I Live Here Now: The Search For A Mantra

I often read books or listen to podcasts where highly successful people have locked into their inner dialog and have been able to identify a word or phrase that centers them and allows them to find whatever they are searching for.  Maybe it is inner peace, motivation, a sense of direction, or simply the ability to find their center of balance.  I wanted that and for a while I have been experimenting trying to find a mantra.

I experimented with some of my favorite literary passages, phrases that alluded to my favorite punk songs, lines from TV shows or movies, Sanskrit phrases from meditation texts, and even fun sounding giberish, but it always seemed forced.  I promised myself that I would be original but I got frustrated and started stealing mantras that others have used, but to no avail.  I went as far to focus on my automatic words in stressful situations so that I could identify what phrases I leaned on as a crutch.  Nothing worked and I found myself getting even more frustrated at my inability to accomplish what seemed like a simple goal, and I was almost ready to give it all up.  Then one day a few months ago I walked to my car without a hat on and rather than be upset about how cold it was the perfect mantra jumped into my brain and stopped me in my tracks.  “I live here now.”

It may sound like nothing to you, but for me it was a lightning bolt that resonated electricity through every cell.  It symbolized all my goals and my desires, the sources of my anxieties and my hubris, it gave me ownership of my path and rooted me in the present, four short words spoke volumes.  They made everything fall into place, and I have repeated them several times a day every since, because I live here now.

The words might not sound like much to you, and they don’t have to, but they definitely symbolize a lot in my life.  Beyond the physical aspect of living in Vermont in November and being cold, it summed up a lot of the decisions that I have made along the way.  I am cold because I am in Vermont, I chose to live in Vermont, so I am cold because I chose it.  Every decision I have made in the past 31 years have lead me to the point that I am at today in this moment, they have made me who I am right now so I either need to accept it or make a decision to change.  No matter what situation I am in, I am in it because of choices I have made, and I need to address the results of these choices because I live here now.

I have long struggled with being present.  I deal with a lot of anxiety and am prone to panic attacks and sleepless nights, but I also have a very good memory and spend a lot of time ruminating on the past.  Through meditation I have gotten better at finding space for the present, but it has been a huge struggle.  This mantra grounds me because it makes me take a moment to pause and center myself.  It is a reminder that I am not living in the past or in the future, there is no time to worry about either of those, there is just time to worry about the present, because I live here now.

I am not much of a feelings person, which has caused a lot of problems in my life.  Many of my default feelings are negative and I have spent years trying to bottle them up so that they don’t get out.  This leads to it’s own challenges and only recently through self improvement practices have I been able to acknowledge certain feelings and try to detach and move on.  Having this mantra allows me to realize that I am feeling certain ways, acknowledge their presence and try to move on.  It is a small pause that allows me to accept the way I feel and determine the best way to react to the situation.  Sometimes by simply taking that break and labeling the emotions they resolve themselves.  I can’t be ruled by my negative emotions, because I live here now.

Using a mantra to resolve those emotions helps me to take ownership of how I handle situations.  I am feeling nervous because someone is running late, I live here now, and there is no need to stress about the actions of others.  My boss just walked in, I live here now, and I am confident in how well I am doing my job.  I’m about to get on stage, I live here now, and the work that I have put in to build my abilities will show itself.  I get blown off by a woman I was interested in, I live here now, and its ok if she doesn’t want to be a part of my future, plus I get to learn from the experience.  My grandmother dies, I live here now, she had a good life and it was her time.  I am pissed off at my friends for playing music too loud, I live here now, and I can either make them turn it down or I can leave.  A bigot gets sworn in as president, I live here now, I can do my best to support and protect those who are at risk.  I really want a doughnut, I live here now, I can either cave in and ruin my diet or I can wait until cheat day.

Life is filled with uncomfortable situations, challenges big and small, and if it were easy then I probably wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.  Having a few simple words bouncing through my head and reminding me that everything will be ok makes it so much more worthwhile.  Using that reminder and taking those little pauses will help me to become one of those successful people.  And even if it doesn’t work out, and this whole essay was for nothing, that is ok.

I live here now.

