Archives

Tea Fuels My Writing…

And My Writing Fuels My Tea

Pretty nifty, the way that works out, wouldn’t you say?

As usual, I was out of bed by 8 this morning, and my first cup of tea was brewing by 8:10, and gone by 8:20, as I breezed through the morning news and weather.

No change in either: we’re still gonna get another 14 to 20 inches, and Trump is still the worst president in history.

But as Arlo said in Alice’s Restaurant, “That’s not what I come to talk to you about.”*

I’ve come once again to speak of the wonders of tea. The aches and pains of growing old. Childhood memories. Grandchildren. Everything that falls under the heading of “SSDD.”**

My writing is a reflection of my life in this regard: I rarely know what I’m doing when I begin each day, and I rarely know what I’m going to write when I fire up my writing tool.

A friend told me yesterday, “You know that part of your brain that says ‘better think about this before you blurt it out’? Yeah. I was born without that part.”

To which I replied, “I know what you mean; I like to be just as surprised as everybody else by what comes out of my mouth.”

And I’m pretty sure that explains why I’ll never be famous for writing The Great American Novel.™

I wonder: is it possible to age out of one genre and into another? Have I lost the spark or desire or whatever impetus pushes writers to write fiction? Am I condemned to writing memoirs and op-eds for the rest of my life?

When I was in elementary school back in the ‘50s, I was “fidgety,” “disruptive,” “smart, but doesn’t apply herself.” (The same was true in college, which is probably why I never graduated.)

What in the ‘50s was a character defect is now recognized as ADHD, or as mine has settled into, ADD. It’s the same thing, but without the hyperactivity.

Like so many other things from my childhood, what was once a problem or a hindrance has matured into an asset: my mind makes connections instantly, where other people have to ponder for a while.

But honesty compels me to admit that ADD can be a pain in the ass, too: sometimes ideas come so fast that they’re gone before I can write them down.

It makes me a lousy editor of my own works; there have been far too many times when I’ve sat down to edit a first draft only to look at it from another angle and end up rewriting it into something other than what it was originally.

This story is an excellent example. I started with the intention of how my consumption of tea and my writing are connected, but after 3 or 4 rewrites it bears no resemblance to the original.

Except for the graphic at the top of the page, nothing remains of the original.

But isn’t that a perfect example of what William Faulkner said?

In this case, the character took so many twists and turns along the road that I was barely able to follow him, much less catch up to him.

But then again, isn’t that what writing’s all about? Getting out of the way and letting the story tell itself?


*Hear it on YouTube
**Same Shit, Different Day

I Owe This Morning’s Tea to George Orwell

Not Prophecy So Much as Observation

kira-auf-der-heide-475768-unsplash2
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

73 years ago, George Orwell wrote:

“All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.”

Today I realized how true that is.

My tea cup of choice is a tall, 12-ounce cup from Starbucks. For the past 2 years, I’ve been brewing my tea with either 2 tea bags (PG Tips) or 2 teaspoons of loose tea leaves.

Such was my first cup this morning.

But it wasn’t so satisfying as it was yesterday morning. It didn’t seem strong enough for some reason. Two teaspoons of leaves didn’t quite satisfy me.

Each type of tea has an optimal steeping time, depending on its type and the drinker’s preference. For me, with my strong black Assam tea, it’s 4 and a half minutes.

For a stronger brew, one adds more tea, rather than increasing the steeping time, which only makes the tea more bitter.

For my second cup, I used 3 teaspoons of leaves. The result? Too strong. Finally, the third cup, with 2–1/2 teaspoons of leaves, was perfect.

George was right.

Now my only problem is trying to figure out how to brew a cup of tea with 2–1/2 tea bags. A hopeless task? Perhaps.

But as Arthur Wing Pinero so wisely said, “Where’s there’s tea, there’s hope.”

Please. Just Don’t Even.

tea quote

For me, there’s no worse way to start my day than coming downstairs and finding the kitchen full of people who all want to talk to me. Out-of-town visitors. Local friends. Complete strangers to me. My roommate knows better.

I’m not a “morning person.” It usually takes means a good 30 minutes to wake up enough to even begin to be sociable.

And a crucial part of my morning routine involves a tea ritual: I empty the tea kettle, fill it with fresh cold water, and put it on the stove to boil. While it heats up, I carefully measure out 2 teaspoons of my choice for the day: either a strong black Assam tea or a spiced version of the same blend. I always use whole-leaf tea.

I add the tea to the pot and wait for the kettle to boil. While waiting, I look out the kitchen window to see how the garden is doing. This week, the lilies are in bloom. In the evening, as the temperature falls, their aroma wafting through the house can be intoxicating.

