further with it. It was too late. I was past writing but was confident I would find something in Letters to use in the morning.
Letters to Theo It is an important part of Tripio. If you google Van Gogh you will discover he was, the letters to his brother aside, a painter. You will find the book mentioned by Jay, Tripio’s main character, in this excerpt – “One must not wait for it to reveal itself. By painting one becomes a painter. That must be from Letters to Theo.“
Starry, starry Starbucks
Jay isn’t trying to become a painter. But he is sure that he can apply Van Gogh’s wisdom to his own life and write novels. Jay questions himself throughout Tripio. Will he just write and not worry so much about anything else? Will he do the right thing by taking Van Gogh’s wisdom to heart? Will he write and forsake the promising career he had in front of him at a new and growing company called Starbucks? Will he stop writing to become the man he was meant to be? Van Gogh was shaking the content tree pretty hard in Tripio as you can see.
As for today’s post, Van Gogh provided the inspiration again. This morning, after brewing my doppio followed by a pot of coffee backer, I picked up that same, beaten up copy of Letters to Theo. I opened it. Then, I swear that I am not making this up, I turned to and read the paragraph containing the quote:
“Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility”
And so the canvas, as you have read, is no longer blank.
It is the summer of 1992. In my “Starbucks novel”, Tripio, Jay works at a Starbucks store #204 located on north side of Chicago on the corner of Clark, Diversey and Broadway. In Tripio, for the sake of brevity and authenticity, I refer to it simply as store #204, or even just #204. Tripio is a historical fiction novel, set at time when there were around 100 Starbucks locations up and running. However, store #204 was already showing sings of decay from 1,000 transaction Saturday mornings when Jay arrives there as the new Lead Clerk. Jay is an aspiring novelist and so he liked the store’s physical character and the stories it told. His co-workers were mostly aspiring to make a living at one art form or another, so Jay felt he fit right in.
There are several passages in the book when Jay writes that he feels at home at #204. He finds comfort settling back in there for a shift after returning to the city from a trip downstate: “ I had spent too much time here not to treat #204 as a home away from home.” Looking back, that was no accident. The decision Howard Schultz made to empower employee partners with health insurance and stock options was vital to it’s growth and success. In effect, that decision put owners in every Starbucks.
If only I could
I had a strong desire to physically take a trip back to Starbucks store #204 as I was writing Tripio to confirm the details that had gone into the book. I also wanted to look again on the Days Inn that stood diagonally and across the street from #204. There were many, many nights I closed #204 and had to get back to open or at the very least be back for a morning shift. If I closed, I locked that door after midnight. If I opened the next morning, it was at 5:30 or 6 a.m.
The Days Inn stood just across the street on those nights, calling me, tempting me. A shower and bed was just minutes away. My apartment was a long bus ride up Clark. It could take almost an hour before a shower and bed there. I would then have to make the return trip on almost no sleep. A night at the Days Inn would remedy all of this. But no money, no way. So, I made do with my tripio over ice.
Then, the summer 2017 arrived I took the opportunity to drive to Chicago and see both places. I had finished Tripio. I wanted to confirm the details of #204. It had been 20 plus years. My trip back to Starbucks store #204 was also a gift for my daughter. She was headed to college in the fall and we went together as a going away present. That is why I did no research on whether #204 still existed. I was going anyway.
You can’t go home again
Not surprisingly #204 was no more. If it is true that you can’t go home again, at least you have a shot if it still standing. A new collection of newer storefronts had taken over the whole building that housed and surrounded #204. I can’t say I was actually surprised. However, Store #204 was still very, very much there for me: I could still hear the thud of the filter basket hitting the bar across the dump bucket positioned on either end of the espresso bar, the grinders clicking on and the shriek of the hot steaming wand entering the cold milk. I pictured where I stood to expedite the lines during the 1,000 transaction mornings. I thought that I could even catch the scent of a massive urn of Sumatra Mandheling brewing as the morning crew went about the opening process.
