Coffee As Metaphor

I love coffee.

But coffee and I…well, we have a rocky history.

A typical encounter plays out as follows: I approach the coffee station anxiously. The choices bombard me—dark roast, light roast, Columbian, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, latte, mocha, cappuccino. I can order a specialty drink. I can pour my own. Do I want sugar? Cream? A sleeve for my cup? Where are the lids? The stirring stick? How do I get the half and half to pour out? The half and half won’t pour out. The woman behind me is breathing heavily. She’s in a rush. She knows how to properly pour the half and half.

Chaos ensues.

So goes a standard coffee shop experience for me. It’s rather…nerve racking.  Seems a bit ridiculous that so many decisions have to be made for a single cup of Joe…right?

Some days I simply just don’t know if the French Vanilla Latte is REALLY what I want. 

And this leads me to the overarching question: how do the small daily choices we make affect our lives on the whole? The dilemma of having too many choices is said to be a very American problem, but especially as technology innovates the multitude of these options, it is rapidly becoming a global problem.

For instance, several writers have advised me that as an aspiring journalist I absolutely NEED Twitter. I held out for a long time, but after seeing so many raised eyebrows, I caved and created an account. I think I’ve logged in once since that time. I haven’t posted anything. I find that it’s rather redundant for me, having a Facebook account. Beyond these social networks, Google+ is breathing down my back to squeeze every last bit of information about my life out of me. I’m supposed to sign up with LinkedIn one of these days for further contacts. I have a website and blog, a Picasa account, and of course there’s iPhoto, iMovie, the updated Microsoft Software I just installed, the Final Cut program still in its box…

Whoa. Deep breath.

By the way, what the heck is an Angry Bird?

My point is there are so many choices we make without even thinking about them. They fall into our routines and simply become habits. The only way I can stay sane is by filtering through these choices, identifying what I really should be focusing on and bagging the rest. I don’t play video or computer games. I don’t have a Wii or any of those interactive T.V. systems. My cell phone is seven years old—it doesn’t have crossword puzzles or the ability to take pictures (which is a blessing…unfortunately I know its days are numbered).

Still, it’s a lot to think about when I actually…stop and think about it.

To get back to the coffee matter, last summer when I was working on a conservation crew in the woods, I had a coffee mishap that’s literally scarred me for life.

I didn’t drink coffee while on hitch in the woods and it always made that first cup when I got back to the city glorious. While I managed to emerge from six months of swinging axes and manning crosscut saws in remote backcountry wilderness settings unscathed, coffee was my one downfall.

We stopped at a gas station on the way home. I giddily raced inside, grabbed a cup, and started pouring. In my haste, I poured scalding hot coffee over my left wrist. My skin immediately peeled off. I gave myself a severe second-degree burn that took weeks to heal. It was pink and raw and hurt like hell.  It’s left a permanent mark.

Sometimes, our choices burn us.

What do I take away from of all this? Well, I hope to be more conscious of the decisions I make and more aware of their consequences. I have to filter through the options at the coffee shop, just as I have to filter through junk mail and social network notifications and the 25 shampoo options at the grocery store. It’s about finding balance and staying sane.

I usually stick to the simplest order. Sometimes I opt for a smidgen of French Vanilla.

Other than that, it’s coffee. Just cream.

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