Killing Your Darlings With Coffee


Today’s story begins with the phrase which had begun many a morning for me:

So I was in line at Starbucks.

Judge me. Go ahead. Because I’m sure you always have time to hunt down an indie coffee shop. I’m sure you and your indie-coffee-shop-finding buddies enjoy the sweet nectar of free-trade hubris in recyclable cups every morning, with a soupcon of disdain for people who don’t shop at farmer’s markets available in organic creamer-form on the dash.

No? Boo hoo.

Anyway, I was in line at Starbucks, and I noticed it was taking the guy in front of me a while to get his drink. Six or seven minutes sort of a while: in Starbucks language, that’s geological ages. Like, I was checking my phone wishing I could die.

When the barista was finally done sacrificing to the coffee gods, or whatever it is a barista has to do to produce a cupload of soylent coffee-substitute, I could see why. The thing that had been produced–this coffee-esque item–was a modern marvel. It had more sugary shit on top of it than Miley Cyrus after a night on the town. There were sugar drizzles, sugary whipped cream, flecks of sugar, chocolate sugar scrimbles. It was probably four thousand calories, and provided enough diabeetus to keep four third-world countries in insulin for the forseeable future. It probably had extra pumps in it.

(On a related note–why does it not bother people to order things with extra ‘pumps’ of stuff in them? Nothing natural–nothing–has ever been pumped into anything. Anyway.)

This quivering gelatinous pile of almost-coffee–this southern-style cream pie rendered as a potable liquid–this degenerate fuck-you to good taste and simple living on all seven continents–was picked up by its proud owner and, unceremoniously, slurped down on the way out the door.

As though he got one of those every morning.

As though it were perfectly normal–perfectly–to suck down a sugary showboat that took some poor kid seven minutes to make on the way to your car, balancing your phone in your other hand.

Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when we all want a fancy ten-layer coffee beverage. There are times when even I, diabetic curmudgeon extraordinaire, am okay with paying eight dollars for a frappa-crappa-cuppa-zuppa-mocha-latte-hazelnut.

But these times aren’t every day. I want one of those maybe once every three months, and even then I usually ponder the craving for a month or so (‘how badly, really, do I want a diabetic coma?’). And I usually get a small. And I tip the poor barista.

My point:

Don’t listen to all those people who tell you whether or not to kill your sugary-sweet darlings. They don’t know what the hell your darlings are–you do. Some of them might have literary merit. Just like, sometimes, that ridiculous coffee confection is just the thing you want–sometimes, you need fillings and a serious sugar-coma.

Writing, my dears, is the Starbucks of the soul.

Most of the time, you should probably go for the plain black coffee of prose. A pack or two of sugar if that’s how you like it, some milk or creamer if you’re that sort of person. Nonetheless: plain coffee. It wakes you up. It gets the job done.
If you drink mostly plain coffee–if you keep your writing style simple and direct–it’ll only mean you appreciate your moments of prosey frappa-mocha-fucka-whatever better.

Because it’s hard to appreciate two pumps of extra whatever-you-pump when you’ve been having it every day.

And plain black coffee isn’t so bad–there’s a lot of subtle difference in plain black coffee. You might even argue, for that matter, that the person who can wax rhapsodic about a cup of plain black coffee is a gourmet–whereas the person who waxes rhapsodic about a cup of sugary, milky, coffee-putrescence is a future diabetic.

It’s up to you, of course, to decide what the appropriate amount of time between frappa-fuckas really is. But, believe me here–there is one. I know, I know, you’ve all heard that old adage, kill your darlings–it’s true. For the most part.

But if you kill all your darlings–if you drink nothing but black coffee from now until the end of time–I can’t help it, I find that a little sad. There’s a fun, sugary part of your soul that no one else will ever see again, that makes your writing what it is. And, sure, indulging in it too much is bad for you–but a little self-indulgence, from time to time, is medicine rather than murder.

The expression ‘kill your darlings’ teaches us, wrongly, that something is harmful to us just because we like it. And, like the Starbucks coffee, it certainly is, if we let it rule us–but if you use your darlings judiciously, if you pick the best of them and apply them with care, there’s no reason that bit you like shouldn’t stay in.

