Starbucks

I feel like I need to clarify my opinions about Starbucks, since I’ve had two people in the last two weeks say something along the lines of “Will you hate me if I get a job at Starbucks?”

The answer to that question is a resounding no.

Of course not!

I will feel very sorry for you, though, for a lot of reasons.

Starbucks has a massive menu that you have to memorize.

Starbucks customers don’t know what the heck they want out of life or their coffee, so they take forever to order and make ridiculous demands.

Starbucks is the McDonalds of the specialty beverage world.

So heck no I won’t hate you for working at ‘bucks any more than I’d hate you for working at McD’s, or Burger King, or any other fast food joint. I’ll make fun of you, obviously. But I probably do that anyway.

I don’t hate Starbucks any more than I hate the diner that gave me a terrible cup of coffee a few weeks ago.

I think their products are bad. I think their customer service makes my life as a real barista much more difficult (the whole “you can have anything you can imagine because you’re always right” attitude is really awful to deal with.)

But I don’t waste my energy hating a corporation. I choose not to patronize them because their product is no good.

But no hate.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I feel about Starbucks.

Seeking Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about God lately. What I believe, what’s real, what’s true, etc.

So therefore I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and the Christian Church.

Recently, Rick Warren’s son committed suicide. For those of you who don’t know, Rick Warren is a megachurch pastor.

It’s tragic. It’s sad. Suicide is never something that should be taken lightly.

But it’s led me to think about this habit Christians have about assigning meaning to apparently meaningless events.

His suicide certainly had a cause– chronic depression. But was there meaning in his death? Maybe. Maybe not.

We can’t know.

Last summer, I almost died. Two weeks ago, my brother almost died. He was within a millimeter of instant death. (I hyperbolize a lot over here, but that is not hyperbole; I’m being literal.)

Was there meaning in his accident? My friend asked me. He wanted to know that if God is a loving God, why did he let my brother fall off that ladder?

I don’t know.

I don’t know why I almost died last summer. I don’t know what the physical cause was, and I don’t know if there was a metaphysical purpose. I DO know that I’m a better person because of it. There’s something about a near-death experience that puts the entire rest of your life in perspective.

When I die, I’ll probably greet death like an old friend. After facing death, nothing is really scary anymore, except the prospect of losing people you love.

After my brother almost died but didn’t in a crazy inexplicable miracle, I feel like nothing can depress or stress me out anymore, because my life could almost have been so much worse.

Maybe that means that there was meaning. But was there meaning to the bombing at the Boston Marathon today? I don’t know. All I know about that is it’s a tragedy, like so many other tragedies that seem to be piling up lately.

Christians are so afraid to admit that they don’t have the answers to some things, and that is a massive problem with American Christian Culture.

Is it inconceivable to think that maybe, just maybe, God is too big, omnipotent, omnipresent, multi- and pan-dimensional for your little human brain to explain? Is it inconceivable that you cannot possibly look at an event and answer the question, why? Is it so impossible to accept that you cannot know, simply because of the biological limitations to the human mind?

Maybe there is meaning in apparently meaningless events. But due to my extreme lack of pandimensional perspective, I hesitate to assign it.

Sometimes stuff happens and there’s nothing you can do about it but deal with the consequences.

Adventures at Community College

So, as you may or may not be aware, I am a college dropout.

I attended Central Oregon Community College at various levels of intensity from the ages of 15 to 18. I could have earned my Associate’s Degree at the tender age of 19 had I been willing to stay at COCC for one or two more quarters, but I got tired of it, and frustrated at myself after a quarter where I got all Cs (a revolutionary concept in my life of As and a few sorry Bs,) I stopped going.

Instead I chose to focus on working (making coffee is awesome,) playing, and being generally lazy.

I’m only a little bit ashamed.

During the two years that I was out of school, I moved a few times, got a couple of awesome jobs, and generally increased my understanding of who I am and what I want out of life.

So when my dad called me a couple months ago and told me he wanted me to finish my degree, I wasn’t too resistant. He offered to help me sort out financial things, and I applied to Portland Community College online that day.

Unsurprisingly, I was admitted. Since I didn’t want to deal with transferring credits, I haven’t yet. But I perused the class schedule, meticulously choosing classes that both sounded interesting to me and helped fulfill the requirements for my AAOT.