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Coffee & Where To Find It

Coffee is one of my favorite things in the world.  While I am not physically addicted to caffeine and can go days or weeks without it I am psychologically addicted to the stuff.  Coffee stirs something inside of me that makes me creative, that allows me to express myself, and fuels the work too hard and sleep too little lifestyle that I have always embraced.  Here is a breakdown of my favorite coffee shops not including any bakeries, juicebars, and breweries pouring cold brew nitro that I frequent for my coffee fix.

Onyx Tonics
Onyx is hands down my favorite coffee shop, and one of the best places to visit in Burlington.  They routinely offer 2-3 options for coffee and espresso from various micro roasters and put craft into each cup.  The space is beautiful and relies on minimalist decor, pop art decoration, and a surprisingly wonderful teal color scheme.  The staff is awesome, always funny and chipper when engaging their regulars and newcomers alike.  If you sit there for long you can also hear them talk a little bit of shit about people who have just left, which as someone who works with the public gives them authenticity, even if it means that they probably talk shit about me once I leave.  There is a lot of traffic going through there, so it isn’t the best place to read, but I do get a lot of work done there.  You will pay a higher premium for coffee at Onyx, but it is worth it.  Between the hand selected beans and brewing each cup through the siphon system you will get great coffee from good people in a fun environment.  They also do ice cream, I hear its great but I haven’t tried it.

  • Favorite: Any coffee hand made on the siphon

Williston Coffee Shop
This is my favorite coffee shop to write in.  It is brightly lit and relatively quiet, there are even outside tables for the summer weather.  The staff is super friendly and always give me a great deal if I bring my travel mug.  The coffee isn’t out of this world, it is normally a selection from Brio kept in warming carafes, but it is always hot and plentiful.  The best part about the shop is the bakery which cranks out flaky croissants and delicious cookies served at a number of other coffee shops.  Their sandwiches look very good, but I generally stick with either pastry or salad (also very good) whenever I am there.   If I have any serious stream of consciousness writing to do this is my go to spot, something about unlimited coffee refills and a nice croissant allow me to bash out 1,500 words without breaking a sweat

  • Favorite: Croissant

Scout (3 Locations)
Scout has 3 different cafes with 3 different personalities.  The Winooski (aka Victory Circle) location is the original, a nice place with a very Portlandia feel.  You can get handmade ice cream to go with your chemex for 2 (which they get disturbed when you order just for yourself).  They enjoy adding a dramatic flair for some of their drinks, like if you order the smoked maple latte a barista (probably wearing a beanie and sporting artsy tattoos) will top it with a marshmallow and broulee it before handing it over to you at one of the hand me down diner tables.  I really enjoy sitting in the window nook looking out over the Winooski Speedway, or sitting in the back and smelling the coffee being roasted by Vivid Coffee with shares the space.  The Old North End (aka ONE) location also serves ice cream, but has a lot more room.  There are a number of simple communal tables and a ton of natural light.  This is a working man’s coffee shop and you won’t have to put up with the annoying banter that most of Burlington’s coffee shops have to offer.  In fact I can’t recall hearing anybody speak more than to order, this is a get shit done place.  The Scout Innovation Center (aka Inno) is located in a multipurpose office building and serves as more of a lunch room and coffee kiosk than a real coffee shop.  I rarely see other people reading or writing there, it is more office workers passing through on their breaks.  The benefit is that this place has a full menu and you don’t have to pay for parking.

  • Favorites: Victory Circle- Chemex for 2, ONE- Latte, Inno- Salad with beets and goat cheese

Shelburne Coffee and Wine Shop
This place used to be special to me, since it was one of the landmarks that I picked out as a kid.  Whenever we were coming to Burlington we would pass by this shop and the fire hydrant art piece across the street and I would get excited knowing that we were almost there.  That being said they make good coffee too.  I don’t stop in that frequently, and when I do it is mostly just to get an espresso and read the paper before catching a ferry.  I have never bought wine here, but I should someday now that I am a grownup.

