Writing and Coffee Go Hand in Hand

The Genesis of a Bad Idea

Awhile back, I decided to give up caffeine. That meant no more coffee, no chocolate, no tea (at least black and green), and horror of horrors – no espresso.

I class espresso separately from coffee. If you are an espresso drinker (and by this I mean true espresso in a demitasse not cappuccino nor any other hot coffee milkshake concoction), you’ll know what I mean and you’ll appreciate the distinction. If you are not an espresso drinker, then I provide the following comparisons for reference:

Espresso is to coffee as…

  • Freshly picked and squeezed orange juice is to Tang
  • Whole Milk is to Skim
  • Fine Bordeaux is to Boons Farm
  • Knob Creek is to Old Granddad

Admittedly though espresso is an acquired taste and I don’t fault anyone for preferring a mild cup of coffee, just please make it something good.

So, I went cold turkey on caffeine that day. Everything was fine, but I knew the test would be Friday morning.

I woke up feeling fine on Friday. My vision was clear and sound. I felt focused, and it even seemed that the colors of the world were a little sharper, brighter.

I went through my normal morning routine, substituting herbal tea for my usual espresso and herbal tea again for my noontime cup of coffee. I didn’t notice any ill side effects until late on Friday afternoon when a mild headache began to throb behind my right eye. It wasn’t so awful though, and because I full expected it (and in fact was surprised at how mild it was) I easily ignored it and continued on through the evening. I slept great.

Saturday morning I still had my little headache but I went out for a run and that cleared it up. I ran a little faster than usual, not because I felt clear headed or anything but because it was cold. But at the studio (the little room where I do my writing) I felt run down. My head started to swim a bit and I ended up writing a short an depressing entry in my journal about my lack of motivation and energy. What I wanted to do was sleep.

Throughout the rest of the day the urge to sleep kept on getting stronger. I felt weary from the run. My muscles ached. I made it through till dark though and my headache cleared itself up.

This morning though, I woke up feeling awake but mentally dead. My eyes were clear but it was more of a fluorescent light sort of clear. I could see everything quite well but what I saw looked colorless and drab. I came to the studio and began my work. This time, it was even worse than the day before. I didn’t even have the drive to write about how depressing it was not to be writing about something useful.

And then it struck me… I was dying.

How quickly we forget trauma.

Ask a woman after she’s just given birth when the next child will be coming and you’re likely to have your face bitten off. However, if you wait a few months, the pain of birth and the discomfort of pregnancy recedes and the same woman who would have attacked you like a hungry bear might even suggest herself that another baby would be sweet. Of course, once she is pregnant again she quickly recalls how much it sucked. One hears the refrain, “What were we thinking?” from both father and mother. It goes on and on until the child is born and through the early months of sleepless nights. Then suddenly one gets a single night of sleep and miracles of miracles, “Oh, I guess that wasn’t so bad.”

We forget.

While I was dying this morning, I recalled that I once tried to kick this caffeine habit before. The memory was vivid and horrifying. Some years back I was a vegetarian, I didn’t drink alcohol either, and I tried to kick caffeine as well. This is all well and good and many people will applaud the idea of “going clean”.

The problem is that when I stopped drinking coffee, I began to perceive the true nature of the universe and like H.P. Lovecraft I was terrified of what I saw.

No, I didn’t see a many-tentacled creature from deep space crawling about in my backyard. I saw myself being normal. I saw myself being satisfied with what I had and with what I did day in and day out. I saw myself being happy, but it was a happiness without joy. It was boredom, pure and simple. And unfortunately, that is what life becomes unless one takes some active steps to turn life towards some other purpose.

Look around at your neighbors. Do they mow their lawns cheerfully? Mine do. They haul ass around on their little lawn tractors with great big grins. They are happy but do they know joy? Can you see them bursting with life? Nope.

And that is what I’m talking about. The calm, satisfied life is fine for so many people. There is nothing wrong with it. But that is not who I am, and I realized that the longer I went without coffee the more settled I would become in this reality. I’d been there before and it scared the hell out of me.

Feels Like the First Time

Rather than allow myself to sink further into the abyss, I put down my laptop and went down to the cafe. I ordered my usual espresso and sat down to enjoy. Within minutes, I began to feel the effects. I felt my mind coming back online. My body felt stronger. Ideas began to click and then they began to whirr. I walked out of the cafe and breathed in the air. I felt alive and I smiled with a pure joy that only comes when one feels truly alive, but there was more.

I felt a sense of urgency.

Perhaps this is what I needed more than anything else. Purpose is one thing, but urgency is another. It is urgency that makes me sit down at the keyboard and pound out line after line. It is urgency that makes me push through the work until it is complete and then again through revision to make sure it is perfect. Without that sense of urgency, I am willing to take what life brings and while that might be fine others it is not my cup of herbal tea.

1 thought on “Writing and Coffee Go Hand in Hand

  1. [Update] Since writing this post, I’ve switched to a regimen of espresso to get rolling, black tea to keep the groove going, and green tea to bring it down.

    I find that the tea helps cut some of the jarring effects that come after having too much coffee-caffeine.

    Also, I generally stay away from brewed coffee. Not only does it not give me enough of a kick, it makes me hungry too.

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