I decided to start drinking coffee the other day. I don’t like coffee.

It’s not that I can’t appreciate the drink and what it represents culturally. Coffee is thought to have been a major boon to the Industrial Revolution (if not the fuel for it), and the smell is lovely. Coffee shop culture is appealing to me, and most everyone I know who does good work has one coffee minimum per day.

That being said, I grew up working at a bookstore with an espresso bar. From age 14 until 19, I saw regulars come in with the coffee twitches, recovering from their last cup, but still needing an additional buzz. Wanting to kick the caffeine withdrawal they were still experiencing from not having a boost all night long.

I like caffeine, and though I think we’ll learn a lot more about it in the coming years — good and bad — at the moment I like having it in my life to some degree or another. I’ve experimented with it quite a bit — cutting it out of my life completely, upping my dosage to not-quite-dangerous levels, and meandering between the two extremes — and have determined that while I can very happily live without any of it at all, I do benefit from a cup of something energy-laced here and there. For several years I filled this void with energy drinks (as part of some brand research I was doing at first, and then out of laziness), and once those started to make me feel sick I would bump back to tea, sipping down numerous cups a day to ease myself down from the high that the Red Bulls of the world would kick me into.

Coffee, however, occupies a nice space between ‘too intense and unhealthy’ and ‘not intense enough and slightly difficult to come by.’ It also doesn’t set off my bullshit detectors like the energy drink industry does, with all their wild claims and superfluous pseudo-vitamins.

I don’t care for coffee, but that’s part of why it’s perfect for me right now.

Many years ago — back in my college days — I didn’t really like wine, so I avoided it almost completely. It took meeting people with an enthusiasm for the drink to break me out of that shell, and now I have a real appreciation for it. The same was true with beer. And whiskey.

And like the aforementioned alcoholic beverages, I want coffee to fill a role in my life where it’s not something I sit around and crave, but rather a nice addition to an already complete life. I don’t need addictions — in fact, my personality doesn’t allow me to have them — but I do enjoy a proper lifestyle accessory, so long as it pulls its own weight and doesn’t hinder me in any way. Coffee is relatively cheap, easily attained, and can give me a kick of caffeine when I want it. Perfect.

This is why I’m taking the time to drink coffee, despite my distaste for it. I’ve found over the years that even though I may never really like something, I can at least appreciate and make use of it, with enough practice and the right attitude. So long as the thing you’re exploring isn’t truly dangerous — I wouldn’t recommend, say, making the time to appreciate heroine — this is an attitude that can only increase your range of experience, rather than limiting it.

New experiences are key to a fulfilled, well-rounded life. So long as you avoid absolutes — and addictions are one type of absolute worth removing from your life — anything can become an asset. All you have to do is look for the good in the bitter.

Blog, Project

28 and 4 Years Later

Today is my 28th birthday, and I couldn’t decide whether to write something touching and meaningful, do some kind of list of things that I’ve learned over the years, or talk about how this project has evolved in that time. So I opted to do all three.

I started Exile Lifestyle about 4 years ago — April 19, 2009 — and if you look back at my earliest posts, they’re pretty rough. My voice hadn’t really developed and I spent a lot of time those first months trying to figure out where my sweet spot was — what I could write about that would set me apart, and which other people would care to read.

I was also trying to figure out what role this blog would play in my life. I knew I was about to undergo some drastic changes, and was just coming back from a very important trip, during which my wonderful ex and I decided to throw a breakup party 4 months in the future, completely upending our lives and hopefully finding paths that were a better fit for each of us. It wasn’t an easy moment, but it was pregnant with possibility, and as a result it was easier to ignore the difficulties than it would have been otherwise. As I dove deeper into the blogging scene, the friends that I made there, and the things they were talking about, made looking past the discomfort of the present toward the bright lights of the future a million times easier. I’m incredibly grateful for that.

