Sun, Apr 13th - 12:23PM
Ruminating on Coffee
It's Sunday morning and warm in Seattle. I'm enjoying coffee and toasted baguette rounds with ham and cheddar cheese melted on top. You hear a lot about coffee in Seattle but the average Seattleite still drinks drip. Oh, I do like the occasional single tall mocha, two pumps, extra whip, no lid. When I indulge, I tell the barrista that I like a little coffee with my whip cream. It's kind of a combination ice cream cone and cup of coffee.
I remember the very first time I had coffee in a form other than a plain ol' cup of joe. I had driven from Rawlins, Wyoming to San Francisco and was staying in Sausalito with a college friend for a week. One sunny day wandering the streets of this town made famous in the poetry and ramblings that came out of the summer of love (or was it the beat poets) I happened upon an open-air cafe. Alone at a little round table in the sunshine, I ordered a cappuccino. It was a libation I'd never heard of before and it certainly had cache. There I sat with my exotic new drink feeling very cosmopolitan. It didn't exist in Rawlins, or any other town in which I'd lived, at least amidst the folks in my circles. Hm. had I had circles?
After that cappuccino moment, there were more years of plain ol' cups of joe until prophetically, propitiously or some other "p" word I found myself in Seattle at the birth of "American coffee culture". It snuck (that may not be a word but I like the sound of it) up on us here. One day we found ourselves timidly trying a latte, then we're ordering coffee drinks with fifteen instructions and concerned that an unfamiliar barrista would hit the chocolate too hard and we should order two pumps instead of the requisite three.
We write about coffee here, too. I teach two writing classes and one day the talk turned to "writing in coffee houses". It's a popular thing for many writers. It seemed that every one in the class had thought, ruminated and even written about coffee and the settings in which it is served. They all brought essays to share on the subject and I joined them. Below is a piece I penned one day.
For years before I defined myself as a writer, my indulgence was to head, pen and pad in hand, to a favorite cafe. Only certain cafes, restaurants and a couple of bars would do, though. Where one goes to write is a personal thing.
In afternoons, I’d sometimes order something sweet, in mornings often breakfast, but always coffee. Even if coffee isn’t a writer’s drink of choice I know those who write about creating in a cafe indulge in poetic license and say it was coffee they drank. Writing and orange juice just doesn’t do it.
Whiskey might have spiked the coffee of Hemmingway or Raymond Carver. Italian writers may add Anisette to theirs. At rare times, Irish coffee amidst regally muted sounds in the bar of a fancy hotel has been a secret writing treat. But it isn’t alcohol that is the active element in creativity.
Living in Seattle, the center of the renaissance of coffee culture, there are innumerable real coffeehouses from which to choose. Mochas or lattes may be what helps draw forth many a writer’s muse. If it’s coffee or a coffeehouse that helps stimulate creativity in writers, inevitably Seattle will become known for more than software. Is it possibly spawning the Parisian salons of the new millennium? Papa, Dorothy, Gertrude, was it the cafe or the coffee that helped draw forth what became your legacy?
One very small, Espresso place in Seattle has no place to sit except three chairs and a small table outside along the side of a building. On warm summer mornings with the buzz of the freeway nearby and no view, somehow the feeling is just right for creativity. Maybe it’s the freshly whipped cream with, rumor has it, a touch of vanilla that tops the warm mocha treat. No, it’s the feeling. I sat in that very spot one day and had the pleasure of chatting with Robert Fulghum over coffee. He must understand about the coffee-writing thing as well.
For those who haven’t had the feeling, the noise of dish clatter and muted voices in special writing-friendly restaurants flows into a hum that somehow enters a writer’s mind and unleashes interesting bits and pieces of life. In the midst of a restaurant, an active center of humanity, individual concerns and mundane minutia are soothed. A new perspective is unleashed. I can never wait to discover what will flow from tip of pen.
It feels thrilling to see creative words flow forth, to pen ideas that are unique to that moment in your brain. For years I did not write but bits and pieces of thoughts and images, I wish now I’d have dated them. I wish now I’d known that, for me, that was what I had to do to become what is acknowledged by so many as a “true writer”. How sad the snobs. So I’m published now, I was still a writer then. I was working at it and learning about it, and most of all, I kept writing. Through that dog-eared, filed away and, of most importance, coffee-stained stack of notebooks, my writing gift emerged.
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