Seattle, Washington, United States
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Strange Courage

Hello, Coffee Lovers! I hope all of you had a wonderful and restful holiday. Today, I want to blog about a strange kind of courage I did not know I did not possess in great quantities.

It is the courage to publicly express the inner parts of oneself.

I'm sure by now you all know I am a poet, and (if you have been a reader for an extended period of time) you may have even read one or two of my poems. But I encountered an oddly paralyzing moment yesterday evening.

This story, however, begins a few days ago. My brilliantly talented friend Paige sang with the artist Letters and Lights in the song "Clouds" from his new EP. She did an amazing job (and all of you should go track down that song) and posted the song on Facebook, using the website SoundCloud. It was my first introduction to this community, which shares sounds, songs, and audio together free. I filed this discovery away and went about the rest of my afternoon.

That evening, one of my best friends was reading a poem I'd written and emailed to her. She remarked that my poetry sounds best when read aloud, that it, in fact, was meant to be read aloud. This, too, I filed away. And then I went to bed.

I read somewhere that the mind sorts, judges, and reevaluates information gathered during the day while we sleep. I assume my mind did that two nights ago.

I woke up with a curious idea. Why not make myself a SoundCloud account and read my poetry aloud, recording it, and sharing it with the world? It seemed perfect. So I did it, recording five poems, and posting one on Facebook. But, as I left my computer, total panic gripped me. It wasn't something I could understand or had a frame of reference before? Since when had I ever been concerned by others' opinions? But, for some reason, last night I could think of nothing but the possibility of huge judgment for this sampling of my work.

And now I think I know why. The five poems I chose to record were such personal manifestos, moments of honest, literary nakedness, that a judgment against them would have been a judgment against me at my very core. And that terrified me. It would terrify anyone.

And yet, I could not take the poems down. Something deeper than my fear of negative opinions drove me onward, murmured almost silently that this was important, if only for personal growth. So, I spent a period of time today thinking about my reaction. I'm a huge believer in the importance of straightforward and bracing self expression, but when it came time for it, I was frozen afterward. You see, my greatest shortcoming may be pride.

Proud people do not like to have their self image challenged.

But I think it's not only healthy, but necessary, that we open ourselves up to the possibility of huge criticism. Pride, at its core, is a series of half-truths we delude ourselves and the world with. Breaking through them to reveal the inner self, and indeed the inner ugliness, is in equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. I plan on doing it more often.

And, in case you were wondering, the story has a happy ending. I have amazingly supportive friends. Thank you. All of you.

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

SoundCloud: http://soundcloud.com/michael-abraham9

Sunday, December 25, 2011

sunday sip: the little joys

Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Kwanzs, Christmas, Yule, of a day of rest not really religiously motivated at all, I would imagine you're spending a great deal of time with your family or friends right now. And if you're doing that, I'd be willing to bet that something has, unexpectedly, warmed you, made you smile, maybe brought a tear to your eye.

Joy is not a tangible thing. It hides on a different plane of existence, and follows rules only it knows.

May it find you. And may it be unexpected.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, December 22, 2011

playing with the paper

Well, Coffee Lovers, we've finally made it. We are at that time of year that, depending on your age and tolerance for interpersonal conflict, you either love or dread. Most of us feel a dichotomy of emotion in this week. But, regardless of your emotions toward the Holidays, you are certainly under a considerable amount of stress as the snow (or lack thereof) piles up on your driveway and the in-laws shuttle across the threshold.

It really is, and I'm not being facetious, the most important time of year. It is that time when, in the midst of madness and nation-wide Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we learn to be peaceful.

The discrepancy between the number of times a day that I think about peace and the number of times that I actually say the word highly amuses me. I've been genuinely reflective in the past few weeks, much more settled into myself. And as that has happened, as the winter has broken her shards of lovely play-glass upon the world, I've seen something very important: we yearn for equilibrium, balance, stasis...but we never vocalize that desire! Hell, we never even act on that desire. We live in constant motion. Even our elevators travel faster than they used to. But we do not speak out against it. We just let is consume us, until we are even thinking faster than is necessary.

I know I sound preachy, but I'm a preachy person. I'm sure I'd do the Dalai Lama proud (he's preachy, too). But think about it. What do we associate the Holiday Season with? Family and fun, sure. But also: shopping malls, gift receipts, lines, checking watches, new recipes, old recipes, finding the old recipes, plane tickets and the subsequent rushing through airports, spending money and then worrying about money. . .the list goes on. I'm sure you've all thought about it quite a few times this week and last week, and maybe even last month.

I wonder what would happen if we treated this month of December like we used to when we were children. Everything was brightly colored and sparkling, and so we made ourselves brightly colored and we sparkled in every moment. We ran outside, kicking up snow until our feet, like our cheeks and noses, were bright red. We'd come running inside, plop down by the roaring orange fire and drink rich brown coco, and we didn't worry. We let someone else do the worrying for us. When we gave gifts we didn't worry about how much we'd spent or whether it would actually get used. We just gave it, and accepted the obligatory kiss on our little cheeks. Then we scampered off.

Children are not caught up in the drama of the season. Case-in-point? They play with the paper more than the presents.

I think I'd like to spend this Holiday bright like that, too.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

sunday sip: scuffed corners

Sorry for not posting on Thursday. It was a very busy week. But I'm here now, for a more or less sip-ish post.

I'm sitting at home currently, coffee cup in hand, right in the center of my house. And I'm looking around with fresh eyes this morning, trying to see past the familiarity. I like what I see. There is a cornerof a wall to my right that has been so scuffed, the support beneath the paint and wood is visible. There is a leak under the sink with a bucket and lots of trust beneath it. There is a scratch on the floor, adding plenty of character to the hardwood. That says nothing of the broken drawers.

These things (including the broken candle on the kitchen table) have never detracted from my view of my home. They make me smile, maybe - I think - because they remind me of myself. Our house is so meticulous in some things, and yet broken in all of these beautiful little ways. None of them impair it, lessen its value, make it less hospitable - they just serve one purpose: to remind all who venture here that human beings are alive within these walls. As cheesy as it is, I wholeheartedly hold with those who speak of the differences between houses and homes.

But I think we, as people, are like that, too. I know plenty of men, women, boys, and girls who are not present in themselves. There is no peace with that which is cracked or scuffed or out of order. They live in a state of constant self-condemnation and self-improvement, which, in and of itself, is not bad. But their refusal to see the ridiculous, clowning kind of perfection in their own flaws makes them, somehow, incomplete.

To be perfect is an icy road my friends. Here's to leaky faucets and broken candles.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Sunday, December 4, 2011

the candle

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of a post on Thursday. I was on a weekend-long school retreat, which was phenomenal. However, it's not what I'll be writing about today.

I adore words; you all know what. Reading books and poems is like consuming food; it gives me strength. Writing and thinking them is like breathing; it is necessary. But, as with anything, there are some words I simply feel uncomfortable with. One of those words is love.

It reminds me of four dreaded letters that fall, more often than not, out of the sky as a great condemnation to feeling. Where is the safety in love? Where is the assurance? "Oh you love me? Fantastic! Where's the prenup?" This is our world. We have forgotten how to be okay with our most base feeling, our most base commitment, because it means, all too often, manipulation.

I'm not just talking about romantic love. Romantic love is its own little disaster, but I'm writing about the love we are supposed to see everywhere, the love of friends, mentors, students, family, even of perfect strangers. Where is that love? Did it ever exist? Did we blow the candle out?

Or are we just struck with a malicious case of cultural - nay, global - amnesia?

I wrestle with this question a lot, and, if you notice, I use the word love very little on this blog. How do we trust something that hangs in the air between two people, but can never be seen, bought, sold, felt, broken? Is it perfection or imperfection that spawns this? Is it a feeling or a promise? Is it both? Is it that moment of falling or the sensation of firm solidarity?

Obviously, I'm not the expert. None of us are. We have ALL bought the same thing, the same mainstreamed lie: love is just a sensation. Oh, foolish man wake up! Love is why you keep your head above the water! It is why you look into the eyes of your mother and weep sometimes! It is why there is no ground beneath your feet half the time, why there is a ground the other half. It is the heart of your every passionate thought, the soul of your every throaty cry. Every time you've raged at the sky, every moment of perfect stillness - it has happened in this force, greater than gravity or the will to dominate. It made the world, and it will end it, I'm sure, eventually.

