The Laziest Rebel

It’s not really supposed to work like this.

I mean, when you fail to post on a blog for two years, I’m pretty sure what you’re required to do by some unspoken agreement is pretend the abandoned blog has never actually existed, go create a new one, and proceed to announce the existence of the new one with ever-so-slightly abashed fanfare.  I, however, am far too lazy to create a whole new blog that will probably not really be all that different.  There’s not even any real guarantee that I’ll not abandon this one within a few days; months if I’m lucky.

And, if one is going to return to a blog one hasn’t been posting to in some time, there’s supposed to be an apologetic ‘Wha’ had happen was,’ type paragraph.  I rarely find those very interesting, so I won’t subject you to it.  Also, I am lazy, and not in the mood for self-flagellation of that, or any, variety.

So.  Recapping Thanksgiving.  Let’s talk about food.  Sort of.

Thanksgiving is kind of a weird holiday for me.  It’s too late for a last-harvest feast, and too early for a midwinter feast, both of which, on their own, would evoke a sort of sympathetic magic “much food=much plenty for the year” sort of thing.  It’s gained a sort of “Intensive Family Holiday” sheen, but for me it’s capped on both sides by family death remembrances.  Add to this the fact that I tend not to much care for the “traditional” dishes, and I end up being mostly pretty ambivalent about the whole thing.

But, ambivalence or no, I get two days off for it.  That, and a heaping helping of tacit cultural expectation.

We all know the expectations surrounding Thanksgiving: one is expected to spend it with one’s family, the more dysfunctional the better, or with chosen family if your family is too dysfunctional for that sort of thing.  Usually some number among the group (usually men) will watch football, while some number among the group (usually women) will cook, and some other number among the group (children/pets) will be underfoot.  And there will be absolute MOUNTAINS of food.

Most of these expectations are relatively mutable, except for that last.  If there are not MOUNTAINS of food, you have failed at Thanksgiving.

To which I say: Fuck. That. Noise.

For Thanksgiving day, which was just Mr. The Jeff, myself, and Dragon Age, I made a duck, a package of wild rice, enough salad for two people, and a pie plate of apple crisp.  That’s IT.  Extravagant – we wouldn’t normally have duck – but modest.  He is not really “leftover people,” and I am only marginally so.  I have a little bit of leftovers for lunch this week, a good amount of duck fat, and a carcass to make stock from.

Friday, which has become “Momsgiving,” wherein we eat Thanksgiving dinner with my mom and pretend we’re going to put Christmas decorations up for her but never really get around to it, was also an extravagantly modest affair.  I destroyed her kitchen in pursuit of cooking acorn squash, roasted mushrooms, a bitter spiced salad, and the worlds most expensive roast beef.  We joked that for what the roast cost, we should be able to prep it and then just show it the flame, and it should perfectly cook itself.  The process was a little more involved than that, but it did turn out well.  Mom made a pumpkin cheesecake.  A little bit of leftovers, easily divvied up, and that was it.

And that’s enough.  Which is really, to me, what Thanksgiving should be about.  Having enough.  Not being weighted down with blessings that we need to be thankful for – there is a point at which plenty begins to require a gratitude which ceases to bring us joy because it becomes an unceasing obligation.  “Yet another thing to be thankful for, can we please be done now? No?  Damn.”

Don’t get me wrong – gratitude is good.  About three, four times a year we get another study or demonstration of the fact that expressing gratitude makes people happier in themselves.  But sometimes, it’s too much.  There are times when it becomes an obligation to be grateful for things over which we feel we didn’t really need, didn’t ask for, and sometimes didn’t even want.  There are times, for certain people, when it feels like an obligation to be happy, to be happier than we are, or are perceived to be.  I get a little tired of that, personally.

We all had enough, and that’s what we hope for, through the darkness of the winter, enough.  We don’t need mountains of food, mountains of blessings.  We don’t need to outdo each other with how involved our cooking duties will be, with how much food we’ll need to prepare for how many people.  We don’t need to compete to prove that we are most blessed, and therefore more loved, by family or god or the universe or whoever.  Just enough.  There are millions of people for whom “enough” is an aspiration, not a reality.  Maybe we shouldn’t get quite so carried away with how much more we have than they do.

While Waiting

I am in waiting limbo, and I do not like it, Sam-I-Am.

