We Grew Up Fast

Just finished two books on rough childhoods and chaotic backgrounds, J D Vance “Hillbilly Elegy” and Harley Flannagans “Hard Core – Life of my own”. They’re not just stories of children, and how their outcome in life is a result of childhood, it’s also very much a story about class and opportunity.

I grew up in the 70’s, with a housewife mom and a working dad. Both of them were active communists when they met (I was conceived on a Soviet friendly trip through the Iron Curtain in 1973, apparently in Transylvania). My dad came from Russian borgeouise and revolted against his background by becoming communist, but my moms genes came from true white trash lineage: my grandmother, to whom I was the apple of her eye, was born a bastard and had to move from home at a very young age to serve in a household, and my grandfather was an abusive alcoholic with travelling people blood.

It would be a lie to say I grew up like the kids in Appalachia or Lower East Side, but there are some similarities that shapes you: for instance I grew up dirt poor. Every summer from when I was 12, I had to work throughout my whole summer holidays to sustain my interests, and even additional bus card for music rehersal. But there was no weekly or monthly allowance, going to the movies, buying a record or going to concerts was budgeted for.

Since my mom hated her mother-in-law, who was from Russian high society, I didn’t spend much time with her as a child, and missed out on the opportunity to learn about social codes among the rich. Instead I grew up with poor food, and lack of anything but common sense for my kind. Clothes etc. was a bare necessity and not something that meant status. Rather lack thereof.

My father didn’t teach me much, since he worked most of the time, but he taught me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I’d eat that month. He also taught me there was no such thing as a dishonest job. And he taught me to be loyal, though you probably shouldn’t in some obvious cases. My mother was a terrible person to grow up with. I know now that she probably has a Borderline Personality Disorder, something both me and my sister has been diagnosed with. She made promises of rewards that she would never keep, and she’d be embarrased with me and tell me that she was. Never once did she stand up for me, even when a teacher hit me, she was embarrased of the commotion I’ve caused with my bad behaviour.

My father wasn’t exactly a great source of encouragement either. Sure, it was great that I had my music and friends, but why did I opt for that shit music, and those shit friends? Nothing was good enough for him, and in hindsight, I hear the echo of his own past in my ear. But that took its toll, and my friends became my real family, since it seemed mine didn’t want me or at least didn’t accept me for who or what I was.

Early on, I decided that I’d leave the house as soon as I could, and that became my only goal. As JD Vance describes it in his book though, you might leave the house, but the culture of the house is always with you. And also like him, I was shaped by the community I surrounded myself with, other music freaks who didn’t trust society and authority and wanted to watch the world burn. That excluded most normal people, and the ones I kept close had to earn their respect as being credible in our subculture, as I had to have earn mine among my peers. This aspect and angle has taken me through subcultures all my life, basically because the life of the common people either has reminded me of my parents too much, or I’ve just felt like a stranger among those not extreme. As I’ve grown older, I’ve inherited my fathers talent as a social chameleon though.

I heard somewhere that you should find what you’re good at, and make that your living, rather than make a job out of your passion. Growing up, always feeling like I was never good enough and noone standing up for me, I’ve had to stand up for myself (which I’m pretty terrible at to be honest, and that’s a great part of why I’ve drank instead. Swallowing seemed easier), or find someone to work for who looked out for me. That creates a problem of identity, because I work best as a team, representing something that is larger than I. This may seem both humble and admirable, but it has created a path in my life where I’ve been loyal and not being payed neither in money nor in thankfulness, but been taken for a ride.

Another great error in my upbringing that still has great influence on my modus operandi, is my endless thirst for validation. As a child, I never had it from anyone but my grandmother, and she gave me rewards just for being me. That felt very good each and every time, and was the one thing I was looking forward to. In her place, I’ve gone on to reward myself constantly, to fill that gaping void in my soul: anything from candy, through records or books, to alcohol. Escapism has also been a great part of my character. Always looking for a way out, instead of facing whatever demons that were in my own mind. Leaving your surrounding and your context, creates the false idea that you are free from them, but in reality you just focus elsewhere at the moment. Soon enough, the demons catches up.

After these two books, I happened to open up Chris Grossos “Dead Set On Living”, a super interesting book on the Buddhist outlook on addiction. Like all therapies say, traumas in our childhood is the foundation for how we deal with the world as adults. But Grossos conclusion is founded in Buddhism, and this rings true within most Indian philosophies; we have a chance to heal our present projection of our childhood trauma, by accepting our condition, and embracing forgiveness.

I’ve been on wild goose chases, aimed for the moon and stars, in order to always fail. I now see that my mothers unrealistic approach to my rewards has had that impact on me. For the first time in my life, I feel the need to focus on one thing at a time, and not dream away but instead making plans, and work towards them. I am beginning to treat my work as a job and not a passion. I am fending off all wild dreams of the future, and instead focus on the now. It’s kind of liberating, once I accept that is where I am.

NP Travis Quite Free

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Relationship vs Community in Coffee

In Speciality Coffee, we talk a lot about the relationships and communities affiliated doing business within our industry. At Da Matteo we’ve tried for a long time to find some kind of certification that tells a story what kind of work we do to improve the relationship with our coffee farmers, and their lives at Origin. That is one kind of relationship within Speciality Coffee. Another relationship to have is one between roaster and coffee shop.

Before I go on, there is a major difference between those two relationships. One is that the one selling coffee to a café is chasing the customer in order to buy. The one selling coffee to a roaster doesn’t necessarily have the means to chase the customer, but has to be found by the buyer (naturally, someone starting a café will look for the best coffee on the market, but there will be no shortage of competitors trying to get you to change your mind. We’ll get back to that).

A community is something else. It’s something built up around a mutual interest. It could be about making awareness about better coffee, or become better baristi with the help of your peers. For instance, you could call the SCA a larger community, pushing for better coffee in the world, the Roasters Guild and Barista Guild two other communities that don’t necessarily are separated from the SCA’s goal, but are targeting their own peer group (roaster and barista).

The communities themselves normally have a relationship to various partners: it could be a mother organization (like SCA) or sponsors (like a machine partner), but customers of various roasters and workers at competitor cafes can all thrive in the community, under the flag of “education” or “awareness building” etc (pretty much like board members of an organization, just much more losely based).

Organizations can suffer from difficulties such as corruption or bias, but members will quickly strike out against such behaviour when made known, and thus it is a somewhat safe form to build an organization, because it will have goals, and have the means to canonize knowledge worth keeping, and stay neutral or negative to pseudo science or science not yet proven. Communities however, are made up by individuals each with their own agenda or context of which they swear by. In coffee, the more cutting edge ideas, technology and scientific claims wihout proper research are held as the latest must-haves, or even made up to be the pinnacle of the industry. It can be branch leaders whose adapted ideas form a meme that then gets wide spread through the imagined community thriving on social media.

