Seattle, Washington, United States
For those who love coffee, poetry, art, or stories - stay. Have a cup with us.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

You Race Yourself & Everything You Know

For a few different friends:


It's raining, and you feel like you're drowning in the heaviness of the air. Somewhere a flutist plays through a cracked window and the hair on your soaked arms stands up as the music travels down your spine. You just want to appreciate something beautiful. You catch sight of yourself, fragmented, in the mirror-like shatters of the scattered puddles spread about your tennis shoes. You are alone on the street. "I want winter to arrive," you say aloud to nobody in particular. Winter means storms and events, but now you are hung - suspended - in Time; you feel empty and strange.

You walk down the middle of the road; you do not care if a thousand cars come raging over the horizon. You own the air you just breathed and the ground upon which you are stepping. You take off your shoes and your jacket to feel the chill, because it is something to feel. You listen to the neighboring buildings for the flutist, but she has shut the window. Evidently.

And you are alone. And you hang - suspended - strange and empty. In Time. And Space. There is so much Space when you really look at it. Marveling at the expanse of sky above you and the infinity of ground, the thousands of mountains you could climb in hundreds of thousands of ways, you shed the smallest of tears, which immediately disappears among the rain. The mountains grow from the magma beneath the earth; the air flutters with the air, making wind; the trees stretch from among the plants and the bodies of dead animals, who eat them; but you - you are so very alone.

People have told you a lot about God in your life. They started when you were little. Seven days for Creation. First He made Adam. He loves me, yes I know. Heaven is for real, and so is Hell. Enoch went up to Heaven, and so did Elijah, and so did Jesus, and maybe Mary and - it bothers you that you cannot rise up with them. You figure you'd get to rise up with them if things were this hard, that God would pay attention and say NO MORE in a voice that made it really true. They build cathedrals and wars for Him, and He can't pick you up off the street.

Why do you feel suspended? It is like swimming in milk. Am I swimming in milk? you wonder.

You get past the city eventually and you enter a forest, because the trees surround the skyscrapers on all sides. Once you are covered over by the darkness you run, you run so fast that you don't notice when stones and twigs slice open the bottoms of your feet, leaving drops of your blood on the roots of trees. And you hum the music of the flutist as you run. And a nightingale picks up the tune. And you pray to God. LIFT ME UP! you scream out into the silence. And you leap high into the air, but you land in a flash of white-hot, horrific pain. You stand up. And you keep running. And you hum the tune with the nightingale, and you keep praying, and your blood keeps feeding the trees.

When dawn breaks, you are watching the east. And the light penetrates to that little corner of yourself where you know you are hiding your soul, where it sits quietly, waiting for you. And you find other souls you have collected there with yours. And you feel better about the day ahead.

And you tell yourself that to be is to connect.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

river folk

I haven't blogged in a while, but I have been thinking a lot, which is good, because thought matters.

A couple things:

First, I hate political races, particularly presidential races.

Second, the Buddha had it right.

Okay, first things first. There is a very solid and substantial reason why politics, and presidential races in particular, disgust me: they are not instances of truth in our society. There is no transparency; there is no passion; there is only deception and distortion. Political races in America are isolated events of extreme, though controlled, chaos. They are divisive, and the delude the population. Reading through the platforms of the two parties this year, I find no mention of humanity that rings true. I find plenty of points on the rights of the human being, many of which ring true, but none of them are rooted in the solid and concrete reality of the human person. Life, my friends, is painfully messy. It is a series of triumphs and disappointments. The fabric of our lives is not made up of universal healthcare or fair tax brackets. It is made up of love, lust, passion, pain, frustration, joy, terror, and — ultimately — a lovely brokenness that no amount of political discourse can ever piece together. "All the King's horses and all the King's men could not put Humpty Dumpty back together again." That's the sorry truth, right there in that playful and oddly sad nursery rhyme. We won't be saved by referendums or initiatives. Neither Obama nor Romney will turn out to be our messiah. In the end, they will deepen the chaos, because that is what power does. It distorts and contorts the very real and very poignant act of being human; it reduces all the vivacity of the self into a number. And I balk at becoming a number.

I want a candidate who does not hide behind their Harvard education or their success as a business man. I want a candidate who does not tell me what I want to hear. What I want is a candidate who tells me exactly what I do not want to hear. I want a person who looks America in the eyes and says, "We are failing. Our children are committing suicide in epidemic numbers; our elderly feel alienated; our poor get poorer; our hungry don't get fed; our mentally ill hide; we are self-interested, and our self-interest is crippling the third world; and this needs to change." Don't win my vote. Win my very human soul.

Second things second. The Buddha once said, "Live like a mighty river." What he meant by that was interesting. Mighty rivers do a few fascinating things. They do not stop; when a mighty river is challenged it flows over, around, and through the challenge. It continues. They are pure; the sheer volume of water outweighs the impurities that the broken world dumps into them. I feel comfortable drinking from a river that is mighty. They give life; trees, plants, flowers, and animals depend upon the mighty river to sustain them; the very earth's survival is dependent upon the mighty river. They flow to the ocean; they seek to be reunited with that which is greater than themselves. I have a tattoo on my wrist that reads AD MARE SEMPER, which is Latin for "To the sea always." The sea dwarfs me. The very sight of it, the way its smell permeates the air, the boundlessness of it, its power — all of these things remind me that my obstacles are insignificant, that I, too, will flow to that which is great in the end.

In the face of the brokenness which we all feel, which collectively contaminates our world, we ought not be numbers to small men on great thrones. We ought to be mighty rivers: indomitable, uncorrupted, life-giving, and aware of the greatness beyond our isolated selves. We are one body of water moving in one massive exodus to the sea.

And for that reason, I refuse to be separated from my brothers and sisters by differing opinions. What is good shall come to pass, and, eventually, shall pass away. And what is bad, too, shall pass.

"Love all, serve all, and create no sorrow." —Trevor Hall

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


Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the verb "to be" --

Hey, Coffee Lovers.

Wow, it's been a long time since I've blogged, and I've missed it quite a lot. Trying to find a way to balance my time has been more than a little bit challenging lately, but I think I'm getting the hang of it again. I hope, anyway.

Tonight I want to write about mindsets. When we hear that word, typically we think of things like success -- those concepts which we know are dependent upon the way in which we approach our lives. But there are other mindsets, which are both more deeply ingrained and harder to notice, that we overlook on the daily.

I think the primary mindset I see in those around me, when I really look closely, is inferiority. It isn't an inferiority complex, nor is it simple insecurity. It is, rather, a mode of being, a habit of existing -- if you will. Many of the people that I love have bought into  a belief that their selves are lesser. It is not the things that they do, not the ways that they think, not the feelings that they feel, but, rather, the deeply rooted self, the essence of them, which becomes lesser in their own minds and hearts.

Lesser than what though? Isn't that the question which logically follows? What I find so disturbing about this lesser-as-a-way-of-being mindset is that it indicates there is something above, but I have yet to find nor yet to hear of anything to which we are actually subjugating our sense of self. We simply self-subjugate, believing in the absence of all evidence, that there is something better than we out there.