I have deemed it unlikely that I will hear back from UofM about the most recent interview, which makes me sad, but I have waited, and now I would like tobe done with waiting.  So, another round of applying and job-hunting, because the rats-on-a-sinking-ship phenomenon has worked it’s way through the ‘meh’ people, and is starting in on the people I-really-like-and-who-make-coming-to-work-bearable.  To that end, I have joined LinkedIn.  I’ve even joined groups.  Sadly, I apparently missed a presentation at WCC called “The Reluctant Networker,’ which might have been helpful.  At least I could say that I went to a presentation named after me.

I have not yet heard from Wayne State, and while it is likely, though not entirely certain, that I will be accepted, I am waiting.  My official GRE scores were 166 Verbal, 158 Quantitative, and 5 written.  (For those who want to know, that’s 96th percentile, 74th, and 94th? maybe 92nd, can’t remember, respectively.)  The only thing that isn’t appearing on my app status page is my OCC transcript, which should have been sent ages ago, and I really don’t want to have to track it down.  I’m sort of hoping they decide it’s not vital pre-admission-decision but, theoretically, they will let me know.

Money is still stupid.  I am inching closer to balance, but it is a tricksy beast.  Hence why I would like UofM to quit lollygaging and hire me now, please.  I learned recently that compared to industry averages for my position, I am very nearly criminally underpaid.  Which I knew, kind of, but it’s nice to have back up.  The fact that I am doing the industry a disservice, however, makes me a little testy about it.  I really need to get better at negotiating for my own value.

Work is.  I am trying to work on new approaches and such, but the frustration is such that it’s hard to gain traction on project delineation, let alone execution.  I still have no VP, which on the one hand means little oversight, but on the other means little to no opportunity to define new working parameters or methods.  My Director has been agitating for me to receive training on our database, but I am reluctant to incur the cost given my intent to leave, especially since the database we use is not super-prevalent.  Instead I am going to work on my SQL skills, I think.  I have the book, now I just need to do the work.  Small things, you know.

I am unsurprised, though no less miffed, by the arrival of Cold.  My attempts to ignore it do not appear to be discouraging it any.  I may have to give in and start wearing at the very least my fleece, and definitely gloves.  Maybe see if I still have some toe-sock-fingerless-gloves I can wear at work.  Especially since I have the dog with me 3-4 days a week.  It’s gotten so even walking at lunchtime is a glove-requiring activity.

 

This Is Why I Don’t Read The News

So, I was doing some work-related research yesterday afternoon, and came across this in an I-couldn’t-really-avoid-it kind of way. I’m only linking out of courtesy, because I think this is the worst kind of reporting: the kind that encourages people to think of this as a legitimate thing to argue about. It was published on the Detroit Free Press’s local news, under Oakland County news. Now, there have been articles posted since that I haven’t read, and don’t intend to. This is written in reaction to a single article, mostly to process what it was about the article that made me so incredibly angry.

The gist of the story is that an older student at Oakland University, in a “critical writing” class, used an open ended diary style prompt to write about his sexual fantasies about the professor teaching the class. The school suspended him, for two semesters, citing sexual harassment. Now this individual wants to sue the school, on the grounds that the professor didn’t specify such a limitation, and he was within his rights as a student to write about this, and turn it in to the teacher.

I’ve italicized the last bit, because that’s what makes all the difference. Given an open-ended assignment, I can write about whatever I want. I can write all the sexually explicit material I want to. But what I need to keep in mind is that at some point, in a writing class, someone else is going to be reading it. That makes some topics dicier. If I want to write about extreme violence in a general, non-specific way, fine. If I write about performing or enjoying extreme violence as perpetrated on a specific person, it becomes problematic, particularly in a class setting. Taking it one step further, writing about performing gross acts of violence against the specific person currently reading the piece is, by most rational and reasonable people, considered inappropriate. You would at least change the names and identifying factors, no?

But of course, this guy wasn’t threatening violence, he was just talking about sex, right? Even if the scenarios he proposed were not quite equal or of dubious consent, it’s just sex. Surely sex and violence are different things? Well… No. Merriam-Webster defines violence thusly: 1: a: exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse (as in warfare effecting illegal entry into a house) b: an instance of violent treatment or procedure. 2: injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation. Ignoring for a moment the problems inherent in dictionary definitions*, sex without consent can fall quite easily under definitions 1B and 2.

Let me say that again: sex without consent is violence.

