March happens as it has to. It’s a strange, transitionary month for people in Colorado. On the front range temperatures tease up into something warm. Up in the hills snow keeps falling and draws out the pants and boards and helmets of a population left to slip.

 

We get back from Cuba and Mexico and wind up in the hot, dry weather of a surprise Spring in Denver. It’s the kind of weather that motivates you to do anything but sit down and be productive. So you’re sweeping of patios and washing outdoor cushions and finding session-able beers.

Of course, it doesn’t last long. The threat of March snow happens year in and year out. No one cares for the springtime blossoms getting covered in the blanket of branch-breaking, garden killing snow. Yes, we need the moisture. We will always need the moisture. This year, though, this set in of clouds is doing a number on my spirits. Maybe it’s just the weather and it’ll cycle on out into better moods with insufferable heat.

 

 

A post shared by David Pennington (@dtpennington) on

I know I have to hit the ground running. Time is money. The job hunt continues with some successes but I’ve taken to leaning more into freelance projects. Shooting photos, writing content, actually making things. The scale is smaller, the budgets are smaller, everything is smaller but they are all things I can see through to the end.

 

Garnish. Who else didn’t sleep last night?

A post shared by David Pennington (@dtpennington) on

Going freelance is an art of juggling time.

When you’re full time there is some kind of negotiation between the hours of 9 to 5 where half your time is spent trying to jocky with other people’s calendars. Time spent pushing around emails to delay the inevitable outcome of something. In my experience, working within a company is an art of having grand aspirations, but settling for whatever it is people can handle in about 2 hours a day.

Going from full-time to freelance has been an assumption of more hours. Of dishing out the full-breath of my day from sun-up to sun-down and figuring out how I can make the most of it. It is, truly, exhausting.

 

 

Every year, after the Oscars, I sit and read through the work of everyone who was nominated for best screenplay. This year I realized not being in a social setting for most of my day means I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to anyone talk. So often I’ll go somewhere and just sit. I’ll sit analog and listen to the world as it happens around me. Coffee shops in the middle of the day, train stations right before rush hours, at the far end of the bar – I’ve got the notebook out but the pen is starting to run dry.

A few months ago I wrote a post about why I feel like most of us actually hate coffee.

Well, hate is a strong word. But all of us have a rather strange relationship with it.

We love caffeine, we need caffeine, but are rather cavalier about the method used to get coffee. The prestige of it, the romance of the brewing process, the atmosphere of our favorite cafe – who cares anymore? In that post I resolved to take more time for myself while enjoying coffee – to never put it in a travel mug, or take it to go, or whatever.

The long and the short of the experiment: no more coffee to go. No more paper cups or travel mugs. If I wanted coffee I would sit down and enjoy it. Also, I’d try to not make coffee at the house because I was sure I wasn’t doing the best job at it.

The results:

As with any new habit, the first few weeks were absolutely solid. I was consuming far less coffee (probably a good thing) and having a lot more time for myself.

Every single person I met with for coffee was surprised when I got my drink to stay. Understandable. Most of the meetings were in the morning and everyone likely had a day stacked up ahead of them. Some seemed irritated when I sat down. I’d explain what I was doing and why and most would give a passive “oh, huh…” and then sit across from me, foot bouncing, coat still zipped up. The talk got small, it was strange.

I had more time to write. For better or worse. Sitting with coffee at a table while the world bristled around me gave me some space. When I had coffee I wasn’t working, and not working gave me time and space to think about what I actually wanted to be doing.

I didn’t notice when it happened, but the travel mug entered the picture again. I think it was right around the time we moved offices and I started taking the train to work. The mornings I had spent so much effort to create time for slimmed down considerably. More than once my coffee would be ice cold by the time I got to work and the coffee on the burner in the office kitchen would be garbage. There is no supremely good coffee in the Central Business District of Denver. This was a dark moment.

Thanks to things like Fika I discovered a handful of great new places (which I will write about eventually) and some new ways to prepare coffee. French Press is still the at-home jam, mostly because I don’t have the self-discipline to get anything new going at the house.

There are roasters in Denver who are cold brewing coffee and then serving it on nitro. This is usually a very dangerous composition that I have yet to resist.

Mom used to make me eat my peas so I could watch The Drew Carey Show on Wednesday nights. It aired at 7, so I better get chomping.

Today, I’ll drink mixes based on pea protein. Also, I have no idea why anyone would watch The Drew Carey Show. I guess it was the comfort of something regular and routine. I’m sure I watched a lot of television growing up, but I only remember really going out of my way to see Drew Carey. No taping, no DVR, no streaming – just the broadcast on Wednesday nights with commercials. I was either there, or I was eating peas.

