Category Archives: Coffee

We Are The Nocturnal

We are The Nocturnal. It’s who we are. The wheels in our heads turn at night. Whether it’s fast or slow or somewhere in-between, they turn and churn. And they don’t stop. Sometimes seems like they never will. If that sounds like a negative, my apologies.

These days I don’t bemoan my laying awake nights. I used to.

insomnia-1 2013_05_13Thirty years ago I’d slip out (from under the covers) and drive to a coffee shop at 3AM and write on napkins. Don’t really need that milieu now, as I’ve come to like my own brew and milieu. But I still write at night. Yes it’s changed, and no it hasn’t changed. White coffee is an adequate companion.

I used to fret about it – if it can be said that I ever fretted about a thing. Point is not to torture ourselves by laying awake in bed. DO something, right. If you’re going to be awake, might as well do something. Doesn’t have to be productive.

If we lay in bed during these hours, there is almost nothing worse. But why continue to foist that misery upon ourselves. We can’t pry ourselves to sleep – that mindset seems to be at cross-purposes with sleep. Maybe it’s a bit like saying “try really hard to relax.” We only sleep when our minds are emptied. So, how do you do that without exerting energy?

I know I’m not depressed. Maybe I’m just persuading myself here. But hear me out.

If I were depressed I’d be in bed all day and all night. I mean, wouldn’t I? It’s a comfort, then, being up half the night – it’s not a distraction. You can sort through issues at night, as long as you’re not trying to rectify or sanctify or reconcile or whatever you call it when you’re trying to make something appear more noble than it really is. In answer to your question, yes I tend to do that. Don’t we all? Am I doing that now?

Should we be concerned that we’re “not like everyone else” – like everyone who has these perceived regular schedules that we should all submit or conform to. Or maybe we should realize that our insomnia is more common than most people knew before.

So, sure, I’m feeding my brain with data at night, but some of that data is social. I keep up with my celeb friends whom I imagine are real friends (most of them are not friends or celebs). I like thinkers. Funny people are thinkers. I like funny people, and I keep up with them.

You know, as far as fitting in, it’s not like most of us ever fit in anywhere. Do we all want to? Fit in, I mean. Would that be boring if it were all part of some homogenated or homogenized pack of lemmings? Again, the negative creeps in. I’m working on it. Like Chris Rea, I’m working on it.

Of course, you must realize that things somehow changed. At least they did for me. A few years ago I began to embrace my open-eyed nights. Not sure exactly if it was one thing or several inputs that changed my thinking.

Part of me wants to report that I now make the most of my nights, that I’m highly productive in these off-hours. Truth be told, I am probably marginally more efficient, but I also need this time as down-time for me. For just me. Throw my brain into Park – Neutral, even. There are many gears – we don’t always need to be in Drive. Maybe the other gears serve as a sleep substitute in some small way.

I understand that, maybe – possibly – we want to force ourselves into that schedule of “awake at day” and “asleep at night,” but is that really fair – for whatever our reasons – to us, we who are not committed (no other word) to that mundane routine?

The news. Maybe you follow the news – and I know people who don’t follow it at all, thinking that “if it’s important, it will bubble up to me” – the darkest hours are amenable to this keeping up with the news. You can go overboard with that. I am not saying you shouldn’t.

flying ghostsSo you see things in the dark? Me too. Ever since I was a kid. Images in the closet. On the walls. In the windows. We look for structure, we look for the known. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, you sometimes feel a presence when the lights are off. That’s fine. It’s totally imagined, right. Some people think there is no spirit world or afterlife, and these senses tend to make the forehead itch. Perhaps we have to be all right with that.

Back to the emptying process. Part of emptying the mind is this: not needing to be right. I have been surprised at how much time this frees up. But of course I’m no expert. Either about emptying the mind or about being right.

That internal struggle many of us are intimate with – that is fuel for us, so am I saying we give up that fuel?  I know that I cannot do this entirely. If I were to let that go, I’d have nothing to write about. Or very little. If this seems contradictory, I’m apparently comfortable with that.

In fact, I’d be shocked if at least half my life didn’t turn out to be one big contradiction of terms. I would somehow be okay with that – I’d have to be. I’m human, and my feet are made of very soft clay.

Night thoughts can be mundane. There is no requirement that they be earth-shattering or philosophically original. They can be obsessive. In fact, it’s almost mandatory that they be obsessive. If they weren’t, we’d probably all be sleeping, then, wouldn’t we. (Maybe read that last sentence again, this time with some form of British accent. Makes it flow, somehow.)

Nighttime can be opportune for time-travel. Use this space wisely. No one wants a bad report card, so behave yourself.

I’m up early for a flight to New York. Actually I never went to sleep. For better or worse, these are some of the issues of one Time-Traveling Mapmaker. Somehow I realize that you relate. Perhaps these are the words that put us back to sleep.

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How Do You Say Coffee?

I met a woman today who immediately asked me where I’m “from,” she said, “because you have no accent.”

To have no discernible accent  – I strive for that because accents can be distracting. They are both distracting and charming, yes – I must admit that. But I get hung up on them, and that’s a problem when it comes to speech comprehension.

Perhaps it isn’t one’s accent, in and of itself — perhaps it’s particular words that hang me up. I begin analyzing the pronunciation of one or two or three words, and then I’m not listening to the speaker anymore.

Take “coffee” for example. Forget that inviting, exciting, musky aroma for the moment. How do you say it? Do you say kwoff-ee or kaf-fee or cough-ee or kohr-fee or any number of other pronunciations?

What about “house”? Hoose? Hoce? Haas?

Courtesy Getty Images

Wait. I was just about to extol the great diversity of American accents and dialects by borrowing a French phrase (“Long live the differences”). It took me two seconds to realize, however, that we are certainly not alone when it comes to variety of speech. Regional accents are common in or on most continents, countries, regions, and languages. From Europe to Asia, and Africa to the Middle East, accents in native languages abound. Okay, Canada doesn’t count.

Here’s something odd. My Boston cousins have distinctly different accents, despite being raised under the same roof. Ask Cousin Al his heritage and you might hear “Buorstin Tayin” escape his salty lips (Boston Italian. The “r” is only hinted at, not actually said.). Cousin Rose would tell you she’s from “Southie,” yet she sounds like a Nebraskan.

Shooting a friendly rack of billiards with a Mainer (a guy from Maine) in 1976, I heard this: “I know yoah prahlm.”

I cocked my head. “What. What’s my problem?”

“It’s yoah kyooh.”

“What,” I said again, inspecting the ferrule like a jeweler looking for a flaw.

“It’s wairpt.”

“Ah-ha.” I set the cue on the table and rolled it over the green felt. “My cue is warped.”

That was more than 35 years ago – another time and definitely another place. But today, now, are we experiencing a leveling of our dialects? Are we slowly losing our lovely accents and our pockets of wonderful American personality? Could we soon become the Unlisted States of America?

Are the television and movie media creating some neutered and homogenized accent that Bill Gates calls “American English“? General American? Is this a global evolution or phenomenon across all languages?

So listen, in the short time I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve gotten badly worked up. I probably need to lighten my anxiety. Call me warped, but maybe I should leave these pressing language issues to the experts while I grab an Americano back at the coffeehouse.

Are coffeehouses not the best?