And let’s not be unclear here, this student did not have consent. His entire case is likely hinged on the fact that he believes he did. He asked if there was any topical restriction, and the professor said no. The news story does not specify whether he asked if sexual themes were off limits, but I’m going to assume the answer is no, because that is an awfully relevant fact to leave out. This, however, is not consent. Explicit acts require, by their very nature, explicit consent.

Let me enlarge the picture a little to explain that statement. Let’s say I am a middle manager in a reasonably large sized company. One of my employees comes to me and asks what plans I have for the weekend. It’s a harmless, small talk sort of question, and I answer truthfully: nothing much, I’m open to suggestions. Would it then be considered reasonable for that employee to show up on my doorstep, naked? Backing off a tad, would it then be appropriate for that employee to suggest, in graphic detail, what he would like for me to be doing that weekend? It doesn’t even have to be sexual fantasy for the answer to that question to be no. Not appropriate.

So it’s just as inappropriate for a student to submit to a teacher graphic descriptions of acts that they have fantasized performing on that teacher, or having the teacher perform on them. In essence, this student was submitting graphic descriptions of the ways he wanted to do violence to the professor, in specific. He didn’t bother to change details about the object of his attention, or frame it in a non-confrontational way. He wrote explicit fantasies, and turned them in unedited for her to read. If he’d saved it for his friends, it’s still inappropriate, but the dynamic changes, it becomes less threatening. If he described the same acts, and suggested performing them with someone else, still not entirely appropriate, but forgivable, particularly within the confines of creative writing, though not necessarily Critical Writing, what the class dealt with**. But confronting the specific person with what you want to do to them is not only not the least little bit appropriate, it’s downright aggressive and threatening.

This brings us to the problem of power dynamics, particularly in the case of making threats. When an individual or group that is not considered powerful makes a threat against a more powerful entity, it is rarely taken as presenting a serious danger. For instance, a small child threatening to hit a parent – the threat is serious, and needs to be dealt with, but actual bodily harm is unlikely, even if the child follows through. However, threats from individuals or groups that are powerful enough to do real damage – say, a teenage child to the parent – are a different matter. Even if they are not, in and of themselves, more powerful than those they threaten, the threat is perceived as real, and often frightening.

But he’s the student, right? He’s the one in the subordinate position, she in the dominant one. Which is true, at least partially. She is in a position of power, in a limited sense, i.e., within the classroom, or during the semester. However, gender dynamics being what they are, he is in a position of power in an unlimited sense. That is, men***-as-exemplars-of-their-group are considered to be in a position of greater power than women-as-etc. at all times and in all places. (If you disagree, then may I respectfully suggest that you reference any one of the numerous stories about the panel testifying about birth-control being made up entirely of men. That is a precise example of what I am talking about.)

Bringing this into context, a female student writing such things to a male professor would probably not be considered threatening – women are not seen as inherently threatening when it comes to sex, and are in a position of unlimited inferiority. This is not to say that some women aren’t sexually threatening, no doubt every person I know can come up with someone they know who is, but the power dynamic here is, simplistically, from a position of limited power to one of greater power. If the male professor was offended, and the female student suspended, the chances of it making news are slim, except perhaps as a mode of questioning the professor’s masculinity. In this case, however, the power roles were reversed. A man sexually harassed**** a woman, steps were taken that were within the rights of the institution, and now he would like to claim, in essence, that his right to sexually harass a woman, based on non-explicit consent, is being infringed unfairly.

He would like to claim that he has a right to do violence to a woman, full stop. Even if it is reframed in terms of defamation of character – i.e., that his character is impugned by the whole thing – the essential argument remains the same. His character can only be defamed if he was accused of something he was within his rights to do. He would like to claim that he had a right to free speech within the classroom. Which he may well have, though the more private the property, the less the right applies, but Oakland University need simply cite codes of conduct. If he violated school rules, the school can kick him out. End of story.

Now, I am, more or less, desensitized to this kind of behavior – even with a fantastic husband and wonderful friends, there are no end of strnagers who would like to remind me of what choose not to live with. What gets to me is not that this person thinks he has a right to do violence to any woman. It’s not event hat he can find a lawyer to defend his right to do violence to a woman. It’s that a journalist wrote about it, without a single quote from the woman in question or attempt to frame the situation from her perspective or the college’s, in terms that imply that the man has legal standing to sue. Not only that, a newspaper published it, featuring it on the local news web page in such a way as to imply that it was newsworthy.

