Sunday, March 22, 2015

Blog Hiatus: March 23-April 20, 2015

Photo Courtesy of the lovely (and longsuffering) Dawn Buchanan

For the next few weeks I'll be off adventuring, most likely acting ridiculous in the process and inadvertently gathering material for more installments of These Awkward Things I've Done.

For those of you on my itinerary: I'll see you very soon!

The rest of you I'll see back here toward the end of April. In addition to traveling, I'll be taking a break from blogging in order to begin developing a new blog series--something amazing that is literally going to melt your face off. You're going to love it, I know. (Just as soon as I figure out what it's going to be.) 

My readership isn't gigantic, but you're all so consistent and enthusiastic that I can't wait to come back and hit you with some more quality posts. Or just some regular posts. Or at the very least, a few phrases strung together in a way that makes moderate sense. 

(I live in hope.)

So see you out there! 

Or back here in April. 

Or wherever, really.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Ruth's Rules for Coffee, Part 3: How to Handle Pretentious Coffee People

The joke runs like this: I like my coffee the way I like my men--tall, dark, rich, and hot. To that, I'd add that a bit of sweetness wouldn't go amiss. The question of the day, however, is not how I like my coffee (or my men) but how to deal with Pretentious Coffee People.

You know the type I mean. The ones who insist that they only use beans imported from the moon and then individually hand-toasted over organic candle flame. Who only drink pour-over coffees made by college students boasting mini-handlebar mustaches, who stand with one arm behind their backs and stare off into space like disaffected Hipster matadors as they pour the hot water at a trickle. People who, when discussing coffee, tend to use words like balance, complex and robust rather than the more typical coffee-related words more, please, and now.

The world being what it is, you probably won't have to look far to find a Pretentious Coffee Drinker. (Some of you need look no further than the mirror). Once you've settled on who they are, the next question is what to do about them. 

What you do depends on what type of Pretentious Coffee Drinkers they happen to be.

How to Handle Pretentious Coffee Drinkers:

#1 - The Incidentally Pretentious

If you have a friend who happens to be Incidentally Pretentious about coffee, don't worry about it. If it makes him happy to stand in a twenty-minute line and spend $10 on a cup of cloth-filtered, vacuum-brewed coffee with a sprinkle of cardamom, so be it.

Some things are just not worth getting worked up over.

#2 - The Intentionally Pretentious 

If you run into people who are Intentionally Pretentious about coffee, ignore them. This is the best response to people who are intentionally pretentious about anything, actually. People like this get a kick out of feeling superior, which they're probably going to do regardless of your response. So if they want to spend a half an hour waxing pedantic about why an imported luxury syphon brewer is the only way to get a good home-brewed cup of coffee, let them. Meanwhile, while they're honking on in the background like Charlie Brown's teacher, you can spend your time imagining how much money you'll save by not importing a luxury syphon brewer from Belgium.

#3 - The Pretentious Coffee Proselytizers

These are the ones you really need to watch out for: the ones bent on convincing the world that coffee must be drunk their way or not at all. Stopping just short of growing tiny mustaches and pounding podiums while screaming about TDS levels, these Pretentious Coffee Proselytizers are nevertheless everything that is wrong with coffee today, and they must be stopped. 

Why must they be stopped? 

Because they've lost sight of the point. 

In the end, a cup of coffee is just that - a cup of coffee. Anyone who's ever wrapped cold fingers around a warm mug in the early morning knows that it doesn't always have to be made from rarefied beans or have a complex flavor profile to soothe the soul. And while drinking fancy coffee produced by complicated brewing methods is certainly not a bad thing, it's also not the point of coffee.

The point of coffee, after all, is just that it exists. 

And that's the real miracle.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ruth's Rules for Coffee, Part 2: What to Do if Someone Doesn't Like Coffee

Step One: Panic. This is a legitimate crisis.

Step Two: Find out where it all went wrong. It could be that this person's first few coffee experiences were less than ideal. Maybe all he's ever tasted has been day-old gas-station coffee (or worse, something truly horrible, like Chock full o'Nuts). In that event, all you will need to do is to make sure that at least once in his life, he has one really good cup of coffee. After that, it's out of your hands.