At this point you either agree with me and see the terror of this, or you disagree, in which case: oh well.  But if you do agree, if you do, in fact, see and feel this mode of inferiority as a pervasive and destructive element in our culture, you, like me, must wonder where it stems from. The typical answers don't satisfy me. I don't think it comes from the media. I don't think it comes from hormones. I don't think it comes from Twitter or Facebook.

Rather, it seems to me that this mode of inferiority is being belched forth from the empty space in our culture. Human beings are seekers of value; they attach values to everything they do, whether they are aware of it or not. That is actually one of the reasons I created this blog three years ago: to document my search for value around me. And I have found so many things of worth! People, events, places, times, memories, pieces of art -- all of it has something to share and express which touches on the depth of which we are capable. But these things, these beautiful, everyday things, are not celebrated for what they are in mainstream America. What is beautiful is celebrated not for its beauty, but for the use that beauty presents. And this is where we get such a distorted view of beauty (see the post entitled "the ugly beauty" for more on that). But it reaches deeper than just beauty. It reaches into all layers of our everyday lives and interactions. We are walking about color blind, and no one has ever told us how vibrant red is.

And I believe it is from this lack of value, or, rather, lack of sight, that we arrive at such a deeply ingrained sense of our own inferiority. It is illogical, because there is nothing to which we are inferior. We cannot name it. We try to explain and medicate it away, but it does not work. People, young and old, weather their lives until they can't take them anymore. And then most continue to weather anyway.

So what's the solution? Well, I think there are a few. The first comes in realizing we are no better or worse than we are. It is a simple matter of fact. I don't typically like biblical references, but I think one is particularly applicable here. When asked His name by Moses in the Old Testament, God could give no better answer than YHWH, meaning "I am." Now, if God exists I imagine He can be as cryptic as He damn well pleases (though Moses could have at least requested a social security number). But that 5000 year old idea has significance for each of us, regardless of our religious beliefs. The ancient conception of God is that He stands as the root of all being. To ask God to define himself requires God to define all that is. And, rather than dilute what ALL is, He simply offers its existence as proof of its divinity.

Why don't we simply offer our existence as proof of our value? It is the same idea. I am. And nothing more. It is a scary thing, to claim yourself in all of your imperfection as the only thing to which you can lay claim. We don't want to do it; we want to throw layer upon layer of excuse and pretention atop our brokenness to make it appear whole and beautiful. But this is inferiority; this is self-subjugation.

The second way to beat back this culture of inferiority is simply to recognize that there is no superior. The media, the government, the social network, the supermodels, the actors, the writers -- they all are. And nothing more. Everyone is on a level playing field in this beautiful mess that we call Earth.

Arising from this equality of beings comes a profound love. If everyone is, and I am, then we are. And that, while simple, gives me peace.

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

guided meditation: wideness

You are walking within a forest a few hours after noon. It is lit slantways with golden light, which, in filtering down, becomes emerald and shimmers. A bird cries somewhere, but it is so far off you wonder that you did not imagine it.

You are at peace.

You notice that you are not wearing shoes, that the moss beneath your bare feet and the dirt between your toes is good. You are dressed in white; your eyes are sunlit. The boundary between yourself and the forest is indefinite; you do not know exactly where you begin and the air about you ends. You take a deep breath, and the wind from the north promises snow, but that, too, is far, far off.

You are sure of nothing but the presence of yourself, magnanimous and ethereal in your own power.

You come to a fork in the road. The right surely leads you to the mountains and the left, surely, will take you down to the sea. You stand at the fork, stretching upward to the sky and downward to the earth, touching the trees about you with your fingertips. They whisper to you. The sound of the wind through their leaves is that of the waves through the sea, and so you turn left.

The path gradually slopes downward; the sentinels of trees transfiguring, mile by mile, into the the sturdiness of stones, marking the roadway with their immobility. And as jade becomes sapphire, you step out upon the precipice, the spray blanketing your face.

The sun sinks below the waves. It carries the last of your inhibitions, and you sink into your wideness.

You walk a twisting stone path as the darkness settles about you. The stars wink to life overhead; moonlight enraptures the sea. You walk on, your feet distant, your eyes fixed upon the sky. You expand to contain every star.

And as you arrive, you are huge and looming. It is a whitestone temple, silvered amongst the ink of the midnight. It is all domes and towers, and it is a gentle light, the warmth of dawnglow, that radiates forth from the doors and the arches. There is a soft chanting.

The man that comes to meet you is dressed, also, in white. He takes you, in your largeness, and he brings you inside. And as you lay your head to sleep you gaze out at the wilderness through which you have come, which you have become.

And you smile.

You smile to be so small.

Peace.
—michael






Saturday, July 28, 2012

51

I was mildly disturbed by a piece of feedback I received about a week ago. Someone close to me, whose opinion I value very highly, told me that my world view is operatively negative, i.e. that my values are good, but the way in which I communicate and structure those values retards their real-world applicability. I was angry, offended, and immediately defensive.

But, after some thinking, I went back and read a blog post that I have since deleted about the body politic in the United States, and I realized that while I may not be entirely operatively negative, I sometimes forget what I really stand for. So, let's get something straight:

I believe in passion, compassion, and action.

But I also believe in thankfulness, and maybe sometimes that doesn't come through. So, here is my list of fifty-one reasons to smile and be glad:

Sunsets
Sunrises
Smiles from strangers
Walking in the rain
Being free
Feeling free
Singing badly in public
The smell of new books
The smell of old books
Commas
That way that children smile
That way that the elderly smile
Playing tag in August
Old friends
New friends
Feeling comfortable in your skin
Feeling uncomfortable in your environment
(Learning to deal with the above, and smiling through it)
Peace, even if it's an illusion
Unity, even if it's more of an illusion
Choosing to believe those things aren't illusions
Modern medicine
Ancient fables
Other languages
This language
Quiet music
Sunday dinner with the family
Monday mornings
Friday afternoons
Sunshine on Saturday
Thunder on Thursday
Midnight
3 AM
Long lunches
Trees that have faces
Seashells
Latin
How small the world is
How vast
The ability to wonder
Daydreams
When you realize it was just a nightmare
The fact that Abraham Lincoln started wearing a top hat because a letter from a young girl told him he'd look good in one
The fact that the Dalai Lama has worn pants only once and found it highly uncomfortable
The fact that Walt Disney was afraid of mice
Mothers & fathers & brothers & sisters & grandparents & aunts & uncles & cousins & second-cousins-twice-removed-from-Europe
Laughter
Weeping
Food and Water
Shelter and Safety

and, of course:
Coffee

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




Thursday, July 12, 2012

asking why

I want to pull back tonight and do something I don't usually do. I blog about a variety of topics, but one that I've never blogged about (to the best of my memory) is the importance of blogging. What exactly is it that makes blogging different from other forms of writing? Why is it necessary to write in the first place? What, if anything, is a blog required to do for it to be worthy of merit?

