Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Writer's Tools: Coffee and Communion

I have this coffee cup.

I know, that's not such an unusual thing. A writer who has a coffee cup. Even a writer who drinks coffee. I don't know what it is, but coffee seems to be more common among us wordsmiths than almost any other profession, save cops, the military, and neurotic babysitters. Okay, we rank in the top five there, anyway. Even NaNoWriMo features a coffee cup in its logo, here:

nanowrimo official logo But I have this coffee cup. It's special to me because it's been in my family for at least three generations. See, it was my grandfather's cup.

As long as I can remember, every time we went over to my father's father's house, Gandpa would be drinking his "whitewashed javelin" from this very cup. The stain on the brim, by the way, is permanent. I've tried bleach, and it's become such a part of the cup, I just gave up. As you can see, I don't drink my javelin whitewashed, but I think Grandpa would understand. Because every time I have coffee in this cup, I think of the kindly little man with the impish grin and the amazing ability to stop hurricanes just by muttering, "Iris, that's enough." It's my communion with Grandpa. And for those who are wondering, he wasn't a fireman. He built tractors for Allis-Chalmers, and when the situation arose, he built tanks and jeeps for Allis-Chalmers.

I think of coffee as a social lubricant. Coffee is a great ice-breaker. It brings people together in ways that beer doesn't. How many wild brawls have ever broken out in a Starbuck's? And that's not even honest-to-God coffee; that's someone's double-decaf-mochaccino-latte-with-a-cinnamon-stick meeting someone else's frappuccino. Ever notice no one there asks for just a plain ol' cup o' joe? But no one wants to pick a fight, even when they're all caffeinated as Morwen on Battle Haste and Haste of the Elves (Inside joke, for all you LOTR gamers)

Anyway, coffee is a variation on the Communion that the Wise One instituted with bread and wine. Nothing mystical about it. "When you do this, think of me." That's all he was asking: That we think of Him when we do that. How the Twelve hung out with him, learned from him, loved him and when they had this little bread and wine ceremony, they thought of him. So when I have coffee in my grandpa's cup, I'm not blaspheming. I'm using a time-honored method of remembering a man who was in the last horse-cavalry regiment in the US Army, who moved his family to La Porte, Indiana to find work during WWII. Who shared a joke with anyone who would listen. Who loved the open road as much as he loved his home. Whose gnarled, patient hands turned wood into art, and who loved his family with every moment of his life. Who raised the man who taught me how to dream, and hold fast to it until I saw it realized.

I should put that cup on a shelf, some have said. What if I break it? I'd lose it forever. But I can't imagine having it and not using it. The communion with my grandpa just wouldn't be there. So I put it at risk. I fill it with rich, black coffee, throw in a scoche of sugar, and sip it carefully, breathing in the sharp aroma.

And I park it next to my computer as the tank for the mental gasoline that powers me through writer's blocks and plot holes, and drives me toward my next dream.

And I think of my grandpa, Keith Cyrus.

Long live coffee.


  1. I don't drink coffee, but this is a very lovely story. Brought a smile to my lips. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. That's okay, Fairchild. Sooner or later, you WILL be assimilated. ;-)

  3. We surround ourselves with little mementoes of those we love, don't we? And it doesn't even have to be something tangible. Music, a rainy day, snow or someone's smile. When we hold these things close, we're filled with memories...God's way of leaving us with a keepsake.

  4. At the end of "Becoming NADIA," Nadia feels the rain on her face, and it reminds her of Becca Mitchell, even though she can't remember Becca specifically, or even why the rain makes her think of a friend. It was one of "those moments" that not everyone got, but had to be there as part of Nadia's character.

    It's amazingly human, how we remember...

  5. I love making iced coffees when I write. Especially in summer.

  6. I have my "lucky cup." It came to me the day I attended my first Orlando Sentinel Forum dinner, April 23, 1996. My husband retired the same day.

    Agree with your using your cup. Let's hope we drink with steady hands and write with steady minds.

  7. I am so loving this blog, Cyrus. Pulled me right out of my missing Dale Thompson funk. Thank you.

  8. Beautiful, Cyrus, just beautiful. I thought of when I actually learned to drink coffee. Not the way I have throughout my life and up until the last few years when I gave it up... But curled in my Grandpa Davy's lap, clutching the little cup of half coffee/half milk and at least a teaspoon of sugar while he rocked me ever so gently in his rocking chair. Starbuck's can't hold a candle to that coffee.

  9. That qualifies as officially priceless, Jodi. I can almost see that.

  10. COFEE!!! Love it. I also love this story of your grandfather, it's very sweet. I have two favoriate says "Writer's Block whne you imaginary friends stop talking to you" and the other "Anything you say can and will end up in my next novel" I've also just ordered a mug with my book cover on it. Can't wait to use that one! Maybe my kids/grandkids will pass it down too.

    Brandi Schmidt