You see, Coffee Lovers, I don't know if God exists, and if It does - I don't know who It is. I have no idea if it's Allah or Yahweh, Zeus or Krishna. I don't know if It resides in each of us, if there are More than one, if It remembers that we're down here, looking up. I'll never know and you won't either. But I'm confident of one thing: even if God doesn't exist, love does.

It always will. For as long as we have children, as long as we have flowers, as long as we have homes and homeless and hope, there will be love. It will drive us to the heights of insanity, it will pull as back form the brink, it may push us over. It will rip us in two. It will sew us back up. I believe in it.

I hate that word, and I always will. Love, amor, liefde, ai, pyara, cariad - they're all words, and words have a definite beginning, a definite end - a shoreline or a continent; they break eventually. But as a friend of mine told me this weekend: "The ocean just doesn't end! Stick your feet in the water here and you know it's the same water a person in China has their foot in! It's incredible, just so beautiful."

It is. It really is.

I write this today because there are some things that are too big for just one person, for a hundred or a thousand people. I feel like my life is a lot of big things right now. Unfortunately, I'm sixteen and still foolish. In preperation for what is waiting in tomorrow or the days beyond, I'm terrified of saying, doing, or being the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. There is simply no instrcution booklet for life, and I'm only just beginning to figure that out.

But I sat down at coffee with a friend of mine today, and we were discussing these happenings, and in spite of the looming hopelessness, we grabbed each other's hands and looked in each other's eyes and decided we'd just love ourselves, each other, and the world through it all. So, you see, I'm realizing it's all we've got to hold onto: the hands of our friends and the love that those hands represent. Call me corny, tell me I'm melodramatic, but don't forget your darkness is dark until you remember where you hid the candle. When you find it, let me know what dreaded four letter word was carved into its waxy surface. I'll hate to say "I told you so."

So, I'll probably say "I love you" instead.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

sunday sip: Far, Far

Yael Naim sings a song called Far, Far with the following lyrics:

How can you stay outside? There's a beautiful mess, a beautiful mess inside. Far, far there was this little girl, she was praying for something big to happen to her. Every night, she hears beautiful strange music, it's everywhere, there's nowhere to hide. But if it fades, she begs: Oh Lord, Don't take it from me! Don't take it - she says. I guess I'll have to give it birth! To give it birth! I guess, I guess I'll have to give it birth. I guess I'll have to, have to give it birth. There's a beuatiful mess inside and it's everywhere, just look at yourself now, deep inside, deeper than you ever did, deeper than you ever did. There's a beautiful mess inside.

I had a long spiel written out for why I'm posting these lyrics. But I took it out. I trust that all of you will find some truth, somewhere, without my help.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy a happy Thanksgiving with your families and friends!

Life, love, drink coffee.
-michael

Sunday, November 20, 2011

sunday sip: thinking / dreaming

I think we invented candles because their temporary luminance reminds us of our temporary breathing. I think we think too often. I think there are a thousand children dancing on a hilltop, somewhere. I think ice is a temporary state of matter. But I think heat is eternal. I think the sky has friends and the moon gets lonely. I think we feel too little. I think music is how the gods let us know they're still up there, surfing that milky ocean overhead. I think authors are the bravest human beings alive. I think laughter is omnipotent and joy is omnipresent. I think it's okay to have dreams, and that nebulas may also be colorful. I think I am myself and you are of me as I am of you.

I think I learned these things while slumbering.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bird-Wolf or A Lovely Child

I've done this once before, and I'm going to do it again. I'm going to tell you all a story.

-

It was a time and place different from this one, but not necessarily distant, simply different. The sun may have been closer to the earth, the moon farther: the passion of man tangible as the heat of his hearth, and his distant respect for beauty was even more distant. The nights were darker to balance the brilliance of the stars; fate was relevant still.

Consider, first, the delicacy of a snowflake. The water vapor inherent in the clouds crystallizes wholly and immediately with a firm finality, surrending itself to the cancerous tug of hydrogen bonds, abandoning wind-like freedom for the gentle subjugation of a solid chemical state. And then, like so many prophets of a spiritually repressed era, they fall to the ground - their chains greater than the weight of their emaciated bodies.

As with air, so with man.

There was a girl born, in that usual manner, to a usual man and an unusual woman. She came into the world with a soft cry on her lips and a sorrowful look in the grandmotherly wrinkles of her freshly constructed infant skin. The intensity in her eyes and in the painfully slow movement of her fleshy limbs marked her as different from her first moments of life. And yet, she was weighed and tagged, watched and coddled, spanked - just as any infant. And then she was wrapped in a standard pink blanket and taken home.

She spent her childhood in an apartment in the city. It was made of bricks. They were bloody-color, she'd decided. The apartment looked out on the busy street below, mournfully watching the bustle of lives that had not surrendered themselves to immobility, but, rather, moved swiftly and with that great audacity we attribute to those things with beating muscles affixed to the left sides of their chests and legs upon which they may enact great conquest of their own little gardens, their own little universes. They were bees and many ants, she'd decided.

They'd named her Pulchara; she was, indeed, lovely, even though she had the distinct look of a gentle child or a wolf, which was terrifying in its implications of dichotomy. But no one paid it mind, for how impolite to suggest that the child of the quiet couple in your supper club was fiercely canine in spirit, a howler rather than a gazer. No, they said nothing. But still they thought these things, and brilliantly circumnavigated the globe of polite conversation, fingers crossed that little Tierra del Fuego wouldn't cath their galleon unprepared.

And she didn't. She just watched them.

Pulchara did not speak often, and when she did, her large eyes watched intently for the reactions. She measured each moment with the reflexive agitation of a caged animal, wondering futilely at its present situation, at the impossibility of metal bars. Her father would answer her questions; her mother would just stare.

Her mother, Linda, was a lost beauty, a sunshine clouded over by age and the unreasonability of fate, a mad thing, rage of the rose beneath the boot. She spoke less, even, then her daughter, living almost entirely in a studio in which she painted her deepest and most primal thoughts and emotions.

Pulchara's father, Destin, was a business man, a priest of the numerical corporate god of the netherworld of economic damnation. He was distant, cold. He looked to each situation in terms of silk and net gain. His eyes were a piercing blue.

And so she raised herself, teaching herself reading and writing, those two necessary pillars upon which greatness may rest its head for slumber or formulation. She kept journals of her thoughts:

wind and the greatness of bird-kings; i, too, may own the skies; show me the blue of the venetian mystery; yes i yearn for ocean foam; let me have your hands, gods around me; we shall dance; this is only the beginning of the golden; the twilight has not yet come; high is the noon!; remember my strength when i have gone; i will go, go, go - flying.

Pulchara awoke one evening to the din of a thunderstorm beseiging the city with its intrinsic fury and hatred of all that makes its own heat, aiming - with wind and torrential downpour - to extinguish the lights of the human experiment, as all water and sky-stuff may seek to do. But we resist. She awoke and walked to the window, gazing at the ladies, dressed in white, which flitted through the sky with the cruel grace of queens or concubines.

The lightning was so lovely.
And, yes, the moon was distant.

Her heart, avian in its speed and dexterity of emotion, thrummed beneath that wolf-like structure of her ribs. The little Pulchara thought back to streets and markets, to venders and dancers, to all things which move beyond the sanctity of bloody bricks and she smiled with the beginnings of a plan. And falling to her tender little knees, she offered up fervent cries to Loki, the thunder-hater, the raven on wing. Grinning, madly, she climbed to her little feet, threw wide the window, and stepped up on the large sill.

And then Pulchara jumped, her little nightdress whipping about, her own torrent - queen of a little destiny, a triumph over or with gravity. The air rushed past her limbs and extremities, lifting only her mind to the transcendent level of madness or joy. Leaving the apartment behind, this unusual child soared through that time and space specifically alloted her and then beyond. The violent aurora tearing itself from that universal womb above us lit the mad longing of the wolf in Pulchara's eyes as she fell down and farther down still.

Sometime during the following morning, the rain became snow that solidly blanketed the city. Knowing flurries of wind picked it up and tossed it about, playing games with the frozen thoughts of yesterday, freedom in the breeze's rollick.

There was no body to be found.