Here is where we are now. There’s a hegemony of ideas and images, claiming to be the final solution, held by industry inofficial leaders. They are made up by clusters of roasters, bloggers, designers and the like, whose ideas have not been canonized by an official organization, but by the grass root people, the imagined community, online and in real life when getting together in smaller gatherings of like minded people. Now, there are a lot of similarities between what we call an imagined community, and tribalism.

A tribe, compared to a community, is more far more tight knitted, held together not only by a common idea, but also as a means of survival. There is often a hierarchy, and the inner circle will only grow as the tribe grows. Not rarely, in the social glue that is the inner circle, there exists an official or an unspoken inoffical ethical stand between the parts, however those outside the circle are not applicable to those standards (they might adapt similar strategies lower in the chain, but the top is not loyal to the bottom even though the vice versa is common, out of “respect”).

In a community, there is always the sense of “the more, the merrier”, due to the wish to gather round a common goal, such as the spreading of Speciality Coffee for instance. An analogue I draw is one of several underground movements I’ve been part of; the tape trading back in the 80/90’s. Death Metal was something new and fresh, it was about the music and it was a true excitement being close to a movement. The broader it became, however, the more tribal it got. When Entombed got a record deal, they were almost considered sell outs. More people found our culture, and the more we started to feel there were too many “posers” around. In Norway, they went so far they basically wanted to put peoples loyalty to the extreme to the test, and so people started to burn churches and murder people in order to prove their salts worth. We who were nihilistic rebellious youth with a strong identity with the music, started feeling things were going to far, and so death metal stagnated in its culture, and the music itself started to sound very conform. Later, black metal met the same fate.

In the tribal world of Speciality Coffee, people seem to refrain from murder, but the structure is the same. Many people are trying hard to be invited into the warmth of the top dogs, some succeed. Some don’t. Others are just happy to be supporting the top in their great work. A community around the tribe, so to speak. In 1% terminology you could address them as “hangarounds”, and the ones trying to make the inner circle would be considered “prospects”.

Now, I find this idea of “relationship” and “community” problematic. We throw these words around withouth really honoring their meaning, when we are in fact more proned to tribalism. In a community you don’t have to agree on everything. Let’s say for instance you have a latte art throwdown, and a guy that works in a bar serving Italian style coffee beats everyones ass, he has earned everyones respect, but we might disagree with his stance that Italian coffee is the tastiest. He is still part of a community that over a beer can share stories of being a barista in a café.

The tribalists however, are much harder to deal with. They will frown upon anything that isn’t agreed upon with his purist masters. I don’t weigh my shots, I therefor present faulty shots. I use a blend, where their dogma requires a single origin. Funny enough, it’s always the hangarounds and prospects that polices everything, in order to prove themselves purist at heart to the priesthood.

Brands works on all three levels though, introducing yet another expression that we should use more in our industry: loyalty. Pictured above is three brands I’ve worked with from the start since I got to Sweden (RB before that). I tried other tampers in Australia, but didn’t like their grip. The wood grip suited me fine, and I’ve used the same tamper ever since. I also met the family behind the tamper, and I remain loyal to the brand because of my relation to them, proven that they are awesome people. Same with the espresso machine. The LM family is a close-to-the-grassroot community building gang, honoring those using their machines. DM was my own pick of employer, recognizing the style of coffee that was my preference, the way coffee tasted back in Australia. I’ve been loyal to DM not only because of the tastiness, but also because of the company culture that is highly inviting and open minded. We aim to build community and relationships, not tribes.

I think understanding the difference is crucial: a tribe demands loyalty, a community and a brand earn theirs. A relationship on the other hand, just like a marriage, demands loyalty but has to be earned mutualy. Transparency then is key.

There are some new kids in town, doing coffee events and building their own coffee festival. We did the same 8 years ago, and the reason it didn’t work then was probably because we were too affiliated with just one brand. Certain companies in Stockholm demand tribes, and don’t want to let their staff be seen with competitors. And we were also mostly a group of friends looking for a good time. Later our relationships turned to family, kids and professionality. It will be very interesting to see what path this group will take.

NP: Melissa Auf Der Maur Followed The Waves

nonzero the hero

A while back, Mark Dundon, known for his championing quality coffee and behind cafe powerhouses like Seven Seeds in Melbourne, posted a thing on Linkedin, declaring that Speciality Coffee is dead. He puts the finger on some things that has been bothering me for years in the industry; the word Speciality Coffee is not as frequently used in our parts of the world, but rather linked to the scale between 0-100 on the coffee scale. In Sweden, to duck the fact you are roasting non-speciality, you may call your roast a “microroast” or “handroasted”. It says more about the way whatever coffee was roasted, than about the actual coffee itself. Which at a first glance seems fairer. But our market is small, and it has only added to the confusion to the end consumer, especially for us still championing Speciality as a notable quality factor and selling point.

I am currently reading Robert Wrights highly interesting book “Nonzero”, a book about evolution and human cooperation. When people say we should learn from history, they often make the mistake of looking at recent history. How could there be brutal civil wars on the Balkan only 50 years after World War II? Have they learnt nothing?

Wright describes the development of human evolution as a brain with cells. The jump on the ladder happens as populations grow and intensifies the need for development. When it comes to coffee, we mistakingly look from the inside of the industry for evolution. What is described as first, second and third wave is not a descriptor of an evolution in coffee, but an evolution within a small group within coffee, that for some time had an effect on how some people looked at coffee when opening a cafe or coffeeshop.

The culture fostered within the speciality coffee community shifted very quickly from being about the coffee, to the tools of the trade. Wright states that what most researchers don’t realize is that mankind didn’t start domesticating animals and crops in order to survive, but in order to stand out in a crowd, giving leverage for status. What if you want to marry, and your neighbour is a hunter/gatherer. Well, I can provide the brides family with my own stock of yams too.

Evolution happened fast within the coffee industry. Baristas got used very quickly to work with top beans, thus anyone wanting to hire staff needed to have the right machines, the right milk, the right pitchers and soon the right aprons, tampers etc. Baristas don’t go to Origin and hang out with farmers. Roasters do. That’s their status being vamped up, posing as vagabonds of the developing world, scouting for the equally coffee centric farmers out there, maybe without them even knowing they are pictured this way. For lets be honest here. Who is using who? A farmer that better his crops, wants to get a higher price and in the end a better living. A barista typically “wants to learn more about coffee”. Probably still in his or her 20’s, living at home or shared accomodation, riding a fixie and spend most of the money on stuff that will create status on Instagram.

Cafe owners are constantly looking at ways to save money. Once the cafe owner realizes that the actual end consumer prefers something “bold and roasty” to cut through milk in the cup, measures will be taken into account. Remember that Speciality Coffee on the high end is an aquired taste, not a staple. We tend to forget that, since everyone focuses on what is happening at competitions, outrageous coffees at outrageous prices, to break the monotony for the judges. Your coffee needs to stand out, since it is no longer a competition about skill, but about doing a very delicate coffee justice. Such bullshit! And the trickle down effect is causing problems in the real world through social media.