Firstly, why blog? I think it's a very fair question, and it's one that -- believe it or not -- I ask myself all of the time. On days when I don't want to blog, on days when I blog poorly, on days when people tell me they don't like my blog or they laugh at the very existence of it, I ask myself: Why do you keep doing this? I can think of two responses. The first is that writing is important, and I will discuss (at length) why that is in a moment. The second is that blogging is very visible. There is an incredibly large number of books published every year. There are even more poems, articles, columns and essays published alongside those. Each and every one was written by an author with something they wish to say that they believe is worth saying. And, regardless of what the author or that specific author's specific fans may think, the vast majority of those published works are largely ignored. People simply don't read that often. Blogs, however, are slightly different. They offer a social platform to the communication of ideas. In transcending distribution location or topic-specific publishers, blogs also have the potential to reach out to a wider audience, indicting crimes with more tenacity and breadth, as well as extolling values in such a way that they do not seem type-specific to a certain audience. As an example, one of my favorite novels is a lovely and powerful book packed with well-defended value systems and a critical analysis of the human condition. However, it is about an intersex teenager living on the East Coast. Because of the content and the author (known for his particularly "fringe" style books), the novel is unlikely to speak its vast store of wisdom to someone less comfortable with LGBIT and other highly liberal social platforms. And while some blogs do tend to drop into genres, they are not subject to the specificity of books, because due to the continuous nature of the blog's publication, it ends up experiencing a high level of content diversity. Though the same could be said for periodicals, they tend to be distributed by type-specific publishers and are, therefore, less accessible than blogs, which -- because of the totally independent nature of their authors -- are open to much greater flux. So, reason one to blog is simply that they change (a LOT), and (a LOT of) change is good, for the blog, the blogger, and the readers.

The second reason is perhaps more general, but, I think, more important. It is the importance of writing. The function of art is to express. While art does many things, they all boil down to expression. No piece of art can force you to act; influence may be the goal of the artist, true, but the function by which the artist arrives at that goal is expression. If art is expression incarnate, then the purest art is the written or spoken word, because it does nothing but express. While the other arts express, they do so in a non-verbal way, which means that the art must be verbally analyzed for the expression to have any applicablity to the lives of others. So, it is fair to say that language is the first art, and this, indeed, may very well be the case. Models by scientists, archeologists, sociologists, and historians of pre-historic peoples tend to agree that language pre-dated all complex ideas, including religion. It was the telling and re-telling of stories that first united people on a cognitive and emotional level. It is for that reason that the other arts would then emerge. When humans learned that their communities were strengthened by the empathy links created by stories, they began to find other ways of expressing themselves in such a fashion that others would listen, interpret, and apply the expressed ideas to their own lives. So, spoken word is most probably the orignary art, but the written word is simply the physical incarnation of the spoken word, and so we refer to both as language. The linguistic art, then, is the most useful tool for the expression of ideas between peoples, because it is the most direct. But why do we need to express? There are three answers to this. The first is that expression is a form of self-affirmation. Affirmation is necessary to the human condition, because it is a counter-balance to self-doubt and madness. Imagine never telling yourself that you're doing alright or spending time building yourself up. Two possible avenues emerge. Without self-affirmation, self-doubt could arise. You would simply be incapable of making decisions, because you had not affirmed to yourself that the psychological place from which you are making the decisions is OK. The other possible avenue is madness, which is really just the extreme version of self-doubt. The madness I refer to is not a chemical disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia, but a severe inability to link your psychological reality with that of your greater community for fear that your reality is untrue. The second benefit of expression is empathy, which is a sort of affirmation-from-others-toward-you. This kind of affirmation is not one the artist will necessarily know about. Rather, it is an illusion within the mind of the reader, who affirms the place from which the expresser is expressing. They come to some sort of understanding that the author's state of mind is acceptable, and then affirm it to the author without ever really telling them. We call this illusion of connection empathy, and it is the necessary presupposition of the third benefit from writing, which is action. If the reader empathizes with the author (that is to say he affirms-toward-her-but-to-himself), he is more likely to take action to correct injustices which the author and those like the author (who he can also affirm-toward) face. This is where the importance of writing and the accessability of blogs become especially effective together: they inspire widespread action. Look to China for an example of this. Chen Guangcheng and other such dissidents against the Chinese government and its unjust faux democracy are typically bloggers. The accessibility of the blog provides the perfect place for the creation of an empathy connection strong enough to inspire widespread action. Blogs, though, are perhaps larger than we'd at first imagine. Keeping in mind that one of the primary functions of the blog is its social aspect, websites like Facebook or Twitter could be considered macroblogs, which unite singular blog-type entities into one large blog which is the ultimate example of flux, competing value statements, and content diversity. Imagine if government dissidents took advantage of these macroblogs to flood the entire world with statements, fiery rhetoric, and tireless reporting of crimes committed in specific nations. Imagine further that these statements did exactly what good writing is supposed to do and created empathy connections with people in similar and disimilar situations. And then those people took action against the unjust governments. That scenario was imaginary, until the Arab Spring. Now it's just history.

Finally, what are the distinctive features of a good blog? What identifies a blog as good? Actually, nothing. There is no single standard of form or content by which we should establish the merit of a blog. It must simply express.

So, start one?

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

sunday sip: theses

A lie is simple, a truism is safe, but a thesis is terrifying.

Of the thousands and thousands of words we say in a day, they are all easily categorized into one of these three distinctions. The lie is that which we know is untrue, told -- almost exclusively -- to protect or preserve. The trick to a lie is its necessity; deceiving yourself into believing the truth is dangerous makes lying simple.

A truism is something that is generally accepted as true. Therefore, others know it is true. It is immaterial whether or not we accept that the sky is blue; if others accept it, it is true. Thus, the truism is safe, as it is ridiculous to challenge the truism.

But the thesis is neither true nor false. It may be the former, the latter, or both. The thesis is a belief. "Things do not always work out," "There is strength in numbers," "God exists," "God does not exist," "We exist," and on. In fact, the majority of the things we say in a day -- or, at least, the majority of the things that I say in a day -- are theses.

Upon closer examination, each thesis we speak works to color the greater thesis, the one that we hold at the very center of ourselves, too terrified to speak aloud for fear of its truth examined.

I make no claims as to the wrongness or rightness of this outlook; it's just a thesis.

Join me for a cup.
--michael

Thursday, June 28, 2012

like when you were ten

Sometimes, I get this feeling that everything is going to be okay.

It's like when you were ten. You were struggling; we all were. There was a precipice from which you were about to jump. Behind you were nights of tag and kick-the-can. The only rules were keep ahold of your candy money. Nobody told you to do or be anything, except for when your mom told you to stay on the sidewalk.

But in front of you was an abyss of huge, blank darkness. And you just wanted to turn around and run away from who you'd become in the falling, run away from what friends would fall far away from you, who you'd lose you, what you'd gain. It was really scary.

And then you walked off. Everyone saw you do it. You couldn't hide. You stepped off the cliff, shaking, and murmuring to yourself: "I am Superman, I am Superman." Or maybe something like: "I think I can, I know I can."

