Coffee and Carl Sandburg

I sipped my coffee, felt its burnt adrenaline ease its way into my mind, and once I was thoroughly steeped in what it had to offer, I set the mug down. Coffee takes on a different nature altogether when it is room temperature. And I most often drink it when it has reached room temperature. I cannot actually remember the last time I drank a cup of hot coffee. I have formed the habit, or way of life, really, in which I pour coffee for myself and set it on my desk or the coffee table or kitchen table or floor, and then scurry off and become distracted by at least twenty-six things before I actually return and get to the business of drinking my coffee. And drinking coffee stopped being an actual business long ago. No longer do I sit and savor every single ounce that passes through my lips, over my tongue, down my throat, into my stomach, my bloodstream, my heart. No longer do I revel in every hidden flavor, no longer do I play hide and seek in earnest longing to find something new. Coffee is my almost-constant companion, and I am disappointed to discover that this has moved its identity from that of “religious experience” to “commonplace.” Commonplace is not bad, simply different. It is somewhat like my siblings.  How when they first came into my everyday, they were new, undiscovered. How then I “oooed” and “ahhed” over every part of them, delighting in their cuddly selves, their gurgling mouths, their footy-pajamas. But their newness wore off, and they became a fixture – still wonderful, still complex, still mostly undiscovered, just usual.

My head throbbed now, tired of the coffee I was forcing into it at a relentless pace. I tried to apologize with large amounts of water, but the ache would not be so easily dissuaded. Headaches over the likes of coffee are a stubborn lot. I decided to try engaging my head in an activity other than aching in hopes that it would decide the other activity was more worthy of its time. Imaginary conversation. I have them often. I pride myself on being rather good at concocting and carrying them. Naturally, this was my distraction of choice. I whipped up the imaginary setting of a park and set an inquisitive, professional version of myself on one end of a green bench and a musing, mysterious version of myself on the other. The interview began.

“How do you write poetry?”
“As it comes.”
“And it comes?”
“Like the rain.”

That was as far as my cleverness would allow and the interview ended, the scene evaporated.

It’s really no wonder I am somewhat insane, I spend my days locked away in “The Nook with a View.” A cup of once-warm coffee, a glass of water, and music are my permanent co-residents. I imagine sometimes that this is how authors live – though, most of them probably have brandy or some other spirit in place of water. I do school work, here in my Nook with a View.

My current task? American Literature. I must study it. I view studying as diving into something and swimming around and choking on the water until I can emerge with enough knowledge to at least pretend I know about the subject of the pool. That was essentially today – splashing hungrily in American Literature until I could come out dripping and saying things like “did you know Emily Dickinson wrote over 1775 poems?” I’ve read many poems while fiddling in that pool. They’ve filtered into my brain and taken over my own poem-forming skills. My muse has been altered to resemble something not my own.

I sometimes write poems on coffee-stained index cards as the day goes on. This is for two reasons. One – that random flow of creative something keeps me from going completely insane, which would be the case if I kept it pent up. Two – it looks really artsy. Today I wrote two poems and both tasted of Carl Sandburg. I can’t say that I mind Carl Sandburg, it’s just that I’d rather he didn’t take over my poetry. He did, though. At least to some extent.  I changed tense and tone at least twice. Did any of you notice and think me an awful writer for it? I did make effort to include less run-on sentences and that should be counted in my favor. Here are the Carl-Sandburg-tinted poems:

The First –

Fly-away petals
Make spring-time snow.
My coffee-mug’s green,
its contents cold,
the radio plays January
songs, as if they belong.
Radio doesn’t know the weather,
unlike my neighbor,
taking advantage of March-time warm
to clean his car –
water finds its way
through my window,
a curious thing.
Competing with the radio
is a basket ball, and my brother’s friends
singing songs of their own.
They know the weather,
but care not for my cold coffee –
they did maim a flower
and mourned for its loss
by throwing the ball again,
singing their song again,
scuffing, laughing, lively

The Second –

Giggles, squeals, and rain-drop footsteps
herald her sun-yellow hair,
sunrise-pink skirt, rosy-red face.
Behind her is a raspy-voiced boy,
well-dressed and short.
He tries in earnest to catch her,
but her legs are longer, her feet faster.
“This is fun!” she calls,
he wheezes in reply.
Down the hill, round the bend,
Up the hill, gone.