-michael

Sunday, November 13, 2011

sunday sip: Sometimes,

Sometimes, I feel calm. Sometimes, I am gentle. Sometimes, I just smile. Sometimes, I am quiet. Sometimes, I am simple. Sometimes, I fail. Sometimes, I quit. Sometimes, I continue.
Sometimes, I feel calm.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Friday, November 11, 2011

& the pariahs

I'm sorry I seem to have dropped off the face of the earth these last few weeks, Coffee Lovers. I've just been really busy. But here I am - alive still, I think.

It's been a long time since I listened to the song "Welcome to the Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance. It is a song that had a lot of meaning for me when I was younger, but has sort of faded out of sight and mind in the last four-or-so years. I just heard it again. The song, originally titled "The Five of Us Dying," has one of the most lyrically brilliant intros I have ever heard. It reads:

When I was a young boy
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said:
Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken, the beaten, and the damned.
He said:
Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers - the plans that they have made.
Because one day, I'll leave you
A phantom to lead you in the summer
To join the Black Parade.

It is an inherently hopeless message. A father brings his young son to the city for a histronic moment of festivity, a parade, which is - at its essence - a farcicle celebration of whim, to ask him to rescue the outcasts, the oppressed masses, those that ride the fringe of society to avoid the judgment inherent in the eye of the cataclysmic storm of western culture. And then he tells him that his only reward is death.

As an awkward twelve year old, I always wondered what had happened to the father. You see, it seemed obvious to me that any father begging his son to save the pariahs of society must, himself, be such an individual. And the father's message of hopelessness, of an empty promise - of death - used to make me very quiet.

What is it worth? I would ask that to the world at large, and it would stay silent.

But now I think I know. You see, whether they know it or not, My Chemical Romance is right. There is no reward for being the messiah of a lost culture of division. No one is going to pat you on the back for it; no medal of honor will come your way. Rather, you'll be detested and distained. You'll be called things you'd prefer to forget. No one will forgive you your transgression of honest denial of the system.

But you will be right.

And even if your only reward is a phantom that leads you in the summer to join those that are already eternally walking, mourning their own martyrdom - you'll be right.

You see, there is no inherent moral obligation to do anything. There is only you & the pariahs, each one calling out - in cracked voices - reaching out - with crumbling hands, their stone foundations already dust - believing in the all-pervading aroma of possibility, if only someone else would wake up and smell the coffee, damn it!

Yes, My Chemical Romance was right. It is a hopeless thing, maybe, or maybe it is simply the hope of believing when everyone else is unable.

Maybe the black parade, ghosts and phantoms though they are, enjoy a tangibility the human race - so steadfastly slumbering - lacks.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

erm...

I'm having one of those painfully uninspired days. Sorry!

Eat, sleep, drink coffee.
-michael

Thursday, October 27, 2011

the music makers

The tumult is self-sustained.

I got home from a hectic day today. Too many obligations, too many things to do, too many people to worry about, too much to think about. Every day has seemed like this for the last few weeks. Too much is going wrong, too much is going mad, too much is just going.

But the tumult is self-sustained.

I took my brother to football practice about a half hour ago. On my way from his school to the gas station, I put in my iPod headphones and clicked on a song at random. It was three minutes and thirty-five straight seconds of pure joy, about forgetting what's happening, what others think, even of thinking what you think. Just about dancing, singing, being a music maker. The song is "Put Your Records On" by Corrine Bailey Rae, and at that moment, singing and dancing and putting my records on was all I wanted to do.

So, needless to say, I sang and danced to it on repeat in my car, in front of strangers at the gas station, on the way home. I giggled uncontrollably. I whipped my hair back and forth. I didn't think about anything. I just hung out in the joyous spirit of a music maker. It was only about fifteen minutes of my life, but what a perfect fifteen it was.

And so I realized: the tumult is self-sustained.

I have a drama teacher and director who always tells us: "The only thing in life you don't get to choose is being born and dying." While it's kind of a blanket statement, on the whole, he is right. We don't get thrust into many situations we can't change, and, even in those where we are somewhat powerless, walking away is always an option.

So I stuck myself in this mess? In all of these little, tiny messes that, like so many dots, make one damn ugly Picasso face of anxiety? Mhm, how unfortunate. And how wonderful. You see, if the tumult is something we build, something we place ourselves into, something we continue to make, then it is also something that we can change. Even if we don't change the situation, how we perceive it changes it intrinsically. Life, after all, has little to do with facts, but quite a lot to do with perception of what little is there.

The tumult is self-sustained.

The liberation is self-realized.

The laughter, however, is uncontrollable.

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Terebithia

I rediscovered one of my favorite books from childhood this week, Coffee Lovers. It is the classic Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. If you haven't read it, you aren't too old to. I promise.

It's about a boy from a poor family in a rural area who, on the outside, seems like all of the other fifth graders. Inside, he's dying for the world to know how much he loves to draw and create, dying for his father to accept his dream of being an artist, dying for something to make. And it is about a girl, an eccentric girl in the rural neighborhood, whose parents are rich, ex-hippie authors without a television set. And despite the fact that circumstances are the greatest distance between any two people, they become best friends.

Together, they create a magical kingdom only they know about. They call it Terabithia and it is there, in that world of their minds made almost-real in the nearby forest, that they learn the greatest lesson life has to offer: the strength to insist upon yourself.

I've always loved this book, because this was me as a child. I spent every afternoon in the forest talking with wizards, fighting dragons, plotting with elves, chanting in funky gibberish to ward off the evil spirits. It may sound funny now, but it was true back then. I fought the same war that Jess and Leslie fight in Terabithia, that very finite, eternal war of childhood to find oneself. Among the wood nymphs and the pixies, I worked little by little until, finally, I could emerge from the forests of my backyard into the life I'd been neglecting in favor of my imagination.

You see, there's a new kind of magic you learn about once you finally leave the woodland wonders of childhood behind. That is the magic of living well in a de-mystified time and place. It is the magic of passion, of art, of loving, not just someone or something specifically, but throwing wide your arms and letting your soul feast itself upon everything, letting yourself be overtaken by your own version of the wide world, not forgetting that you are entitled to your own smiles, if nothing else. It is the magic of singing badly and loudly in public, of remembering to talk to strangers, of shining because you were naturally endowed with light, and what a waste it would be to forget that.

One of my best friends reminds me of this kind of living all of the time. She is strong and wise beyond her years. She is comforting and confusing, suprising and dependable, always ready to listen to a new idea and give you her honest opinion. It is rare that people drop into life ready, each day, to remind you that there is magic still to be had. But she is one of them. And for that, I thank her.

There are days when Terabithia seems so far off. Life has that funny habit of catching up with you at all the wrong times, but we forget that Terabithia is not in the forest across the neighborhood creek or in our backyards. No, my friends. Terabithia remains, as it always has been, in our minds. We are safe and powerful, we are young and lovely - always. What a celebration of life that is.

I suppose refinding Bridge to Terabithia served to remind me that life, no matter how busy it gets, is a waste if we look around and realize we have forgotten to actually live it. So bring the mystical back to the everyday; it's not as far off as you think.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

sunday sip: over the rainbow

It's late and I find myself listening to the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It's a platinum hit played with only a ukelele and his incredible voice. And it's all about dreams.

I don't know if you were also a Wizard of Oz kid when you were younger, but, if you were, you probably remember the sepia scene where Judy Garland, on her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's chicken farm, imagines a world where "troubles melt like lemon drops high above the chimney tops."

Think back to the end of Wizard of Oz. It was all a dream. Dorothy's real "somewhere over the rainbow" world was always right back on that chicken farm, which did not need to be a sepia existence. She just had to learn to actually dream the right way: for an everyday kind of perfect.

Keep dreaming, Coffee Lovers.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, October 13, 2011

hide-and-seek

I wonder if anyone else has these moments. Coffee cup in hand, October sunshine spilling through the windows, soft folk music somewhere in the background, hair at fourteen wild angles, still wearing the clothes from the day before. Sometimes, it's little things.

I am not afraid of being melancholy, being sad, just feeling okay. Maybe, a long time ago, I was, but I'm not anymore, because I've learned something. Joy is not a constant state of being. Joy is a game. It appears, it disappeares. There is a brilliant line in Tenessee Williams' heartbreaking one act The Glass Menagerie. It opens the show, in fact:

"Yes, I have tricks up my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

Joy is like that. It really, truly exists, but it does not run around our cities or through our homes with its face laid bare for all to see at any given moment. It hides; it tricks. Think of it like a child, giggling in the corner of the closet, because they know that big brother is so close to winning Hide-and-Seek.

