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    Entries in writing (8)


    Searching for the right word at Courier

    You know how hard it is to come up with the right word sometimes, either in conversation or in writing? When I read great writers’ work, I am amazed at how well they are able to describe the scenes in their stories.  They make it easy to imagine whatever they are writing about. Settings are as crisp as the sharp crack of breaking glass, and the psychology of the characters burrows into the readers’ consciousness like an earthworm tunneling through soil. The best writers give you just enough description to trigger the images in your mind, without overburdening you with details.

    As someone who writes a lot, I read often and try to emulate my favorite writers – Murakami, Asensi, and Hemmingway, for example (if you’re going to do something, you ought to try to do it well, don’t you think?).  I figure that if I aim for the stars, I might at least hit the moon.

    One of the challenges of writing is trying to keep the writing fresh. You want to come up with new ways of saying the same thing. Think about it – how many ways has the ‘boy-chases-girl-girl-rejects-boy-boy-doesn’t-quit-until-he-wins-her-heart’ story been told? Thousands? Yes, but each time in a slightly different way.

    If you use the same descriptors all the time, you start to be boring and you don’t grow your creativity muscles they way you could. My goal is to write about coffee without saying the same thing every time. In other words, keep it fresh, like good coffee (no apologies for bad puns, though. I like to hear the audience groan once in a while). Here is today’s snippet:

    Coffee Cake

    Courier Coffee was my destination this morning. They had several coffees available as pourovers, and one single-origin espresso. When I asked about being overpowered by the single-origin’s acidity, the barista assured me that even though it was a washed Ethiopian coffee, it was well-balanced and not overwhelmingly bright (no lemons). He didn’t have to work hard to persuade me to order the espresso.

    The first sip entered my mouth and swelled like the ocean before a storm. The tangy flavors began in the center of my mouth but grew until they filled the entire space. In some cases, the syrupy nature of an espresso comes through in the crema, but in this case, the coffee itself was heavy. The espresso’s texture stood out the most. The coffee bathed my entire tongue with a thick, viscous syrup. If it were a piece of clothing, it would have been flannel or denim, not silk or polyester.

    The texture and the taste lingered – they coated my mouth as if I had just eaten the richest piece of chocolate cake from the finest bakery, with nothing to wash it down. I thought I could call it cakey, but according to the Urban Dictionary, that’s might not be the best word to use. I guess  I’ll just have to keep searching for the right word…


    Some musings to welcome 2012

    A new year has arrived! Did you wake up this morning feeling much different than yesterday (and I’m not just talking about a post-party hangover)? For some people, the new year is a time to reflect and make big plans for the year. It’s a chance to start over again with a fresh slate. For me, the calendar changes, but not much else.

    Remembrances and Predictions

    One year ago today, I posted a review of the Spunky Monkey, one of Portland’s quirkiest and weirdest hippie cafes. I don’t know if the café made it into the upcoming season of Portlandia, but it would certainly fit right in.

    The past year was full of news of economic stagnation, natural disasters (especially the major Japanese earthquake), and an Arab spring which captured the world’s attention. We saw the end of several dictators in 2011 (hooray!), but with their demise came uncertainty about what the future holds. Hopefully whatever replaces them will be an improvement.

    Most of the world economy is still struggling along and in the US, many people are out of work or working bad jobs just to get by.  Optimistic economists say things are going to get a little better in 2012, but it will be a slow grind upward. Europe is going to have a hard year. The effects of European austerity measures will be on display for all to see.

    In the US, 2012 is going to be a busy year. If you haven’t heard there is a presidential election coming up. I predict that Obama narrowly defeats Romney for the presidency, and those in power will continue to avoid making important decisions unless a catastrophe is imminent. Feel free to share your own predictions.

