Cold-brewed kick in the pants

I stayed up late experimenting with cold-brewing coffee. Twelve hours later, it was time to start a blog.
I stayed up late experimenting with cold-brewing coffee. Twelve hours later, it was time to start a blog.

Tonight, I’m starting the blog I’ve been thinking about writing for years. This is happening primarily because late last night, my office was out of coffee. There are people who believe that things like this happen for a reason, but I don’t know about that. I do believe in telling self-deprecating stories, however. There is a story that connects last night’s empty coffee mug to tonight’s purchase of a domain name, after winding through some dark moments in my life. It’s a bit awkward and over-caffeinated, similar to its anti-heroine, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to share.

This is how it happened:

At 11 o’clock last night, I was seated at my desk, attempting to analyze credit card statements for a client. I’d been working on that project all day and still had a couple hours to go. I was bored, restless, and procrastinating with fervor. I’d also just received a text message from a guy I used to date, and my brain had started doing acrobatics. He was a heartbreaker who had disappeared overnight without a word and I hadn’t heard from him in months. Now he wanted to meet for coffee? Huh?

When I need to focus, I load up on caffeine and turn on music. Last night, I turned on a favorite playlist and tried to concentrate on those account statements. But then Brendan James’ “Different Kind of Love” came on, and I stopped working to Google these lyrics:

Turning on a dime you pull into your local store
Aisles going by and you forget what you’re looking for
Maybe it’s a pot of gold
Maybe you’re too lost to know

Ick. That was exactly right. I’d felt a little lost lately, maybe too lost to know what I was looking for, and last night, I was really having a hard time focusing on work. And in the midst of that, my ex resurfaced, wanting to meet for coffee. What?

This is not a story about analyzing credit card statements, by the way.  It’s also not about an ex-boyfriend, thankfully.

Things started innocently enough. I had a browser window open to look up those song lyrics. Since I was already on the internet, there seemed to be no harm in checking Facebook—just for a minute, of course, and I planned to get right back to work. But let’s be honest: opening Facebook to take a break from work is as effective as releasing a family of rabid bats into my office. Last night, there might as well have been a few hyenas in there, too. Maybe also a tornado siren, blaring outside. Maybe even a unicorn trying to break into the office by smashing a window with its horn.

Work was not getting done; my mind was all over the place.

Scrolling through Facebook led me to click on one thing, and then another, and then to look up the definition of “ruminate,” and then to click over to something else—I really don’t remember all the detours, to be honest. What I remember is that I landed halfway through a food blog about different methods for cold-brewing coffee before I finally had one of those startling, “Oh-sh*t” moments: It was after midnight and I hadn’t finished those darn credit card statements.

I had no idea how I’d gotten from Brendan James to cold-brewing, but there I was, and I was absolutely craving coffee.

I went downstairs, hoping there might still be coffee left over from earlier in the day. The cleaning crew had already come and gone, though, and the carafe was empty. With cold-brewing on the brain, the empty carafe was an obvious sign to me, telling me to go home and make my own coffee. Never mind that it was approaching 1 o’clock in the morning.

Fifteen minutes later, I was parking my car outside a 24-hour grocery store, telling myself I was just going in to get cheesecloth and nothing else.  Then I said, aloud, “Who am I kidding!?” There was no way I could walk into a grocery store and leave the bats, the hyenas, and the unicorn outside long enough come out, having only purchased the one thing I went in to buy. I turned the car on and went home, reminding myself that there were at least a half-dozen ways I could work around not having cheesecloth.

Oh, and I still needed to look at those credit card statements, just as soon as this cold-brewing project was underway.

By 2 a.m., there were three small batches of coffee, cold-brewing in various containers on the counter in my kitchen.  I finally sat down and worked on those account statements for a couple hours, and then set an alarm for 7 a.m., knowing that I’d need to be up early to make headway on my project before the work day started.

Fast-forward to 2 p.m. today, when I was seated at my dining room table, looking groggy and run-down. I’d only gotten a couple hours of sleep and was struggling to stay awake. I discovered that I must have spilled wet coffee grounds on myself the night before, as they had dried onto the over-sized hoodie I was still wearing. That reminded me: there was cold-brewed coffee in the kitchen!  It had been sitting there for at least 12 hours, so it was probably ready.

I sprang out of my chair and improvised a double-filtration set-up, using a mesh strainer, some coffee filters, and paper towels. When I started filtering, wet coffee grounds spilled everywhere again, but I didn’t mind. I soon had a pitcher of my first batch of cold-brewed coffee. I poured it over a glass of ice and was ready to try a sip.

I don’t know if the clouds outside actually parted and beams of light actually descended from the sky, or if angels were actually singing, but that’s how I will remember my first taste from my first batch of cold-brewed coffee today: It was heaven on earth—on the rocks, to be exact.

