Wednesday, May 28, 2008

lowered expectations

So a couple of weeks ago, I began a job at a fabulous (yes I may be biased, but it's still fabulous) new gourmet market/cafe/sushi bar/sandwich bar/coffee and tea bar hybrid. Yes it sounds like a cluster f**ck, but it's really quite lovely. I mainly work behind the coffee bar, working the register, making coffee, preparing espresso and tea. And honestly, I love the job. I've worked as a barista before, and without question that was my favorite job (as in paying job, not internship) ever. It wasn't necessarily the pay or the location, but the actual work, the simple act of making coffee drinks, as strange as that might sound. And it's the same this time. I've never opened a place before and the hours are crazy and there are unexpected snafus and crisis (crises? crisises?), but I get the same basic satisfaction out of work. And the funny part is that this place is super close to campus, as in practically on top of it. Honestly that's a big reason I wanted the job. I love the CofC campus. I think it's the most beautiful campus in the United States. And no I do not need to visit every campus in the US to know that (I've maybe visited six...four?), I just know it in my Charleston loving heart. I walk through the Cistern, or down Glebe, and I feel safe. I may be a graduate but it's home. I really hope it will always feel like that, that the Stern Center will always give me a weird sense of peace in the midst of its fast food kiosks and student rooms. But anyways, as a result of my work place being on campus, we get a lot of professors in there. And today I had not one, not two, but count 'em, THREE of my former English professors come in. Each and every time, they were very nice and friendly, but I couldn't help wonder, what are they really thinking? Here I am, a very fresh graduate of the English department, countless hours of Shakespeare and Milton and Fielding stuffed into my brain, pages and pages of fiction written and discussed, and what am I doing with all of this literary training? Absolutely fricking nothing. Customers do not ask about Blake or Eliot when they order a latte. I don't dole out sonnets with my jasmine teas. My life right now couldn't be farther from academia or the literary establishment. And it may be self-centered, but I just feel like my professors must at least be a little confused/disappointed/angry. Do they wonder if I lost it, simply gave up all things English in an overstressed, overstimulated post-graduate frenzy? Or do they wonder if that's really the only thing a person can do with an English major these days-go work in a coffee store, i.e. English majors are completely worthless? The answer of course is none of the above. I'm not devoting my life to the coffee business. But honestly it's tempting. I loved college. I love reading and learning in a really dorky way. But to make something with your own hands is rewarding in a completely different way than any book or paper can be. It's not better, it's just different. And it's been exactly what I've needed lately, kind of like an R and R for the mind. I'm tired of thinking, of researching and stressing. There's a peace and a simplicity in my work. It's hard to explain, but when I make a perfect cappuccino, that's a pretty damn great feeling. To steam the milk perfectly, create the right ration of foam and milk, gives me this weird natural high that no hot beverage should give someone. I love when my teas come out right, when they're seeped just long enough. I love when a customer tells me they love the coffee I've ground and brewed. I love adjusting the espresso grinder in tiny increments until the espresso runs just right (not too fast, not too slow, around 23-25 seconds). I trained on that machine for like 20 hours, and I can tell you that making a good shot of espresso is anything but easy.I love that my hands have already taken on wear - a tiny callus on my wrist from when I test the heat of the milk pitcher, cuts on my fingers from various barista related tasks, burns here and there. There's a different kind of tired after you've been on your feet all day, working with your hands - a tired that's heavy but free of any kind of mental or emotional fatigue. I'm not an artist. I don't do crafts, but weirdly enough I've found my own sort of craft with my little espresso bar job. It's not high fallutin' or intellectual and that's why I love it. My professors may be disappointed, but after sixteen years of school, there's nothing I need more right now than to work with my hands on a daily basis, to stop thinking and to just to create something tangible and real (with a dollop of froth on top of course).

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