So today I found joy. I'm taking a sick-day off school. I woke up late, covered in cold sweat and coughing. I didn't sleep well. I don't feel any better. But, despite or maybe because of all that, I was sitting on my couch by the window, grinning like an idiot, and wondered if the Coffee Lovers have ever felt this way. There is no explanation. It is the sunshine that breaks past the clouds, when, maybe, you didn't even know there were clouds to break past. It is something that was hiding in plain sight, just waiting to be stumbled upon.

It isn't something we seek. We chase happiness, and that always gets away from us. Joy is just something we wait for, we find by accident, we giggle, run, laugh, and whoop with. And then, in the way of all children, we let it go, knowing that nothing is permanent, happy that everything - everything! - comes back to us in the end.

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

Sunday, October 9, 2011

sunday sip: hopeful and kind

Each generation of Americans has had a poet that has held the position as the nation's keeper of conscience. In my opinion, that poet for current America is Maya Angelou. Two of her best known poems are "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "On The Pulse of Morning." The latter was composed and presented for the inaugural ceremony of Bill Clinton. It ends with the words:

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

All day today, this poem has been on my mind. I don't even like it that much! But her message, her goal is so simple, so beautiful. She doesn't speak of revolution, spiritual transcendence, liberation. She speaks of today, this pulse of morning, of being hopeful and kind. Nothing more. Certainly, nothing less.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

regardless of the mess called living

"If you want to be happy, be."
               -Leo Tolstoy

The first time I read this quote, I laughed uncontrollably. I do believe I might even have cried a little bit. It was an inappropriately mirthful moment, and I was incredibly glad I was home alone at the time.

But why? It actually took me a while to think through the odd response to what would be, on any other day, just another quote. But when I really sat down and thought through my awkward fit of laugher, I realized that I was amused because a part of my mind immediately recognized that this is what I really have to master in my own life. It is such a simple idea. It is such a terrifying idea.

Are we really so supremely in control that we can decide, despite circumstances, to simply be happy? My immediate inclination is to say no. Absolutely not! Human beings are reactionary. Aren't we?

I thought about this quote as I drove home in the rain tonight. I was heading back from a visit with one of the most resilient, incredible people I know. I've been friend with her since we were about eight years old. Back then, of course, life involved play sets, recess, jumping, whooping, laughing at nothing. As the years have gone on, things have gotten harder, but especially for her.

I spend so much time marveling at your strength, Shreya. So few of us could face everyday unhealthy, overly stressed, under-appreciated and still have the strength to smile, to listen, to care. Your gift for truly looking at others and seeing them, not the version of themselves they want you to see, but the one that's actually there, is beautiful and potent beyond anything your teachers could give you. That you are still happy in the midst of constant struggle reminds me, everyday, what I should aspire toward.

I complain too often. It is probably one of the things about myself that I notice the least and detest the most. My life is, to be frank, just peachy. What do I have to complain over? To gripe and bitch and worry about? The answer to that question: pretty much nothing. But I do. And yet, I see these incredible people around me, Shreya and others, who face life head-on each day and decide - actually decide! - that happy is what they want to be, therefore what they are going to be.

Wow.

When asked who inspires me, I often answer Tenzin Gyatso, Allen Ginsberg, Harvey Milk, or Alice Walker. Yes, these people are inspirations. Yes, they are teachers. Yes, their lessons should be treasured, examined, embraced.

But there is a different kind of hero. There are heroes that exist every day, everywhere. They are men and women, boys and girls, kids and adults that decide, regardless of the mess called living, that they are going to smile & breathe, and - even - be there for the rest of us, who haven't figured it out yet.

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

sorry.

Happy Monday, Coffee Lovers. Sorry for the lack of a Sunday Sip; I was away from my computer all of yesterday. Have a great week!

Until Thursday:

Laugh, love, drink coffee.
-michael

Thursday, September 29, 2011

once upon an evening

For as long as I can remember, it has hung on that wall. There is one memory where the wall above the brown couch was empty, but that was just because it had fallen down and that was just for a few hours. It's been there a very long time, I think.

It is a painting much longer than it is wide that hangs on a wall in the family room in my house. It is of a city, in a southern European pseudo-Mediterranean style, in the evening. The moon is fresh out, neither crescent nor full. There are couples, painted in a stylistic and abstract fashion, enjoying evening coffee or wine at bistro tables on one side of the image. There are small windows on a house on the other side illuminated by a yellowish light. There is a dog in the middle howling at the moon, pleasantly alone.

There are even some boats.

It is a wonderfully romantic image. It does not convey the loving kind of romance we are all familiar with in our art. It is not the romance of nature necessarily. It is the romance of just being. I forget about that appeal too often. I was raised in a country that assigns value and takes it away as if their suppositions are correct due, only, to the holier-than-thou attitude with which they're delivered. Don't believe me? Watch a Senate meeting.

But, as is the general rule, art gives me a little bit of hope. I don't know who painted the moonlit evening that I've grown up glancing at a hundred times a day, but someone had to have done it. So, somebody intrinsically understands, is out there selling, this romance of being, existing in a moment and nowhere else. When I was younger, I always used to wonder, what would happen after? When the dog stopped howling and snuck off to sleep under some bridge? When the couples finally got cold, paid their bills, left for home? When the lights went off in the house that overlooks the ocean? When the sun came up and the boats left the marina?

And it is precisely because I do not know these things that I will look at that painting for years and years longer than it probably deserves. It is a moment in time that will never happen again, that probably never happened. Once upon an evening things were perfect for just a moment.

I don't know what all of this means. I'm not sure if my subconscience is telling me to embrace the romance of being, to cease judging flowers by their scent and petal count, and rather just enjoy the fact that they grow. To remember that people may not be "successful," but that, in no way, means they are not successful.

Maybe I just like paintings.

Either way, I still have no idea what happens to the dog or whether or not the couples stay together tomorrow and the day after that. But I know that it was beautiful right then, and that - surely! - is enough.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

sunday sip: incurable humanists

There is a line from a song by Regina Spektor that I cannot get out of my head:
Oh, incurable humanist you are.

It describes many of my friends and me far too well. People who are motivated by a love for and of humankind are labeled, in modern culture, humanists. They are sneered at as ignorant or naive by their more jaded counterparts. They are called self-absorbed sinners by the Church. They are told to give up on mankind and let god or karma or the divine Something save them.

But I like Regina's take. Incurable humanists: people motivated by a love for and of humankind that simply refuse to bend, give up, break. People motivated by a love for and of humankind so intensely overwhelming, they can only smile and go with it, because city streets are closer to heaven than anything else they've ever known.

Thanks for understanding it, Ms. Spektor. We, the incurable humanists, appreciate you.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

(Loveology -- Regina Spektor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky6sPyJIcno&NR=1)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

new hope & old crazy

I sat down this week to do something I love and haven't done in a very long time. One of my best friends is an incredible musician, and, sometimes, I write him lyrics for this song or that. We meet in parks and put together words and chords and ideas. It always makes for a refreshing and suprising afternoon. I feel like I have less control over lyrics than I do over a poem; they move more fluidly and they jump out of bounds sometimes, which is beautiful.

After we finished writing the song, we sat around on the park table. He was plucking at chords and I was doodling on spare pieces of paper that hadn't been torn apart by blue ink and creative inspiration. I began with a dot, which grew into a line, which sprouted leaves and flowers, became a vine, and acquired a bird. This tumbled into roots and another vine. A tree grew up on the side. Roses populated the ground. Several shining diamonds hung suspended in the air. A strange current of lines snaked out from the tree.

I draw these abstract little gardens often. I doodle them on the sides of coffee cups, on pieces of paper, on cardboard, on my hands, on my friends' hands, and on my homework. Each garden is drawn with an emotion in mind and titled with a phrase that encapsulates that emotion. I added a dark cloud to the side of this garden, from which everything was springing. And then I titled it:

Growing a new kind of HOPE from an old kind of crazy.