Fast-forward again to 8 p.m. tonight. After 6 hours of sipping on my new cosmic brew, I’d breezed through those account statements and found myself burning with energy.

The kitchen was clean and the dishwasher was running. All the houseplants had been watered and I’d even rearranged a few of them. I’d checked the mail and had a 20-minute conversation with the concierge downstairs about her daughter. I’d even started taking artsy pictures of my glasses of iced coffee, telling myself I would one day show these images to my friends when they showed me pictures of their children.

Holy caffeine, I wrote on Instagram. This is #DangerJuice.

By 10 p.m., the caffeine buzz was extraordinary. I’d begun racking my brain for some project I could tackle, recognizing that if there was anything in my life for which I’d needed a burst of inspiration, this might be the night to find it. I flipped through my journal and saw a note to myself about an inspiring comic on The Oatmeal, followed by several pages of notes about a blog I’d been half-heartedly dreaming up. The last time I’d given it thought, I’d gotten stuck on whether it was a blog about my tendency to have deep personal exchanges with total strangers, about exploring my new city, about all the random things I think and do when I’m procrastinating, or about something else altogether. I must have had rabid-bat brain that night, too.

Self Portrait
Holy caffeine. This is #DangerJuice.

But tonight, I somehow harnessed those bats as if they were my trained minions. I added a few comments to my journal:

Fascination. Ferret out experience.

Rumination = animal chewing the same food twice.

Exploration & inspiration.  

I looked over these words and added one more:

Procrastination.

Just like that, I could see a blog forming, structured around the four things that account for at least 95 percent of my time: exploration, inspiration, rumination, and procrastination.

Without hesitation, I started looking for available domains that contained the word “ferret.” I don’t know where that came from; I never think about ferrets. But tonight, I’ve been picturing one vividly in my mind, as if I’d grown up keeping it as a pet. I feel like I know this ferret. I know why he’s so fascinated with everyone and everything. He’s crafting a heartfelt message to my uncle, who will be celebrating a birthday tomorrow. And he’s thinking about all the things he wants to say about eating donuts late at night.

Coffee and Books
My kid is so photogenic.

OK, maybe the caffeine is actually doing the typing now.

The truth is, I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time, but I haven’t been able to get myself to do anything more than the occasional journal entry. When I say I’ve been “thinking” about it, I mean that for the past few years, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen how it pains me that I’m not writing anything creative. I make a living by writing dry, technical analyses about finance and accounting. I’ve built a career in this weird niche. But the problem with my line of work is that there are no unicorns or tornado sirens. No one would pay my rates to read that stuff.

I don’t know what’s been holding me back from writing creatively for so long. Basic laziness? A lack of inspiration? Perfectionism? Maybe it’s just the fear that I’ll start something and not stay with it. Maybe it’s the fear of having to be vulnerable in order to be authentic. Or even worse: maybe it’s the fear that one day, I’ll discover that I just don’t have anything to say.

Those fears are real. Nearly every creative person I’ve ever met has admitted to battling them. Even the goofy web comics I love—The Awkward Yeti, Hyperbole and a Half, to name just two—have shared deeply personal admissions of struggle and self-doubt. They’ve confessed to how one critical comment can eradicate their self-confidence, while a thousand “likes” and “shares” are quickly forgotten, even in our validation-obsessed world. It’s difficult to imagine those writers being so fragile, in light of their published books and their seemingly inexhaustible insight and humor. Maybe accomplished creative types share an understanding that people only lend you their words of affirmation. Maybe they’ve discovered that approval is not a prize but a loan; it’s retractable at any time. And when you accept the loan, you take it knowing that people are hoping you’ll continue to have things to say and to find a way to say them. That hope—even just knowing it exists, or that your own friends and family might feel it—can be debilitating.

But what about us mortals who aren’t quitting our day jobs and have no ambitions of signing book deals? What’s holding us back? Why do we get so caught up in perfectionism and self-doubt that we won’t just savor the creative process for the sake of itself? Surely, our friends and family would not disown us if we dared to write a limerick and it didn’t completely dazzle at the Thanksgiving dinner table, right? And surely, a night spent sipping wine with friends and trying to paint a winter landscape is not a total waste if the landscape turns out a bit lopsided. We don’t do those things with the intention of selling our paintings, anyway, do we? Shouldn’t we hang the lopsided painting somewhere at home as a proud reminder of a time when we connected with friends? Isn’t the creative process really just a mechanism for finding connection with other humans?

In the end, I guess a blog really isn’t such a big deal. Or at least for now, the caffeine doesn’t seem to think so. Who is going to judge this thing, anyway?

Tonight, the ferret in my mind is undaunted—fascinated, even.

OK, fine. I’ll start a blog.

3 thoughts on “Cold-brewed kick in the pants

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