A follow-up post from the last dispatch on ‘Trusting the Process’! A couple of people reached out saying that I sounded upset and I realize that ‘Ask Lee’ has been fairly ranty as of late but caring about coffee given the social and environmental stakes at-hand is undeniably rant-heavy terrain. And yet, I always want to stress the love I have for coffee and how Quietly continually fosters and cultivates such love. So! Trust the Process: Part Two – the Posi Edition.
I concluded last time with the idea that “coffee is hard” because “it’s an organic material that will always be beyond you.” This statement also solicited a couple of head-scratching responses. Meaning it might be a good in-road to speak about my love of coffee. So unlike controlled actions like writing words in an email or carefully crafting a wooden box, coffee is highly variable, ephemeral, and unstable. We strain to grow, roast, and brew it, despite any imagined (or wished) sensory profile. It will always slightly withdrawal or withhold from control. That is the fun, the frustration, and – as outlined last week – the process. Still might be a little murky, so let’s go full joy this week and illuminate the idea through some of my most beloved works of art!
Two of my all-time favorite movies are Michelangelo Antonioni’sL’Avventura (1960) and Lynne Ramsay’s Movern Callar (2002). In the former, a group of friends go on a boating trip through the Mediterranean. Mysteriously, Anna goes missing. The majority of the movie consists of her lover, Sandro, and her best friend, Claudia, searching for Anna through empty islands and small villages. The pace is wonderful with the couple relentlessly seeking meaning for loss (potentially temporary or permanent) throughout the varied seaside landscapes. Here are some screenshots to give a sense of the stark reality of the film:
In Mourvern Callar, the main character awakens on Christmas to discover her boyfriend has committed suicide. He leaves her a mixtape (which becomes the film’s soundtrack) and a note explaining that he has sent his novel to a publisher under her name. The remainder of the movie follows Morvern as she grapples with her new reality and then traveling to Spain to meet with a publisher who wants to distribute the novel. Akin toL’Avventura, plot and action take a backseat to visual mood and exploration of a seemingly newly foreign or made-strange world. Again, screens to give you a feeling for Ramsay’s masterwork:
What unites both of these and makes them so personally compelling is that pull of something beyond the self, which manages to change the world. In both cases, it is through equal measures of beauty and tragedy. I think we live our best lives when we are ‘ontologically aware’ or living in what Woolf calls ‘moments of being’. That is, when we engage the world around us and we do not give in to routine or the relentless push of the everyday. Instead, we give into alterity or the people and things past the bounds of the dominate ‘me’. As contrived as it sounds, I locate this experience through the sensory joy of really good coffee. Still unclear? Let’s try a different medium!
I know I have used a fair share of novels as jumping off points in the past, so let us turn to poetry (cue collective cheers). I am a sucker for the modernists with two of my favorites being Wallace Stevens and Hilda Doolittle (or H.D.). In Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself, Stevens describes a late March day and the slow awareness of a bird’s “scrawny cry” as the sun breaks through winter and sleep’s “faded papier-mâché”. The whole poem is here but let me give you a sense of it with the penultimate stanza: “That scrawny cry – It was / a chorister whose c preceded the choir. / It was part of the colossal sun.” And the final stanza “Surrounded by its choral rings, / Still far away. It was like / A new knowledge of reality”.
Beyond the perfect encapsulation of winter’s conclusion, Stevens does a really clever back-and-forth as the ‘he’ in the poem attempts to figure out whether the bird’s cry was “a sound in his mind” or if “it would have been outside”. He litters the poem with qualifiers like ‘would’ or ‘it was like” creating a crisis of knowledge. These sharply contrast with declarative lines with strong booming imagery, such as “it was part of the colossal sun” and “a new knowledge of reality”. Such tension illuminates how our personal experiences or questions about our knowledge of the worldcollide with the immensity of the world itself. In philosophy, the split is epistemology (questions of cognition) and ontology (questions of being) but in less convoluted terms, I think the poem suggests that the world is always there, despite our literal and/or metaphoric daze of sleep. As the ‘he’ affirms, “the sun was coming from outside.” And its melting warmth becomes not an “idea about the thing but the thing itself”.
One last example before we return to the cup. H.D.’s the Pool is perfect in its vibrancy and skill. Given its brevity, I will quote it in its entirety: “Are you alive? / I touch you. / You quiver like a sea-fish. / I cover you with my net. / What are you—banded one?”. Much like Stevens’ poem, there is a tension between certainty and ambiguity through a simple everyday moment. On the surface, the pool is a minimal recount of beach or lakeside exploration. Spending some of my youth in Australia, I can remember such gleeful exploration of mystical and weird pools during low-tide with the omni-present concern: what are these odd creatures in these small enclosed worlds?
However, there is something below the depths of The Pool. Itis about a strange reality we tend to forget: being a human in a body. The ambiguous question to start: “are you alive?” And then the precisely pointed, “I touch you.” Rather than letting the lines float freely, H.D. loads The Pool with precise and punchy punctuation. It underscores the controlled interplay between the known and the unknown; between those things we recognize and the questions that leave us asking: “what are you-” H.D.’s power is in taking a relatively special activity (we don’t all explore beaches daily) and saying this is a mode of being that we should embrace on a larger scale. There is a dynamism in exploration because the world is special and often quivers in front of us – but only when we engage below the water’s surface.
And yet, I Trust the Process: it is what I concluded with last email. So allow me to reaffirm why. L’Avventura, Movern Callar, Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself and the Pool all focus on the mystery of alterity and a fundamental question of being. Not to be too sombre, but we all will die. Its through routine and sameness that we both lose sight of the tragedy and power of such a realization. These texts suggest we always seek the cry of a bird, a lost friend, the meaning of a text or a lively scene in nature. We live in a system focused on the individual and we are part of an intellectual tradition that demands we ‘know thyself’. But the real power is breaking from the self. In times of crisis (such as these) it’s important to go to otherness.
AND you know how I do this? Through an act that could easily be considered the most mundane element in the drudgery of a completely unremarkable day. A cup of coffee! When its sourced, roasted, and brewed well, it is an act of discovery. A glimpse into a place where plants are grown and harvested with care. A story of a farm and the people who live there. It can be a memory of eating a peach over a sink or the liveliness of a tart plum. Maybe the gushing bite of watermelon from a long past childhood. Or, the yearning for a perfect dessert: cake, pie, or maybe just berries and cream? Or, something I can not even articulate because it is beyond me. It is always just past my grasp. Andyet, I don’t mind because I can say this for sure: I trust it.
Trust the Process,