Mankind is cruel, and we have cruel intentions. A zero sum game is one where there is a winner and a loser. A non zero game, thus, is a win win situation. In his book, Wright mentions the kind of idea that for modern man is hard to grasp: we live not in a world where peace is the norm, we live in a world of humans where war is the norm, and we wage peace in order to reach some sort of non zero game. An equilibrium that is the least bad for most people. Somehow, the relativism of modernity has gotten the idea that we are our minds, not our biology, but in truth we are still at war constantly, wanting to consume our enemies and wear their skin as our dress like those stone age tribes did. We just do it in a way that appear peaceful, maybe even moral.

Take the cafe owner, constantly at war with his clients, his staff and his producers. If the customer needs a different coffee, he will have to ask his barista to use an inferior product or extract the coffee in a way the postmodern barista-gone-scientist finds frustrating, and get his roaster to come up with a different coffee. We are not even talking about money yet. Then comes the war to find good enough staff at cheaper rate, and good enough coffee to make a profit. The harsh realities of capitalism comes, and the ideology of Speciality Coffee is secondary to survival. We know this from world history. All Empires built on extreme ideologies fail and dies. And lets face it: Speciality Coffee is quite extreme in the context of capitalism.

What other field do you know, where a specialist is required to extract a product with the latest gadgets and tools, and has to do so while also being focused on making sandwiches and be nice to customers, in interactions that is only lasting for about 90 seconds? That equation gets even harder when you not only need to interact nicely with someone purchasing your goods, you need also to explain why your goods is better, even though a vast majority of buyers actually might consider your product “inferior” to what they are used to.

So how come Speciality Coffee has been so largely successful in some areas of the world? There is one key factor for evolution that Wright speaks of, that I’ve already mentioned: population density. If Speciality Coffee is a 2% market, you must realize that there is a vast difference in evolution if you’re in a market where the customer base is 2% of 1 million people (Stockholm for instance) or 2% of say 25 million (Jakarta for instance). At a visit to a cupping organized by the Indonesian Embassy in Stockholm recently, I was blown away by the tales of the booming barista culture in Indonesia. Ironically, they are using local beans, with closeness to their coffee producer, which would be impressive to the social media barista, if only it wasn’t fucking Indonesian coffee…

Just like any evolution, your benefits is given you by chance. Among the Westerners, you are lucky to grow coffee in Panama, Kenya and Ethiopia for instance. You are not so lucky if you happen to grow coffee in Indonesia, Brasil, India or Uganda, cause your taste profile isn’t Instagram worthy. Only if you do something extraordinary that goes against what most of your neighbours are doing. This is the great paradox: we are considering ourselves liberators of the Third World, with relations of equality, treating our peers at Origin as equals. But only the chosen few, that meets our demands, which is nothing but pure post colonialism. Typical zero sum game between continents, described as non zero sum between individuals.

What mr Dundon is pointing out, is in reality that not everyone subscribes to the original idea of what “speciality” is. I remember clearly when reading job ads in The Western Australian 8 years ago, thinking “if that’s what it means to be a barista, clearly I am not one of those”, being probably on par with the people who shifted from being bartenders to mixologists. I’ve addressed this curse of the barista trade before, where it used to be a platform for creative people slinging coffee in the mornings, to support their musician jobs at night, or whatever, now being replaced by people who see themselves as scientists in service of mankind bringing the world the perfect cup. This to me, in itself, was the death of speciality. I think, frankly, speciality was more or less rarely alive on farm level or producer end, when it comes to how we saw it ourselves. It was a smorgasboard for our benefit, where we picked and chose whatever tickled our fancy at that point in our development, and exactly like those conglomerate behemoths we loath, we as an industry never intended relationships that actually demanded from us to take on full responsibility to create full equality. We were at war too, you know, busy to make our product packaging stand out against our competitors, have more advanced equipment than our neighbor and waste a shitload on milk to make pretty flat whites for our customers instagram value, that benefits us in the end.

Primitive societies, so called Big Man societies, has the one figure to look up to. Once their power fades, their society might fade with them. We have our Big Men on social media (I don’t have to mention their names), so called influencers or leaders that people follow at their least whimsical move. You see them at the parties around the world, white middle class hipsters who are never in conversation with those uninvited producers from India, but with their own peers. Speciality Coffee is very primitive in its structure. The idea of non zero sum in our context comes basically, without intending to do so, from a kind of socialism. And there are very few examples of successful socialism. One big Swedish roaster, now bought up by a huge conglomerate, market themselves as “coffee revolutionaries”. Their revolution seem to be selling lower grade coffee, at lower price to reach more customers. Maybe in the age of post modern relativism, that is actually revolution in Speciality Coffee.

NP: Tragedy The Power Fades

Inside the Pyramid

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I spent a lot of years being a hypnotherapist. Maybe I was good at it because it helped me focus on my own personal development too. Back then, I devoured a lot of self help literature in order to gain insight in how others in the same field thought and worked. Most of it was new age rubbish, but through a lot of sand you could find some nuggets here and there. I was into yoga and meditation, as the hypnotherapy basically was an extention of those traditions mixed in with Classic Freudian psychotherapy.

As I lost interest in this field of work, and became engulfed in the coffee world, I also lost touch with my own practice. The coffee world seemed rational, and so my focus turned to the understanding of the craft rather than the meeting between people, at least for my first couple of years. And my reading list shifted towards the neo-Atheist movement; Daniel C Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to name a few. Not that I agreed with them necessarily, but it rooted me in the material world at the same time as my finances crumbled and my interest in coffee reached a high that demanded some investment on my part. From being a person who didn’t necessarily dream of material wealth beyond a specific guitar, or a new vinyl player, I all of a sudden looked at Hario scales, ACF cups and various brewing equipment with an alarming desire. I see the contradiction in this now.

Many years later, when I got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I started a therapy called MBT (Mentalization Based Therapy), and I found that the whole point of the therapy was to intellectualize my response to other peoples behaviour. If you know anything about Borderline, you will know it is basically a disorder that appears from how you are treated in your childhood. As a therapist used to digging deep into the subconscious, this had a lot of triggers for me as a professional, but also I realized that without the catharsis of using your feelings to heal your past, you will never heal at all.

The only thing this therapy did for me, was that I came up with a formula I call The Pyramid of Basic Needs. Basically, a pyramid has Three sides. Each side represents Relations, Work and Living. Lets look at each side individually:

With Relations, I mean the relation I have with myself and others. If I’m in a healthy relationship with a partner I’m ok. If I am happy to be alone and don’t need a partner, that’s ok too. But if I am alone and haven’t gotten over a former partner, scared of being by myself or missing someone to share my life with, I’m really not ok. Same if I am with a toxic partner. It takes energy to be in that place, it drains you. So, with relations, I mean a supportive one, a relation that gives energy, generates well being. If that is living with your mom, that is ok too. As long as the relationship is what you really want!

With Living, I mean your accomodation. Some people love travelling the world living half their lives in a hotel room. Others hate it. Some people chose to live on the streets, others are there without it being a choice of their own. As long as you have a place that you can unwind, call your own, not being scared that it will be gone tomorrow, not having to ask if it’s ok to stay another night. Or house two kids in a 1 room apartment without privacy for anyone, where they hate to be with you. In my own preference; somewhere sustainable for myself and my kids, having a bed and somewhere to cook, somewhere to put my Xmas decorations in a basement, and I will know next year where they are.

