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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lost, Shoes, Mirrors

First order of business this week is, of course, the new look. In honor of 2011 (can you tell I'm excited for a new year?), I've changed everything up. So enjoy that, Coffee Lovers.

This week I started watching the hit TV show Lost. I'm a little late to be jumping on the bandwagon, but I'm doing it anyway. I'm, officially, an addict. The intrigue, the subplots, the mystery - the show has reeled me in completely. But the one thing that has me astounded more than anything else is the characterization.

So far, every episode I've watched (the first nine) has been dedicated to the back story of a different character on the island. They all lead rather extraordinary lives. My favorite character, Sayid, for example, is an ex-member of the Iraqi Republican Guard. My other two favorite characters are Charlie and Sun - rock star and the daughter of a Korean dignitary, respectively.

As I watched all of these people's life stories unfurl on screen, I became increasingly doubtful. What are the chances, I was asking myself, that this many interesting people are on one plane together? I satisfied the answer to that question with: well, what are the chances they land on a semi-magical island that moves around in time and space and makes dead men put on gray suits and walk around in the jungle?

But I was thinking about it again while watching the eighth episode of the show for the second time. Sure, a large percentage of the people on this island lead very interesting lives and carry around very interesting pasts. But what is to say that isn't accurate? Are there really grounds to assume that the majority of people we run into at the grocery or drive past on the freeway or live next to in the neighborhood don't lead rather mind blowing lives? Are we right to even assume that we ourselves don't lead interesting existences?

I'm sure you all remember that old saying: You don't know a person unless you've walked in their shoes. It's a good one, no? But I think we should revise it to read: You don't know yourself until you've looked at yourself from the shoes of another person.

Our lives are not only our own. They are looked at, examined, thought about, pondered, watched , and judged by all of the people that live around us. And one person's opinion is not the same as another's. It's probably also worth pointing out that no one has a very accurate image of their life and how it compares to others. Let's not forget the other old saying: Familiarity breeds contempt.

We are all people of layers - people with pasts, mistakes forgotten, mistakes remembered, and personal triumphs. But sometimes we forget just how complex we are, and how incredible our lives must seem. Da Vinci wrote his journals in such a way that they could only be read in a mirror. In some ways, we are like that. We cannot read ourselves back until we are held up to a mirror and given the opportunity to decode our own backwards handwriting.

Next time your coffee gets to be feeling a little watered down, I recommend looking at yourself critically and asking: What do others see?

The answer to that question would probably shock you.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
-Michael

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunday Sip: As the Year Comes to a Close...

Christmas is officially over, and as the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the people who have made this year so incredible for me. Thanks to all of you for your surprises, your support, your jokes, your laughter (at my dumb jokes) and your loyalty as friends and family members. I'm looking forward to yet another year of coffee, fun, and big adventures.


Join me for a cup.
-Michael

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Gift of Coffee and The Season

First off, let me apologize. I have had a very hectic few weeks and there has been a lot going on during my Sundays. The Sunday Sip will be back this week. Sorry about the informal hiatus!

But, anyway, today I will be talking about something that I read this week. In fact, it was a comment on last week's blog post (entitled "Five Dollars Well Spent") that read:
I like that entry quite a bit because I know how you feel about Christmas.
Quite well, actually. So I want you to view it from an outsiders perspective. I
know how you sometimes feel about the human race and would like you to take a
moment and think about what you did for her. Is that why we have the pc holiday
month? So that there are more opportunities for things like this? That's human
spirit. Now I have shared my thoughtfulness with you.

This comment was written by my near and dear friend Kat. And it stopped me for a second. If any of you know me well, you know that (though I do occasionally fail in this regard) being politically correct is on the top of my Must Do List. I see no reason for political incorrectness as it is, quite often, the word we attach to a blatantly rude or improperly slanted comments. Nevertheless, I seemed to take a negative tone about the PC Holiday Month last week. And now I find myself corrected.

Kathryn, I have to agree with you. That is why we have the PC Holiday Month. Under the guise of simple, festive generosity, we open up our hearts for one month of the year. And we touch all of these people, regardless of religion or holiday.

I got in an argument with someone a few weeks ago about whether or not it is acceptable for President Obama to throw a Hanukkah party. This person was of the mind that it was an egregious waste of money. I thought (especially since the party is part of the president's budget) that it was a wonderful gesture. All we hear around December is Christmas, Christmas, Christmas! I celebrate Christmas, but why can't I extend myself? Why can't I wish someone a Happy Hanukkah or a Happy Diwali or a Happy Yule?

