You’ve got to have something of a coffee fetish to operate a coffee blog–even half-assedly like I do. Being the coffee shop junkie that I am, I always considered the coffee shop to be an ideal social destination–mainly because I couldn’t really think of any other ideas. That said, I also considered the coffee shop an ideal place for doing homework, business meetings, family reunions, and sleeping. Coffee’s a social drug drink, and is therefore adaptable to a variety of social situations.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not that simple You may recall my report on my hometown being overrun by bikini coffee shops. While the subject inspired some spirited (and entertaining) debate, I never made any serious correlation between coffee and sex. I mean, bikini-clad women and coffee seemed like a pretty arbitrary pairing to me, and  it turns out that business model may not really have much to do with the coffee anyways. I figured since you could substitute wings, burgers, and internet domain name services, sex and marketing is a proven formula, coffee was just replacing the variable.

…or so I thought. To start things off, let’s hear from executive transvestite (not “weirdo transvestite,” mind you) Eddie Izzard who shares an often quoted anec-joke about the coffee/sex correlation:

So “coffee” is street slang for sex. That’s cool, but at the same time it just seems…confusing. Sure, there’s the possibility of social faux pas with heads of state, but given coffee’s wide social presence, that can’t possibly be a hard and fast literal rule. Perhaps, like all slang, you’ve got to pay attention to the context. Case in point:

Hearing this information again flashes me back about nine years to one of my very few experiences cold-asking someone out on a date. I asked a barista out for coffee and she declined, having already made plans to go to an Incubus concert that weekend. Realizing now that I had possibly propositioned and been turned down for sex certainly changes the flavor of that interchange. In my defense, she was sending mixed signals by being a barista.

Perhaps it’s not entirely about the coffee, but more about opening that door to extend (or start) the evening. If there’s anything we learned from the Land Shark, you’ve just got to have the right line (everyone loves candy!). Perhaps if your date is on the fence about you, you’ll sell them on the coffee. “Would you join me for a cup of coffee?” certainly beats a number of alternatives:

Holy hell, they totally went there.

Being a married man now, I’m forced to re-evaluate the role of going out for coffee in my life. What kind of signals am I sending when I join a friend for a casual cup of coffee? Are others whispering behind my back about my coffee shop promiscuity? Am I being honest with my wife about going out for coffee and what role should it play in our relationship? Before you ask, no, I don’t know what I’m talking about anymore, but I will say that if you don’t have an honest coffee talk with your spouse, your feelings may surface in inappropriate ways.

Yeah, I’m sure he’ll get some at the plant. Perhaps the plant has a “desk sergeant” as well. Ugh. Men are such dogs. Actually, if I’m going to cite advertisements as proof, I should point out that coffee also apparently turns women into dangerous vengeful maniacs. Par for the course I suppose.

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You are Not a Profile.

August 17, 2011

I am so close to dropping off Facebook. Someone push me. Please.

I have no real illusions about anonymity. While I’ve had this blog–in some incarnation–for seven years now, I launched a website for myself as a musician barely a year ago. It didn’t take me long to start considering combining the two, but as soon as I began planning to do so, I ran into a host of problems. Many of these are a result of own laziness (I struggle to update my gig calendar or promote my shows, unless it’s on Facebook), but there are greater identity and self-image concerns as well. Do I want to unify the guy who writes stuff like this and this, with the guy who wrote this?

The funny thing is, show promotion and a couple groups (ok, one actually) are the only reasons I’m still on Facebook. The most common reason I’m so disdainful of Facebook is because there are so few things that I want to say to my family, lifelong friends, recent friends, grad school friends, and musician peers. It’s an opt-out system where unless I take the time to categorize my friendeds, everything I post goes to everyone. After silently saying “I don’t care” to myself with every status update, I realized that I just didn’t want to add to the information pollution. Granted, I still check Facebook semi-regularly just to read status updates with the same casual interest that I read celebrity gossip blogs.