I counted down to registration; since I was a new student, I was in the very last bracket. I wasn’t worried– getting waitlisted is no big deal as long as you’re stubborn.

So when I woke up early to register for my classes online, I was more than a little bit disgruntled to learn that I couldn’t register until I’d seen an adviser. Lovely. Also, the only advising for the weeks of registration was drop-in. Even better. And I tried to register on a Friday and had to work, so I couldn’t see an adviser until Monday.

At this point, I almost said screw it, I’ll try again next term. But then I realized that would be like giving up.

Over the two years I’ve been out of school, I’ve learned something important about me; I hate giving up. I HATE admitting defeat.

So bright and early Monday morning, I embarked in the Starship to North Portland, where my campus of choice is.

I assumed that since it was pretty early in the day, I wouldn’t have to wait too long to see an adviser. But oh, how misguided I was in my sweet youth.

I waltzed up to the desk, took a number, and nonchalantly asked about wait times. I wasn’t worried; I didn’t have to work for another three hours. So I was shocked and disgruntled when the receptionist told me to expect at LEAST two hours.

Fortunately, I had a book with me.

Unfortunately, the campus was giving me such intense flashbacks that I couldn’t focus.

There are certain types of people you find at community colleges. I didn’t realize how universal this seemed to be. (I will be writing about this later, don’t worry.)

Although I was agitated, the two hour wait could have been a lot worse. Everyone else in the building waiting to talk to an adviser or financial aid was projecting crazy stressed out and negative vibes, so while I was observing how much more pissed off everyone else was I felt pretty okay about life.

I obsessively tracked the dragging time. I knew it would take me nearly a full half hour to get from campus to work, and I was worried about getting a parking ticket.

I stood, placing my book in my bag and moving toward the front door, ready to leave, when my number was finally, finally called. I power walked to the door of the advising office, and was ushered in by a small frazzled man in glasses.

He had obviously seen too many people in one day. I had to be at work, and I didn’t want to waste my time any more than he wanted to talk to me.

“Look,” I said, “I’ve been in school before. I have all the pre-reqs. I just want you to clear me to register.”

He looked over the degree evaluation I had printed out, made a comment about how it wasn’t an official transcript which I knew and didn’t apologize for. He cleared me to register, and I left.

I waited two hours for a two minute advising session which I neither wanted nor benefited from.

Anyway, so time passed and finally the first week of classes arrived. I lost my phone the day before classes started, leaving me without a way to contact the outside world.

I showed up to psychology class and was pleased to see a relatively small class size. I approached the teacher after class because I couldn’t remember if I was on the wait list or not.

“That’s funny,” he commented, flipping pages, “You aren’t on my list at all.”

“Oh,” I said, “Well. That’s weird.”

He signed my add slip, though, and I made my way to the registrar’s office.

After waiting in line another stupidly long time, I made my way to the window and another frazzled receptionist. “Hi,” I greeted her, “I just want to add this class and check on whether or not I’m on the waitlist for my other classes. Also I couldn’t log in at the computer lab.”

She clicked and typed and typed and clicked, and said, “You’re not in any classes.”

A moment of silence.

“What?”

“You’re not even in the system for this term,” she continued, “You got deleted for non-payment.”

Frustration and anger boiled up within me, and obnoxiously translated into tears. “Okay,” I said, struggling to remain composed, fighting against the lump in my throat. “Well, I’d like to add this class, anyway. And then reset my password for the computer lab.”

She unsympathetically obliged, and I walked away, seeking refuge in the library. I successfully got onto a computer lab, and sent my mother four or five panicked emails.

Apparently these days when you go to Portland Community College you must cough up your tuition two weeks in advance, which seems stupid to me. When I was at COCC you had two weeks AFTER the start of term to pay your tuition. Maybe it’s just a way to try to weed out people (like me) who are flying by the butt of their pants and don’t get their financial situation sorted out until the last minute.

Still seems dumb to me.

Anyway, long story short I got into the two classes I need the most, despite the initial hassle. So far they’re going well.

Stay tuned for more Adventures In Community College! In next week’s episode, we’ll talk about the People You Always See on Community College Campuses.

My Problem with Classical Music

As you may already be aware, I used to dance ballet. On and off between the ages of 8 and 18 I was enrolled in ballet classes three quarters of the year.