It is in these simple words and small gifts that we build bridges. Every since man woke up and became aware of himself, human beings have tried to separate themselves from other human beings. They make excuses like nationality, religion, race, ethics, and so on to justify this rejection of our common human experience.

And yet we find ourselves with the Politically Correct Holiday Month which is nothing more than an excuse to make someone feel loved and appreciated regardless of whether they fast for Ramadan, light candles of Hanukkah, burn wishes for Yule, decorate their homes for Kwanzaa, light lamps for Diwali or sing hymns for Christmas.

They call it the Christmas spirit, but really it's just the human spirit. My mom was in Starbucks last week, and a man held the door for her. So she bought his coffee for him. And he bought coffee for the next person. And they bought coffee for the next person and it continued until my mom had witnessed fourteen coffees bought for fourteen different people. Maybe it was their good deed for the year or maybe they thought Santa was watching.

But I think its safe to say that they just wanted to give the gift of coffee and The Season to someone.

Happy Holidays, Coffee Lovers. May your peppermint mochas be strong, your families joyful, and your homes bright and warm.
-Michael

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five Dollars Well Spent

I trust you've all had a very festive week, Coffee Lovers. It seems like Christmas comes knocking and the entire universe goes topsy-turvy without nary a complaint. We all get swept up (if you will) in the spirit of the holidays.

Well, I have a confession. I think the red, the green, the snowmen, the reindeer, the Advent calendars, and peppermint bark are ridiculous. I've never been a huge fan. America has single-handedly turned the Twelve Days of Christmas into the Entire Month of the Politically Correct Holidays. Anyone who has ever spent time with me inside of a mall in December knows that my dearest wish is that we would just celebrate Christmas the way we celebrate Thanksgiving - one day of prep, maybe a bit of shopping, it comes, it goes, we're done.

But I got my miserly, overly-Scrooged heart warmed today. Maybe I don't love the unnecessary pomp, but I do love giving gifts. So today I brought a gift to a teacher who may have one of the hardest jobs on the face of the earth. I told her I had a present for her as I started digging around in my backpack. I looked up, shocked, to see that she had tears in her eyes. She looked like she was about ready to look behind her, as if maybe her more-deserving-identical twin was standing just over her left shoulder. But, of course, she has no twin. And there are few people I know more deserving.

So she took her gift, choked up, and told me that it would be a permanent fixture in her family's home. I left her classroom not so much smiling as beaming. It was the first time, in a December filled with Santa commercials and Christmas carols, that I'd felt any sort of holiday spirit. And it was so nice to know that someone's day was made because I took the effort to bring them a five dollar gift.

And isn't that the point of the whole holiday? We don't have to spend a lot to make it worth while. It's easy to associate December with blow-out sales and elves. But this year I will associate December with the image of a very tired woman who teared up because someone brought her a gift.

Go give, go receive, go carol - for tis the season, Coffee Lovers.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
-Michael

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Pursuers

Today, Coffee Lovers, I would like to talk about a topic that is very near and dear to me. That topic is ambition.

We all have it. Ambition is the drive to succeed. It is, in essence, everything - EVERYTHING - that the United States believes in. "...that among these are the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That's our country in a nutshell - the pursuers. That's what we do. We pursue.

Now whether or not we are pursuing happiness or not is debatable. Americans - humans, for that matter - pursue because that is part of our nature. We were not made to sit around and wait for success to come to us. For every person huddling in a cave around a fire (circa 6,000 B.C.) there were two others out gathering more firewood. And so the legacy of - not only America - but the world was begun: with firewood.

And, oh, how we've built up that legacy! Firewood has been replaced with silicon chips and skyscrapers. We don't trade furs anymore (well, some of the Canadians still do). Now, we buy and sell entire companies, complete with thousands of human employees. We are the ultimate consumers and also the ultimate pursuers. We, the modern Human Race, pursue success to the breaking point. We grab it up and hold it so tightly that there is no chance for it to escape.

And there is nothing wrong with that. By succeeding you are doing precisely what nature intended you to do. I'm not saying that you should abandon ethics or morality in favor of success. But you should not abandon success because it feels wrong to do well.

There's another side to ambition that we don't give very much credit to. Every person who has ever gone out into the proverbial wilderness to burn their proverbial firewood has gotten weary from the trek. There are plenty who question the wisdom of setting out into the dark woods at all. They are right to question. The dark woods are not a guarantee. They are dangerous. The cave is guaranteed safety, blissful mediocrity, a risk-free lifestyle. But I promise you that you did not grow up thinking: "Goodness me! I hope I never do anything worth remembering when I get older!" And that - that doubt or that weariness - is why there is a second part to ambition. The second part to ambition is the person who looks at you and says: "Yes."

