Seattle, Washington, United States
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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