Just because you like it doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.

And in the end, you should be getting a second (or third, or fourth) opinion anyway. If they give your sugary baby the axe, maybe it’s not quite time yet. But if they don’t, let your darling live.

Because people who never ever get a frappuchino are just a little bit soulless. You need to play a little, give in to your cravings a little. They’re part, after all, of who you are.

Unless, of course, you hate frappuchinos. In which case: get one once. Just so you know. If you don’t break the rules ever, you’ll never know what happens when you do.

By the way, this whole post is me not killing a darling. There’s nothing we like over here in Emville like extended metaphors…regardless of how well they work.

REAL LIFE: Piss, Coffee, and Vomit

Christ, but looking at this picture makes me feel ill. We may have to change blog names. Photo via, photographer Daniel Ruswick.

Hi there. You are, right now, wondering why there’s no Friday review up yet. Of course you are. You’re one of the five people who read my blog. Six, if I count Mom. Hi, Mom.

Well, let me tell you. I’ve got a review together. It’ll go up later. Today, for a limited time only, I want to vent about my morning. No, no, stick around. It’s funny. Horrible, but funny.

I woke up at six o’clock this morning, so I could bus into work (thirty five miles away from where I live and down an interstate highway. The Things We Do For Job.) and still somehow deposit my paycheck, which I needed right in the bankhole for rent-paying purposes. You can already guess from the past tense how this is going.

Before boarding my second bus of the day, I had a huge cup of coffee. Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This bus is about an hour’s ride. Yes, you read that right. I am on a bus, on an interstate highway, for a solid fucking hour. In this case I was on it for longer, because traffic was blocked for about three exits. Just more fun, right?
Wait for it. Because on the middle of a highway, on a public fucking bus, in the middle of editing Little Bird, I get motion sick. This is what happens when you drink thirty ounces of coffee, eat nothing, and stare at a computer screen on a moving vehicle. Yes, I’m an idiot. Thank you, Aunt Tilly.

I held it in. For about an hour I curl up as tight as I can on a bus seat, recite Bene Gesserit mantras about fear being the mind killer, and bus-vomming the little death that brings total obliteration. Somehow, I make it. At which point, staggering off the bus, I do a three point turn and projectile vomit into a trash can by a bus station.

The bums were staring at me. The bums found this socially unacceptable. I spent about five dollars on a bottle of water and two of those little Colgate Wisp things, which until then I had always thought were completely useless, and which I now think are the prickly dwarf-toothbrushes of the GODS. I staggered on through the station and straight the fuck onto the next bus. At least it’s not likely to happen again, right?

Wrong. When you’re on a bus, and the street’s only about twenty feet wide, there is no horizon line to stare at.

I stop at the bank, stagger off this new bus. Dry heave into the geraniums in front of the building. Accrue some scathing looks from rich bitches in the parking lot wearing what looked like matching tennis bracelets. I stagger into the bank.
I didn’t cash my paycheck, however, because it was no longer in my purse.

I reached for my phone to call Definitely Not Dave. I wanted to at least make sure it was safe at home, and not in a vomit-colored pile at the bottom of a trash can in downtown Raleigh.

My phone wasn’t in there either.


The bus from the bank was very late. Did I mention that every bus I took today–every single fucking bus–was fifteen minutes late? So I can’t call in. I have to just show up ten minutes late for work. Which is unbelievably rude. And which I try never, ever to do. Because it’s unprofessional. And just plain rude. If people are counting on you to be somewhere on time, you should be there.

The good news is, I’m feeling better now. No more coffee for me for a long damn time. I called Definitely Not Dave from the shop, and my check and my phone are both sitting safely underneath right the hell where my purse was. And I have my card on me, so at least I’m not stranded in The Big Shitty with no money and no way to get home.

Am I an idiot? Yes. Most unreservedly yes. I should check my purse before I leave the house. But do I deserve this shit? No. I’m a nice person. Basically. More or less. Where it counts. Life, however, is not fair, and you never know when you’re going to wind up puking in front of a bus station.

Also, Mom, because I know you’re reading this and wondering: my bloodsugar is 137. I’m just fine, sugarwise. I blame the coffee and the writing.