I'd hardly even noticed I'd written it until my friend leaned over and read the phrase out-loud to himself. "I like that," he said. I looked up, confused. He pointed to the scrawled words in their messy little column next to the tree. So I read them again:

Growing a new kind of HOPE from an old kind of crazy.

And it all suddenly made sense. I build so much of my life around art: written, spoken, sung, visual. It is so much a part of who I am. I was raised in and around it. But, whereas my mother and I believe in art as self-expression of both the positive and negative, my father believes it is the duty of art to heal the culture from which it comes. While this is not necessarily my view, it is one I grew up with and agree with to some extent. I think healing art is, if not better, at least more responsible. Sharing our struggles together, sharing our successes together, reaching across lines and pulling at heart-strings of totally different kinds of people - these are the things that responsible art does. I am guilty of the occassional irresponsible piece of art, but I think that is okay as well.

But, ideally, the above bolded words represent what responsible art does. It takes us from a place of personal dysfunction, pain, stress, a tendency toward nervous breakdown - and it shows the world that they are not so small, they are not so insignificant.

We feel this, too.

It's so human to sit down and bare yourself, naked and raw, to a page or a lens or a canvas. That is natural. But sharing that? Unashamedly giving that to the world with a message of smallness, but grand hope? That is something quite different, entirely. It's more perfect that way; everyone is human when we treat ourselves and each other this way: with empathy, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, maybe some laughter, maybe a few tears. When we hold hands and paint with our friends, we are growing a new kind of hope from an old kind of crazy.

This is one of the reasons I love, no matter how caddy it is at times, the book Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert is on the list of people who inspire me, in fact. She is, like all of us, complicated - maybe more complicated than most, but her negatives are far outshone, in my mind, by her connectability, accountability, inner-strength, incredible honesty, and hope.

If we break without hope, we stay broken. But if we have a hand to hold, a painting to study, a book to read, a poem to love, a person to talk to - something that will tell us it is all alright, it will all be okay - we survive.

So, my call: artists everywhere, no matter your lives, no matter your medium. Do what you do, but do not get lost in the pain of living. People somewhere may rely on hope to just keep breathing, and you may be the only thing in the entire cosmos that's going to give it to them.

And to those who identify as non-artists: stop seeing yourself that way. How silly.

Life is ripe for the painting.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

sunday sip: 2 journals, besides

I have two journals. One is orange, the other blue. One is the west, the other the east. One is of beginnings and another is of endings. They are my little mind-friends, time-capsules, children, and parents. They are my tea kettle and coffee pot, my saffron and my citron, my evening and my morning.
The blue journal has the words Things of Which I've Thought on the front. The orange reads All of this Knowing. They know me in the private, the public, the ether and the all. They are such close companions.

A poem in the orange journal contains the following lines:
I am a child
of purple flame -
I know that
regal
twisting of the stomach that comes with laughter.
let the dance
consume
the ground,
the mountain;
let the indie freak
rise from within,
like a Buddha
and possess
your eyes -
circles of such
green
light,
for you are
a thing
of nature.
 I bring them up today because I found the blue journal again after a lot of looking. And I think it is only fair that those who read my blog, the journal that you are all a part of and may look at publicly, know of the existance of SC's secret twins.

"Language is the dress of thought."
            --Samuel Johnson

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

rivers, leaves & lonely friends

And so the hiatus ends, Coffee Lovers. I am even posting on a Wednesday night, which, if you have read Stronger Coffee for a long time, you know used to be a regular thing before it became Thursdays. Oh, the good old days before this blog was all beat poetry and unitarianism. (That was a joke, of course, as repetition was the reason for what was a very restorative and creative hiatus - which is now, along with the repetition, delightfully over.)
I want to begin today's post with a very short, Alice Walker-ish poem that is one of the handful to come out of hiatus. I hope you all enjoy:

a solitary musing

While sitting alone
at the base of my mountain,
I laughed.
There was a cloud - gray -
vaguely resembling,
in its wispy & half-forgotten
meaning from days as a life-giving stream,
me&you.
Now that we are at the bases
of different mountains.


It is not a particularly stunning poem and it does not make me enormously proud or excited when I read it. It is simple and has one short and less-than-shocking little story to tell. That is all. Read into it what you may, trying to flesh out a greater truth than is actually there; I promise you will find it, because it is the great and eternal fault of readers to give writers too much credit.

All of that aside, the poem is about moving on. It is about space, which naturally develops between people. It is about leaving someone to explore elsewhere; it is about letting someone leave you to try their hand with a different "mountain." It is about being alone, though not about being lonely. In short, it is about a very common, unglorious part of life. And no, it is not a break-up poem (unless, of course, you want it to be; I'm pretty sure there's a rule somewhere that says it's literarily unethical for me to analyze my own work).

So, why give this to you? I know a few people right now - lovely, lovely people - who percieve loneliness where it does not exist. They see the clouds and feel the pang of loss, in some form or another, but they do not see the joy of moving on, being free, facing a new day.

I love the autumn, which is, finally, descending upon western Washington after a very late summer. (It was way too warm out for way too long. And I don't believe in taking off my darkly colored jeans until the weather reaches over 100 degrees, so I was a little bit sweaty as a general rule.) As it wings its way in, I'm reminded, every few steps I take or breaths of air I'm lucky enough to take outside, why it is my favorite season. The red of leaves, the crisp air, the brooding gray sky - it means change. It is a subtle reminder that we all must weather new-ness over and over again.

Yes, you read that correctly: new-ness. What are we so afraid of? You see, that poem above isn't sad. Once again, it's about being alone, not being lonely. Life, in all Her seasons, is a teacher and a promiser of beautiful, wonderful, exciting things. At least, I've come to think so. If there's anything I've learned after sixteen eventful years on earth, it's that we are always surprised if we spend enough time actually living to be.

In other words, clinging to the base of the same old mountain and looking for those people and things that have moved on is a pretty easy path to misery. Move on to new mountains, my lonely friends. Watch the clouds, remember the rivers you used to be, but don't forget to breathe the autumn air and treat yourself like a leaf: brilliantly colored and beautiful, even if the autumn came when least expected.

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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

winters.

Hey, Coffee Lovers. I'm still on hiatus, but I needed to write to you all. Even if it is 2:37 in the morning. There's something about telling a group of friends and total strangers about my life that I find oddly comforting. I think they prescribe something for that.


I wrote a poem today. That, in and of itself, is not important or interesting; I write a poem every day. But today's poem was a little bit different. It was called "Willow," and, unfortuantely, it meant something. It was about the onset of winter, or, more appropriately, winters.


There are so many winters. I've known people who see no sunshine on an 80 degree day, because, in their eyes, there is none to see. I've known people, conversely, who laughed - for no particular reason - in the midst of howling wind and rain. Life, as beautiful and speckled as it is, would be so much easier if we were subject to our environment.  But we aren't plants. Damn.


I'm currently in American History in school and we were discussing, as every American History class that has ever sat an AP Test has discussed, the Pilgrims. When they came to Plymouth, they experienced a winter that has gone down in history as the "starving time." There is an air of accuracy to that kind of a phrase. No, we do not literally starve, but our souls - the only part of my body I'm not sure exists - starve quite often. They go without so that our minds, our pride, our fragile Freudian Ids have a chance to flourish. They are selfless and unable to help themselves. They're without hands to feed themselves or eyes to accuse others for their maltreatment. They have no mouths with which to beg. They're souls, therefore intangible, and therefore more real than anything else we have on our person.


Sometimes, I wonder if our souls know a winter, a starving time, a difficult passage before it occurs. If they sense the storm clouds on the horizon. Do they try, in vain, to warn us silently of the impending threat of indomitable snow fall or the crushing howl that awaits us in a month or a day or a week? They might.


So, "Willow." It is about the setting in of winter, both the winter for our Northwestern skies (lo siento por los lectores de latinoamerica porque yo sé que el verano está viniendo a ustedes) and the winter for our fragile, possibly eternal human souls. I think, as winters of many kinds descend upon me and winters of other kinds take wing for some place new, my hope is that I do not succumb to emptiness.


J.R.R. Tolkein, brilliant man that he was, not only wrote three of the world's most successful novels, but also invented several langauges besides. The most beautiful, in my opinion, is called Sindarin. My favorite phrase in Sindarin reads like so (if one uses English letters): Auta i Lómë. It means, literally: The night is passing. But in the two years that I've known that phrase it's come to mean many things to me. Some nights it means: Michael, this isn't forever. Some days, it means: Michael, it's time to look for the dawn. Sometimes, it's nothing more helpful than: Hold on.