And I guess Work is pretty obvious. But having a job isn’t necessarily your foundation for the Pyramid. A work place is a bit like a relationship. If it’s toxic though great pay, it still might steal more energy than the money is worth. I’ve had jobs in the past that the only reward for going to work was the pay check. And it’s fucking draining.

So my point with the Pyramid is that if you have two sides covered, that can usually get you through the day in the one that isn’t. For instance; you have a loving family and a home, but a shitty job, the support from your family and the sanctuary of your home brings enough energy and comfort to sustain you. You have a home and a job situation that is really rewarding, that could get you through a divorce. You have a girlfriend you love that you can stay with while being without an apartment and you have a job that is rewarding, homelessness is bareable.

If you just have one of these filled, I’d like to imagine it just being the bottom field, and there is just a long hard walk in front of you, no roof on either side to cover you. That is when your life starts to crumble. At one point more than a year ago, I actually didn’t even have a Pyramid. That’s what I realized, and that’s how I came up with the idea of it.

There are a lot of mental images to harvest from a Pyramid. The idea of being a slave building it (though it is now scientific facts the Egyptians didn’t have slaves but free labor to build them), and gain freedom once it’s done, is one I like because it’s actually true. But more importantly; you can’t fully focus on balancing your life truly unless the Pyramid is filled. From my years in hypnotherapy, I now realize that a lot of people seek help in desperate times, which is great if you have the basics covered. But if you don’t, therapy will do very little to change that for you. If your wife leaves you, and you have to move home to your demanding mother, while you’re struggling at work, there’s no way that any therapy will help you sort that out. It can help you find motivation to get a new job, move away from mom and find a new partner at best, but true change will only appear when the Pyramid is filled on all sides.

That’s why I have so Little tolerance for these so called “yogis”, who spend their time posting Pictures of themselves on far away beaches, in expensive yoga outfits, trying to sell you yoga teacher Courses so you too can become rich and go to a far away beach and wear expensive yoga outfits. That is escapism, and escapism is always used when you want to get away from something; not rarely a job you’re not happy with, a relationship that isn’t fullfilling, or a home you’re not completely happy with.

My wife wrote something extremely Beautiful to me the other day, and it totally resonated with me, cause that is exactly how I feel too: “My life Before you is a dull haze, it seems somehow both unimportant (as if I wasn’t fully alive yet), and in some strange way a preparation to get to you, to us. Maybe it was a trial of some sort, and I’m so happy and grateful I made it through to get to this profound love and happiness we share“.

Looking back at my life now, I see that my Pyramid was never filled. I used to Think that whatever job I had was ok as long as it kept me being able to do what I was passionate about in my spare time. The problem is, I didn’t have the energy to pursue my passions. Instead I escaped through drinking. And then I escaped through work, I escaped through my family, and while stuck in a vortex of alcoholism and hating life, I escaped it all and ended up with nothing. Basically, I had to lose it all in order to realize what I actually needed. My life had been an endless trial up until that point, and in a way, my wife had done not the same, but a similar journey.

Writer Cal Newport said something obvious yet so profoundly life changing for me to understand: do what you’re good at, not what your passion is. For ten years I’ve been trying to chase that passion of coffee, when what I am good at is really to deal with people. And all this time trying to get to the core of the bean, has been an idea to use as a Foundation in order to build relationships. I work bar cause I like to socialize with customers. I want to be a roaster so I can go to farms and get to know people from other walks of life, not really to understand the absolute best way to set a roast curve. I want to write in order to meet people and let me share their stories. If you ever saw “Into the wild”, or read Jon Krakauers fantastic book, there is a very touching scene at the end, when Christopher MacCandless is dying alone in deepest Alaska in the Magic Bus. He has carved in the Words “Happiness is only real when shared”, while realizing he has gone through all these adventures, yet has chosen not to share it with anyone. And with sharing I don’t mean an Instagram Picture.

NP: Dio Egypt (When the Chains Are On)

Back to the future

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For nine months I was away from Kafe Orion. The reason why I left was simple: I needed money and was promised the land of milk and honey, when in fact I was given something completely different, working for people with their heads too far up their asses to see their customer. Meanwhile, Orion had been left to its own demise under the rule of millenials, caring a lot for each other but very little for the shop. We lost our place in the White Guide Café book (which has a bit to do with that fact, and a lot to do with the fact we didn’t want to pay to be in it, but that’s another story).

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Mirror to Orions soul

First of all, I had recruited people with knowledge or passion for coffee, and soon after I left they also left or was left in the dark. There was noone to inspire them. Second, the new manager hired friends, with friendship as their sole merit basically. Needless to say, they have been of little or no use to the business. Third, there has been no initiative what so ever to make the best of what they’ve had in front of them. Instead it’s been all doom and gloom. Quality and care had dropped to an unheard of level. So what to do?

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A sticker from a box my grandmother got her TV in the 60’s in.

First of all, cleaning up was important. And taking away everything that was part of the past. Then the food had to come up to scratch. I am currently looking over the menu, and after the summer I will try to take a leap of faith moving away from meats totally and stick to vegetarian and vegan options. Being vegan myself, and working a lot in the kitchen these days, has been very inspiring. Then reclaiming the coffee focus that Orion was always known for. Redeepen the connection with Da Matteo has been essential.

There are some interesting things coming up for Kafe Orion, part of it is the change that we will make ourselves. But first of all, it’s key to find mature staff with hospitality and food experience, and keep on pushing the Speciality Coffee industry of Stockholm. It feels great to be back at a place that I actually care about, working for people with a vision and understanding of what hospitality is. 9 months is like a deliverance, and here I am at my own rebirthing.

NP: Millencolin Greener Grass

 

 

What I know about how not to run a cafe

I’ve had a valuable experience this past 9 months. At least that’s what I tell myself for not going completely mad over the fact I spent 9 months in a complete shit show, working for people with no clue of what they’re doing. But I might as well write down a few notes for future reference.

The setting

So, you buy a place that has been around for 20 years, the past 17 years with the same owners, the past ten years with the same interior design, which is pretty distinct to its identity as a cafe. Before I even started there, I thought of it as a brothel. Not that I’ve visited one, but you know, that stereotypical idea you have what a brothel would look like. The place has 3 different functions; café, coffee bar and lunch restaurant. They have stuff that has been crowd pleasers for at least 10 years, fostering the regulars into finding their very own darlings.

The food

The food offered is a mix between traditional cafe food, such as salads and grilled sandwiches that anyone in the industry easily can learn how to make. There’s not much innovation going on here (chevre and beetroot anyone?), but they’re highly valued in the area, that is one of the richest and conservative in Stockholm. We even have high demand for soy lattes, so you get what decade these people are stuck in. If you are taking over a place, you basically have two options: do what has always been done, if possible even better, or change the whole menu.

