Dreams of My Coffee

For those who drink coffee, they know that it goes best with everything. Although I used to think that coffee wasn’t well-paired with hot weather, or with activities that involved a lot of sweating, a few weeks of landscaping have very soundly refuted those errors. Indeed, in addition to fishing, reading, stargazing, early mornings, mid-mornings, late-mornings, brunch, and elevensies, coffee goes best also with sweat and humidity. It falls into the same category as smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol, in that those activities are reflective in nature and can work to enhance the life of your mind. Perhaps that’s why they are demonized so much these days. Our world loves very dearly the present, and when you sit and pause for a moment, when you allow yourself to be transported into the wonderful and God-honouring realm of contemplation, then the charm of the immediate fades into the background. Certain activities, like listening to music, looking at art, reading Scripture, eating oysters, or smoking a good cigar while pondering the ordered chaos of your vegetable garden, will take you to those contemplative places, the places of Philippians 4:8.

Of course, those aren’t the places you should be when you’ve got a shovel in your hands. That’s called “getting fired,” and getting fired tends to limit the amount of coffee you can drink, which in turn truncates your philosophical tripping. But what I am trying to say is that drinking coffee is more of a psychological need than a physical one. Yes, there are plenty of people who suffer physical effects from not having their coffee on time. But the reason they got to that point in the first place was because coffee is such a pleasurable thing. One of my favourite authors is Roger Scruton, a man I’ve mentioned before in this space and whom I will mention again in the future. He says that the experience of beauty is necessary to human beings, for it reminds us of home. Even simple beauties, like a cup of coffee, have an almost magical ability to comfort us and to connect us to the things that are closest to our hearts. My son is thrown into emotional disarray when he goes to bed without his bear, but as we age many of us simply trade in the bear for the mug. Nor am I convinced that’s a bad thing.

What inspired this post was an article in the New Yorker by Maria Konnikova, “How Caffeine can Cramp Creativity.” She explains how recent studies have shown that caffeine, by making us alert and focused, keeps our minds from the wandering that is so essential to creative thought. Now, although I run the risk of offending the high priests for whom “recent studies” have been elevated to holy writ, I’m not convinced. At least, my own experience has not verified these findings. I find that for the most part, caffeine takes whatever is going on in my head at the time and gives it afterburners. There have been many hours during this last year when I should have been studying or memorizing, when instead I was pacing back and forth through my study, coffee in hand, talking to the window, the walls, my books – whatever would listen – and basically being anything but focused. Maybe they were wasted hours, but if mind-wandering really is conducive to creativity then at least there’s that. Even Konnikova seemed somewhat doubtful in her article, concluding at the end that perhaps the whole business is more about a certain frame of mind than it is about whatever chemicals are being inhibited or produced.

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