    Coffee in PDX

    The upcoming year will be a big one for coffee in Portland. For a few days in April, the specialty coffee world will revolve around the Rose City (then again, doesn’t it already?). The SCAA is holding its annual gathering at the Convention Center from April 12-17. Around town, you might see more coffee nerds than usual discussing the finer points of various brewing methods or arguing over which espresso machine has the best technology.   

    The US Barista Championship coincides with the convention, so the best of the country’s best baristas will be in town. It will be fun to see how Portland’s finest stack up with the rest of the country. My prediction? One of Portlands’s best (Sam Purvis, Ryan Willbur or Laila Ghambari, perhaps?) will bring home the national championship and go on to represent the US at the World Barista Championship in Vienna, Austria.


    I don’t like resolutions that much, but I’m going to make one anyway. First, I want to get back to posting more regularly. The last few months, the number of posts have decreased significantly. I sat down to write the other day and remembered how much I enjoy the writing process, so I want to do more of that this year.

    Lately, I’ve been focusing on preparing our next Harada Method course, coming up January 16th-18th (there are still slots available). We have reworked the training materials to give them a better flow and make them more professional. My spare time has also been filled with hours of guitar practice. My goal is to have an hour-long show prepared by June 1st. After that, the onus will be on me to find a place to perform it. The thought of performing makes me nervous, but each day I convince myself a bit more that I can do it. Actually doing it will be a big victory.

    Do you have any big plans for the year? Something exciting like traveling around the world or starting a new career project?


    Over the last year, I met a lot of interesting people and learned a lot about coffee.  It was fun to share these coffee adventures with you. Thanks for reading, and have a great 2012. 


    Fleeting flavors of the fall

    When it comes to coffee, one of the best ways to train your taster is to drink different coffees side-by-side or in rapid succession. Today, I did just that at Coffeehouse Northwest. I tried two different espressos (the famous “flight” that I have mentioned in the past) within a couple minutes of each other.

    The first was a single-origin espresso from Yemen. The enthusiastic barista described it as being full of fall fruits—dates, apricots, pears, etc. My initial impression was that it was a bit earthy (one of my favorite ways to describe “earthiness” is that it is like “leaves in the fall,” especially at this time of year. Imagine the aroma of the leaves as they fall from the trees). The coffee was slightly sweet with a thick, full crema that was just a touch “rough” (the foam had a coarser texture than some cremas do). It had a pleasant aftertaste that lingered. The espresso was excellent.

    The second espresso, from Nicaragua, was a very different experience. It had a sweet aroma, and if you tried it, you might get the impression that someone had slipped some raspberries into the cup before filling it with coffee. It had twice the tartness of the first one, tingling more on the tongue and then finishing more cleanly.

    When you taste two different coffees in this manner, in addition to improving your ability to detect the differences between the origins, it also helps you understand what you like and what you don’t like. In this case, the second shot was good, but the first one was special. I will keep my eyes open for Yemeni coffee in the future.

    Whether you spread a flight out over a couple hours to avoid a big caffeine hit, or drink the coffees one after another to closely compare them, you can build your coffee knowledge and appreciation by taking advantage of one of the better deals in Portland ($4/two shots). It is an affordable approach to improving your coffee conversation capabilities.

    [Side note: Autumn has arrived, and with it, apparently, a lot of alliteration.]


    Freelancing at the ‘Coffice’

    Where do you go to get work done? Do you go to the same place every day, or do you work from different places? Does the place you choose to work affect how much you get done?

    One of the challenges about being a freelancer is that you don’t have a regular schedule to keep you on task. Another is finding the right workspace. Some freelancers who work at home have enough space in their houses to make a separate workspace or office. This might be a spare room. a large walk-in closet or a converted garage—whatever it is, it is a space dedicated solely to working where there won’t be as many distractions.

    Many people dream about staying at home and working in their pajamas, but the reality of doing so is not the panacea you might think. Even if you do have a good home office, it can be challenging to work from  home and be productive. There can be too many distractions calling out for your attention (e.g., cleaning, kids, cooking, home improvement projects, etc.). In addition, if you always work from home, you begin to feel isolated from the rest of the world, which can be a bit depressing if it goes on for long enough. Sometimes you need the energy that having other people nearby helps generate.