Say what you will about the trustworthiness of journalists and newspapers, but there is an implicit stamp of approval placed on a story when it is published. Above and beyond factuality or whether views expressed are those of the newspaper, the newspaper is saying that the story is worthy of its readers attention.

It’s not. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. The fact that the paper thinks it is just becomes a sad little commentary on how far we have to go before we’ll actually live in the post-patriarchy.

* Primarily problems of circularity or questionable sourcing, but that is, in itself, and entirely different argument.

** I cannot find a description of the actual class, but Critical Writing is usually writing that deals with the reading, interpretation, and critique of some kind of literature.

*** In general, not in specific. Not all men are in this position, but most are. An argument of exceptions to the rule holds no water, you must unilaterally disprove the rule.

**** Sexual harassment, as legally defined (v. weakly, for the record) in the U.S. is any discrimination in workplace practices that singles a group or individual out based primarily on their gender. Some workplaces have chosen to expand the definition to include harassing behaviors of a sexual nature, or harassing behaviors that exclude one gender in its entirety for some reason or another. My guess is that this case was handled under the latter type of regulations, as it was the school that handled it. For the purposes of this already overlong essay, we are going to accept the qualification of this behavior as sexual harassment, and move on.

Wha’ Ha’ Happ’nd Was…

So, I had every intention of posting yesterday.  I may even have had something planned out to say, though it hardly counts now because I have no recollection of what it might have been.  People like to say forgetting things is an ‘as-you-get-older’ thing.  I refuse to use this excuse, because that would mean admitting I amolder than everybody thinks I am.  So I claim ADD, and the fact that I drove a million miles yesterday.

Okay, maybe not actually a million.  More like ::consults google maps:: 122 miles.

My brother is a long distance truck driver.  I have no idea how he has any memories whatsoever.  Driving is a rather… hypnotic activity, for me, especially when I am driving by myself.  I get into a (I hate to use this turn of phrase, I really do, please don’t think less of me) “zone” almost immediately, which lasts until I’m about 10 steps away from the car.  Which is my explanation for forgetting to get gas when I’m by myself.  If I don’t get into the car with the express task of getting gas, I am highly unlikely to remember to do it.  It’s also why, were you to employ Stalkermouse McSneakersons to observe me, you would find hen doubled over with laughter underneath hir camouflaging bush, after having repeatedly watched me get ten steps away from the car, stop suddenly, look around in confusion, and then head in a completely different direction.

So, now that you are tired of reading my rambling about my shortcomings (at least, I hope you are, because I am…) I am going to pretend you are asking why, on a perfectly innocent Wednesday, I spent quite so much time driving around, apparently aimlessly.

Well.  We (and here I am referring to the business-corporate we, rather than the royal or romantic we,) had an advisory board meeting scheduled for yesterday, in the middle of the day, out in Birmingham on Old Woodward.  In an effort to spend LESS time driving, I thought I’d start my day at the Farmington Hills office (Grand River and Farmington Road, if you want to play at home,) go to the meeting, got back to the FH office, and then go to a non-work meeting in Dearborn.

Unfortunately, I and my boss both assumed that because there are newly-hired employees for the FH office that there would be employees AT the FH office.  Not, as they say, so.  So when I got there, I had no way to get in.  I called my boss, and offered to go to Corporate, in Detroit (at Greenfield and Outer Drive, for those keeping score,) and work from there until the meeting.  She asked me to get some files, but said I didn’t have to, as the marketing team was having a meeting in Farmington beginning at 10.

And then, my friends, I went insane. 

I offered – offered!  willingly! – to drive to corporate, get the files, then go to the Birmingham meeting, then go back to Farmington and work until the end of the day, so I would be able to do less driving when it came time to go to Dearborn.  Which is almost what I did.

Except!  There was a pile of returned mail that needed to get back to the marketing people!  I would take it to them before going to the B’ham meeting, conveniently forgetting the fact that it put me just as far away from B’ham on the OTHER side of Telegraph.

I blame car amnesia for this little bit of brilliance.

So this is what I did:  Ann Arbor to Farmington to Detroit to Farmington to Birmingham to Farmington to Dearborn to Ann Arbor.  122 miles.  Where I found time to get any work done is a complete mystery to me.

