Coffee rant for small-minded people

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I threw a $4 steaming cup of liquidy brown into the trash at my subway corner. Like, slam dunked it. I haven’t grown out of taking anger out on inanimate objects.

Kicking pine cones in the fall, dandelions in the spring and bursting through subway turnstiles perennially. I keep my tantrums mini but mighty.

(And yes, plants are at an iffy point on the sentience spectrum. It feels unfair to call a dandelion inanimate, right?)

Backing up a bit…it’s Tuesday morning, and despite running my ass off to my stop, giving the corner tamale lady my usual haggard performance, backpack falling off, crosswalk countdown hand pulsing, fear of God on my face—I missed my train to work.

The subway takes me to another, bigger train that snakes up the Hudson to my job. It runs every 30 minutes. So if I miss the subway, I’ve got to wait.

It’s one of spring’s first sunny days, so I think: yes, coffee adventure!

I treat myself when I’m truant. It’s probably an off-shoot of my six-year-old self. In kindergarten my anxiety was intense. I would beat myself up over the smallest things, like when Mrs. Smith switched my “behavior card” from green to yellow. 🚦

I would smolder in shame, and my mom would take me to McDonald’s for chocolate vanilla swirl soft serve. She was teaching me that mistakes are okay.

I make it to a cute coffee shop thick with the smell of bacon and neighborhood regulars. Tres charmant!

I ordered my signature: an Americano, short.

Checking in with you—do you know what “short” means? If you’re not a barista, it’s okay if you don’t.

It means less water. It means don’t dilute this gold. It means I want to actually taste the espresso, make a little bitter face-pucker.

When I say, “An Americano, short” I usually get back a WTF face.

This is when I’ve gotta choose: do I explain a coffee term that *I believe* every barista should know, and risk seeming condescending? Or do I just pinch my lucky mole and hope for the best?

Usually I go for a flaccid compromise. As they turn to pull the shot I mumble through the steam noises and dish clatter, “Uh, like less hot water than normal, to make the coffee stronger…” No idea if they heard me. I go to a corner.

Barista calls my name. I see her wobbly arm balancing the cup in her hand. Amber water’s about to spill.

I look down into coffee so clear I can almost read the grounds settled at the bottom. If they were tea leaves they’d spell out the fortune, “There are some dandelions outside you better kick before a human face gets in the way of your foot.”  

Y’all. Need. To. Train. Your. Baristas. Better.

A bartender going “Ummm…?” over your whiskey neat order. A dressmaker, eyes vacant when you ask for it bias-cut. These are unimaginable. Maybe not forgivable.

This bacchanalia would quickly turn into a mob, were the whiskey mishandled.

This bacchanalia would quickly turn into a mob, were the whiskey mishandled.

Was there a time when more baristas knew about short Americanos, but we’ve gotten so saturated with coffee shops and the talent is blah? Am I a spoiled product of third wave coffee, the uber light roast, single-origin, crema-crowned espresso of my heart?

Three paths: choke it down, ask for a remake or throw it out.

The train’s chugging close so redo’s out. I stomp back to my station, three sips of trauma to the taste buds and in the trash it goes. I’m kicking myself through the next five stops, for being late again and thinking a four dollar Americano would console me.

Should’ve ordered ice cream. 🍦

ps— Just in case I wasn’t self-righteous enough, not sufficiently trivial, I’d like to share this last detail with you. And I’m about to go full antihero on you…

I usually drink decaf.

Walter White drinks decaf.

Walter White drinks decaf.

Why? Because I defy (defy!!) a culture that demands I’m wired. The busy busy busy, productivity = self worth, adrenals-gasping-for-air lifestyle.

I’ll hustle, but that’s because I need the cash, not because I think it makes me a better person.

And yes, you’re allowed to drink decaf and have good taste in coffee, too.

So hear me. And tell me if you feel me:

Burnout’s not cute. And neither is hot bean water.

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That one time my mom dressed the Olsen twins

Me.

Me.

Her.

Her.