But you didn't fall. I know you didn't, because you're at your computer keyboard reading this blog post. You made it over the edge, and you just kept on walking. You followed an ineffable path of air, like Bird Woman, past the weeping walls and in circles around the highest mountains. You were eleven, and then twelve, and then thirteen -- because life just went on. Nobody could stop it.

And you were okay.

But then you found out that the rules are different on this side. Not everybody likes what you want to believe or who you are, who you want to be. Most of the time -- if we're being really honest -- you don't like it either. Sometimes you stay up late at night, walking around or looking out your window, remembering, trying to remember what it feels like to breathe easily. You gasp, because that's all you have left to do.

Sometimes, even if you're infinitely sad, you stand up at the top of a hill, let out a barbaric yawp, and run with your arms outstretched to the very bottom, praying to trip and tumble just before the end: the days you'd give your right leg for a skinned knee on your left.

You take risks, and your heart thunders. You remind your body how much it craves your pulse. You stay up all night, a coffee in hand, talking to someone who barely knows you, who knows you too well, who's just like you in everything but name. You tell your secrets.

But you're okay.

And sometimes it just sucks to be you. Sometimes, it's fucking awesome. Oftentimes, you don't know what it is.

But I guess, sometimes, I just get this feeling.

You know?

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

the ugly beauty

Good afternoon, Coffee Lovers. I know it's not the right day for a blog post (I'm early, not late!), but I had something to write and with my current track record that's quite the accomplishment.

I am currently reading a book that examines how human beings socially and philosophically orient themselves in the midst of competing signals and paradigms that muddy our understanding of the world and define our cultures. The author begins with beauty. He examines a painting and each element in the painting in relation to another.

Now, the book is not what I want to talk about, but, rather, the idea of relation through beauty. The b-word has a weird reputation in contemporary America. We think of beauty as ephemeral, ethereal, and enticing, but never functional. Beauty, to the modern American, is an issue of asthetics. In art, in literature, in the physical -- we see beauty as a clearly delineated way of being.

I'd like to take a second to challenge that. What if, instead, beauty was an engine of relation? For beauty to be a foundation upon which we establish relationships and alliances, it must be rethought. No foundation ever laid was meant to be ephemeral, ethereal, or enticing. Foundations are steadfast, grounded, and ugly -- to be entirely honest. And now is when you throw up your hands and declare that this kid is crazy for trying to string you along in a quest for the ugly beauty. But give me a chance.

To try to explain what I mean, as I often do to make sense of something, I'm going to show you a poem.

Chinaberry
--Hoa Nguyen

Throwing myself at the cut.
--Vic Chesnutt

Also called Bead Tree
grooved seeds and
"a force unknown
to me"     yellow hanging
clusters through winter
growing black
               smooth
                            stripped bark

Feral tree
Desert tree
Invader
             Timber
like mahogany.

Seeds for making
  rosaries

Drunken songbirds


This poem is undeniably beautiful to me. The first time I read it, without understanding a word of it, I was unexpectedly touched by the emotional forces in these 36 words (if one excuses the epigraph from the count). But, despite the apparent beauty and extreme relational capacity of this poem, I don't actually think it makes the cut for beautiful in our culture. It does not wax eloquent or use unnecessarily glamorous words; the whole poem is a series of shifting images. Images are, of course, the most concrete pieces of literature; they remain age after age.

So what does this mean? I suppose, to me, it means that true beauty (please excuse the phrase) is understated and understood without understanding. Beauty is a universal constant, so, obviously, I'm not talking about the culture-specific beauty that mandates a body shape or a style of dress. Rather, I'm talking about a translator of passion and meaning.

I remember the first and only time that I saw the Mona Lisa in person. She hangs on a wall by herself behind two layers of perfectly clear, bullet-proof glass. She is a small painting, and, as we all know, not very beautiful. But I, along with the group of people gazing up at her, couldn't stop murmuring about what a gorgeous achievement she was, how well-deserved is the work's incredible fame and praise. Upon returning home, I tried to explain this to my family, and they simply could not grasp it. Recreations of the painting, they insisted, made the whole drama seem overblown.

And I knew, without understanding how, that in the presence of that great work I had glimpsed the universal beauty, so great as to be incapturable in any experience but a personal one. Like the above poem, the beauty is an aspect of a concrete translator of passion, be that da Vinci's passion for beauty or Nguyen's, it is the same.

So, assuming you agree that there is an ugly beauty -- and by ugly, I only mean understated, expansive, universal, untouchable, transcendent, and communicative -- your logical next question must be how that beauty can be seen in human beings.

This is an answer over which I have been puzzling for several months. I believe I found the answer in a rather ironic place, that place being a book of very ugly poems that I honestly did not care for. She Had Some Horses, by Joy Harjo, explores the feminine and Native American experiences, respectively, in contemporary America. In tackling these experiences she grapples with the great question that touches all facets of human experience: relation. In the midst of great pain, Harjo finds beauty in the unlikely. She finds beauty in greed and badness, hunger and malice, love and sex, joy and motherhood, giving and taking, succeeding and failing, the natural and the artificial. In short, she finds beauty everywhere. And it is through this beauty, through confrontation with this translator of the mythic and the passionate, that Harjo finds others and herself. She relates inward and outward in beauty, all the while proving that respect for beauty in all its forms -- ugly and comely -- is the only way to truly live.

Be beautiful. Find the beautiful. Embrace the beautiful. Throw yourself at its knives. Heal its cuts. Make rosaries, lives, children of it.

It is everywhere.

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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

sunday sip: possession by a god

I am fascinated by the ancient roots of words. It always seems, to me, that they are very beautiful mysteries hidden expertly within the everyday. The word "enthusiasm" is my favorite. It stems originally from the Greek word éntheos, meaning possession by a god. It was corrupted down through Latin, then French, and into English, where it means "absorbing or controlling possession of the mind by an interest or pursuit," which is notable — of course — because the idea of possession remains.

Ecstasy is also interesting. It comes from Greek éxstasis, meaning displacement. And it has come to mean a frenzy or enrapturing of emotion or inspiration so complete as to displace the concious mind.

The month of May, even, comes from the Greek for Maia's month, Maia who is one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes.

Which just means, I suppose, that myth lives in silent depths all around us.

Join me for a cup.
—michael

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

just a quote to get you through Tuesday:

"Her hand touched my forehead and her last words were, 'I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio. Always have the strength to live. Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the trees. I shall be with you—'"
—Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Luck, Peace, Coffee.
—michael

Thursday, May 10, 2012

a Leviathan and a Forest

I could begin this post with a long explanation and apology as to why you haven't heard from me in weeks or months, but how painfully predictable. Instead, you get a poem.



Leviathan: A Rapture

Every night I write silver, nectarine, puddle,
on the curve of your ear. Each word a tether

to bind you to the world you're so desperate to leave.
Every morning you awake dream-stained

and dazed, and say, Let go. I don't want
to hurt you. I tell you to remember the boy

who tied you to a tree so he could kiss you.
Remember you danced the bolero in a bar in Rio.