The Dearborn meeting was a “Graduates of the Last Decade” meeting at UM-Dearborn, which was pretty interesting really.  A group that I’ m likely to make an effort to be active with, at any rate.  They seem to be reasonably nomal human beings, not the rather irritating brand of super-competent, hyper-successful folk I usually associate with alumni initiatives.

Which makes me think I should make another stab at the Waldorf alumni group in the new year.  Alumni groups for normal people!  What a concept…

Letters Unsent – Part I

Came across this on tumblr, and since it’s only 7, there’s a slightly better than zero chance that I might actually finish it.   It’s to write seven letters, one each to: an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, current/future child, crush/current significant other, mother, tumblr, father, future self (one year from now.)

In an uncharacteristic turn of events, I am actually going to attempt to write this straight.  That said, no promises, right?

*     *     *     *     *

Dear James

I still don’t know if you’re even alive or not.  How fucked up is that?  You’ve such a common name, and were so far off the grid to begin with, that I’ve never really been able to figure it out.  I don’t know if that’s what you wanted or not, but that’s the way it is.

I wish I could tell you I’m sorry.  I know you felt like I led you on, and lied to you, and twisted your life around on you.  I don’t believe that I did, really, but I know you felt that way, and I’m sorry for that.  I wish I could have been more honest with myself, so I could be clearer with you.

It was always frustrating to me that you seemed to be most committed when I was farthest away.  Maybe it was just bad timing, but maybe it was just something about you, and you with me.  When I was happiest, you would decide you needed to be away.  When I finally decided to walk away, the first time,   and moved back to Michigan, you were suddenly so committed to me it was frightening.

But we did “the long distance thing,” for almost a year.  I realized, the closer it got to you moving to Michigan, that I didn’t want that anymore.  Not that I didn’t want you, anymore, because we were always good, but that I didn’t want ‘us’ anymore.  So we broke up, and you were hurt, and angry.  I was, too, but I knew where it came from.  You didn’t, really, and I always felt bad about that.

Time passed, and we talked again.  I don’t remember why, really, if you called me or vice versa.   But we started talking.  I went to San Diego for a weekend, and it was good.  And then, when I came back…  everything fell apart.  I never got to talk to you again.  You simply… disappeared.  When I tried to get information from your roommates, they were cruel.  They said it was on your behalf.  Maybe it was.  I don’t know.  You had a cruel streak, I know, but I never really thought of you as the kind of person to hide behind others.  But maybe that was all part of it, part of the revenge. 

I want to know why things went down the way they did.  What your intention was, why it played out the way it did.  Did you just freak out and walk away?  Did you do what you did in an attempt to deliberately hurt me?  Did your spiteful roommates make everything up?  Are you even still alive to tell me one way or another?

I’ve learned though, the hard way, that no matter how ready I am for closure, I can’t expect anyone else to be on the same page with me for that.  I’ve learned… not to “be okay” with it, but to live with it, anyway.  That’s the hardest thing I think I learned from ‘us.’  To live with not knowing.  I still don’t like doing it, but at least now I know I can.

There’s so much I don’t remember, and so much that I do.  I’ve forgotten how your skin shaded from one color to the next, but I remember how your skin felt, the way your hair coiled so tightly.  I’ve forgotten how to make you laugh, but I remember the way it sounded when you did, when you really laughed.    I don’t remember what color your eyes were, but I remember how they would crinkle at the edges, the unguarded way you would smile.  I can’t remember where you worked, but I remember the way your body moved on a bike, how little body fat you had.  I don’t remember your facial hair, but I remember your tattoos.

I don’t mountain bike, anymore.  Not that it has to do with you, really.  It does a little, I think, but more it has to do with opportunity, and living in Michigan.  I still have the Nishiki, though.  It could use a tune-up.  When I do bike, I always wear a helmet.  I still remember how to make bruschetta, too, though I rarely do.  I still don’t much like early Metallica, but I think my taste in music has gotten more interesting, if not better.  I’ve tried marijuana, now.  Mostly it just makes me sleepy, so I don’t bother.  I don’t have any new tattoos, but I probably will in the next year.  I have a monroe, now, but that’s the only new piercing.  Oh, and I’ve stretched my ears – I’m up to a 6 gauge, now, and I plan to go up to a 4, or maybe a 2.