I love this phrase, not because it is particularly profound or even because it sounds beautiful when properly pronounced. I love it because Tokein did not know that, when he jotted it down in a notebook that was found in his desk after his death and published many years later, he was jotting down a little piece of advice for a sixteen year old that sometimes forgets things, no matter how good or how bad they are, do not last forever.


So winters, of the soul or of the sky, are just seasons. And seasons are bound to change. Always. If they weren't the damn plants wouldn't be the lucky ones.


I look forward to writing to you all on Thursday when Stronger Coffee officially comes back from hiatus. And, lastly, to all of those that have a particular kind of winter on this day in September, we are thinking of you and we will not - now or twenty years from now - forget you.


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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

a big blue box...with a poet inside

Hey there, Coffee Lovers. I know I promised a two week hiatus, but I'm kind of a softy when it comes to putting restrictions on myself. Besides, I figured it wasn't breaking any rules if I posted on a day that wasn't Thursday, Sunday, or Monday. How revolutionary is that.

Honestly, I just can't stop blogging. And, if I don't blog on unity and don't quote the Buddha, I'm not repetitive. I just really like quotes by the Buddha...

But, no matter. I have a story for all of you this week. Yesterday, I did something quite extraordinary with my friend Nalani. We are both poets and had been invited by another fabulous friend of mine, Reisha, to participate in an event for the Issaquah September Art Walk. We were being asked to run the mystical, surreal, fabulous Poetry Machine.

The Poetry Machine is an event put on by an organization called Write to the Edge (http://www.writetotheedgeworkshopsandretreats.com) which works to bring the art of writing to my community. It's an organization I have a ridiculously large amount of respect for and have worked with on a few ocassions.

The Poetry Machine is, in its most basic, a big blue box...with a poet inside. Random strangers insert five words and a few minutes later, a handwritten poem using the five words inserted is spit out of the box. Like magic.

Nalani and I had an incredible evening. We wrote beautiful (and a few not-so-beautiful) poems, we met intersting people, and we got to spend some time in and around the art we love. One woman told me that the poem I wrote for her will be read at her wedding. Her name is Marina. She does not know my name.

I love this kind of thing. Poetry is the most undervalued, under-paid, and under-noticed art in modern America. And yet, last night the gang at the Poetry Machine had a chance to make men, women, and little children excited about an art that their country spends next to no time and really no money on supporting.

To end this, I will quote something I read in a City Arts magazine article by Greg Lundgren: "The sheer brainpower of artists and thinkers in the Pacific Northwest is staggering - and more valuable than the ocean of oil under Saudi Arabia. Ideas are the most powerful assets of any culture. They shape the future of politics, our technologies, our morals and ideals. Ideas hold the power to save us."

Yours, even from a coffee break.
-michael

Thursday, September 1, 2011

a coffee break

I'm taking a break. I've come to the conclusion that I've gotten caught in a rut. So, for a few weeks I will refrain from blogging because, in all honesty, I'm getting bored of myself. When I come back, two weeks from now, rest assured, I'll write about something a tad different than I've been the last few...well...months.

Good luck and, until we meet again:

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

sunday sip: Endless Happiness

There is a song by the ever-talented, French-Israeli singer Yael Naim called Endless Song of Happiness. It is sang entirely in Hebrew, and very beautiful. The English translation goes something like this:
She just floats in her world (la-la-la) and he tries to touch; she recoils, doesn't know you sit in the corner and look at her (ba) in the evening you wake up from sleep, see an open window and aren't sure what happened to her, what she had done. You fear she has jumped (tza). Outside, she is flying on a little cloud; she built a transparent tower with a paintbrush and inside it all the angels fly and all the little fairies dance in a circle turning round endlessly.
This song, though it is in a language I neither speak, read, write, nor understand, means something very special to me. It is about the simple joys of love and imagination. We do not talk about imagination, creativity, the joy of one's own mind, often. We think it beneath us, something we left behind in early childhood. Wrong! There is an endless happiness to creating transparent towers in the sky with paintbrushes, dancing with angels and little fairies. Life is thought is creation is love and love does not end.

La, la, la.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Friday, August 26, 2011

a quick apology & taoism

Hey Coffee Lovers. Sorry I have been behind on posting lately. I just started school and need the rest of this week to get everything in balance. Until then, I leave you with a quote from the father of Taoism, Lao Tzu:

Few things under heaven have more benefit than
the lessons learned from silence and
the actions taken without striving.

Be peaceful.

-michael

Monday, August 22, 2011

poetry monday: A Sort of a Song

First of all, I apologize Coffee Lovers: I've been away from the blog this week. Not to worry, though, I won't miss an entry for quite a while now (fingers crossed, of course).
Secondly, it's Monday, and therefore time for a poem. This is a favorite of mine, short and sweet, by one of America's most beloved writers.


A Sort of a Song

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
sleepless.
--through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

--William Carlos Williams

Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael

Monday, August 15, 2011

poetry monday: Wanderlust

In the spirit of traveling and returning from travel, I thought I'd change it up a bit and show you all an original poem of mine that is a bit...odd, to say the least.


Wanderlust

I was filled with purple fire
brought on by my wine. Desire
to see lands unknown, to venture
from little home
& great world stir! --
took hold of my reeling dreams
where things unknown
and things unseen
were.
Little wandering, wondering bandits
     little white dresses wore,
(in my dream) and it made me snicker.
     For each promiscuous, pretty poppy
drugged me from my cadaver-state, and
my death (elate!) was ended then.
So I stood and went
to meet the lords of Fay and Tale
      beyond my door.
Beyond my door! -
     where, but once, I'd never been before.
And so, in Alice fashion, went
And spoke with each mad miscreant.
     I thought myself
slightly drunker
than I'd ever been before,
     but shrugged and drank
two purple fire-glasses more.
Then seeing several gazing birds
with mangy wings,
of mangy words,
I sat down with a feather quill
to pen a mangy, rhyming trill
truly.
     A thrill.
And then in thrilling message spoke
to the sun - heliotrope -
     chose to have a spot of fun.
So I giggled and right then swore
I would nev'turn to my door.
And as of yet, I have not
     for the world
is filled with things unsought and known
and I am ready to see and know
and No! I won't
     return.
For I am penning, as I walk,
     (along a walk in this world)
a letter to my dearest Isabel
     whose drugging wine and opiate
have served me well. Oh, Isabel,
who knows how to satiate
with one's own insane thoughts
innate and known to her since
     her birth.
Elate, elate! And feel my mirth!
for my death is done! I will climb every tree
and wander (free) toward the sun!
Until the east becomes a door
     through which I'll step
and, for with wanderlust I'm sore,
fall and die and laugh again
     (oh, 'Bel will hear it!)
as an ever-wandering spirit.


That poem is from several years ago, and, while I'm certain I could do better now, it means something special to me this way.

Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shalom. Paz. Peace.

Buenas, Coffee Lovers. I am home from Guatemala, and I plan to break form a bit this week, giving you a long entry on Sunday instead of a Sip. I'd like to try and explain to you what happened to me while I was in Guatemala though I was unsuccessful in even beginning an explanation last year. It truly is my favorite place in the world.

I don't know if you've ever had a cup of Guatemalan coffee. If you haven't, might I heartily suggest that you do. A successfully brewed cup is infused with subtle, gentle aromatic notes and nuances. It is warm and gives off a delightful scent. It is clean and pure feeling. And, of course, it is  best taken black.

It is as if all of these subtle flavors and aromas have converged to create a deep, beautiful secret, that is not to be understood, but simply to be enjoyed. This makes perfect sense once one has gotten to know the people of Patzicia, Guatemala well.

It was my second trip there this year. It was an opportunity to simply be in the proximity of angelic, beautiful people. As I worked in their community, helping them build a monolithic church, I was shown again and again what true peace means.

I love words and usually believe in them implicitly, but the English language (as well as the Spanish language) lacks the necessary verbage to describe in full what I experienced there, in my own life as well as in theirs. However, I can try to describe what I've learned of peace lately. It is not something you meditate for or achieve by giving up anything that shoots a projectile or has a sharp point - though those things are always preferable options and often necessary. It is not something you wait for your government to grant you or your neighbors to provide for you - though that would help. It is not something you experience through financial security or the accumulation of goods - never.