When I was in fourth grade, I sat my dad down in the family office and laid out a very simple storyline. And then I said: "I'm going to write a book, Dad."

And my father answered: "Okay."

That was all I needed. I've run on that four letter word for years now, as I wrote, scrapped, edited, tore my hair out, quite, restarted, started something new, tried a new style, and came to the edge of really giving up. I have come to that point where I'm ready to just stop writing many times.

But then I remember that my father looked at a ten year old with an idea (that has, by the way, been put on serious hold) and told him, without hesitation, "Okay." And he meant it, too. That's what's really important to me. My father didn't just want to encourage me. He believed in me.

My cousin, Alexandra, invented something this year. She and I sat down a few weeks ago and were discussing this very thing: ambition. And she told me something that rang very true with all of my memories of my home-life: "We were raised in an environment where we were told that we could do anything. And they meant it when they said it."

Boy, they sure did.

So go out and be ambitious this week, Coffee Lovers. That tool could be manufactured in China sooner than you think; that novel is only an opening sentence away from existing.

Your dreams are not up in the stars you're shooting for. They're all around you in the form of opportunities. And you can just say "Okay" at any time. And - for goodness sake! - support someone with a good idea. They may get tired along the way.

May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
-Michael

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Sip: A Dedication

This week's Sunday Sip is a dedication to a group of people who matter to me quite a lot. And that group of people is you all, Coffee Lovers. This started as a blog for me. Then it was a blog for you. Now, it is a blog for us. And that is something special to me. The relationship that I feel between all of us - that is why I keep blogging (yes, even when I have to blog at 1:30 in the morning). This has been on my mind to tell you all for the last few weeks.

You guys make it worth while!

Join me for a cup.
-Michael

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Go Light Up Some People

Salutations, Coffee Lovers.

I heard a sad theory this week. Someone told me that, in their experience and opinion, the majority - the vast majority, in fact - of people are sad. I mulled it over. I watched people this week, just to see if they really are sad.

I desperately wanted to prove this theorist wrong. But as I watched people in the grocery store, in Starbucks, at school, and out on the street, I couldn't help noticing a surprising number of people who looked sort of miserable. Don't me wrong, they didn't want anyone to notice that they looked miserable. In fact, the people with the saddest eyes, looked the most put together.

It scared me. It really did. I know what sadness feels like. We all do. But the idea that there are people who are sad all the time is alarming. Sadness is like a tricky man with many faces who sidles down next to you and, ever so slowly, convinces you that this new feeling is perfectly normal.

Then I started watching my Facebook friends and the people that I follow on Twitter. So many of them were overly enthusiastic about...nothing. And it made me think of another word besides sadness: distraction. Is it possible - humor me for just a second - that television shows, songs, video games, chat rooms, and social networks don't really make us happy (though we claim that they do). Is it possible that all they really do is distract us from our own sadness?

I think it's not only possible, but highly likely.

The kind of sadness I'm talking about isn't the kind that crushes you unexpectedly when a tragedy occurs. That is sorrow or despair. That is a wound that promises to never fully heal. This sadness isn't even a wound. You can't express it to someone because there is no blood to show them. There is just a dull, beating, thumping ache that fills you up. It's nothing like crippling depression. No. You function just fine. You get up in the morning, you get ready, you put on your clothes, you do you daily activities, and you distract yourself. In fact, you may distract yourself so well that no one - including you - knows that you are sad. That's a mighty great trick, eh?

This isn't everyone. But it's a lot of people. So I guess, wise theorist, you were right. A lot of people are sad. Not in pain, not in despair, nor in unbearable agony. Just slow, bearable sadness.

I'm sorry to be so gloomy this week. I don't mean to depress all of you. In fact, my final message is a very positive one. And it is this: you may not know who is sad. You may not even know if you are sad. So find your joy. Let it fill you up until it's sloshing over the top of your proverbial cup. And when that coffee (ahem) - I mean joy - is splashing on the ground, go light up some people. Make them smile. Make them remember what it was like to be a glowing, untainted child who laughed at the drop of hat.




Whether you agree with the wise theorist or not (and it's a totally valid opinion to believe that the majority of people are happy), go brightensomeone's day. And don't forget to brighten your own day too, okay?


May your coffee be strong, your passions electric, and your laughter easy.
-Michael