Remember the way you learned to slit an eel
from gills to tail and strip the muscle from

the spine, or the way when you split open
the word enthusiasm to untangle its roots,

you found out you've been saying filled with God
all these years. You've been saying passion,

meaning to suffer, endure. You say a whale has stranded
itself every winter since your marriage failed.

When I go to the beach, it is empty. Like blood
tossed into the sea to bring up the sharks, I sing

to summon grief, and by night a whale succeeds
in pulling itself to shore. I lay my head against

its colossal ribs. We hum undersongs. We drift.
We row the godawful dark. The treadle

of its monstrous heart insists, Repent, you disciple
of silence. It isn't the message I'm afraid of,

but the voice, like a tree on fire. I say Hosanna,
meaning, deliver us, and cover my burnt tongue.


—Traci Brimhall



I have been reading Traci Brimhall's incredible collection, Rookery (2010), for the last few weeks, going slowly because the language is so visceral that sometimes it sears me and I must put the book down for the night. I think that Traci and I would get along quite well, she with her heartbreak and her strange god, me with my talk of forces and staunch elementalism. Yes, I think we would get along.



That poem, Leviathan: A Rapture, is one I keep returning to in this book. It is, like many of her works, a poem written to herself from the two sides of herself. I, too, wrote one of those recently, and, so, I'm going to do something I don't usually do and let you all in on the writing that occupies my time when I'm busy not blogging.





Forest Fire


I am a child,
a forest;
child with a scarlet torch,
all once of Gaia, but faces turn black in the presence of soot —
a marvel of dichotomous nature.

Nourished by a lineage of ancestral fallen things, ghosts of bark and amber sap,
obsessively compelled to remember any pagan origin I may claim,
driven toward that death of secret mythos beneath the ground;
but fire I am quiet about, gentle with the knowledge of.


Bursting, the oceans broke upon the shore this morning,
carrying shells and a glorious infusion of color upon the sands, turning everything dark.
I watched from a window in a black tower,
my eyes hungering for the lowest ocean, perfect darkness in which strange fish reside.
I, too, may become alien with them.

This land was a desert once, left alone for centuries
before some spirit of wave and foam made a sea to wet its border, mist to confuse its air.
There is no acceptable science, only the mythology of my own creation.
I do not believe in kings or systems, only forces —
I succumb to only forces.
Repeating this in high libraries prepared for me by men with large heads,
I heard phantoms in the rustling of old paper – the perversion of wood –

so we ran.
My companions each a tree from that sylvan side of myself,
this is our caravan: wagons painted red.

Fleeing a raging flame, perhaps we will happen upon a hamlet
where some creature will offer salvation, passing by like the wind.
We will ignore everything if it fails to blow the candle out;
acolytes of movement, without foundation, we cry out to the forests,
but I am a forest, still.



I tremble with the howls that tear from the spaces between my varied cells;
nothing is as foreign to the body of man as my encircling arms,
which block even rain from the heads of my beloved.
Do not be fooled by the illusion I work in your baseness — this is the home of bears.

Reduced to bindle sticks, axe and flame are nightmarish in content and form.
Those varied hymnals of wolves:
a lament anathematized.



Child with the scarlet flame,
strange, consumptive sunshine —
the core of the earth is thermal in nature:
everything burns.



Take from this what you will. It isn't what I usually do on my blog, but — though this isn't the best poem I've ever written — I think it is the most honest. I think, or at least I hope, that I am not the only person who feels themselves in furious battle over the nature of self. I hope, and choose to believe, that the conflict in dichotomy, as infuriating as it is, is not the end of self, but its beginning. It is the burning that produces the true person, rising from the ashes. I once wrote about phoenixes, by the way. But since I've already done it, I won't do it again.


So maybe I'm writing this because I know a few people on a precipice, not entirely sure who they are or, more importantly, who they are going to choose to be. And I have to say, the process is messy, rough, stupidly difficult,

necessary.

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

well. . .

I was incredibly close.

Thursday was going to mark the beginning of my "loyal blogging phase," where I actually blogged TWICE a week...EVERY WEEK. That didn't happen, because Thursday marked the beginning of quite the adventure.

I had an emergency doctor's appoitment to address some very acute pain in my lower back. Turns out I had a wild, out of control infection. So, with high blood pressure and a fever like a roller coaster, I headed into general surgery on Friday, which made blogging on Sunday rather difficult, and is still doing a number on me now.

So there you have it.

I'm not entirely sure as to how to turn this little experience into a warm and fuzzy morality lesson or interesting food for thought. There's probably some of the good ol' "don't get complacent, because life will slap you in the face" or even the lovely "everything happens for a reason!," but, I mean, aren't those all a little...well...dramatic? Histrionic? Unnecessary?

Suffice it to say, I find the whole experience rather funny. One of the things I'm learning about Life is that, when the coffee is at its strongest, the only thing to do is throw back your head and have a good chuckle about it.

Here's to surgery and blogging hiatuses (is that a word?) that seem to never, ever, ever end!

Fingers crossed I'll write to all of you on Thursday (don't jinx it by hoping).

-michael





Sunday, April 8, 2012

sunday sip: coming into being

I don't know what the weather is like in your part of the world, but here in Western Washington, Spring has finally arrived. It is miraculous to me that, in a few short days, the flowers bloom brightly, the animals venture out, even the disgusting little baby spiders are hatched.

All in just a few days.

Today is Easter, of course. And whether you are a Christian or an atheist, I think the day bespeaks a similar theme: life. There is life, both in present and in hiding, all about us. Just a week ago, the entire natural world held its breath, safe within its buds and webs and little caves. But, like potential energy exploding forth into heat or movement, the world does not stay stagnant. Life is insistent and invasive.

I suppose we are, as well.

Join me for a cup.
—michael

Thursday, April 5, 2012

off electricity hunting

I have had a really hard time blogging on time lately, and for that - I'm sorry. It's not that I don't want to blog, just that I haven't had time. So forgive me. Or don't. If you don't there are a host of other blogs that you might enjoy all over the internet. I promise there are even some coffee-themed blogs.

So, I suppose it's also fair to say that, besides time, I've been having trouble writing posts. This blog wasn't really started with any clear objective in mind a few years (years!) ago when I sat down to write. It sprung forthfrom a serious caffeine addiction and a belief that life - regardless of what Ernest Hemingway and my cynical inner-nag might think - is full of passion to be unearthed, and that the act of unearthing these gems is what makes life meaningful.

But, somewhere along the way, I think I might have lost that. Not the caffeine addiction, no; that is going strong. But the passion is somehow dulled. It's there, making up the sparkling dust that settles in my mind, but - perhaps - I have changed. Maybe my bad eyesight has affected by insight. Maybe I am just very tired.

I read an interesting article the other day in Poets & Writers. The author, whose name I cannot remember, wrote a long-sort-of/short-sort-of memoir-like-story about becoming a father for the first time. In the article (for lack of a better word) he tells the fascinating story of a crippling anxiety that overtook him just before his son was born. It was not the fear of teaching the right values or getting up quickly enough at 3 AM, but, rather, the worry that his son would not be given the right words.