Then you also offer a daily special, which basically has its own crowd you don’t want to miss out on, since it’s good for your turn over. The daily specials are pretty basic staple Swedish traditionals, which normally comes with free drink, bread and side salad. This is a treachereous path, because a lot of the value comes with the free stuff you get with it. So you are cornered. The previous owner had honed his craft as a cook in this field for 17 years, so he was pretty solid in making this kind of food. And smart – since a chef is the most expensive player in your team, you as an owner should take ownership of this role naturally. When he left, the two salad guys were left in charge of the daily special. Needless to say, with background in a completely different Culture, with completely different palates, they have little clue how to come up with a menu of this kind. At best they can copy dishes already made before at a decent level.

And then we have the offerings that goes with coffee: the baked stuff. Previously, the owners have bought everything from a renowned bakery, keeping it quite simple, and letting the staff bake some treats when quiet in the cafe. The new owners biggest interest is baking, and thus focus heavily on that, which is great if you have a designated baker with a clear agenda on what to make.

The staff

I´d say that staff is your foundation on what you build your business. Compared to a house, you build a solid ground with your staff, you can build a skyrise on top of that, one level at a time. Sky is the limit.

When buying the cafe, the idea was to keep the staff, and add the owners + a head barista/bar manager. Current staff were 3 women who had been there forever, knowing the ins and outs of the place second nature. To put a “manager” there, that has to learn the place from scratch is not an easy task. So you have to start from the bottom, building trust with your co workers, understanding that they know better than you, and from there focus on what they aren’t great at (in this case they were all good, but not passionate, coffee makers with full knowledge of the Italian coffee menu, but no knowledge in the produce, and some technique issues, that’s it). The original plan was to let the “manager” be responsible of front of house, and active owner responsible for back of house. This requires a dedication to the bar in my case, and the kitchen in the owners case.

So, the setting is clear: the task is to up sales, keep the food menu great(er) and increase sales in the bar by getting the quality and choices up. My first task is to get the front of house coffee savvy, and talk about the Product, why we have changed coffee (from a robusta blend to a speciality coffee Mocha/Java blend), and create a good team spirit. The women I got to know , were some of the best I’ve worked with in the industry; super efficient and hospitality minded with a great personality. So, a relatively easy task for someone wanting to build a team.

And so it begins

Very soon it becomes apparent that the owner is not kitchen material, he cannot handle the stress and there is chaos. One of the front staff enters the kitchen and becomes the salad and sandwich person, and with experience from both front and back of house, she becomes the key person in the whole cafe, in my opinion. Meanwhile, the owner now focuses solely on baking, and trying to make himself useful in creating new routines in everything we do. I tell him we need information on what is in the baked stuff, allergenics etc. but since he tries new things all the time, there is little consistency and no information whatsoever, even what is the flavor in the baked stuff. The staff has to guess what they are selling, and once creating a favorite that quickly disappears never to come back.

Then there are endless lists to fill in. Lists to count the till, lists for purchases, things that takes excruciatingly long time to do, so noone follows them since there is no information on when deliveries are due or when they are supposed to be filled in. All this order and efficiency that is intended to be created, leaves even more chaos, adding stress, tension and irritation among staff. For a coffee person it’s easy to understand that if you want order around you, it should be created from the people actually working in the bar, not by someone who thinks what look best. And when finally getting behind the bar themselves, have to recreate the organisation because they can’t get workflow from their own chaos. But hey, he’s the boss…

Another important thing about staff is the way they build relations with your customers. This place has been a haunt for regulars for at least 17 years. The former owner would sit in the bar chatting to customers, taking in feedback, answering questions, making them feel at home. It was basically his home away from home, people got the feeling they were in his living room. That is something most hospitality oriented people think about, since if you want a business to be long term, you need people to invest in you emotionally. The current staff had quickly adapted to this. As a new owner, it is crucial to take over this role, or you leave it to the staff. The owners became anonymous, almost invisible. When you’ve invested emotionally in a place over such a long time, you want to know whose living room you are in now. Most people assumed the women in front of house had bought the place, or that I was the new owner, since we took over the role of keeping customers happy and informed on changes and additions to the place.

Instead, the new owners are product focused, seeing customers as units and wants to create short term up sales by making you add 30 cents on “special milk” or the repetetive sales push you get at Seven Eleven. Impersonal, efficient, chain thinking. That philosophy works if you recreate the whole image of the place, but recreating the approach to your customer in an old setting is not fortunate, especially in a neighborhood that demands personal service. Instead focus becomes heavy on “creating ambience in the details”; Tealights, flowers and cucumbers in the water. Initially, customers finds all these things cosy and homely. But soon, when loyalty card systems starts to fail in the new till system, and staff becomes increasingly stressed and pushed when being personal, customers detect that a “perfect facade” is only a surface of something else.

The inevitable

The staff starting to feel alienated. The fear of change has shifted into anger that the new owners has ruined a perfectly good setting for the customers, and it is taken out on the staff from both sides. When sticking to old friendly service, owners complain that staff is not efficient, but then customers feel that they are no longer welcome.

Soon staff leaves, which is actually natural when there is change in a work place. However, they leave for the wrong reasons. Instead of empowering the staff to feel that their knowledge and experience in the place is treated with care, the owners see this knowledge as power, and start to work against them. Straight up bullying from time to time. Needless to say, the staff too has invested emotionally in this place, feeling like captains of a sinking ship, but aim for the lifevests and jump ship against their own wills. Now the owner who couldn’t take the heat in the kitchen enters the bar. He’s been constantly micro managing the bar without actually being in it. Now there’s constant changes in everything from where spoons are to colors in the ordering system, leaving great frustration with remaining staff (me). Not knowing from day to day where the straws are or where I will have to look for cocoa is annoying. There’s no order in an order created from day to day to “try a new order”.

 

IMG_3587

Found these on my last shift, for the closing staff. Three different lists of chores for closing.

 

And routines what each shift has to do, all ends up on one shift. You guessed it; the one shift the owner isn’t on. Where staff normally would help with stuff before they left the morning shift to go home, now is left to the evening staff, because as soon as the owner feels it’s quiet, he pisses off into the basement and works on new routines, signs, ideas for baking, or other things he should’ve done before opening the doors to his cafe.

Basically, going back to the analogy of building a house on a solid foundation, this house has been built on a swamp, and focus has not been on correcting this, but trying various ways to keep the curtains straight once the house sinks.

The solution in hindsight

I admit, I write this post with a lot of resentment and bitterness. I was tricked into it by former friends who fucked me over financially and emotionally. Yesterday I had enough, and threw in the tea towel. I write this from a vegan cafe where one of the women who worked at the cafe now thrives as a manager, where she took in my daughter to work occasionally, where the owners have created a sense of belonging and appeal to visit.