One of the awesome side effects of this was that I was exposed to a lot of fantastic classical music. Most of the time I paid exactly no attention to which composer or piece we were dancing to, instead choosing to fill my brain with whatever it was I filling my brain with at the time. But through the repetition of rehearsals I know every nuance of more music than I even knew was stored in my brain space. Until recently.

Lately I’ve decided it’s a great idea to enrich my brain with some classical composers, and I’ve started with Beethoven, Mozart, and Tschaikovsky. All composers with whom I’m somewhat familiar, and who I know I enjoy.

The other night as I was looking for music to listen to as I cleaned the cafe after closing time, I chanced upon a sound file under the Unknown Artists entitled simply “Beethoven, showcase music.”

The piece was one we learned for Central Oregon Dance Showcase a number of years ago. Apparently at the time I was too busy putting scenes for acting class in my brain to remember exactly which piece of Beethoven’s music it was, hence the file name, but since I’ve mostly forgotten the choreography I put the music on, loudly, filling the cafe with dulcet sounds of piano and cello. I expected and intended to find a new appreciation for the music since it now isn’t intrinsically tied to movement.

As the piece played, bits of choreography flashed through my brain and body. A sense of urgency filled me for a few bars. A very distinct thought popped out at another sound– “Breathe.”

One section left me breathless because I remembered how challenging the choreography was for me. Another portion had me feeling impatient, and I remembered I was supposed to be offstage.

I found it difficult to appreciate the music for what it was because I had such strong associations, both emotional and of the movement.

And that makes me sad.

Fortunately, I’ve consciously sought out other pieces I’ve danced to and have not experienced such strong associations. I think they’re particularly strong with the Mystery Beethoven piece because, for one, it was the longest piece of choreography I’ve ever learned. Also, we re-rehearsed and performed it at least twice over the course of six months, and the choreography is very informed by the music.

So even though one of Beethoven’s 7-minute pieces for cello (or viola?) and piano is ruined for me, I’m pleased at my surprisingly large bank of recognition when it comes to classical music– because even though I can’t name the piece or the composer, I can tell you for sure that I recognize it!

 

Why I love Cormac McCarthy

Full disclosure: Cormac McCarthy is an author I put off reading for a very, very long time.

I first heard of him when I was, I don’t know, 15 or 16– high school aged. I never heard anything bad about him– indeed, he is one of the authors that one of my good friends has always recommended to me.

But it took me many years to actually get around to him.

I’m so incredibly glad that I finally did.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I bought The Road at the bookstore which adjoins one of my coffee shops.

When I buy a new book, I usually keep my expectations low. That way I’m rarely disappointed.

For the first few pages, McCarthy’s stylistic usage of punctuation (a.k.a. lack thereof) gave me a twitch. His disuse of punctuation is unorthodox, and since I’m kind of a grammar nerd it irked me.

But the story! The descriptions! The pictures he was painting with such brevity!

I soon got over the stylized punctuation, instead reading it like poetry.

And oh, how have I fallen in love.

I’m amazed at his mastery of the English language. Somehow, with so few words, he evokes such powerful emotion, and such vivid pictures.

When I’m reading one of Cormac McCarthy’s books, I feel like I’m a guest in his brain, following each thought from its birth to its conclusion, and tracking and understanding the entire journey. His books don’t feel like books normally do to me– they really do feel like a journey.

I’ve complained before about how I burn through books, and even though The Road was a 4 hour book for me, it was a very powerful 4 hours.

I love Cormac McCarthy because he somehow accomplishes everything I strive to accomplish as a writer while using fewer words than seem possible, but he never feels like he’s skimping words. I feel like if I were to sit and talk with him, he would speak exactly how he writes.

I love Cormac McCarthy because he’s better than I’ll ever be, but not in a way that discourages me.

I just love Cormac McCarthy, guys.

My Strange Relationship with Cats

I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a dog person. Thoroughly, through and through.

Every cat I’ve ever known I’ve viewed with a range of attitude from indifference to outright dislike.

Until seven months ago, I’ve never been in close proximity with cats long enough to get to know one. Seven months ago, I moved into my current apartment, with my roommate Ellen and her two cats, Tschaicovsky and Bluebell.

