Scribbler’s Saga #30 – A Writer’s Relationship to Caffeine

Posted: May 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I used to poke a little fun at Southern California café and coffeehouse culture where everyone has their tech out and furiously types what we hope is the next great movie. Then the first time I got ants in the pants stir crazy and went out to find a not home place to work, I became what I beheld and convinced myself I had done right. Neither Argentina nor Los Angeles should cry for me with the related First World problems of – Does coffee help me write? – If so when do I stop on any given day to balance out any gains to completion against pulling my shirt over my head and doing a Cornholio? – Lastly, where do I go to get caffeinated and get my words out? 

My enjoyment of coffee isn’t just a new thing because I now seriously give a damn about writing novels, comics and screenplays. A sister in law commented a while back giving me a set of glass coffee glasses for Christmas that no matter whose house I visited I might be first in line for morning coffee. Back then, it was because it was the holidays and someone else with more knowledge of The Machine made the stuff for me. Well that’s still a thing, but also these ladies probably don’t want me using their kitchen tools to begin with.

With each episode of put on some pants and treat a few hours of your writing day as a job the average writer can wind up in a library (post to follow, whenever), a coffeehouse, or a regular food place. I’ve never been able to steal more than a few sentences in a restaurant because the anticipation of a nice meal gets in the way of deciding whether Luke Skywalker should throw a hard elbow or kick somebody in the nuts. Scratch restaurants.

I suppose I didn’t get into library writing at first because the nice lady at the desk might get sniffy, even if the liquid in your container is water. And God forbid if your earbuds are up a little higher than Miss Tessbocker thinks is proper. On the plus side, libraries are like study hall, productivity central.

This leaves coffeehouses. Make no mistake, I would like to blame my coffee consumption on the coffeehouse that astutely knows they can withhold the WiFi password until you buy a cup. No, not really, coffee is a choice and conscious act. I like having the ability to reach for coffee with my left hand and absently swill as I type.

I can’t say that coffee helps me type in any meaningful way. Many things are all sympathetic magic and psychology, you convince yourself you need a cup and your earbuds on something cool to get rolling. Ergo, gimme my frakking cup right frakkin’ now! But, I do well when I’m elbow deep in it with my trusty mug.

There is a cost to coffeehouse coffee and nibble food, just like you pay extra for the privilege of having other people fix your food for you anywhere. It builds up and so very recently I stopped letting relatives and baristas make coffee for me buying my first coffeepot. So now that I’ve figured out grounds go in up here, water there and flip the switch to allow for at least a little coffeehouse writing at home on my couch, from where I originally had to escape.

There are, of course, the usual health concerns about caffeine. Some sources come out really opposed, bad for your heart. Other sources say what most people say about many things in our diet: moderation, know your personal limits and get support group/psychological help if you don’t. A small few sources are completely pro-coffee.

Personally, I suspect articles that are either massively Pro or aggressively Anti. At best, the recent against the grain Pro articles fighting for readership on Facebook are the product of an assistant editor choosing words for a post title designed as clickbait. At worst, I figure the scientists producing Anti articles took money from Green Tea Corp, while the other guys doing Pro articles took money from Big Coffee. Leaving only the moderation articles.

Regardless of bringing a proper amount of skepticism to the science of food and coffee, a writer shouldn’t just go completely nuts swilling the brown juice. My limits for coffeehouse cups is maybe two big travel mugs (cheap bastard that I am, I love getting the dime off for bringing my own) per day. Or this is four normal cups from my own pot (the cup pictured at the top). Too much coffee can, especially on a No Exercise day, spike me up unable to sleep until well after 4am. I exaggerate some saying that on really bad days I might do Beavis as Cornholio with my shirt over my head finding the funny in Lake Titicaca. I’ve come close.

I’ve found a recipe trick for my own pot that I’m sure in no way represents a new invention of the wheel. Decaf. I cut the blend in my pot half and half, which buys me a little time to not feel the cup later and lets me get to sleep whenever it is that I fall asleep after putting my head down on my pillow. I cut it with cream or half and half, which is usually all the coffeehouse has. That’s it, my blend.

I trust the small amount of lactose in cream to do the work that others feel needs tons of sugar to do, cut the bitter taste of coffee. Unless I want a Mocha for the occasional sweet chocolate hit. Now if I could just remember to ask for Half-Caf at the coffeehouse, things would get even better. I hate buzzy terms for many things.

And now we come full circle to the last issue of where do I get my coffee fueled writing done? Writers in my experience are almost as territorial as Bruce the Robotic Shark was claimed to be in Jaws. For me prowling West LA for literary seal, I bounce between a few places and the coffee is the last thing on the decision tree.

More often than not, I wind up at Coffee Connection at 3838 S. Centinela at the corner of Venice Boulevard and Centinela glad to have found parking in the private lot across the street. I get a cup, even though I could be a douche and sneak in a few times a month because the password hasn’t changed, and get to work.

I’ll let the pictures give a little bit of the flavor of the place without wasting too many words. It used to be an Italian restaurant and has cool stained glass and an open air courtyard for summer days. The coffee is alleged to be fair trade organic, but I barely know what those words mean outside the dictionary. But, you did hear me say coffee is the last thing on the list?

I’m reasonably sure I can’t taste much about coffee other than bitter, burned, too fucking sweet and needs cream. I’m just here for the WiFi that allows me to work with all my mobile writing apps and I’m paying what should maybe be a tax deductible office rental fee. But, I already bury a lot of other sketchy writer deductions on my 1040 forms.

Different writing apps approach the cloud slightly differently and these quirks need to be taken into account. Final Draft Mobile interacts with Dropbox going for instantaneous updates, so a coffeehouse that sets up their WiFi with that in mind allows me to work on a script on my iPad without pulling out my phone that I keep on LTE when I roam to prevent version conflict errors. Word Mobile updates to Dropbox and other cloud services manually using a Save A Copy button followed by a Replace prompt.

The difference between the two means spending a few minutes back home after my sessions renaming the newest version to the desired file name, deleting the older version from Dropbox and then telling Final Draft to link to this new version (Yes, a First World problem, but still…). After that my only worry is figuring out how much sunlight I want to take in the courtyard on sunny days (I came from the factory with the Lobster Gene).

By contrast, I sometimes wind up at various Panera Bread locations, but most frequently at the one on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City. Slightly different flavor choices like hazelnut coffee served using the Bottomless Cup method are balanced by a couple weirdnesses. First off, they pull half of their coffee tanks after 2pm of which decaf is one.

Really? You’re going to pull decaf going into the evening where the concern is having that much Bolivian Speed will keep you up well past dawn? And that’s also not taking into account that some people feel too much caffeine in other ways. It would be nice to cut hazelnut or dark roast with decaf to even things out for the evening.

Secondly, Panera must think that booting you off WiFi every 30 minutes forcing a new authorization sells more coffee. Knowing this I don’t work on screenplays at Panera. However, even though you learn to work on the device’s local file version, the interruption if you aren’t paying attention is total forcing you to either shut off WiFi and lose the ability to quick hit some Internet research/distraction, or connect all over again. I’m reasonably certain at least once Batman almost kissed Wonder Woman and then I changed my mind after the interruption that she went all mean-harpy on him.

Yes, complaining about WiFi exists as the ultimate First World problem, but it’s an annoying problem with a tech solution where going for an iPad with LTE or an out and out MacAir requires spending far more money than I spend on coffee. Easier to just find a different purveyor of caffeine.

So here we are, the current state of my relationship with caffeine. In time, I may find another home break coffeehouse or make more days where coffee isn’t part of the equation. Or actually pull up my shirt around my head…

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