Courtesy of geekandpoke.com

Perhaps I’m subscribed to the idea that in your virtual life, if you don’t establish a strong identity, one will be established for you. I realize that doesn’t really differentiate it from real (analog) life, but I harbored this illusion for a while that if I didn’t do anything online, I wouldn’t be there. Being an actively performing musician and a member of at least a few geek social circles, pictures of me just kept popping up on Facebook. To this date I personally have uploaded one picture (nearly a decade old) of myself to Facebook, and yet there are 318 tagged photos of me currently uploaded on their network.

I’ve in the past been dubbed a “contrarian” by some of my peers. I can’t really argue, since I do seem to have an inherent suspicion of social trends (Facebook, Twitter, Portland, etc.). I don’t necessarily believe that all social trends are inherently brainless and driven by mob mentality (or worse, marketing). I am just a big believer in the adage “Don’t let anything be automatic.” I believe that regular assessment of our routines is important to promote our intellectual, social, and technological development. That said, I agree with Jaron Lanier that social networks encourage users to dilute their individuality humanity, allowing it to be quantized into what essentially amounts to census figures and voluntary market research data.

Or, maybe I’m just tired of being a product.

Tiffany Carlson performing at Singer Hill cafe.

Tiffany Carlson and company, with a toddler cuttin' a rug.

There’s nothing quite like being in the zone and falling out of it. I’m speaking rhetorically arbitrarily, of course, since I don’t harbor any illusions of being in a blogging “zone.” It’s actually been slightly over a month since my last post, and I’ve spent most of that time writing and re-writing a post about something that happened nearly three months ago.

As Indigo Montoya said, “When a job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning.”

So here I am, back where this blog was last seen: Singer Hill Café in Oregon City before a show with Laura Ivancie at the 505 Tavern. I’m blogging to the sweet sounds of Tiffany Carlson…again. I’ve got my Mushroom Swiss Quiche with a side of fruit, which bears a casual resemblance to the lime tart I had last time. I’ve got my decaf coffee (it’s almost 8pm, give me a break) which has no real relation to anything I had last time, and bread pudding that…

Empty plate, empy glass, and half-eaten bread pudding.

Forgot to take a picture before I ate. I really am off my game.

Ok, ok. That “back-to-the-beginning” thing doesn’t really work at all, but if it did it would have been awesome. If I were really going back to the beginning I’d be twenty-two years old and working night-crew at a grocery store. Hell, I haven’t really gone back to the beginning as much as I just went back to where I was a month ago.

It’s still a pretty nice place though.

I had full intentions of writing something new today, but as I opened up my WordPress “dashboard” to clean out the half-dozen sentence-long drafts, I came across this little gem that I never got around to posting. It’d be a shame to let it go to waste, and my reflecting on trips weeks (or months) after they happen is hardly uncharacteristic. So, everyone pretend that it’s January 24th and enjoy:

guy alone at the airport terminal

You'll eventually figure out what you're doing there, but not until you get back.

…perhaps admiration for his journey does not preclude a degree of sympathy for those who, in fascinating cities, have occasionally been visited by a strong wish to remain in bed and take the next flight home.”

Andre de Button, from “The Art of Travel”

The most stressful part of travel just may be figuring out how to enjoy it. For the last few weeks any mention of my eminent South American excursion was met nothing but unbridled enthusiasm and jealousy.  In response, all I could think was, “wow, I hope I can figure out how to enjoy it as much as you would.” I had a pretty good idea of what was going to (and did) happen. After a lengthy plane ride, the plane touched down in Buenos Aires. I paid for my visa, picked up my luggage, and stepped out of the airport to be struck by the feeling that…I was in another country.

That’s it.

Sure, it’s stimulating (and a little overwhelming) to look around and play “look what’s different” as we depart the airport. It seems slightly ingenuine to have an embassy escort everywhere I go, but it beats the utter terror I imagine of trying to get around myself.  I’m a horrible tourist, and it makes me feel more comfortable knowing that I’ve got a definite objective beyond “be there and enjoy it.” Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy this adventure I’m on, I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with the pressure of my own expectations of how much I’m supposed to enjoy it.