  • Favorite: Double shot espresso

Speeder and Earl’s (2 Locations)
Speeder and Earl’s was my first introduction to Burlington coffee.  When I first moved here there was an extremely cute and bubbly barista at the Church Street location who I had a crush on.  Unfortunately she never fell madly in love with me, and I never even learned her name.  Young love dies hard.  The Church street location doesn’t have much indoor seating space so I rarely go there in the winter, but during the summer the outdoor seating is prime for people watching.  I could sit there all day sipping on cold brew and watching the cross section of humanity that is Burlington in the summer.  The Pine street location is a wonderful place to read, it is warm and cozy with plenty of people getting work done and chatting.  Every time I am in there I seem to run into friends and get pulled into a fun conversation, it is a treat.

  • Favorites: Church Street- Cold brew iced coffee, Pine Street- Clockwork Orange Latte

Maglianero
It’s and art gallery, and a coffee shop, and a building lobby, and it makes much better coffee than it deserves to.  They are the only place in Burlington that I have found serves Counter Culture coffee, which is always very good.  The coffee bar is rarely used and seems to take up more space than it needs to, but it makes an impressive sight.  I do feel like the staff doesn’t appreciate that pour over is offered since every time there is a sigh when I want something that doesn’t mean a quick shot of espresso or a cup out of the pot, but I understand that.  My one gripe is about the seating arrangement since things are scattered around an art gallery.  I have a fear of sitting on a cube that I think is supposed to be a chair that actually turns out to be a piece of modern art.

  • Favorite: Pour over

Muddy Waters
I really don’t know how I feel about Muddy’s.  It is a nice enough place with a decent coffee/tea/beer/juice/kombucha selection and a mix of students/tourists/hippies, but I have never felt at home there.  I have attended several writing groups and gone on a few dates there, but something just doesn’t seem right.  Maybe because it doesn’t have wifi and is more of a gathering place than a work/read space, I really can’t get comfortable there.  It is also always crowded with the eclectic mix of people described above, I feel too old, too young, to corporate, and not enough of a sellout at the same time.

  • Favorite: Fiddlehead IPA or Mexican Hot Chocolate

Uncommon Grounds
I am not a fan of this place, not based on the coffee, but based on the crowds.   It is always crowded and there is a tremendous wait for coffee and tables.  They do have a great tea selection which is nice, but it is a hassle to enjoy it.  Places like this were the best thing that coffee had to offer for 15 or 20 years, but have since been out shined by newcomers, which is kind of a shame.  It is a venerable standby in a crowded market, but based on the crowds and the wait they are doing ok, so I don’t feel bad about taking my business elsewhere most of the time.

  • Favorite: Irish Breakfast Tea (Does not actually contain whiskey, which based on the name it should)

Radio Bean:
I hate Radio Bean as a coffee shop.  Sure it is a nice bar, and a great performance space, and the restaurant next door is awesome, but if doesn’t do anything special for coffee and too counterculture (the movement, not the coffee brand) for its own good.  Unless you are lounging around reading books of obscure poetry you will be treated poorly by staff and patrons alike.  After several bad experiences I won’t go back during daylight.

  • Favorite: Chicken and Waffles from the restaurant that shares the space.

Starbucks (3 stores and a Barnes and Noble)
Is it snobbish of me to look down my nose at Starbucks people while they look down their noses at Dunkin people?  I used to drink a lot of espresso and got used to burnt beans, but now I have seen the light and there is no going back, snobbish or not.

  • Favorite: I still love the damn Gingerbread Latte

Nomad Coffee (Currently Essex, but anywhere they damn please)
Its a food truck, but with coffee.  I normally judge a cafe by the quality of the coffee (roaster, options, specialty drinks), the quality of the experience (staff, fellow customers), and the space (seating, light, noise).  In that case, the coffee is good but the truck limits the options, the staff is nice but I have never seen any other customers, and the space has no seating options and gets cold in the winter and warm in the summer, there is plenty of natural light.  I like the idea of the place as a coffee enthusiast, but as someone who enjoys working in coffee shops it leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Favorite: Large Coffee (preferably Brio)

 

Outside Chittenden County

  • Vermont Coffee Company, Middlebury: Factory store with great take home coffee deals, decent food, and communal tables, my go to place when visiting Midd.
  • Espresso Bueno, Barre: Good espresso drinks, decent tea selection, fabulous staff, turns into a bar at night, and hosts multiple comedy shows each month, what isn’t to like?
  • PK Coffee, Stowe: Right next to the Alchemist brewery, CounterCulture coffee on pour over, and a very nice maple latte, its a great place to fuel up for a beer adventure.
  • The Coffee Exchange, Rutland: I have never had coffee here since whenever I can get Stewarts coffee I do so, but they have a very good tea selection and support local music and comedy so they make the list.