I’m married, now.  He’s good, and he pushes me to be better.  There are some ways you’re a lot alike – he’s as tall as you, and wiry – but so many more that you’re not.   I don’t know if you’d like each other.  Probably – you’re both good at talking to people, and don’t have a much patience for pretense.  He’s better at hiding his impatience, but I think you would appreciate each other’s genuine-ness.

I hope you are still alive.  If you are, I hope that you’ve found something of what you were looking for.  Happiness, or challenge, or belonging.  Whatever it is your heart needs most.  If you’re still angry with me, I hope that anger pushes you to be a better person, somehow.  If it doesn’t, I hope you’ll let it go.  If you’ve found someone, I hope they like you for who you are, and that they respect you at least as much as I did.  I hope, for your sake, that they’re better at self-knowing than I ever was.

If we ever meet again, I hope we can talk to each other.  It’s okay if we can’t, and I expect it would be pretty awkward, but still.  I hope we can.

I know there are probably ways that I could find you, find out what happened to you.  But I feel like this is the way you wanted it to be, this is the boundary you drew.  I think it’s not for me to invade that boundary.  Maybe that’s silly and confrontation-avoidant of me.  I don’t know.

There’s a lot I don’t know.  Maybe that’s what you really taught me. All the closest ways there are for me to not know.  I’m not sure whether I can thank you for that or not, but maybe I should.  Maybe, someday, I will.

Halfway between whining and ranting, with a dollop of rambling

So, there’s this chiropractor’s office on the way to school that someone gave a lettered sign to. I’m not really sure what the prope name for them is, those signs with three or four lines that you slide the letters into.  Marquee signs, maybe?  Anyway, not entirely relevant, really.

A few weeks ago, they had the following saying up: “Worry is interest paid on a debt you don’t owe.”  Or something very similar.  I’m not sure, because every time I saw it I started getting too irritated to think straight.

I don’t mind platitudes, aphorisms, sayings, whatever.  I find them useful from time to time.  Even the ones found in the chiropractic propaganda publications (likely found in every chiropractor’s office; if you’ve seen them, you know what I mean.)  I cut one out from one of those publications a zillion years ago and kept it for a very long time: “Some people grin and bear it, others smile and change it.”  I like this saying.  It avers to proactivity in a relatively non-normative and non-dismissive manner.  Good saying.

Another one, of my own: “It never stops needing to be done.”  Non-normative, non-dismissive, just a reminder that even when the last thing I want to do is X, of it needs to be done, it *needs* to be done.  No way around it.  Want is want, and comes and goes, but necessary tasks don’t go away.  You do them now, or you do them later, but there is no not doing them.  Some people find it a little too negative, and that’s okay.  It’s my saying, and I’m not getting one of those signs anytime soon.

Point being, it’s possible for sayings to say everything they need to without getting into that problematic little area of nuance.  Which never seems to fit on those signs.

What I don’t like are sayings that are patently false, normative, demeaning, and in this case, simplifications ad absurdum.   Worry is often non-fruitful, it’s true.  But this saying diminishes the concept of worry by being dismissive of a singular facet of worry.  A husband worrying over his wife in surgery is understandable, and the emotion must be given its due.  Dismissing the emotion is demeaning.  If I worry about being able to pay my bills, then I probably need to worry about it; worry keeps the matter fresh in my mind, so I can look for ways to assuage my worries, either by confirmation of my capacity or creation of said capacity.  Telling me not to worry is *counter-productive,* because without that stimulus, I may ignore my obligations.

Another one that I see from time to time that makes me want to stab my eyeballs is: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.”  Apart from the spurious attribution – it’s often credited to Albert Einstein, sometimes Mark Twain, but in reality has no identifiable source – if you have ever actually met a person suffering from any of the mental illnesses that are dismissed as insanity, you generally know that it’s a good day if they can summon the attentional intention to do the same thing even twice and recognize any result whatsoever.  In general, I refer to people who do the same thing expecting different results either scientists, or deluded optimists.  Occasionally, there is little distinction between the two.

Getting back to my point, I think sayings like these do more harm then good.  They spread a kind of disinformation that is insidious in its resistance to logic and rational acceptance of human qualities.   A good example of this is someone having said to me – I was a senior, and made some comment about being stressed because of upcoming finals, a musical opening, etc.  The person I was talking to said blithely “Oh, you’re too young for stress!”  That dismissal stuck with me, for a long long time.  I know better now, but it did its share of stress in the interim.