I have to admit, this sense of purpose (“oh, I’m a performer in the folk festival…”) has become really the foundation of my experience to the point that I couldn’t imagine traveling without it. I couldn’t in months—let alone days—become possessive of any aspect of Argentina, so really all I’m left with are isolated moments, places, and even transits that I could really call my own. I’d even grant a certain degree of possessiveness to my bandmates who recognized the Buenos Aires terminal that they had spent a half day in on two separate occasions.

Without my objective, what else do I have of my own? Of course, there’s the universal language of pop music, Coca Cola, and credit cards that seems to follow everywhere,  hovering above our heads and ready to annihilate our sense of time and place. Perhaps one day, it will. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy not knowing what I’m supposed to do or feel, and leave that concern for another day.

***Update 3/14/2011***

Ah, I’m supposed to play a show for 15,000 people and feel awesome about it. Done.

I knew I’d figure it out eventually.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been a subtle addition to the right sidebar. It’s true. I’ve been baptized into the world of micro-blogging. This blogger is now also a twit…er…er. I realize that this may come as somewhat of a surprise to some of you, particularly since I’ve in the past taken great delight in skewering and belittling everyone’s favorite micro-blogging service, even to it’s face. What could have changed my mind? Well, a number of things. I shall conveniently list them.

  1. I realized I had more reasons to hate Facebook, and I was already on that. On Twitter, people subscribe if they’re interested in what you have to say. How wonderful it is to have quantified self-worth! On Facebook, we’re all just subscribed to each other by impulses of “friendedness.”
  2. At it’s best, Twitter is largely what blogging originally was designed to be, a way of sharing links to cool stuff we’ve come across. Twitter gives us a chance to fly on ahead and shout back to the flock. Also, it gives me something to do when I have something to say but I’m too lazy to blog. I guess that explains this.
  3. I just turned twenty-eight and I realized that I’m simply too young to be technologically jaded. Besides, I work as a educational tech consultant. What kind of example would I be setting by ignoring the hottest craze in social networking (circa 2007-08)?
  4. In my head, I disliked Twitter users more than than Twitter itself. For a while I really only regarded Twitter as a knock-off of Facebook status updates. The users were the ones that really grinded (ground?) my gears. You know, the folks that I had branded a collective of hive-minded, self-glorifying windbags? Okay, that’s not exactly what I said (the “windbags” part is new), but yes, I was thinking it. Well, I don’t believe that’s true anymore, because I am one now and I am not a self-glorifying windbag, I’m a blogger. There’s a subtle difference.
  5. Twitter is “catware, and I’m a cat person. Dogs would love Facebook, which rewards even the most passive user (*ahem*) with constant companionship, praise, and attention—even if it’s undeserved. Twitter, in contrast, is reactionary, self-serving, and independent. Also, “friendship” on Twitter can be a one-sided agreement in which the follower (cat owner) says “I’ll pay attention to you even if you don’t give two s**ts about me.” Heck, even if I am following someone else, it’s about as passive as watching traffic, or a washing machine.

So, yes. That’s it. That’s my conversion statement. I’ll take no questions, but you can “tweet” at me if you feel like it.

“Douglas Coupland has no Facebook or MySpace page”
-Douglas Coupland’s website

“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.”

Café Aroma in Yangon, Myanmar

Café Aroma in Yangon, Myanmar

Almost a year ago, my life took a five-week detour to Southeast Asia. The blog basically took a hiatus for five weeks and restarted with my only mention of the trip being a post about a dream I later had about Fiji. I had posted plenty on the band’s travel blog, and I returned with little else to say about the experience. As indicated many times, I do not romanticize travel and I look forward to the day when I’m too much of a curmudgeon to step on a plane. While I’m neither a tourist nor an adventurer, I did have a wonderful trip and brought back two truly personally fulfilling moments. The first I chronicled here, and the second happened while perusing the shops near my hotel in Yangon, Myanmar.

Untitled impressionist painting. Author unknown.

Untitled impressionist painting. Author unknown.