No, peace is none of those things. Peace is being able to gaze into the maw of one's own daunting circumstances - of oppressive systems, poverty, corrupt governments, natural disasters - breathe, and live life with joy anyway. All of my families in Guatemala are a greater testament to the resilience of the human spirit than any I know.

The Hebrew word shalom means peace. But it goes beyond peace as we know it. It means wholeness, wellness, and balance between a thing, itself, others, and God. This is what the faith and peace of those in Guatemala is like. They are entirely centered with themselves, the god they believe in, their neighbors, their circumstances. They are one with the true beauty of living.

Going there, in fact, feels something like profound selfishness. While I am giving them the gift of my work and my time to help them build their huge church, I am truly giving myself the gift of their presence.

Which brings us back to coffee: the gift we all love to give ourselves morning and night. The people of Patzicia are so like the coffee grown in the fertile soil of their country. As the coffee of Guatemala itself is a profound secret crafted from the combined subtelty of velvet espresso flavors, citrus, and floral notes, so the people of Patzicia are a profound secret made possible by their love, their loss, their trials, tribulations, successes, and wholehearted embracing of all that breathing and living truly means. The laughter and worry lines around their eyes curl like steam from a cup, and you are reminded of dancing when they smile at you.

And what if we lived like that? What if in this doomed, dark country I live in, this place where suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults, we were to be bright, little secrets, not to be understood, just to be experienced, immersed in, consumed and given as gifts to the world? What if we truly lived עם שלום, con paz, with peace.

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

poetry monday: Daydreams for Ginsberg

For today, a favorite poem by one of my favorite poets.


Daydreams for Ginsberg

I lie on my back at midnight
hearing the marvelous strange chime
of the clocks, and know it's mid-
night and in that instant the whole
world swims into sight for me
in the form of beautiful swarm-
ing m u t t a worlds-
everything is happening, shining
Buddha-lands,
bhuti

blazing in faith, I know I'm
forever right & all's got to
do (as I hear the ordinary
extant voices of ladies talking
in some kitchen at midnight
oilcloth cups of cocoa
cardore to mump the
rinnegain in his
darlin drain-) I will write
it, all the talk of the world
everywhere in this morning, leav-
ing open parentheses sections
for my own accompanying inner
thoughts - with roars of me
all brain - all world
roaring - vibrating - I put
it down, swiftly, 1,000 words
(of pages) compressed into one second
of time - I'll be long
robed & long gold haired in
the famous Greek afternoon
of some Greek City
Fame Immortal & they'll
have to find me where they find
the t h n u p f t of my
shroud bags flying
flag yagging Lucien
Midnight back in their
mouths - Gore Vidal'll
be amazed, annoyed -
my words'll be writ in gold
& preserved in libraries like
Finnegans Wake & Visions of Neal


I leave tomorrow for Guatemala (again!). I won't be back until the eleventh of August, but until then...

Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael

Sunday, July 31, 2011

sunday sip: tumult to peace

Watching the recent American debt crisis, I was reminded of how tumultuous our lives really are. There are waves of discord everywhere. Today, amidst feelings of anxiety and worry, I sat down with a candle breathing slowly and measuredly in and out. Om. Sa. And in doing so, I felt all of that tumult melt away, and that steady, comforting darkness within overtook everything. So I smiled and went about my day, sense of joy intact.
"Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without."
--the Buddha

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, July 28, 2011

the risk of burned lips

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."-Henry David Thoreau

The above is one of the best known and respected quotes in all of English literature. It's one I've had repeated to me often.

As I sat down to think about today's post, several different memories were swirling around in my head. Coffee in hand, I examined the sordid thoughts and found that Thoreau's quote was, inexplicably, coupling with a gift from my father, and there was absolutely no connection. Or, at least, there was no immediately obvious connection. As I examined further, however, it all seemed to click.

About six months ago I'd gone to my bedroom to read for several hours and, on my bed, I found a piece of printer paper with three typed paragraphs. It bore no heading nor signature at the bottom. I read it through twice, smiling wider and wider as the sentiments rushed by. It was so wonderfully accurate. It read:
There is a comfort my son finds in coffee. I speak not of the drink, though he revels in the dark-earthy liquors, oils and multi-faceted flavors as ambrosia its very self. No, he finds comfort in the event or the spirit coffee embodies. He identifies with the inspiring caffeine and community of creativity found in coffee. History and gold-rich tradition lie betwixt cup and lip and when centered in that ancient palace of academia called the cafe...it beckons to his soul --

My son possesses many talents, but he is first, foremost and forever an artist. To sit in the coffee shop scribbling on a project is to join the dance; to participate in the things one can know, create and most of all - write. This dance of creativity and talent, where excellence is a requirement, would reside in this place: the distant ech of great minds who distinguished themselves into history.

He would ponder how many epic poems and great works of fiction were fueled by just such a drink and in such a place, with background music and the yearn-to-hear conversations just out of reach. Dark wood furnishings and crackling fire places, where people huddle together in the dry warmth, safety in numbers, helping one another dispel the gray gloom of winter. In this season doors stay shut and conversations progress in the muted reserve one might find in libraries. But he will not limit his dance to the drizzling cold of just one season. Spring time courtyards, blossoms, birds and tiny round bistro tables are equally attractive to him. My son would drink his spring tonic and allow the renaissance to flow through and around him as he wrote. Longing for Paris and times when skilled poets were famous and the world blessed brilliance far more than sports, or even physical beauty.

There is a comfort my son finds in coffee.

At the same time, I was thinking of a poem by Alice Walker. It is a long and beautiful work, part manifesto, part apology, part forgiveness. A section of it reads:

No regrets.
No blame.
The taste
of figs
cherries
peaches
mangoes
orange peel
scent

with blind
luck
& many
tribulations
we made it
to
this
world!

Rise! Rising
as Maya
reminds us
is our
way
with
devestation.
There is
no
god
but
love
&
so
rising is
inherent
in
our
heartbeat
as we
move
carried or
knocked
about
by life.

This we know:
We were
not meant
to suffer
so much
& to learn
nothing.

Here, again, the connection is difficult to see, but it is there. Out of these three works I believe a theme emerges, though they all approach it in different ways. We are living a life, a short one, that encapsulates the broadest spectrum of feeling. We are immersed, daily, in a love few, if any, can understand. It is that universal SOMETHING which makes all of this possible. We can sit in cafes and write, we can run about mountains and forests searching for ourselves, we can rise to see our wildest dreams through to completion, even in the ruin of ourselves. This is living deliberately.

I write this today because I was thinking this week about why I write this blog. I do not write it because I hope it will be famous or successful. I do not write it in anticipation of the day I can advertise on it and get paid. None of those things matter. I write because I see something in life - in Henry David Thoreau, in my father, in Alice Walker - maybe even in myself and in all of you, that is beautiful and worth noting. It is strong and aromatic. It can be bitter; it can be sweet. It is, in essence, coffee, and it is worth the risk of burned lips.

We were not mean to suffer so much & to learn nothing.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

sunday sip: morning coffee & black magic

My apologies for missing the Thursday post for this week, Coffee Lovers.

But as to this week's Sunday Sip I wanted to tell a short, funny story. I was in Barnes & Noble rather early this morning (coffee mug in hand) to buy a book for a friend. She had requested something from the New Age section as somewhat of a joke. She and I spent time together in a play all about voodoo, so I thought that would make a funny book selection. It wasn't what I ended up buying her, but as I was searching for a book on the history of Haitian Voodoo, a sweet-looking elderly woman came bustling in to the aisle and pulled several grimoires off the shelves. I kindly asked her if she'd seen anything on my subject of choice on her side of the shelf.

Suffice it to say, not only hadn't she, but she thought it appropriate to subject me to a tongue lashing on the dangers of voodoo and her preference for the "better magickal arts." I suppressed the urge to shrug and respond with: "Well I do recycle quite often..." Why tell you this story? I think it's unfair that I can't even look for a historical book on a historical subject for a friend without judement on my "preferred type of magick."

So sweet, elderly, early-bird Wiccan-book enthusiast: please do yourself a favor and relax. I'll make the same effort, I promise. No black magic intended.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Monday, July 18, 2011

poetry monday: I Meant To Do My Work Today...

