I used to work at a coffee shop (I worked at a coffee shop for three years.) But for most of those three years I wasn’t able to drink coffee. I tried to drink coffee: believe me, it was free.
Those who were able to drink large amount of coffee had really cool opportunities like traveling to Seattle on coffee crawls. If we drank coffee especially well, we were sometimes invited to go to “cuppings,” which were essentially wine tastings but in dark basements and for coffee. But I just couldn’t drink it. It gave me anxiety.
So I told myself I would try detoxing from coffee. I had free herbal tea instead. I went months, maybe six, without drinking it at all. Then I stopped working at the coffee shop, I finished school and I started writing five days a week. I had my first cup of coffee that first day of writing and I haven’t had one bout of anxiety since.
These events may not match up exactly in time as well as I say they do, but looking back from a later point in my life, I believe they will appear to match up. I have matched them up in the following way: Writing needs coffee. School doesn’t.
Recently, I have begun to have one coffee every morning and one every afternoon. The morning coffee, if I’m so lucky to have a morning of writing, helps establish my day. It says: you are going to write this morning. It says, see? Writing can be comfortable. You are in a safe space.
The afternoon coffee is a kick in the pants, a signal that a new shift of writing is beginning. It tells me, you committed to a good chunk of time this afternoon. Make it worth it. Do something. The afternoon coffee is more mean.
Drinking coffee with my schoolwork, however, said other things to me. It got my insides moving, so much so that I would feel overwhelmed by the work I had to do rather than motivated. This is because school is a passive act. Even in its most active moments – writing papers, creating presentations or projects – school is about taking material set up by a teacher and professor and in some way learning that material.
Writing (fiction) is purely active. I am either creating or I am editing my creations. If I’m researching, I’m doing it to loot ideas and use them for my own purposes and with my own unique way of looking at them. I owe nothing to anybody. I owe everything to nobody.
Writing needs coffee to get me moving. School couldn’t use coffee – I needed to slow down.
Now, you say, aren’t there mornings and afternoons where you don’t write? Where you go to work or out into life? Or aren’t you starting school again in September?
Yes. You’re right. And here’s what I have to say to that. I like to think of the coffees I have away from my writing desk as standardizing coffees. We try to go to bed at about the same time every night so that our body is prepared to sleep at that time when it really needs to. I drink coffee so I can give my body coffee when it really needs it. I am preparing it for the fuel it needs to write.
All this, of course, is mind tricks. I know caffeine is a drug and I am certainly treating it like one, but it is also a state of mind. How wired am I really getting from caffeine, and how wired from the idea of it?
One writer friend I know writes a poem every time she sits down to write in order to give an offering to her muse. I am sure that like all good desks and bookshelves pile up over time with lovely clutter, so will my superstitions. For now, I sit down anywhere and with anything but always with a coffee at the start of each shift of my day. Because for this period of my life, that works.