After hitting up the bookstores and a few clothing shops, I came across a small shop selling original art works. I greeted whom I thought to be owner, a young woman, and browsed for a few minutes. As I thumbed through some miniature pieces, the young woman approached, pointed at the collection and quietly said “impressionist.” When I asked if they were her works, she said no and said she studied with a local artist, and that the paintings were his work. She told me she had no paintings for sale, but her preferred style was realism. We chatted for a few moments about art styles and I drew upon my limited knowledge of art history to make conversation. She seemed happy to share what she knew, and I later wondered how often she had the opportunity to discuss art with someone besides her teacher. I browsed for a bit longer before eventually coming across one striking piece whose color scheme made it stand out from the others. I bought the piece for the marked price—five dollars—and would later regret both not buying more and not paying more.

I met a lot of people on my trip, and I regret that I only really connected with a handful. I set foot in cities I never would have ever thought to visit, yet it didn’t change that it was always my foot. That fact did not necessarily take away from the trip as much as it affirmed that I was looking for the same things abroad that I looked for on a daily basis—meaningful connections, coffee shops, and spacious bathrooms.

“If you went there the way you feel now it would be exactly the same.”
-Jake Barnes

Ugly Mug at the Counter

Have I seen this place before?

I chilled in the cleverly named Ugly Mug before a lax Wednesday night gig at Burdigala Wines. In spite of their following the PDX coffee shop paradigm to a tee (chalkboard menu, Stumptown coffee, secondhand furniture, local artwork, microbrew, kooky color scheme, free Wi-Fi, vegan menu, *yaaaaaaawwwwn*), I had a pleasant stay. I was there for nearly two hours and didn’t see one Mac (well, except mine). They are nice enough to provide power strips for laptop users, which, in my experience, is a sign of cafempathy. They did get into the spirit of the season with a community diorama auction, with proceeds going to a local charity. In this season, and particularly in this day and age, it’s nice to little snatches of humanity as we gradually lose touch with physical community. Of course, it’s also difficult to build a diorama as a Facebook group.

Diaramas on the wall.

Dioramas: because anything that ends in "o rama" must be awesome.

As I sit back and proofread my latest stroll through blogsville, I realize two things. First, I need to stop making up words and use a thesaurus. Secondly, it doesn’t take a college level of critical analysis to realize that my “reviews” are short on criticism and long on complain-ism. This would trouble me more if it weren’t for the fact that this is a blog, which is essentially a web surfer’s license to rant. I recently read William Deresiewicz’ article “Faux Friendship,” which examines the new phenomenon of the social network “friend.” While I do not necessarily fall in line with Deresiewicz’ nostalgia for old world friendship, his article confronts one of the most common misconceptions about the world of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 does not foster collaboration, it fosters self-obsession with collaboration and correspondence as mere byproducts.

Douglas Coupland's new book: Generation A

Hm, I think I think this post got derailed a bit. Look, a new Coupland book!

As a Facebook “user” with my privacy settings set to ultra-paranoid, it’s been some time since I’ve actually logged in and participated in any real facility. The heyday of my Facebook activity was when I was actually having face-to-face contact with most of the people I was “friended” with (to differentiate from “friends with”). I’ve found that my Facebook interactions merely reflect my actual interactions, in the sense that the only people I send messages to are people I would otherwise be communicating with personally. What is sad is that if it weren’t for the convenience of Facebook, email, or text messages, I might actually be calling them.

Coffee & cake at the Ugly Mug

Coffee & cake at the Ugly Mug

Unfortunately, the issue of self-obsession goes far beyond our social networking habits. Now Google and Yahoo are returning Twitter and MySpace feeds as search results, under the guise of “real-time” search. I’m reminded of an in-class exercise in which students dissected the Google privacy policy, uncovering the not-so-subtle way that the information age  erodes privacy standards under the guise of “improving service.” I don’t believe search engines are out to get us, we’re out to get ourselves, literally. Real-time search gives our information age data-diet what it’s been craving the most—a healthy dose of “us.”

Of course, I could make the same excuse for self-obsession that I made for friendship. As the world changes, it’s no stretch that the words that describe it would change along with it. Perhaps “selfishness” needs redefinition. How about selffriendness?

“…instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.”