This is not an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of places that I have yet to try or have not been to often enough to pass judgement.  Vermont has become a hotbed of coffee activity, with multiple roasters and fancy coffee shops popping up all over, even in tiny out of the way towns.  Hopefully this culture will continue to grow and I will continue to be very awake all the time.

2017 Goals

I am a checklist person, an overachiever, a doer, and setting my goals and intentions for the year is a much better option than making resolutions.  Yes I know that it is just an arbitrary period of time randomly assigned during the rotation of a big rock, but having a set time frame helps to monitor growth.  Here we go.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

  • Ask for help: I am terrible at asking for help, and am too stubborn to admit that I need it.  A few weeks ago I got drunk and asked someone I barely know to explain a kind of embarrassing situation I found myself in and was ashamed.  Not because I had aired my dirty laundry, or that I basically sought free therapy, or that I let my guard down, but because I asked.  The other things don’t embarrass me, asking for help does.  I am probably going to have to move to a new apartment in a few months and I am already nervous about asking two of my closest friends, who I have known for over a decade to help me move.  That is no way to live life.  This year I will ask for help more often, and in more targeted ways rather than just crowdsourcing.
  • Get nervous: My favorite feeling in the world occurs during the moments before a fight.  Those few seconds where you know what you have done to train and you trust yourself, but the outcome is still uncertain.  I get this weird paradoxical sense of peace in those moments, and while I don’t fight anymore I used to get that feeling before going on stage before a big show.  Last year I only felt that way a few times and I miss it.  This year I will put myself in more situations that push my limits and test my meddle, because if you aren’t scared you aren’t doing it right.
  • Go from zero to one: I can learn to do anything.  It sounds arrogant, but I firmly believe that once I set my mind to something I can accomplish it.  I will never be world class at anything, but I can be at least average across the population, the key is getting started.  This year I will try more new things, see where I can take them and where they will take me.
  • Live uncomfortable: Last summer I suffered through a severe bout of insomnia, but the best night I sleep I got was on a camping trip where I crashed for 9 hours on an air mattress.  This wasn’t a quiet relaxing camping trip to the woods, it was at a beer festival on uneven brewery ground and my friends kept setting off an air raid siren 20 feet from my tent.  This inspired me to spend more time in uncomfortable situations.  I have been dabbling with cold showers, trying to sleep on the floor, and finding ways to make myself more resilient by adjusting my routines.  This year I will spend more time being physically uncomfortable and becoming more resilient in order to become tougher and better.

Love The Sound Of Silence

  • Less podcasts: I love podcasts because they are great for pumping my brain full of information during my downtime, but I think I went too far.  I have listened to thousands of episodes of dozens of podcasts and it is stressing me out.  When I don’t update my app for a few days and then there are 15 new episodes I get anxious because there is so much to listen to.  When I get all caught up I get anxious because there is nothing left to listen to.  It is a vicious cycle, so I am going to drop a few podcasts that I don’t really enjoy, and try not to pick up any new ones unless there is something that really sparks my interest.  This year I will listen to less podcasts and give my mind some room to process the information that is already in there.
  • More music: This sounds counterintuitive under a silence header, but I miss music.  I used to love it, but now I probably listen to less than one album a week.  I want to change that.  This year I will listen to more music, explore new bands, and broaden my horizons, I will also attend more concerts and support more local musicians.
  • More meditation: I have a pretty good meditation practice, but I want to get better.  I also want to spend more time in the isolation tanks and get some formal instruction on meditation rather than just teaching myself.  This year I will meditate more often and for longer periods using different techniques. 
  • Better books: I love books, but even great books aren’t great for everybody all the time.  I have a habit of forcing my way through a book even though it doesn’t interest me and isn’t enjoyable.  This year I will get better at walking away from books that just aren’t doing it for me, just because someone recommended it to me or it has been on my shelf for years doesn’t mean that I need to punish myself.