Finally, the kettle comes to a boil. I pour the water over the tea leaves, set the timer, and wait patiently for the water to work its magic on the leaves.

This morning it’s Cardamom Spiced Assam. It’s a lovely blend from India. In fact, it evokes such memories of other times, other places, that I can almost hear Ravi Shankar performing a morning raga is the leaves steep.

Finally, the tea is ready. It’s a deep brown liqueur, hinting at hidden delights. I pour my cup and add a bit of sweetener and a splash of milk. I still haven’t managed to replicate the tea served by my favorite Indian restaurant, but it’s close. It, too, is intoxicating.

“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.” ― C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

I close my eyes, raise the cup to my lips, and let the first sip perform its magic.

Now  I am awake. Now I am human. Now  you may speak.

90° F. Is Just Too Hot!

We’ve been experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures here in Rochester, and while you folks in the Southwestern USA might scoff and welcome such temperatures as a welcome break from even warmer days, 90° is just too hot for this transplanted Alaskan. Even though it’s been almost 30 years, my blood still hasn’t thinned enough to handle the heat.

Which is why I haven’t been writing lately: who wants to even boil a pot of water, much less drink it, in this heat?

Not that I’ve completely stopped drinking tea; on the contrary, I’m going through record amounts of iced tea-flavored juice mixes.

But when I woke up this morning and came downstairs to discover that the temperature was still under 80°, I knew it was my chance! 10 minutes later and I was enjoying a nice cup of hot Earl Grey. Of course I had to make a second cup.

Sadly, by the time it was done, it was already 84°, which made it too hot to drink hot tea. But no worries: it’s sitting in the fridge awaiting until the next time I want a cup of iced tea. And with the temperature expected to once again reach into the 90s, that won’t be too awfully long a wait.

What About You?

Do you have any special ways of coping with the heat? There was a time in my life when I did live in a warmer part of the country. San Antonio, Texas, to be exact. And while I didn’t much like living in Texas, San Antonio still remains one of my top choices of cities I wouldn’t mind living in.

I discovered that some of the houses—the ones that had been there since the city’s earliest days—all had flat roofs, with exterior walls that reached some three feet or so above the roofline. I learned that they were designed this way so that whenever it rained, the rainwater would be trapped and collected on the roof. Later, as the temperature rose, the water would slowly evaporate, sucking heat from the houses and making them bearable. In essence, the entire house became a swamp cooler.

How Hot is Hot? Perspectives on Heat

When my father lived in south Texas (McAllen is just a couple of miles from the US-Mexico border), he told me the story of when he had visited one of his parishioners in her nursing home. She explained to him that she preferred living there because she couldn’t stand any of her relatives.

It was her 100th birthday. She had been born and raised in McAllen, and never ventured more than 20 miles from that city.

You have to understand McAllen’s climate to truly appreciate what I’m going to tell you. My father would leave his air-conditioned house in the morning, drive his air-conditioned car to his air-conditioned office…and then come home at lunch to change his shirt. The heat and humidity were that bad a combination.

Anyway, he and his parishioner—let’s call her Mrs. Johnson—were discussing what it had been like growing up and living in McAllen for so many years. My father told me that when he asked her, “Mrs. Johnson, how did you manage to live with such heat and humidity before you had air conditioning?”

To which that wise old woman replied, “Why Pastor, before we had air conditioning, we didn’t know we was hot!”

And that, dear reader, is perspective.

Until next time!

Productivity

For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is the first sip of the first cup of tea of the day. I’ll even go so far as to admit that some days, just the anticipation of that rare and precious moment is itself the motivation I need to get out of bed.

I’m a writer. At least that’s what I tell myself when I can’t think of anything to write. When I do write, it’s frequently over a cup of tea. Kalami Assam is my current favorite. I buy it at my local Indian foods store in a one-pound box. Whole leaf, of course. I brew it strong, in memory of my grandmother, Nana, who claimed that a proper cup of tea should be strong enough “that a wee little mousie might trot across the top.”

And I brew it strongly enough that on those days when I add a dash of tea Masala spice blend, the tea is still the predominant flavor.

I will confess that were I a religious woman, tea would be my sacrament, my eucharist, if you will. The blood of the camilla sinensis plant.

Tea is my inspiration. My half-full cup sits next to me cooling as I write this. I had nothing to write until I began drinking this morning’s cup. That was the impetus behind this post. Without that oh-so-precious first taste, I would have had nothing to say. But one sip was all it took to get the words flowing.

Yes, I’m a writer, but not without my tea!