It’s always easier to see what should’ve been done when looking in the rear mirror. But a few things are very apparent:

  • There were two women present when taking over the location. They knew the place inside out, including the customers. When they realized they couldn’t afford me, weren’t happy with my approach, they should’ve ended my contract right there and then, and offered the women the management roles in front- and back of house!
  • Tealights, cucumbers in water tanks and flowers don’t sell by itself. It adds to an experience, it doesn’t make up for lack of one.
  • If you are the owner who also work rostered on a shift, you can’t take two hours to make a cake that brings in the equivalent of four sold salads that takes 15 minutes to make. Especially if you’re going to bitch about the closing shift taking too long time cleaning up your fucking mess.
  • Make slow changes. If you make a succesful cake, or an efficient routine, don’t change it on a whimsical. Stick to it for a longer period of time.
  • Treat people with respect. All people. A guy doing the dishes deserves the same respect as someone making the food or coffee.
  • Be consistent in your promises, clear in your information, and always take responsibility. Everyone hates when you’ve fucked up but you keep blaming them for it. Hiding in the basement not willing to take responsibility for your own mess, is the worst kind of leadership both to your customers and to your staff. Why should I stand up for your business if you don’t?

Life is too short for bad coffee, is one repeated meme in a lot of places. You know what: life is too short for bad working environment, for being treated like shit, for being treated like a unit and not a person. I wish this industry could see why people leave it.

NP Ramones Strength to Endure

Straight to the edge

One of my favorite authors is Jonathan Safran Foer. His book “Everything is Illuminated” was a brilliant master piece, and the adaption to screen was expectedly horrible. When Foer released the book “Eating Animals”, I was already a vegetarian, but for years to come I passed on the book as christmas gifts, birthday gifts etc because its message was both essential and brilliant at the same time.

My wife and I had the opportunity to see one of his talks in Stockholm last year, and even though he seemed somewhat reserved and maybe a little bit boring in person, his intellect was razor sharp and entertaining.

It so happens that my wife works for a foundation, The Influence Film Club, that helps highlighting documentaries of essence, on various topics. She got word that there would be an adaption of “Eating Animals” out soon, and I didn’t have very high hopes for it. I got really upset when watching a pre screener at home in bed, simply because it was disturbing footage, but then she did the Q&A at Tempo Film Festival and I decided I wanted to see it again.

After the film, director Christopher Dillon Quinn was present to answer questions. The input he gave to some of the stuff we saw in the film, was equally interesting. For instance, criticism could be raised that it’s an american perspective, but the truth is that they had found out it’s actually a global one. Americas large corporations actually have placed their offices in Europe because the animal laws here are more liberal. Another anecdote that really stuck with me, was one of his film crew got so upset from visiting one of the labeled “organic” farms, that he called his wife and ordered her to through out all dairy they had in the house. Seeing the truth behind animal protein based foods, not as units but as suffering flesh and blood, should be enough for anyone who say they care the least for animals. But also; the turkey farmer Frank in the film, they had meassured the amount of protein in his turkeys compared to the ones in the supermarket. Basically you have to eat six of the commodity farmed ones, to get the same protein content as one of Franks.

I have been a vegetarian for about 17 years now, and found vegetarianism through the Hare Krishna movement. Simply put, if we’re all spiritual animals and we all have our dharma (lot in life), it is in our nature to consume what the animals give (i e milk, eggs etc, though eggs are not to be consumed by Vaisnavs) but not to take their lives, since all life is precious. It is easy to understand why vegetarianism is of importance in India. The cow is of more value alive to a family or even a village, than on a plate. Even meat eaters consider meat a luxury, rather than a staple. And even though I am torn why it would be more merciful to kill a buck at his prime age, just because he’s running free in the forrest, when you can opt to not eat meat, it is more in our nature as hunters and gatherers to consume meat as a luxury and for survival when left out of options, than as a God given right. And if you’re a born again Atheist, you should be very aware of the fact that meat consumption of today stems from a Biblical order where man were made master of all other animals.

Ironically, after spending almost a year begging my wife, who is a true Southerner and thus an avid meat eater, to become vegetarian, she came home after a pre screening of upcoming film “The Game Changers”, a documentary on athletes on plant based diet, realizing she fell for the meat industries old bullshit about protein, and now wanted us to become vegan. Nothing made more sense to me, and it was somewhat a relief to me to have someone to take that final step with.

Because a plant based diet is not just about animal care, it’s about your health and the future of our planet. And to me personally, I don’t care if you eat meat, but I think it’s important to look for a sustainable consumption. In a very short future, Da Matteo owner Matts Johansson will release a sort of manifesto to showcase his ongoing and endless involvement in small scale production and sales. Where the supply and demand chain is benefitting the capitalist structure, making the world a small village online, it is a healthy counter culture to shop vegetables, meat and dairy from local farmers. That awareness should be omnipresent within the speciality coffee community, not just for coffee farmers, but for the future of our planet.

NP: Earth Crisis Slither

Time to pay the rant

The pop scientist Malcolm Gladwell famously popularized the idea of the 10 000 hours it takes to master a craft. It roughly translates to 10 years, but as he examples, extraordinary performers like The Beatles managed to quick up the pace of those hours with circumstance, supply and demand. They spent a year playing every night in Hamburg, every night with enourmously long sets basically forcing themselves into becoming creative not to bore themselves nor their audience.

The same can probably be said about World Barista Champions of the past. Many of the legendary winners of the competition were baristas for a long time, mastering their craft out of many hours of bar routine and most likely (I speculate) from boredom. I remember specifically a barista in Sweden that was really upset he didn’t have the same chances as everyone else, cause he didn’t have a sponsor for travel and accomodation. He’s a lovely guy, don’t get me wrong, I had him staying at my house for accomodation that competition, but an attitude like that don’t win you championships. Personally, losing a close friend, battling a crazy pregnant ex girlfriend, homelessness and my own raging alcoholism got me to the finals but was too much to take me to the top. And I did have a sponsor for travel and accomodation.

A lot of times we see the coffee industry through the looking glass of the competition. But in order to even have the idea of competing, you are most likely a working barista the rest of the 51 weeks of the year. I say 51 cause there are 52 in a year, and even if you get a weeks worth off for competiting in total (if you’re lucky on more than one level), you are most likely not having paid holidays in your contract. For a lot of us, sick leave doesn’t even exist. We are just left with cut hours that week. In order for the industry to make the comps democratic, imho, is to look at the reality of working within the industry.

This year, about now actually, I’ve done my 10 000 hours of being a barista on a professional level. I started off at the hardest school possible. Even though we had our ups and downs, our differences and fall out for a long time (even though now reconciled and patched up), I thought what I experienced at my first real barista job was a norm, though it was extreme. I figured it might be I wasn’t used to the Australian work culture. Maybe my boss was a lunatic. Regardless of how I percieved my work at that time, to this date I haven’t had one single place where I didn’t get screwed over and used somehow. It is the norm in our line of work. But nowhere else did I willingly accept it for so long and at a very high price (I had to leave Australia and return to the hell that is Stockholm due to family reasons). Why?

I got to work with some of the best equipment and beans around. And I’ve never learnt so much from a single person throughout my career. And to this date I can still say it was the most crucial time of my life that shaped me, gave me a career and fed a passion I’ve never thought could exist in a work place.