I grew up not giving a damn about fashion, with a fashion designer for a mom. My birth prompted her to start her own line of kid’s and baby clothes. The good taste genes kicked in at approximately 12 years old, and now I give major damns about crafting looks. In my adulthood when I’m depressed, I don’t care about clothes—and when I don’t care about clothes, I’m made more depressed. An early 20s-era boyfriend once got a kick out of how dramatically my mood could shift when I changed into a new outfit. Clothes can turn my world upside down or right side up.

I thank my mom for teaching me early to don my creativity on my sleeve. For those of you who don’t know Kayci, her style isn’t for the faint of heart. Nowadays it veers toward the technicolor and multi-patterned. There’s a common refrain spoken throughout my life, even yesterday: “Your mom is THE COOL MOM.” Her swagger always made it evident to my friends that they’re safe to be resoundingly themselves in our home, to crank up the volume (and I’m talking loud prints as well as loud opinions about matters both political and aesthetic). She had a clothing shop carrying local designers and it functioned much in the same way, as a home to bold folk, or folk growing bolder with her prodding.

My mom’s making has always been politically tinged. As a toddler, I would crawl around the legs of her sewing table, marveling over pins and other sharp objects (she was careful, y’all—don’t worry) and watching Disney movies. She peppered it with commentary about things like the sexism inherent to the princess stories I consumed. She grew my awareness of a variety of inequities early, all while holding straight pins in her teeth and lining up a hem. She never shielded me from anything, but instead gave me the tools to critique dominant messages.

Thank you, mom, for creating a haven where oppressive norms were unpacked and railed against more than they were reenacted. For giving an outlet for us to be us. The community’s forever better for it.

The Olsen twins had good taste, too! Here they are in their iconic “I Am the Cute One” video, wearing my mom’s decadently 90s clothing line, The Flooby Company. She made the outfits they’re wearing when they sing the bridge (“people say we’re two peas in a pod…”). I think they’re both the cute one in these ensembles.

Go see what the old broad is up to design-wise these days. Please check her stuff out at KayciWheatley.com. If you ever craved a Dolly Parton bucket hat, she’s your gal.

 

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How do we represent sexual assault in media?

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I watched two silent men stalk a woman for an hour around London streets and graveyards. They wielded video cameras. She was at first flattered, but over time pleaded with them to leave her alone. They barged into her house and wouldn’t leave, wouldn’t let her leave. They turned the dial of her animal desperation up and up and up. 

I witnessed this through the cameramen’s lens, half a century later, today. The film was shot and edited under the direction of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, as an art piece called “RAPE.” Without her consent, they made this woman their video subject and traumatized her for the sake of a political message. According to them, rape is acted out in events that aren’t just sexual. Apparently they needed to commit this (contestable) version of rape themselves to prove the point. 

This year I filmed about a dozen folks discuss their intimate perspectives on sexual harassment and assault, with a close friend, lover, or family member. For each shoot, I extracted a ~10 minute story from ~1.5 hours of raw footage. I still have heaps more footage to edit—I’ve hardly touched some of the thornier stories, partly because second-hand trauma is a thing. 

I’m even in one of the videos, kind of by accident. Was it terrifying? Yes. But also liberating.

I’m even in one of the videos, kind of by accident. Was it terrifying? Yes. But also liberating.

My shooting and editing process presented a complicated task of practicing consent at every stage. I can’t coerce them during filming to spill more than they bargained for. Nor can I twist or overly dramatize their stories while I edit—which means remaining in conversation with my biases and my perspective’s limits. I can’t make these trespasses. Sowing seeds of distrust would not only hamper participation in the project as an ongoing series, but would also, to state the obvious, undo the entire ethic that the work hopes to instill.

Suffice it to say, I’m disturbed by a fellow filmmaker’s sacrificial-lamb approach at getting at something artistically about rape. Who’s this for? An audience already quite acquainted with the fear portrayed, who could benefit most from processing rape through art? I think not. It’s unnecessary and wrong. 

But please, go and see it yourself, at THE UN-HEROIC ACT: Representations of Rape in Contemporary Women’s Art in the U.S. at Shiva Gallery, John Jay College in New York City.

Cause you know I'd walk half a thousand miles if I could just see you

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I packed up and moved 500 miles to New Orleans because I thought it would start my period, which had inexplicably ceased. I was right.