    Fortunately, many cafes welcome people to stop in and work. Here are some criteria that make a cafe a good “coffice” (coffee shop + office—not my idea--I borrowed it from somewhere):

    1. Wi-Fi – Most cafes have Wi-Fi these days. The internet can be a distraction, but for most freelancers it is a necessary part of work, for researching and for contacting clients. It is unfortunate that offering Wi-Fi has turned a lot of cafes into mini-Laptopistans, but that is the nature of work in 2011. I plead guilty.
    2. Electric outlets – While some laptops have batteries that will last all day, most don’t, and you don’t want your computer to quit in the middle of a project. It’s hard enough to keep the momentum going on certain projects, and you don’t want to have to pack up and move during the middle of it.
    3. Good coffee – Would you want to spend all day drinking bad coffee? No, thanks. Then again, if the coffee is excellent, you might have a hard time managing your caffeine intake. Be careful with that. It’s hard to type when your hands are shaking.
    4. Space (size matters) – If you go to a cafe and it only has a few tables, unless you plan to buy lots of drinks and food during the day, you are taking up too much valuable real estate. Also, look for a cafe that is big enough so that you don’t have to sit right by the front door. If people are constantly coming in and out of the cafe right next to you, it is hard to keep focused on your work.
    5. Comfortable chairs – You might not think about this one, but if you are going to spend all day sitting in a cafe, you want your chair to be comfortable. It’s hard enough to sit down the whole day—it’s even less fun if your backside hurts. A lot of cafes have plain wooden chairs, which are durable and easy to clean, but they aren’t much fun to sit in. Look for a place with padded chairs if you plan on staying for a while.
    6. Not too loud – When a cafe is rocking out, it’s hard to concentrate. Sure, you can put your headphones in and turn up the classical music, but if you have to turn it up too loud to drown out conversations or the loud music playing in the cafe, it will still be hard to stay focused on what you are doing. Some cafes tend to turn the music up in the afternoons, so it can be more of a challenge to find someplace to work after lunch (The cafe I am sitting in right now, for example, has much louder music than when I came in two hours ago. It was a good place to work when I got here, not so much now).
    7. Location (close to home and/or other cafes)– Long commutes are  essentially wasted time. For freelancers, this time is extra valuable. If you can find a good place that is close to home, you won’t have to spend an hour on the bus each way just going to and from where you work. Also, it’s good to have another place nearby to go, in case you get tired of the shop you are in.

    The ideal coffice would have all of these things, though most don’t.  Like everything else in life, you have to do the best with what you have. I’m looking for suggestions about which cafes are good places to work. Any suggestions?


    #Trust30 Day 18 – Dreaming (again)


    [Another #Trust30 post...For more information about why I’m writing them, click here].



    Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Write down your top three dreams. Now write down what’s holding you back from them.Michael Rad


    A lot of these prompts seem to have similar thoughts or messages. I have tried to come up with something a little different for each one to keep them interesting. Three of my top dreams are:

    Number 1 – Take an around-the-world voyage, hitting six continents on one trip

    There are a few different obstacles to this one. First, it is difficult to afford this type of a trip (although I have found many good ideas to make this type of travel much more affordable through the Travel Hacking Cartel). Second, planning the trip will be a headache. It is not easy to hit six continents at one time without a good plan. Third, to be worth it, a trip like this must be at least two months (three to six months would be better) and I find it difficult to imagine taking two young kids on such an adventure. This one might have to wait a couple years.

    Number 2 – Have a second home somewhere on the Mediterranean

    Again, the primary obstacle for this one is financial. However, I do not need to have some huge house to be satisfied, so this might be much more affordable than it appears. I envision a small apartment, just big enough for the family, with enough space for the occasional short-term visitor. We have a friend with a small apartment in Galicia that serves as a model for this dream. It is just a regular apartment, with a couple bedrooms and a small kitchen, but it made the perfect place for some rest and recovery one time when we badly needed it. There will also be some logistical issues that make this one difficult, but when the time comes, I expect to be able to overcome them.

