Friday, March 08, 2013

Coffee Time

Human nature fascinates me. I have only my own to go by with any degree of accuracy, and that which I can extrapolate from the actions of others. But I've never quite understood the optimism with which, having attempted to do something fifteen times and failed, I (we) are under the illusion that exactly the same thing done exactly the same way a sixteenth time will work.

I sometimes surprise myself by doing something for no reason other than that the thought struck me to do it. It was thus, the other day, when I found myself going into a Panera's coffee shop I almost never visit unless I'm with someone, to have a cup of coffee and a small pumpkin muffin Panera's insists on calling a "muffie" appellation so cloyingly "cute" that I never ask for one by name, merely pointing and saying "One of those." As always, the place was full of couples and singles, many of them working on their laptops, and all apparently having a very pleasant, relaxing time enjoying that great American ritual, a cup of coffee. I didn't want to take out my own laptop, which I had with me, since I knew I'd not be there all that long, and decided to pretend I was just like all the others seated quietly and contentedly with their coffee.

The fact is that, though I have an average of two cups of coffee a day I cannot remember the last time I actually finished one. Yet I never seem to face the fact head-on that I simply am not all that wild about coffee and never have been. I don't dislike it, but the joy that others so obviously take from it is totally lost on me. I suppose that somewhere, deep down inside, I really think that the next time I have a cup of coffee I am actually going to finish it and truly savor the deliciousness of every sip. My inability to love coffee sets me even further apart from the herd than I already am. No matter. Everyone else seems to enjoy it, so I just go along with it and hope no one discovers my secret shame.

I have never done sitting quietly and contentedly very well, so what made me even remotely think I could do sit there this time with my coffee and Pastry-Whose-Name-Shall-Remain-Unspoken was mystery. So I sat there, slathering little tubs of butter onto of those....and sipping my coffee as though I were enjoying it while really, really trying to be relaxed and comfortable. What's wrong with me that I can't do it? I looked around me. There were maybe six or eight other people sitting alone, minding their own business, taking their own time, apparently without a care in the world. What were they doing? Surely they had to be thinking of something. They couldn't just sit there, thinking and doing nothing at all, could they? Then why did it appear that that was exactly what they were doing? Was nobody home behind the windows of their eyes?

I'm sure anyone looking through my own little hazel-colored windows would see ten thousand thoughts and ideas and things-I-should-be-doing-rather-than-just-sitting-theres bustling around, bumping into one another. Thoughts are as fleeting as smoke: if you don't capture them and put them into words they become harder and harder to remember, and nine out of ten of them are gone forever, or trampled beneath a stampede of the thoughts that come directly behind them. I lose far too many of them as it is; to willingly sit idly and lose so many others is unconscionable.

Obviously, my inability to sit still, to breath deeply and slowly, and float calmly along the surface of time is some sort of character weakness. I know I am undoubtedly missing out on the wonders of silent contemplation and meditation: Buddhists dedicate their lives to it. I would go stark raving mad within ten minutes. And I wish I could say that I envy people who can find deep fulfillment in doing nothing, but I honestly cannot. There'll be plenty of time for doing nothing when I'm dead. I don't need practice in it while I'm still alive.

There's an ad running for a an ocean cruise line which outlines all the wonderful things one can do aboard their ships, and it sounds great, until they add, as part of their list: "Or just do nothing at all."
Nothing at all? I'm going to pay several thousand dollars to do nothing at all? What's wrong with this picture? If they want to do nothing at all, let them save all that money and stay home. Or better still, have them come have a quiet cup of coffee at Panera's.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (


Life Defined said...

I find that I relate to your observations and relative dissatisfaction with what society finds pleasing and, it would seem, intellectually stimulating in the absence of apparent intellectual delving. Perhaps more resides behind the glassy eyes of those you observe, but as I have actually subjected myself to the 'coffee venturing' for the first time this week, I have seen - and felt - much of what you describe. It's difficult to jot down in words, this experience, as it is more of something which is felt... but the appeal of what has been typified as a "typical American affair and act of sociability" is, in my opinion, lacking. A bit humdrum, even. Perhaps I seek something more in what never has been, but either way, my curiosity for what attracts a fellow's nature compels me to seek an answer.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts this morning~

Dorien/Roger said...

I'm always delighted when something I write strikes a chord in someone else. It is, after all, the reason I stress that we are generally far more alike than we often feel.

Thanks, "Life"

Kage Alan said...

I cannot go into a restaurant or other establishment like a coffee house by myself without a laptop, book or magazine. If I don't, I sit there wondering if everybody else is looking up when I can't see and wondering why I don't have something to do or why I'm alone. Why is this person sitting there with nothing in front of him except his cup of tea, meal or snack?

I end up leaving as soon as possible and frequently without bothering to finish what I came in there to eat/drink.