Cynicism is a gleeful, gore splashed serial killer of creativity. Like Dexter, but with less of a sense of humor. I’m a programmer, obligated by a contract with the Tech gods to consume levels of caffeine non-tech people can only shudder at the thought of. We sign the contract with ink made from pure white caffeine and rage, making a murky magenta ink on the contract. So pursuant to my contractual obligations, this morning, I walked over to Starbucks to get some coffee. Don’t judge. The people are nice and I can get a coffee for $.50. I always take my own mug with me so I don’t have to listen to the voice in my head telling me I’m going to hell for creating unnecessary fodder for the landfill monsters. Ok, not always, but enough to keep the screaming environmentalist in my head at bay.
I actually think that particular voice isn’t me, it’s the disembodied consciousness born from the unwashed thousands in the Northwest forests wearing tie dye, communing with nature, lighting up and trying to cover the smell with rancid patchouli. If you’ve lived here long enough, regardless of what you do with your days, you will start to hear that voice. I was born here, I never had a chance.
I am a very forgetful person at work. I get totally caught up in what I’m working on and will literally bump into walls because I’m still re-coding web apps in my head when I take a bathroom break. We don’t really need to discuss what that looks like. I used to bring cool mugs to work for my drinks because they’re fun and can make a bad day a little better. But I’ve lost, forgotten, or misplaced all of them. For a while I downgraded to totally generic mugs so it didn’t matter if I lost them, and those disappeared even more quickly in conference rooms because everyone thought they must be their mugs.
It doesn’t escape me that this could be prevented by putting our names on our mugs like we did on our clothes in first grade. But I’m not doing it. Because how awesome would I look bumping into walls WHILE holding a mug with my name on it. No. Just, No. As a side note, it has occurred to me to carry a mug with someone else’s name on it and see who calls me by that name because they can’t remember mine…
In a perfect world, my coffee mug would be inexpensive to replace, easily replaceable, unique enough that I won’t forget it, but not so unique that anyone else wants it. You didn’t know coffee cups were so complicated did you? Solution: a travel mug that has a paper insert space. People usually put pictures of their kids in them – then we all watch as their kids faces slowly yellow and dissolve over the course of years from the daily exposure to coffee. No matter how cute the kid was, they look like a picture from a depression era side show in 6 months. Instead of a picture, I made mine a lunchtime craft project. I spent about 2 hours picking my favorite movie quotes and writing them all over the paper in different fonts. Geeky, distinctively mine, and as a bonus, it acts as a sci-fi nerd detector. I think it’s neat, but if it disappeared tomorrow, I’d happily make another one and not miss it.
So today, I go over to Starbucks and hand over my mug for a fill up. While they waited for my brew the two overly chipper baristas behind the counter started reading my mug. Do you think they’re required to drink 2 espressos an hour to maintain that almost psychotic level of cheer? They were smiling and pointing out quotes they liked and asked if I’d made it. I said yes and they smiled and said it was cool looking. And I felt briefly awesome, because I’d made something that other people admired.
Then that nasty cynical voice that’s always hanging around just out of sight hissed forth: “Of course they’re admiring it, it’s good business to make your customers want to come back. Personal compliments are an easy way to do that. It’s probably part of the corporate culture to require them to make positive comments about customers.” And for a second, I looked away from the creativity I’d enjoyed and cynicism murdered it. So quickly and so quietly, that no one would ever know, and even I almost didn’t notice.
For just a moment, there in the corner of the coffee shop, I could see a dissolving corpse: splashed with fading vitality, dusted with tarnished pieces of joy still clutching colored pens. I wonder how many times today he shanked other people’s creativity with whichever implement was nearby. A cutting remark from a passing pedestrian, a confused look from a friend, or just directing attention elsewhere so wonderful things go unnoticed.
Well F**K THAT. Today, I’m writing and keeping an eye out for people to encourage. Tonight, I’ll cook something without the recipe and afterwards, I’ll make a piece of jewelry with whatever supplies inspire me. I may not be able to kill him, but maybe I can starve him into submission. Gotta go, I need to get a pie crust, copper wire and a piece of rebar on my way home.