Coffee Dreams

I don’t think I have ever been what is labeled “clinically depressed,” though I may have been close one morning in 1990 when I was trying to make coffee. I looked down at the empty filter and at my spoonful of coffee grounds, and wondered, “How can I ever know exactly how many grounds I should put in this filter?” The idea of proceeding without knowing how much coffee I should use—and not merely how many spoonfuls, but the exact number of individual grounds—threw the entire endeavor into shadow. “No one can ever know,” I thought. “It’s all random. None of it means anything.” I did not know it at the time, but I had just learned a great lesson: that nothing more than a cup of coffee is needed to send you spiraling down the drain of despair. While this can make the world seem like a perilous place, I have since come to understand that in fact the exact opposite is true, and precisely because of such small things as coffee grounds.

I was right, of course, about the coffee—it was impossible to know. It was impossible to know by measuring anything what would bring me pleasure, in coffee and in everything else. And I was right also when I realized that none of it—“it” being anything, from coffee to the sun to Hollywood to publishing—actually meant anything. It didn’t by itself. Only I could bring meaning to it. All the world, from war to children to presidential elections, required nothing of me. All was neutral.

It was staggering, and I suppose I denied it could be so, and have spent the last 20 years recovering, if you will, from what I saw that day. But the truth is always lovely and liberating, and so I have come to see it now. As every writer someday must see, we live our lives within ourselves, and everything that comes and goes across our screen and through our world is just a shadow of what we’ve thought. It is a dream of coffee, and nothing more—a dream made real so we might dream again, and again, and again.

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