I understand. The sunshine, for examble, is not bright, but dazzling; the graffiti on the city walls is not vandalism, but ventriloquism. There are always alternate ways of seeing the world. I have always believed this, and I do still. I always will.

But, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, holding the emerald paradigm is somewhat difficult. It necessitates that we make the decision to keep the glasses on, to close our eyes tightly if they should slip off our noses and reveal the city to be shockingly ugly.

The potrait of an idealist? Self-delusion.

So, as I write this, coffee by my side, I wonder what makes it strong in the first place. I wonder if I still know, ever knew, forgot somewhere. 

At the end of every post I tell you to keep your passions electric. It just may be possible that I don't keep my own advice. Maybe - just maybe - I have to go electricity hunting. And maybe - just maybe - I'll find where that strength in coffee comes from. And maybe - just maybe - I already know, and just can't remember. As Plato put it:

We do not learn, and what we call learning is only a process of recollection.

I hope you'll stick around. In fact, I have faith that you will.

After all, the best miracles are very, very small.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

when the mirror doesn't believe you're invincible...

Mirrors are a strange blessing.

Today, I was walking past one, reflective surface returning my image to the world with that unfeeling objectivity for which they are so well lamented, and I couldn't help but stop and laugh. I looked downright ridiculous. I was frazzled, my hair was poking out from my hat in a hundred places, and I had a dangerously wild look in my eyes.

It was kind of like something out of a bad psycho-killer movie.

I love to laugh. It is one of those brief human experiences that, along with breathing and sleeping, keeps us alive. But laughter at oneself? Ah! That is all the sweeter. It is the best kind of affirmation; if I forget that I am human, and therefore incredibly far from perfect or poignant, someone PLEASE hold a mirror in front of my face.

I take myself too seriously most of the time. I don't do it on purpose, and I don't think it is an intrinsically bad thing. Plenty of good has come from this serious attitude toward myself and what I undertake. But it is not liberating; on the contrary, it is quite demanding. To constantly believe in everything I am doing with a nearly inappropriate level of sincerity requires a commitment to maintaining the ideal version of myself, at least in my own head. When I fall short of that ideal self (which is far too often), it is a terrible disappointment.

But then I remember: that ideal self is a dream. I have bad days; I have ugly days; I have dumb days, and fun days; I slip up; I fall down (every day); I giggle too loudly, sneeze too loudly, speak too loudly, whisper too loudly; I just don't get much of anything right. So, the dream is in my head and the reality is in the mirror, staring back at me and collapsing into a strange sort of laughter - a very wild, very free laughter.

And isn't freedom the goal always, anyway?

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

to my OOTI family -

I'm posting pretty late in the evening today, because I just got back home from a get-together with a group of people that I consider kind of like my second family.

I'll keep this short, because it's really very simple. Sometimes people come together. It is the right time, the right place, the right moment for a real kind of connection to develop. They laugh. They yell and scream at each other. They triumph. They fail. They fight for each other. They are families.

Blood is not sanctified; it is not a necessary ingredient for love. All that is truly necessary is a moment of shared understanding, a moment which gives way to a commitment. That commitment is an easy and mutual decision: this other person is as valuable to me as I am to them. Trust in that obscure and gorgeous bond; it exists.

To my OOTI family: thank you for forging such a beautiful story with me. You all are why I tell it and keep on telling it. I love all of you.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

sunday sip: the seaside

There is an Indonesian proverb which reads: "The sea becomes the shore, the shore becomes the sea."

I've spent my birthday weekend on the seaside with my family. The remarkable thing about towns near the ocean is the pervasive presence of that ocean in the town. Everything is finely dusted with sand; the air is salty; anchors decorate every house, and, of course, the sound of the waves breaking against the shore is always present.

It is a thoroughly spiritual experience, standing near the sea. All of the world's struggle for meaning is so easily read in the pull and push, give and take of the water as it exchanges sand for treasures from the deepest sides of itself. Nothing is far, nothing is near.

The ocean represents that middle point at which we should live our lives: everything - all directions, all depths and colors, all manners of being and non-being - are within reach.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Addressing Wolves

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.

That is a quote by Maya Angelou, a woman well acquainted with bitterness and anger - and with reason. She is, I believe, one of those people who has looked long into the sour of life, living beyond it.

Today, that is how I'd like to be. I am not a bitter person; to be perfectly honest, I do not have anything over which I could be very bitter even if I wanted. However, I think this planet is a bitter place. I'm fairly certain that the human race is tired of watching it destroy its homes, its dependents, students, masters, teachers, friends, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers - itself.

I don't think we are angry enough.

We have been angry, very angry, in the past, but always too briefly and often too violently. Wars are our legacy here. If we were to be annihilated tomorrow, the cosmic history books would paint us as tragic heroes constantly killing our neighbors without realizing who was on the other end of the blade.

Sometimes - on rare and beautiful occasions - we march, make signs, write poems and songs, perform, speak, and peacefully teach. We try vainly to tell ourselves that these actions come from a place of goodwill and self-control. That is not the truth. Resistance, be it peaceful or not, comes from deep, obsessive anger - as well it should.

Anger is dangerous; it is explosive, but - when properly utilized - it is the most powerful weapon that the human being possesses. It is the catalyst for change.

But we are not angry enough.

Enslavement persists; chains obstinately remain to be broken; human beings are subjugated and objectified. We have not, collectively, remedied these injustices or healed the wounds they inflict upon their victims. Rather, we take our anger and foolishly direct it in the wrong directions, bickering among ourselves about how and when and why to fight the fires we so desperately need to douse. I'm as guilty of this as anyone I know: wrong anger.

Today, I saw this quote by Maya Angelou, and I knew it was the truth. Anger is that glorious wave that sweeps the land in the minds and hearts of men and teaches them the proper way to be, taking the bitter helplessness of victimization and transforming it into action if (and only if) the once-victim is committed to laying down their sword and fighting well.

It's been about half a year since a late afternoon, when, while sitting with a notebook on my lap staring at a blank wall, eight words dropped very neatly into my head and would not leave. I wrote them down, but have never seriously written them into something:

BE STILL THE WOLVES AND HOWL NO MORE.

When I read the quote that began this post, that is what I thought of - that line. I'm tired of watching wolves tear my world in two, tired of listening for them at night.

It makes me furious.

And, to be frank, I think that's a good thing.

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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

sunday sip: fire & wind - movement

Good afternoon, Coffee Lovers. Let me first offer an explanation as to why there was no post on Thursday. I was at a concert for one of my favorite artists, Trevor Hall, whose music I have quoted here before.

It is about Trevor that I'd like to write for a few minutes. His music is peace. The literal messages in his songs are peace, unity, togetherness. But his music carries a quality to it that, in its own mysterious self, is peaceful. Watching him play on Thursday night, I realized what that quality is; Trevor Hall espouses peace and unity with an overriding and indomitable passion.

When I was a few years younger, I was obsessed with the idea of passion. As I aged, somehow the idea of passion and the idea of peace became strangely separate, as if they were hostile foils to each other rather than necessary components in the other's equation. Watching Trevor play on Thursday reaffirmed something I'd forgotten: without peace, all passion is fire, thus consuming and unkind; without passion, all peace is still, cloth, without any true power or motion.