The other day I counted up that I was keeping tabs on upwards of 15 different programs. From the stuff that airs on network (via Hulu) to premium cable to Netflix. We cut the cable when we moved into our new house. We’ve been reliant on TV-via-internet for a while now which gives us some flexibility in what we watch and when we watch it.

When the math was said and done, we’re looking at about 12 hours of programs a week to keep up on. Looking at the queue today, we have 11 unwatched episodes of Fox’s New Girl. We used to watch it religiously (Nick Miller is my spirit animal), and then a sour run of episodes left us with a feeling of “why bother”ness. Barring intense illness, we will never catch up on that show.

Then I kept mixing up which characters were in what show. The timelines, the nights they aired, and who was dating who – what happened last week?

Then – fuck it. What am I actually missing here? So I declared my own little private TV bankruptcy. With all this programming to catch up on, we were eating meals in front of the TV, compromising bedtimes and books that had to be read. Laundry was unfolded and the housework went to the fray – all for the fictional lives of others. At 12 hours a week.

Like the exclusionary diet principle – when you remove everything and only start to add back a little at a time the focus starts to return to what you’re consuming. Then you can start to see how really good, or really bad, the programs are that you’re watching.

And there are rules to this:

  • If you have a second screen going (your phone, tablet, laptop) where you’re checking Facebook or email or texts, then whatever is happening on your first screen isn’t that important and is probably a show you can chop.
  • No bingeing. I know you can, but should you? Television has almost always been written to be episodic – to account for time between episodes and for each episode to be taken in with a totally fresh perspective. If they wanted to tell a season-long story that was meant to be watched in one sitting, they would have written an epic movie.
  • Limit the studio audience. Maybe this is just me, maybe I have horrible audio on my television. The sound of the live studio audience present at the filming of something like The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live is rather hard to take. The producers like it because it brings an energy to a show. Afterward, I just feel exhausted.
  • None of these rules apply to Game of Thrones.

 

 

There’s that Georgia O’Keefe idea about how the frame of a painting is just as important as the painting within it. Same could be said for books and bookcases. When the case stands as it’s own elaborate work of built-in art, what does it say about the contents of those shelves. What does it say that the sole bookshelf in our house is a particle-board, flat-packed piece of junk that is lucky to have been around this long. Or that a majority of our books live beyond this shelf, stacked horizontally three and a half feet high in various corners of our home? As though we are both professors of some esoteric canon of work so obsessed with our thesis that we couldn’t be bothered with straightening up our workspaces in time for office hours.

It’s a way, I suppose, of looking and feeling more literary to all those who visit our home. We don’t entertain guests very often. Also, we have a copy of Megyn Kelly’s book in our stacks for some reason.

For the most part we share the books (with some spats arising out of who gets to read which ones first) except for a small collection that I keep on a shelf in the bedroom. This selection are books that I’ve read, although I can’t say I’m necessarily finished with them. Selections that never feel finished no matter how many times I’ve read through them. Books that I’ll grab, flip open to a random chapter and read through before I start up my day. Writings that leave me with far more questions than answers. These are the kind of books I can never give back, donate, sell, or volunteer out because what if I have another question about them? 

The books that are currently lining that small shelf:

 

The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida

At first glance it is a fairly convoluted titled – it is either an ego puff piece or a book that requires itself to bring a lot to the table. And it does, on both counts. I first came across this book while doing research for a book I was ghostwriting for a person who, by any account, considered himself to be a Superior Man. Talking with him on the phone, reviewing his body of work, knowing just about anything about this client one thing became clear – he had a cock between his legs and that pretty much summed up everything you needed to know about men and manliness.

Deida takes a gentler, more holistic approach to the topic. Instead of breaking things down to the anatomy of men/women, he chooses to look at persona’s through a lens of energy. Masculine versus Feminine and the conflicts and complements of each working together. I sent the client this book in the middle of all of our work to review and get his thoughts on it. I never heard from him again. Today it serves as the book I recommend to anyone who complains about how their significant other is driving them nuts in one fashion or another. Or to anyone who is dissatisfied with their job or address or place in life.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

 

Bird By Bird: A guide to writing and life by Anne Lamott 

This one came to me during a creative writing seminar in college. The professor was in love with the book and insisted we all keep a copy at hand forever and ever until the end of time. Probably the weirdest self-identified personality trait I have is to be immediately and mercilessly skeptical to anyone who presents anything as “this is a thing I love, it is the end-all, be-all.”

It’s still not my favorite book, even though it is on the “never finish reading” shelf. Lamott drives home a lot of good points about writing that I still revisit from time to time. Mostly about bringing everything down to a one-inch window – diving into the details, and telling the big picture story from the tiniest of places.