When I was much younger, I used to read and reread this poem from the large, yellowed book of poems that belonged to my mother when she was a young girl. I woke up with it in my head, and it fits my mood perfectly this fine Monday.


I Meant To Do My Work Today

I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do but laugh and go?

--Richard LeGallienne


Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael

Sunday, July 17, 2011

sunday sip: surprise

Sometimes I feel like it's healthy to sit back and have a dose of awe with my morning coffee. Life and the world are so beautiful, so majestic, so surprising. The colors that appear because of sunshine, rocks, and shadows are astounding and vivid - and completely unexpcted.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thank you Shreya Tewari for your photo
"Sunset at the Grand Canyon"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Harry Gave Me

Tomorrow is a significant day for the world. It marks, though not the end, the great diminishing of one of the world's favorite stories, the most read novel of all time: Harry Potter.

Harry Potter came into my life at the age of six. I still remember the day that my cousin, twelve at the time, told me I should give the book a go. She showed me the first chapter, and that very next day I went out and bought my first Harry Potter book.

Over the next ten years I would come to read every single Harry Potter book more than once (on one notable occasion I reread all 800+ pages of Order of the Phoenix in less than five hours), see every movie, hoard every fact, and love every single page.

I read a great deal. I've read "great books" and the profound works of the philosophers and satarists. I've read the epic poems and the short stories that stand out in the world's conscience. But I cannot ignore the fact that no other book has touched me like Harry Potter did. J.K. Rowling wrote a profound story of love, magic, redemption, life, death, fear, sadness, joy... What began as a simple children's story ended as a great and beautiful piece of literature. Her characters are complex, her plot is titanic in its vision, her spirit is warm and her world is an immersive experience. I do not care if I sound like a child when I say this. It is the simple truth.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on Harry Potter because those seven books did something for a small, six year old boy that nothing else could do: they gave him some magic to believe in. When I was younger, I wanted so desperately to be anything other than what I was, and, in Rowling's books, I found that ability. I've explored Hogwarts more times than I can count, felt the soaring victory of a Quidditch match well done, even the fear of facing down Lord Voldemort (and living to tell the tale). I made potions (Felix Felicis, the Draught of Living Death, Amortentia...), cast charms (Accio! Lumos! Wingardium Leviosa!), even performed delicate transfigurations and conjurations (Avis! Incendio! Tea-kettle-to-a-tortoise...).

So thank you, J.K. Rowling for making the painful process of growing up magical for so many children (and just as many adults) around the world. We are forever in your debt.

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus!

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

Monday, July 11, 2011

poetry monday: Haiku-Errors

I appreciate both the message and form of this poem. I do believe I have become quite the Han Min Ohn fan tonight.


Haiku-Errors

It is easier to see errors
than to realize the underlying causes
That lead to those errors.

--Han Min Ohn



Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael

Sunday, July 10, 2011

sunday sip: Metamorphosis

I wanted to share a quote with you this Sunday, Coffee Lovers. It is from a novel by my favorite author, Salman Rushdie. In his novel, Shalimar the Clown, he writes:

A rope could become air. A boy could become a bird. Metamorphosis was the secret heart of life.


I think this brilliant and beautiful idea speaks volumes about the kind of world that Salman Rushdie, a man who has seen much of his adult life go up in smoke and has dared to live, breathe and write another day, believes in. It is a world that will change, but not end. A man that will be shaken, but will not stop. A state of existence where all things do what they were designed to do: adapt.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Alexithymia

I was alerted recently to a rare psychological condition, Coffee Lovers. It is called Alexithymia. It is the inability to express how one is feeling in words. Fascinating.

Let me start by pointing out the obvious: I do not have Alexithymia. I express my emotions a thousand ways to Sunday. In fact, I've recently taken to answering the question "How are you?" in highly descriptive and specific similes. For instance: "Like the color of sunshine as it triumphantly crests the blue, ice-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas."

I was introduced to the phenomenon because a friend of mine is rather sure he has Alexithymia. It made me wonder: How hard it would be to be isolated in my own emotions. I can't imagine it. I feel for him deeply, because this particular inability is not one I would wish upon myself or any single person. To feel and not know what you are feeling sounds rather terrifying.

It made me think, also, of the greater issue of emotional communication. Some of us (myself, for instance) are extremely emotionally open. We wear our hearts smeared on our sleeves, faces, in our hair, on our feet - we can't escape from what we are feeling and neither can the people we are with.

It is so necessary, somewhat like breathing, to be able to look at someone and say the words Happy or Sad, Alegre or Triste, Heureuse or Triste - to me, it feels utterly human. And so learning about Alexithymia fascinated me. It made me marvel at communication.

And then I realized something else. Commuincation is nothing. A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. A thorn, too, would still prick. So to my friend with this rare condition: do not despair. Emotions are the great fire of man. The words that I put so much stock in are the illusion. The emotions are the reality. And it is possible that in my pretty similes and easy words, I have lost the rawness of feeling.

Therefore, I am making a decision to live and feel deliberately. I cannot hope to feel outside of language, because I was not given that unique curse and gift. But I can feel above and beyond language. Joy that three letters cannot describe. Sorrow, too, that six do not do justice.

We are only as great as what we can feel.

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

Monday, July 4, 2011

poetry monday: I Hear America Singing

I knew exactly what poem I would have for this Monday and holiday. Really, it's the only one that fits.


I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
       and strong.
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
       work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
        hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
        as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning,
        or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
        or of the girl sewing and washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day - at night the party of young
        fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

--Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

Happy Fourth of July!

Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael

Sunday, July 3, 2011

sunday sip: family

They are always around us, but sometimes we forget to look around and notice their presence, their support, their sympathetic ear and their unique ability to understand all that we are and do. Our families are with us whether we succeed or we fail. Our friends may change like the wind, but our families are constant and forever.

Thank you to mine.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Manifesto

This is my revolution.

I am tired of the chains. The world wants to contain us. The human race is the ultimate control freak. We are compartmentalized, simplified, sorted, and segregated. We believe, as people, that this is our lot in life, this is the reason we were born: to be pulled apart. This attitude of indifference and fear of difference starts deep within each invidual person. We are afraid.

This is my revolution.

Some terrible things have happened in and around my family in the last few months. Life has gotten difficult, as life likes to do. But there is a deep joy in the heart of all people. I see it. There is a strength and a resilience. There is a light that is greater than the obstacles and oppression. We are not the sum total of our tears alone. Sorrow is only a piece - a very small piece - of what makes us who we are.

This is my revolution.

I will  not live alone. People, like coffee, are for sharing. I will not deny myself the beauty of others, and I will not deny others the beauty of myself. There is no strength in solitude. We are together in our fight against the prevading mindset of man, which would have us believe that we are alone in our struggles, that we are classified and categorized. We are not! We are together.

This is my revolution.

Alice Walker writes a profound thought in a poem called "I Know My Duty to Life":
I know
my duty
to life,

to stop
wars
especially
those
I cause
within
myself.

It is a struggle. There are wars and men with bombs who want to silence their opposition. There are fears and personal demons that want to squelch our strength. The fire is not for them to take. Be still the wolves and howl no more! This is our planet and these are our lives.

This is my revolution.

I will teach my children that there is beauty everywhere, that all life is sacred, that they are a piece of a big, surprising, messy and wonderful puzzle. They will be individuals because they deserve that much, at least. The world will not get its bloody hands on them and turn out their lights. Tears of joy will mark their cheeks. The earth will be alive for them to know and realize. Life will be beautiful.

This is my revolution.

I will break against the dam of disbelief. This is the world and I will savor each moment I spend living on it. I will be aglow, a roman candle, a beacon for those who need a little bit of light. We are people, strong like our coffee. Ready to face the dawn of a new day. It starts in the individual.

This is our revolution.

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

Enormous thanks to
my brilliant friend,
Megan Drews,
whose incredible drawing
inspired this post.

Monday, June 27, 2011

poetry monday: Streets

The following is my favorite poem by a brilliant Arab-American poet and the recipient of many accolades, awards, and fellowships. Many consider her one of the hidden gems of 21st century poetry.


Streets

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

--Naomi Shihab Nye

Yours, in words and espresso.
-michael