But, now I’m 43 years old, and equipment and beans don’t pay my bills nor support my family. It’s the only craft I know. It has cost me a lot to be where I am, and yet I am going nowhere. Talor Browne held a very important talk that cannot and should not be ignored, which is an elephant in the room for a lot of us. Mental health might be something you bring with you to any work place, but in my experience the work environment and its conditions are also a key trigger for making it better or worse. As a man, I’m usually treated better than a lot of female staff, due to gender and maybe also age. Most of my co workers have been brilliant girls with a much higher standard of professionalism than myself. The only company I’ve seen rewarding women, and fair work ethics, is Da Matteo, a company I will probably be true to for the rest of my career, though not saying it’s a perfect employer. But close enough.

Your preformance at work stems from many factors; your private life is one of them (that includes the stake holders of your financial situation), inspiration is another (which might or might not include cutting edge machines, beans, produce, great colleagues etc). Encouragement though, might be the key factor that binds it all together. One inevitable encouragement is your salary. Most of us know this industry doesn’t pay well. So the inspiration must be high in order to make up for that. Creating a positive spirit at work is key. More than often though, the lack of inspiration in combination with leadership mostly consisting of petty micro managing, brings staff together negatively against management. Weak leadership then tries to conquer by dividing people, or by fear. That just takes the problem to another level.

When building relations with staff, and customers, it is important to feel you get something, and not lose something. In my recent and on going case, it’s been losing out more and more as I go. In July I got offered a very good deal, a salary and paid holiday leave. In September I’m told the business cannot afford this and need to renegotiate my contract. The employer considered this an oral agreement, when in fact neither hourly wages nor amount of hours has been discussed closly, only in broader terms. When starting my contract, the employer was very well aware of both my financial situation and the fact I was leaving for Las Vegas for a week, stating I should’ve worked up my holiday pay until then. Needless to say, the “new contract” both decreased my hours as well as left me with a week of unpaid leave. This when letting them know I was looking for other jobs not beeing able to afford keeping my position. Several negotiations with other employers fell through leaving me in a limbo where either facing unemployment or struggling with hours.

In the latest events we find out that even though our closing hours are at 7pm and we should serve people up to the last minute, leaving me doing dishes and closing up which will take anything from 25-50 minutes depending on the situation, we still don’t get paid after 7. That means I’ve worked for free approximately at least a full week (getting robbed twice of my Vegas trip if you’d like). Still the employer demands more and more to be done at closing. I’ve had no job where closing shop didn’t include 30 minutes closing time. If it took me an hour for some reason, I’d still get 30 minutes at least. This thing started when the kitchen closed 7 but got paid until 7.30. They didn’t do their dishes and left it to the bar, and went home at 7. So what makes the employer think I want to do their dishes for free?

If you don’t pay your suppliers, there will be no more supply. But what happens when you don’t pay your workers. This is not the first time I’m being screwed over by people simply not caring about the personal finances of their staff. When coming back from parental leave, I agreed to have my hours cut to 80%. All of a sudden they were 40% and paid by hour instead of a monthly salary. When saying this wasn’t sustainable, I got a shit load of inconvenient hours, still with an hourly rate making my finances better but my personal situation was even worse.

Back to the issue of mental health. One of the most important things for people suffering from various issues, is to keep stress down. There are various kinds of stress, and various individual triggers. For me, I don’t mind a heavy work load when I feel in control of my situation. A barista with a long docket might actually find it kind of soothing, experiencing “flow” (the more scientifically studied phenomena, I mean here). It can free you from trouble on your mind, and liberate you for a while taking you into a positive mind set. A kind of active mindfulness if you will. The stress we normally feel is wearing us down, is one we have no control over. Financial issues is a heavy burden, in my case logistics with family matters is another factor. But how is anyone supposed to deal with stress relief, if money is scarce and time is eaten up by just sleeping and reboot yourself to be able to deal with bare necessities, like laundry?

My last employer helped me with therapy, working around the hours for me to be able to go. It ate a huge hole out of my wallet, but at least he tried. And I understand the hardships of running a small business, I had to bring my 3 year old with me for whole workdays when she was sick or noone to look after her. More frequently than I’d like to admit actually. The same is happening again. I work when I’m sick, cause I can’t afford being home, and still I have no money left once the bills are paid. The only excercise I get is walking to work, instead of yoga and meditation, I steal a minute or two having a smoke, and the only kickboxing I do is the ones in my mind fighting off my demons. How the hell am I supposed to deal with life when it has me in chokehold?

I am no status clinger, I don’t need material things to feel happy. But bare essentials, like buying glasses to stop headaches when I watch TV, or going on a holiday once a year with my family, or even buying a pair of new pants, things most people outside our trade can take for granted at my age and circumstance, are a fucking luxury to me.

I am eternally greatful for an extremely supportive wife and children that loves me through the darkest hours. But shouldn’t a culture that talk about the welfare and fairness for coffee farmers start looking around their own fucking café and see how the well being of their employees are effected by their lack of support? I mean, getting paid for what you actually do for them shouldn’t be too much to ask, really….

NP: Youth of Today Break Down The Walls

New Day Rising

“Are you willing to die for what you believe? It might just come to that.

Identity is a strong thing for a person. What you identify as, will shape you into an entity of ideas that you impose onto the world with force, cause you’re right. And if you’re not, not only your ideas, but you personally will suffer the consequenses.

Identity politics are intertwined with the idea of projecting those not only on yourself to shine a little brighter, they’re also essential to keep up an appearance. When being pushed into question your appearance, a psychological mechanism normally tends to harden your identity, instead of questioning the very ideas you project onto yourself and others.

I know this very well, being brought up in minor subcultures that worked as counter cultures; against conformity, against the mainstream. Speciality coffee was the last of subcultures, and the one least hard to incorporate in a normal life. But unlike other contexts I’ve explored through my identity, it very quickly became both mainstream and conform.

I sometimes read a blog for fun, from a young rather pretentious coffee entrepreneur. He wrote something along the lines of “change of habits is important to develop”. At first I giggled, but then I realized that it’s actually a true way to keep an open mind. Even Marx famously wrote: all solid will melt into air. If holding onto ideas too hard, pragmatism is hard and you’ll try to shape the world according to your beliefs, cause it is seemingly easier than shape your self according to the world.

Speciality coffee has a track record of wanting to educate the customer rather than pleasing her. It’s part of our identity. By accepting our craft, our taste in acidic light bodied coffees, instead of full bodied dark roasted coffee that tastes great with milk and a bagel (a guilty pleasure of mine), you are accepting the messenger. And if you don’t – fuck you!

I sacrificed a lot on that altar of integrity. I’ve worked crazy hours, I’ve worked for minimum wage, I lost a life in paradise and in the end a marriage to be in coffee. My children has grown up in an environment where sick days don’t exist and if they’re sick, they have to come with me to work cause there is no other way to deal with it, simply cause there’s not enough staff to fill in for you. And it has never been my business, I’m talking about being employed in the business. In the end, my integrity for the coffee I’m serving has been a beast of burden for someone elses cause to make money (any business has to, regardless what their coffee is like).

