After I feed the cats, I turn my attention to my coffee. I set up my two coffee mugs with my one-cup drip filter. I always use the same two mugs every morning; they’re my favorite mugs, for sentimental reasons. The smaller of the two I’ve had with me since college. It was one of the first things that I actually bought for myself because I wanted to buy it, when I first started college in 1983. I’ve used it regularly for over 25 years.
The other mug is a larger one that I got one Christmas from my partner’s family. It’s light blue with a line drawing of a local mountain range on it, and it reminds me of the connection that I have with my in-laws, who have been very accepting and loving and inclusive of me for all 20 years my partner and I have been together. When I first met them, I was extremely withdrawn and shy and reluctant to interact with them, I felt extremely out of place – and I was. We’re from very different regions, and the ways in which we view and interact with the world are fundamentally very different, even without my individual issues. I wasn’t anything like any of them, and I felt like a weird outsider.
Now, within the circle of my own blood relations, the way I behave is not always perceived as very strange. My whole family shares many, if not most, of my idiosyncratic traits (I inherited a lot of them, after all), so my behavior is not always perceived as abnormal. Admittedly, the way I act can be a little extreme and quirkier than the rest of my kin, and it gets even more problematic when I’m stressed, but the rest of my family (and the world they live in) is so similar to me, they didn’t seem to perceive any glaring problems. At least, they rarely made an huge issue of it, when I was growing up.
But like the rest of the mainstream world, my in-laws do see that I am different, and over the years, they have helped me learn to socialize with people outside the little world I was raised in. Through a lot of love and acceptance, they “polished” the socially rough edges I had, and taught me how to interact effectively with friends, family, and strangers, alike. Now, when we visit, I blend with them much better, socially. On the outside, anyway. Looking at that mug reminds me that I can learn better how to interact with people, and that I can do a reasonably good impression of a normal person. My in-laws have shown me it’s possible.
After I place the one-cup filter holder on top of the larger blue mug from my in-laws, I take a brown #4 paper coffee filter out of the box. I fold it precisely along two sides and I place it carefully in the filter the way I’ve found most effective for dripping coffee. I then measure out a heaping spoon of coffee from the blue ceramic coffee holder, followed by 4/5 of a scoop of coffee. I do it that way just because it seems like the right thing to do. I know the amount probably comes out to two even scoops, but there is something about having a mounded first scoop and a second scoop that’s not quite full, that is very satisfying to me. On days when I “mess up” and do not measure my coffee in just this way, I become very agitated, and it puts me off my pace from the very start of the day.
When the coffee is all set up in the filter, if the water is still not close to boiling, I sometimes make myself a bowl of cereal. Sometimes I’ll have cold cereal, but this morning I decide to make myself some oatmeal. I rip open the paper packet of instant oatmeal in a smooth, satisfying movement, relishing the soft tearing sound and pouring the powdery meal into a cereal bowl.
As though off in the distance, I hear the tea kettle starting to whistle. I quickly click off the knob for the burner and move the kettle off the heat, and then carefully pour the boiling water into my coffee-filled filter.
I generally do this in three passes.
In the first pass, I fill the coffee filter up to the top with boiling water. I love to watch water mound up with the surface tension, and I delight in watching how it interacts with the coffee grounds. But sometimes I lose my grip on the kettle, and I pour more water than I want to, breaking the surface tension and sending a brown waterfall over the edge of the filter holder. I get so agitated when this happens. Absolutely beside myself. Some days, it actually sends me into a rage. This morning, I’m paying extremely close attention, as I fill up the coffee filter to the top. My attention fully fixed on the filter, I watch the level of the coffee water sink gradually, listening to the splash in the cup as it drips down. Sometimes I have to adjust the paper filter because the hole gets blocked and it didn’t flow as quickly as I would like. When that happens, a little flash of frustration wells up in me, and I want to lash out. But since I’m alone, there’s no one to lash out at, so I direct my anger by paying closer attention to the process of making my coffee.
Next, I lift up the coffee filter I look at how much coffee is in there – it’s usually about three quarters of the way full to the top of the mug, so I put the coffee filter back down and I pour more boiling water in on top of it, filling the filter up again to the top. I then I lift the coffee filter up a little bit to see how quickly it’s filling up the remainder of the cup.
Last, once the water gets pretty close to the top of my blue mug – within about a quarter of an inch or so from the brim – I quickly move the coffee filter holder to the top of my smaller mug, and I let the rest of the coffee pour into it. As the coffee drips, I pour in more hot water, filling the filter to the top, hoping that it’s going to be the right amount to fill my second mug without me having to make another pass at it. Making another pass – having to gauge how much more water to pour into the filter at the very end – can be stressful for me and agitate me, first thing in the morning. Thankfully, today, all goes well and my coffee is prepared without another incident or deviation from my plan.
This ritual is very important to me. It’s a set of specific steps that I really prize each day, and I need to follow them all in silence, with only the sound of the cats eating in the background.
While I’m waiting for the second cup to fill, I pour steaming hot water into my oatmeal, stirring and stirring it to just the right runny consistency. I also go to the refrigerator, open the freezer and take out an ice tray. I look at the tray to see where the larger cubes are, and I get one that’s not too small. I then put the tray back in the freezer and slip the cube into the coffee cup. I didn’t drop it in, because then it splashes everywhere and enrages me; I try to slip it smoothly into the cup, so that it bobs easily on the surface.
I love to watch what happens to the ice when it hits the hot water. I love to watch how it melts. Sometimes a trapped air bubble will release with a little poof, or the ice will crack and snap in the heat. That startles me a little bit, but I enjoy thinking about the structure of freezing water that produces a dynamic reaction from seemingly inert materials. Sometimes I hold the cube between my fingers and dip it down in the hot coffee a little while, so the ice melts uniformly in a straight line with the hot surface of the coffee. Sometimes I create little ice sculptures, holding and turning it this way and that, letting the hot coffee chisel its horizon into the frozen water. If I had the time and independent means to indulge this fascination, I would probably spend a lot of time creating sculptures like this, like a small-scale Andrew Goldsworthy. I’ve thought a lot about how I would hold the ice cube – how I would get a caliper or an ice pick of some kind… how I would hold the cube in the hot liquid, and for how long… how I would preserve the cubist ice sculptures in a cold room paid for by avant garde art enthusiasts and/or patrons… how I would exhibit my creations in a warm world… how I would felt about creating the sculptures, as I made them .. But right them , right now, I have to make a living, and I have a job to do. So, my career as a natural-materials sculptor will have to wait.