Step Three: Take drastic action. Let's say that you've given someone one really good cup of coffee at least once, and it hasn't done the trick. First of all, know that you've failed. Second, know that you've now entered dangerous territory. As someone with a known coffee-hater in your life, you must consider taking steps to safeguard your own mental and emotional well-being. 
  1. If the non-coffee drinker is a new friend, become suddenly unavailable. She'll get the idea eventually. Or maybe not. If she doesn't like coffee, there's no telling how her brain functions. 
  2. If he's a relative, disown him. Who needs family anyway? You have coffee.
  3. If she's a work superior, you should do more than just quit your job. You should probably consider switching careers entirely, because who could have any faith in a system that favors non-coffee drinkers in leadership roles? 
  4. If he's a romantic partner, break up. Move, change your phone number, change your name, get plastic surgery, enter the witness protection program. 
Step Four: Brew yourself a nice, hot cup of coffee.  After all that hard work, you definitely deserve one.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ruth's Rules for Coffee

Ruth's Rules for Coffee:

Rule 1: If morning, coffee.
Rule 2: If afternoon, coffee.
Rule 3: If reading, coffee.
Rule 4: If sad, coffee.
Rule 5: If writer's-blocked, coffee.
Rule 6: If raining outside, coffee.
Rule 7: If traveling, coffee.
Rule 8: If chatting with a friend, coffee.
Rule 9: If studying, coffee.
Rule 10: If teaching, coffee.
Rule 11: If stressed, coffee.
Rule 12: If headache, coffee.
Rule 13: If stomach flu, no coffee.
Rule 14: If lonely, coffee.
Rule 15: If confused, coffee.
Rule 16: If out for brunch, coffee.
Rule 17: If headed to work out, no coffee.
Rule 18: If dealing with children, coffee.
Rule 19: If playing table games, coffee.
Rule 20: If coffee, coffee.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Time I Made the Tozer Joke

I'm a smart, well-traveled career woman with a master's degree and three published works on the market. Unfortunately, I'm also fairly awkward. Please enjoy this series chronicling some of the awkward things I've done and the lessons I've learned along the way.

These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 9: The Time I Made the Tozer Joke

Last year I visited a friend in the greater Chicago area. One evening, she and I drove across town to pick her daughter up from a birthday party at the home of a school friend. 

"You're going to love the house," my friend told me, and I did. "If they don't offer us a tour, try to get a look around anyway." Thus while my friend chatted with the mother of the birthday girl, I began to wander afield, eyes darting down hallways and up staircases, trying to get a good idea of the floor-plan. 

Tucked under a polished wooden staircase, I spied The Bookshelf, a classy airtight number with sealed glass panels, containing a wide array of first-edition and out-of-print books. I walked toward it as in a daze, hearing angel choirs. I did everything but press my nose against the glass. I itched to open the panels and run my fingers along those cloth-soft spines.

"No," I reprimanded myself. "You're a guest here. Not even a guest. You're a tag-along. Keep your hands out of the bookcase." 

I wandered back over to where the two women stood chatting, ignoring the shrieking grade-school girls swirling through the room. Their conversation broke as I approached, and some men (dads, I assumed) came in from outside to join us.

"You've got a great collection of books," I said, gesturing across the room.

The wife smiled as a man I took to be her husband joined our little circle. "[My husband] just loves old books," she gushed. "In the early days of the internet, when he realized he could buy them for a steal, he went online and just snapped them all up. Really cheap, too! Some of them are even signed by the authors."

I thought of the first-edition Tolkien I'd spied, and my brain melted a little.

"You must really like Tozer," I commented, referencing an entire row of A.W. Tozer's early works, many of them identical copies. 

"Oh!" the wife brightened. "Do you know Tozer?"

"Well," I deadpanned, "not personally."

A long silence ensued, broken only by shrieking from upstairs and the sound of a half-muffled snort-laugh coming from my friend bedside me.

