Thursday, August 23, 2007


As anyone who has been made to listen to the stories of my on-again, off-again love affair with caffeine will know, I regard the drug with a wary combination of fear and admiration.

Right now I am back "on."

Caffeine is to the human mind as the moon's gravity is to the tide. We drink caffeine in the hope that by increasing the force of the moon's gravitation, we will increase the power and the frequency with which we are blessed with waves (human thoughts). However, if the power and force of the moon's gravity grows too strong, then the waves break up--are torn apart, dissolve before they ever reach land. This is what it feels like to have too much caffeine. You have a million thoughts, each of last two seconds. You can't follow through on anything. The mind becomes a vortex, consuming without producing.

At the moment, luckily, I seem to have some waves coming to shore. On which I place surfers (words?) in the hope that their peripatetic and awkward stabs at beauty may, occasionally, succeed.


JMW said...

If you haven't yet, you should read Memoir From Antproof Case by Mark Helperin. The narrator is obsessed by his hatred for coffee and its effects on humankind.

Bryan said...

I think you are confusing mushrooms with caffeine again, man.

Mr. Guapo said...

How typical and frustrating. All subjects for speculation have done been speculated on already. This is why I have to write novels set in the distant, pre-agrarian past, or screenplays in the far-distant future. Or something.

I willread Helperin's book, though. I need some new input sources.

I'm on day 6 of my newest 'On' time. So far so good, I think.

JMW said...

To ease your frustration about there being nothing new under the sun, I think you'll find that Helprin's novel (I had misspelled his name, and I'm not HIGHLY recommending this novel, though I liked it enough) comes at caffeine from a different angle than yours.

Cartooniste said...

i love caffeine. i don't know why anyone tries to pretend that coffee is not the nectar of the gods. i started loving it at fourteen, to get through freshman english, and i have never, ever forsaken it because i love it so. it clears the mind, maintains the belly, and improves the mood. and i read recently that most americans get the bulk of their antioxidants from coffee.

"Yep, i'm one of the coffee achievers!"


"or is it all just a bunch of hooey?"

Sebastian said...

Coffee is one of the few substances I have abused with little or no tangible benefit. For me, coffee is automatic - the alcoholic in me will readily accept it as a substitute for, say, beer, and thus I drink it.

I'm not accusing you or anyone else of doing this, but I think demonizing any drug is both facile and self-deluding: it is a tool. It is far more often abused than used, but it hardly has a monopoly on such status; and among drugs responsible for human evils, it cannot even claim a spot in the top ten. If one attacks caffeine and its deleterious effects, one must also be prepared to reinvent the human diet from first principles. This measure has been examined, itself, and while its benefits are obvious, such an extremity very clearly isn't for everyone.

The verdict: drink coffee. Or don't. We could argue about cinnamon rolls, chocolate, or grape soda.

Cold Bacon said...

i exemplify the previous post. sadly? or sadly. no question. one cannot hope to stop [the thoughts]. one can only hope to write some of them down. p.s. thank god it tastes good.

Mr. Guapo said...

Seb, I don't completely agree. Cinnamon rolls and grape soda do not have anywhere near as dramatic or long-lasting an effect on the MIND (nevermind the body) as caffeine. Other than alcohol, no legal substance affects the mind as strongly as caffeine. I don't demonize caffeine at all: I love it. I also know that among its many useful effects are a host of, as you say, deleterious effects. As someone given to a) excess and b) blind unthinking adherence to ritual and pattern, I am especially susceptible to caffeine's long-term drawbacks.

But, really, this post was about something more subtle (sort of): the different patterns and frequency of the mind (or maybe just my mind) under different chemical states (or, under no chemical state). As a writer, what I care about--more or less the only thing I care about--is how well I think. I think there are distinctly different kinds of thought patterns that results from caffeinated and non-caffeinated writing; the post was only an attempt to distinguish between the two. If I had to put it very briefly, I would say:
caffeinated thought = frequent, transient, thin, feeble
uncaffeinated = tectonic, infrequent, complex, affecting.

Cartooniste said...

I think for me the formula is more like
caffeinated thought=extant
uncaffeinated thought=dream state
of course, we're talking about carefully managed volumes. is the caffeinated mind appreciably different from the over-caffeinated mind? for me, the answer is yes.

Cold Bacon said...

re: caffeinated thought = frequent, transient, thin, feeble / uncaffeinated = tectonic, infrequent, complex, affecting

let me preface this by saying i don't know what i'm talking about. but i find the above characterization, while reasonable, perhaps a bit too rigid. it doesn't account for cartooniste's allusion to the motivating power of coffee. of course one could argue that it's merely a matter of adjusting to not being caffeinated as well as that those motivations inspired by said caffeine are probably worth reconsidering, at the least. perhaps. still, i think a small amount of caffeine to induce a state of doing rather than thinking about doing might be a reasonable habit in today's active world. second, the notion that caffeinated thoughts are inherently feeble is a bit of a generalization. caffeinated thought can at times be more creative, if only because there are more thoughts to choose from and therefore one of them will surely be the right one? certainly when it comes to solving specific problems. (like what would be a great new item for taco bell's fall menu) on the other hand, one can certainly waste a lot of mental energy looking for ways around the wall (caffeinated) when one could have simply knocked and been invited through the door (uncaffeinated). so really it is a tradeoff.

ultimately, in my opinion, it merely becomes a question of whether one is able to manage this tradeoff effectively for oneself. but coffee can be a bit like a bureaucracy in that once it starts, it wants more of itself around. so it is risky to get hooked. and one can indeed operate under the delusion that more bad ideas are better than one good one. it really is probably wisest to either have some coffee or no coffee, but not a constant iv infusion. in summary, we are all right. and god bless america.

this post has been brought to you by caffeine.

Seb said...

Guap -

Among legal substances, I find the effect of nicotine on the mind is equally as noticeable as that of caffeine. Sometimes considerably more so. With regard to nicotine, one has to be addicted to gain any positive effect at all: in the usual forms, of course, as I do not count the studies which monitor the calming effects of nicotine.

If you are given to excess, Procrustes, I am excess itself. No: for all your posturing, you are a very moderate fellow.

I am extremely uncertain that the "no chemical" state applies to the vast majority of 21st-century Americans.

I have to stand by my guns (surprise, surprise, HMS Surprise) and continue to assert that the effects of any large amount of carbohydrates upon the mind are considerable and all-too-frequently overlooked. It is hard for us to notice, but refined sugar and white flour are drugs in their own right, and in their way, are as pernicious as any.

What does caffeine do to me? John has the heart of it: without caffeine, Seb as you understand him does not truly exist. Do not distract me by pointing out that Seb as anyone understands him does not truly exist, as that is axiomatic.

Leer all you want. For Seb as you understand him, caffeine is not a drug but a biological imperative, like breathing.

While I am ranting, allow me to insist that the mind is not separable from the body. The mind, in my opinion, arrogates to itself many properties it does not have, being "in control" the most flagrant and delusional of these pretensions. The mind is a by-product of an organ that has been developed to resolve stereoscopic vision*, and it is the abject slave of the endocrine and cardiopulmonary systems. If you doubt me, gaze for a prolonged period at a photograph of a person physically attractive to you, or regulate your breathing as assiduously as you can. Mental states are biological side-effects in all cases.

Conclusion: you cannot stop the coffee. Civilization has damaged you forever, and paradise remains visible but eternally out of reach.

*I love saying things like this, which are guaranteed to infuriate Bryan, or, at the very least, cause him to frown as he approximates cognitive operation in our species.

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