I woke up about thirty minutes ago – 11:14 – I feel guilty about sleeping so long, but only somewhat. I have come to the conclusion over the past several days that I am rather lazy. I get up far too late and walk around in the doldrums for a while before actually doing anything productive. And I can  be productive, it just take prodding and getting over whatever mind-block that’s in my way and time, generally, lots of time. I opt lately for an episode –which generally turns into several episodes- of the Wonder Years (possibly one of the best television shows I’ve ever come across) over one of the many things that have been on my mental to-do list for at least a month now. This isn’t necessarily bad. I think that there are points in one’s life when it is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even very good, for laziness to be the general mantle worn. I don’t think that now is one of those points in my life, however, which means I have a bit of a problem. I know there are methods to fix this problem. I don’t really feel like employing them – I suppose this is a side-effect of lazy. I don’t really want to go on talking about it, however, because I feel that is just allowing it to prove its own point – talking about being lazy is, by definition, lazy. It’s still not doing anything. Still procrastinating.

So, I have half a mind to go for a walk in spite of the icy conditions – just to say to lazy that it has not won. I probably won’t. I have to study. I have a rather big test on Monday that I’m supposed to be studying for- right now, actually. I’m very bad at studying. That’s another conclusion about myself I’ve made over the past several days. This is kind of a large misfortune because studying is supposed to be my sole occupation for the next three years of my life. There is something in me that simply cannot wrap itself around the idea of sitting at my desk going over a said topic for hours at a time. I guess, or seriously hope, that I will get better at studying as time goes on – otherwise, I may just have to stop existing. I’ve justified my writing this because I’m eating breakfast. Before you deem me completely ridiculous, please allow me to explain. See, in the past, I would’ve watched the Wonder Years while I ate, so, the fact that I’m writing – something productive – instead of watching the Wonder Years – something mindless – is improvement and thus, acceptable. Okay, so I’m completely ridiculous.

I had planned, upon waking up, to come in here – to my sanctuary of sorts where my desk resides in front of a window outside of which is a tree where birds like to take curious little rests – and write a more narrative piece because I miss writing things like that and the icy morning lent itself perfectly to such a writing. But, then I came again to the conclusion that I’m lazy and it apparently so bothered me that I wrote about that instead. Someday – maybe even later today maybe even now – I will write about the ice and how it makes the magic once in the trees come back to the surface, and the miraculous, stirring quiet of a nearly empty house when you first wake, and how perfect oatmeal and a cup of coffee would’ve been, and why I had some healthy substitute for oatmeal and a cup of tea instead, and the fat birds that come to watch me work – or let me watch them sit – and slid around on their normal tree this morning because it was covered in the cursed, blessed ice. Or, maybe I will surprise all of us and study.

And after I wrote this, I did study – for 20 minutes. Then I messed around with the appearance of this here blog – nog – and added this new page for your enjoyment and my possible demise. And now, I’m really off to study… and get the mail… an maybe eat some food… and get a cup of tea… then study.

The “Tortured Genius”

I just had what I believe could be classified as a mental breakdown. I could probably give a million reasons as to why this happened (though really, I’m not sure) I am sure that my entire system tried very hard to be in war and shut down all at once because I was so very overwhelmed. There’s really not even a logical explanation for my overwhelmedness, but I’m learning that there doesn’t always need to be a reason, explanation, or formula. There are literally a million things going on inside of me at any given point in time – millions. I have so many thoughts, prayers, worries, thoughts, stories, words, more thoughts, ideas, and more thoughts running and/or rampaging through my head all of the time that its really any wonder I can spit out a half-decent sentence.

At the beginning of last school year, I was studying Western Civilization and it was while studying said topic that I came across the idea that some artist (or musician… I really can’t remember… tells you how well that course went) that was singlehandedly responsible for introducing artists and musicians as the stereotyped “tortured genius.” I ravished that. It was so very intriguing to me and I found myself half wishing to become that and was half afraid that I already had. I know for certain now that I am, at least on occasion, the tortured genius. This is not at all a claim to be genius. No, because the stereotype of tortured genius is not really so much genius as insane. It’s one who is full so completely, so constantly, of thoughts that the thoughts become a plague – regardless of the beauty, ingenuity, wonderment, brilliance of any of them because one cannot really be separated from the other. It’s a person who’s mind is like standing in the middle of 471 with cars speeding on either side of you at indistinguishable rates in numerous directions – it’s like standing there with music yelling directly into your ears while you’re trying to catch full sight of every single car while you’re working through an advanced, high-level, really-super-disgustingly-difficult physics equation… or a simple geometry problem. That’s what pushed me over the edge – a simple geometry problem. I was so very distracted and bothered by the music and the cars that I couldn’t stop or read or capture, even though (and this is the most frustrating part) they were my freakin’ cars, that I couldn’t remember anything that I used to know about geometry and I couldn’t remember how to apply anything that I couldn’t remember in the first place and my stomach revolted and my ears stopped listening to anything and I felt like screaming and crying and throwing something very hard and maybe hitting something too.