“How to be Alone” by Jonathan Franzen

I almost had to leave this book in the parking lot of the bookstore where I found it. I was traveling a lot that summer – driving from the backcountry camp I staffed during the week to the nearby town on the weekends where I handled laundry and phone calls and updates to Myspace. The tentpole essay of the book, an expanded writing of Franzen’s “Why Bother” that had published in the Atlantic years before, was entirely about the role and function of the novel in our modern times. With a title like “Why Bother” you can imagine he was rather optimistic about the outcome (sarcasm). He still went on to write three more novels, maybe more. Franzen is a dick like that.

When I came across it I was still a student who spent time outside of the classroom either drinking or holed up in my room whittling away at stories and manuscripts. I was racing up on graduation then with no idea of where the next handful of years worth of paychecks would come from. The choices were slim – find ways to sell myself to publishers, or find ways to sell retail items to customers I’d never meet again. In a way “Why Bother” and “How to be Alone” was the very exact thing I needed to read, while being the one thing I didn’t need in my bloodstream. You know, like opiates.

 

Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

I stole this book from someone. Rather, it was lent to me and I never gave it back and by the time they got around to making me feel guilty about it the book was in such a state that it was just easier to buy and ship them a newish copy through Amazon.

I’m still trying to figure out what it is I find so riveting about this book. It is, quite literally, an exploration of the concept of “lost” in every way our language has managed to make it so. From the physical to the emotional to the metaphysical – what is it that separates loss with home?

“Moments when I say to myself as feet or car clear a crest or round a bend, I have never seen this place before. Times when some architectural detail or vista that has escaped me these many years says to me that I never did know where I was, even when I was home. Stories that make the familiar strange again, like those that revealed the lost landscapes, lost cemeteries, lost species around my home. Conversations that make everything around them disappear. Dreams that I forget until I realize they have colored everything I felt and did that day. Getting lost like that seems like the beginning of finding your way or finding another way, thought there are other ways of being lost.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

I’m like 16 when a backpacking guide I’m hiking along with – Clint, I think his name was – takes out half of this book from his bag. It’s wrapped in plastic to keep it from the rain, the edition had been read through a dozen times – the pages eaten with dirt, dog-eared, scribbled in.

It had rained that day as we hiked. The kind of rain that started in the morning as we packed up the previous night’s camp and continued to drizzle through the day. Our bags taking on an additional 5 pounds of water weight as we sloughed through mud and were saturated by passing by low-branches that caught all of the rain fall. We arrived at the next camp sometime around 3, set up tents and started cooking fires and did whatever we could to chase of the damp and cold before it was dark. Sometime around 5 the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, the late afternoon sun warmed us up and dries out tent walls. We open up our sleeping bags and hang them facing the setting sun, grabbing every last ray of heat. Later, around the fire, Clint reads aloud from Zen by the light of his headlamp. As he finishes pages he tears them out – each leaf falling into his hand from the worn spine, glues softened by the rain, and drops the page into the small flames of the fire. He reads on, taking in each paragraph and element of the story for one last time and then burning it off so it would no longer be a burden.

 

That old idea – if you love something, set it free?

Or how every argument leads to incredible makeup sex. Or how the end of wars sometime bring about celebrations of liberation and peace.

Some will say “I love coffee.” Others will say “I need coffee first.”

Let’s not forget the T-shirts that read “Death before Decaf.” Mugs that read “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.” Always adorned by the most charming people.

Every relationship with coffee starts the same way: the thrill of the energy, learning to love the bitter-calm taste, the idea of the morning companion. Then it goes haywire. Then the coffee needs added shots and sugars and flavors. Two cups, three, five. A whole pot before 10 AM and maybe another for the afternoon, just to be safe, I have work to do. Like an addict the dependency is justified outwardly with more and more expensive products: finer beans, trendier shops, better glassware, a filter made from sheep skin.

At some point coffee becomes a crutch. So many of us are crabby and foggy with out it, high strung and irritable with it.

There was this cafe not far from where I used to work that I’d sit in some mornings. Sometimes this crew of developers from one of the nearby tech firms would wander in usually around the same time. One person likely stood up, looked over the wall of their workstation and said something to the next guy and then a  moment later a half dozen developers went to go get coffee. Collectively they’d walk over, get their oder, and walk back to their workstations, paper cups full of now-lukewarm caffeine in hand.

They likely each paid 4 or 6 bucks for that coffee. If all they needed was a walk and a cup of something hot, they might have been better off at the 7-11. Every single element that contributes to the romance behind a fine cup of coffee that we pay handsomely for is packaged up, shipped out, and turned into something that it is not.

We all get to this point: allowing ourselves to essentially hate the beauty around coffee and just need to strip it down to the basic elements. Like cutting down a forest to dig up the ore underneath it.