The past ten years, I’ve identified with the chimera that is what it takes to “be in coffee”. I’ve always, for as long as I’ve remembered, been an underdog. When I was young, insecure and ugly, I lived by the motto “if they won’t love you, make them fear you”. That is a destructive way to confront the world, and I am to this date very surprised I made it past 25. In the end it consumes you to be at war with the world.

My wife, who grew up in the deep south of the US, an passionate a meat eather as anyone down there, came home after watching the documentary “The Game Changers” and said: “we’re going vegan”. As someone who has almost her begged her to consider going vegetarian, having banned meat in our house, it was one of the most heartwarming things I’ve heard. But it also made me think of my identity. I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years, having indoctrinated my kids that we don’t eat dead animals. Now I’m pushing myself away from my own identity as someone who would never give up cheese.

When entering coffee, I gave up a lot of my spiritual search. Being a fringe dweller of the Hare Krishna movement for 12 years shaped my personality to never underestimate in a belief in something greater than what your eye can see, but I studied atheist literature hard at the time of commiting myself to coffee, which made me a very secular being. It lead me astray from a positive mind attitude, and let me watch all my ideals through the bottom of a glass for many years, unwilling to identify with anything but someone who had fought and lost. If there’s no greater being, and the cause of which I commited myself to does not provide what I need to survive, what is left of my identity?

So, abolish the rules made of stone. I once stayed sober for seven years by ditching the AA, who told me I was an alcoholic and said I had no choice in the matter. Instead I bailed, and chose to see myself as someone who had chosen to be sober. When I was a kid and my mom wouldn’t let me stay out with the other kids to drink and raise hell, I found the Straight Edge movement to be my counter culture. I told myself I had chosen this, it gave me an identity, an empowerment instead of feeling crippled.

From Monday I will return to a sXe lifestyle. Reconstructing myself, thinking of myself through a positive mind attitude. Honor myself by chosing creativity and not destructiveness. I chose this identity to survive in a world that will always keep pushing you around. Only this time, I’m pushing back!

NP: Gorilla Biscuits Start Today

Brighter Days Ahead

2017 will written down in history as the worst and the best year of my 43 year old life. I’m writing this down while doing the laundry on New Years Eve, my wife is lying down having a migraine fit that usually hits her in times of stress. I can’t really remember the last New Years I’ve celebrated. My old alcoholic self would refer to it as “the night of the amateurs”.

A year ago today, I was in a relationship on the brink of turning into a complete nightmare. Though I didn’t know this at the time (though I should’ve felt it coming from a mile away if I had been in a better state of mind). We had an argument the night before, so I wasn’t sure what New Years would be like. I called my friend Thomas, who was one of the few people I had shared my problems with, who I had gone to AA meetings with, who got me to look up if I might have a diagnosis and get help through that, who I had for several years been trying to get back on feet together with. His struggle was a lot heavier than mine, but he always supported me. We talked about celebrating New Years Eve together, but I also wanted to make things ok with my then girlfriend, and I was also terrified being with him on such a stigmatized night as New Years, which would probably end up with us getting drunk or worse. I didn’t want to fall off the wagon. So I went with my girlfriend to this dinner, where she got mad at one of the guests, and we left the house at around 10.30PM to catch a bus into town. There in the rain, I spoke to Thomas for the second last time I would ever speak to him. He was home, bored and sober, watching TV. I often think of how nothing would have changed if I had spent that night with him, but I would have another memory of us together still. That night ended in a complete disaster for me, spending it most of a time in a park having an endless argument over absolutely nothing for hours and hours. 48 hours later I ended that relationship, and I was flooded with SMS’ that was basically a verbal murder on my person. I knew this person wasn’t well, and I told myself this would pass so I didn’t respond.

Two weeks later she’s at my doorstep telling me she is pregnant. As a father of two, I immediately felt I had to take responsibility. We patched things up and tried to get back to as if nothing had happened that awful New Years night. But the whole thing was an open wound. Soon afterwards, I get a phone call from one of our closest friends, that Thomas had passed away in an overdose, leaving two devastated children behind. Everything turned black. When shortly afterwards meeting up friends of Thomas to grieve, things took an ugly turn and I had to once and for all end that toxic relationship. Now the SMS terror was even uglier, I fell off the wagon, and I started to respond to the terror in equally toxic ways, not really helping any of it. After weeks and weeks of non stop terror, it all turned quiet. She was gone. But silence was even worse, since I had no idea what would happen to that baby that was supposed to be born in September.

In order to try to block this ordeal out, I focused on the Brewers Cup, went to Jönköping for the Swedish Nationals and competed. Made the first round to the finals, but it was held on the Friday, about the same time Thomas was buried, and there I was “playing coffee” when my friend was going into the ground. I couldn’t think straight and I failed miserably in the finals, took my bags and went home.

In order to escape the world of my own thoughts, I dared sticking out my head in the dating world, without any real hope of finding more than a few hours to not having to think of my situation; out of money, out of luck, stuck in a cell like apartment. And there she was; my southern belle. I had not planned on falling in love, but here was the most wonderful, kind, caring, understanding and beautiful person I had ever met, and she felt the same. From our very first date, we were never separated.

My living situation has been a disaster this whole year. I’ve counted to 8 different places I have called home, though some only briefly, the past 18 months. That is a nightmare if you have two kids. There’s this pyramid that needs to be whole if your life should be complete: regardless of what is the foundation or the top end, each side is your relations, your living space and your work/financial income. If one of these three are not fulfilled, your life is stressful. At one point, I had no pyramid at all. Now I had a fulfilling relationship, but no home and my financial situation looked very dire. I thought the solution was close at hand by shifting work, with great promises of a steady salary and benefits.

So I changed jobs, and I moved in with my girlfriend to save us both money, at the cost of one of my kids not being able to live with me at the moment due to the size of the apartment. In less than two months, I had my contract “renegotiated” (without my consent, and basically being stuck without being able to get out, trying to find jobs that didn’t come through) and we got thrown out of the apartment because the owner had to sell. In the midst of this, we had already planned and payed for to get married in Vegas. So life had gone from throwing us lemons to basically stoning us.

As it was, we finally landed a first hand contract for a 4 room apartment, to fit us and both kids. Two sides of the pyramid are fulfilled, and slowly hope is coming back to us. So besides finding the love of my life in 2017, this year has pretty much been shit. Each year I give resolutions what I should do next year with my life, but life has pretty much come in my way this year, and my hopes and dreams have all been put on hold. So here’s my wish list for 2018:

  • find a job that allows me to budget my life out of debt, and that will be easier to solve the logistics of having care of a small child.
  • stop smoking, stay away from alcohol and try to focus on health
  • find strength to do the two things I have set out to do this year: get a band together and get that book going.

Until then, I’ll lead a simple life. Wondering off into the waste land, and learn to live again.

NP: Tragedy No Cemeteries Here