"Oh, honey," the wife told me, smiling kindly. "Tozer's dead." I detected a soft pity in her expression.

The husband nodded slowly, looking at me seriously through his glasses. "He was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Movement," he told me in a tone that seemed half tour guide, half high school principal. "He was a really well-known preacher and writer." He pushed up his glasses. "His best-known work is probably The Pursuit of God." 

"Well," I fumbled, trying to think how to backpedal gracefully. "I know who Tozer is. I mean, I know he's dead." But even to my own ears, I sounded defensive. I wasn't lying, though. I've read Tozer extensively, partly due to the influence of a favorite professor from my undergrad degree who had studied under Tozer way (waaaay) back in the day. I certainly knew Tozer. But it was hard to figure out how to say all of that without sounding pretentious. 

So I didn't say anything. 

I stood mutely as my friend wound up her chat and collected her own daughter. The minute we were back in the car, my friend cracked up laughing, "That," she said, "was awesome." 

I slunk down in my seat. "I don't want to talk about it." 

"Well, if it's any consolation, I thought it was funny."

"What's wrong with me?" I asked, not for the first time. "Why can't I just talk to people like a normal person? Why am I like this?"

My friend cranked the engine and put the car in gear, looking into her mirrors before pulling out into the quiet street. "I have a suggestion," she said. "Maybe you could try not acting like yourself until people have already gotten to know you."

All things considered, this is probably not bad advice.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Get People to Take You Seriously

Do you ever worry that you have a lot to offer the world, if only people would bother to take you seriously?

Of course you do. Everyone does. 

The good news is that getting people to take you seriously might be easier than you think. Just implement the following steps, and in no time at all, you'll have the world lining up to collect the pearls of wisdom dribbling from your lips.

How to Get People to Take You Seriously:

Step One: Complain that Nobody Takes You Seriously.

The good news is that this tactic almost always works. The better news is that you'll earn all of the benefits of respect without ever actually having to expend any energy doing something remarkable. Two birds, one stone.

In the event that this step fails to produce the desired results, proceed to Step Two.

Step Two: Tear Down People Who Have Succeeded Unjustly. 

It's really frustrating when the world passes you over in favor of lesser lights. To make the best of a bad situation, work to convince the world that they've gotten it all wrong and that you are more deserving of attention and praise than anyone else.

This is a very effective tactic, but in the strange case you find it less than successful, move on to Step Three.

Step Three: Invest Your Time and Energy in Accomplishing Something Noteworthy. 

If all else fails, you could always fall back on actually doing something important. It may take a long time, and it may lead you to be misunderstood; it may exhaust you and cause your teeth to decay and your hair to fall out; you might never succeed, and your genius might not be fully recognized in your lifetime, but at least - in the end - you would have a shot at leaving behind something lasting, something that operates beyond yourself.

Plenty of real-live geniuses were never taken seriously; fortunately for us, they didn't let that stop them. They just went right on doing what they were doing, "serving the work," as Dorothy Sayers would put it.

Perhaps it would be prudent here to remind ourselves that God didn't make us so that we could be taken seriously. He made us that we could learn to take him seriously, and one of the ways in which we show that we take him seriously is the way in which we approach our work.

Let's refer back to Dorothy Sayers on this:
Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade--not outside it. ...The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that the workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery or sewage farming. 
If anyone would know anything about this, it would be Dorothy Sayers, a woman whose contributions to theology were taken seriously in a time when women weren't taken seriously about anything much, especially not in matters of the Church. 

Her words carry weight not because she was a woman or a clever writer, but because they are true and biblical. 

Sayers invested herself in the proper understanding and communication of Truth. That was her work, and she did it in such a way that she couldn't not be taken seriously.  

The bottom line is this: whatever task you find to do today, take it seriously. That attitude will please God, and if your work is such that he can take it seriously, I'd call that a job well done.

* * * *

Keller, Timothy. Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God's Work. New York: Dutton, 2014.

O'Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. New York: Farrar, Straus and Grioux, 1970. 

Sayers, Dorothy. Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004.