Make Good Art

  • Create daily: I heard someone say that they may not write every day, and they may not take photos every day, but they certainly take time to create every day.  This year I will take at least a few moments to knowingly create something every day.
  • Write good jokes: My material is boring.  All my jokes are about beer, and my terrible dating skills, and coffee, and Vermont, and these things are my life but it doesn’t make them interesting.  This year I will write more poignant material that makes more of an impact.
  • Paint better: Painting is a fun new obsession of mine, but I am terrible at it.  Aptitude doesn’t determine how much you enjoy things, but we all like to bask in the glory of the things we do well.  This year I will paint more, take classes on painting, and watch Bob Ross on Netflix.
  • Write more:  Inspiration is patchy, routines make writers block go away.  The only way that you can get better at writing is by writing, and I need to do more of that.  It doesn’t need to be good or even be published, but it needs to be words on a page.  This year I will write more, write better, and finally learn what an Oxford comma is.
  • Have independent thought: I love quotations, and I litter them in a lot of my writing.  Even if I am not directly quoting I put in a lot of “Easter Eggs” of song lyrics or album titles.  Much of my writing is littered with paragraphs that quote both dead philosophers and punk songs and it is stupid.  A few people might get either of the references but nobody gets both and it sounds forced and weird.  I also hate spitting out an amalgamation of other people’s thoughts instead of having my own ideas or phrasing.  This year I will quote less and be quoted more.
  • Either learn to use Twitter or get off it: I hate Twitter, but it does seem like a useful tool.  Who am I kidding, this year I will delete Twitter.

If It Isn’t A Hell Yes Then Its A No

  • Make less money: This sounds counter intuitive for a New Years Goal, but I make extra money for working overtime, which generally isn’t fun.  Hopefully cutting down will help me reform my workaholic lifestyle.  This year I will say no to as many overtime shifts as possible and I won’t feel guilty about it. 
  • Buy less: I want to fight against my own consumerism.  I own a lot of things and have upgraded a lot of my basic stuff, I don’t need more.  Needing the newest gadget or impulse buying something that may be worthwhile without doing research has always been a weakness for me.  This year I will put sincere thought into the things that I purchase and will only place Amazon orders once every 2 weeks in order to cut down on impulse buying.
  • Make friendships great again: I have been neglecting a lot of my friends and I miss them.  I have also been putting up walls and not letting new friends in.  I need to be a better communicator and reach out to more of my friends, but it cannot be unilateral, I also need to be there and respond when others reach out to me.  For new people I often hide behind the veil of time.  Just because these people haven’t been with me for a decade doesn’t mean that they have less to offer.  This year I will reach out to one of my longtime friends each week, I will also try to have a meaningful conversation with a newer friend each week.  I will be open and responsive when people reach out to me.
  • Burn some bridges: Not all friendships are worthwhile and sometimes you need to cut negative and toxic people out of your life.  I have always been good at burning bridges and over time have figured out which ones I need to burn in order to light the way.  This year I will not waste as much time on people who are a negative influence on me, and will be straightforward enough to address the issue head on rather than passively shying away from it.  I probably won’t be able to do this without seeming like an asshole, but if someone is toxic to me then why should I care what they think.

Quantified Self

  • Get smaller: This year I will weigh myself every weekday and track my progress.  Tracked with MyFitnessPal.
  • Walk more: This year I will continue to walk 5 miles a day for as many days as possible, “I don’t feel like doing it” is not an acceptable excuse.  Tracked with Fitbit.
  • Eat better: This year I will eat better and track my calories more frequently and will try to get better at portion control.  Tracked with MyFitnessPal.
  • Drink more: This year I will try to expand my palate by trying new beer styles and branching out from old standards.  Tracked with Untappd.
  • Get on stage: This year I will get on stage 100 times, and make more money than I did last year.  Tracked on my wall calendar.
  • Formalize the best routine: This year I will experiment with little habits and see what works the best for me.  By getting a checklist of 5-10 things that help me win the day I will be able to weed out bad days and make myself more productive.  Tracked with Habits.

Some of these goals are specific, others are general.  Most of them are long term habit changes that won’t happen over night, but I mark any progress as a success.  I know that it isn’t realistic to achieve them all, but as long as I try to make myself a little better every day then this year will be a success.  Happy 2017.