I’m also grateful for all the people I’ve met since those early days — the people who send me emails to say thanks or just to introduce themselves. Those who engage in discussion on my Facebook page, respond to the stuff I post on Twitter, or pick up copies of the books I write. The folks I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in person along the way, whether in coffee shops, at book tour stops, out on the town for a beer, or because they’ve invited me into their homes (or welcomed me to their country). It’s difficult to express how much impact you’ve all had on my life, and just how positive that impact has been. Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

The result of all the experiences I’ve had, places I’ve visited, and people I’ve met in the past 28 years — the last 4 especially — is that I’m a little less ignorant of the world around me and ever more aware of just how much I still have left to learn. The resulting ‘enlightened humility’ is something that allows me to continue to grow, despite a burgeoning confidence that stems from all the failures and successes I’ve been fortunate enough to have. Looking at the world and realizing just how small I am — but also knowing that it’s within my power to grow by increasing my knowledge, having a positive impact on others, and producing value when possible — is an incredible feeling, and a significant part of why each day seems better than the last.

It’s also been heartening to learn that we’re all essentially the same no matter where you go. We may have different backgrounds — different genetic traits and experiences that shape our personalities and the specifics of our desires — but we’re all human, and with extremely few exceptions, we’re all damn good people, when we have the opportunity to be. This should not be overlooked or overshadowed by all the tiny little details that don’t sync up, but which we unfortunately tend to focus on over the core structures we all share.

I could ramble on about this for a long time, so I’m going to stop there and simply say this: I’ve been fortunate to have a very good life. I’ve got a great family, amazing friends, thoughtful readers, and I’m able to do the work I love while surrounding myself with the people I want to have around, both physically and electronically.

Thank you so much for the role you’ve played in that happiness.


Social Contracts

As I walk along the sidewalk, I can afford to daydream.

I’m able to do this partially because of laws that say cars can’t drive on sidewalks, but also because we — as citizens of countries with governments that have traditions and folkways — have common goals that are best achieved by doing what we can to avoid harming each other.

This social contract is never officially signed, but it’s very real. Every time we stop at a red light or stand in a queue — despite there being no law-enforment official there to lock us up if we don’t — we’re adhering to mutually beneficial standards of operation. If I do X, other people will also do X, and Y (the consequences of not doing X) will not be something we have to worry about.

In the above example, I can walk down a sidewalk because everyone in this country has agreed that we won’t drive our cars on them. By restricting our actions in one sense, we free ourselves in another. Such is the nature of good laws and good social contracts.

Unfortunately, there are circumstances where these contracts subtract more than they add to our lives, or subtract freedoms for one portion of the population so that another portion will gain. Those who prefer to drive on sidewalks obviously lose out in the above example, and those who enjoy hunting suffer when national parks are made off-limits for sport. In the tradeoff, though, pedestrians gain and so do the animals who might otherwise be shot and eaten.

None of us sign a contract that brings us into the cultural and governmental fold. None of us are given the option to support some laws and not others, because doing so would reduce the positive consequences of those laws — of those social contracts we have with each other. Like religion or accents, we tend to pick them up at a young age, before we know the difference and that there are, in fact, other ways of worshipping or speaking or organizing society.

It’s interesting to see at what point different people will stand up and declare that something is fishy in government. That something being done is not right, and that they intend to break the law as an act of protest, or to enjoy a freedom that was taken away.

We love protesting in the US, and though a raised voice may not accomplish anything, the act itself seems to be quite therapeutic for those involved. Elsewhere, protests are less common, but more effective — when it happens, it’s serious, as those involved stand to lose a great deal for their disruption of the status quo.

There are a lot of decisions made by politicians and the lobbyists who pull their strings that I don’t agree with, but in most cases it’s still worth my effort to adhere to those rules when possible. Not because I believe in them, but because taking a stand on every little thing reduces the impact of my words. If I were to raise a rallying cry over every travesty the government commits, not only would I shout myself hoarse, but the people who listened to me initially would soon tire of my voice.

Much better — I feel — to save my shouts for core issues vital to my long-term happiness. I have a policy to obey the law most of the time. Doing so allows me to continue walking down the sidewalk, daydreaming, while also allowing me to save my voice for when it’s most desperately needed.