Until I met these cats, I had no idea they were creatures of great personality. I assumed they had at least moderate levels of intelligence, since they can be litterbox trained, but as for personality I figured they were all little rude fluffballs of disdain, eating, and poop.

Well, the first month at my apartment, I was practically a guest. (A story for another time.) I slept on a mattress in the living room and lived out of two shopping bags of clothes. In my brain I consider that September the time of my life when I was quasi-homeless.

Since that was a remarkably busy month in my life, it wasn’t awkward. I ran into my roommates/hosts pretty seldom since our work schedules were practically opposites, so I spent most of the first month getting to know my feline flatmates.

The first few nights that I rested on that mattress, the small fuzzy ones were apparently somewhat shy, and after an initial hand sniff of greeting they retreated to the bedroom. But as I continued to ignore them, an act they apparently understood as an overture of friendship, their curiosity grew and their shyness subsided.

First, meet Tschaikovsky, commonly known as Chai.

Tschaikovsky

From the beginning, my relationship with Tschaicovsky has been one of quiet tolerance going both ways. I regard his state of feline-ness with a grudging, but growing, amiability. I don’t know how he regards my random cuddle assaults and friendly mocking of his large belly because he is a cat, but he is patient with me and doesn’t fight me off, so that’s good. He is a very fat cat, and I find him irresistible when he’s splayed on the floor in a puddle of fur, warmed by the sun. Cuddling will ensue.

Bluebell, however, the other kitty, is mentally unstable.

Bluebell

One of her favorite activities is to frantically dash around the house at all hours of the day and night, meowing and howling in frustration when she cannot catch the ghosts she’s apparently hunting.

During my month of quasi-homelessness/guesthood, Bluebell entertained herself most nights by stepping on me.

The first few nights, I tried to shake her off with increasing annoyance, but like a well-thrown boomerang, she always came back. Just as I am apparently unable to resist Tschaicovsky’s fat belly, so Bluebell is apparently unable to resist a blanket-ensconced, sleeping Bethany.

The more I ignored this mental kitty, the more affectionate she grew toward me, rubbing her face on my head as I tried to sleep, purring and chewing her tongue, and in a particular Bluebell quirk of affection, biting my nose.

It’s obviously cute and extremely frustrating, but through the 4 weeks that sleeping Bethany served as Bluebell’s jungle gym, I developed a very important skill. I can now sleep through almost anything. (A mighty talent to have when your young friends Micah and Juliana think it’s a very funny idea to awaken you by dropping a kitty named Pippin on your torso.)

After seven months of living in close proximity with the two feline flatmates, I have learned much.

However, I have come to the conclusion that my relationship with cats will always be strained, if only because they frequently misinterpret me reading a book or eating as a great time to occupy my lap.

While I remain a person who always will prefer dogs, cats are fun (and not only because you can poke them and they freak out, but that’s pretty awesome.) Ultimately, I think I still have a sort of attitude of dislike towards cats in general, but I’ve grown quite fond of the ones I live with.

That’s all.

My Relationship with Fitness, Revisited

About a year ago, I wrote a blog about how I had decided that it was time and I was going to get fit.

Well, let’s just say it didn’t happen.

To be fair to myself, I’ve had some setbacks, and a lot of excuses. But today as I’ve been mulling over it, I realized my biggest roadblock with fitness is fear and shame.

I’m ashamed that I am not capable of the things I feel like I should be able to do, and I’m afraid of experiencing the self-shaming when I fail. I hate that when the sun is shining I still can’t run more than a couple of miles, so I’m really going to get in shape this time because I’ve decided to make this summer the best one ever.

I hesitate to even write this post, because last time I wrote about fitness it didn’t help keep me on track like I intended.

But I’m hoping that airing my roadblocks will help me stay committed this time. I’ve been running, which is a new thing for me, but there are at least three 5ks I’m going to do this summer.

So many people I know talk about how great running feels, and unfortunately I’m not at that point just yet. During a given run, there will be moments where I’m like “THIS IS AWESOME,” but really, to keep going I have to play games with myself. My favorite is “Oh shit there’s a zombie,” so that’s how I get my sprints in anyway.

I don’t work out because it feels good. Working out feels bad and I don’t like it.

But I am, this time, learning that it’s worth it.

Feeling bad for half an hour is completely worth it to feel good for the rest of the day.

That’s all.

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