"Time has come to speak of this love,
spread your wings of your song and soul
to maintain internal heights above;
close your eyes and feel it unfold."
--Trevor Hall, 'Volume'


Join me for a cup.
-michael

Sunday, February 26, 2012

sunday sip: faith or fear

I really respect people who believe. I'm not necessarily concerned with what they believe, just that they believe in SOMETHING. In a culture that spends so much time arguing, yelling, debasing, devaluing - I think we should remember that no matter what side of what spectrum we are on, there is a person on the other side, courageously standing with a pennant in their hand, a pennant they trust and love just as much as our own.

I spend too much time griping about other people's beliefs and not enough time marveling at them. Thank you to my friend, Kaela, who posted "Let your faith be bigger than your fears" on Facebook today. I have faith in human beings, and I'd like to make a commitment to let that faith be larger than any fear I may have of their different views.

Minds only function when open, after all.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, February 23, 2012

many, many months

Discontent is a poison the human spirit concocts in a suicidal attempt at realism.

And with that, good morning, Coffee Lovers. I'd like to begin by apologizing for the lack of a post on Thursday and Sunday. I was sick and then in California. But I'm here now for this Thursday's important notice.

I want to address poison. I don't just want to write ABOUT it; I want to write TO it. Just as the body fails, slowly or quickly, quietly or violently, when poison is let loose in the veins, so, too, does the soul fail in its varied tasks when discontent and daily warmongering against the self and all the other selves belonging to other people overtake the fragile arteries of the mind.

So, to you, Discontent: go away. I've opened wide the gray door that leads in here and in you have traveled, or perhaps I crafted you from disappointment and confusion. Regardless of your origin, you have stayed far too long here, in my mind. And I am respectfully requesting that you quietly leave me in peace now.

If not, if indeed you persist in your darkness and malcontent, well - it means war. With a sack of swords given me by those who love me, with armor I have made in my fragile two hands, I will unmake you. I will smile past you, compliment past you, dance past you, laugh and love and sing and write past you. Discontent, winter is ending, and so you, too, must bow to spring. I choose to be roseate like the first flowers of May; I choose to glow like that distant and ever-nearer ball of fire that defies the darkness of our Universe. I choose no frost to be a part of me; freeing myself from ice, I rise beyond you and your unnecessary, inhuman tears.

---

I spent this weekend in Berkeley, California and then in San Francisco with some of my favorite people in the world. Sitting, looking out at the ocean as the sun sunk to purple extinguishment with my friend Shreya (http://stayepic.blogspot.com), I remarked how good, simple, necessary it felt to be perfectly and peacefully happy.

There is something about the ocean which understands those on her border, accepts all of their sorrow and banishes it to her depths, where it is sung out by whales and made beautiful. It was in the realizing of this, in the realizing that there is so much that is greater than me, that I settled into a peace I have not known for many, many months.

May you find the ocean this week, or the week after. May your wait be short, your peace be long.

And: may you rage with all the ferocity you can muster against discontent, always.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

no post today

No post today, Coffee Lovers. I was really sick this week and weekend, and I have a lot of homework to catch up on.

Keep it strong.
-michael

Thursday, February 9, 2012

required reading

Hey, Coffee Lovers. I'm having a touch of writers' block lately, so I'm taking this opportunity to post a poem that I love by another author.

Russian Birch

Is it agony that has bleached them to such beauty? Their stand
is at the edge of our property—white spires like fingers, through which
the deer emerge with all the tentative grace of memory. Your father

loved these trees. When you try to imagine his childhood, it is all old
footage, in a similar scheme: black and white. But he died, and all you know
is that they reminded him of home. As they remind you he is gone

to a country as unimaginable as his life before you were born, before
the woman who would be your mother lived as she does now—lost,
wandering at the edge of her life’s whitened gates.

After a storm, one birch fell in the field, an ivory buttress collapsed across
the pasture. Up close there is pink skin beneath the paper, green lichen
ascending in settlements of scales. In the dark yard it beckons you back

to snow, the static of the past—your father, a boy, speaking in a tongue
you never knew, calling down from the branches. Or the letter you wrote
to a mother you weren’t allowed to miss—black ink scrawled across

the white pulp of the page: I am very lonely without you.
--Nathaniel Bellows, 2007

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

sunday sip: solve for X

They are unknowables, variables in an equation which does not submit to common or understandable regulatory mathematical systems. Where are they going? From what have they come? If I knew the proper numbers, would I be able to multiply them to infinity or negative one? Zero is the constant, myself, tangible in my own skins, my hair and feathers. Their facade rushes toward me, the speed of light, as I lift - fragile balloon - into obscurity. The vapor from my coffee cup contradicts the minuscule dust beneath my sneakers.

But strangers look on as I scrape roofs and then the sky. Embracing the sunlight, I wish them well.

Join me for a cup.
-michael


Thanks to Kathryn, and sorry to all of you for missing a post on Thursday; I was preparing for a debate tournament.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

sunday sip: small VOICES

If I could give a VOICE to the VOICELESS, I would make them sound like children, for a child's voice is gentle, silver - like a star, but cleaner; stars are made from fire, while that little sylvan laughter children sound between the trees is just warm on its own. And if I gave them noise, I would make them loud - consonants tall: oak-like, and vowels rolling: green hills or silver breezes. I would give them a thousand words in a red bag called 'Passionate Yelling,' almost exclusively verbs. I would tell them that their sentences are like their hands, only moving can they change the colors in the eyes of men.

If I could give a VOICE to the VOICELESS, well, but, of course, I cannot. They must be small,

and then they find their larynx.

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Thursday, January 26, 2012

a thimbleful of marrow

I am a tutor. Today, I was helping a student understand a poem titled "How to Splint Things on the Run". It is authored by Carmen Giménez Smith. It reads like this:

"Take the nearest escape route and find yourself the fig tree. Find it's best arm, buried in the topmost canopy, and snap it loose with your one good hand. Press it against that one day in History until you make friction. This might require a binding. Compass it until it all goes white and you can't see what went upended. Cinch the edges of the wound until it spells out your name, murmurs it like the lover did. Wrap your own body over the wound so it becomes center hollow. Do this for forty minutes, and in the meanwhile retrace your steps to curse yourself. It happens, but never to you. Or it only happens to you, at times like this, to the one you love, etc.

Wrap it with silk, if it's handy, or wrap it with the best scarf you own. It should be a token fraught with scents. Hold your arm/leg/elbow over healing fire (the one that's left burning all day) for minutes you count with your heartbeat. Repeat until layer after layer singes away. There will be little left but the glowing bone. That's what you've wanted: to get back at it, to see it still humming with poignancy.

Pluck out a thimbleful of marrow and drink it. That's your final step. That and all the limping home you'll do, buzz like a desk lamp for 15 to 30. What's left hairline will get fickle in the rain."