Seeing this, I gave it up.

Not coffee, just the transient nature of my coffee habit.

So I gave it up for a little bit. Not coffee as a whole, just the transient nature of our coffee habits.

No more coffee to-go. No more paper cups with plastic lids and cardboard sleeves. All my travel mugs stay in the cabinet.

Coffee made at the house is made well, with a good source product, in a clean container.

No more shitty break-room coffee.

No more after-thought coffee, or coffee that is part of concessions.

Coffee happens when I have the time to sit with it, to appreciate it and to let it fuel what I am thinking about actively.

Coffee will happen when someone has to perform a damn ceremony to bring it to life – a pour-over, a Chemex, an Aeropress. (And what a wonderfully pretentious sentence that was!)

Every cup of coffee should ideally be enjoyed with others who are also able to slow down and enjoy it with me.  If you can’t sit down for 15 minutes with me to enjoy this, then what is the point?

After all, what is the point of elaborately decorated and curated cafes if we’re only going to box it up and basically forget about it?

I can’t tell you how many half-empty paper cups have gone stone-cold in my presence.

So this is a study, a presence.

Already a few that I’ve “gone for coffee” with are startled when I sit down at a table with a ceramic mug. After all, why only take 5 when you could take 15? Hell, why not make it an hour or so and talk about something other than work for a while?

On the weekends we tour a spot in Denver with Fika. It’s a good chance to go somewhere new and try something different. When we started I told Carly that everything we tried with Fika had to be enjoyed in-house, no matter what that house was. Conversations happen. The sometimes-chaotic weekends come to a brief pause.

Best yet, there’s no paper cups to toss away afterward. Everything enjoyed, nothing wasted.

 

 

 

It’s become my usual coffee shop – The Metropolis Coffee on 11th. It is close enough to everything that I would need at an early hour, but still low key enough in the mornings where I can sit for a minute and think, jot down a handful of ideas, and embrace the sunlight rising through the huge, dirty windows. Though, in about an hour a line will as the day begins for most, as coffee is required, as people set up their before-work meetings to discuss the bigger ideas of things they’d rather be doing.

On a particular morning there are two backpacks leaning against an otherwise empty wall. Their names, Kelty and Marmot, stitched neatly on their top panels. Loosely stacked on top of them are their owner’s jackets shed with the warmth of the cafe. The packs are still bright, clean with luggage tags of opportunity attached to them – these packs have so many miles to see still. They haven’t been set down in the dirt or unpacked and repacked a dozen times a day as their frustrated porters search for that ONE thing they could have sworn they brought – the knife, the flashlight, the blister kit. No, things have yet to be lost in the depths of their pockets. The straps have yet to dig deep into the shoulders of their porters, the belts have yet to raise welts or rub hipbones raw. These are brand new packs crammed tight and full of potential.

I see their porter’s at the counter. A guy and a gal still in some stage of loving one another. They are as fresh as the packs left against the wall. Their skin still unmarred by the wind and the sun, their hair still damp from that morning’s shower. They are still talking to one another – a sure sign they are somewhere early on in their journey together. Next, they’ll pile everything onto a bus, onto a plane, onto their backs as they start off down this path. Sometime in a week or two they’ll agree it might be best to take “maybe just a day, or something” apart. Their is a lot of exploring to do, and with every exploration is a need or desire to miss something.

Today is nice. The air in the city is still cool and damp and ready to be written on . Tomorrow will be a mix of dusty trails and endless sun or foreign cities and hostel beds. There will be arguments over going left or right, and the unrested peace that comes with either being right or wrong.

Denver isn’t great with bags or those who carry their world on their backs. These two, they are clean. And that is enough of an advantage. Outside are shopping carts filled with items collected from the streets, there are tattered backpacks held by men and women who have spent night after night sleeping on the asphalt. Around here, there are those who have their worldly possessions gripped in a plastic bag, bright pink with the logo of the nearby hospital, wrist wrapped in identifying plastic. A night spent hooked to machines only to be released in the morning to try surviving again.

There was a summer I lived out of a car, mostly by choice, where I was frequently days form my last shower. Days when I walked into numerous coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and gas stations wearing heavy boots caked in mud. My face and clothes covered in campfire soot, my wild hair sticking out from the edges of my basball cap. I’d walk into these places and expect to be served, never once thinking about the other people there because I had, in my own mind, a sense of home in all of that.

The idea of home, then, is rather obtuse when it is stripped bare. A place we have keys to, full of stuff we’ve collected. The backpackers in my cafe this morning, I can only assume they have a home and they have chosen to forgo it for a short while. They have loaded up their packs tall with things pertinent to their existence and taken off.

To have that kind of freedom is the ultimate one to take for granted.