Maybe that’s why I’m so sensitive about these.  Who knows.  But this isn’t psychoanalysis, it’s ranting.  Right?

Now, I’m not knocking the signs themselves.  It’s what their owners choose to do with them.  There’s an Adventist church I pass every day that regulary has things like “Prayer?  We have an app for that.”  Of course, they’re also guilty of “When you can’t, God can” which I take exception to because the question is so much more nuanced than that.  Based on the standard conceptions, of course He can; it is the matter of His willingness to do so that has some serious theological meat on it. 

 I remember one church on the east side that had a pre-Easter sign that read “Not once in history has a rabbit ever died for our sins,” which I STILL find hilarious, if only because they obviously know nothing about the history of pregnancy tests – Aerosmith could help with that one.  Or maybe they do, and don’t think sex is a sin, in which case, maybe I should go hang out with *them.*

The Snarky Secretary Makes Coffee

There are a great many people in the world who do not need to know how to make coffee. Executives spring to mind, they have people for that. Buddhist monks, probably. Also: small children, surgeons, those with anxiety disorders and/or weak hearts, the exceedingly British, and the majority of the population of China.

However, if you are any flavor of secretary whatsoever, it will become necessary at some point. If you are ever the first secretarial type in the building and you don’t make coffee, even if you never drink it, people will consider you a less competent form of assistant. If you are the person whose job it is to make coffee, then you must know how to make it, again whether or not you drink it. I don’t particularly care if you’ve never let a drop of it past your lips, or hold coffee beans sacred to the worship of dancing goats; you need to know how to make coffee as a basic job survival skill. Trust me, when it comes down to you and that other employee with roughly equal skills and seniority, making good coffee will come up in the ‘which one do we fire’ conversation at some point. It may come up in jest, but secretly, every coffee drinker involved in making the decision will consider it the deciding factor, akin to religious belief in its immunity to any further logic and reason.

So, without further ado, your relatively brief lesson in making coffee:

Prep Work

1) Learn where it’s kept. This will take some advance reconnaissance, but there’s nothing worse for your image than a coffee-starved paycheck provider watching you needlessly prolong their caffeine-deprived state. Know where it is, where the extra is kept, and who to tell if you’re about to run out. Also know where the filters are kept, if your coffeemaker needs them. Which brings us to…

2) Know your coffee maker. A lot of places have hardline automatic drip coffee makers, these days, where you don’t actually have to add water. Smaller or older offices may have traditional automatic drip coffee makers. (For ease and relative brevity, I will assume you are using some sort of auto-drip model.)  If you have a particularly picky executive, you might need to know how to use a French press. Some offices have sprung for single-cup machines. Wikipedia can tell you more than you ever wanted to know about most of them.   Specifically, you’ll want to know:

  1. a. Does it use a filter? Not all auto-drip coffee makers do, anymore. Many have a permanent reusable filter. These get pretty gross, so if your machine uses them, wash it out before every use, preferably with a brush-type scrubber.
  2. b. Does it need the water added, or does it do it itself?
  3. c. If it’s a single cup machine, what is the minimum cup size, how big of a mug is too big to fit in the machine, and how many pods/discs/kcups will it take to fill your target’s cup?

Actual Brewing

3) Clean up the old mess first. Dump out the pot and rinse it well.  If you have the time, go over it with a soapy sponge and rinse very well.  If you have access to the supplies, don’t use soap, instead put water, a teaspoon of salt, lemon juice (optional) and ice cubes in and swirl it around until the pot is clean, then rinse once more. Dump out the old grounds, and rinse the basket well.

4) Put the RIGHT SIZE filter in, PROPERLY. Do you know what happens if the filter goes in, and doesn’t sit the way it’s meant? The filter folds over during brewing and grounds get into the pot. THIS IS DISGUSTING. You wouldn’t drink water with sand in it; no coffee drinker wants coffee with grounds in it. Don’t let it happen, if you can help it.

4.5) Before adding coffee, wet the filter down.  This is an optional step.  Connoisseurs say that this eliminates the “papery taste” added by the filter.  Sounds like annoying wedgie-in-their-superiority-pants fault-finding to me, since if you’re THAT much of a connoisseur, you should probably bring your own damn coffee instead of drinking the crappy free work stuff, but saying this haughtily to someone else might give you some added job satisfaction, so there you go.