It is one of my favorite poems of all time, but it wasn't when I first read it. Originally, I was impressed by the imagery, but less than thrilled by the rest of it. It did not seem applicable to me; Ms. Giménez Smith had obviously lived through more heartbreak than I, was obviously wiser.

Looking back on the first time I read "How to Splint Things on the Run", I realize I was not properly applying the meaning of the poem. What the poet wishes us, her readers, to learn is that the brokenness brought about by life - when it is most ugly - is not healed by finery or earthly pleasures and comforts. It is healed by stripping ourselves down to our basic state, that which is most natural and most powerful for that - the glowing bones which support our bodies.

Carmen Giménez Smith ends by reminding us that once we have found the glowing constant within, we must swallow it down and make that light a part of ourselves. So, once we have returned home, we are poignant still.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

the daemon & the genius

I watched an interesting video tonight. It was from the TED organization, and it was a video of Elizabeth Gilbert - the broken saint herself - speaking about the stress of creativity and the alternate views we can and should take on art and artistic genius.

I was dumbfounded.

She speaks about the ancient Greek and Roman belief that inspiration did not come from within the individual, but from a knavish, sprite-like spirit called a daemon (in Greece) and a genius (in Rome). Yes, you read that correctly. Genius was not, originally, the name for an intellectually talented individual. It was a term for that creature which imparted all the mighty talent onto the individual him or herself. So, Elizabeth Gilbert stood up in front of one of the most educated audiences in the world and told them that she believes, completely and utterly, that we would heal the psyches of our artists if we reverted back to this way of thinking. I drank in every word.

We are lost. In our grayscale metropolises, our forests of mathematically certain industry, our eerily efficient psychological escalators - in this place we have found ourselves utterly without foundation. We put mirrors in every room to remind ourselves that, while we have too little time to sit and eat, we still exist.

We are a post-Enlightenment society, and that is a marvelous thing. It means that we live in a world open to thought and the free exploration of facts. However, in our mess of facts and well-informed paradigms, we have lost sight of truth. There is an important distinction. It is a fact that I am a member of the species homo sapiens, a biped, carbon-based creature with a high level of sentience which occupies the dominant space on Earth's food chain. It is truth that I am a human being. If you believe that is an issue of semantics you have already given up on truth.

Gilbert, though unaware possibly, was speaking to this. The creative process is too large, too explosive, too painful, prodigal, and beautiful to be the product of facts. Art, in its varied and too-often divorced forms, is the only human endeavor - excepting maybe religion - which makes the pursuit of truth its sole aim. Gilbert's belief in daemons and geniuses may seem far-fetched to the factual society, but is it such a tall order? She asks only one simple, audacious question:

What force keeps you from believing?

We live without belief. We reserve all of life for our text books and Wikipedia. What a painful legacy we will pass on to our children! When I was a child, I used to believe that my true parents were tree spirits that ruled the forest behind our house. To be perfectly honest, a part of me still half-believes that when I hear wind whistling through branches or I marvel at the crimson quality that sunlight takes on when it filters through autumn leaves. What force keeps me from believing? It is true, even if it is not fact.

Today I sat down in a coffee shop with my mother for a very long time. We drank lattes and ate lunch, spoke and laughed, joked and told stories for more hours than we expected, trapped by snow and freezing rain. It was slow and still, not rushed. But as I sat in my own gentle caffeinated afternoon, I watched others rush, checking phones and conducting business deals. They greeted each other with nary a wave. It reminded me of a song I like very much. It is called To Be a Dancer (I Am Alive) by Lovers. It reads:

It's all dead energies in this town.
It's all pedantry and pedigree in this town.
I needed an answer.
I needed a song.
I want to be a dancer when the music comes on.
It's all stagnancy in this town.
It's all pageantry and monopoly in this town.
It's all hierarchy in this town.
It's all self-defeat, there's no poetry in this town.
I am alive.
I can call your fake (I needed an anthem)
and I can give your take (I needed a song)
and I am here and brave (I want to go dancing)
and you're going to want me someday (when the music comes on).
I am alive.
Raise your flag, it's do or die now.

So, I don't know about you, but my daemon and I are going to raise our flags and our coffee cups to say - with slowness and truth - that we would like to believe in more than facts, that we would like to dance to every bit of music we hear.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

sunday sip: glorified ice

Happy Sunday, Coffee Lovers.

It is a miraculous day in western Washington. It is a small miracle, given to us by the lucky providence of clouds and that mysterious triple point at which the laws of chemistry tell us that vapor can become rain or snow or further air. Yes, the ground here is white.

What an inconsequential thing to call a miracle. It is just, you say, glorified ice. And that may be true, certainly. But the giggles of children and their rosy cheeks seem far more significant to me than a physical state of water, which - itself - is quite surprising. Life is the little things. Life is miraculous.

By that logic, everything is blessed.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

--Walt Whitman, "Miracles"

Join me for a cup.
-michael

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

a note from a pathological idealist

Good evening, Coffee Lovers. I know it's not a Thursday, but I felt like I needed to write something to all of you.

Failure is something we are all familiar with, if only because we are so incredibly terrified of it in the day-to-day. The fear of failure cripples me, humbles me, teaches me new levels of reverance and respect for the world around me, which is a catalog of extremity and possibility. Those possibilities span the intensely positive and the darkest of negatives.

But life is hardly ever a choice between perfect good and perfect evil. Life is, basically, the gray between the first essential: birth, and the last essential: death. It is the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the hilarious. . .

Why write this?

I feel like I've failed you all, my loyal readers on four continents, in a series of small, gray ways that are, together, an egregious harm. Missed posts, lazy posts, late posts - the list goes on. And you, you varied consumers of my desperate ontological rumblings on the deeper nature of the mundane, deserve better.

You see, I'm an pathological idealist. So, for that reason, I believe that blogs are more than conglomations of Internet files passing, comet-like and fleeting, through cyberspace. No, no, no. Blogs are journals from the road, Kerouac collections of thoughts empassioned by earnest belief that immerse their readers in a gloriously flawed paradigm of what is, was, may be. That is what I believe about Stronger Coffee. It's what I hope you believe, and, if you don't, I hope I can convince you of it again or for the first time.

So this is me, Michael J. Abraham, doing the unthinkable. I'm admitting I've grown complacent with my existential exploration of today and yesterday and the yesterday before that. But no more! Blogging is more than blogging; it is a way of recognizing being.

So I'm sorry; continue to be with me.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

sunday sip: It's just a day.

I am not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I disagree completely with the entire concept. A resolution is a promise one makes to oneself. New Year's is a day on which our culture believes our resolutions magically become sealed in stone. There is a better, fuller, more exciting truth to New Year's than that: New Year's Day, January 1st, the beginning of a whole new epoch - it's just a day. There is nothing sanctified or special, the Universe does not listen closer, the stars do not align just because it is New Year's Day. In fact, in some modern calendars around the world...it isn't even New Year's. So this year if I were to resolve anything (which I won't), I'd resolve to keep those promises to myself that I make each and every day, and to treat every day like a time to start over. But, of course, I'm not making any resolutions.

Join me for a cup.
-michael