Not having a physical confirmation of #204 may have made me work harder to recreate #204 in Tripio. I had to work to rebuild it, and I did. Look for proof when you read Tripio in the scene where Jay dusts off an “order here” sign that hung unnoticed by almost every customer and most partners who had ever entered #204.
So, my trip back to Starbucks store #204 was a success even if it physically was no more. I had confirmed my memories. But the best part was that I finally got to stay at the Days Inn. It is now called The Versey. Yes, the bed and shower sure felt great after all those years of waiting to get there.
My double espresso is pouring slowly and with intent into my favorite doppio cup. It is not yet five in the morning. In a few minutes I will go outside to wake up the morning song birds. My mind wants my body and five senses to be up and at it. My super and subconscious minds know that it will be a good day today. As a result, they woke me before the alarm. They know because my conscious mind, physical body and five sense worked on this yesterday and the day before and before that. I cooperated and got out of bed. This is a routine, a bargain, an understanding that I call the “mind grind”.
From grind to mind
It follows then, that in order to have my clear, energized mind produce and create the day I want, I have to prepare. If I want a great doppio at 5 in the morning, I have to prepare for it. It don’t just happen. Nothing does, nothing just happens. One conscious action I took a couple weeks ago to make a great doppio this morning was to buy the correct type of beans to make my doppio.
I like to use Fresh Thyme espresso. It is bulk whole bean coffee. Just what I need. I don’t live close to the Fresh Thyme. As a consequence, when am there, I buy an over full bag of the beans. It is more than a pound but it gets me a month of doppios. Once home I store the beans in an airtight container on top of the fridge near my grinder.
On Sunday, I grind a week’s worth. I have decades of practice listening to beans being ground. I know when they are ground fine enough to produce a perfect shot. Then I transfer these grounds into in a smaller, glass airtight container next to my espresso maker. There they sit until the follow day, waiting to become my doppio. The intensely flavored, crema topped doppio is the perfect start to my morning. Again, it doesn’t just happen. It take a series of conscious intentional thoughts to create the actions that create the perfect doppio.
Find your mind grind
Apply the same process to creating the morning mind you wake up with. It takes intentional actions and preparation but like my cream topped doppio, it is well worth it. The doppio won’t make itself. Nothing just happens. If I want my mind to match the beautiful, functional simplicity of my doppio, it takes work and preparation as well.
I don’t want to exhaust the metaphor here, but the beans in the equation here would be my yoga practice. The body and mind are clearly linked. The issues are in our tissues, as the wisdom goes. I do quick practice every day before work. This practice is brief but intense with focused thought. The weekends will usually find me doing two longer practices. One of those days I will add a meditation, a rite of yoga related exercises called the 5 Tibetans, and some resistance with weights. Other weekends find me hitting the treadmill and sauna at my local gym. In each and every case, I have developed mental exercises that accompany and enhance the physical. For example, in the sauna I image my fears and doubts leaving my body and mind in the form of drops of sweat. Hey, it works for me.
Be your own mental barista
There is more. I could add journaling, writing fiction, blogging, recording voice memos and many other practices to my mental self-care routine. The common thread to all of them is that they are intentional. They are all things I feel like I have to do to create my simple functional, clear and energetic mind. It is work though. To me that means it would be easier NOT to do them. But, I do not want to drink a doppio, or any coffee drink, made for someone else, by someone else. That would be like grabbing someone else’s drink from the counter at a busy Starbucks and taking it with you. You are stuck with it. It may work, but was it really yours? Ask the same of your thoughts. Who made them? Was it really for me or are they made by a mental barista who really doesn’t care?
I ain’t sayin’ this from a mountain top of course. I am just sharing that I have found a coffee grind and a mind grind that works for me. There is no doubt that you will find your own mind grind. Don’t worry, you will know it is working when you taste it.