5) Put coffee in the filter. ENOUGH COFFEE. Coffee pots are typically measured in 6 ounce “cups.” This means that a ten-pot coffee maker (the standard for most offices) makes 60 ounces of coffee, not 80. Arcane and a little confusing, yes, but now you know.

For each 6-oz cup, you need 2 level tablespoons of grounds. Yes, this seems like rather a lot. Make peace with it, please. If all you have for a measuring device is a teaspoon of some sort, you can fudge it to be 1 really heaping spoonful per 6 oz cup.

(Note: If you’re office is hoity enough to use whole bean coffee, you will need to grind it.  Before putting it in the filter, if you please.  Same measurements, just put it in the grinder and grind it to a rough sand consistency for French press, fine salt consistency for most others.)

Brewing coffee is, essentially, a balancing act between flavor (first extracted) and caffeine (last extracted.).  Now, let’s take a moment to consider high school chemistry and mathematics. You know all those annoying “You have a 50% solution and a 30% solution and want a 33.57432% solution…” problems? Do you know what you could NEVER make with a mixture of a 50% solution and a 30% solution? A 75% solution. You cannot make coffee stronger once it’s made without making it taste like the ass-end of engine sludge acquired in the La Brea tar pits. You CAN make it weaker with relatively minimal negative flavor impact.  Therefore, when making coffee, it is better to err on the side of maximal flavor/caffeine balance. If anyone who has no direct effect on your paycheck complains, politely suggest they add hot water. If your paycheck provider still complains, make weaker coffee. Principles only go so far, really.

5.5) Add a SMALL pinch of salt (no more than an 1/8th teaspoon for 10 cups.) This, again, is an optional step to make you look way cooler than you may actually be and give you a chance to assert superiority over those people who annoy you most.  Theoretically, this reduces bitter compounds in the final product.   Depending on your coffee consumers, you could additionally-or-instead add cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, cardamom, or vanilla extract to the grounds.  Just don’t do this if your paycheck provider is a coffee purist.  They get grumpy if the first pot of the day is something other than coffee-flavored coffee.

6) Put the filter and basket into the machine.  If your machine doesn’t do the water thing itself, fill the coffee pot to its neck-band with COLD water, and add it to the machine.  Adding warm or hot water doesn’t make it brew faster, since the drip rate is usually throttled and constant.  Cold water will brew optimally.  If you have access to filtered water, use that.  Most coffee makers call for it anyway.  Realistically, anything you can do to make crappy free office coffee taste even remotely better is probably a welcome improvement.

7) Make sure the pot is properly seated below the drip spout, then turn the machine on.  Wait for a moment to make sure that things are proceeding as they should.  There’s really nothing worse than walking away patting yourself on the back, only to find out later than you have to clean up a giant mess.  (It generally takes a minute or two for coffee to start making it into the pot, so don’t panic right away.)

Congratulations!  You have made coffee that doesn’t suck!

A few last notes:

  • If you do drink coffee, don’t be the person who drinks the last full cup and doesn’t make more coffee.  At the very least, tell the person in charge of making coffee that you took the last full cup, and let them decide whether time left in the day and local consumption levels call for another pot.  Also, turn the machine/burner OFF if you do this.  Cemented coffee tar at the bottom of the carafe makes you less likely to be invited for alcoholic drinks after work, because NO ONE will like you if they think you do this.
  • Whenever possible, avoid making partial pots of coffee.  (Hardline machines generally won’t even have a setting for this.)  This is because auto-drip machines have a very specific temperature cycle that is optimized for the amount of coffee they are built to make.  If, for whatever reason, you do need to make a partial pot, don’t make less than half the pot’s designated amount, and make sure that whoever will be drinking it either knows your normal standard of coffee quality well, or is deeply enamored of your other skills.  Partial pots never taste right.
  • If you are someone’s assistant, one of your first tasks should be learning how to make their coffee / tea / hot beverage of choice *for* them.  Cream, fake creamer, sugar, fake sugar, whatever; learn how they like it, even if you almost never have to do this.  It may involve a certain deployment of stalking skills at first, or they may tell you outright.  Either way, make it your business to know.  If you are not someone’s assistant, but WISH to be, this is even more important.  Knowing how to do this will make you instantaneously a more valuable employee in their eyes.  Ass-kissing? Yes.  Self-preservation?  Absolutely.