Summer of 2016 I wrote a severely NSFW personal essay about it, which was published in Peach Fuzz.

Since the essay’s quite explicit and I use this website for professional purposes, I won’t publish it here. Peach Fuzz is print-only, so I hope you can get your hands on one. You’ll find it in Volume 3, Issue 4.

Campaigning with the Montana Democrats, 2

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No one exists alone at Glacier park. Any single file effort’s regrettable, required by a bushy, skinny path. I’d see groups of twenty pass by while I crouched in thimble berry bushes to feast. Mostly, I saw couples. Not one other soul went solo on the trail I hiked. Maybe forest dangers make coupling necessary: “It was love at first sight—he vanquished in the test where I imagine him wrestling a bear. So far I had loved bears only but now this dude.”

I hesitate to enter Loner Jams 2k16 because that’s tired and embarrassing, but the traditional family model I encounter out here in this Montana town, especially when knocking on doors to canvass, causes pause in me, because it asks me how much I do or will belong to that tradition.

Wives over and over again cannot tell me who they’re supporting in the election because their husband isn’t home. He researches, understands, and prescribes that action. He does the politics. I witness the assumption that what’s political and what’s personal are two different experiences. That the limits of who we get to be day to day aren’t drawn by policy, by representation in government (and representation in media and art, too). But the daily mire is political.

At the same time, I could be comfortable with separating some household tasks along gender lines. Dishes, taxes, cooking falling to one or the other member because of historical trends in skill. But that women still perform, according to the Guardian, 3x the unpaid labor as men, freaks this sister out. 

Mental and emotional labor gets delegated along gender lines, too. Last weekend when all of Montana’s field staff joined the governor and his office to grill burgers, his wife’s thank you speech was tearful, rooted in its gratitude. His, though full of pathos, was less emotional, more transcendent.

My basically Aunt, Thedra, “does the emotions. Stephen does the physical labor.” This according to her. As if the emotions aren’t physical labor. This woman and my mom once staged an intervention to persuade me to take antidepressants (I’m happy that at this point a couple years later no one would recommend them for me). They both take them. Thedra insists they’ve hampered her creativity none, in fact took her out of the way of herself so she could form focused visions and execute. My mom insists they’ve dulled her visions and abilities, but she doesn’t mind that she’s making tackier art, failing to see an uneven hem, because it’s payment for evener keel.

Thedra: “Before antidepressants, I would get in these delusion spells where I knew my kids hated me, my husband didn’t love me, the world was out to get me. That’s when Stephen would go to check the weather.” (My first thought: ugh, evasive man and his tics, not diagnosable like his wife’s because they’re “productive.”)

“He checked the weather to see whether an earthquake was predicted. We lived in California then, and in the days leading up the earthquakes my anxiety and depression ramped up.”

Thedra’s body was basically a barometer for the oncoming of natural destruction. Science vids have taught me that animals go nuts before these types of events. Apparently people can access that, are conduits, too, can quake with the same insanity the earth’s about to. My mom’s body lately has soaked up the tragedy of Trump’s rise, the fact that in some ways we’re just so ineffectual as citizens, this mirroring in the bodily arrest of depression. She wants to sleep til it’s over.

Before I go any further, I reject the idea that women possess a unique, feral quality that has them pick up on world vibes. Rather, we’ve been culturally incentivized toward this sensitivity, this perception for atmosphere, especially for moods of people who might—legacy of couple dynamics in perpetuity—demand care in scary ways. Saying, to put it mildly: “Do the emotions, they’re your task. Mine’s to get covered in dirt and oil to make the machines in our life run. You, cultivate Hestia.” I’m so thankful we’re breaking this code down each year and day but it’s still felt.

Me campaigning in the field helps me transcend depressive tendencies that arise from the political state of things (A favorite slogan: “Depressed? It could be political!”). I get to hear in my own ear and at my own face the hostility that many only read in comments sections online. But then I get to stomp off, complain with colleagues, build bright blue yard signs, maybe kinda persuade an undecided voter 10 minutes later; I get to feel effective.