    Number 3 – Write a book

    I already discussed this one in an earlier #Trust30 post, but I will repeat it anyway. The obstacles are the following: First, I need to overcome the resistance to sit down and outline the entire book so that I know what exactly I need to write. Second, I need to make the time to write it. I am working to overcome this one by setting a more regular writing schedule. In addition, I also need to make sure that I do the important work that is not urgent (see Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for more explanation of that concept), so I need to make sure to keep the book as a priority. It is a big commitment and I need to follow through on it.


    Weekly update: Like I thought it might be, this was a difficult week for writing about coffee. I even missed the Friday coffee links page (we’ll have “late links” this week). I have a few coffee articles in the works that I need to finish, but because there was no fixed deadline for them, I pushed them back to do other tasks (like #Trust30 posts). It looks to be a busy weekend.


    #Trust30 - Day 7 - Big goals

    [To find out why I am writing all these #Trust30 posts, click here]

    Here's the prompt, from Matt Cheuvront:

    “Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneurs worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious. A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. Its only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.” - Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

    The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place – getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.

    Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.

    The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?

    There were lots of things I could have chosen, but I only have time to write about one.

    Click to read more ...


    #Trust30 Day 3

    [For an overview of what #Trust30 is, click here]

    The prompt for day 3:

    “The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?” – Buster Benson

    Yikes. Now we’re getting personal. Who was it again that accepted this challenge? Oh, yeah, that was me. By nature, I’m a private person—so these questions are pushing me a little beyond my comfort zone. On the other hand, I have written a quite a few personal stories on the blog over the last ten months, so maybe the vision I have of myself is a little outdated. Besides, sharing yourself with other people is what makes life worth it, right?

    Just so you know, Resistance (from The War of Art) is winning today. The whole day has been a struggle to be optimistic, to feel good and to get anything done. This post is no different. Now, where should I start?


    After some thought, I think I have a topic. I considered writing about several different topics—legalizing drugs, immigration reform, the role of the US in the world, gay marriage—these are all topics where I differ from a lot of my friends, but I haven’t done much to actively try to change the world or other people’s opinions and attitudes about them.  I haven’t ‘actively lived’ them, so to speak. Finally, this is what I came up with:

    Certainty and security do not substitute for experiencing life.

    People, in general, like to take the “safe” route in life. They want to work for a good company, go to their jobs every day and be paid a nice salary that keeps a roof over their heads. They are looking for a comfortable life.  This can be a great way to go through life (assuming you don’t get caught up in a Great Recession and thrown out of your job, like so many have been over the last few years), and there are definitely times when I look at others’ lives and think I should try to do the same thing.

    Usually, though, the thought of taking the safe route is disheartening. You put in your time as a cog in a corporate machine, wasting away and paying for someone else’s dream. I imagine getting on the phone with a supplier in China and trying to bargain over two cents on 50 different cables for some product that people don’t need in the first place and I think to myself, “should I settle for a life like that? Is that all I was meant to do in life?” The answer invariably comes back a resounding no.

    You might ask, what I am doing to avoid that type of life? How am I going to put food on the table for myself and my family? That’s a difficult question and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the answer is.

    I will say, though, that I started this blog because I think there is something better out there. I am writing daily, to build my skills as an interviewer and storyteller, to learn as much as I can about the world and share it with others. I write and I write and I write, because at some point, the work is going to pay off. On many levels, it already has. I may not have the certainty and security in my life as I would have at a traditional job, but I have some great experiences to reflect on that I would not change for the world. And that, dear reader, is what I am doing to ‘live it.’

    [Wow. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but I’m shipping it just the same. With a pounding head and a burning throat, I bid you good night.]