I somehow (mostly likely by some grace of God I didn’t even think I needed) stepped calmly away from my desk, leaving the scattered mess as it was, and walked into the kitchen, trying very hard not to rip the TV, which my brother was watching, out of the cabinet and fling it with good riddance into the yard. Mom was on the phone. Deep breaths. Sit on down.  I pulled myself onto the counter and waited. She looked at me questioningly – still on the phone. Still on the phone. Get off the phone – I’m having a breakdown… can’t you see from the fact that I’m calmly sitting on the counter, breathing like a normal person that I’m having a break down. “Mom?” Opening my mouth seemed to make my stomach think that throwing up was a good idea – my neck pricked at the thought and I bit my lip – the only thing I could think to do to keep my stomach in place.

What is she talking about?… Going somewhere. Going somewhere! I don’t have time to go somewhere – I have hours of work still! Out to eat… with friends… I’d rather do that… I don’t want hours of work… maybe if I move that to tomorrow- NO! what are you saying? You’ll get behind – behind is bad, very bad, remember? That’s why you’re doing geometry now… geometry… will not be sick, will not be sick, will not be sick “Mags?” oh! Right, mom – breathe – don’t be sick. I explained to her in as few words as possible my current problem (leaving out the impending stomach issue seeing as I figured if I didn’t talk about it, it might go away) and she told me to stop working and write. I love my mother.

So, that’s what I did. I returned to my desk, which was really unrecognizable underneath the great pile of unfinished things that spewed like vomit all over its top. I cleared, slowly, calmly, the pile, finding spaces for all of it in whatever drawer was nearest and had space. And once everything but my computer, my lamp, a glass of water, and a cup of cold coffee was entirely gone, I sat and I wrote this. And now that I have written it, my stomach has stopped its incessant churning and flopping and my shoulders are less tense and I can breathe without having to first remind myself how and the word “geometry” doesn’t make me want to die (completely) – you see, all of this was at least one car, and that’s one less I have to try to capture, and one less I have to try to figure out, and one less I have to slow down.

Ironically, I had earlier written the beginnings of a piece that was to lead into my fascination with the stereotyped of “tortured genius” – little did I know I would prove to the world, or perhaps myself, or perhaps neither, that I am just that… at least sometimes. And I wonder if there’s a remedy for this ever-so-intriguing and not-so-very-desirable condition of sorts. There is. Mom knew. She’s known for a long time actually. Write. Or sing. Or Dance. Or run. Or play the trombone. It’s different for everyone, really. And we all, I believe, are ‘tortured genius’ at some point or another. We are all, at one point or another, so very full of the beautiful things God put inside of us that it drives us to insanity. This point comes not because God gives us more than we can handle. It comes because God gives us plenty and we do not pay attention to it – we shove it into some dark corner for later when we have less work to do, less errands to run, less people to see, and it sits there refusing to be but under a damper, screaming in beautiful, rebellious protest until we have to pay attention and make use of it.

This – these words and philosophies and speculations and yes, insanity – is a flood of light that’s been sitting under a bushel for days because I was too busy to let it shine. We are created to shine. We sometimes cannot avoid busyness – and we can surely shine in the midst of that – but, I think each of us has something inside of themselves that deserves time all its own to be released, and once we give it permission to be, it changes things – it alters the very air around us. It calls forth some deep thing and says to it “live in freedom” and we understand, whether we know it or not. God said this to me the other day:

   “Don’t hide or shirk from that, don’t run from it. It’s part of you. I need  you as you are. I need children. I need imagination and beauty-seekers. I need C.S. Lewis’ and artists and adventurers and whimsical beings that say “marvelously” in what most would consider the wrong context. Don’t hide who you are.”

This is to everyone. Not that everyone is like that – not that anyone who isn’t like that is wrong or less glorious or whatever other bad connotation one could find. What I mean is that all of us have something that is very much only us. Each of us is a unique instrument in his rhapsody that makes a sound only we can make. God admires talent and beauty– he spread these things all over the place so that each of us could proclaim him and his truth in a vast, complex way that only we can. And by shoving those things into dark corners so that we can finish our school work on time is not doing him or ourselves any credit. What is a symphony shy an instrument? A story without every character? A clock that’s missing a gear? We have beautiful things pent up inside ourselves that we have only begun to realize and God is calling us to find them, to capture them, to make them obedient to Christ, and to fling ourselves wide open, displaying all of the glory therein, pushing back the darkness, waking things long dead with just one note, just one word, just one step, one twirl, one smile, one touch, one nail, one shot, one shout – behold! Our Maker is wonderful and we worship him with what we are.